Trace The Life Of USS South Dakota (BB-57)

5 July 1939

New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, laid the keel of the second USS SOUTH DAKOTA (BB-57). This would be the lead ship in the South Dakota class of battleships.

7 June 1941

The ship was launched into the Delaware River, with Vera C. Bushfield, wife of Governor Harlan J. Bushfield of South Dakota, performing the christening honors.

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20 March 1942

USS SOUTH DAKOTA (BB 57) was commissioned into active service in the U.S. Navy, with Captain Thomas L. Gatch in command. The Commandant, Fourth Naval District placed the ship in commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Pennsylvania. The Washington High School band from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, played "Anchors Aweigh" and the "Star Spangled Banner" as the ship slid into the Delaware River.

2 May 1942

Observation Squadron (VO) 6, the SOUTH DAKOTA’s aviation unit, stood up at Floyd Bennett Field, New York, with an initial compliment of six pilots, 27 enlisted men, and three Vought OS2U-3 Kingfisher aircraft.

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5 June 1942

USS SOUTH DAKOTA set sail for her shakedown, a day after proceeding down the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Following gunnery practice and aviation training in Chesapeake Bay, she was in the Atlantic Ocean, practicing high speed runs and tactical exercises on 19 July, when she collided with a large whale, which disappeared beneath the waves. The ship returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 26 July at the completion of her shakedown.

15 August 1942

SOUTH DAKOTA sailed for the Pacific. She and her escorts transited the Panama Canal on 21 August and crossed the International Date Line on 2 September, reaching Tongatabu, Tonga Islands, on 4 September.

6 September 1942

SOUTH DAKOTA struck an uncharted coral pinnacle in Lahai Passage, causing extensive underwater hull damage. Six days later, she sailed for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for repairs.

13 October 1942

SOUTH DAKOTA left Pearl Harbor Navy Yard with four new quad-40-millimeter antiaircraft guns and 22 single 20-millimeter guns added. The Kingfishers contained a new installation of Identification Friend or Foe.

26 October 1942

During the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, a 500-pound bomb exploded on top of Turret I, the battleship’s forward triple 16-inch mount. A bomb fragment wounded Captain Gatch, who was out on the catwalk in front of the bridge, cutting a gash in his jugular vein and knocking him unconscious. Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Herbert Chatelain, the ship’s first battle fatality, was killed by a bomb fragment. SOUTH DAKOTA provided antiaircraft fire that contributed to the survival of USS Enterprise, while USS Hornet was the fourth U.S. fleet carrier lost during 1942. The enemy carriers survived, and Japan scored a tactical victory, but the failure of the simultaneous land offensive on Guadalcanal prevented exploitation of that triumph.

14-15 November 1942

The second Battle of Guadalcanal included a night action off Savo Island. SOUTH DAKOTA sustained 42 major caliber hits in the superstructure. Forty men were killed and 180 wounded. In addition to fires onboard, the battleship suffered electrical failures initiated by the shock of firing. A short circuit in a cable led to an overload that knocked out the main circuit supplying power to the after part of the ship; crewmen restored power within three minutes. Blasts from the 16-inch guns blew two of the three Kingfishers over the side. VO-6’s aviators later presented the gunners with two miniature flags in commemoration of the incident. This battle exposed the Navy’s lack of effective training in night combat. Although the Americans lost more warships, the Japanese withdrew and never again sent large naval forces into the Guadalcanal area.

One of SOUTH DAKOTA'S gun crewmen, and the youngest sailor of World War II, 12-year-old Calvin Graham from Texas, was severely wounded when struck by Japanese shellfire fragments. He continued to man his gun and help pull fellow crewmen to safety. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, which were taken away when the Navy voided his underage enlistment. His story was told in a 1988 made-for-TV film, Too Young the Hero, starring Ricky Schroder. The Navy eventually restored his decorations, some posthumously.

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18 December 1942

Having passed through the Panama Canal on 11 December, SOUTH DAKOTA arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York, for an overhaul and completion of repairs.

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25 February 1943

USS South Dakota returned to sea, following completion of repairs and the installation of 13 quadruple 40-millimeter guns. Captain Lynde McCormick assumed command 1 February.

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12 May 1943

SOUTH DAKOTA sailed from Argentia, Newfoundland. The ships of Task Force 61, which included USS ALABAMA (BB-60), rendezvoused at Scapa Flow on 19 May. They operated with the British Home Fleet in the North Atlantic, Arctic Circle, and North Sea, off Greenland, Iceland, and Norway.

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1 August 1943

SOUTH DAKOTA arrived at Naval Station Norfolk, leaving again on 21 August to transit the Panama Canal and arrive at Havannah Harbor, Efaté, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), on 14 September. Captain Allan Smith relieved Captain McCormick as Commanding Officer on 20 September.

19 November 1943

SOUTH DAKOTA protected the aircraft carriers providing air support for the amphibious landings on Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.

