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USS Lexington

Discussion in 'United States at Sea!' started by Jim, Oct 11, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Lexington entered service in 1928 and was joined the same year by her sister ship. Both ships were assigned to the Pacific Fleet where they would spend almost their entire operational lives. Doubts about the utility of these two huge ships were quickly removed. In the Fleet Problem of 1929, the twins demonstrated their ability to operate aircraft in all weather and to launch a large single deck-load strike, the driving imperative of current US carrier tactics. In a series of Fleet Problems in the 1930s, the Lexington, demonstrated a number of tactics that would become standard during the war, including long-range strikes by carrier aircraft, the independent, offensive use of carriers, and the operation of separate carrier task groups, each composed of a carrier and its escorting cruisers and destroyers.
    Lexington’s actual war service was brief. On December 7, 1941, she was delivering Marine fighter aircraft to Midway Island and thus escaped destruction at Pearl Harbour. After an abortive attempt to relieve Wake Island in December 1941, Lexington was dispatched to counter Japanese operations in the South Pacific. Her first combat took place in February 1942 when she was sent to attack Japanese forces at their newly captured base at Rabaul, New Britain. Following her discovery by long-range Japanese aircraft before she could launch her own attack, her fighters and antiaircraft fire destroyed 15 of 17 attacking Japanese bombers. Later, on March 10 while operating with Yorktown, Lexington launched 52 aircraft to strike Japanese naval forces off Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea, but the results (three transports sunk) were disappointing given that total surprise had been achieved and Japanese air defences were negligible.
    After a short visit to Pearl Harbour, Lexington redeployed to the South Pacific to counter a Japanese attack against Port Moresby, New Guinea. Operating again with Yorktown, Lexington moved into the Coral Sea and prepared to meet the Imperial Navy in the first-ever clash between carriers. In a confused action, the two equal sides (the Japanese had deployed two fleet carriers to cover their invasion force) launched strikes on May 7, but failed to strike each other’s main carrier forces. However, Lexington’s aircraft did sink the Japanese light carrier Shoho. On the next day, both sides struck the other’s carriers. Lexington’s strike of 36 aircraft, combined with 39 from Yorktown, pounded the fleet carrier Shokaku with three bombs, but the Japanese carrier did not sink. In return, despite the fact that US radar picked up the Japanese strike force at 68 miles and the carriers were defended by 20 fighters and 23 Dauntlesses on anti-torpedo plane patrol, the Japanese attack force of 69 aircraft inflicted heavy damage on Lexington, scoring two torpedo hits on her port side and three bomb hits.


    However, in less than two hours, damage control personnel had extinguished all fires and corrected a seven-degree list. Just as it looked as if Lexington would survive, a massive explosion took place, sparked by leaking gas vapors as a result of aviation gas tanks being ruptured from the effects of battle damage. This time the flames could not be controlled and, after a second massive explosion, the ship was abandoned. The coup de grace was delivered by two torpedoes from an escorting destroyer.

    Lexington viewed later on May 8 from heavy cruiser USS Portland.

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    Assessment
    The Lexington’s introduced the fleet carrier concept to the US Navy. In their day they were larger, faster, and carried more aircraft than any other carrier in the world. They were ideal platforms to test the theories of the Navy’s aviation advocates during the pre-war years and proved without doubt that large carriers were preferable to a number of smaller carriers, a notion that continues in the US Navy until this day. Despite not being based on any experience, their 1920s design was generally successful and the ships were still capable of rendering excellent war service.

    USS Lexington burning during the Battle of Coral Sea, May 1942.

    [​IMG]

    Displacement: 36,000 tons
    Dimensions:
    Length 888ft
    Beam 105ft
    Draft 32ft
    Maximum speed: 34kt
    Radius: 6,960nm
    Crew: 2,122 (pre-war), 2,381
     

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