USS South Carolina (BB-26) was the lead ship of her class, being categorized as a "1st class dreadnought battleship". She was the fourth ship named in honor of the US state of South Carolina and launched by builders William Cramp & Sons. Her keel was laid down in December of 1906 at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Naval Yard to which she was then commissioned on March 1st, 1910 with Captain Augustus F. Fechteler in command. Interestingly, her designation of "BB-26" did not follow normal US Navy protocol for the USS Michigan (BB-27), number two ship of the class, was laid down, launched and commissioned before USS South Carolina (BB-26) was. The reason BB-26 has numerical precedence in the order is unknown - perhaps the decision was politically motivated or just a War Department error. The construction price per ship for the hull and machinery was more than six million dollars at the time.
The South Carolina-class was the first "all-big gun" same-caliber battleship built with superimposed gun turrets anywhere in the world. She was designed before the famed British Royal Navy HMS Dreadnought but, due to slow building, was commissioned four years after Dreadnought. HMS Dreadnought launched first and thus received the mantle as the ship that all previous, current and - for a time - future battleships would be measured against (they taking on the generic term of "Dreadnought" to describe their type). The main reasons for such an honor were in the perfect balanced achieved in the configuration of armament, tonnage and 21-knot top speed at the expense of armor protection.
Dreadnought fitted five twin-barrel 12-inch gun turrets - three on the center line - however the aft two turrets are not superimposed. This mounting allowed for an 8-gun broadside though the wing turret placement would not allow fire across the deck which limited forward and rearward firing with all guns. The South Carolina class had four twin-barrel 12-inch gun turrets along her center line with turrets being able to "superfire" over one another. This would allow all eight guns to fire at either beam or allow an 8-gun broadside port or starboard. She was limited in displacement by congressional choice, making her tonnage less than HMS Dreadnought, with a maximum speed of 18.8 knots per hour. However, BB-26 armament placement was one of the ground-making designs in naval history and would prove to be the standard for all battleships built after her class in the modern era.
The US Navy took the lead with the design of maximum bow and stern fire with two turrets placed higher allowing broadside fire over large arcs on certain bearings. Michigan and South Carolina were the most referred-to ships-of-the-day due to this turret arraignment. The class had sleek lines, making her steaming easy while displacing 16,000 tons, having a length of 453 feet, a beam of 80 feet and a drought of 27 feet. Her coal fed 12 water tube boilers and four cylinder triple expansion engines creating 17,617 IHP needing a crew of 869 to operate each ship. This class also introduced the cage mast, allowing elevation for observation towards the horizon and signaling to other ships in the fleet. Dreadnought used a heavy tripod mast which added weight and obstructed some on board turret fire. The steel latticework-type mast used by BB-26 offered a larger target but it was felt the shells would pass through the structure without incurring too much damage.
South Carolina departed Philadelphia on March 6th for the standard shakedown cruise. The area chosen to steam through was the Danish West Indies and Cuba. After performing needed power runs and gun firing drills she visited Charleston, South Carolina and allowed the cities inhabitants to inspect the ship till mid April. She put back to sea to conduct more trials from the Virginia Capes to Provincetown, Massachusetts. On June 17th, the battleship visited New York City for a reception to honor the former President, Theodore Roosevelt. She then returned to Norfolk, Virginia for standard sea repairs. After they were completed she was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet for maneuvers and naval militia training duty off Provincetown to the end of October. In early November 1910 to January 1911, she voyaged to Europe with the Second Battleship Division. The Division visited France and England showing the flag. Upon her return to Norfolk, she entered the navy yard for needed sea repairs once more, and, upon returning to the division, she honed her tactics and completed maneuvers off the New England coast. Following a short visit to New York, she steamed east with the Second Battleship Division for a visit to Kiel, Germany on June 21st in time for the Kiel Week boating festival hosted by Kaiser Wilhelm II (Kiel is one of the country's main naval bases since the 1860s and a center for German shipbuilding). Kiel Week brings all types of craft for racing from all over Europe and is the biggest sailing event in the world. After the games she steamed for the United States and arrived off Provincetown, Massachusetts, to engage in battle practice along the coast towards Chesapeake Bay.
From late in 1911 to mid May 1913 she operated on the East coast and over to Cuba, proceeding through the newly-completed Panama Canal. She steamed with the special service division, stopping in New York on March 31, 1913 for the dedication of a memorial to the USS Maine. She was chosen to carry the "Big Stick" to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Islands for over a year. In January 1914, the battleship landed marines at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to guard United States citizens during another period of political disturbance. After coaling in Key West, Florida in July 1914 she was ordered to Veracruz to land a force of Marines to aid and support the US military garrison in the occupation of the city. She remained in Mexican waters to show the flag for the summer.
Upon entry of the United States into World War I alongside the Allies in April 1917, America did not place great demands on her Navy. Except for some activity with German submarines and a few commerce raider sorties in the Atlantic, the Royal Navy had done the heavy lifting of clearing the seas of German ships at the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Falkland Islands. South Carolina operated along the East Coast through August of 1918. In September 1918, she was assigned to convoy duty as one of the escorts of a convoy sailing for France. As was customary, the costal escort reached a point in the mid-Atlantic to which she turned the convoy over to other escorts and steamed back to the United States. After normal repairs at Philadelphia, she provided gunnery training and remained as a training ship until the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
South Carolina began to cruise between the United States and Brest, France making four trips from February to July 1919. By the end of July she had returned over 4,000 World War I veterans to the United States from France in grand style. After sea repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard, she proceeded to Annapolis, Maryland to embark midshipmen for a cruise to the Pacific. She departed Annapolis in June 1920 through the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and then back to the West Coast. South Carolina sailed down the west coast, stopping at Seattle, Washington, San Francisco, California, and San Diego, California. Leaving San Diego on August 11th she steamed east through the Canal and then back to Annapolis to return her midshipmen, this occurring on September 2nd. Needing repairs she remained in the Philadelphia yard for seven months.
In April 1921, she cruised to Puerto Rico in the West Indies for training and then operated in the Chesapeake Bay. Returning to Annapolis, she embarked a new midshipmen crew for their traditional summer cruise. She steamed to Norway and Portugal and then headed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to complete the cruise. She had the midshipmen debarked at Annapolis at the end of August and steamed to Philadelphia where she arrived the following day. South Carolina was decommissioned at Philadelphia on December 15, 1921, and remained there until her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry in November 1923. In accordance with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty her hulk was unceremoniously sold for scrap on April 24th, 1924.