- 1 The plane service USS Lexington waged a gallant struggle within the Pacific towards the Imperial Japanese Navy.
- 2 The united statesLexington
- 3 “The Pacific State of affairs is Very Grave”
- 4 “Scratch One Flattop!”
- 5 The Battle of the Coral Sea
- 6 The First U.S. Service to be Sunk in Fight
- 7 A Tactical Defeat, However a Strategic Victory
By Michael D. Hull
Responding to a November 27, 1941, conflict warning message from Admiral Harold R. “Betty” Stark, chief of naval operations, America’s prized handful of plane carriers have been fortuitously absent from Pearl Harbor when Japanese planes savaged the Pacific Fleet on Sunday, December 7.
The united statesSaratoga (CV-Three) was refitting in San Diego, the united statesEnterprise (CV-6) was returning after ferrying fighters to the Marine Corps protection drive on Wake Island, the united statesWasp (CV-7) was serving with the Royal Navy House Fleet within the Mediterranean, the united statesYorktown (CV-5) was at Norfolk, Virginia, and the united statesLexington (CV-2) was carrying a squadron of Vought SB2U Vindicator dive bombers to the tiny Marine garrison on Halfway Island.
However the sorely wanted planes weren’t delivered. When phrase got here of the Pearl Harbor assault, the Lexington, nonetheless 400 miles southeast of Halfway, turned and headed southward. She spent a number of days with different U.S. ships looking unsuccessfully south of Oahu for the Japanese flattops and returned to Pearl Harbor for refueling and reprovisioning.
Like her sister, the Saratoga, the sleek, 33,000-ton Lexington was initially a battlecruiser transformed beneath a particular provision of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. She was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel to bear the identify of the Revolutionary Struggle battle. At her christening, Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, chief of the Navy’s new Bureau of Aeronautics, prophesied, “This nice service represents a strong instrument on the offensive. I’m satisfied that a bombing assault launched from such carriers, from an unknown level, at an unknown immediate, with an unknown goal, can’t be warded off by defensive plane based mostly on shore.”
The united statesLexington
Commissioned on December 14, 1927, the Woman Lex, as she turned affectionately recognized, participated with the Saratoga in her first fleet drawback on January 23-27, 1929, when Rear Admiral Joseph M. “Bull” Reeves, the U.S. Battle Fleet’s air commander, demonstrated service techniques with a simulated assault towards the Panama Canal.
The Lexington was 888 ft lengthy with an enormous funnel and a flat starboard-side island towering over her teak flight deck. With turbo-electric drive propulsion, she had a prime velocity of 35 knots. She as soon as steamed the two,200 miles from San Pedro, California, to Honolulu in simply over 72 hours.
Apart from tubs of rapid-fire weapons, the service mounted a most important battery of Eight-inch rifles that have been later eliminated as “extra fats” and will accommodate 23 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, 36 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, and a dozen Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers. A taut however “comfortable” vessel, the Lexington was one of many largest and quickest warships of her day. She had a primary complement of two,200 males, whose consolation was ensured with steaks, recent milk, ice cream, and nightly movie exhibits on the hangar deck. The flattop was commanded in 1930-1932 by naval aviator Ernest J. King, who rose to develop into the five-star chief of naval operations in World Conflict II.
Her skipper from June 1940 onward was brief, stocky Captain Frederick C. “Ted” Sherman of Port Huron, Michigan, a 1910 Annapolis graduate, World Warfare I submarine veteran, and Navy Cross holder. He was a sequence smoking disciplinarian whose means to dock the large vessel with out tugboats awed junior officers. Sherman’s pet cocker spaniel, Wags, was a well-liked “member” of the crew.
By the point World Warfare II broke out in September 1939, the Lexington had established herself as a extremely seen vessel within the Navy. Based mostly at San Pedro, she acted as a mom hen to the Battle Fleet in workouts starting from the Panama Canal Zone to the Aleutian Islands, and she or he provided electrical energy to Tacoma, Washington, for 3 weeks within the winter of 1930 when the town’s energy failed. In July 1937, her plane performed a key position within the large two-week seek for lacking aviatrix Amelia Earhart round tiny Howland Island within the Central Pacific.
“The Pacific State of affairs is Very Grave”
The service’s visit Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was temporary. On the 14th, she joined Vice Admiral Wilson Brown Jr.’s Process Pressure 11, additionally compris-
ing three heavy cruisers, 9 destroyers, and the fleet oiler Neosho (AO-23), and sailed southwest for the Marshall Islands to create a diversion masking Activity Drive 14’s ill-fated try to alleviate Wake Island. The Lexington was underneath orders to bomb Jaluit and Wotje, however she returned to Pearl Harbor with out having drawn blood.
