Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Gray Lady

(Screen capture from YouTube video below)
It was pretty exciting to learn that R/V Petrel had discovered the wreckage of USS Lexington (CV 2) in the Coral Sea where she was lost on the 8th of May, 1942.

A colleague at work shared some of the photos from R/V Petrel's UAV with me, then I read c w's write up over at his place. Seeing that opening photo sent a shiver or two down my spine. The squadron insignia of that Wildcat sitting on the sea floor, VF 3 or Fighting Three, was a fighter squadron assigned to USS Lexington. That squadron insignia is still in use, by VFA-31, the Tomcatters (callsign Felix) stationed at NAS Oceana.

A brief look at the squadron's early history -
VFA-31, was originally established as VF-1B on July 1, 1935 flying the F4B, making it the second oldest active US Navy squadron behind VFA-14 which was originally established in 1919.

On 1 July 1937, the squadron combined with VF-8B and was redesignated VF-6, flying the F3F. Between the years 1937 and 1943 VF-6 flew the F3F-1 and two variants of the F4F Wildcat and ended with the F4F-4.

On 15 July 1943, VF-6 swapped designations with VF-3 and began flying the F6F Hellcat. 
Through the years the squadron and their predecessors have served on many of the Navy's aircraft carriers, including the first, the USS Langley; the second, USS Lexington; and the sixth, USS Enterprise. They were aboard Enterprise during the Attack on Pearl Harbor as well as the battles of Wake Island, Marcus Island, Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Eastern Solomon Islands. The squadron also saw aerial combat over the Philippines, Formosa, Okinawa, and China.

On 7 August 1948, VF-3A was redesignated VF-31. For almost four years, the squadron flew the F9F Panther, the squadron's first jet aircraft. (Source)
Stars & Stripes has a write-up of the discovery of USS Lexington's final resting place which includes this video -

(Note that the write-up's headline is wrong. HMS Ark Royal was the first aircraft carrier sunk in WWII. USS Lexington was the first American carrier sunk in WWII. As Buck would say, "ever the pedant.")

It's amazing the equipment available in these modern times to explore the depths of the oceans. I know I complain a lot about Microsoft products, but if Paul Allen wants to spend some of his money to do these sort of projects, heck I'll buy the next Windows release to support that. (Installing it though is another thing entirely, I make no promises.)

There were a couple of things about USS Lexington that I didn't know. While I knew that she was originally designed as a battlecruiser and then converted to be an aircraft carrier, I didn't know that she was built up in Quincy, Massachusetts. (It's pronounced "kwinzee" by the way. No, not "Massachusetts" you smart alecks, "Quincy" is pronounced that way.)

While I knew that USS Lexington was seriously damaged by Japanese air attacks at the Battle of the Coral Sea and had to be "put down" by a U.S. destroyer, I did not know that that event took place 11 years (to the day) before I was born. Three years before the Nazis surrendered in Europe.

I always liked the distinctive look of USS Lexington and her sister USS Saratoga (CV 3).

She was the fifth, though not the last of her name -
  • USS Lexington (1776), brigantine acquired in 1776 and captured in 1777
  • USS Lexington (1825), sloop-of-war in commission from 1826–1830 and 1831–1855
  • USS Lexington (1861), gunboat in commission from 1861–1865
  • USS Lexington II (SP-705), later USS SP-705, a patrol vessel in commission from 1917–1918
  • USS Lexington (CV-2), Lexington-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1927 and sunk in 1942
  • USS Lexington (CV-16), Essex-class aircraft carrier in commission from 1943–1991, now a museum in Corpus Christi, Texas
Unfortunately due to our (terrible custom) of naming aircraft carriers for politicians, CV-16 will probably be the last to carry the name of the first battle of the Revolution, where British regulars faced off against colonial militiamen on the 19th of April, 1775. (Also not too far from Chez Sarge.)

