The aircraft carrier USS Lexington

The aircraft carrier USS Lexington

The USS Lexington is the last operational unit of the Essex class of carriers that were designed just prior to World War II, and were modernized in the 1950s. This is AVT-16 as she appears today during operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

During the Second World War, the Essex class carried more aircraft and larger weapons loads, and went further and faster than any of their predecessors. They were larger than any of the older carriers except for the earlier USS Lexington, CV-2, and her sister, USS Saratoga, CV-3. Though many, including Lexington, sustained combat damage, none were lost.

The names of those Essex class carriers still stir the emotions of thousands of Americans who served on them as ship's company or the embarked air group: Bon Homme Richard, Wasp, Yorktown, Shangri-la, Essex, Hornet, Ticonderoga, Franklin, and so many others. The last of the CVA's, the USS Hancock, was stricken from the fleet in 1976.

Each year, Lexington spends up to 140 days at sea, usually in the Gulf of Mexico, providing a flight deck for the initial carrier qualifications of student, naval aviators. Additionally, the Lexington fills gaps in fleet pilot carrier qualifications by providing a deck for fleet and fleet replacement A-6 and A-7 squadrons.

The USS Lexington that a modern nuclear-powered carrier such as the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) or the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) might be a more fitting choice. The USS Lexington was launched as CV-16 on June 16, 1942. She has served the United States longer and has set more records than any other carrier in the history of naval aviation. Known as «The Blue Ghost», her service record in World War II was exceeded only by that of the Enterprise. Then, completely modernized, she began her post-war service in 1955. Today she remains the only Essex class carrier in service. She has been designated CVA, CVS, CVT, and AVT during this post-war period. Her starboard catapult has recorded almost 300,000 launches, the most by any catapult on any carrier. Although she has been scheduled to be with-drawn from service several times, present plans probably mean that she will see her fifteenth birthday still in service with the U.S. Navy.

The USS Lexington history

The USS Lexington, CV-16, was built at the Fore River Shipyard at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned at the South Boston Navy Yard on February 17, 1943. Captain F. B. Stump, USN, became the first commanding officer. She had originally been named USS Cabot, but the name was changed to Lexington, when the first carrier to bear that name, CV-2, was lost at the Battle of Coral Sea on May 8, 1942. This began a precedent, as each fleet carrier that was lost during the war had a new carrier under construction named for it. These included Yorktown, Wasp, Hornet, and Princeton. Even the old Langley, CV-1, which had been converted to a seaplane tender, AV-3, had a carrier named for it when it was sunk on February 27, 1942. In this case, the new carrier was CVL-27, a light carrier of the Independence class, but for all of the other carriers that were lost, it was a new Essex class carrier that carried on the name of the ship that was lost. The name originally planned for these ships was then used for a subsequent carrier. The name Cabot must have been a blessing for longevity of service. It was originally to be the name of CV-16, which still remains in service with the U.S. Navy. When this ship was renamed Lexington, the name CABOT was given to CVL-28, which went to war carrying that name. After post-war service with the U.S. Navy, and a designation to AVT-3, she was transferred to Spain in 1967, and renamed Dedalo. Thus she became the last of the Independence class light carriers to remain in service. The name Lexington is one of the most famous in U.S. Navy history. The first Lexington was a sixteen-gun brig that was purchased in March 1776 by the Continental Congress. The second Lexington was a 691-ton sloop that was commissioned on June 11, 1826. She saw service in the Mexican War, and later was a store ship for Commodore Perry's expedition to Japan. She was followed by the third Lexington which was an ironclad side wheeler that was commissioned in August of 1861. After seeing action in the Civil War, she was decommissioned on June 2, 1865. The next Lexington was to be a battle cruiser, but became the U.S. Navy's second aircraft carrier CV-2. She was commissioned on December 14, 1927, and as mentioned earlier, was lost at the Battle of Coral Sea.

The present Lexington was the second Essex class carrier to be commissioned. After her commissioning, the carrier aircraft Lexington began a fitting out period at Boston, and then she left for the Chesapeake Bay on April 13th on April 23rd, CDR BW. Wright made the first take off and landing aboard the ship. She was then joined by Air Group 16 for practice maneuvers. After a shakedown cruise, she returned to Boston for post shakedown availability.

