The requirements forced a number of compromises to the design primarily making for a smaller class of ship equally cramped for crew and machinery compartments. Thicker side armor was added for greater protection and, to compensate for the weight gain, the citadel "castle" was reduced in size. The length of the BB-57 was reduced by 50ft (15m) as compared to the preceding 728.8 ft, 44,377 ton North Carolina-class. Her beam was the same as the North Carolina, making her less streamlined and reducing her sea-keeping. To sustain the required 27.8 kt speed (needed to escort the fast USN carriers of the day) the propulsion system needed to produce an additional 9,000 shaft horsepower. To assist in reaching the target speed the outermost pair of propeller shafts were placed further aft than the inner-most pair and eliminated propeller cavitations in the process. The belt armor around the hull of the ship was 12.2-inches (310mm). Bulkheads were allotted 11.0-inches (280mm) while the barbettes that covered the lower part of the 5-inch guns were given 11.3- to 17.3-inches (287 to 440mm) of armor. The main gun turrets were provided for with 18.0-inch (457mm) thick armor to protect the gun crews inside. Each conning tower was given 16.0-inches (406mm) around the communication and radar stations while the deck armor (to protect against air attack and ship "plunging fire") was 5.8- to 6.0-inches thick (147-152mm). The ships main armament (as completed in 1938) was her battery of 9 x 16-inch (406mm) /45 caliber Mark 6 guns. Each gun was 816-inches long and fired a projectile weighing 2,700lbs (1,225kg) at a maximum elevation of 45-degrees out to a distance of 38,720m (42,345 yards) with a rate-of-fire of 2 rounds-per-minute per each 16-inch rifle.
Assigned to the ship were three Curtiss SO3C "Seamew" floatplane scout aircraft. They were new assignments to the battleships and held an operational range of 1,150 miles (1851 km) with a service ceiling of 15,800 ft (4615 m). Their main mission was to scout "over-the-radar" range but also maintained their own offensive capabilities through use of machine guns, bombs and depth charges. She could make 172 mph (277km/h) with her single, front-mounted engine. She was fielded with a crew of a two made up by the pilot and a rear gunner. Her anti-ship armament was a pair of 100lb drop bombs or 325 lb depth charges. Her standard armament revolved around a fixed, forward-firing 0.30 caliber front- and a 0.50 caliber trainable rear-firing machine gun, giving her minimal anti-aircraft protection. Launched from one of the three onboard catapults, she could complete her sortie, return to the South Dakota and be picked up by one of the ship's two cranes, these located on the aft deck.
South Dakota was the first ship in her class of four and laid down in July of 1939. She was launched in June of 1941 and officially commissioned in March of the following year. She was fitted out at the Philadelphia yard, receiving some of her arms and stores in addition to the balance of her crew. South Dakota steamed out of Philadelphia on her shakedown cruise from early June to the end of July 1942. In August, she headed for the Panama Canal and after entered the Pacific with a course set for the Tonga Islands - finally arriving there in early September. In mid-September, while in Lahai Passage, she struck an uncharted coral reef that damaged her portside hull, requiring her to set sail for the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for repairs - these themselves taking some 30 days to complete. South Dakota was ready for sea once again by mid-October of 1942 and was assigned to Task Force (TF)16. BB-57 was to escort the American carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6). The task force started from Pearl patrolling the waters around the Hawaiian chain in search for any Japanese task force. Soon, TF16 joined TF17 centered around the carrier USS Hornet just north of Espiritu Santo Island. Now the two groups were combined to form TF 61 under Admiral TC Kinkaid. Kinkaid received orders to move TF61 south towards Santa Cruz to find and stop any Japanese forces sent to threaten Guadalcanal.
USS South Dakota BB-57 was known as "Battleship "X" or "Old Nameless" by much of the American public during the war. The US Navy wanted to hide sensitive operational information from Japanese ears and eyes so the vessel would not be identified by her real name in American newspapers or on radio broadcasts.
The search widened when a patrol aircraft sighted a Japanese carrier force on October 25th, 1942. TF 61 steamed to intercept it and, the following morning, a Japanese search plane spotted the American force - beginning the "Battle of Santa Cruz". BB-57 and Enterprise, along with the task force, were operating 12 miles from the Hornet group when she was attacked by Japanese planes - their sights set on the Hornet herself. Within the hour, forty torpedo planes struck both the Enterprise and the Hornet. Battleship X escorting Enterprise and unleashed her 5-inch, 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns in defense - a total of 160 guns sending thousands of shells-a-minute into the air towards the attacking torpedo planes. Soon, dive bombers attacked and a 500-pound bomb hit South Dakota on top of her Number One turret (the front-most emplacement). The battle continued all day and the task force retired to New Caledonia during the night with South Dakota downing 26 Japanese planes all her own. Five days later, while avoiding a submarine contact, South Dakota and the destroyer USS Mahan (DD 364) collided resulting in damage to both ships. The destroyers bow was bent to the port side and pushed back towards the bow 5-inch gun. Both ships continued to Noumea, New Caledonia, where the repair ship USS Vestal (AR 4) was stationed and made repairs to BB-57.
In November 1942, with her repairs completed, she was ordered from New Caledonia to become part of TF16 now heading for Guadalcanal. On November 13th South Dakota joined the battleship USS Washington (BB 56) and a destroyer screen consisting of the USS Gwin (DD 433), USS Walke, (DD 418), USS Benham (DD 397) and USS Preston (DD 379). This new task force, TF 64, was operating southwest of Guadalcanal when it was learned that an enemy convoy was off Savo Island commanded by Admiral Kondo and steaming with a bombardment group towards Guadalcanal. The IJN battleship Kirishima was supported by the heavy cruisers Takao, Atago, Nagara and the light cruiser Sendai, and further accompanied by a nine-strong destroyer screen consisting of the Uranami, Shikinami, Shirayuki, Hastuyuki, Samidare, Inazuma, Asagumo, Teruzuki and the Ayanami.
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