USS Lexington's sister ship, USS Saratoga, was also named for a Revolutionary War battle. She was also the fifth (and again not the last) of her name.
  • USS Saratoga (1780), 18-gun sloop-of-war launched in 1780; lost at sea the following year
  • USS Saratoga (1814), 26-gun corvette built on Lake Champlain for service in the War of 1812
  • USS Saratoga (1842), 22-gun sloop-of-war; commissioned 1843; served until 1888
  • USS Saratoga (ACR-2), later name for the armored cruiser USS New York (ACR-2)
  • USS Saratoga (CV-3), Lexington-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1927; active in World War II; was sunk by atomic bomb test in 1946
  • USS Saratoga (CV-60), a Forrestal-class aircraft carrier; commissioned 1956; decommissioned 1994
CV-60 used to be tied up to a pier here in Little Rhody, not far from where I work. I still remember cresting the ridge on the road leading past the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and seeing USS Iowa (BB 61), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS Forrestal (CV 59) lined up along the waterfront.

First time I'd ever seen an aircraft carrier up close and personal. Those two Forrestal-class carriers dwarfed that battleship. Of course, the Nimitz-class carriers make the old Forrestal-class ships look small.

History excites me.

Can you tell?

VFA-31's newest look.


  1. The photo of CV-2 Lexington underway shows her with her eight inch guns. All the eight inch guns were removed in early '42.
    She also had a turbo-electric steam propulsion system. (same Wiki article the black and white photo links to)

    The paint on the aircraft that went to the bottom with the Lexington remains in an astonishingly good state of preservation.

    I didn't know that the Ward had been found.

    Another interesting and informative post. Well done.

    1. I think I saw something about Ward being found as well. The video reminded me of that. I did to go digging.

      Thanks John.

  2. Looks like that Wildcat had successfully defended the ship at least 4 times before succumbing to the deep. Pretty good shape for 70+ years at 2 miles down.

  3. Somehow I cannot imagine a carrier ever having a need for 8” guns, except possibly if she somehow found herself unescorted and facing attack from from surface ships.
    If memory serves, even 5” were less than optimum as AA weapons.

    1. Holdover from the Pre-War Navy Battleship mindset, maybe?

    2. I'm sure.
      I would almost bet there was some bloodshed at the Pentagon getting them removed.

    3. Skip -

      The Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair was not convinced when the class was being designed that aircraft could effectively substitute as armament for a warship, especially at night or in bad weather that would prevent air operations. Thus the carriers' design included a substantial gun battery of eight 55-caliber Mk 9 eight-inch guns in four twin gun turrets. These turrets were mounted above the flight deck on the starboard side, two before the superstructure, and two behind the funnel, numbered I to IV from bow to stern. In theory the guns could fire to both sides, but it is probable that if they were fired to port (across the deck) the blast would have damaged the flight deck. They could be depressed to −5° and elevated to +41°.

      The ship's heavy anti-aircraft (AA) armament consisted of twelve 25-caliber Mk 10 five-inch guns which were mounted on single mounts, three each fitted on sponsons on each side of the bow and stern. No light AA guns were initially mounted on Lexington, but two sextuple .30-caliber machine gun mounts were installed in 1929. They were unsuccessful and were replaced by two .50-caliber machine guns by 1931, one each on the roof of the superfiring eight-inch turrets. During a refit in 1935, platforms mounting four .50-caliber machine guns were installed on each corner of the ship, and an additional platform was installed that wrapped around the funnel. Six machine guns were mounted on each side of this last platform. In October 1940, four 50-caliber Mk 10 three-inch AA guns were installed in the corner platforms; they replaced two of the .50-caliber machine guns which were remounted on the tops of the eight-inch gun turrets. Another three-inch gun was added on the roof of the deckhouse between the funnel and the island. These guns were just interim weapons until the quadruple 1.1-inch gun mount could be fielded, which occurred in August 1941.