8 December 1943

SOUTH DAKOTA’s first shore bombardment smashed airfields and defenses on Nauru Island, using 135 rounds of 16-inch high capacity shells and 482 rounds of 5-inch antiaircraft common shells.

30 January 1944

During the bombardment of Roi and Namur Islands, Kwajelein Atoll, the battleships SOUTH DAKOTA, ALABAMA, and NORTH CAROLINA made multiple runs against Japanese pill boxes and defensive positions. Marines and soldiers landed on Kwajalein and Majuro the next day.

16 February 1944

Covering operations for liberating the Marshall Islands included a strike on the Japanese naval anchorage on Truk Atoll in the Caroline Islands. SOUTH DAKOTA, as part of the Truk Striking Force, protected the aircraft carriers during their airstrikes.

22 February 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA supported airstrikes against the Japanese garrisons on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian in the Marianas Islands.

30 March 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA supported airstrikes on Palau, Yap, and Woleai in the Caroline Islands. The extensive minefields dropped in the channels and approaches to the Palaus marked the first U.S. large scale daylight tactical use of mines by carrier aircraft. Captain Ralph Riggs had relieved Captain Smith as SOUTH DAKOTA’s Commanding Officer on 17 March 1944.

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22 April 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA helped cover the invasion of Hollandia, New Guinea, by the Army’s I Corps.

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1 May 1944

The main batteries of battleships ALABAMA, SOUTH DAKOTA, IOWA, and NEW JERSEY bombarded airstrips, facilities, wharf areas, and seaplane base on Ponape in the Caroline Islands.

12 June 1944

To support the amphibious landings on Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas, while the carriers launched their second day of strikes, battleships ALABAMA, INDIANA, IOWA, NEW JERSEY, NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTH DAKOTA, and WASHINGTON bombarded Saipan and Tinian. 

19 June 1944

During the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, a 500-pound bomb dropped on SOUTH DAKOTA's main deck with an explosion that tore into the superstructure and gouged an 8x10-foot hole in the deck. SOUTH DAKOTA held a burial at sea for 24 of 27 fallen crewmen that evening. The air battle known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot continued the next day.

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21 June 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA supported airstrikes against the Japanese garrisons on Pagan in the Marianas Islands. 

2 July 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA moored overnight at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, enroute to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. The battleship floated from the drydock on 6 August and left for Hawaii on 25 August. She conducted gunnery training exercises in Hawaiian waters in early September.

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30 September 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA reached the newly built naval base at Ulithi, an atoll in the Caroline Islands.

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25 October 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA became part of the task force sent northward to attack Ozawa’s Northern Force. When this was discovered to be a decoy to lure the carriers away from San Bernardino Strait and the invasion beaches, SOUTH DAKOTA steamed with the other ships back to the San Bernardino Strait, arriving 27 October.

5 November 1944

While supporting airstrikes on Luzon, SOUTH DAKOTA was attacked by enemy planes that made it through the intense antiaircraft fire. Fragments from antiaircraft rounds of supporting ships killed one sailor and wounded seven more. Captain Charles Momsen reported aboard on 9 December and assumed duty as Commanding Officer.

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18 December 1944

A typhoon reached its full fury while SOUTH DAKOTA passed within 20 miles of the center of the storm. At one point, water poured over the fantail when a heavy swell swept over the ship. The typhoon killed at least 790 men in the task force, sank three ships, and seriously damaged 21 others.

30 December 1944

SOUTH DAKOTA, attached to the Third Fleet fast carrier force, sailed from Ulithi. During the next three weeks, she supported airstrikes on Cam Rahn Bay and French Indochina, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canton, Hainan Island, Naru, Amoy, and Okinawa.

16-17 February 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA supported airstrikes on Tokyo and nearby cities, as carrier planes bombed Japanese aircraft factories, airfields, and ships around the Tokyo area.

19 February 1945

When the invasion of Iwo Jima began, the task group gave direct air support to U.S. Marines fighting ashore, as well as continuing airstrikes on Tokyo and nearby cities.

11 March 1945

The Japanese launched a surprise attack against the U.S. fleet anchorage at Ulithi, with kamikazes flying a one-way mission at the limit of their range. Aircraft carrier USS RANDOLPH, riding at anchor near SOUTH DAKOTA, who had returned to Ulithi on 5 March, received heavy damage.

14 March 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA deployed with a task force from Ulithi to support the invasion of Okinawa in the Ryūkyū Islands. During the following week, she supported the carriers conducting airstrikes on Kyushu, Shikoko, Kobe, Kure. and Osaka.

24 March 1945

Eight battleships in three groups began the bombardment of Okinawa; supported airstrikes and ground forces. NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTH DAKOTA, and WASHINGTON opened fire at Japanese coastal defense installations along southeastern Okinawa, using slow, deliberate fire, with spotting conducted by their observation planes.

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29 March 1945

Following four days of bombardment, the battleships continued to support airstrikes and landings, participating in numerous air and sea battles off Okinawa for the next six weeks.

