USS South Dakota BB57

USS South Dakota BB57 was the name ship of the second South Dakota class of battleships and served in the Pacific late in 1942, with the British Home Fleet during 1943 and in the Pacific again from 1944-45, serving as Admiral Nimitz's flagship during the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay.

The South Dakota was built with seven 1.1in quad mountings, sixteen 20mm guns and eight .50in guns. She ended the war with seventeen quad 40mm mountings (a total of 68 guns) and seventy six 20mm guns in single mountings. 

USS South Dakota (BB-57) from above-front
USS South Dakota (BB-57) from above-front

The South Dakota was laid down in July 1939, launched in June 1941 and commissioned on 20 March 1942. She spent the summer of 1942 working up, before heading for the Pacific in September. Her entry into frontline service was delayed when she hit a coral pinnacle on 6 September, causing damage that took a month to repair.

In late October 1942 the South Dakota left Pearl Harbor as part of TF61, built around the carrier Enterprise. She was part of the Enterprise's screen during the battle of Santa Cruz (26 October 1942), where she claimed 26 Japanese aircraft. She was also hit by a 500lb bomb which failed to penetrate the roof of B turret. The explosion wounded some of the bridge personnel, including the captain, but the ship remained in combat.

On 11 November 1942 South Dakota and Washington formed part of Task Force 64, which had the task of protecting the Enterprise and TF16. On the night of 14-15 November the two battleships took part in the only surface engagement between any of the American 'fast' battleships and Japanese capital ships. During the third phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal a Japanese force under Admiral Kondo attempted to get down the 'slot' in an attempt to regain control of the waters around Guadalcanal. At first the Japanese had the best of the fighting, sinking two destroyers. The South Dakota then opened fire, sinking the destroyer Ayanami. The South Dakota's fire control radar then failed. While she was vulnerable she was lit up by searchlights on the Japanese battleship Kirishima. Five Japanese ships opened fire and the South Dakota suffered 27 hits by 5in or larger shells. No.3 turret was disabled, radar was out, a number of fires were raging and 58 men had been killed. South Dakota was forced to retreat from the fight. This left the Washington alone, but her radar guided fire inflicted critical damage on the Kirishima, forcing the Japanese to scuttle her early on 15 November.

USS South Dakota (BB-57) with notes
USS South Dakota (BB-57) with notes

After undergoing repairs on the US east coast the South Dakota was sent to Scapa Flow, where in June 1943 she and the Alabama replaced the British battleships Howe and King George V, allowing them to take part in the invasion of Sicily. While at Scapa the South Dakota took part in a sortie off the Norwegian coast, designed to distract German attention away from Sicily. This was one of the less successful deception plans of the period as the Germans never actually noticed the fleet at sea. Soon after this operation the South Dakota departed for the Pacific.

In November 1943 Washington, South Dakota and Massachusetts formed part of TG50.1, protecting the carriers Yorktown, Lexington and Cowpens. Starting on 19 November aircraft from this force attacked the Japanese positions on Mili, in the Marshalls, preventing the strong garrison from interfering in the invasions of Tawara and Makin.

In December 1943 Washington, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Indiana and North Carolina formed TF50.7 under the command of Rear Admiral Lee. This task force, covered by the carriers Bunker Hill and Monterey took part in a heavy bombardment of Kwajelein on 8 December, firing 810 16in shells. 

Eight of the fast battleships took part in Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshalls (29 January 1944). North Carolina, South Dakota and Alabama provided an escort for TG58.3 (the carriers Essex, Intrepid and Cabot) and were positioned off Maloelap Atoll, which was strongly garrisoned by the Japanese, but bypassed by American land forces.

On 17-18 February 1944 six of the fast battleships took part in a raid on Truk. Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina and South Dakota provided the close escort for the carriers as part of TG 58.3. This was followed six days later by the first carrier attack on the Mariana Islands. The US fleet came under heavy air attack and the South Dakota claimed four Japanese aircraft. On 30 March-1 April she supported carriers attacking the Western Carolines.

On 1 May New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota and the newly repaired Indiana took part in a bombardment of Ponape in the Caroline Islands.

Seven of the fast battleships were present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 1944). New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Washington, North Carolina, South Dakota and Indiana formed TG58.7 (Battle Line), under Admiral Lee. Their role was to serve as a bombardment force during the invasion of the Mariana Islands and to engage any Japanese surface force that threatened the carriers. The South Dakota shelled the northwest coast of Tanapag Harbour on Saipan on 13 June. The battle itself proved to be an entirely aerial affair, and so although the battleships were attacked from the air they were never involved in a surface battle. South Dakota was hit bu a 500lb bomb on 19 June. Twenty four men were killed and twenty seven wounded, and she had to go to the US West Coast for repairs after the battle.