      In March 1942, Lexington‍ '​s eight-inch turrets were removed at Pearl Harbor and replaced by seven quadruple 1.1-inch gun mounts. In addition 22 Oerlikon 20 mm cannon were installed, six in a new platform at the base of the funnel, 12 in the positions formerly occupied by the ship's boats in the sides of the hull, two at the stern and a pair on the aft control top. When the ship was sunk in May 1942, her armament consisted of 12 five-inch, 12 quadruple 1.1-inch, 22 Oerlikons and at least two dozen .50-caliber machine guns.

    4. Juvat - spot on! (Note that I didn't say "Bingo.")

    5. Skip - No doubt someone's rice bowl got violated.

    6. I'll bet the guys in Taffy 3 would have enjoyed having some 8 inch guns to shoot back with. Beats the hell out of sucking them in to 40mm range.

    7. Yup, would have been good time to have those!

    8. After the introduction of the VF fuze, combined with the MK 37 director, the 5"/38 was a superb AA gun. The LEXINGTON never had directed 5"ers, as hers were 5"/25s. The SARATOGA wound up with 5"/38 caliber guns in both twin and single mounts.

    9. Good to know, Scott, you're my go to guy for warship stuff.

  4. I hope that her depth will keep her from being violated by salvagers, like so many shallow-sunk ships have been in the Pacific.

    She sure had pretty lines, didn't she? Rest in Peace, Lady Lex.

    1. Amen to that Andrew. She's a graveyard and should remain inviolate.

    2. Battle Cruisers were sublime.

    3. Whenever I hear the term battlecruiser, I think SMS Von der Tann, SMS Seydlitz, SMS Derfflinger, and others of that ilk. German WWI battlecruisers kicked butt!

    4. As opposed to the British ones that blew up when given a stern talking to.

    5. Yes, Admiral Beatty was not pleased!

    6. You don't think ALASKA, and GUAM?

    7. To tell the truth I had no idea of the existence of that class. So I looked them up, rather lovely ships.

  5. Another great history lesson. You are becoming one of my favorite historians.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  6. Hey Old AF Sarge;

    I was very excited that the "Lady Lex" was found, as I recall from memory, it was fumes from a generator that got ignited and caused a fire that ultimately led in the abandonment of the Carrier, along with shoddy fire control(They really worked that problem out with the Yorktown, her damage control during the Midway battle was exceptional and allowed her to continue to fight, it also could have been the "Yorktown class" design...I am not sure, I am not that familiar with ship construction. But I recall reading about that in elementary school. The Lexington and Saratoga were a class by themselves. I do wish we could have saved the Enterprise (CV-6) from the breakers but it didn't happen, and I really wish they would go back to naming carriers for battles rather than politicians.

    1. Yes, I saw your post today about the Lady Lex. I shared your excitement at the find.

      I recall that one reason for Lexington's demise was improperly drained aviation fuel lines which ruptured. The fuel caught fire and yes, the Gray Lady's damage control parties were overwhelmed.

      I too wish Enterprise could have been saved. I don't know the fate of the latest Enterprise (CVN 65). My son-in-law served in her Air Wing on her last two deployments and my oldest daughter did a midshipman cruise aboard her in the Med. A proud ship, a proud tradition. The next Enterprise will be the third Ford-class carrier, CVN 80, so at least the name will live on.

  7. HMS GLORIOUS was the first CV sunk in WWII, after losing a gun fight with SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU.

    1. The first aircraft carrier sunk in WW2 was HMS Courageous on 17th September 1939 by U29. Churchill decided that offensive action was the best way to deal with the U Boat menace so he sent out groups to find U Boats. In that HMS Courageous was sunk by a U Boat you could say that part of the operation succeeded.


    2. I had forgotten Courageous! I guess I was thinking of gun fights, with LEXINGTON's 8"ers.

    3. Scott - I had forgotten HMS Glorious AND HMS Courageous. Shame on me.


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