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6 May 1945

A working party was hoisting ammunition aboard SOUTH DAKOTA when a tank of 16-inch H.C. powder exploded as the men passed it into a magazine. The explosion and fire set off four other tanks, killing 11 men and injuring 24 others. A memorial service was held that evening. SOUTH DAKOTA continued in action as her crew repaired the damage.

11 May 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA received orders to sail to Guam for inspection and repairs of her shafts and strut bearings to determine the cause of excessive vibration at high speeds. The ship had been steaming for 59 days and could not carry out routine boiler maintenance or correct engineering problems.

14-29 May 1945

Repairs were completed at Apra, Guam.

1 June 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA reached Leyte Gulf, Philippine Islands, where she remained for a month to support the invasion.

10 July 1945

The carriers began strikes on airfields in the Tōkyō plains area, in preparation for attacking the homeland. SOUTH DAKOTA supported airstrikes on Northern Honshu and Kokkaido.

14 July 1945

The bombardment group of INDIANA, MASSACHUSETTS, and SOUTH DAKOTA initiated the first gunfire attack on the Japanese home islands by heavy warships during WWII. SOUTH DAKOTA was first to open fire. SN1c Glenn Arnold in the main battery plot pressed the trigger that sent the first 16-inch salvo onto the Kamaishi Steel Works at Kamaishi, Honshū. For the next month, the battleships supported carrier airstrikes on Northern Honshu and Hokkaido, including Yokusuka Naval Base and cities in the Tokyo area.

29 July 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA and other battleships conducted night bombardment of Hamamatsu industrial targets on Honshu island.

9-10 August 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA bombarded Kimaishi on Honshu and supported carrier raids to bomb Honshū-Hokkaido area.

15 August 1945

Carriers were launching strikes against the Tokyo plains when word arrived that the Japanese accepted the terms of unconditional surrender. SOUTH DAKOTA received orders at 0638 to cease firing. On 17 August, Captain Emmet Forrestel assumed command of the battleship.

27 August 1945

Admiral Halsey led ships of the Third Fleet into Sagami Wan, outside the entrance to Tokyo Bay. SOUTH DAKOTA crewmen noted that many Japanese troops and civilians stopped to watch the fleet enter the bay, while others continued with their daily tasks.

29 August 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA entered Tokyo Bay and dropped anchor. Admiral Halsey boarded the battleship to greet Fleet Admiral Nimitz when he arrived in a PB2Y seaplane and made SOUTH DAKOTA his flagship.

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2 September 1945

The Japanese formally surrendered onboard USS MISSOURI in Tōkyō Bay. Fleet Admiral Nimitz attended the surrender ceremony, returned to SOUTH DAKOTA, and departed the next morning to return to his headquarters on Guam.

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5 September 1945

Admiral Halsey boarded SOUTH DAKOTA, which became the Third Fleet flagship, from which he directed the naval phase of the occupation of the Japanese home islands.

20 September 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA departed Japan for Buckner Bay, Okinawa, to embark 600 men returning home, and then sailed to Pearl Harbor.

15 October 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA and Admiral Halsey made a triumphal entry into San Francisco Bay and steamed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, leading 53 other ships and submarines. A large “Homeward Bound” pennant dangled from her mast. During World War II, SOUTH DAKOTA steamed 246,970 miles, participated in nine bombardments, crossed the equator 30 times, the Arctic Circle twice, and the International Date Line 30 times.

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29 October 1945

SOUTH DAKOTA moved down the coast from San Francisco to Long Beach, California. Rear Admiral Kingman relieved Admiral Halsey of command of the Third Fleet on 22 November, and Captain Carlton Todd relieved Captain Forrestel as Commanding Officer on 1 December.

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3 January 1946

SOUTH DAKOTA left California, transited through the Panama Canal, and arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 20 January.

31 January 1947

SOUTH DAKOTA was decommissioned and placed in reserve status.

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1 June 1962

 SOUTH DAKOTA was stricken from the Navy list.

25 October 1962

Lipsett Division of Luria Brothers and Company purchased the battleship for $466,665. The following month, tugs towed her to Kearny, New Jersey, to be scrapped.

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7 September 1969

Battleship South Dakota Memorial was dedicated in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Vera Bushfield, who had christened USS SOUTH DAKOTA in 1941, lit an eternal flame to her memory and in honor of her crew.

Primary sources

USS South Dakota: The Story of ‘Battleship X’ by Paul Stillwell, 1972.

“South Dakota (BB-57) II 1941-1942” by Mark L. Evans, Naval History and Heritage Command, Jan 10, 2013.

“South Dakota (BB-57) 1943-44” by Mark L. Evans, Naval History and Heritage Command, Jan 10, 2013.

“South Dakota II (BB-57) 30 December 1944–7 September 1969” by Mark L. Evans, Naval History and Heritage Command, 4 June 2019.