USS Lexington (CV-2) on fire after avgas explosion, 8 May 1942.
1707 hours. Noel Gayler recalled “We were
driven to the extreme stern by the fire. The
ship’s service ice cream plant was in the
extreme port stern quarter. Some clown
passed the word that there was free ice
cream and sailors who were abandoning
At 1430 hours, Admiral Hara informed Ad- ship lined up for it. Of course they puked
miral Takagi that there were only 24 Ze- it up afterwards as soon as they had been
ros, eight D3As and four B5Ns operatio- swimming in salt water awhile.
nal aboard Zuikaku. At 1500 hours, Takagi
notified Admiral Inoue his force had sunk There was no panic, no worry about being
two American carriers, a “Yorktown-c- picked up. The water was warm and the
lass” and a „Saratoga-class,“ but he could destroyers moved in with cargo nets.”
not continue to provide air cover for the Gayler was picked up by a destroyer after
invasion due to heavy aircraft losses. Ad- 90 minutes in the water.
miral Inoue recalled the invasion convoy
Bill Eder remembered, “After the abandon
ship order was given, I waited my turn and
Zuikaku and her escorts turned towards descended a knotted line to the warm waRabaul while Shôkaku headed for major ter. I found an inflated life raft with three
older chief petty officers aboard. Since I
repair in Japan.
had a life jacket, I stayed alongside in the
Sparks from unattended electric motors water. Pretty soon the destroyer Dewey
ignited gasoline fumes near Lexington’s came along and picked us up. They threw
central control station at 1247 hours; the us a line and I, being the young ‘un, held
resulting explosion killed 25 men, star- it for the chiefs to climb. When it was my
ting a large fire. A severe fire began after turn I was too exhausted to climb and a
another large explosion occurred at 1442 sailor had to come down and put a line
hours. At 1525 hours there was a third around me so they could winch me up.”
explosion. Damage control reported the
fires were uncontrollable at 1538 hours. At 1915 hours with the sun setting over
The order to abandon ship was given at the Coral Sea, the destroyer Phelps (DD-
to fuel the planes. Bill Eder remembered,
“We were to refuel, rearm and relaunch.
However, before that was accomplished
the below-decks fires reached the hangar deck.”
360) fired five torpedoes into the burning
Lexington and she sank in 2,400 fathoms
at 1952 hours, taking 216 of the 2,951-man
crew and 36 aircraft down with her.
When Yorktown returned to Pearl Harbor,
VF-42‘s F4F-3 Wildcats were replaced
by F4F-4s with folding wings. The pilots
did not consider the new Wildcat an improvement. To save weight after wing folding was installed, the ammunition load
remained the same - now distributed
between six guns rather than four and
reducing firing time by 20 seconds, a lifetime in combat. The F4F-3 had held the
line against a superior enemy in difficult
situations and demonstrated its fighting
Adapted from Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s
best-selling “I Will Run Wild: The Pacific War
from Pearl Harbor to Midway,” from Osprey Publishing.
Credit all photos: USN Official