The Lexington-class battlecruiser was a series of six warships planned for construction during the early 1920's, but were scrapped or altered under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. The treaty allowed two to be converted to aircraft carriers; they saw distinguished service during World War II.
The six battle cruisers of the Lexington class, authorized under the 1917-1919 building programs, were the only ships of their type ever ordered by the United States Navy. Intended as fast combat scouts for the battle fleet, these large ships had a prolonged development history. Their original 1916 design was to displace 34,300 tons with a main battery of ten 14-inch guns, rather light armor, seven smokestacks with many of the boilers above the armored deck, and a speed of 35 knots. By 1919, the plans had been recast on the basis of World War I experience to produce larger ships armed with 16-inch guns, much better protection, two smokestacks with all boilers below the armored deck, and a somewhat lower speed.
Construction of the Lexington-class ships was held up by other priorities during the war, and none of them were laid down until mid-1920. The following year's naval limitations conference in Washington, D.C., had these expensive battlecruisers, and their Japanese and British contemporaries, among its main targets. Following adoption of the Washington Treaty, their construction was stopped in February 1922. The treaty allowed the conversion of two of the hulls into aircraft carriers. The other four were formally cancelled in August 1923 and scrapped on their building ways.
The Lexington-class consisted of six ships, under construction at four locations:
- Lexington (CC-1). Keel laid at Quincy, Massachusetts, January 1921. Became the aircraft carrier CV-2.
- Constellation (CC-2). Keel laid at Newport News, Virginia, August 1920. Cancelled and scrapped.
- Saratoga (CC-3). Keel laid at Camden, New Jersey, September 1920. Became the aircraft carrier CV-3.
- Ranger (CC-4). Keel laid at Newport News, Virginia, June 1921. Cancelled and scrapped.
- Constitution (CC-5). Keel laid at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 1920. Cancelled and scrapped.
- United States (CC-6). Keel laid at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 1920. Cancelled and scrapped.
Design characteristics (1916)
- Displacement: 34,300 tons
- Dimensions: 874' (length overall); 90'11" (maximum beam)
- Powerplant: 180,000 horsepower steam turbines with electric drive, producing a 35 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Ten 14"/50 guns in two twin (turret #s 1 & 4) and two triple (turret #s 2 & 3) turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery): Eighteen 5"/51 guns in single mountings (nine guns on each side of the ship)
Design characteristics (1919)
- Displacement: 43,500 tons
- Dimensions: 874' (length overall); 105'5" (maximum beam)
- Powerplant: 180,000 horsepower steam turbines with electric drive, producing a 33.25 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Eight 16"/50 guns in four twin turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery): Sixteen 6"/53 guns in single mountings (eight guns on each side of the ship)
USS Lexington (CC-1/CV-2)
Lexington was converted on the ways to a 33,000-ton aircraft carrier. Built at Quincy, Massachusetts, and commissioned in December 1927, Lexington was one of the U.S. Navy's first two aircraft carriers that were large and fast enough to be capable of serious fleet operations. During the late 1920s, through the 1930s and into the early 1940s, she took an active part in the development of carrier techniques, fleet doctrine and in the operational training of a generation of Naval Aviators.
Lexington was in the Pacific when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and took part in the U.S. Navy's first wartime operation, the abortive attempt in December 1941 to relieve Wake Island. In February and March 1942, she raided Japanese positions in the southwestern Pacific, then returned to Pearl Harbor for a brief overhaul and removal of her eight-inch guns.
In early May, Lexington returned to the South Pacific in time to join USS Yorktown in successfully countering the Japanese offensive in the Battle of the Coral Sea. On 7 and 8 May 1942 her planes helped sink the small Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho and participated in attacks on the large carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. In turn, however, she was the target of Japanese carrier planes and received two torpedo and three bomb hits. Though initial damage control efforts appeared to be successful, she was racked by gasoline explosions in the early afternoon of 8 May. When the fires raged out of control, Lexington was abandoned by her crew and scuttled, the first U.S. aircraft carrier to be lost in World War II.
USS Saratoga (CC-3/CV-3)
Saratoga was also converted into an aircraft carrier while under construction at Camden, New Jersey. Commissioned in November 1927, as the second of the Navy's initial pair of fully capable aircraft carriers, Saratoga spent the years before World War II taking part in exercises, training aviators and generally contributing to the development of carrier techniques and doctrine. She was in the Pacific when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and took part in the abortive Wake Island relief expedition later in that month. While operating in the Hawaiian area on 11 January 1942, she was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine, necessitating several months of repairs, during which her eight-inch guns were replaced by the more useful 5"/38 dual purpose type.
Saratoga returned to action in June 1942, in time for reinforcement operations immediately following the Battle of Midway. She was next engaged in supporting the Guadalcanal Operation in August 1942, including participation in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Another enemy submarine torpedo hit on 31 August put her in the repair yard for two months.
The carrier was back in the South Pacific war zone in December 1942, spending the next year in that area. In November 1943, her planes made devastating raids on the Japanese base at Rabaul and supported the Gilberts operation later in the month. In January and February 1944 Saratoga took part in the invasion of the Marshall Islands. She then was sent to join the British Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean and participated in raids on Japanese positions in the East Indies during April and May 1944. An overhaul from June to September prepared her for employment training aviators for night operations. In February 1945, she carried night fighters during the Iwo Jima invasion and raids on the Japanese home islands. Several kamikaze suicide plane hits on 21 February caused serious damage and casualties, sending her back to the U.S. for another session in the shipyard.
Saratoga returned to service in May, again taking on a training role that lasted until Japan's surrender. Beginning in September 1945, she transported servicemen from the Pacific back to the United States as part of Operation "Magic Carpet". Too old for retention in the post-war fleet, Saratoga was then assigned to target duty for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini, in the Marshall Islands. She survived the first blast, on 1 July 1946, but sank after the 25 July underwater test. USS Saratoga still lies beneath the waters of Bikini atoll, where she is occasionally visited by divers.
Constitution was laid down at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, in September 1920. Her construction was suspended in February 1922, under the terms of the Washington Treaty, and after she was formally cancelled in August 1923, her hull was scrapped on the building ways. During this time of planning and construction, the original sail frigate USS Constitution, still in existence at Boston, was renamed Old Constitution so that her name might have been borne by the battlecruiser; the cancellation of CC-5 saw the restoration of Old Ironsides' original name.
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