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BB-57 South Dakota Class

The South Dakota class consisted of four ships, all constructed at east coast shipyards. The four South Dakota class battleships represented the second group of 35,000-ton capital ships whose construction began shortly before the Second World War. Built with Fiscal Year 1939 appropriations, they were more compact and better protected than the preceding North Carolina class, but had the same main battery of nine 16"/45 guns in triple turrets. Their innovative hull design featured an internal armor belt, to protect the ships' vitals against 16" shells, and outboard propeller shafts that extended further aft than the inboard ones. They also had improved anti-torpedo side protection and more powerful engines, the latter being necessary to drive their shorter hulls at the designed 27-knot speed. Compared with her three "sisters", South Dakota had extra command facilities and two fewer 5-inch twin gun mounts.

The design of the South Dakota class was influenced by the same limitations as the previous North Carolina class, because it, too, was intended to meet Washington Treaty limits. Some improvements were made with the South Dakota-class but only with some ingenious and creative engineering as both of these battleships were also restricted to 35,000-tons. These two warships had to be the same displacement as North Carolina, but with increased armor protection and the same speed. The result was a shorter, slightly fatter hull.

The chief difference was that the South Dakota class, including USS Alabama, was designed from the start to carry a 16-inch main battery. To accommodate the heavier armour needed for a 16-inch battery and keep the required weight under 35,000 tons, the waterline length of the South Dakota class was shortened from that of the North Carolina class while the beam remained the same. This change meant that the South Dakota class has a much fuller hull form than the North Carolina class. More powerful engines were also installed to maintain the same fast speed obtained by the North Carolina class.

These ships were all completed in March-August 1942, providing a welcome reinforcement to the Navy's surface battle fleet at a critical stage of World War II. In 1942-43, they stood guard in the Atlantic against possible sorties by German battleships, took part in the invasion of North Africa and in operations around Guadalcanal. During the latter campaign, South Dakota was damaged in a gunnery engagement with a Japanese force that included the old battleship Kirishima. As the U.S. went on the offensive in the Central Pacific, they joined in escorting the fast carrier task forces, a job for which their heavy anti-aircraft gun batteries were well-suited. They also employed their main battery guns in shore bombardment, and were kept ready to form battle line in case their Japanese opposite numbers should appear.

All four South Dakota class battleships went into reserve after World War II and saw no further active service. When they were disposed of in the early 1960s, Alabama and Massachusetts became a memorials. The other two were sold for scrapping.

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