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USS Helm (DD-388)

USS Helm (DD-388)

USS Helm (DD-388) was a Bagley-class destroyer constructed for the US Navy during World War II. She was named in honor of Rear Admiral James Meredith Helm, an officer in the US Navy during the Spanish-American War.


Helm was launched on May 27, 1937 by Norfolk Navy Yard. She was sponsored by Mrs. J.M. Helm, who was the namesake’s widow. Lieutenant Commander P.H. Talbot took command of Helm on October 16, 1937.

Naval History

Following shakedown, Helm began operations in the Caribbean. On October 1, 1938, she was attached to the Atlantic Squadron before being deployed with Carrier Division 2 in early 1939. Upon being transferred to the west coast in May 1939, Helm engaged in screening maneuvers and fleet exercises out of the Hawaiian Islands and San Diego.

On the morning of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Helm had just turned into West Lock in the harbor. While she was able to bring down at least one of the attackers with her guns, she did suffer damage caused by two bombs. After the attack, Helm jointed the task group of carrier USS Saratoga. She also served as a screening ship and plane guard.

In January 1942, Helm embarked on a mission to rescue Department of the Interior workers from Baker and Howland islands. She was able to bring six men off the islands on January 31 before being attacked by a Japanese patrol bomber. Helm was able to successfully drive away the attacker before returning to Pearl Harbor in early February. Helm assisted in two other rescue missions in 1942, one involved rescuing 13 survivors from SS John Adams on May 9 and the other involved rescuing four survivors from the oiler Neosho on May 17.

In July of 1942, Helm assisted with the capture of Guadalcanal, providing screening and shooting down several attacking aircraft. On August 8, while patrolling the area between Savo and Florida Islands with three cruisers and a destroyer, Helm and her group were attacked by the Japanese. Helm remained alongside Astoria, carrying survivors to the transports off Guadalcanal. While the attack was devastating, the ships did prevent the Japanese from attacking the transports at Guadalcanal.

Helm spent much of 1943 providing escort and protecting important areas, such as the base at Milne Bay. On November 29, 1943, she bombarded Gasmata and played an integral role in capturing Cape Gloucester. She continued to provide escort duty into 1944 until she participated in refresher training in May of that year. Following training, she joined Task Force 58 and assisted with guarding the western approaches of the islands while also providing air support for landings. On June 19, her fleet was hit by four large air raids, but the fleet managed to destroy the Japanese planes.

Following the battle, Helm began neutralizing enemy bases on the Volcano and Bonin Islands in support of the invasion of Guam. While serving as a screen, Helm sank a Japanese freighter near Iwo Jima on September 2. Later that same day, she sank another small cargo ship. In the subsequent battle in Okinawa, Helm brought down one bomber and assisted with shooting down several more.

While providing direct support of ground operations in Leyte in October 1944, Helm dropped depth charges and sank 1-46. In November, she returned with her group to the Philippines to embark on a strike against Japanese shore and shipping targets.

On January 4, 1945, Helm and her companion ships undertook fire from Japanese air attacks after entering Sulu Sea. Helm returned fire, inflicting severe damage on the attackers. On February 21 that same year, Helm was called upon to rescue survivors from escort carrier Bismarck Sea after she was sunk by a massive suicide attack. During a stay off of Okinawa on April 1, Helm shot down numerous suicide plans that had been attacking carriers in the area.

Helm returned to the United States on November 19, 1945. She was decommissioned on June 26, 1946, after which she was used as a target ship during the Operation Crossroads atomic tests. Her hulk was sold for scrap to Moore Dry Dock Co. in Oakland, California in October 1947.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Helm (DD-388)

Using asbestos-containing materials in the construction of marine vessels was ordered by Congress in the 1930s, after a deadly fire aboard a cruise ship killed 137 people. Helm utilized asbestos insulation heavily, especially in engines and engine spaces, and for fireproofing all over the ship. When asbestos-containing material becomes worn it can become "friable", meaning that individual fibers can break off and escape into the air, and then breathed in by sailors and shipfitters, possibly causing mesothelioma. The mineral asbestos was known even in ancient times for its fireproofing properties; however, it was also demonstrated to be the only known factor in the development of life-threatening conditions including asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Presently, medicine has not developed a mesothelioma cure, but there are a number of supportive approaches which can lengthen survival time and make patients more comfortable, such as radiation therapy. Reliable information about malignant mesothelioma can be found in our mesothelioma information package. It is a complete resource for legal and treatment information as well as a list of clinical trials nationwide. All you have to do is fill out the form on this page and we'll mail you your free package.



Helm. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center. Retrieved 1 January 2011.

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