In addition to the Lexington, Admiral Brown’s group was beefed up with the Yorktown, a dozen cruisers, seven of them American, 4 British, and one Australian, and 16 U.S. destroyers for the subsequent main operation—a February 20, 1942, assault towards the large Japanese naval base at Rabaul in New Britain. On the best way, the Allied ships have been noticed by three enemy flying boats. Brown referred to as off the raid, however the largest air battle but seen within the Pacific raged as land-based Japanese Nakajima B5N Kate and Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers zeroed in on Process Pressure 11. The People retaliated, and the ships’ antiaircraft hearth, Wildcats, and Dauntlesses annihilated most of the raiders.
When 18 Japanese planes pounced on the Lexington, 27-year-old Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare of Lt. Cmdr. John S. Thach’s Preventing Squadron Three went into motion for the primary time. A pure marksman within the custom of Davy Crockett and Sergeant Alvin C. York, the husky, dark-haired 1937 Annapolis graduate coolly shot down 5 Betty bombers in 4 minutes. Credited with saving the Lexington, O’Hare—the Navy’s first air ace of the conflict—acquired a double promotion and was ultimately awarded the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. When staff on the Grumman Plane Corp. plant in Bethpage, New York, discovered of his preliminary feat, they despatched him 5,000 cigarettes.
Regardless of their valiant efforts, the Allies have been in a dire predicament within the Far East through the early months of 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signaled to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on March 9, “The Pacific state of affairs could be very grave.” It was no exaggeration. Japanese forces had seized Wake, Guam, and lots of smaller islands; overwhelmed the British bases at Singapore and Hong Kong; sunk the Royal Navy’s battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and attacked Malaya, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, the Gilbert Islands, Shanghai, Borneo, and Burma.
The swift eradication of scant Allied air energy adopted by relentless floor thrusts ensured the enemy conquests, and by Might 20, 1942, about 20 million sq. miles of territory can be added to the Japanese Empire. As Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, shrewd commander of the Mixed Fleet, had predicted, the Japanese had “run wild” and have been gripped by “the victory illness.” On the Imperial Basic Headquarters in Tokyo, euphoria fueled what Britain’s Captain Basil Liddell Hart later termed “strategic overstretch.” Nonetheless additional aggression was charted, together with an amphibious assault on Port Moresby on the western coast of New Guinea, after an overland offensive had been turned again by robust Australian troops. Subsequent assaults alongside the northern shore of Australia have been deliberate.
Yamamoto, who had maintained tight safety earlier than the Pearl Harbor assault, was now so assured that he was sending orders by radio, opposite to sound army follow. However the People have been listening in, because of Commander Joseph J. Rochefort and his small workforce of sensible cryptanalysts toiling of their basement plotting room, Station Hypo, beneath the 14th Naval District headquarters in Pearl Harbor. That they had cracked the Japanese JN25 code, and by mid-April 1942, Rochefort was capable of alert Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, to the deliberate enemy offensive. It was anticipated to start out round Might Three, with landings doubtless in New Guinea, New Britain, and the Solomon Islands.
The information introduced a dilemma for the in a position, silver-haired Nimitz. His Hornet (CV-Eight) and Enterprise service activity teams have been 2,000 miles to the west with Vice Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, getting ready to launch Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle’s 16 North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers towards Japan on April 18. The united statesSaratoga was nonetheless refitting after being hit by a Japanese torpedo, and Nimitz was left with solely two flattops to counter the enemy thrust.
Admiral King however ordered Nimitz to rapidly muster what forces he might, deploying the united statesLexington from Pearl Harbor to hitch huge, genial Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s Yorktown group within the Coral Sea. Common Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Southwest Pacific Space, contributed three cruisers, the Australian HMAS Australia and Hobart and the united statesChicago (CA-29), and a handful of destroyers, led by Rear Admiral John G. Crace of the Royal Navy.
“Scratch One Flattop!”
The Lexington and Yorktown process forces rendezvoused on Might 1 and paused for 2 days to refuel. After studying from Military Air Forces scout planes that 4 enemy naval teams led by Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye, Rear Admiral Arimoto Goto, and Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi had left Rabaul, Fletcher led Captain Elliott Buckmaster’s Yorktown and his different ships into the middle of the Coral Sea whereas the Lexington group, nonetheless taking over oil, remained behind. The Japanese goals have been Port Moresby and the island of Tulagi within the Solomons.
