Ask anyone who owns a boat and they will tell you that ships have a personality. And the USS Lexington or ‘Lady Lex’ as she is also known is no different. She was the twin of the Saratoga – and the first of a new class of aircraft carriers laid down in 1928. She took to the Pacific during World War 2. Her nickname might have two sources. Firstly her demise was misreported no less than four times by the Japanese and secondly, she had missed out on the ‘Dazzle’ painting that was to mark other military vessels that fought in the pivotal battles in the Pacific sea.
After being shuttled back and forth across the Coral Sea she finally saw action in the defense of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea when the Japanese invasion of the islands was to take place. She and her sister ship the Yorktown were instrumental in sinking the light aircraft carrier Shōhō on 7 May 1942. However, her moment of glory was to be short-lived. She fell prey to Japanese fighter bombers and due to extensive damage was scuttled by an American destroyer to prevent her capture.
In 2018 the wreck of the Lexington was identified when an expedition financed by Paul Allen, one of the co-founders of Microsoft found her 430 nautical miles from the Northeastern coast of Australia.
However, her history is fascinating in itself – as one of the first aircraft carriers she started life as a planned battlecruiser. But soon it was realized that airpower would be one of the deciding factors in the battle for the islands in the Coral Sea. She was then designated (after redesign) as an aircraft carrier on 1 July 1922.
The USS Lexington was a groundbreaking vessel. Her flight deck was 866 feet 2 inches long with a maximum width of 105 feet 11 inches – and her hanger was recognized as being the largest single enclosed space afloat on any ship that had been constructed.
The Lexington brought brute force to the battle. She was initially capable of carrying 78 aircraft, including 36 bombers- but this increased when the Navy realized that they could better utilize her hanger. Eventually, she was to carry 79 aircraft, a mix of bombers, dive bombers, and observation aircraft.
Her two 22,500-shaft-horsepower electric motors provided enough power to propel her to speeds of 34.59 knots (39.81 mph). This was a lady who was going places at speed.
She might today rest on the bottom, but her legend is very much a part of naval history. May she lie quietly and with the majesty and pride that she and all who served on her brought to one of the most brutal battlefronts of WWII.
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