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USS South Dakota (BB-57)
The USS South Dakota
The USS South Dakota anchored in Iceland, 1943.
Career (US)
Namesake: State of South Dakota
Ordered: 15 December 1938
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Laid down: 5 July 1939
Launched: 7 June 1941
Commissioned: 20 March 1942
Decommissioned: 31 January 1947
Struck: 1 June 1962
Nickname: Battleship "X"
Fate: sold for scrap / Parts of the ship are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
General characteristics
Class & 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
Armament: 9 × 16 in (410 mm)/45 cal Mark 6 guns
16 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal guns
68 × 40 mm guns
76 × 20 mm guns

USS South Dakota (BB-57) was a battleship in the United States Navy 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. During World War II, she first served in a fifteen-month tour in the Pacific theater, where she saw combat before returning to New York for an overhaul. Back on operational duties in May 1943, she joined British Home Fleet patrols in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans before sailing to the Pacific in August 1943 for a second tour. There, she participated in combat operations preparatory to the invasion of Japan until her return to the United States in October 1945.

Calvin Graham, believed to be the youngest US serviceman to have fought in World War II, served aboard her.[1]


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, Captain Thomas Leigh Gatch in command. The South Dakota was completed with only 8 twin 5"/38 gun turrets as opposed to the ten as completed in her sisters.

Service history

World War II

After fitting out at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as a force flagship, South Dakota held shakedown training from 3 June through 26 July 1942. She 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

The battleship transited the Panama Canal on 21 August 1942, and headed for the Tonga Islands, arriving at Nukuʻalofa, Tonga on 4 September; two days later, she struck an uncharted coral pinnacle in Lahai Passage and suffered extensive damage to her hull. On 12 September, the ship set sail for the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard to receive repairs.[2]

South Dakota was ready for sea again on 12 October, and began training with Task Force 16 (TF 16), built around the aircraft carrier Enterprise. The task force left Pearl Harbor on 16 October, to join TF 17, centered on the Hornet, northeast of Espiritu Santo; the rendezvous was made on 24 October. The combined force, operating as 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 forces that may be approaching Guadalcanal.

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 force, triggering the Battle of Santa Cruz. South Dakota and the Enterprise group were approximately 10 mi (16 km) from the Hornet group when the air 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 enemy attack was concentrated against the Hornet. South Dakota operated near Enterprise to provide her protective fire against the attacking aircraft. At 1045 Task Force 16 was attacked by a group of dive bombers. Approximately an hour later the task force was again attacked, this time by some 40 torpedo bombers. A third aerial assault was made with both dive bombers and torpedo bombers, coming in at 1230. South Dakota suffered a 550 lb (250 kg) bomb hit on top of her number one turret. When the action was broken off that evening, the American forces retired toward Nouméa, New Caledonia. South Dakota was credited with downing 26 enemy planes. She had fired 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%.[3]

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.[4] A fire erupted in Mahan's forward hold, but which was soon brought under control. Both ships continued to Nouméa, where Vestal repaired South Dakota's collision and battle damage.

On 11 November, South Dakota and TF 16 sortied from Nouméa for Guadalcanal. Two days later she joined the battleship Washington and destroyers Preston, Walke, Benham, and Gwin to form TF 64 under command of Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee. By the next evening, the force was operating 50 mi (90 km) southwest of Guadalcanal when 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.[5]

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 visually sighted from the bridge of South Dakota. Washington fired on the lead ship, thought to be a battleship or heavy cruiser. A minute later, South Dakota's main battery opened fire on the ship nearest to her. Both initial salvos struck and started fires on the respective targets. South Dakota then fired on a second target, continuing firing until it disappeared from her radar. Turret No. 3 then began firing over her stern on another target, demolishing her 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 destroyers that lay close to the shore of Savo Island.

A short lull followed after the radar plot showed four enemy 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 enemy 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.[6] South Dakota, under fire from at least three ships, took 42 hits, causing considerable damage.[7] 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 she was no longer receiving enemy fire and there were no remaining targets, she withdrew, met Washington at a prearranged rendezvous, and proceeded to Nouméa. 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.

South Dakota off Norfolk Navy Yard in 1943

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

Battleship "X"

USS South Dakota, also known as "Battleship X," "Old Nameless," "Sodak," and the "Black Prince."[8]

In major sea engagements before South Dakota was less than a year old, her 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 her real name in American newspapers or radio broadcasts."[9]

Tour in Europe

The battleship operated with the British Home Fleet, based at Scapa Flow, from May 1943. She formed part of a US Navy task force under the command of Rear Admiral Olaf M. Hustvedt alongside sister battleship Alabama and heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa. The task force's role was to counter the German battleship Tirpitz and she 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.[10]

Second Tour in the Pacific

On 21 August 1943, South Dakota stood out of Norfolk en route to Efate Island, arriving at Havannah Harbor on 14 September. She 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 carriers launched attacks against Jaluit and Mili atolls, Marshall Islands, on 19 November, to neutralize enemy airfields there; then provided air support for the amphibious landings on Makin and Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.

