The early stages of the night action saw the IJN warships sweep aside the U.S. Navy destroyer screen. South Dakota and Washington became separated, and the former came under heavy fire from the entire Japanese task force, which caused high casualties and a complete loss of communications. When the Japanese opened up on South Dakota, however, they revealed their position to USS Washington, which took the opportunity to hammer HIJMS Kirishima with her 16” and 5” guns. Kirishima suffered mortal damage, fell out of the battle line, and eventually sank (although most of her crew was rescued). South Dakota and Washington escaped, the latter with virtually no damage.
Only eight dreadnoughts remain, all in the United States. Over time, it is almost certain that this number will dwindle; several of the memorialized battleships are in poor condition, and likely will eventually find their way to the scrappers, or to service as an artificial reef. Nevertheless, for more than a generation analysts and the general public perceived these ships to constitute the currency of naval, and to some extent national, power.
Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.
This first appeared in 2015 and is being republished due to reader interest.