Following her post shakedown availability, Lexington left Boston and proceeded via Norfolk to the Panama Canal. On July 26th, she joined with the Belleau Wood, CVL-24, and Princeton, CVL-23, and transited the Canal on July 26th and 27th. On July 28th, these three carriers, along with the other ships of Task Group 52.6 left Balboa and headed for Pearl Harbor. After an uneventful voyage, Lexington arrived at Pearl Harbor on August 9th, and reported to Comair Pac for duty as part of the Pacific Fleet. After several weeks at Pearl Harbor, Lexington left for war on September 11th, as part of CTG 15.5. The mission of this group was to make a raid on enemy air installations at Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. The raid began at dawn on September 18th, and during that day 196 sorties were flown with a loss of only three aircraft. After the raid, the group returned to Pearl Harbor. Lexington sorted on September 29th for her second raid which was a strike against Wake Island. This was to be the first raid carried out by several carrier groups operating together. In two days Air Group 16flew 305 sorties with the loss of two fighters and one dive bomber. The bomber crew was rescued by a submarine. The next operation for Lexington was the occupation of the Gilbert Islands during November 19th-24th. Working with Yorktown, CV-10, and Cowpens, CVL-25, Lexington took up a station 100 miles south-east of Mille in the Marshall's group. Their mission was to intercept enemy aircraft being staged from the Marshall's to counter the invasion of the Gilberts. They also conducted strikes against installations at Mille. On November 23rd, twelve Hellcats from Lexington shot down seventeen Japanese aircraft and claimed an additional three probable. Only one Hellcat was lost, and its pilot was rescued. The next day, twelve Hellcats attacked a formation of two Bettys and eighteen Zekes. They shot down both Bettys and ten Zekes with two more as probable. No Hellcats were lost. After refueling, the carrier groups proceeded on to raid Kwajalein Atoll. The first strike was made at 06:30 on the morning of December 4th. Dive and torpedo bombers attacked the two cruisers and a transport in the harbor, destroying the transport and damaging the cruisers. Twelve Hellcats strafed the airfield, although they were intercepted by thirty Japanese fighters from Roi Island. Nineteen enemy fighters and one Betty were destroyed in the air, and three more Bettys were destroyed on the ground. While returning from the strike, the SBD were attacked by enemy fighters. The SBDs shot down six Zekes and one Betty on their way back to the ship. The final score for Air Group 16 for this strike was one trans-port and one cruiser sunk, one cruiser damaged, 27 air-craft shot down, and three destroyed on the ground. As the group withdrew, they were attacked by two enemy torpedo bombers. The gunners on the Lexington were the first to open fire in what was to be their first chance to engage in actual combat. They shot down both aircraft in quick order. Then a third bomber was sighted. It dropped its torpedo, but was then shot down by Lexington gunners. An evasive turn caused the torpedo to miss.

That evening, at 1846, radar detected the first bogie, and then more and more was seen. From then until 01:27, the Task Group was under continual attack. At 2150, float lights were dropped on the water to guide the attackers to the target. At 23:22, four parachute flares appeared on the port beam of the Lexington silhouetting the ship, and making it obvious that it had been picked out as a target.

At 23:25, the aircraft Lexington opened fire at bogies coming in from the starboard bow. A torpedo was seen to drop from a Betty on the starboard beam, and the torpedo hit at 23:32. The damage caused the ship to settle five feet to starboard, and steering control was lost. The carrier turned in a circle to port streaming a dense cloud of smoke from ruptured gas tanks on the fantail. Nine men died and thirty-two were wounded in the attack. After twenty minutes, the rudder was brought amid-ships, and steering was accomplished by using the main engine. Only half an hour after being hit, Lexington was steaming eastward at 20 knots. It continued on to Pearl Harbor for temporary repairs, then on to Bremerton for permanent repairs, arriving there on December 22nd in time for Christmas. Lexington left Bremerton on February 20th, and proceeded to NAS Alameda to pick up Air Group 19, 2500 passengers, and freight. She passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on February 24th, and arrived at Pearl Harbor on February 28th. With her old Air Group 16 back aboard, Lexington left for the war zone on March 3rd. She arrived at Majuro in the Marshall's on March 8th, where Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher moved his flag aboard, thus making Lexington the Force Flagship of Task Force 58. On March 18, Lexington and Air Group 16 conducted their first strikes since being damaged in December. The target was Mille Atoll which was still in Japanese hands. Two days later, the Task Force headed for their next major operation, a raid on the Palau Islands. On March 29th, from 1712 to 22:00, the Task Force was subjected to a night attack, but no damage was done, and the ship secured from General Quarters. At 06:33 the next morning, the first strikes were launched, and they continued uninterrupted throughout the rest of that day and the next. The next day strikes were launched against Woleai, putting it permanently out of action as a Japanese staging base. The Task Force then returned to Majuro Atoll, arriving there on April 16th. While there, Captain Stump was promoted to Rear Admiral, and Captain E. N. Litch replaced him as commanding officer of the Lexington on April 10th.