South Dakota, with five other battleships, formed another task group on 8 December to bombard Nauru Island; the joint aerial attack and shore bombardment severely damaged enemy 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 carriers launched attacks against Roi and Namur, Marshall Islands. The next day, the battleship moved in to shell enemy positions on Roi and Namur, then rejoined the 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 with the Truk striking force, launching attacks against that Japanese stronghold on 17–18 February. Six days later, she was in the screen for the carriers which launched the first air attacks against the Mariana Islands. The force was under constant enemy air attack, and South Dakota shot down four Japanese planes. She returned to Majuro from 26 February to 22 March, when she sailed with the fast 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 fast 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 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. She returned to Majuro for upkeep from 4 May to 5 June, when she got underway with TF 58 to participate in Operation Forager, the landings on Saipan and Tinian. The 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 her primary and secondary batteries.

On the evening of 15 June, 8–12 enemy fighters and bombers broke through the combat air patrol and attacked the task group; South Dakota fired at four bringing down one; the remaining 11 were shot down by fire from other ships. On 19 June, the battleship was again operating with the fast 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 enemy force.

At 1012, a large group of bogies was reported coming in from the west. At 1049, 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 ship 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 task group returned to Ulithi on 27 June, and South Dakota sailed via Pearl Harbor to the west coast, arriving at Puget Sound on 10 July.

The battleship was overhauled at the navy yard there; and, after sea trials, sailed on 26 August for Pearl Harbor. South Dakota was routed to Ulithi and, upon her 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, carriers of the group flew strikes against targets on Manila and Luzon to support the landings on Mindoro. From 30 December 1944 to 26 January 1945, the fast 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 fast carriers in their strikes against the Tokyo area on 17 February and against Iwo Jima on 19–20 February in support of 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 pounded targets in the Kobe, Kure, and Kyūshū areas on 18–19 March. They launched strikes against Okinawa on 23 March; and on 24 March, the battleship joined a bombardment group which shelled southeastern Okinawa. She rejoined her task group which, after bombing Okinawa, struck enemy airfields in southern Kyūshū on 29 March and then, from 31 March to 3 April, again pounded targets on Okinawa. On 7 April, all fast carriers launched attacks against an enemy fleet off southwest Kyūshū, sinking Japan's fast super battleship Yamato, one light cruiser, and four destroyers.

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

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 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 ship lost three men killed instantly; eight more died of injuries; and 24 others suffered non-fatal wounds. The ship retired to Guam from 11–29 May, when she sailed for Leyte, arriving on 1 June.

South Dakota departed Leyte on 1 July, supporting the carriers of TG 38.1 which attacked the Tokyo area on 10 July. On 14 July, as part of a bombardment group, she 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 carriers as they launched strikes against Honshū and Hokkaidō. On the night of 29–30 July, she participated in the shore bombardment 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.

She 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, she moved down the coast from San Francisco, to San Pedro, California.


A memorial to the ship is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and includes several relics from the ship 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, she was attached to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet; and on 31 January 1947, she was placed in reserve, out of commission. The battleship remained in that status until she was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on 1 June 1962. On 25 October, she was sold to the Lipsett Division of Luria Brothers & Company, Inc., for scrap at a cost 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. She is memorialized at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where memorabilia and parts of the ship 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.

Awards and popular reception

South Dakota received 13 battle stars for World War II service.

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."[11]

United States Naval Academy

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. Breyer, Rick (2005). The Greatest War Stories Never Told. New York: Collins. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0-06-076017-6. OCLC 58985926. 
  2. Hore, Peter (2005). The World Encyclopedia of Battleships. London: Hermes House. pp. 210–213. ISBN 1-84681-278-X. 
  3. AntiAircraft Action Summary, July 1942 to Dec 1942. United States Navy. p. 111. Information Bulletin No. 22. 
  4. "BB-57 South Dakota". 
  5. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Vice-Admiral Nobutake Kondo". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. 
  6. Frank, Richard B. (1990). Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. Marmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140165614. 
  7. Crocker III, H. W. (2006). Don't Tread on Me. New York: Crown Forum. pp. 301. ISBN 978-1-4000-5363-6. 
  8. "Poster for "Battleship X"". Library of Congress. Retrieved 27 November 2020. 
  9. Potts, JR. "USS South Dakota (BB-57) Battleship - History, Specs and Pictures - Navy Ships". Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  10. 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. 
  11. "USS South Dakota Memorial". Retrieved 2013-08-19. 

External links

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

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