USS LEXINGTON CV 2
The fourth USS Lexington (CV 2) was originally designated CC 1; laid down as a battle cruiser January 8, 1921 by Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Mass.; authorized to be completed as an aircraft carrier July 1, 1922; launched October 3, 1925; sponsored by Mrs. Theodore Douglas Robinson, wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy; and commissioned December 14, 1927, Capt. Albert W. Marshall in command.
After fitting out and shakedown, USS Lexington joined the battle fleet at San Pedro, Calif., April 7, 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.
On December 7, 1941 Lexington was at sea with Task Force 12 (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 search planes to hunt for the Japanese fleet, and at mid-morning headed south to rendezvous with USS Indianapolis (CA 35) and USS Enterprise (CV 6) task forces to conduct a search southwest of Oahu until returning Pearl Harbor December 18.
USS Lexington (CV 2) sailed next day to raid Japanese forces on Jaluit to relieve pressure on Wake; these orders were canceled December 20, and she was directed to cover the USS Saratoga force in reinforcing Wake. When the island fell December 23, the two carrier forces were recalled to Pearl Harbor, arriving December 27.
Lexington patrolled to block enemy raids In the Oahu-Johnston-Palmyra triangle until January 11, 1942 when she sailed from Pearl Harbor as flagship for Vice Adm. Wilson Brown commanding TF 11. On February 16 the force headed for an attack on Rabaul, New Britain, scheduled for February 21. While approaching the day previous, USS 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 March 6 when she rendezvoused with USS 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 March 10. She now returned to Pearl Harbor, arriving March 26, 1942. Lexington's task force sortied from Pearl Harbor April 15, rejoining TF 17 on May 1. As Japanese fleet concentrations threatening the Coral Sea were observed, USS Lexington and USS Yorktown (CV 5) 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 May 7, 1942 search planes 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 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, the Lexington plane located the Shokaku group. A strike was immediately launched from the American carriers, and the Japanese ship was 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 seven degree 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, "abandon 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 USS Minneapolis (CA 36); Captain Sherman and his executive officer, Cmdr. 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. The destroyer USS Phelps (DD 360) closed to 1500 yards and fired two torpedoes into her hull. With one last heavy explosion, USS Lexington (CV 2) sank at 1956 on May 8, 1942 at 15º 20' S., 155º 30' E. She was part of the price that was paid to halt the Japanese overseas 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.