USS Lexington (CV-2)

USS Lexington (CV-2)

The fourth USS "Lexington" (CV-2), nicknamed the "Gray Lady" or "Lady Lex", was an early aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. She was the name ship of the Sclass|Lexington|aircraft carrier|4, though her sister ship USS|Saratoga|CV-3|2 was commissioned a month earlier.


The "Lexington" is named after the battle of Lexington that took place in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1775. She and her sister ship "Saratoga" were originally authorized in 1916 as battle cruisers of 35,300 tons with seven funnels and boilers disposed on two deck levels. After the war, and as a result of the lessons thereof, plans were to a large extent re-cast in 1919. Designated CC-1 and CC-3, they were laid down as smaller battle cruisers on 8 January 1921 by Fore River Shipbuilding Company, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Following the Washington Naval Conference, they were both redesignated and re-authorized to be completed as aircraft carriers on 1 July 1922. As such, they were reduced in displacement by 8,500 tons, achieved mainly by the elimination of eight convert|16|in|mm|0|sing=on guns in four twin turrets (including mounts, armor, and so on). The main belt armor was retained, and the deck armor was heavily reinforced. The general lines of the hull remained unaltered, and the special system of underwater protection was adhered to. The flight deck was 880 feet (244m) long and 85 to 90 feet (25.9-27.4m) wide, mounted 60 feet (18.3m) above the waterline. The mean draft was 24 feet 1.5 inches (7.4m). The ships had a complement of 169 officers and 1730 men, including flying personnel. They carried eight 8 inch (203 mm)/55 caliber guns, twelve 5-inch (127 mm)/25 caliber anti-aircraft guns,Friedman 1983 p. 390] and four 6-pounder (2.24-inch, 57 mm) saluting guns. These two ships were the last two built with a transverse catapult as part of the original design. The catapult had a travel of convert|155|ft|m|0, and was strong enough to launch the heaviest naval aircraft then in existence within 60 feet (18.3m). As built, these two ships had cranes for launching and retrieving seaplanes and flying boats, a capability removed during the war and replaced by additional anti-aircraft guns. The ships were designed to carry a maximum of 120 aircraft of various types, including fighters, scouts, and bombers. Each ship cost a total of $45,000,000 with aircraft.

"Lexington" was launched 3 October 1925, sponsored by Mrs. Theodore Douglas Robinson (wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy), and commissioned 14 December 1927, Captain Albert W. Marshall in command.

"Lexington" and "Saratoga" had turboelectric drive with 16 Yarrow boilers powering four General Electric steam turbines spinning generators that powered the four slower speed main drive motors. "Lexington"'s engines provided electricity to Tacoma, Washington for thirty days during a power shortage in the winter of 1929/1930.


After fitting out and shakedown, "Lexington" joined the Battle Fleet at San Pedro, California, 7 April 1928. Based there, she operated on the west coast with Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, in flight training, tactical exercises, and battle problems. Each year she participated in fleet maneuvers in Hawaii, in the Caribbean, off the Panama Canal Zone, and in the eastern Pacific. On trials, "Lexington" achieved an average speed of 30.7 knots, and maintained a speed of 34.5 knots for one hour.

The Captain of the vessel in 1930 and 1931 was Ernest King, who was later to serve as the Chief of Naval Operations during the Second World War.

In 1931, Robert A. Heinlein, later science fiction writer, worked on radio communications, then in its nascent phase, with the aircraft carrier's planes. [Mentioned in the afterword to "Searchlight" in Expanded Universe.] "Lexington" was one of fourteen ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 RADAR.

World War II


In the fall of 1941 she sailed with the battle force to the Hawaiians for tactical exercises.

On 7 December 1941 "Lexington" was at sea with Task Force 12 carrying marine aircraft from Pearl Harbor to reinforce Midway when word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received. She immediately launched search planes to hunt for the Japanese fleet, and at midmorning headed south to rendezvous with "Indianapolis" and "Enterprise" task forces to conduct a search southwest of Oahu until returning to Pearl Harbor on 13 December.

"Lexington" sailed next day to raid Japanese forces on Jaluit to relieve pressure on Wake Island; these orders were canceled 20 December, and she was directed to cover the "Saratoga" force in reinforcing Wake. When the island fell on 23 December, the two carrier forces were recalled to Pearl Harbor, arriving 27 December.


