USS South Dakota (BB-57)

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USS South Dakota (BB-57)
The USS South Dakota
The USS South Dakota anchored in Iceland, 1943.
United States
Namesake: State of South Dakota
Ordered: 15 December 1938
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Laid down: 5 July 1939
Launched: 7 June 1941
Sponsored by: Harlan J. Bushfield
Commissioned: 20 March 1942
Decommissioned: 31 January 1947
Struck: 1 June 1962
Nickname(s): Battleship "X", SoDak, Old Nameless
Honors and
Fate: Sold for scrap 25 October 1962 / Parts of the ship are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
General characteristics
Class and type: South Dakota-class battleship
Displacement: 35,000 long tons
Length: 680 ft (210 m)
Beam: 108.2 ft (33.0 m)
Draft: 36.3 ft (11.1 m)
Speed: 27.8 kn (32.0 mph; 51.5 km/h)
Complement: 2,364 officers and men

USS South Dakota (BB-57) was a battleship in the United States Navy, in active service from 1942 until 1947. The lead ship of her class, South Dakota was the third ship of the US Navy to be named in honor of the 40th state. The four ships of the class are considered to be the most efficient battleships designed under the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty.[1] During World War II, the battleship first served a tour in the Pacific theater, where it fought in two battles in 1942 that earned the ship and its crew a Navy Unit Commendation before returning to New York in December 1942 for an overhaul and battle repairs. In May 1943, South Dakota joined British Home Fleet patrols in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans before sailing again to the Pacific in August 1943. There, South Dakota participated in combat operations preparatory to the invasion of Japan until returning to the United States in October 1945.

Calvin Graham, believed to be the youngest US serviceman to enlist and fight in World War II, enlisting at the age of twelve, served aboard South Dakota in 1942 and 1943 [2] as a loader for a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart Medal.[3]


Her keel was laid down on 5 July 1939, at Camden, New Jersey, by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation. She was launched on 7 June 1941, sponsored by Mrs. Harlan J. Bushfield, wife of the Governor of South Dakota; and commissioned on 20 March 1942, with Captain Thomas Leigh Gatch in command.

To allow more accommodation below decks for the extra personnel required for her design use as a task force flagship, South Dakota was constructed with eight twin 5"/38 gun mounts instead of the ten mounts carried by her sister ships. To compensate for the reduction in 5" fire power, she received additional light anti-aircraft guns. [4]

Military history[edit]

World War II[edit]

South Dakota fitted out at Philadelphia as a force flagship, and held shakedown training from 3 June through 26 July 1942. The battleship stood out of Philadelphia Navy Yard and sailed for the Panama Canal on 16 August.

South Dakota served two tours in the Pacific Theater, with one tour with the British Home Fleet in between.

First tour in the Pacific[edit]

South Dakota transited the Panama Canal on 21 August 1942, and headed for the Tonga Islands, arriving at Nukuʻalofa, Tonga on 4 September; two days later, the battleship struck an uncharted coral pinnacle in Lahai Passage and suffered extensive damage to its hull. On 12 September, the battleship set sail for the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard to receive repairs.[5]

On 12 October 1942, South Dakota was ready for sea service, and began training with Task Force 16 (TF 16), built around the aircraft carrier Enterprise. On 16 October, the task force left Pearl Harbor to join Task Force 17 (TF 17), centered on the aircraft carrier Hornet, northeast of Espiritu Santo; the rendezvous was made on 24 October. The combined force, operating as Task Force 61 (TF 61) under Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, was ordered to make a sweep of the Santa Cruz Islands and then move southwest to block any Japanese naval forces that may be approaching to recapture Guadalcanal.

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands[edit]

US Navy PBY Catalina patrol bombers sighted a Japanese carrier force at noon on 25 October, and TF 16 steamed northwest to intercept it. Early the next morning, when all carrier forces were within striking range, a Japanese scout plane spotted the American naval force, triggering the Battle of Santa Cruz. South Dakota and the Enterprise group were approximately 10 mi (16 km) from Hornet group when the battle began.

South Dakota fires at a Japanese torpedo bomber (right) during the Battle of Santa Cruz. The smoke around the battleship is from the ship's anti-aircraft guns.

