CONSTRUCTION AND COMMISSIONING
USS Lexington (CV/CVA/CVS/CVT/AVT-16)
Nicknamed "The Blue Ghost", is an Essex-class aircraft carrier built during World War II for the United States Navy. Originally intended to be named Cabot, word arrived during construction that the USS Lexington (CV-2) had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea. She was renamed while under construction to commemorate the earlier ship. This ship was the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington.
The ship was laid down as Cabot on 15 July 1941 by Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincey, Mass., and renamed Lexington on 16 June 1942. She was launched on 23 September 1942, sponsored by Mrs. Theodore Douglas Robinson. Lexington was commissioned on 17 February 1943, with Captain Felix Bidwell Stump USN in command.
World War II
After a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, Lexington sailed via the Panama Canal to join the Pacific fleet. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 9 August 1943. She participated in a raid on the air bases on Tarawa in late September, followed by a Wake Island raid in October, then returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the Gilbert Islands operation. From 19 to 24 November she made searches and flew sorties in the Marshalls, covering the landings in the Gilberts. Her aviators downed 29 enemy aircraft on 23 and 24 November.
Lexington sailed to raid Kwajalein on 4 December. Her morning strike destroyed the SS Kembu Maru, damaged two cruisers, and accounted for 30 enemy aircraft. Her gunners splashed two of the enemy torpedo planes that attacked at midday, but were ordered not to open fire at night as the Admiral then in command believed it would give their position away (He was later replaced). At 1920 that night, a major air attack began while the task force was under way off Kwajalein. At 2322, parachute flares from Japanese planes silhouetted the carrier, and 10 minutes later she was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side, knocking out her steering gear. Nine people were killed, two on the fantail and seven in the Chief Petty Officers mess room, which was a repair party station during general quarters. Four members of the affected repair party survived because they were sitting on a couch that apparently absorbed the shock of the explosion. Settling 5 feet (2 m) by the stern, the carrier began circling to port amidst dense clouds of smoke pouring from ruptured tanks aft. To maintain water tight integrity, damage control crews were ordered to seal the damaged compartments and welded them shut applying heavy steel plates where needed. An emergency hand-operated steering unit was quickly devised, and Lexington made Pearl Harbor for emergency repairs, arriving on 9 December. She reached Bremerton, Washington on 22 December for full repairs, completed on 20 February 1944. The error in judgment concerning opening fire at night was never repeated again, as gun crews were then ordered to open fire anytime the ship came under attack. Following this attack the ship was reported sunk by Japan's Tokyo Rose, the first of several such assertions. Japanese propaganda loved to rewrite the USS Lexington history. They said the Lex was sunk from that 1943 torpedo hit. She was reported sunk a second time in 1943, and a third time in June of 1944. Yet, the Blue Ghost remained afloat after fighting off a fierce attack by fighter planes based on Guam.
Battle of the Philippine Sea
Lexington returned to Majuro in time to be present when Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher took command of the newly formed Task Force 58 (TF 58) on 8 March. Mitscher took Lexington as his flagship, and after a warm-up strike against Mille, the Fast Carrier Task Force began a series of operations against the Japanese positions in the Central Pacific. She supported Army landings at Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura) on 13 April, and then raided the strongpoint of Truk on 28 April. Heavy counterattacks left Lexington untouched, her planes splashing 17 enemy fighters; but, for the second time, Japanese propaganda announced her sunk.
A surprise fighter strike on Saipan on 11 June virtually eliminated all air opposition over the island, then battered from the air for the next 5 days. On 16 June, Lexington fought off a fierce attack by Japanese torpedo planes based on Guam, once again to emerge unhurt, but sunk a third time by propaganda pronouncements. As Japanese opposition to the Marianas operation provoked the Battle of the Philippine Sea on 19 and 20 June, Lexington played a major role in TF 58's great victory the Marianas Turkey Shoot. With over 300 enemy aircraft destroyed the first day, and a carrier, a tanker, and a destroyer sunk the second day. Japanese naval aviators were in such disarray, they tried to land on the Lexington only to be shot down its gun crews. American aviators virtually knocked Japanese naval aviation out of the war; for with the planes went the trained and experienced pilots without whom Japan could not continue air warfare at sea.