Enemy troops landed at Tulagi on Might Three, and Fletcher launched three strikes by Yorktown Dauntlesses, Devastators, and Wildcats towards them the next day. The planes sank three minesweepers and the destroyer Kikuzuki and broken a destroyer, minelayer, and two troop transports within the first service air battle of the Pacific Conflict. The assault revealed Fletcher’s presence to the Japanese, however the main menace to him—Takagi’s huge fleet carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku—didn’t materialize. The 25,675-ton sister flattops had been delivering planes to Rabaul and have been nonetheless out of vary. Fletcher withdrew his drive.
After rejoining the Lexington, he headed west towards the perceived place of the enemy invasion armada within the Jomard Passage southeast of Port Moresby. The Japanese drive included the sunshine service Shoho, cruisers, destroyers, and a dozen transports. On the similar time, Admiral Takagi’s carriers and escorts rounded the easternmost island of the Solomons chain and in addition steamed westward. For a lot of the subsequent two days, the opposing fleets stalked one another by means of fog, squalls, and heavy cloud cowl. The foul climate obscured ships from each side’ scout planes, and errors and missed alternatives within the Coral Sea adopted.
Then, at 7 am on Thursday, Might 7, a Japanese reconnaissance pilot reported what he believed to be an American service and cruiser southeast of New Guinea. Wanting to ship the primary blow, Takagi launched a full strike. However the targets turned out to be the oiler Neosho and the 1,570-ton destroyer USS Sims (DD-409). Dive bombers and Zero fighters swooped in and blasted each vessels. The Sims went down with all however 16 of her crewmen, and the Neosho was lowered to a drifting derelict. After rescuing her crew, an American vessel delivered the coup de grace.
Later that morning, a scout aircraft from the Yorktown additionally turned in a false report by figuring out enemy cruisers close to the Jomard Passage as carriers. However, it was now Fletcher’s flip to take the offensive, and Dauntlesses and Devastators took off from the Lexington and the Yorktown, affectionately often known as the “Galloping Ghost.” The People have been in luck this time.
Whereas heading for the Jomard Passage, the Shoho and her overlaying pressure have been sighted. The assault started at 11 am on Might 7 as three Dauntlesses from the Lexington’s Scouting Squadron 2, led by Lt. Cmdr. Robert E. Dixon, dived from 10,000 ft. The 11,262-ton enemy service maneuvered wildly whereas cruiser escorts put up a barrage of antiaircraft hearth, however she was doomed.
5 bombs and a number of other torpedoes tore into her, and she or he was burning when Yorktown planes arrived 15 minutes later to drop extra bombs. After taking a complete of 13 bombs and 7 torpedoes, the stricken Shoho slid beneath the waves with 600 of her 800 crewmen. She was the primary Japanese service to be sunk in fight. Dixon excitedly radioed one of many struggle’s resounding battle messages: “Scratch one flattop!”
Disadvantaged of shut air help, the enemy invasion pressure heading for Port Moresby reversed course and steamed again towards Rabaul. The morning’s errors, in the meantime, continued that afternoon. Fletcher had indifferent Admiral Crace’s help squadron of cruisers and destroyers to dam the Jomard Passage outlet, and enemy scout planes reported Crace’s ships as carriers. Takagi ordered an assault, however his bombers have been intercepted by fighters from the Lexington. The visibility was poor and the motion confused.
As darkness fell over the Coral Sea on the night time of Might 7, scout planes from each fleets searched for his or her foes, leading to one of many more odd incidents of the warfare. The Yorktown switched on touchdown lamps to assist returning plane, and three planes appeared, winking their sign lights. They have been Japanese. A shout from a destroyer alerted the service, and antiaircraft weapons opened up. The enemy pilots realized their mistake and zoomed away. Shortly afterward, three extra Japanese planes approached, and one was shot down.
The Battle of the Coral Sea
By early Friday, Might Eight, the American and Japanese fleets had drawn so shut that a showdown was inevitable. The confused actions within the Coral Sea have been about to climax in historical past’s first service battle and the primary during which the opposing forces by no means got here close by of one another. Finding one another eventually, they each launched full deckloads of fighters and bombers and attacked virtually concurrently. Shortly after 9 on that fateful morning, 122 U.S. planes headed northward whereas 121 Japanese plane roared southward. The skilled enemy fliers had the benefit of intermittent cloud cowl, whereas the People have been uncovered underneath cloudless skies.