"Lexington" patrolled to block enemy raids in the OahuJohnstonPalmyra triangle until 11 January 1942, when she sailed from Pearl Harbor as flagship for Vice Admiral Wilson Brown commanding Task Force 11. On 16 February, the force headed for an attack on Rabaul, New Britain, scheduled for 21 February; while approaching the day previous, "Lexington" was attacked by two waves of enemy aircraft, nine planes to a wave. The carrier's own combat air patrol and antiaircraft fire shot down 17 of the attackers. During a single sortie, Lieutenant Edward O'Hare won the Medal of Honor by downing five planes.

Her offensive patrols in the Coral Sea continued until 6 March, when she rendezvoused with "Yorktown's" Task Force 17 for a thoroughly successful surprise attack flown over the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea to inflict heavy damage on shipping and installations at Salamaua and Lae on 10 March. She then returned to Pearl Harbor, arriving 26 March.

"Lexington's" task force sortied from Pearl Harbor on 15 April. She went through a short overhaul, during which her 8" turrets were removed and replaced by quadruple 1.1 inch anti-aircraft guns. She rejoinined TF 17 on 1 May. As Japanese fleet concentrations threatening the Coral Sea were observed, "Lexington" and "Yorktown" moved into the sea to search for the enemy's force covering a projected troop movement; the Japanese had to be blocked in their southward expansion or sea communication with Australia and New Zealand would be cut, and the dominions threatened with invasion. The Battle of the Coral Sea was the result.

Battle of the Coral Sea

On 7 May, search planes reported contact with an enemy carrier task force. "Lexington's" air group sank the light carrier "Shōhō". Later that day, 12 bombers and 15 torpedo planes from still-unlocated heavy carriers "Shōkaku" and "Zuikaku" were intercepted by fighter groups from "Lexington" and "Yorktown", which shot down nine enemy aircraft.

On the morning of the 8th, a "Lexington" plane located the "Shōkaku" group; a strike was immediately launched from the American carriers, and the Japanese carrier was heavily damaged. However, enemy planes penetrated the American defenses at 11:00, and 20 minutes later "Lexington" was struck by a torpedo to port. Seconds later, a second torpedo hit her portside directly abeam the bridge. At the same time, she took three bomb hits from enemy dive bombers, producing a 7 degree list to port and several raging fires. By 13:00, skilled damage control had brought the fires under control and restored her to an even keel; making convert|25|kn|mph km/h|0, she was ready to recover her air group. Then suddenly "Lexington" was shaken by a tremendous explosion, caused by the ignition of gasoline vapors below, and again fire raged out of control. At 15:58, Captain Frederick Carl Sherman, fearing for the safety of men working below, secured salvage operations, and ordered all hands to the flight deck. At 17:01, he ordered "abandon ship" and the orderly disembarkation began. Men going over the side into the warm water were almost immediately picked up by nearby cruisers and destroyers. Admiral Aubrey Wray Fitch and his staff transferred to the cruiser "Minneapolis"; Captain Sherman and his executive officer, Commander Morton T. Seligman ensured all their men were safe, then were the last to leave.

"Lexington" blazed on, flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air. To prevent enemy capture, Destroyer "Phelps" closed to convert|1500|yd|m|-2 and fired two torpedoes into her hull; with one last heavy explosion, "Lexington" sank at 19:56, in coord|15|20|S|155|30|E|.


"Lexington" received two battle stars for her World War II service.

In June 1942, five days after the Navy's public acknowledgement of the sinking, workers at the Quincy shipyard where the ship was built twenty-one years earlier cabled Navy Secretary Frank Knox and proposed a change in the name of a carrier currently under construction there to the USS "Lexington" (from the USS "Cabot"). [United Press, "Workers Name New Lexington", Waterloo Daily Courier, 1942-06-17, available at] Knox agreed to the proposal, and by September 23, 1942 the fifth USS|Lexington|CV-16|3 was launched.

ee also

* List of aircraft carriers
* List of World War II ships
* List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II

Notes and references


* "Queen of the Flat-Tops", by Stanley Johnston. Originally published in 1942 by E.P. Dutton & Co., it was reprinted 1979 as part of the "Bantam War Book"-series. It is an eyewitness account of the final voyage of "Lexington" by Johnston, a journalist from Chicago.

External links

* [ Preliminary battle report]
* [ USS Lexington CV-2 Memorial Page]
* [ Navy photographs of "Lexington" (CV-2)]
* [ Coral Sea photographs]
* [ Personal account of the sinking of "Lexington" (CV-2)]
* [ "Lexington" (CV-2) report about powering City of Tacoma]
* [ USS "Lexington" (CV-2) at Navsource]
* [ CV-2 Personnel Roster at]

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