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USS South Dakota BB57

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Phyllis F Spence

Japan viciously attacked Pearl Harbor, and barely six months later, the ship's neophyte crew was ready to weigh anchor. They were setting sail to join forces with other ships to help defend their assaulted nation. The trial run for Battleship X was June 4, 1942. In her subsequent numerous exploits against the Japanese in the South Pacific, Old Nameless, as she was sometimes affectionately called, became a legend before she was a year old. Security was tight. U. S. leaders were tense. Information for news media was nonexistent and the identity of the battleship was concealed in secrecy. Battleship X was of a new class of battleships bearing up-to-date armament and possessing extensive firepower. 1 

Her christening name did not appear anywhere on board. Diaries were banned. Personal belongings did not carry her name. No, it would not be prudent to allow the enemy even a scrap of information concerning this costly floating battlewagon. 2 

She valiantly fought through the heaviest air attack ever made on a battleship, sending 32 Japanese planes to the sea in flaming fire, pandemonium, and ruin.3 Three Japanese cruisers were sent to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean within a matter of minutes during the battle of Guadalcanal as a result of her efforts. 3 

The identity of this valiant ship, the USS South Dakota, was finally released October 2, 1943. She was Admiral Halsey's Flagship, Queen of the Fleet. 4

The USS South Dakota was heavily involved in "The Marianas Turkey Shoot", so named because the Japanese lost over 300 aircraft. She was also in active combat off the Gilbert, Marshall, and Caroline Islands, participated fearlessly in the Santa Cruz Battle, supported amphibious landings in the assault on Iwo Jima, and participated in the shelling of Honshu, Japan, the first gunfire attack on the Japanese home islands by heavy warships. She sustained carriers in strikes against the Tokyo area, and was on hand for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, August 16, 1945. 5 

It has been said the Dakota and her sister ships could hurl ten tons of metal at a target twenty miles away, and they could absorb punishment like a killer whale shrugging off the nip of a sardine. 6 

She left Tokyo Bay on September 20, heading home via Okinawa and Pearl Harbor. Her battles behind her at last, she received 13 battle stars for World War II service. 7 

Her novice crew proved themselves to be toughened heroes throughout their three years of grim on-the-job training. What would a floating fortress be without her swabbies? Together, ship and sailors made an unbeatable, united team.

After being overhauled at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, she was attached to the Atlantic Fleet (inactive), decommissioned January 31 1947 and placed in reserve at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She remained there until 1962 when scrapping operations began. 8 

The keel of the dauntless USS South Dakota was laid July 5, 1939 at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden NJ. 9 

A young sheet metal worker was among those hired to work on the ship. Nightly he headed home to his wife and five-year-old daughter, longing for a hot shower and an even hotter cup of coffee. Yes, those were the days of working long overtime hours, with a scarcity of days off. Knowing they were helping defend their country, he and his coworkers toiled on with the project, iron-willed and resolute. 

Rumors were rife. Newspapers carried reports of an obsessed emperor god in Japan. Accounts were penned of a maniacal dark haired Austrian, who fantasized about a perfect race of blond, blue-eyed humans. The USS South Dakota, a floating armory, was destined for battle, but no one could foresee the future of this iron lady and the part she would play in shaping world affairs. 

The majestic ship was ready for christening and she lay expectantly in the slip. June 7 1941 dawned, warm and sunny. Dignitaries gathered on the raised platform near the draped bunting. Mrs. Harlan J. Bushfield, the wife of South Dakota's governor, raised a champagne bottle and smashed it into the bow. "I christen thee the USS South Dakota," she declared for all to hear, as the ship slowly and silently slipped into the Delaware River amidst great pomp and ceremony. 10

The sheet metal worker and his little family were there in the throng to witness the momentous occasion. His small daughter sat proudly and confidently on her father's shoulders, excitedly watching the events. Above the uproar and cheers of the tumultuous crowd, and as the Dakota was water-borne, a small voice was heard by those nearby, shouting, "My daddy built that ship!"

It was my childish voice proudly proclaiming to all who could hear that Daddy, William Crawford Ferguson, was the hero of my young life in that war-torn historical hour.

Phyllis F Spence


1 The Detroit News, U.S. Identifies "Battleship X", Veil Lifted on Victor in Guadalcanal

2 God on a Battlewagon by Captain James V. Claypool, Chaplain of BB57 (pg 35)

3 The Detroit News, U.S. Identifies "Battleship X", Veil Lifted on Victor in Guadalcanal

4 "Old Nameless" The Epic of a U. S. Battlewagon by Sidney Shalett 1943

5. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, USS South Dakota II (BB-57)

6. "Old Nameless", The Epic of a U. S. Battlewagon by Sidney Shalett 1943

7. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, USS South Dakota II (BB-57)

8. Coming Home, The True Story of BB57, The Queen of the Fleet

9. The History of "Battleship X" Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division (OP 09B9), ships' Histories Section, Updated 1-29-02

10. Ibid


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