(A historical review of the famed "Battleship X")
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
NAVAL HISTORY DIVISION (OP 09B9)
SHIPS' HISTORIES SECTION
USS SOUTH DAKOTA (BB57) is the second ship of the fleet to be named in honor of the State of South Dakota. the first South Dakota was an armored cruise of 13,680 tons, mounting 8-inch guns, which was commissioned in 1908. Her name was changed to USS Huron, in 1920 to honor the South Dakota city of that name, as a new battleship was to be christened SOUTH DAKOTA. She was placed out of commission and sold in 1930.
The name SOUTH DAKOTA was assigned to a battleship displaying 43,200 tons. Her keel was laid March 15, 1920, but she was scrapped when 38.5% complete in accordance with the Washington Treaty for Limitation of Naval Armament.
The second SOUTH DAKOTA (BB57) was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, and was launched June 7, 1941, with Mrs. Harlan J. Bushfield, wife of the Governor of South Dakota, acting as sponsor. Commissioning Day was March 20, 1942, and her first Commanding Officer, Captain Thomas L. Gatch, USN, read his orders to the crew. However, it was not until June 4 that the ship was ready for her trial runs, due to the tremendous amount of work required on a battleship, particularly her turret. On August 16, 1942 she was underway for her first war cruise, with the usual green crew who were to find themselves quickly, and with her shakedown and training period behind her. It was three years to the day before Japan was to surrender.
USS South Dakota The Story of "Battleship "X"
by Paul Stillwell, 1972
Because of the World War II exploits against the Japanese in the South Pacific, this mighty battleship became a legend before she was a year old. She caught the fancy of the American people when her heroics were reported in newspapers under the titles of "Battleship X" and "Old Nameless".
Newspaper Clipping from The Detroit News
U.S. Identifies "Battleship X"
"Veil lifted on Victor in Guadalcanal Battle"
Washington, Oct. 2 (1943)-(U.P.)
The Navy today identified its famous battleship "X" as the 35,000-ton South Dakota. This was the ship, commanded by Capt. Thomas L. Gatch, which sent three Japanese cruisers to the bottom within a matter of minutes during the battle of Guadalcanal last November. The South Dakota previously had slugged safely through the heaviest air attack yet made on a battleship, sending 32 Japanese planes down in flames. The Navy in revealing the name explained that the vessel's identity was withheld because it was of a new class of battleships bearing new armament and possessing increased fire power. The idea was that the Navy did not want to give the enemy confirmed information.
"God on a Battlewagon"
Captain James V. Claypool, Chaplain of BB57 (Page35)
"Everything about the ship was secret, even its name, which did not appear at any place on board. Members of the crew were warned against writing USS South Dakota on personal belongings. Diaries were barred. We were the Battleship "X".
Battle of Santa Cruz
"God on a Battlewagon" (Page 4)
Battlewagon vs. Aircraft
" Down in the sick bay, we heard our guns start firing about noon as the first wave of Japanese bombers attacked. Overhead, a flyer from the Enterprise looked down on us and in our radio room they heard him say, " My God, she's on fire". But what the flyer had seen was the mass of flames from all of our own guns. There were twenty Japanese dive bombers in the first wave: our gunners got them."
**** MESSAGE ****
GREETINGS TO THE SUPERB OFFICERS AND MEN ON SEA, LAND AND IN THE AIR, ALSO UNDER THE SEA: THE MEN WHO HAVE PERFORMED SUCH MAGNIFICENT FEATS FOR OUR BELOVED COUNTRY IN THE PAST FEW DAYS.
YOU HAVE WRITTEN YOUR NAMES DEEPLY IN GOLDEN LETTERS ON THE PAGES OF HISTORY AND HAVE WON THE UNDYING GRATITUDE OF YOUR COUNTRYMEN.
MY PRIDE IN YOU IS BEYOND EXPRESSION. NO HONOR FOR YOU COULD BE TOO GREAT.