Dauntlesses and Devastators from the Yorktown and Lexington scored first. Once they situated the Japanese hanging drive round 11 am, the Zuikaku took cowl underneath a handy rain squall, so the American dive bombers went after the Shokaku. The poor climate prevented a coordinated assault, however three bombs discovered their mark, certainly one of them dropped by Lieutenant John J. Powers, who flew so near the enemy flattop that his SBD was consumed by the explosion. The New York-born 1934 Annapolis graduate had vowed “to get successful if I’ve to put it on their flight deck.” He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Whereas her planes sought refuge aboard the Zuikaku, the Shokaku burned and trailed smoke, and her flight deck plates have been bent so badly that she couldn’t launch or recuperate plane. However she stayed afloat, extinguished the fires, and withdrew for repairs.
Now it was the flip of the Japanese as 69 bombers and torpedo planes of Rear Admiral Chuichi Hara’s Profession Division 5, guided by a Kate torpedo bomber, aimed for the American carriers. A Lexington radio operator picked up the approaching raiders at 10:55 am, and each flattops rapidly launched Wildcats and SBDs to fend them off. 4 of the undergunned Dauntlesses have been shot down, though they destroyed an equal variety of the sluggish enemy torpedo bombers.
In very best visibility, the Japanese swept down as the 2 quickly maneuvering U.S. flattops turned separated. Torpedo planes zoomed alongside each side of the Lexington, and one was blasted aside by her antiaircraft weapons. However the others pressed residence the assault, and the service was surrounded by 11 torpedoes in a number of seconds. Regardless of Captain Sherman’s skillful evasion strikes, his prolonged vessel couldn’t escape. Inside 9 minutes, two torpedoes and 5 bombs struck the Lexington, and near-misses ruptured her hull plates. However she stayed afloat.
The Yorktown acquired a share of the enemy’s consideration when, at 11:18 am, eight torpedoes streaked towards her. However the smaller flattop was capable of keep away from them with radical 30-knot maneuvering. Six minutes later, enemy dive bombers fell upon the Yorktown, and at 11:27 am she suffered her solely direct hit. An 800-pound bomb struck the flight deck 15 ft from her island and tore via three decks earlier than exploding. The blast killed 37 crewmen and burned many others, however the ensuing fires have been shortly snuffed out and flight operations resumed.
The First U.S. Service to be Sunk in Fight
When the enemy planes sped again to their carriers, the Lexington was taking water and itemizing at seven levels. Three of her boiler rooms have been partially flooded, there have been fires under decks, and her two plane elevators have been briefly jammed. However inside an hour the flames have been doused and the record corrected. Flight operations have been resumed, and the flattop was capable of begin receiving returning planes. The ship cruised at 25 knots, and her engineers advised Captain Sherman that full energy and velocity have been obtainable if wanted.
Abruptly, at 12:47 pm, an enormous inner explosion shook the Lexington from stem to stern when ruptured gasoline strains launched gasoline vapors that have been ignited by a generator under decks. Extra violent blasts adopted, severing energy circuits and beginning extra blazes contained in the service. They unfold. Her water primary was damaged, and firefighting was virtually unattainable. Within the ship’s ahead engine rooms, the temperature rose to 160 levels.
Shuddering and itemizing once more, the proud Woman Lex was mortally wounded, and 216 of her bluejackets had perished. But she continued to recuperate planes till 2:14 pm and there have been nonetheless determined hopes that she might make it again to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Half an hour later one other huge blast wrecked the vessel’s engineering areas. Water strain and steering management have been misplaced, and the communications system disintegrated. The destroyer USS Anderson (DD-411) moved alongside to help, however the fires have been uncontrolled and her efforts proved ineffective.
After the engineering areas have been cleared and the service misplaced all ahead motion round four:40 pm, Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, the duty pressure commander, determined that there was no probability of saving the gutted Lexington. From his bridge, he referred to as right down to Captain Sherman and suggested him to “get the lads off.” The skipper reluctantly gave the order to desert ship at 5:07 pm.
The evacuation of the surviving 2,735 officers and males, together with Chicago Tribune reporter Stanley Johnston, adopted. The operation was orderly. Some sailors lined up their footwear on the flight deck earlier than sliding down ropes into the water, whereas others sat calmly consuming ice cream as three destroyers closed in to select up the survivors. About 150 wounded bluejackets in basket stretchers have been lowered into whaleboats. The rescue was skillfully overseen by Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, commander of the Enterprise activity group.
Captain Sherman and his government officer, Commander Morton T. Seligman, made a cautious inspection to ensure that no wounded males have been unaccounted for and left the ship round 6:30 pm. They clambered right into a whaleboat from the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) together with a Marine corporal and Sherman’s canine. Admiral Fitch, who had flown his flag aboard the Lexington, boarded a cruiser. A month later, the Hammann was sunk within the climactic Battle of Halfway.