Task Force 58 then sailed for Hollandia, New Guinea, to support landings by the Army. Strikes commenced on April 21st, with 212 sorties being flown that day. Twenty-nine enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and two costal vessels were sunk. The following day the landings were conducted against minimal opposition, and only 74 sorties were flown. While the operation against Hollandia was relatively easy, the next operation was against Truk, which had the reputation of being Japan's strongest base in the Pacific. The run-in during the evening of April 28th was uneventful, and launching of the first strikes the following morning was delayed until 07:22 due to bad weather. Shortly after 08:00, bogies were reported, and at 08:14 two dive bombers made runs against Lexington from the port bow. One was shot down, and the other one dropped a bomb which fell just off the fantail. Mean while the first strike reached the target area, and was intercepted by many Japanese fighters. Hellcats from the Lexington shot down seventeen with a loss of four planes and three pilots. Fighters from the Langley CVL-27 shot down another twenty fighters. From then on, enemy air resistance was negligible, and for two days Task Force 58 systematically worked over Truk, while cruisers and battleships pounded the neighboring islands of Satawan and Ponape. At times the force was so close to the outlying islands that they could be seen on the horizon. An enemy dive bomber dropped a bomb close to the Lexington during the second evening of the attack, but otherwise there was no further enemy activity over the ships.

USS Lexington (CVS-16) underway in the 1960sUSS Lexington (CVS-16) underway in the 1960s

The force returned to Majuro for replenishment, then departed on June 6th, for the Marianas. On the afternoon of June 11th, a fighter sweep was launched at 13:07. Task Force fighters shot down over 100 enemy aircraft during the sweep, and effectively neutralized air opposition over Saipan. The enemy launched numerous attacks against the Task Force, but no damage was done except for loss of a lot of sleep. On June 12th, the Lexington launched a fighter sweep at dawn, and this was followed by six strikes against Saipan. Severe damage was inflicted on ground installations, and two cargo ships and several smaller craft were sunk by Lexington's aircraft. A fighter sweep and four strikes were launched the following day. Although these were successful, the day was marred by the loss of CDR Robert Isley, the commanding officer of the torpedo squadron. He was hit by AA fire, and crashed on the airfield that was later named in his honor. On June 14th, more strikes were conducted on the northern islands and on Saipan itself. Strikes continued the following day. At 18:03, while still in the process of landing planes from the last strike, a bogie was picked up on radar and shot down by CAP from one of the other carriers. At 18:18, General Quarters was sounded while landing operations continued. The Japanese attack was large and executed at very high speed. Lexington's gun batteries shot down five of eight enemy aircraft that appeared off her starboard and port bows. Two torpedoes were launched at the ship, and one passed on each side as the ship maneuvered. They were very close and in plain view of the crewmen on the deck. One attacker burst into flames on the port bow, then flew the length of the flight deck only a few feet above it. The aircraft crashed off the port quarter, but there were no serious injuries sustained by any of the Lexington's crew. Not much happened until June 19th, which became famous as the date of the first Battle of the Philippine Sea. During the day, the Lexington's air group did its full share. While the dive and torpedo bombers were hitting Guam, the fighters shot down forty-five aircraft that attacked the task force. The CAP from all of the carriers proved more than a match for the enemy, and gun batteries from the ships took care of the few enemy planes that did get through. Fighters landed, rearmed, and refueled, then launched again to maintain the protective umbrella above the ships. By the end of the day, over 400 enemy aircraft had been destroyed.

The next day was spent searching for Japanese surface units, and twelve Hellcats armed with bombs were launched from Lexington. They searched out to 450 miles, but made no contact. They returned after a search mission lasting six hours. But at 15:45, a search plane from one of the other Task Groups in the force located the enemy. In spite of the lateness of the hour and the great distance involved, a strike was prepared. Lexington launched eleven Hellcats, seven Avengers, and fifteen dauntless dive bombers at 16:35. It was dark when the aircraft from the strike began returning to the force. They were running Iowan gas, and it was feared that many might have to ditch at sea in the darkness. They were landed aboard the first carrier they found even if it was not their assigned carrier. It was at this time that Vice Admiral Mitscher on the Lexington gave the famous order to «Turn on the lights,» violating light security in order to help the returning pilots find their way home. It risked exposing the force to an enemy submarine or aircraft, but the order now is among the most famous given in the history of the U.S. Navy, and ranks with, «I have not yet begun to fight,» and «Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.» Fortunately, no enemy attack was made, and many planes landed safely while others ditched close to the ships. For the balance of this operation, which lasted until July 9th, «milk run» strikes were made against Guam to deny its use to the enemy. At 06:30 on July 9th, Air Group 16 launched for the last time. This was also the last time that the SBD Dauntless would launch from the Lexington. Other carriers had already changed to the SB2C Helldiver, and Lexington was now to do so as well. Even as Air Group 16 left, planes from Air Group 19 were seen overhead, and all were safely aboard by 08:46. On July 14th, Lexington sorted from Eniwetok, and once again headed for the Marianas. From July 18th to 21, they supported the landings on Guam. On July 24th, they conducted strikes against Palau, Yap, and Ulithi. Throughout this period air opposition was nonexistent, and activities were conducted in a routine manner. On the afternoon of July 21st, Lexington was again in the Marianas, and anchored in Saipan harbor. Here the ship was replenished, and then she left to conduct strikes on Iwo Jima, Haha Jima, and Chiohi Jima. She then returned to Eniwetok on August 10th and remained there until August 29th.