The first Japanese air attack was concentrated against Hornet. South Dakota operated near Enterprise to provide it protective fire against enemy aircraft. At 1045, TF 16 was attacked by a group of Japanese dive bombers. Approximately an hour later the task force was attacked again, this time by some 40 Japanese torpedo bombers. A third Japanese aerial assault was made by both dive bombers and torpedo bombers, coming in at 1230. South Dakota suffered a 550 lb (250 kg) bomb hit on top of its number one turret. When combat action was broken off that evening, the American naval forces retired toward Nouméa, New Caledonia. South Dakota was credited with downing 26 Japanese planes, firing 890 rounds of 5 inch, 4,000 rounds of 40mm, 3,000 rounds of 1.1 inch and 52,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition during the action. Captain Gatch made the following assessment of the relative effectiveness of each weapon type in bringing down enemy aircraft during the action: 5 inch: 5%, 40mm and 1.1 inch: 30% and 20mm: 65%.[6]

While attempting to avoid a submarine contact on the return trip to Nouméa, South Dakota collided with the destroyer Mahan on 30 October. Both South Dakota and Mahan suffered significant damage, with Mahan's bow deflected to port and crumpled back to Frame 14.[7] A fire erupted in Mahan's forward hold, but was soon brought under control. Both warships continued to Nouméa, where the repair ship Vestal repaired South Dakota's collision and battle damage.

For her participation in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, South Dakota received the Navy Unit Commendation.

Naval battle of Guadalcanal[edit]

On 11 November, South Dakota and TF 16 sortied from Nouméa for Guadalcanal. Two days later, South Dakota joined the battleship Washington and destroyers Preston, Walke, Benham, and Gwin to form Task Force 64 (TF 64) under command of Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee. By the next evening, TF 64 was operating 50 mi (90 km) southwest of Guadalcanal when Admiral Lee learned that a Japanese naval force was coming through the passage off Savo Island. This was Admiral Nobutake Kondō's bombardment group consisting of the battleship Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Takao and Atago, and a destroyer screen.[8]

On 14 November, Admiral Kondo's forces were divided into three sections: the bombardment group, a close screen of the cruiser Nagara and six destroyers, and in the van a distant screen composed of the cruiser Sendai and three destroyers. A quarter moon assured good visibility. At a range of 18,100 yd (16,600 m) three of the leading Japanese ships were sighted from the bridge of South Dakota. Washington fired on the lead Japanese ship, thought to be a battleship or heavy cruiser. A minute later, South Dakota's main battery opened fire on the nearest Japanese ship. Both South Dakota's initial salvos struck and started fires on the respective targets. South Dakota then fired on a second target, continuing firing until the ship disappeared from its radar. South Dakota's Turret No. 3 then began firing over her stern on another Japanese target, demolishing South Dakota's own aircraft in the process. Firing continued until the target was thought to be sunk. Meanwhile, South Dakotas secondary 5" batteries were engaged, firing upon some eight Japanese destroyers that lay close to the shore of Savo Island.

A short lull followed after the radar plot showed four Japanese ships, just clear of the left tangent of Savo, approaching from the starboard bow, range 5,800 yd (5,300 m). Searchlights from the second ship in the Japanese column illuminated South Dakota. Washington opened with her main battery on the leading, and largest, Japanese ship. South Dakota's secondary batteries put out the lights, and she shifted all batteries to bear on the third ship, believed to be a cruiser, which soon gushed smoke. That night, an error in engine room switchboards left South Dakota powerless: without her radars, she no longer had a grasp on the complicated tactical situation.[9] South Dakota, under fire from at least three ships, took 26 hits, causing considerable damage.[10][11] Her radio communications failed, radar plot was demolished, three fire control radars were damaged, there was a fire in her foremast, and she had lost track of Washington. As South Dakota was no longer receiving enemy fire and there were no remaining targets, she withdrew, met Washington at a prearranged rendezvous, and proceeded to Nouméa. Out of the American destroyers, only Gwin returned to port; the other three had been severely damaged early in the engagement: Walke and Preston were sunk, and Benham had part of her bow blown off by a torpedo, and, while en route to Nouméa with the damaged Gwin as her escort, had to be abandoned. Gwin then sank her by gunfire. On the Japanese side, hits had been scored on Takao and Atago (both survived); Kirishima and the destroyer Ayanami were both severely damaged by gunfire, and were abandoned and scuttled.

