Stories from the USS South Dakota

Received from The Nestors.

During the battle of Guadalcanal, Harry Lufft, Quartermaster 2nd Class,had a friend who was standing "talker" watch on the starboard wing of the signal bridge, below the chartroom. He had a pair of sound powered phones on, and at one point in the battle saw a Japanese shell headed right toward him. He dove into the signal bridge shelter, his headset being ripped off his head. The shell hit on the starboard side of the wing, and blew up. A large piece of shrapnel flew upwards, went through  the deck into the Navigation bridge, hit the alidade, which deflected it into the port bulkhead of the charthouse. One small sliver pierced the heart of a new recruit who was working in the chartroom at the time, and he fell dead onto the deck with seemingly no external wound.

A piece of that same shell, weighing about 5 pounds, smashed into the desk in the chartroom, and wound up in the back of the only drawer in that desk. Weeks later, harry was looking for something in the back of the drawer, he pulled out that piece of shrapnel, and then made the connection with what had happened earlier. He still has the piece of ragged steel in his home.

Bob Bogard writes:

I feel like something of an impostor in that I didn't go aboard South Dakota until October 1945, in San Francisco. I very well remember the trip down to Long beach because there was a severe storm, and we lost two or three men over the side who ignored the warnings to stay off the main deck. As I recall, we were sailing with Wisconsin and a destroyer, whose name I have forgotten (I think it was #780, since I have a picture of it I took from the South Dakota), and we circled around in the dark for quite a long time trying to find the missing men with spotlights. Since the waves were about 30 feet high, they really never had a chance.

When Halsey retired, we practiced the ceremony for a day or so in advance - all the newsreel people were going to be there. At the end , the master of ceremonies said, " I propose a cheer for Admiral Halsey," and we all did that and then threw our little white hats in the air. Although there were a lot of us, the sound still wasn't very impressive because we were out over open water. Also, when Halsey got his gun salute, they moved the 16-inch guns up and down as though they were firing, but the 5-inch guns were the ones that were actually used - the 16 inch guns were Hollywood stuff for the newsreels. When my friends and I went to the movies a few days later to see ourselves in the newsreel, the whole retirement ceremony had been jazzed up so that the sound of our three cheers was absolutely deafening !

Captain David L. House, Jr.  Director of Turret #3 writes:

"Washington commenced fire. First salvo set target afire. Director one commenced fire. Shells appeared to hit short of target (radar and optics). All following salvos seemed to fall short. Remark was made that we must be firing into the island. Seemingly, no results.

Shifted to divided fire. Director two picked up burning target and sent down radar and optical ranges. Developed a good solution, point of aim. Target was hit and listed to port, heaved forward. Cease firing gong went off.

Turret three ceased firing. Burning target at which we had been firing exploded and flames broke out over super structure. Starboard wings of bridge were silhouetted against fire. The target was either a destroyer or cruiser. Lull in firing.

We attempted to repair brake solenoid. It worked. As soon as we had congratulated each other, it went bad again. Trainer working director in manual was about done for, but must have gotten his second wind after this. We had no power during the remainder of the action.

Trained about 160 relative and picked up target. Divided fire. Three and four optical ranges, many radar ranges. First salvo hit. Range about 6000 yards. One projectile forward and amidships. Next salvo hits. Target listing. Smoke, flame, and steam. Radar operator lost pip. This target was positively a cruiser. Ceased firing on this target on bearing about 200 relative. 

Trained about 100 on search lights. There were two groups of two searchlights each. Guns were firing outboard of each light, probably 5" guns. Searchlights appeared to be moving in all directions because of vibration accompanying ships change in course at high speed. Rangefinder operator cut in searchlight corrector, but it did no good. Searchlights too bright to obtain range. Director reported on target. Radar ranges sent down. Turret three got out of salvo. Her salvo did not get out until secondary battery (probably) had doused the seachlights. Director was on in train just before turret three fired and just before lights went out.

Director two in control main battery in train primary fire. Trained aft and searched. Almost immediately picked up several targets within optical range. The first of these targets was a destroyer. This was tracked for several minutes. The solution must have been good. This target was picked up at about 120 relative, target angle 270, range about 3000. It dropped astern and seemed to turn toward us., range gradually increasing. Picked up and tracked one more target. picked up another possible target. Continued search. Our radar was the only one in commission on the ship and we conducted this search over all ranges between our limits of train, 030 through 180 to 330 relative.

There were no personnel casualties in director two. Director two failed once in manual, time uncertain, but soon after we were once again able to  train. Cause of this failure is unknown. I would like to commend all the enlisted personnel in director two. They did their jobs well. I would like to commend Barkley, W.J., Radar Maintenance Man, especially. His excellent professional knowledge and keen interest in the radar in director two kept that radar in a high state of efficiency. At the crucial moment when all other radar was out, our radar was dependable.