On September 6th, 7th, and 8th, the task group conducted strikes on Palau with no airborne opposition. This ended the assaults on the outlying islands, and from this point on, the attention of the Third Fleet was turn.3d to the Philippines and the inner circle of Japan's defenses. On September 9th and 10th, Mindanao was hit by strikes from the entire task force. Then, looking for targets, Admiral Halsey ordered strikes against the Visayan region. Here, the fighters found the opposition they had been looking for. On September 12th, a fighter sweep ran into planes taking off from airfields in the Cebu area, and shot down fifteen enemy aircraft. On September 21st and 22nd, strikes were begun in the Manila area. After replenishment at Ulithi, the aircraft Lexington participated in strikes against Okinawa on October 10th, and on Formosa from October 12th through the 14th. The first fighter sweep encountered many enemy planes, and shot down twenty-eight of them. The ships of the task force were not attacked during the day, but came under sustained attack at night. On the second evening, the cruiser Canberra took a torpedo hit, so instead of retiring, the force stayed on to assist her and to make further diversionary attacks on Formosa. The following afternoon, the force was again attacked. A torpedo narrowly missed the Essex, and a Japanese plane crash-dived into the fantail of the cruiser Reno, causing minor damage. The CAP from the Princeton shot down eighteen planes of the attacking force.

On October 24, the task group began strikes against Luzon, while the rest of the task force was operating to the south. At 08:00, radar plot reported «many many» bogies closing and all available fighters were scrambled. The force was under constant attack throughout the day from carrier and shore-based aircraft, but the effective CAP adequately protected the ships. Only a few isolated enemy planes got through, and one of those dropped a bomb on Princeton. This caused secondary explosions of armed aircraft on her hangar deck, and despite am gallant effort, she was eventually lost. She was the only CV or CVL lost after the first Hornet, CV-8, was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942. One hundred and fifty enemy planes were shot down by the task group. On the morning of October 25th, strikes were launched against an enemy carrier force to the north. This was one of the more controversial decisions made during the war in the Pacific. Admiral Halsey decided to hit Admiral Ozawa's carriers to deal the few remaining carrier forces of Japan a decisive blow. It was Ozawa's mission to act as a decoy and draw Halsey north to attack the Japanese carriers that were now lacking any kind of credible force of aircraft. The correctness of the decision will not be debated here. Halsey wanted to crush the last of the Japanese carrier forces, and this he did. Only twenty Zeke fighters rose to intercept the American aircraft, and these were easily smothered by the Hellcats. This allowed the bombers to work slowly and deliberately, and strike after strike was thrown at the enemy throughout the day. The carriers Chitose, Chiyoda, ZUIt-i0, and Zuikaku were sunk. The enemy force was crushed, and for all intents and purposes, Japanese carrier forces ceased to exist. After this battle, known as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, Vice Admiral Mitscher and his staff departed the Lexington. Following a replenishment period, two strikes were begun off Luzon on November 5th and 6th. Aircraft struck the Clark Field area, and Lexington's planes sunk a heavy cruiser in Manila Bay. But the Japanese were to retaliate. At 1315, bogies were reported, and when they approached to ten miles without being intercepted, it was obvious that Lexington was to come under attack. At 13:37, two Zekes dived on the ship. A five-inch shell knocked off the tail of the first, causing it to miss the ship, but the second, although hit, continued on into the ship, crashing just aft of the secondary corn. Heavy fires ensued, and numerous casualties were suffered. The fires were quickly controlled, and with the flight deck undamaged, air operations continued. Forty-seven men were killed and 127 were wounded. After conducting strikes the following day, Lexington retired to Ulithi where the wounded were transferred to the USS Solace. For the rest of November, Lexington underwent repairs. Air Group 19 returned to the States, and was replaced with Air Group 20 from Enterprise. They brought seventy-three Hellcats, fifteen Avengers, and fifteen Helldivers with them. On December 11th, Lexington sorted from Ulithi as flagship of CTG 58.2, to support the landings of General MacArthur's forces at Mindoro. Strikes were made on December 14th, 15th, and 16th to blanket the airfields and prevent air opposition of the landings. This effort was so successful that no enemy opposition was encountered during this period. On the morning of the 16th, a small group of Bettys and Zekes was detected heading toward the force, but these were intercepted by fighters from Lexington and Hancock, CV-19, and all enemy aircraft were shot down. On December 23, the force returned to Ulithi after riding out a typhoon.