The Lexington was an inferno as Admiral Fletcher, appearing on orders from Admiral Nimitz, signaled for Activity Pressure 17 to regroup and withdraw on a southerly course. However the service was a beacon to the enemy, so Fletcher summoned a destroyer to remain behind and end her off. The united statesPhelps (DD-360) closed in at 7:15 pm and loosed 5 torpedoes. 4 of them exploded towards her heat-reddened hull, and at 7:52 pm the Woman Lex rolled to port and slipped serenely beneath the waves. An incredible underwater explosion adopted that was felt 20 miles away. Fourteen miles distant, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) “shook as if she had been hit by a torpedo,” reported Commander George L. Markle, the Lexington’s in style Presbyterian chaplain.
The primary American service to be sunk within the warfare, the Lexington went down in 2,000 fathoms of water about 200 miles south of Rossel Island, off the Louisade archipelago within the Solomon Sea.
Aboard ships of the receding activity drive, many bluejackets watched the fiery finish of the Lexington with tears of their eyes. “There she goes,” murmured certainly one of her officers. “She didn’t flip over. She goes down together with her head up. Pricey previous Lex. A woman to the final.” Captain Sherman, who went on to carry three Navy Crosses and attain flag rank, reported that his ship went down “together with her colours proudly flying and the final sign flags studying, ‘I’m abandoning ship,’ nonetheless waving on the yardarm … on a good keel, like the woman she all the time was.” Correspondent Johnston wrote later in his eloquent guide, Queen of the Flat-Tops, “When she was misplaced, lots of of males all through the providers mourned her passing as they might an expensive good friend.”
A Tactical Defeat, However a Strategic Victory
After the battle, Fletcher led his activity drive to the Tonga Islands, east of the Coral Sea, and Admiral Takagi ordered the Zuikaku and her escorts to return to the large Japanese base at Truk Atoll within the Caroline Islands. The battered Zuikaku and Shokaku, each stripped of their plane by American planes and antiaircraft hearth, headed for in depth repairs. The enemy service pressure was lowered to 4 vessels, and this was to show deadly a month later.
By her sacrifice, the Lexington had disadvantaged the enemy of two carriers simply earlier than the Battle of Halfway, which turned the tide within the Pacific naval conflict and sealed the destiny of the Japanese Empire. The invasion of Port Moresby was postponed till early July, and Takagi acquired remaining orders on Might 10 to go away the Coral Sea space.
A heavy blow to the People, the lack of the Lexington and injury to the Yorktown left the U.S. Navy with solely two battle-ready flattops within the Pacific, the Enterprise and Hornet. When it comes to tonnage sunk, the Japanese might declare a tactical victory within the Coral Sea, nevertheless it was a strategic achieve for the People. For the primary time in six months of Allied setbacks within the Far East, a Japanese advance was turned again. Air strikes towards Australia had been prevented.
Exhausting classes have been discovered by each side within the Coral Sea. Although extra skilled in service operations, the Japanese missed alternatives due to shoddy communications and coordination and lacked the speedy restore methods of their foe. The key American errors have been largely on account of inexperience, however the battle satisfied the commanders and crews of Nimitz’s fleet that they might struggle on a minimum of equal phrases with the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The proud identify of Lexington, in the meantime, lived on. Launched in 1942 and accomplished in 1943, the 27,200-ton, 33-knot USS Lexington (CV-16) was the primary “short-hull” service and the one Essex-class flattop accomplished in the course of the struggle that didn’t carry dazzle sample camouflage. She reached Pearl Harbor within the late summer time of 1943.
As a part of Rear Admiral Charles A. Pownall’s Process Pressure 50, the brand new Lexington launched air strikes towards the large Japanese base at Kwajalein within the Marshall Islands that December and served as Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s tactical command ship through the Battle of the Philippine Sea (the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”) on June 19-20, 1944. She additionally took half within the actions off Hollandia, Truk, Saipan, the Bonins, Ulithi, and the Palau Islands.
Torpedoes and bombs from the Lexington helped to sink the Japanese 64,000-ton tremendous battleship Musashi within the nice Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 24-26, 1944, and she or he was one in every of 5 carriers broken by kamikaze planes off Leyte. From February 16 to March 1, 1945, the Lexington and 10 different fleet carriers of Mitscher’s highly effective Process Pressure 58 put up strikes towards enemy installations round Tokyo, on Iwo Jima, and within the Ryukyu Islands. After occupation obligation in Japan, the united statesLexington returned to the West Coast in 1946 and was positioned on reserve in April 1947.
Writer Michael D. Hull is a frequent contributor to WWII Historical past on quite a lot of subjects. He resides in Enfield, Connecticut.