Using Eniwetok as her base, Lexington flew sorties over Guam and against the Palaus and Bonins into August. She arrived in the Carolinas on 7 September for three days of strikes against Yap and Ulithi, then began attacks on Mindanao, the Visayas, the Manila area, and shipping along the west coast of Luzon, preparing for the coming assault on Leyte. Her task force then blasted Okinawa on 10 October and Formosa two days later to destroy bases from which opposition to the Philippines campaign might be launched. She was again unscathed through the air battle fought after the Formosa assault.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
Now covering the Leyte landings, Lexington's planes scored importantly in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the climactic American naval victory over Japan. While the carrier came under constant enemy attack in the engagement in which Princeton was sunk, her planes joined in sinking Musashi and scored hits on three cruisers on 24 October. Next day, with Essex aircraft, they sank Chitose, and alone sank Zuikaku. Later in the day, they aided in sinking Zuiho. As the retiring Japanese were pursued, her planes sank Nachi with four torpedo hits on 5 November off Luzon.
Later that day, Lexington was introduced to the kamikaze as a flaming Japanese plane crashed near her island, destroying most of the island structure and spraying fire in all directions. Within 20 minutes, major blazes were under control, and she was able to continue normal flight actions, her guns knocking down a would-be kamikaze heading for Ticonderoga as well. On 9 November, Lexington arrived in Ulithi to repair battle damage while hearing again that Tokyo once again claimed her destroyed beneath the deep blue seas. Casualties were considered light despite the island structures destruction.
Chosen as the flagship for Task Group 58.2 (TG 58.2) on 11 December, she struck at the airfields of Luzon and Formosa during the first 9 days of January 1945, encountering little enemy opposition. The task force then entered the South China Sea to strike enemy shipping and air installations. Strikes were flown against Saipan, Camranh Bay in then Indochina, Hong Kong, the Pescadores, and Formosa. Task force planes sank four merchant ships and four escorts in one convoy and destroyed at least 12 in another, at Camranh Bay on 12 January. Leaving the China Sea on 20 January, Lexington sailed north to strike Formosa again on 21 January and Okinawa again on 22 January.
After replenishing at Ulithi, TG 58.2 sailed on 10 February to hit airfields near Tokyo on 16 February 1945,  and on 17 February to minimize opposition to the Iwo Jima landings on 19 February. Lexington flew close support for the assaulting troops from 19–22 February, then sailed for further strikes against the Japanese home islands and the Nansei Shoto before heading for overhaul at Puget Sound.
Rear Admiral Sprague's Task Force
Lexington was combat bound again on 22 May, sailing via Alameda and Pearl Harbor for San Pedro Bay, Leyte where she joined Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's task force for the final round of air strikes which battered the Japanese home islands from July-15 August, when the last strike was ordered to jettison its bombs and return to Lexington on receiving word of Japanese surrender. During this period she had launched attacks on Honshu and Hokkaido airfields, and Yokosuka and Kure naval bases to destroy the remnants of the Japanese fleet. She had also flown bombing attacks on industrial targets in the Tokyo area.
After hostilities ended her aircraft continued to fly air patrols over Japan, and dropped supplies to prisoner of war camps on Honshu. In December she was used to ferry with home servicemen in what was known as Operation Magic Carpet, arriving in San Francisco on 16 December.
One of the carrier's first casualties was 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick in 1943. During the ship's initial voyage (to the Caribbean), Kinnick and other naval fliers were conducting training flights off her deck. The F4F Wildcat flown by Kinnick developed a serious oil leak while airborne. The mechanical problem was so severe that Kinnick was unable to make it back to the Lexington and crashed into the sea four miles from the ship. Kinnick and his plane were never recovered.
The USS Lexington was decommissioned at Bremerton, Washington on 23 April 1947 and entered the Reserve Fleet.
USS Lexington CV16/CVA16/CVS16/CVT16/AVT16 and CV2
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