Charles Purcell Cecil – Rear Admiral, United States Navy

Charles Purcell Cecil (1893-1944)

Born on September 4, 1893 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Commissioned from Annapolis in 1916. Served aboard the Yankton in escort duty during World War I. Aide to Commandant Sixth Naval District 1922-1924. Aide to Commander Battleship Divisions Three and Four 1929-1930.  Commanding Officer of the Greer September 1935-February 1936 and the destroyer Cummings 1936-1938.

Commander of Destroyer Division Eleven then Destroyer Squadron Five June 1941-October 1942. Commanding Officer of the Helena when it was sunk in the Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943. Commander of a unit of the Seventh Fleet Amphibious Force 1943-1944. Rear Admiral in June 1944. Killed along with 18 others in the crash of a Navy transport plane while taking off from an island in the Pacific on July 31, 1944. Decorations included two Navy Crosses and the Bronze Star.

He was awarded the Navy Cross for Action with Destroyer Squadron Five against superior Japanese Forces at the battle of Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October 1942. In November of 1942, Admiral Cecil assumed command of the USS HELENA. On 6 July 1943 he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in action against Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands.

14 August 1944:

On a day in July 1943, a sorry looking group of Navy men—officers and blue-jackets, all lucky to be alive—waded ashore on a Pacific island. Among them was Charles P. Cecil, tall, cold-eyed skipper of the heroic cruiser Helena,  which had been torpedoed in the July 7 Battle of Kula Gulf. With the others. Captain Cecil had floated for hours in the oil-covered waters. He had refused to be picked up until his men were rescued.

It was the second ship Cecil had lost to the enemy. In the Battle of Santa Cruz, in October 1942, he had commanded the lost destroyer Porter. He ruefully remarked: “I guess they have my number.”

Last week his number was crossed out. Rear Admiral Charles P. Cecil, 50, holder of a Navy Cross with Gold Star (i.e., two crosses), died when an airplane in which he was riding crashed at a Pacific base. He was the ninth flag officer (plus one general officer of the Marines) lost by the Navy in operations or action in World War II. The Army's loss in opposite numbers: 15 general officers dead, six missing, 18 prisoners of war (from the Philippines).

Courtesy of the United States Navy:

Few destroyers typify that ability better than the ship named for a fighting destroyer sailor, Rear Admiral Charles Purcell Cecil.

Charles Purcell Cecil was born on September 4, 1893 in Louisville, Kentucky. His childhood came during a period of renewed Congressional interest in maritime affairs and a naval force inspired by the philosophy of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Upon his graduation from the Naval Academy , with the class of 1916, Cecil entered a navy which, while not the largest in the world, was one of the most progressive.

Although his service during World War I and the period between wars was exemplary, Cecil's service during World War II could only be termed inspirational. He commanded DesDiv 5 in the brutal actions off Santa Cruz which convinced a Japanese relief force not to make any further attempts at Guadalcanal. As commander of the USS HELENA (CL50), he fought in a hazardous mining and shore bombardment operations throughout the Solomons. In the melee in Kula Gulf (July 5-6, 1943), Cecil participated in an ambush of a Japanese force intent on reinforcing garrisons on Villa. Although Helena was lost to the “long lance” torpedoes of Japanese destroyers, Cecil's inspired leadership helped win the cruiser the Navy's first unit citation of World War II. By the fall of 1943, Cecil had been awarded the Navy Cross, a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross and Bronze Star.

Rear Admiral Cecil was killed in a plane crash (July 31, 1944) while traveling between assignments in the Pacific.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 09/04/1893
  • DATE OF DEATH: 07/04/1947

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