For her actions in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, South Dakota received a second award of the Navy Unit Commendation.

Among the sailors on board South Dakota in her first tour in the Pacific was twelve-year-old Calvin Graham, who was wounded in action and praised for his heroism. The resulting publicity led to Graham's true age being discovered and his discharge from the navy after serving three months in the brig.

South Dakota off Norfolk Navy Yard in 1943

The repair ship Prometheus repaired some of the damage inflicted on the South Dakota at Nouméa, enabling the battleship to sail on 25 November for Tongatapu and from there for home. The South Dakota arrived at New York City on 18 December for an overhaul and the completion of battle damage repairs. South Dakota was back at sea on 25 February 1943, and following sea trials, operated with the Ranger in the North Atlantic until mid-April.

Battleship "X"[edit]

USS South Dakota, also known as "Battleship X," "Old Nameless," "Sodak," and the "Black Prince."[12]

In major sea engagements before South Dakota was a year old, its actions were reported to the American people as the exploits of Battleship "X" or Old Nameless. The US Navy wanted to hide sensitive operational information from Japanese ears and eyes so the vessel would not be identified by its real name in American newspapers or radio broadcasts.[13] [check quotation syntax]

Tour in Europe[edit]

South Dakota operated with the British Home Fleet, based at Scapa Flow, from May 1943. It formed part of a US Navy task force under the command of Rear Admiral Olaf M. Hustvedt alongside its sister battleship Alabama and heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa. The task force's role was to counter the German battleship Tirpitz, and South Dakota took part in several cruises along the Norwegian coast. Tirpitz did not leave port, however, and the two US battleships and a destroyer screen departed for the Pacific in early August.[14]

Second tour in the Pacific[edit]

On 21 August 1943, South Dakota stood out of Norfolk en route to Efate Island, arriving at Havannah Harbor on 14 September. It moved to Fiji on 7 November, and sortied from there four days later with Battleship Divisions 8 and 9 (BatDiv 8 and 9) in support of Task Group 50.1 (TG 50.1), the Carrier Interceptor Group, for Operation Galvanic, the Gilbert Islands assault. The US carriers launched attacks against Jaluit and Mili atolls, Marshall Islands, on 19 November, to neutralize Japanese airfields there; then provided air support for the Marine Corps amphibious landings on Makin and Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.

South Dakota, along with five other fast battleships (Massachusetts, North Carolina, Indiana, Washington, and Alabama), formed another task group on 8 December to bombard Nauru Island; the joint aerial attack and shore bombardment severely damaged Japanese shore installations and airfields there. South Dakota retired to Efate on 12 December for upkeep and rearming; her next action occurred on 29 January 1944, when the US carriers launched attacks against Roi and Namur, Marshall Islands. The next day, South Dakota moved in to shell Japanese positions on Roi and Namur, then rejoined the US carriers as they provided air support for the amphibious landings on Kwajalein, Majuro, Roi, and Namur.

South Dakota departed the Marshall Islands on 12 February 1944 with the Truk striking force, launching attacks against that Japanese stronghold on 17–18 February. Six days later, it was in the screen for the US carriers which launched the first air attacks against the Mariana Islands. The force was under constant Japanese air attacks, and South Dakota shot down four Japanese planes. It returned to Majuro from 26 February to 22 March, when it sailed with the fast US carrier forces of the 5th Fleet; the Fleet delivered air strikes from 30 March to 1 April against Palau, Yap, Woleai, and Ulithi in the Western Caroline Islands.

South Dakota returned to Majuro on 6 April and sailed the following week, again accompanying the US carriers; on 21 April, strikes were launched against Hollandia, New Guinea, and the following day against Aitape Bay, Tanahmerah Bay, and Humboldt Bay to support the US Army landings. On 29–30 April, the carriers, with South Dakota still in the screen, returned to Truk and bombed that base. The next day, the battleship was part of a surface bombardment group that shelled Ponape Island in the Carolines. It returned to Majuro for upkeep from 4 May to 5 June, when it got underway with Task Force 58 to participate in Operation Forager, the landings on Saipan and Tinian. The US carriers began launching attacks on 11 June against enemy installations throughout the islands. On 13 June, South Dakota and six other battleships were detached from the fast carrier groups to bombard Saipan and Tinian; South Dakota shelled the northwest coast of Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, for over six hours with both its primary and secondary batteries.

