Photo: Naval Historical Center
Photo: U. S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation
Martin T4M bombers taking off the Lexington flight deck, 1931.
ther the scientists nor technical specialists
(except of several visionary pioneers) were
clear about the actual deployment of the
aircraft carriers and above all their potential for the modern warfare.
There were concerns that at night and during the inclement weather this type of vessel will not be able to use her aircraft and
therefore will be at the mercy of the enemy. Therefore, both Lexington and her sister ship Saratoga were equipped with the
battery of eight 203 mm caliber guns. They
were installed in four turrets on the starboard side of the flight deck. Two were located in front of the bridge and two behind
the stack. The Japanese had similar ideas
and their aircraft carriers Akagi and Kaga
carried ten 203 mm caliber guns each. For
the AA defense Lexington received twelve
127 mm caliber guns. These were installed
on the side of the bow and stern, three
each. A the beginning the ship did not carry
any lighter weapons only during 1929–1931
the machine guns were added. She received her first rapid fire guns shortly before
the USA entered the world conflict. We will
talk about it next time.
Lexington was christened by Helen Rebecca Roosevelt, wife of the Deputy of the
Secretary of the Navy, Theodor Douglas
Robinson. The ship was launched on October 3, 1925 and accepted to service on
December 12, 1927. After the completion
she was 270.7 m long and 32.3 m wide. Her
draft was 9.2 m and the standard displacement 36,000 tons which rose to 43,000 tons
with the full aircraft complement. The flight
deck was 264 m long. The initial plan counted with 78 aircraft on board, 36 of them
bombers. In the beginning Lexinton carried
Curtiss F6C-1, Boeing F3B-1 and Martin
Legendary sci-fi author
The ship’s propulsion consisted of four
electric motors. Each delivered 16,800 kW
and drove one of four screw propellers.
The energy for the motors was supplied
Curtiss F6C-1 fighters and Martin T3M-2 bombers on the Lexington deck, 1928.
by four turbo-generators made by General Electric utilizing steam from 16 boilers
Yarrow. In addition, there were six 750 kW
electric generators which powered other
ship’s systems (besides the propulsion).
The ship’s designers calculated Lexington’s maximum speed at 33.25 knots, so
they were pleasantly surprised when she
achieved 34.59 knots during the trials. The
Lexington’s electric propulsion came in
handy in 1929 when the great draft shut
down the water powerplants and city of Tacoma ended up without electricity. The US
Navy sent their new aircraft carrier whose generators were connected to the high
voltage grid and in a month supplied 4,500
MWh of the electrical energy.
At that time, from June 1929, the fresh graduate of the Naval Academy, ensign Robert
A. Heinlein, a future famous sci-fi author,
served on Lexington. His most famous
books are Star Infantry, Moon is a rough lover and Stranger in the strange land. While
on Lexington his literary career was not
that successful. He did not succeed in the
ship’s writing contest with his short story
about a spy affair at the Naval Academy. He
was successful though in the line of duty. In
1931 he was promoted to Lt. jg. and worked
in the radio communication which at that
time was still fairly new technology.
On March 31, 1931, the earthquake destroyed Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
Lexington was sent on the humanitarian
relief mission and Heinlein was part of it.
Between 1,000 and 2,500 people lost their
lives. Besides the actual shocks the great
damage was caused by the fires that followed. At that time Lexington was at anchor
in Guantanamo, Cuba but a day later she
was already so close that she could launch
the aircraft carrying medical personnel
and equipment to Managua. Off course, Lexington not only sailed on the humanitarian
missions. Practically every year she participated in several naval exercises. Those
focused on developing the optimal tactics
for the aircraft carrier. During one such
exercise in 1935 it was found out that after five days of the operations at the high
speeds Lexington quickly became short of
fuel. Therefore, the system of refueling at
sea was developed and later applied during
the naval battles in the Pacific.
The exercises decidedly proved that when
Lexington was subject to battleships’ command, or even had to fight with them in
a formation in a classic naval battle, she
was always declared destroyed or at least
heavily damaged. On the contrary, when
she had more operational flexibility, she
scored surprising results. For example,
on Sunday February 7, 1932, Lexington and
Saratoga executed a surprise attack on
Pearl Harbor without being noticed by the
defenders. They repeated the same trick
on January 31, 1933, at a dawn. And for the
third time Lexington and Saratoga successfully attacked the Hawaiian Islands on
March 29, 1938, also at dawn. It seems that
rather than American command the Japanese Navy paid much closer attention. They
attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7, 1941, early in the morning. The Americans were lucky that the Japanese did not
catch the aircraft carriers there. Lexington
escorted by three heavy cruisers and five
destroyers set sail from Pearl Harbor on
December 5, 1941, to deliver 18 SB2U Vindicator dive bombers to the Marines stationed on Midway Island. Thanks to it she avoided the destruction or damage and could
participate in the battles of WWII.
To be continued.