Lexington again sorted from Ulithi on December 30th, and until her return on January 27, she participated in strikes against Formosa, Luzon, Camranh Bay, Hong Kong, and Okinawa. After her return to Ulithi, Captain Litch was relieved by Captain Thomas H. Robbins as the ship's commanding officer. The following day, Rear Admiral R. E. Davidson of Carrier Division 2 raised his flag aboard aircraft Lexington. Air Group9 replaced Air Group 20 on February 2. This new group got its baptism officer in strikes around Tokyo on February 16 and 17. On the 16th, twenty-five enemy planes were shot down, and eighteen more were destroyed on the ground. The Air Group Commander, CDR P. H. Torrey, Jr., and three other pilots were lost during the day. Three Zekes and an Oscar were shot down the following day, which was the second anniversary of the commissioning of the Lexington.

The strikes in the Tokyo area were followed by more strikes in support of the landings on Iwo Jima on February 19th, 21 st, and 22nd. On the 25th, the group returned for another strike around Tokyo. After a strike and photo mission at Amami Gunto on March 1, the Lexington returned to Ulithi. On March 7th, the Lexington left Ulithi for a trip back to the States. After stopping at Pearl Harbor, she entered Puget Sound Navy Yard and Bremerton, Washington, on March 31. Lexington remained all of April and part of May at Puget Sound. Most work was simply a routine overhaul, but a noteworthy change to the superstructure was made. The flag plot and navigation bridge was enlarged, and this necessitated the removal of the forward most 40mm gun mount on the superstructure. The other noticeable change was that the Lexington was no longer painted in the overall Sea Blue of Measure 21. Instead, she had been repainted in Measure 22, a graded system of Navy Gray or Navy Blue up to the hangar deck level, and Ocean Gray from there on up. Lexington left Bremerton on May 22nd, and headed for NAS Alameda, California. On May 29th, she left for Pearl Harbor without escort. At Pearl Harbor, Air Group 94 came on board. This group was the first to bring the F4U Corsair aboard Lexington. The group had 103 aircraft, consisting of thirty-one Hellcat fighters, four Hellcat night fighters, two photographic Hellcats, thirty-six Corsairs, fifteen Helldivers, and fifteen Avengers. With her new air group, Lexington conducted training maneuvers on June 6th, 7th, and 8th. On June 9th and 10th, Air Group 2 conducted training aboard the ship. Air Group 94 returned on the 10th, and LTJG Richard C. Posterick of VF-94 made the 20,000th landing in an F6F. By June 13th, Lexington was again on her way to the forward area as part of TG 12.4. The group proceeded to Leyte, Philippine Islands, making a one-day strike against Wake Island on the way. One hundred and seventy-three sorties were flown from Lexington. Additionally, four photographic sorties were flown, and a four-plane CAP was kept over the rescue submarine. Sixty-three tons of bombs, 462 rockets, and eight Tiny Tims were dropped or fired at the targets. One Hellcat and one Corsair were lost to AA fire. The rest of the trip to the Philippines was uneventful, and Lexington anchored in San Pedro Bay on June 26.

When Lexington left the Philippines on July 1, there would be less than two months before hostilities would cease. The next time she dropped anchor, it would be in Tokyo Bay. But these would be busy days as the action was now taking place over Japan itself. Lexington was operating as part of Task Group 38.1 under Rear Admiral T. L. Sprague. His flag was in USS Bennington, CV-20. Two other task groups comprised Task Force 38. As the force moved northward toward the Japanese islands, intensive training was conducted for nine days. Then on the tenth day, Task Force 38 struck the Tokyo area. Lexington's aircraft struck airfields north of the city with a mission to destroy aircraft on the ground and in the air. But throughout the raids, the Japanese refused to take to the air to defend their homeland. No enemy planes ever approached close enough to the ship to cause its guns to open fire. The Japanese had dispersed and concealed their aircraft, making the job of finding and destroying them very difficult. It meant that attacking planes had to fly low over the target area, and, as a result, losses mounted from AA fire. Bad weather also hampered flying operations. On July 14, Lexington's aircraft covered the battle-ship and cruiser bombardment of the Imperiallron Works at Kamaishi, which was the first surface bombardment of the war against the main Japanese islands. The next day the target area was Hokkaido, and then Task Group 38.1 moved south and struck the air fields north of Tokyo again. On July 18, a large scale attack was made on the battleship NAGATO at the Yokosuka Naval Base. This attack damaged but did not sink the vessel.

