USS Lexington (CV-2)
USS Lexington (CV-2) was an aircraft carrier which saw service in World War II by stemming the Japanese advance in the South Pacific at the Coral Sea.
The fourth ship named for the first battle of the American Revolution, Lexington was originally designed to be a new class of battlecruiser (CC-1); in fact she was laid down as a battlecruiser on 8 January 1921 by Fore River Shipbuilding Company, Quincy, Massachusetts. The terms of the Washington Naval Treaty specified her cancellation, but she (as well as sister ship Saratoga) was authorized to be completed as an aircraft carrier on 1 July 1922. 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, Capt. Albert W. Marshall in command.
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 the Hawaiians, in the Caribbean, off the Panama Canal Zone, and in the eastern Pacific. In the fall of 1941 she sailed with the battle force to the Hawaiians for tactical exercises.
World War II
On 7 December 1941 Lexington was at sea with TF 12 carrying marine aircraft from Pearl Harbor to reinforce Midway when word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received. She immediately launched searchplanes to hunt for the Japanese fleet, and at midmorning headed south to rendezvous with Indianapolis and Enterprise task forces to conduct with search southwest of Oahu until returning Pearl Harbor 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 23 December. the two carrier forces were recalled to Pearl Harbor, arriving 27 December.
Lexington patrolled to block enemy raids in the Oahu-Johnston-Palmyra triangle until 11 January 1942, when she sailed from Pearl Harbor as flagship for Vice Adm. Wilson Brown commanding TF 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 splashed 17 of the attackers. During a single sortie Lt. E. H. (Butch) 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 TF 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 10 March. She now returned to Pearl Harbor, arriving 26 March.
Lexington’s task force sortied from Pearl Harbor 15 April, rejoining 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 must now be blocked in their southward expansion, or sea communication with Australia and New Zealand would be cut, and the dominions threatened with invasion.
On 7 May searchplanes reported contact with an enemy carrier task force, and Lexington’s air group flew an eminently successful mission against it, sinking light carrier Shoho. Later that day, 12 dive bombers and 15 torpedo planes from still-unlocated heavy carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku were intercepted by fighter groups from Lexington and Yorktown, who splashed nine enemy aircraft.
On the morning of the 8th, a Lexington plane located Shokaku group; a strike was immediately launched from the American carriers, and the Japanese ship heavily damaged.
The enemy penetrated to the American carriers at 1100, and 20 minutes later Lexington was struck by a torpedo to port. Seconds later, a second torpedo hit to port directly abreast the bridge. At the same time, she took three bomb hits from enemy dive bombers, producing a 7° list to port and several raging fires. By 1300 her skilled damage control parties had brought the fires under control and returned the ship to even keel; making 25 knots, 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 1558 Capt. Frederick C. Sherman, fearing for the safety of men working below, secured salvage operations, and ordered all hands to the flight deck. At 1707, he ordered, “abondon ship!”, and the orderly disembarkation began, men going over the side into the warm water, almost immediately to be picked up by nearby cruisers and destroyers. Admiral Fitch and his staff transferred to cruiser Minneapolis; Captain Sherman and his executive officer, Comdr. M. T. Seligman insured all their men were safe, then were the last to leave their ship.
Lexington blazed on, flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air. Destroyer Phelps closed to 1500 yards and fired two torpedoes into her hull; with one last heavy explosion, the gallant Lexington sank at 1956, in 15°20' S., 155°30' E. She was part of the price that was paid to halt the Japanese oversea empire and safeguard Australia and New Zealand, but perhaps an equally great contribution had been her pioneer role in developing the naval aviators and the techniques which played so vital a role in ultimate victory in the Pacific.
Lexington received two battle stars for World War II service.
- Photo Archive: USS Lexington, includes photos from before and during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
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