Happy Birthday To The Most Decorated Battleship of WW II – the U.S.S. South Dakota
Battleship 57 (BB 57) was launched at Camden, New Jersey July 7, 1941 and commissioned March 20, 1942. After being christened the U.S.S. South Dakota, she headed out on her first war cruise August 16, 1942 – three years to the day before Japan was to surrender.
In October of 1942 during the Battle of Santa Cruz, she downed 32 Japanese planes while performing her prime task of defending the Carrier Enterprise. This was the first time in naval history the battleship had been given such a mission.
In winning her first Battle Star, she also suffered her first wound – a 500 pound aerial bomb dropped by a dive bomber. The bomb landed atop a battery turret and hardly nicked the armorplate, but dealt the captain a painful wound which almost took his life. When Captain Gatch was asked why he hadn’t hit the deck when he saw the plane coming, he answered,
“I considered it beneath the dignity of a captain of an American battleship to flop for a Japanese bomb.”
After recuperating, Captain Gatch was reassigned to “his” ship.
Months later, the Japanese had reported on two different occasions that they had sunk the South Dakota. For security reasons she was thereafter referred to as Battleship “X”, which is the name many remember her by.
In all she officially accounted for 64 planes, participated in nine shore bombardments and earned 13 Battle Stars for participating in every major naval battle in the Pacific.
In 1962 the Navy announced they were going to scrap the battleship, but thankfully a number of South Dakota citizens, along with the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Navy League, formed a battleship memorial commission. Their mission was to collect funds for building a memorial.
The memorial was completed and dedicated on September 7, 1969. Vice Admiral Bernard F. Roeder, Commander of the Navy’s First Fleet, gave the keynote speech saying,
“This grand memorial shall stand in quiet tribute to a man of war – a Navy fighting ship that did its best for her country.”
*Information courtesy of the Battleship South Dakota Memorial