Submitted by Ron Wilson, Romford Essex, England

I am 73 years of age. And I served in the Royal Navy in 1943. Whilst the U.S.S. South Dakota was in company with the British Home Fleet in Scapa Flow that I came into contact with that Great Ship. Our task at the time was Anti Torpedo Duty which meant to put a net around the ship as a defence against aircraft and submarines whilst at anchor.

It was during these periods that our crew which was from HM LCT 571, got to be invited aboard. These invites lasted quite a period. And whilst 53 years is a long time to go back, there are a few things that will forever stay in my mind. Firstly, the welcome. We were always made to feel welcome on board, and the generosity was always complete. Our conditions on LCT 571 was, to say the least, primitive. To be invited aboard a modern ship like the BB57, was like a holiday, we almost had a free pass. I, myself can remember just being able to climb up the jacobs ladder and going aboard.

I well remember the canteen, (we called ours the NAFFI). On the numerous occasions that we craved for ice cream, chocolate bars and soft drinks, we, (IE. me). I never once had to pay. It was always the same response, 'Okay buddy I'll get this".

The one other thing that stands out in my mind was going to the cinema. The Petty Officer in charge gave us the best seat in the cinema flat. I was almost kitted out out in a U.S. Navy uniform. In fact on one occasion, a commander inspection (British)stood to attention in the Galley and and the Commander asked me who's Navy I was in .

The food situation in Britain during WWII was not good. But our U.S. Shipmates simply lavished on us, the best, I can almost see the supply officer, a Lieutenant to this day.

There are lots of other things but 54 years have gone by and ones memory ??


(Received from Jean and Bill Donnell. Jean is the daughter of Charles Daugird, Gunners Mate, 1/42 - 8/45)

Jean was born in 1942 while her dad was out to sea. She did not see him until he came back three years later. Dad knew his wife had a child, but never got confirmation as to whether it was a boy or girl. He named his "son" Skipper, and even wrote his new son's name on the 5 inch gun he manned during battle. You can imagine his surprise when he finally met his "daughter" three years later. She kept the nickname "Skipper" until she was married and had left home.


(excerpt from The True Story of BB57, USS SOUTH DAKOTA)

March 1943:  A year has passed since the ship was commissioned. The whirling campaigns in the Solomon Islands are behind us. Overhaul in Brooklyn Navy Yard completed. We get orders to Portland, Maine. Arriving there in thick fog, the signalmen can make out a huge ship; its the new battleship Alabama, last of the South Dakota class. Both ships spend a few days de-guassing; long electrical lines passing around and under the ships to offset German magnetic mines. Rear Admiral Hustvedt breaks his flag on the South Dakota. Our orders are to proceed to Argentia, Newfoundland to await further orders. Argentia is a bleak place, cold and wet. We get a few liberties, but it's only to the fleet landing base.

December 24, 1943 : Anchored at Efate. I look through the 30 power scope at the Battleship Massachusetts. I'll be damned - she's putting up a Christmas tree. Not to be outdone, one of the chaplains gets a working party to go ashore. They bring back almost a whole palm tree. Our tree, when trimmed, makes the "Massy's" look like kid stuff.

June 1944 :  I have the eight to twelve watch,As supervisor I place three operators on each side of the signal bridge, while I decide to paint the deck in the starboard signal shelter. I rope the area off. Aft, the movies are starting. About 500 yards away the carrier Randolph is also showing movies. Suddenly, there is a terrific explosion on the Randolph. The O.D. hits the G.Q. button; I don't have far to get to my battle station.

I hear some foul language from the starboard signal shelter. There's someone on his hands and knees - I get close. It's dark, but all I can see is the three silver stars on his collar. Good God - it's Admiral Lee. He's tripped over the line and is full of paint. If he finds out and want - good-bye stripes. The Flag Lieutenant is sniffing around for days trying to get info.

October 1944: Underway. We're going to retake the Phillipines. Our air has been hitting Luzon, Mindoro, Leyte, and Samar. Sound G.Q. Many, many Bogies at 100 miles. We know that if any get through, the pilot rides the whole ball of wax to destruction. The enemy doesn't come in bunches anymore. All of a sudden, you see one diving at a steep angle. Many are knocked down, but all it takes is a guy riding a 500 pound bomb to hit all that gasoline, aircraft, and other explosives that make up an aircraft carrier.

Bunker Hill is hit. Franklin is hit. The Princeton, on our starboard quarter, is hit. At first the fires on the Princeton seem under control, but flare up again. The cruiser Birmingham moves in close, her fire hoses playing on the flames. A tremendous explosion; the Princeton's stern lifts completely out of the water. The Task Force maintains course, and we gradually move on.

July 14, 1945 :  A big bulk of a man wearing the two stars of Rear Admiral comes aboard. Rear Admiral Shafroth, the biggest man in the Navy - he must be well over 300 pounds. He's designated Commander Battleship Squadron Two.

We find out we're going in and bombard cities on the main island of Honshu, north of Tokyo. One of the correspondents asked him, "What shall I tell the the people back home, Admiral ?" "Tell them we're going to rock'em and sock'em!" I look at one of my watch buddies and we smile and nod in unison.