The History of the USS South Dakota

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Let us not forget those who are currently fighting overseas. They walk in the footsteps of all the brave men and women who have served their country. On behalf of the 2nd Generation Group, we thank each of them and pray for their safe return.
Welcome to another page of history from the decks of the USS South Dakota. You've seen our photo album of the men who kept this mighty ship going. Now join us for a look at photos and stories that have not yet been told. We have provided links to many documents that are an important part of this ship, her crew and World War II.


Six hundred and eighty feet long with a launching displacement of 35,000 tons, the South Dakota was christened by Mrs. Harlan J. Bushfield, the wife of South Dakota's governor. When the South Dakota left Camden that day in June, she was taken to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to complete her fitting out.

She was fitted as a fleet flagship with offices and an additional bridge level just below the navigation bridge. She carried nine 16-inch guns, and 28 1.1 inch antiaircraft gun.

The ship's crew began to report as early as December, 1941. Under the leadership of Captain Thomas L. Gatch, the South Dakota was put into commission on March 20, 1942. IN THE SHIPYARD

One of the shipbuilders is Henry J. "Smokey" Schwanbeck. He wasn't in the navy ( too young for WW1, too old for WW2 ) ... he was a welder and worked on the keel and most of rest of the ship. The other ships he worked on were all keel work but he was especially attached to the SD because he worked on so much of it.
This photo of the christening of the ship was provided by the Great Grandson of Henry Schwanbeck.


There were 150 storekeepers aboard the South Dakota. Bob Ferguson and Lt. Harold Manzy (pictured sent by Bob Ferguson, Niantic, CT) were long time buddies. The ship was a city within itself. Although the storekeepers job was to hand out supplies as needed, they each had other duties to fullfill. (Battle Stations).

Bob's battle station was on the 40MM heavy machine guns up in the superstructure, near the bridge. He was the only storekeeper topside during General Quarters.  40MM Gun

Lt. Manzy was a Navy Chief Storekeeper aboard the South Dakota. At the time this picture was taken, he was 88 years old and 100% blind. He had not been out of the house in many years until Bob and his wife Val, came to visit. Bob talked him into going to dinner with them. Both Bob and the Lt. enjoyed reminiscing about their time aboard ship. Manzy and his wife were later buried in a military cemetery in South Dakota. (He was stationed at the sub base in New London when Ferguson was born.)

August 16, 1942

The BB57 transited the Panama Canal, August 21 to report to the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet and was assigned as Flagship, Battleship Division Six, with Rear Admiral W.A. Lee, Jr., USN, flying his flag from the ship.

The passage through the Panama Canal was marked by much grinding and groaning, as the large battleship just made it through the locks with little room to spare.

She arrived in the Tonga Islands September 4, 1942.
Just two days later, the South Dakota struck an uncharted coral pinnacle in Lahai Passage. the incident caused extensive underwater damage to the hull, calling for a trip to Pearl Harbor for repairs.


Japanese-U.S. broadcaster. She was visiting Japan when she was stranded at the outbreak of World War II. In 1943 she began radio announcing for a propaganda program beamed at U.S. troops, and eventually became one of 13 women announcers, all native speakers of Amer. English, collectively known as Tokyo Rose. After the war she was convicted of treason and served six years in a U.S. prison. Mitigating information later came to light, and she was pardoned in 1977.  To learn about Tokyo Rose, click on the picture. (This photo provided by Henry Stewart, radioman aboard the BB57.)    


Days aboard the USS South Dakota was not limited to battles alone. There was time for rest and relaxation as well. This "floating city" as it was known, had several sports teams. The South Dakota Baseball Team played ball while in port and against good teams. winning 4 out of 5, they were ready to take on any team in the Pacific.

"So Dak Boxers Swamp 53rd CB's in Smoker" was the headline in the ships newspaper. The boxing team took on the 53rd Naval Construction Battalion while in dry dock.