She returned to the fleet at the start of October 1944, replacing the Indiana in TG38.3. The fleet then carried out a second set of raids, this time hitting Okinawa (10 October), Luzon (11 October and 15 October) and Formosa (12-14 October). This time the Japanese responded in some force, but the resulting battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944) was a crushing defeat for them. The Americans shot down over 600 Japanese aircraft, crippling their air power just before the battle of Leyte Gulf.

Concert on Quarterdeck of USS South Dakota (BB-57)
Concert on Quarterdeck of USS South Dakota (BB-57)

The fast battleships had a frustrating time during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944). At first they were split into three pairs. Iowa and New Jersey formed TG38.2. South Dakota and Massachusetts formed TG38.3. Washington and Alabama formed TG38.4. Each of these groups protected part of Halsey's carrier force, which was spread out to the north of Leyte Gulf. They faced two of the four Japanese fleets approaching for the 'decisive battle' - Kurita's powerful battleships, approaching from the west, and Ozawa's empty carriers, coming from the north. On 24 October Kurita's fleet came under constant air attack, and the super-battleship Musashi was sunk. Halsey was convinced that Kurita no longer posed a threat, and so when Ozawa's carriers were detected late in the day he decided to take his entire fleet north to deal with them. The six fast battleships were formed into Task Force 34, and were sent north to act as the vanguard of a dash towards the Japanese carriers. Admiral Lee, commanding the battleships, protested against this move, believing correctly that it would allow Admiral Kurita to pass unopposed through the San Bernardino Strait and potentially attack the weaker US 7th Fleet in Leyte Gulf.

Halsey overruled Lee's protests and the battleships headed north. During the morning of 25 October the fast battleships moved ever further to the north, away from Kurita's powerful force, which was now engaged in a desperate battle with a group of escort carriers (Battle of the Samar Sea). During the morning Halsey received a series of increasingly desperate calls for help from the south, but it was a message from Nimitz at Hawaii that eventually convinced him to send the battleships south. At 10.55 Lee was ordered to head south at top speed, at which point he was only 42 nautical miles from the Japanese carriers (all of Ozawa's carriers were sunk by American aircraft in the battle of Cape Engano). By this time the worst of the crisis to the south was over, but Kurita was still in a potentially dangerous position off the east coast of the Philippines. Once again Lee missed the chance for a surface battle. Kurita retreated through the San Bernardino Strait at 10pm on 25 October and Lee arrived off the straits at 1am on 26 October. This was the last occasion on which US and Japanese battleships were close enough for a possible surface battle. For the rest of the war the fast battleships would perform a valuable role, mainly providing anti-aircraft fire to protect the carriers along with some shore bombardment, but they would never again have a chance to perform their main role of surface warfare.

OS2U being overhauled on USS Washington (BB-56)
OS2U being overhauled on USS South Dakota (BB-57)

In February 1945 the South Dakota escorted the carriers as they attacked Tokyo (17 and 25 February) and Iwo Jima (19-20 February, in support of the invasion). Okinawa and the mainland of Japan were attacked in March. On 19 April the South Dakota bombarded shore targets on Okinawa in direct support of XIV Corps.

The South Dakota suffered more damage on 6 May when a tank of 16in powder exploded. The resulting fire triggered four more explosions and turret II magazines had to be flooded to avoid worse. Eleven men were killed and 24 injured and the ship spent the rest of May at Guam undergoing repairs.

In July 1945 the fast battleships accompanied the US carriers as they raided the Japanese mainland. South Dakota, Indiana and Massachusetts bombarded the Kamaishi steel works on 14 July and 9 August and an aircraft factory at Hamamatsu in 29-30 July. Honshu was attacked on 10 August and Tokyo on 13 and 15 August, the day on which Japan surrendered.

The South Dakota served as Admiral Nimitz's flagship during the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, entering the bay on 29 August and remaining there until 20 September.

By October the South Dakota had returned to the US. She moved to the East Coast in January 1946, was placed in reserve in June and was decommissioned in 1948. She was struck off the Navy List in 1962 and sold for scrap later in the year.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



15,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

12.2in on .875in STS

 - lower belt

12.2in-1in on 0.875in STS

 - armour deck

5.75in-6in with 1.5in weather deck and 0.625in splinter deck

 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turrets

18in face, 7.25in roof, 9.5in side, 12in rear, 16in CT




108ft 2in

Armaments as designed

Nine 16in/45 guns in triple turrets
Eighteen 5in/38 guns in twin turrets
Twelve 1.1in guns in quadruple turrets
Twelve 0.5in guns
Three aircraft

Crew complement


Laid Down

5 July 1939


7 June 1941


20 March 1942



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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 June 2012), USS South Dakota BB57 ,

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