On the evening of 15 June, 8–12 Japanese fighters and bombers broke through the combat air patrol and attacked the task group; South Dakota fired at four planes, bringing down one; the remaining 11 planes were shot down by fire from other US ships. On 19 June, the battleship was again operating with the US carriers. It was known that a major Japanese force was approaching from the west, and the American capital ships were placed so that they could continue to support the ground forces on Saipan and also intercept this force.

At 10:12, a large group of enemy aircraft were reported coming in from the west. At 10:49, a Yokosuka D4Y "Judy" dropped a 550 lb (250 kg) bomb on South Dakota's main deck where it blew a large hole, cut wiring and piping, but inflicted no other serious material damage. However, personnel losses were heavy: 24 killed and 27 wounded. The battleship continued to fight throughout the day as air attacks were continuous. The Judy that attacked her survived and successfully returned to its carrier without damage. This was the first day of the Battle of the Philippine Sea and was called the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" as the Japanese lost over 300 aircraft. The air battle continued throughout 20 June. When it ended, the badly mauled Japanese fleet no longer posed a threat to the American conquest of the Marianas. The US task group returned to Ulithi on 27 June, and the South Dakota sailed via Pearl Harbor to the west coast, arriving at Puget Sound on 10 July.

1 July 1944, Chaplain Lindner reads the benediction held in honor of shipmates killed in the air action off Guam

The battleship was overhauled at the navy yard there; and, after sea trials, sailed on 26 August 1944 for Pearl Harbor. South Dakota was routed to Ulithi and, upon its arrival, was attached to TG 38.3; one of four task groups of formed TF 38, the Fast Carrier Task Force. The task force sortied on 6 October and, four days later, launched air attacks against Okinawa. On 12–13 October, attacks were flown against shipping and installations in Formosa. Three of the groups, including South Dakota's, retired and operated east of the Philippine Islands until 24 December. During the operation, US carriers of the group flew air strikes against targets on Manila and Luzon to support the landings on Mindoro. From 30 December 1944 to 26 January 1945, the US carriers alternated strikes between Formosa on 3–4 January, 9 January 15 January, and 21 January; Luzon on 6–7 January; Cape San Jacques and Camranh Bay on 12 January; Hong Kong and Hainan on 16 January; and against Okinawa on 22 January.

South Dakota operated with the US carriers in their strikes against the Tokyo area on 17 February 1945, and against Iwo Jima on 19–20 February in support of the amphibious landings there. Tokyo again was the target on 25 February, and Okinawa's turn came on 1 March. After rearming at Ulithi, the task groups sailed toward Japan again and shelled targets in the Kobe, Kure, and Kyūshū areas on 18–19 March. They launched strikes against Okinawa on 23 March; and on 24 March, South Dakota joined a bombardment group which shelled southeastern Okinawa. It rejoined its task group which, after bombing Okinawa, struck enemy airfields in southern Kyūshū on 29 March and then, from 31 March to 3 April, again shelled targets on Okinawa. On 7 April, all US carriers launched attacks against a Japanese fleet off southwest Kyūshū, sinking Japan's super battleship Yamato, one light cruiser, and four destroyers.

South Dakota once more participated in shore bombardment on southeastern Okinawa on 19 April in support of an all-out offensive by the XXIV Army Corps against enemy lines.

While rearming from the ammunition ship USS Wrangell on 6 May, a tank of high-capacity powder for the 16 in (410 mm) guns exploded, causing a fire and exploding four more tanks. Turret No. 2 magazines were flooded and the fires put out. The battleship lost three men killed instantly; eight more died of injuries; and 24 others suffered non-fatal wounds. The battleship retired to Guam from 11–29 May, when she sailed for Leyte, arriving on 1 June.

