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Travel Bargain destination in South Dakota

Battleship X of the Plains

Battleship South Dakota Park Memorail Flags photoWhat happened to those great massive battleships of WWII? Eached named for one of the states, with their turrets of 16 ince guns extending American sea power across the world, after defeating the forces of the axis powers. Some are docked as sea museums in ports around the country from Mobile to Rhode Island - one still remains in mothballs in the mouth of the Sacramento River awaiting a recall to service. Many got chopped up into scrap metal. One of the great naval ships, actually the most decorated of the war got planted on the great plains in the heart of America.

USS South Dakokta Battleship photoThe USS South Dakota, number 57 of the U.S. Battleship fleet, the first of four of its class which included the Indiana, Massachussettes and Alabama, served in every major naval campaign of the Second World War. Launched from the shipyard in Camden, New Jersesy on June 7, 1941, six months to the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor which cost the sinking of the previous generation of sea juggernauts like the Arizona, the South Dakota (officially BB57) was instrumental in defending the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier during the Battle of Santa Cruz in the early days of the Pacific campaign. A Japanese dive bomber dropped a 500 pound bomb on the ship’s turret battery. The modern armor plate deflected the bomb blast but a shard of searing shrapnel hit the ships commander, Captain Gatch. Asked why he didn’t duck, in one of the war’s more rye quotes, Gatch responded, “I considered it beneath the 16 Inch guns Battleship Memorial photodignity of a captain of an American Battleship to flop for a Japanese bomb”. The USS South Dakota’s most prominent notoriety came from the battle of Guadalcanal when the Japanese twice reported to have sunk it. Reports of her demise were premature, but to allow the enemy to believe the loss of an American war ship on the seas, the Navy command referred to her in communications as “Battleship X”. She later participated in the forced sinking of the Japanese battleship, the Kirishima, and stood sentry in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surreneder was signed on the Missouri.

Battleship Memorial Museum Sioux Falls city park photoWhen the USS South Dakota was due to be scrapped in 1962, the citizens of her namesake state banded together to save Battleship X. The ship was dismantled and most of it became scrap iron, but several parts of the ship traveled to Sioux Falls, where they form the Battleship South Dakota Memorial. The remaining parts of the ship are planted in the ground in a park, forming the shape they would have held in the sea, with an overall length of 680 feet and a beam of 108 feet. Two of the three main gun battery turret guns of 16 inch cannon barrels (just stubs embedded in cement not the actual turrets), and 5 inch guns guard the central museum building with war memorabilia and artifacts of the ships’ history. The museum was expanded in 2009 with additional exhibits. The ship’s great anchor, propeller, mast and conning tower hatch complete the memorial display, surrounded by a low wall of concrete in battleship gray in the shape of the ship’s hull.

16 Inch naval gun barrel South Dakota photoThe Battlleship South Dakota Memorial museum, located in Sherman Park at the intersection of Kiwanis Avenue and 12th Street (Highway 42) in Sioux Falls, is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day with the outside display exhibits and park site open all year. Admission is free so its certainly worth a stop for any World War II military history buff trekking across the prairie plains, or just to let the kids climb on the big ship parts.
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