After Withdrawing for several days to replenish and rest, attacks resumed on July 24. From a position south of Kobe, four strikes were launched against airfields, and two more were sent against the remnants of the Japanese fleet at Kure. On these strikes, hits were scored on the carriers Amagi, Aso, Ikoma, and Shimane Maru, battleship/carrier ISE, and the cruisers AOBA, and Oyodo. All of the carriers were sunk, and the ISE and the cruisers were hit again on the 28th. A tanker was sunk just south of Kure. On July 28th, strikes against airfields southeast of Nagoya resulted in claims of forty-one planes destroyed, sixteen probably destroyed, and twenty-six planes and two gliders damaged. Two strikes went back to finish off the ISE, AOBA, and Oyodo, and each was left resting on the bottom. After these strikes, the group moved northward some 300 miles off Honshu. It was not until August 9th that strikes were launched again. This time the targets included airfields and shipping in the northern neck of Honshu. More attacks were launched on the 13th in the Tokyo area, and Lexington's CAP shot down a Jill, which proved to be the first and only airborne kill scored by Air Group 94.

After refueling on the 14th, strikes were launched against installations at Hyakurigahara, but before the second strike reached its targets, it was recalled in view of the Japanese agreement to surrender. Task Force 38 withdrew from the Tokyo area to refuel and rest. It operated in an area 200 miles southeast of Honshu, conducting routine patrols and gunnery practice. Until August 25, the task group simply marked time, awaiting further orders. On that day the aircraft Lexington moved to within approximately 100miles of the coast of Honshu to begin a series of patrol missions designed to precede and accompany the initial occupation landings that were to be made in the Tokyo area. One of the primary goals was to locate prisoner-of-war camps and drop supplies to them. These missions to support the occupation forces and supply the POW camps continued for sixty-one days. During this time, Lexington was detached from TG 38.1, and reported for duty in TG 38.3 on August 31. On that day, Vice Admiral Sherman brought his flag on board the Lexington.

On September 4, Lexington was detached from TG 38.3, and the following afternoon she set a precedent for fleet carriers by entering Tokyo Bay. As she dropped anchor, she came to a stop for the first time since she had left the Philippines on July 1. After embarking the Marine Detachment that had been on the beach since August 30, Lexington departed Tokyo Bay on September 6th and rejoined the task group which had been redesigned TG 38.2 on September 5. Lexington reentered Tokyo Bay with the Task Group on September 10 for a period of rest and replenishment. She departed again on the 15th to continue patrols off Honshu. Except for one replenishment period, Lexington continued to conduct patrols until December 3, 1945.

Then she set sail for home, arriving at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard on December 15. She was moved to Seattle in May 1946 to be deactivated, and then was decommissioned on April 23, 1947. Lexington was placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a well deserved rest that was to last until 1953.

The USS Lexington modernization

When the USS Lexington was commissioned in 1955, she was practically a new ship. Looking at her features, it was hard to believe that she was actually the same Lexington that had participated in the major carrier battles of World War II. In order to relate to the modernization that the Lexington underwent, it is first necessary to understand how it fit into the conversion programs that the Essex class went through beginning in 1948. To the casual observer, it might have appeared that these ships received a new superstructure, an angled deck, an enclosed hurricane bow, and a much-reduced gun armament. The modernization programs were much more complex than this, and a full explanation would fill many volumes. Each SCB conversion program differed from the others with respect to what improvements were made, and specific details varied from ship to ship. The dawn of the jet age, which was already beginning as World War II came to an end, caused a need for major changes in carrier design. In fact, it jeopardized the very existence of carrier aviation. With their high speeds, introduction of swept wings, tricycle landing gear, and other new features, jets could not operate on carriers unless drastic changes were made. For example, their slow acceleration on take off meant that catapults must be used, and their increasing weights meant that the catapults had to be stronger than those in service. Arresting gear, flight decks, and elevators also had to be stronger. Barriers that had been used to stop propeller-driven aircraft that missed the arresting cables simply would not work for jets, so a new type of barrier had to be developed. Nuclear weapons required new storage and handling facilities. Jets were thirsty, so more aviation fuel had to be carried, and with both jets and piston engines on board, both types of fuel had to be carried in addition to the fuel oil for the ship. The new requirements facing the carrier designers in the 1950s were awesome, and the ultimate solution was the design of the large-deck super carriers that began with the USS Forrestal, CVA-59. But it is a tribute to the design of the Essex and Midway classes that they could be converted into modernized jet carriers that would serve through the war in Vietnam. Modernization of the Essex class began in 1948 with the SCB-27A program. SCB stood for Ship Characteristic Board. It was this program that provided the new super- structure, but the axial deck and open bow remained. The USS Oriskany, CV-34, was completed to these standards after work had been suspended on her at the end of World War II. Less noticeable than the new island was the H-8 hydraulic catapults that could launch a 62,500 pound aircraft at a speed of 70 miles per hour. Blast deflectors for the new jets were located at the aft end of the catapults. The gun armament was changed considerably.