MAGNIFICENTLY DONE !
MAY GOD BLESS EACH AND EVERYONE OF YOU.
TO THE GLORIOUS DEAD: HAIL HEROES ! REST WITH GOD.
William F. Halsey
November 17, 1942 Vice Admiral of the U.S.N.
(Sent in by Gerald Stewart Radloff, Grosse Point Woods, MI. Son of Stewart Fabian Radloff, BM1c, 6th Div., Gun Captain, 5 inch #7 mount, 3/21/42-1/21/44)
CHANGE OF COMMAND
(excerpt taken from The True Story of BB57 Queen of the Fleet)
The 1942 Christmas service on the South Dakota was a sad one, for the men of the SoDak were saying farewell to their skipper, Thomas Gatch.
Captain Claypool, in a 1944 Chicago Tribune article, recalled Captain Gatch's last address to the men: "When the time came, church was packed, for the word spread that he was leaving us. I announced that the captain wanted to say a few words. He arose, scowling at us. ' I suppose you men realize I'm going to be detached from the ship,' he said gruffly. "Then he started to say something about what he thought of his men, but he choked up and sat down abruptly, without finishing. His eyes were wet, and so were the eyes of every man present." When the South Dakota reached the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs, Captain Gatch went into the hospital for treatment. His final visit to the South Dakota was January 31, 1943 when he returned to sign the papers transferring the ship's property to his successor, Capt. L.D. McCormick.
The Epic of a U.S. Battlewagon by Sidney Shalett 1943
There is no telling when you will be permitted to learn her name. It may be months, or a year or more hence, when reasons of naval security no longer require the strict secrecy that now is necessary. Or it may not be until the end of the war, when the last Jap ship lies at the bottom of the receptive Pacific or has sneaked back to whatever may be left of the place called Tokyo.
The Navy, in its official reports on her gallant and glorious deeds, calls her merely "a United states battleship". That's a cold appellation for such a fighting, slugging, sharpshooting, indestructible battlewagon. Perhaps, for the time being, until her rightful and honorable name can be posted on the Roll of Honor of the United States Navy, along with such other immortals as Old Ironsides, the Decatur, and the Bonhomme Richard, you might prefer to think of her as Old Nameless.
She's not really old, of course-that term is used affectionately. Actually, she is one of the newest battleships Uncle Sam has in service, and she and her sister ships of her class are just about the toughest, fightingest things that any nation has afloat on any sea. Old Nameless and her sisters can both hurl iron and take it: they can blast an enemy battleship (when they can find one) out of the water; they can hurl ten tons of metal at a target twenty miles away, and they can absorb punishment like a killer whale shrugging off the nip of a sardine. With their modern and multitudinous anti-aircraft guns and the "Chicago pianos"-the American version of the British pom-poms- they are well protected as a porcupine, and their aim is as deadly as that of a Tennessee turkey-shooter. About the only satisfaction the japs can get out of Old Nameless and her sister sea-going Amazons is to sink them., which they frequently do-on paper, and over the Tokyo radio.
OLD NAMELESS - Old incredible would be an equally appropriate name for her-has a very real and very glowing claim to glory. She was a brand-new ship, and she'd never had time ever for a proper shakedown cruise when the Navy sent her out to sea looking for trouble. More than 60 percent of her crew was made up of green boys, who had joined the Navy since Pearl Harbor. Back in their own home towns they had been excellent salesmen or mechanics or accountants or soda fountain clerks, but they just hadn't been sailors-until they met a man named Gatch. Many of her junior officers were freshly appointed Naval Reservists, the crease hardly out of their new blue pants, and the ink hardly dry on their new commissions.
