Saturday, June 7, 2008

BB-57, U.S.S. South Dakota ,Commisioned June 7th 1941

On July 5th 1939 the keel was laid for the first of a new class of ship known as the “Fast Battleships” for the U.S. Navy. The USS South Dakota, keel # BB-57 was born in the shipyards of Camden New Jersey.
Commissioned on 7 June 1941 the South Dakota was sent to the Pacific Theater of War making the Panama passage on 21 August 1942. Intense efforts were made to keep her existence secret and for sometime she was referred to as "Battleship X” or “Old Nameless”.

At the battle of Santa Cruz the South-Dakota was hit with a 500 lb Japanese bomb that severely injured her captain, but in return she was credited with shooting down 32 enemy planes during the engagement, a record that stood for the rest of the war.

On the 14-15 November 1942 the South-Dakota was engaged in night action during the 3rd battle of Savo Island (Guadalcanal) and sustained heavy damage from 42 shell hits. Her reply to this insult was to sink 3 Japanese cruisers and inflict heavy damage on several others. In December 1942 she returned to New York for major battle damage repairs in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After repairs the South-Dakota had operations with the British Fleet in the North Atlantic. Although she flew the American Flag all radio transmissions to her at this time were coded H.M.S. Black Prince. Once again this was an attempt to keep her identity secret and to confuse the German Navy. The main goal of the South-Dakota for these North Atlantic operations was to try and engage the German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to the sunken battleship Bismarck. No action was undertaken during this time.
South-Dakota returned to the Pacific in November 1943 and was used heavily in the Island Hopping campaign towards the Japanese homeland participating in almost every operation. The South Dakota fired the first heavy caliber shells on the Japanese home islands on 14 July 45 during the bombardment of Kamaishi, Honshu.

All in all the South Dakota earned 13 Battle Stars, sank 3 enemy ships, and shot down 64 planes. She was present in Tokyo Harbor during the signing of the Japanese surrender and as the most decorated Battleship in the Fleet the documents were supposed to have been signed on her decks. However, Harry S. Truman was the President at the time of the surrender and he was from Missouri. Since the USS Missouri was also present in Tokyo harbor, well the rest is history.
This ship is of special interest to me because for as long as I can remember my Dad told me stories of the South Dakota. Dad was a “plank owner” of this ship. Being a plank owner simply means he was a member of the crew that commissioned the ship and prepared it for active duty. Dad was a boiler man and was aboard the ship before it ever sailed the first time. He was there for the shakedown cruise, remained aboard her for the rest of the war and was in Tokyo Harbor during the Japanese surrender. The South Dakota was decommissioned after the war and in 1962 was destined for the scrap yard. Much was salvaged from the ship and a memorial to her grandeur is in Sioux Falls South Dakota where many pieces of the ship and its artifacts are on public display.

In 2006 while researching some information about the South Dakota, I learned the Navy had salvaged the teak wood decking from the ship. A little more than 1400 pounds of this decking was given to a historian for the ship and in return he distributed foot long pieces of it to member of the crew still living or to family members of the crew. The only cost for this wood was shipping and handling. I ordered a piece of this deck and my siblings and I presented it to Dad for Christmas 2006. Needless to say Dad was extremely pleased with it and he kept it handy to show to visitors. Sadly he only enjoyed it for a couple of months as he passed away in March of 2007. Not to worry though, he has his piece of decking with him still.

There is a bonus to this final note too. When the foot long piece of decking was cut for my Dad an eight-inch piece was all that was left from that particular board. The historian handling the wood sent me the extra piece and I have it to this day.

Dad was very proud of his service aboard this ship and I miss hearing his stories. Memories I cherish dearly.


gerry58 said...

Great post, Joe, Brought back alot of good memories. Battleships, especially the later ones, are undoubtedly the most amazing warships ever built. My dad was a plank owner for the "Big J". I also heard stories of his many exploits on a battlewagon, from the start to end of the of WWII, for my entire life, until he passed away just a few years ago.

If you are into battleships, go to the USS New Jersey memorial in Camden, NJ. It an experience you'll never forget. Given the long service life of the USS NJ, it is equipped with weapons technology from the "big guns" as they were designed at commissioning, to a Phalanx defense system and Tomahawk missles. It's a one-ship history of modern naval warfare.

My favorite non-dad BB war story is on a video I have about the NJ, told by an Army platoon commander. During Vietnam, his platoon was surrounded on all four sides and greatly outnumbered by Viet Cong. He radio'ed for some air support or something-anything- to help get them out of a jam. The Army said nothing was available at that time. But another voice on the radio asked for their coordinates, as maybe they could help. The commander asked who was on the radio. The reply was "This is the USS New Jersey". To which the commander replied that they apparently didn't understand. They were in a mountain valley deep inside Vietnam, and not on the coast. The ship's Captain said "I know. Group your men together and send me the EXACT coordinates of your position", which he did. They heard the first volley of shots hit, and they were no way near them or the enemy. Little did they they know that the USS NJ had to BLOW OFF THE PEAKS OF THE MOUNTAINS that lay between them and the ship, in order to get the proper shell trajectory to their position. Subsequent vollies landed all around them, completely wiping out the enemy forces that threatened them. There was not a single fatality to his men from friendly fire. This was all done with 1940's ANALOG technology. Simply amazing..........

Bunker Britches said...

Very nice posting on the So. Dak. I only know of two other people this piece would mean as much to as it does to you. I'm glad to see it posted. Who knows, maybe others in the blog world will have such a special interest in such articles and/or the proud heritage of our U.S. Navy and her fleet.

Glad to see you blogging again. I expect that the warmer weather lengthens the "honey do" list. LOL

Soapbox said...

Thanks for the story Gerry. I'm sure your Dad and mine together would make for interesting conversation. The Big J was a newer class then the So Dak and was with the USS Wisconsin and I believe the USS North Carolina. All were in the 35,000 ton class.

Maybe I will post some of Dads stories here as time goes on.

Thanks for stopping in.

Soapbox said...

Thanks to you also BB.
Honey do list grows daily and a new interest has also arisen for the two of us---motorcycles.

Also it's shooting season again. Can't wait to dust some clays.

gerry58 said...

The NC was actually an earlier class than the SD. The "Iowa class" BB's that were completed were the USS Iowa, NJ, Missouri and Wisconsin.

I also chuckled about your dad being upset about where the armistice was signed. This also ticked my dad off to no end. Ships like the IA, NJ, and the SD were in the middle of the battles of WWII, and all were part of many distinguised victories. The MO had just been finished near the end of the war and saw virtually no action. However, it was selected for the signing because it was shiny and new, and as you said, named after the President's state.

Soapbox said...


You are correct about the NC. I was just a tad confused. Another friend also called me with the same info.


Bunker Britches said...

Soap, Better be careful of those "war stories." If your dad was like most "old salts", not all of his stories may be fit to print. LOL I'd love to see some of the more "printable" ones though.

Soapbox said...

No doubt about that BB. LOL

Some of those stories can be a little racy but many of the others are quite intersting.