While ORISKANY had a few20mm Oerlikons, she was the only SCB-27A ship to have them. There were no dual five-inch mounts on the flight deck anymore, nor were there any guns on the superstructure. All weapons consisted of five-inch/38s, and three-inch/50s on the edges of the flight deck, the bow, stern, and in tubs on the starboard side. Ready rooms for the pilots were located below the hangar deck, and an escalator was added to the starboard side to bring them quickly up to the flight deck. These were the main features of SCB-27A, and additionally, there were other lesser features that included radar, communications, and other electronics systems. The Essex, Yorktown, Hornet, Randolph, Wasp, Bennington, Kearsarge, and Lake Champlain all underwent the SCB-27A program. Second was the SCB-27C conversion that included all of the SCB-27A features, but added C-11 steam catapults instead of the H-8 hydraulic units. These catapults could launch a 70,000 pound aircraft at 125 miles per hour. The aft elevator was moved to the starboard side of the ship, strengthening the landing area, and providing a larger, stronger elevator in the process. Again, gun armament consisted of five-inch/38s and twin 3-inch/50s. A blister was added at the waterline, increasing the beam to 103 feet. The arresting gear was strengthened. The axial deck and open bow still remained on the SCB-27C ships. Intrepid, Ticonderoga, and Hancock received the SCB-27C conversion. The SCB-125 conversion was the most dramatic modernization done on the Essex class carriers. It involved the addition of the angled deck and enclosed bow. Mark 7 arresting gear was installed. Pri-fly, the flight control area, was installed at the aft end of the super-structure well above the flight deck. All SCB-27A ships except the Lake Champlain went through a second yard period to receive the SCB-125 conversion. The Oriskany received a slightly different SCB-125A, which included the addition of C-11 steam catapults, but the rest of the SCB-27A ships retained their hydraulic H-8 catapults. All three of the SCB-27C ships also went through a second yard period to receive the SCB-125 conversion. Three additional ships, Lexington, Bon Homme Richard, and Shangri-la received both the SCB-27C and SCB-125 conversions in one yard period. Gun armament varied from ship to ship, but consisted of the five-inch and three-inch guns as before. Fire control directors included the Mk-37, Mk-25, and Mk-56. As the years passed, both the number of guns and directors would be reduced in order to lessen topside weight. Although the flight decks were strengthened, they were not armored, and the wood planking remained visible after the conversion. A less noticeable modernization was the SCB-144 program that was first applied to the SCB-27A ships. These carriers, with their hydraulic catapults, could no longer serve as CVAs, and had been reclassified as CVSs. The SCB-144 program was part of the FRAM II (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) effort that effected many ships in the Navy. It was designed to increase their abilities in anti-submarine warfare. SCB-144 included the installation of SOS-23 sonar in a dome mounted in the bow. A third anchor was located at the point of the bow, and its associated equipment was installed in the forecastle. The combat information center (CIC) was modified so that it was better suited to the ASW role. Later, Intrepid also received a Fram II modern inaction. By studying photographs of the various ships, a person can see the differences between them. Radar fits, gun locations, and other details varied considerably. What are not always so noticeable are the differences in the shapes of the hurricane bows. The first ships so fitted had a definite angle to them just below the secondary coin. Later ships had bows that were more rounded. The catwalks on the sides of the ships at the bow differed. Lexington and Shangri-la had similar bows that were different in details from all other Essex class modernizations. Installation of catapult overruns types of blast deflectors, shapes and sizes of the number 1 and 2 elevators, reduction in arresting gear cables, location of cranes and boats, and many more details differed between the ships and/or were modified at different times. This is especially important to a modeler who wants to build a specific unit of the Essex class at a specific point in time. To do so accurately requires an extensive amount of photographs and research. But the basic changes of the three major conversions or modernizations have been mentioned here, and should form a basis for further study in publications more designed to cover these aspects of aircraft carriers.

