U.S. Navy Battleships - USS South Dakota (BB 57)
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Displacement: 35,000 tons
Speed: 27.8 knots
Armament: Nine 16" guns; sixteen 5" guns; sixty-eight 40 mm guns and seventy-six 20 mm guns
Class: South Dakota
Text from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the Naval Historical Center
The second South Dakota (BB-57) was laid down on 5 July 1939 at
Camden, NJ, by the New York Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 7
June 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Harlan J. Bushfield; and
commissioned on 20 March 1942, Capt. Thomas L. Gatch in command.
After fitting out at Philadelphia, South Dakota held shakedown
training from 3 June to 26 July 1942. She stood out of
Philadelphia Navy Yard on 16 August and headed for Panama. The
battleship transited the Panama Canal on 21 August and set
course for the Tonga Islands, arriving at Nukualofa, Tongatabu,
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 sailed for the Pearl Harbor Navy
Yard and repairs.
South Dakota was ready for sea again on 12 October 1942 and began
training with Task Force (TF) 16 which was built around aircraft
carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6). The task force sortied from Pearl
Harbor on 16 October to join TF 17, which was centered on
carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), northeast of Espiritu Santo. The
rendezvous was made on the 24th; and the combined force, now
operating as TF 61 under Rear Admiral T. C. Kinkaid, was ordered
to make a sweep of the Santa Cruz Islands and then move
southwest to block any Japanese forces approaching Guadalcanal.
Catalina patrol bombers sighted a Japanese carrier force at
noon on October 25, 1942, and TF 61 steamed northwest to
intercept it. Early the next morning, when all carrier forces
were within striking range, a Japanese snooper spotted the
American force, triggering the Battle of Santa Cruz. South
Dakota and the Enterprise group were approximately 10 miles from
the Hornet group when the air battle began.
The first enemy attack was concentrated against Hornet. At 1045,
South Dakota was operating near Enterprise to provide protective
fire from her numerous antiaircraft guns when their group was
attacked by dive bombers. Approximately an hour later, about 40
torpedo planes struck at the two ships. A third aerial assault,
made by dive bombers and torpedo planes, came in at 1230. South
Dakota sustained a 500-pound bomb hit on top of her number one
turret. When the action was broken off that evening, the
American forces retired toward Noumea, New Caledonia, with the
battleship credited with downing 26 enemy planes.
At 0414 on 30 October, while avoiding a submarine contact, South
Dakota and USS Mahan (DD-364) collided, causing damage to both
ships. Mahan's bow was turned to port and crumpled to frame 14,
and a fire, soon brought under control, started in her forward
hold. Both ships continued to Noumea where USS Vestal (AR-4)
repaired South Dakota's collision and battle damage.
On 11 November 1942, South Dakota, as part of TF 16, sortied from
Noumea for Guadalcanal. On 13 November, she joined battleship
USS Washington (BB-56) and destroyers USS Preston (DD-379), USS Walke (DD-
418), USS Benham (DD-397), and USS Gwin (DD-433) to form TF 64 under
command of Rear Admiral W. A. Lee. The next evening at 2330, the
force was operating 50 miles southwest of Guadalcanal when Lee
learned that an enemy convoy was coming through the passage off Savo sometime between 0030 and 0230. This was Admiral Kondo's
bombardment group consisting of the battleship Kirishima; heavy
cruisers Takao and Atago; and a destroyer screen.
Admiral Kondo's forces were divided into three sections: the
bombardment group; a close screen of cruiser Nagara and six
destroyers; and a distant screen of cruiser Sendai and three
destroyers in the van of the other forces. A quarter moon
assured good visibility. Three ships were visually sighted from
the bridge of South Dakota, range 18,100 yards. Washington fired
on the leading ship, thought to be a battleship or heavy
cruiser; and, a minute later, South Dakota's main battery opened
on the ship nearest to her. Both initial salvos started fires on
the targets. South Dakota then fired on another target and
continued firing until it disappeared from her radar screen.
Turret No. 3 — firing over her stern and demolishing her own
planes in the process — opened on another target and continued
firing until the target was thought to sink. Her secondary
batteries were firing at eight destroyers close to the shore of
A short lull followed after which radar plot showed four enemy
ships, just clear of the left tangent of Savo, approaching from
the starboard bow; range 5,800 yards. 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.
South Dakota, which had been under fire from at least three of
the ships, had taken 42 hits which caused considerable damage.
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 Noumea. 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. Benham had
part of her bow blown off by a torpedo and, while en route to
Noumea with the damaged Gwin as her escort, had to be abandoned.