The South Dakota Basketball Team defeated the advanced base section dock team 44 to 23. While in Tokyo Bay, they lost to the Ticonderoga Basketball team, 45 to 35 on the deck of the carrier, witnessed by a crowd of 1500.

Pacific fleet entering Tokyo bay, Mount Fujiyama silhouetted in setting sun.

Notes Taken from the Ship's Log
Sunday, 26 August 1945

"Admiral Nimitz and eleven of his staff will arrive in TOKYO BAY at 1255 Monday. It is expected that the South Dakota will have entered the Bay and anchored off YOKOHAMA at the time. When Admiral Nimitz comes aboard the BlueJacket full guard will be paraded, with the band and eight side boys.Uniform for the foregoing personnel and the quarterdeck watch will be undresswhites. Uniform for the officers and CPO's remains greys or khaki."

Horsing Aroundjojo

This picture was sent in by James O. Johnson of Marysville, WA. The 4th Division buddies spend time horsing around with a stretcher. In the stretcher is McCormick(not injured just playing around). Front left: Jim Johnson, top left: Hank Whitemore, top center: C.T. Franks, right top: Geore Conway, right bottom: Paul Wissell. If you would like a copy of this picture, contact Jim at:



There was always time for fun. When the crew went ashore for R&R (rest and & Relaxation), pictures like this were taken to send back home. Dave Baltz and Gene Beachly pose for the camera. Gene, if you're out there, Dave would love to have a chat with you.  Dave was in the Fire Control Division as was Gene.

                           Photo taken September 1, 1944 in Honolulu, Hawaii

  An explosion occurred aboard ship on May 6, 1945 while taking on 16-inch powder at the time. Three men died instantly, eight more died of injuries. Twenty-Four suffered injuries from smoke inhalation. Some of these men were: John V. Rummels,Therion A. Jones, George E. Surber, Arthur J. Horan Jr., Philip E. Baer. woundThe South Dakota retired to Guam for repairs and maintenance from May 11 to 29, before sailing on to Layte. They arrived there on June 1. This is a photo supbmitted by John J. Murphy of the medics attending to the wounded, an all too familiar scene during the war aboard the BB57.
(Note: Bomb damage was extensive as shown in this photo that is among many from John's collection)


Burial At Sea
An account of "Burials at Sea" as told by James O. Johnson, 4th Division.

After the body was placed in a canvas cover with a 5 inch projectile(shell) enclosed weighing 94 pounds, and covered with the American flag. Then they were placed on the plank and attended by 6-8 "sideboys" (poll bearers). The chaplain then blessed and prayed over each one. Then the ship was slowed down as much as possible. As the bugler played Taps, they were slowly slipped to their final resting place.
I had the sad experience of burying several of my shipmates from the Northwest in this manner.
I had attended Boot Camp with several of them.
Note: Mess Hall tables were used as planks.

from a Friend and Neighbor

by John Wade

   As "Bud" Robinson's neighbor for the past thirteen years and a 1958 to 1962 "Navy  Vet", I consider myself fortunate. Not too many people can claim to have "been there". Arthur Robinson is one. Then and now come together, with the SoDak community, in preserving the memories of and sacrifices made by so many whom fought to give us what we enjoy today. I sit in awe listening to his stories of "Then". I would feel remiss if, even in a small way, I did not share some of his reflections with the BB57 family.  MORE

Web Authors Note:
There is a great deal of information that is yet to be added to this site. Please come back and visit from time to time to view additional accounts from the ship's log, and the crews first hand accounts. Visit our many pages of information and photos by returning to our Home Page by using the link provided below. If you are a crew member, or 2nd Generation of a crew member, and would like to submit any documents, or photos for this web site, please email us at

Lonnie D. Roberts Sr., Jacksonville Florida reveals that he was "chief cook and bottle washer" for the SoDak crew.