August 1945, Mount Fujiyama, Japan, as seen from the USS South Dakota in Tokyo Bay

South Dakota departed Leyte on 1 July, supporting the US carriers of TG 38.1 which attacked the Tokyo area on 10 July. On 14 July, as part of a bombardment group, it participated in the shelling of the Kamaishi Steel Works, Kamaishi, Honshū, Japan. This was the first gunfire attack on the Japanese home islands by heavy warships. From 15–28 July, South Dakota again supported the US carriers as they launched strikes against Honshū and Hokkaidō. On the night of 29–30 July, it participated in the shelling of Hamamatsu, Honshū, and, on 9 August, again shelled Kamaishi. The battleship supported the carriers in strikes against northern Honshū on 10 August, and in the Tokyo area on 13 and 15 August. The latter was the last strike of the war, for later that day, Japan capitulated.

South Dakota anchored in Sagami Wan, Honshū, on 27 August, and entered Tokyo Bay on 29 August. South Dakota steamed out of Tokyo Bay on 20 September and proceeded, via Okinawa and Pearl Harbor, to the west coast of the United States. On 29 October 1945, she moved down the coast from San Francisco, to San Pedro, California.


A USS South Dakota memorial is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and includes several relics from the battleship within a concrete outline of the hull.

South Dakota sailed from the west coast on 3 January 1946, for Philadelphia and a yard overhaul. In June, it was attached to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet; and on 31 January 1947, it was placed in reserve, out of commission.

The battleship remained in that status until it was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on 1 June 1962. On 25 October, it was sold to the Lipsett Division of Luria Brothers & Company, Inc., for scrap at a price of $446,000. Part of the sale agreement required Luria Brothers to return approximately $2 million of equipment from South Dakota to the government, including 6,000 tons (5,400 tonnes) of armor plate for the United States Atomic Energy Commission. It is memorialized at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where memorabilia and parts of the battleship are displayed within an outline of the main deck. A screw from South Dakota is on display outside the U.S. Navy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Military awards and popular reception[edit]

South Dakota received the following decorations and awards:

South Dakota got much attention from the media and from the public, due to the innovative and advanced nature of her design, and the secrecy around it. The ship's actions were reported in newspapers under the titles of "Battleship X" and "Old Nameless."[15]

United States Naval Academy mural[edit]

At the United States Naval Academy — above the Rotunda in Bancroft Hall — is a large mural depicting South Dakota during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. The mural is based on a painting by Dwight Shepler. One of South Dakota's flags is also on display in Memorial Hall.


  1. ^ King George V Class Battleships, Tarrant, p.17
  2. ^ Breyer, Rick (2005). The Greatest War Stories Never Told. New York: Collins. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0-06-076017-6. OCLC 58985926.
  3. ^ USS South Dakota Battleship, Stories, "At 12, I Fought The Japs" [1] Retrieved 16 Nov. 2014
  4. ^ Stefan Terzibaschitsch, Battleships of the U.S. Navy in World War II, J.F. Lehmanns Verlag, Munich, 1977, pp. 124, 125.
  5. ^ Hore, Peter (2005). The World Encyclopedia of Battleships. London: Hermes House. pp. 210–213. ISBN 1-84681-278-X.
  6. ^ AntiAircraft Action Summary, July 1942 to Dec 1942. United States Navy. p. 111. Information Bulletin No. 22.
  7. ^ "BB-57 South Dakota". Haze Gray.
  8. ^ L, Klemen (2000). "Vice-Admiral Nobutake Kondo". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  9. ^ Frank, Richard B. (1990). Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. Marmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140165614.
  10. ^ Morison, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, p. 277–279, Scan of original report Archived 18 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. The "Gunfire Damage Report" made by the Bureau of Ships showed 26 damaging hits and can be found at 6th and succeeding photos Archived 22 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Hammel, Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea, p. 385–389.
  11. ^ Crocker III, H. W. (2006). Don't Tread on Me. New York: Crown Forum. p. 301. ISBN 978-1-4000-5363-6.
  12. ^ "Poster for "Battleship X"". Library of Congress. US Department of the Navy. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  13. ^ Potts, JR. "USS South Dakota (BB-57) Battleship - History, Specs and Pictures - Navy Ships". Military Factory. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  14. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1956). The Atlantic Battle Won. May 1943 – May 1945. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. X (2001 reprint ed.). Edison: Castle Books. pp. 229–230. ISBN 0-7858-1311-X.
  15. ^ "USS South Dakota Memorial". USS South Dakota. Retrieved 2013-08-19.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°32′36″N 96°45′46″W / 43.54333°N 96.76278°W / 43.54333; -96.76278