The Lexington was reclassified a CVA (Attack Aircraft Carrier) on October 1, 1952, while still a decommissioned ship in the Pacific Reserve Fleet. On September 1, 1953, she was moved into dry-dock for a major modernization that included both the SCB-27C and SCB-125 conversions mentioned above. This modernization was completed on August 15, 1955, and the ship was decommissioned. In January 1956, she returned to the yards once again for a post shakedown availability. Two months later, in March 1956, she arrived at her new home port of San Diego. She deployed to the Western Pacific with the Seventh Fleet, and made Yokosuka, one of her targets in World War II, her overseas home port. She returned to San Diego in time for Christmas. Training exercises were conducted off the west coast during the first three months of 1957, then she made her second cruise to the Western Pacific in April. Lexington and her air groups carried out training and operations in the same waters where she had fought before. She returned to San Diego in October 1957, and then entered Puget Sound the following month for an overhaul that lasted until March 1958. Another cruise with the Seventh Fleet in the Far East followed the yard period, and was concluded in December. A routine of training operations off the west coast and deployments to the Western Pacific continued throughout 1959, 1960, 1961, and early 1962. In July 1962, she was ordered to replace the USS Antietam as the training carrier at Pensacola, Florida. Prior to relieving the Antietam, Lexington entered the New York Navy Shipyard for repairs, and while there, she was reclassified CVS on October 1. She was still in the shipyard when the Cuban blockade was announced, and this caused her yard period to be shortened by two weeks. Although she was ready for action if needed, the call never came, and she reported to Pensacola on December 29, 1962. She has remained there ever since, performing her duties as the Navy's training carrier. On January 16, 1969, she was redesigned CVT-16. This was changed to AVT-16 on July 1, 1978. Lexington’s primary mission now is to conduct carrier qualifications for student and fleet naval aviators. Operations are conducted in the Gulf of Mexico. During the spring, summer, and fall, she steams off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Pensacola, Florida. During the winter she shifts to the Key West operating area. Student naval aviators who are destined to fly tactical aircraft off fleet carriers are provided two opportunities/during their eighteen months in the training command to qualify. Initial experience comes in the T-2C Buckeye, where they perform two touch-and-go landings and four arrested landings. They also have four catapult shots. After about 70 to 100 hours in the T-2C, advanced training is conducted in the TA-4J Skyhawk. The qualification process in the Skyhawk includes two touch-and-goes, and six arrested landings and catapult shots.

Approximately seventy percent of Lexington's carrier qualifying scenario involves training command students. The other thirty percent involves qualifying fleet replacement, regular fleet, and reserve squadrons in the A-6 and A-7. The fleet squadrons perform two touch-and-go landings, and ten arrested landings in daylight. Six more arrested landings are accomplished at night. The ship is usually at sea about two weeks each month. One of the things that make the Lexington unique is that she is the only carrier to have women in her crew.

Some reporters and other visitors to the ship seem to make a big deal of this. Certainly, it is something significant in naval aviation that should be mentioned because it is unique, but it does not deserve some of the hype it gets. The fact is that there are both officer and enlisted women in the crew. They do their jobs alongside their male counterparts, and that is all there is to it. The fact that women can do many of the jobs on an aircraft carrier should not surprise anyone. Lexington's short stays at sea make this an easy routine. How such an arrangement would work on the lengthy cruises aboard fleet carriers is not a point for debate here. Suffice it to say that for Lexington's crew, the women perform their duties aboard ship just as the men do.

How much longer Lexington will remain in service is anyone guesses. She has already remained operational past scheduled dates of deactivation. She is presently quite capable of continuing in her mission for many years to come. All carrier aircraft now in the fleet and the USMC can operate on her flight deck except for the F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, F-18 Hornet, and the EA-6B Prowler. The determining factor for the first three is the fact that the blast deflectors are on Iy water cooled in the center section and not the outer sections. All three sections would have to be water cooled in order for these aircraft to operate.

The USS Lexington Combat Information CenterThe USS Lexington Combat Information Center

Many people visit the Lexington each year while she is in port. They see the plaques that have been placed where a suicide pilot crashed his aircraft into the ship, where a torpedo hit the stern, and in the hangar bay where the names of the Lexington's shipmates and aircrews that gave their lives for their country are listed. It is a sobering and solemn experience. Anyone with a sense of patriotism and naval history cannot help but reflect on the gallantry and heroism that took place on the decks of this great ship. In peace, more naval aviators have landed on her flight deck than on any other carrier. In 1958, the USS Enterprise, CV-6, was ordered scrapped, an act that, in the opinion of this writer, was nothing short of criminal. Hopefully, when the days of service are finally over for the Lexington, she will be spared the same fate. It would be fitting for her to be placed on permanent display near the Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida. No aircraft carrier will ever again serve this country in both war and peace for so long a time.

The USS Lexington general characteristics:

  • Displacement — 36,380 tons
  • Length — 872 feet (266 m)
  • Beam — 93 feet (28 m) waterline
  • Propulsion — 8 * boilers 565 psi (3,900 kPa) 4 * Westinghouse geared steam turbines
  • Range — 20,000 nautical miles
  • Speed — 33 knots
  • Complement — 2,600 officers and enlisted.

Armament USS Lexington:

  • Guns 38 caliber (127 mm) — 8
  • Guns 56 caliber (40 mm) — 8
  • Guns 78 caliber (20 mm) — 46
  • Aircraft — 110.
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