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Lexington

The aircraft carrier Lexington was, like her sister ship Saratoga, originally planned as a battle cruiser of 35,300 tons, with seven funnels and her boilers on two decks. After World War I the plans were changed and the carriers had a lesser displacement, largely as a result of abandoning the use of eight 16-inch guns. Lexington was laid down on 8 January 1921 and completed in December 1927. Her displacement was 33,000 tons, length overall 888 feet (flight deck 880 feet) and beam 106 feet (flight deck 90 feet). She was armed with eight 8-inch, 55 caliber guns and 12 5-inch, 25 caliber anti-aircraft guns. She was said to have been capable of carrying 120 aircraft. Her complement, including aircrew, was 169 officers and 1,730 enlisted men. In 1932 these sister carriers took part in an exercise, Fleet Problem XIII, that simulated an attack on Pearl Harbor. It was deemed to have succeeded. The experience was set aside as irrelevant given the power of the US fleet. On 27 November Admiral Husband E. Kimmel (Kimmel, Husband E.) received a message from Chief of Naval Operations Admiral H. R. Stark (Stark, Harold R.) warning him of imminent war with Japan and instructing him to carry out defensive deployment. In Washington the assumed objective of a Japanese attack was the Philippines or other Far East locations. Kimmel accordingly reinforced Wake Island by sending a task force including the carrier Enterprise with additional aircraft and Midway by sending one with Lexington. As Saratoga was undergoing a refit on the mainland, no aircraft carriers were present in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December. Lexington and Yorktown were present in Task Force 17 in May 1942 as the Japanese made to take Port Morseby, New Guinea, facing Australia across the Coral Sea. On 8 May aircraft from the American carriers inflicted serious damage on one of the Japanese carriers, Shokaku, but the other, Zuikaku, found cover in a rain squall. Meanwhile Nakajima B5N2 Kates found the Americans. Lexington was hit by a torpedo and fire broke out. Although she developed a list she continued to fly her aircraft. At 1247 she was shaken by a large explosion, but her planes flew on. At 1445 the persistent fires ignited another huge explosion and, at 2000, she finally sank. Although the Japanese could claim a tactical victory their strategic objectives had not been attained and Australia had been successfully protected.

See also: Enterprise; Kate; Kimmel, Husband E.; Pearl Harbor; Saratoga; Shokaku; Stark, Harold R.; Yorktown; Zuikaku

You can find out more about the aircraft and aircraft carriers in World War II in the following Osprey books:

AIRCRAFT OF THE ACES 3 Wildcat Aces of World War 2; COMBAT AIRCRAFT 10 SBD Dauntless Units of World War 2; COMBAT AIRCRAFT 20 TBD Devastator Units of the US Navy