The Battle of the Coral Sea

Action Report of the U.S.S. Helm




U.S.S. Helm

May 22, 1942





The Commanding Officer.


The Commander Task Force FORTY-TWO (Commander Submarines, Eastern Australia).


The Commander Destroyer Division Seven.


Search for Survivors from USS Neosho - Report of.


(a). Comdesdiv Seven desp. 131250 of May, 1942.


(b). Comsowespacfor desp. 131530 of May, 1942.


(c). Helm desp. 171017 of May, 1942.


(A). Track Chart.


(B). Paraphrases of references (a), (b) 


(C). Copy of Medical Officer's report.



Above:  The destroyer U.S.S. Helm searched the Coral Sea for several days, looking for survivors from the Neosho.


1.  In compliance with references (a) and (b), this vessel departed Noumea at 1922 GCT, 13 May, 1942 and proceeded towards the designated search area at speed of advance 13.5 knots.


2.  Search was commenced at 1950 GCT, 15 May, 1942, speed 20 knots, zigzagging; speed of advance 19 knots, (see track chart, enclosure (A)).  At 0325 GCT, 16 May, sighted the broken half of a Carley life raft, floating a few feet below the surface.  At 0357 GCT, 16 May, sighted an empty NEOSHO whaleboat.  This boat, which was full of water, had been rigged for sailing.  The boat was sunk by ramming.  At 0740 GCT discontinued search for the day due to darkness.


3.  At 2000 GCT, 16 May, resumed search.  At 2145 GCT sighted a life raft with men on it.  This raft was sighted by the rangefinder operator during a sweep of the horizon with the director.  At 2210 lowered a boat, towed the raft alongside, and took aboard the following named men:


SMITH, W. A.,  Seaman, Second Class

TUNNEL, T. O., Seaman, Second Class

ROLSTON, J., Seaman, Second Class

BRIGHT, K. T., Seaman, Second Class


These men were all in critical condition due to exposure, and were placed in the care of the Medical Officer (see enclosure (C)).


4.  The men were immediately questioned as to the possible existence of other survivors.  They stated that they were the sole survivors of sixty-eight men who abandoned the NEOSHO on four life rafts on 7 May, and who remained together throughout the ensuing days.  When rescued, the men were floating on two liferafts, one lashed on top of the other. The men stated that they had lashed the rafts together a day or two before and had then cut the other two rafts adrift.


5.  At 2226 GCT, 16 May, resumed search, confining subsequent operations to the area to the westward of the last reported position of NEOSHO (see track chart).  At 0505 GCT, BRIGHT, K.T., Sea. 2c, died as a result of exposure.  Burial was held at 0705 GCT.  At 0740 GCT discontinued search due to darkness and set course for Brisbane.  Originated reference (c).


6.  All searching was done at 20 knots speed. The zigzag plan in use provided:


(a). Maximum difference between course steered on any leg and base course:  30 degrees.

(b). Maximum time on any leg:  10 min.

(c). Maximum distance gained to right and left of base course:  2.3 miles

(d). Distance


7.  SMITH, W. A., Sea. 2c, deserves special mention and great credit for his courage and spirit at the time of the rescue.   The men on the raft sighted the ship before they themselves were sighted.  Although greatly weakened by exposure, being even too weak to wave anything, SMITH got himself to a standing position in order that the raft might be more readily sighted, and remained thus, propped up with an oar, until taken off.  It was his standing figure which first caught the attention of the man searching through the rangefinder.  It is the opinion of the Commanding Officer, based on necessarily brief observation of, and conversation with, the survivors, that SMITH assumed the leadership of the group and by his courage and will to live materially contributed to the survival of the other men.


8.  The survivors stated that they twice saw patrol planes over them, but were not seen by the planes.  This circumstance points to the extreme desirability of having life rafts painted a bright yellow or some other color which will attract attention.  As noted in paragraph 7 above, difficulty was experienced in sighting the raft from the ship.  It is recommended that life rafts be painted yellow and provided with suitable covers.



C.E. Carroll.


Copy to:  CO NEOSHO.


Above:  Five days after 123 men were rescued from the listing U.S.S. Neosho, the destroyer Helm discovered four men in a raft.  These were the only survivors from a group of 68 men who had drifted away from the Neosho shortly after the attack on May 7.  In this photo, the Helm's whaleboat is on the left and the Neosho's raft is on the right, partly submerged.  The four men had floated in the Coral Sea for nine days without food or water and were all in critical condition.  Shortly after being rescued, two of the men died.  The other two returned to the U.S. and lived for many years.  That included Jack Rolston, who sent me this photo in 2004.  He drew an arrow for me, indicating himself on the raft.



Above left:  In 2022, 18 years after I'd posted Jack's photo above, I found these two photos on the Internet, posted on the Naval History and Heritage Command website.  This was the first photo taken of the raft survivors by crewmen on the U.S.S. Helm.  I believe that's William Smith standing in the middle of the raft, the only reason the raft was spotted by the Helm.

Above right:  The photo of the rescued sailors.


Table of Contents:

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23)

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) Home Page


SECTION 1:  Background

Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos


SECTION 2:  Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)


Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Interview of Bill Leu:  The Attack on Pearl Harbor

U.S. Navy Action Report:  U.S.S. Neosho


SECTION 3:  Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942)


The Battle of the Coral Sea:  Summary

Battle Action:  April 30 - May 4, 1942

Battle Action:  May 5 - May 7, 1942

Battle Action:  May 8, 1942

The Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho

May 7, 1942:  The Japanese Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting for Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

The Battle of the Coral Sea (continued)

List of Survivors and Casualties

U.S.S. Neosho:  Survivors and Casualties

U.S.S. Sims:  Survivors and Casualties

Interview of Bill Leu:  The Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Battle of the Coral Sea

Action Report of U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of U.S.S. Sims

>  Action Report of U.S.S. Helm

Other Ships at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Sims (Neosho's Escort)

The U.S.S. Henley (Neosho's Rescuer)

The U.S.S. Helm (Rescued Life Raft)

Battle of the Coral Sea Scrapbook

Honolulu Newspaper:  May 8, 1942

S.F. Examiner Article:  July 10, 1942


SECTION 4:  Aftermath


President Bush's 1991 Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times Article:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

John S. Phillips, Captain of the U.S.S. Neosho

U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum

Fireman Third Class, Bill Leu

Jack Rolston and the Tragic "Raft of 68"

Links, Sources and Further Information

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