Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Montana’s Naval Namesakes

At least nine naval ships have been christened with names related to the Treasure State, and one of them suffered damage during the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There were three ships named Montana, one named Montanan, two named Missoula, and four named Helena. The first USS Montana, launched in 1906, provided escort service during WWI. In 1920 it was rechristened the USS Missoula after Missoula County. A second USS Missoula provided transport service during WWI. Two other ships in the planning stages bore the name Montana, but neither was built.  The USS Montanan, a cargo ship launched in 1913, was sunk by a torpedo during WWI. Three of the four USS Helenas, named for Montana’s capital city, saw wartime action. The first USS Helena was a light gunboat launched in 1896. It saw long service during the Philippine Insurrection and WWI, and was decommissioned in 1932.  The second USS Helena, launched in 1938, took a torpedo at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and returned to service to participate in thirteen major naval engagements. It was sunk at the Battle of Kula Gulf in 1943 by Japanese torpedoes, taking 168 of its 900 crew members with it. It was first naval ship awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for heroic action. The third USS Helena took hits during the Korean War, and as the Seventh Fleet’s flagship, it hosted President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. This ship served until its decommission in 1972.  Its propeller, anchor, chain, and bell are displayed in Helena’s Anchor Park at the south end of Last Chance Gulch. The fourth USS Helena, still in service, is a nuclear powered submarine.

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