But Old Nameless went out to sea under the command of a hard-boiled, methodical skipper, who was something of a wizard at training men. Thomas Leigh Gatch was his name, and to be under his command was about as good a break as a green crew could get. He was a black-browed, broad-shouldered, unflustered fighter, whose only gripe in like was that he hadn't seen enough action in the First World War and whose principal current ambition was to relieve an old grudge be bore against the Japanese Empire by reducing the numerical qualities of its ships and subjects.
FROM COMMANDER BATTLESHIP DIVISION NINE TO COMMANDING OFFICER U.S.S. SOUTH DAKOTA:
Subject: Air Action of 19 June 1944.
1. I wish at this time to commend the Captain, officers and crew of the SOUTH DAKOTA on their excellent record, fine spirit and great fighting ability.
2. In particular I wish to express my admiration for her action during and subsequent to the air attack of 19 June 1944 off the MARIANA Islands. As always it is difficult to say just how many aircraft were brought down by a single ship's fire. It was evident enough that the SOUTH DAKOTA bore the brunt of the attack and destroyed or helped destroy at least twice her share of enemy planes. The quiet efficiency of the repair parties in quickly repairing the damage to the ship, the handling of the casualties both dead and wounded, the continued high rate of fire, and the way in which all hands responded in the emergency, and the fact that the ship's fighting efficiency was never impaired, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service. Once again the SOUTH DAKOTA had proved that above all she is a fighting ship. " She can take it and she can dish it out." Well done, SOUTH DAKOTA!
(excerpt taken from The True Story of BB57 Queen of the Fleet)
The Japanese Surrender
SEPTEMBER 2, 1945
ABOARD THE U.S.S. MISSOURI
The South Dakota supported the carriers in strikes against the Tokyo area on August 13 and 15. The latter was the last strike of the war for, later that day , Japan surrendered. The South Dakota anchored in Sagami Wan, Honshu, on August 27 and entered Tokyo Bay on August 29th.
Ensign Mullen recorded his impression of the last days of the war:
August 27: " ...This morning at 0930 the word came over the 1MC: "ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS FOR ENTERING THE LAND OF THE SETTING SUN !" ...We headed into the bay, all eyes. Over the 1MC: 'Mount Fujiyama is appearing from behind the clouds bearing 300.' Sure enough, there it was...a very impressive mountain ...tall and beautiful. ...All precautions are being taken against treachery. Sentries posted, machine guns manned, etc. The Jap can anchored ahead of the formation, and the whole fleet passed by it as if in mock parade. We dropped the hook about 4000 yards off shore. ... It was intersting to watch the various activities ashore...activities of a defeated nation."
August 29: "...About 1330 Admiral W.F.'Bull' Halsey came aboard and was greeted with full honors. Admiral Nimitz's plane flew over the ship with its fighter escort about 1400. He came aboard shortly after."
Agust 31: "Yesterday a Jap body floated by the ship...victim of honorable hari-kari... We just left him float away."
(excerpt taken from The True Sory of BB57 Queen of the Fleet)
The South Dakota left Tokyo Bay on September 20 and headed for home via Okinawa and Pearl harbor. On October 15 , 1945 Halsey's Third Fleet , led by Flagship South Dakota , steamed into San Francisco Bay. Thousands of Americans lined the Golden gate Bridge to welcome the sailors home. The South Dakota remained in San Francisco until Navy Day, October 27. Two days later the South Dakota sailed for San Pedro. The South Dakota was in Los Angelos Harbor November 22 for the brief ceremony that marked Admiral Halsey's retirement from the sea-going phase of his naval career. The new year found the South Dakota underway for the Philadelphia Navy Yard for overhaul. In June of 1946 the South Dakota was attached to the Atlantic Fleet, 16th Fleet (inactive). She was decommisioned January 31, 1947 and placed in reserve at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She remained there until 1962 when scrapping operations began.
U.S.S. SOUTH DAKOTA B.B.57
WE THE LIVING, SALUTE OUR SHIPMATES
WHO HEROICALLY FOUGHT AND DIED SO
THAT AMERICA MIGHT FOREVER BE FREE.