Years ago, as I was waiting in line at the courthouse, I noticed the elderly gentleman next to me. He was wearing a red baseball cap with yellow lettering. The lettering stated USS South Dakota BB57 USMC. I started a conversation with him and sure enough, he was a member of the crew of South Dakota during World War Two. Indeed, he had been aboard her in November 1942 in the battleship fight off of Guadalcanal. He was a member of a twin 5-inch gun turret manned by marines. As I listened he was justifiably proud of his ship but his eye-witness account seemed to be at variance with what I had read. True, I was not even born when this battle occurred and he was, but he definitely had a different take on the battle. I didn't realize that USS Washington had run off and that the solo South Dakota had been a one-ship task force that had demolished the Japanese task force. What I remembered was as has been stated in Battleship at War: The Epic Story of USS Washington by Ivan Musicant: "While Washington was hotly engaged, Capt. Thomas Gatch in the badly cut up South Dakota, unable to communicate, had opted to retire. Glenn Davis put it another way: 'Retired? Hell, she just left the action.We didn't know anything about it, and we didn't see or hear from her until the morning.' At 0005 South Dakota put down her helm and, crossing Washington's wake about two miles astern, steamed southwest, passing Cape Esperance to port, and withdrew."
The South Dakota class battleships were the second of the fast battleship designs developed just before the Second World War. They were designed to correct deficiencies in the North Carolina class. There is an old maxim that a battleship should be armored to defeat the shell size of the guns she carries. The 1930 London Treaty was coming to an end and all major navies were rearming in 1936. There was another London conference that year and the British were pushing on maximum displacement of 35,000-tons and a maximum armament of 14-inch guns. Only the Royal Navy opted for the 14-inch gun with the King George V class. In contrast the USN delayed a decision on whether the North Carolina would be armed with 14-inch or 16-inch guns. President Roosevelt thought it wise to wait until after the fall 1936 elections before authorizing new battleships. Indeed, the final decision was not made until after the expiration of the escalation clause in June 1937, which stipulated that if all signatories had not confirmed the new treaty by that date then a 45,000-ton design with 16-inch guns would be allowable. Since Japan and Italy never did sign, the USN chose 16-inch guns for the North Carolina. However, the hull and armor design was already done so the armor scheme of North Carolina was designed to defeat 14-inch shells, not 16-inch shells. The South Dakota class was designed to improve the armor to defeat 16-inch shells. To do this the design was shortened and the armor increased.
With the lead ship, USS South Dakota, the shortening of the hull caused the loss of one twin DP 5-inch/38 gun turret on each side. So instead of the ten 5-inch turrets of the North Carolina, the South Dakota carried only eight of these turrets. The subsequent design was reworked and the sisterships of South Dakota carried ten turrets, making South Dakota the only fast battleship carrying eight twin turrets. Trumpeter has released two new South Dakota class battleship kits in 1:350 scale, Alabama and Massachusetts. It is logical that these two were chosen as both ships are still in existence as museum ships at Mobile, Alabama and Fall River, Massachusetts, respectively. There was a natural built in market for those two. But what about the "Dirty Dick" as the South Dakota was nicknamed by the crews of other fast battleships in the Pacific. Sure, the Alabama would appeal to the Las Vegas types as that ship had the reputation of being manned exclusively by card shark gamblers. Sure, the Massachusetts had engaged another battleship in the war, but an immobile Jean Bart with only one operational turret was hardly a match for Big Mammie. Besides, the unique arrangement of her secondary turrets and combat history made South Dakota a very desirable selection.
I have a natural affinity for the South Dakota, as growing up my family made yearly summer vacations to the Sioux Falls area, where most of are relatives were located. One aunt and uncle lived a short walk from the major park in Sioux Falls, where the memorial for USS South Dakota was erected after she was scrapped. I walked to this memorial any times and saw the few remaining artifacts of the ship. Yankee Modelworks has released conversion sets for all four members of the South Dakota class to use in conjunction with the Trumpeter 1:350 scale kits. With my liking of the South Dakota, as well as the uniqueness of her design, it was natural for me to look at the South Dakota class conversion set first. The set is YKM 3014 and provides a replacement superstructure for the modeler to built the Trumpeter kit as the 1943 South Dakota. The replacement parts are all resin with the exception of one small decal sheet.
All parts are securely packaged to prevent breakage in transit. The major resin piece is the shelter or combined 01, 02, 03 and forward 04 bridge decks with a number of resin wafers containing the numerous other resin parts to complete the South Dakota conversion. All parts with have to be smoothed to remove the remnants of the casting wafer. The parts are universally clean and exhibited no defects or casting voids. Detail is very good with doors, portholes, ventilator louvers, flag lockers, deck hatches, equipment lockers and other detail. Other major resin parts include the tower superstructure with stack cap. The stack cap has deeply sunk exhaust openings so a three-dimensional look can be replicated. The 04 and 05 levels are separate parts with a resin deck providing the aft 03 deck. The 05-deck piece contains the upper level of the bridge. On top of this goes the upper 05 level deck with conning tower, side secondary director bases and various tubs. Other resin sheets include aft director base, fore top, various platforms, multiple gun tubes, and multiple light AA director tubs. The various tubs, platforms and positions included not only provide superstructure parts, but also 20mm galleries for B and Y turrets and additional forecastle and quarterdeck details.
Yankee Modelworks provides a comprehensive set of instructions for the conversion of the Trumpeter kits. There are pages on history and background as well as a parts lay-down in drawings and text. The actually assembly is done in modules, starting with the removal of the plastic 01 level, then continuing level by level with attachment of the YMW resin parts over the next three pages. Then YMW covers the additions to the quarterdeck, turret crowns, forecastle and additional gun and director positions. To close the instructions there is a color profile of the ship in her Measure 21 5N camouflage scheme and five pages of photographs of the ship.
With Yankee Modelworks USS South Dakota BB57 YKM-3014 conversion set for the Trumpeter 1:350 scale models of Alabama or Massachusetts, any modeler can now build the unique lead ship of the class. Whether it is the "Dirty Dick" blazing away at Japanese aircraft at Santa Cruz or engaging the Japanese Navy in a bar room brawl off of Guadalcanal, now the South Dakota can be captured in all her 1:350 scale glory.