I came aboard while she (BB57) under repair in the Brooklyn Navy Yard from damage in the Battle of Santa Cruz and Savo Island.  I went aboard as a young 18 year old and left her a well seasoned grownup. I walked up the gangway on a bitter cold morning (was through boot camp so quickly, they didn't have enough Peacoats for all of us). I was put in the Fire Control and Radar Division as I had just completed a gunnery school in Norfolk, VA. However I wound up becoming a Cook and Baker as the results of doing KP and I knew I would eat good if I struck for being a cook,as another fellow also named Roberts was a 2nd class cook. He liked the way I worked. I really think he was a little prejudice because of the name. At any rate, it turned out better for  me. I was the projectionist on the fantail, when Japanese Betty type aircraft missed us by a few feet and hit under the flight deck of the carrier which was anchored right next to us. I left her in San Francisco at the end of WWII. War is hell and it changed my whole life.

Frank Lukowski (9th) Division Bay City, Michigan write:

One day this ship mate was taking Admiral Halsey's uniform down to get it pressed, he had to pass through our compartment to get there. On one occasion, we stopped him and four of us tried on his uniform. It was three or four times too big, but it sure felt good !

Michael Kutzman , Marine Detachment, sends his story:

I was a part of the original marine Detachment in 1942 aboard the USS South Dakota, and the Operator of Radar Director for 2 of the 5" guns starboard side. I was to be a part of the Battle at Savo Islands until I became ill and was sent to the Naval hospital. My replacement in the 5" gun mount while was George Zupko. On November 15th, George became the only Marine casualty of that battle.

Stewart F. "Pappy" Radloff was a Boatswain's Mate First Class (BM1/C) and Gun Captain on the portside # 7 five-inch gun mount on the U.S.S. South Dakota during WWII. It was his third enlistment with the Navy and he was in charge of the 6th Division, composed of about 120 sailors. These are his words from the 1974 tape recording describing his WWII tour of duty.

" I went in the Navy again to Philadelphia and then put the old South Dakota in commission, but I did guard duty first on it at Camden in the New york Shipyard before she went in commission. A little tough doing guard duty - 24 on and 24 off. You'd stand 4 on, go to a shanty they had there with bunks in it - a lot had rooms in private homes. We got room and board and we were on subsistence. Then she went in commission.

Anyhow, we went out then, of course we had to get ammunition and stores aboard. Then we got down to Norfolk, then down through the Panama Canal and got down to Togatabu. As we pulled out we scraped bottom and had to come back to Pearl Harbor and they repaired it. And, boy, they really threw on the 20 millimeters and 40s, 'cause we had a lot of one-pounders. It was a good thing too. Then we went out of there.

It was October sometime, down in the Santa Cruz, where we got 32 planes. If we hadn't loaded up with those guns, we never would have got them. We got a couple of hits, I think that only one was killed, there was an awful lot of 'em wounded.

Then we came back up to Pearl Harbor, and down to Savo Island in the night battle. That's when we got beat up pretty bad. We had to come all the way back to Pearl Harbor, no place in Honolulu to get repairs, or anywhere on the West Coast. We had to come back to Brooklyn. So then from Brooklyn, after we got repaired, we went up into Scapa Flow, operating with the British Fleet, up off Norway. There were a lot of German planes they couldn't account for. They thought they were up that way, we were trying to get them out, but we didn't.

We came back to Norfolk and I was supposed to go to the Canberra, a cruiser. I was supposed to be transferred off, but they didn't transfer me. So I went out onto the Pacific on the South Dakota again. Then we went to the Marshalls, to Tarawa, up around the Gilberts - another island up above the Gilberts. I don't know what it was, but boy, did they slaughter that place up there with 16-inch, and the planes, and the 5-inch. They were all going in there. There was nothing to that island anyhow. We turned around and came back. Then I went into the hospital in Boston for my legs. I did a year of shore duty near home and got out of the Navy after that."

E-Mail Received - Name ,other than Screen Name is unknown. My father was a Quartermaster aboard the USS South Dakota during WWII. His picture was on the front page of the Detroit News folding up the Japanese flag when the war ended.