SHIP CLASS: South Dakota-class
SHIPS-IN-CLASS (4): USS South Dakota (BB-57); USS Indiana (BB-58); Massachusetts (BB-59); USS Alabama (BB-60)
OPERATORS: United States (retired)
PROPULSION: 4 x Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 130,000 horsepower and driving 4 x Shafts astern.
Detailing the development and operational history of the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) Fast Battleship Warship.
Entry last updated on 12/9/2017.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
Following the events of Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy was given major funding to construct all new classes of surface warships and submarines as well as pursue new aircraft designs for the march on Tokyo, Japan. This led to various classes of battleships emerging to counter the power of the Japanese surface fleet. One such class to join the USN inventory became the South Dakota-class, this following the dimensionally larger and similar North Dakota-class into USN service. The South Dakota-class utilized the same uniformed nine-gun 16" main battery but included better armoring and were of a more compact form. The class also featured a sole smoke funnel as opposed to the North Carolina-class's twin funnel approach.
The South Dakota-class was made up of USS South Dakota (); USS Indiana (), USS Massachusetts (), and USS Alabama (). USS Massachusetts was ordered on December 15th, 1938 and her construction led by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation at the Fore River Shipyard or Quincy, Massachusetts. Her keel was laid down on July 20th, 1939 and she was launched on September 23rd, 1941. Official commissioning occurred on May 12th, 1942. USS Massachusetts was affectionately known as "Big Mamie" over the course of her short ocean-going career.
The vessel displaced at 35,000 tons and featured a length of681 feet, a beam of 108 feet and a draught of 29 feet. Her machinery was made up of Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 130,000 horsepower and driving four shafts under stern. This allowed for speeds of 27 knots to be reached in ideal conditions with an operational range of 15,000 nautical miles possible (at 15 knots). Massachusetts carried about 1,800 men.
Armor protection, a key consideration of warships, measured over 12 inches at the belt, 11 inches at the bulkheads and over 17 inches at the barbettes. The conning tower was protected in up to 16 inches of armor and the deck in up to 6 inches of armor.
Her main gun battery constituted 9 x 16" /45 caliber Mark 6 series guns set across three three-gunned turrets. This was joined by 20 x 5" (127mm) /38 caliber Dual-Purpose (DP) guns. Her air defense network ultimately consisted of 52 x 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft (AA) cannons in, thirteen four-gunned turrets, and 35 x 20mm Oerlikon AA gun systems. She also carried a pair of Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane aircraft - launched by onboard catapult and recovered by crane - which provided an over-the-horizon capability useful in spotting enemy ships, submarines or in assisting in ranging the primary battery.
Of all the battleships in U.S. Navy service during the beginning of World War 2, it was USS Massachusetts that fired the first 16" shells (as well as the last) of the conflict. Her first assignment was in the Atlantic as she took part in "Operation Torch", the Allied landings in North Africa. Her guns were able to limit the French battleship "Jean Bart" during actions there, Jean Bart falling under control of the Vichy French government at the time. Following this commitment, Massachusetts was reassigned for action in the Pacific Theater during 1943 and her guns were used during in the Solomon Islands Campaign which preceded the Battle of Leyte Gulf as part of the Philippines Campaign. Her guns were then used in anger during the shelling of Honshu, Japan which helped lead to the complete surrender of the Japanese Empire in August of 1945. In the immediate post-war period, Massachusetts served for a time longer along the American West Coast until transferred back to Atlantic waters to finished her career. With her usefulness all but over and the military drawdown that followed the war, the warship was decommissioned on March 27th, 1947. Her name was officially struck from the Naval Register on June 1st, 1962. Efforts to save her as a museum ship were successful and she opened her doors to tourists on August 14th, 1965 where she remains harbored at Battleship Cove, Massachusetts today.
During her time at sea, Massachusetts became the recipient of several awards and honors for service rendered - the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (1 Battle Star), the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (10 Battle Stars), the World War 2 Victory Medal, the Navy Occupation Medal (Asia Clasp), the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and the Philippine Liberation Medal. This stemmed from her actions which took her from North Africa to the Pacific theaters of war during World War 2. None of her crew lost to enemy action in the years of fighting - a rarity for a U.S. Navy warship during the conflict.
USS Massachusetts joined USS Alabama as the only two of the four-strong South Dakota-class to be saved from the scrapman's torch. The Alabama herself is harbored in Mobile Bay as a museum ship as of 2015.
The South Dakota-class was superseded during World War 2 by the storied Iowa-class which was made up of the famous warships USS Iowa, USS Missouri, USS New Jersey and USS Wisconsin.