Gwin then sank her by gunfire. On the enemy side, hits had been
scored on Takao and Atago; Kirishima and destroyer Ayanami,
severely damaged by gunfire, were abandoned and scuttled.
USS Prometheus (AR-3) repaired some of the damage inflicted on South
Dakota at Noumea, enabling the battleship to sail on the 25th
for Tongatabu and thence for home. South Dakota arrived at New
York on 18 December 1942 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 USS Ranger (CV 4) in
the North Atlantic until mid-April.
The battleship next operated with the British Home Fleet, based
at Scapa Flow, until 1 August when she returned to Norfolk. On
21 August, 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 (BatDiv) 8 and 9 in support of Task
Group (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 1943, to neutralize enemy airfields there. The force
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 6 December to bombard Nauru Island. A joint aerial
attack and shore bombardment severely damaged enemy shore
installations and airfields there. South Dakota retired to Efate
on 12 December 1943 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, along with sister
ship USS Alabama (BB 60), and the fast battleship USS North Carolina (BB 55), moved in to shell enemy positions on Roi and Namur. South Dakota 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 which launched attacks against that
Japanese stronghold on 17 and 18 February 1944. Six days later,
she was in the screen for the carriers that launched the first
air attacks against the Marianas. The force was under constant
enemy air attack, and South Dakota splashed four Japanese
planes. She returned to Majuro from 26 February until 22 March
when she sailed with the fast carrier forces of the 5th Fleet.
Air strikes were delivered from 30 March until 1 April against
Palau, Yap, Woleai, and Ulithi in the Western Caroline Islands.
South Dakota returned to Majuro on 6 April 1944 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, Tanahmerah, and Humboldt Bays
to support the Army landings. On 29 and 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 the 11th against enemy
installations throughout the islands. On the 13th, 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 May 15, 1944, 8 to 12 enemy fighters and bombers
broke through the combat air patrol and attacked the task group.
South Dakota fired at four and splashed one; and 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 "Judy" dropped a 500-pound 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. 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 the 20th. 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 1944.
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 Task Force 38, the Fast
Carrier Task Force. The task force sortied on 6 October and,
four days later, launched air attacks against Okinawa. On the
12th and 13th, 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 through 26 January
1945, the fast carriers alternated strikes between Formosa on 3,
4, 9, 15, and 21 January; Luzon on the 6th and 7th; Cape San
Jacques and Camranh Bay on the 12th; Hong Kong and Hainan on the
16th; and against Okinawa on 22 January.
South Dakota operated with the fast carriers in their strikes
against the Tokyo area on 17 February 1945 and against Iwo Jima
on the 19th and 20th in support of amphibious landings there.
Tokyo again was the target on the 25th, 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
Kyushu areas on 18 and 19 March. They launched strikes against
Okinawa on the 23d; and, on the 24th, the battleship joined a
bombardment group which shelled southeastern Okinawa. She
rejoined her task group which, after bombing Okinawa, struck
enemy airfields in southern Kyushu on the 29th and then, from 31
March through 3 April, again pounded targets on Okinawa. On 7
April 1945, all fast carriers launched attacks against an enemy
fleet off southwest Kyushu, sinking Japan's fast super
battleship Yamato, two cruisers, 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 re-arming from USS Wrangell (AE-12) on 6 May, a tank of 16-inch
high capacity powder 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 to 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 the 10th. On 14
July, as part of a bombardment group, she participated in the
shelling of the Kamaishi Steel Works, Kamaishi, Honshu, Japan.
This was the first gunfire attack on the Japanese home islands
by heavy warships. From 15 through 28 March, South Dakota again
supported the carriers as they launched strikes against Honshu
and Hokkaido. On the night of 29 and 30 July, she participated
in the shore bombardment of Hamamatsu, Honshu, and, on the 9th,
again shelled Kamaishi. The battleship supported the carriers in
strikes against northern Honshu on 10 August 1945, and in the
Tokyo area on the 13th and 15th. The latter was the last strike
of the war for, later that day, Japan capitulated.
She anchored in Sagami Wan, Honshu, on 27 August and entered
Tokyo Bay on the 29th. 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. She sailed from the
west coast on 3 January 1946 for Philadelphia and a yard
overhaul. In June, she was attached to the Atlantic Reserve
On 31 January 1947, she was placed in reserve, out of
commission. The battleship remained in that status until she was
struck from the Navy list on 1 June 1962. On 25 October 1962,
she was sold to Lipsett Division, Luria Bros. and Co., Inc., for
South Dakota received 13 battle stars for World War II service.
Updated: 30 July 2009