USS Lexington CV-16 aircraft carrier, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

USS Lexington (CV/CVA/CVS/CVT-16), known as “The Blue Ghost”, was an Essex-class aircraft carrier, the fifth United States Naval ship named in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. Laid down as Cabot on 15 July 1941 by Bethlehem Steel Co., Quincy, Mass., the ship was renamed Lexington 16 June 1942, after the loss of Lexington (CV-2) in the Battle of the Coral Sea. She was launched 23 September 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Theodore Douglas Robinson; and commissioned 17 February 1943, Captain Felix Budwell Stump, USN in command.

After Caribbean shakedown and yard work at Boston, Lexington sailed for Pacific action via the Panama Canal, arriving Pearl Harbor August 9, 1943. She raided Tarawa in late September and Wake in October, then returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the Gilbert Islands operation. From 19 November 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 November 23 and 24 November.

Lexington sailed to raid Kwajalein 4 December. Her morning strike destroyed a cargo ship, 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 7:20 p.m. that night, a major air attack began while the task force was under way off Kwajalein. At 11:22 p.m. parachute flares from Japanese planes silhouetted the carrier, and 10 minutes later she was hit by a torpedo to starboard, knocking out her steering gear. This damage also took out the entire chiefs quarters killing a number of crew resting in their bunks and others on duty in the area. No one in the chiefs quarters survived. Settling 5 feet 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 9 December. She reached Bremerton, Wash., 22 December for full repairs completed 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. The 40 mm “Quads” were most effective from then on. The “Blue Ghost” was reported sunk by Japan’s Tokyo Rose - as she would come to say again and again, the ship sank beneath the deep blue seas.

Part of the reason for the nickname the “Blue Ghost” was the fact the Lexington CV-16 was painted dark blue and was the only carrier not to wear camouflage. “She sinks beneath the deep blue seas each evening, all hands aboard, only to re-appear each morning on the horizon.” This aspect was used to demoralize the Japanese as they could not sink the Lexington since she was so heavily defended.

Lexington sailed via Alameda, Calif., and Pearl Harbor for Majuro, where Rear Adm. Marc Mitscher commanding Task Force 58 (TF 58) broke his flag in her 8 March. After a warm-up strike against Mille, TF 58 operated against the major centers of resistance in Japan’s outer empire, supporting the Army landing at Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura) 13 April, and hitting supposedly invulnerable Truk 28 April. Heavy counterattack 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 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 June 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, 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. Gun crews actually shot down Japanese planes as they tried to land on the Lexington’s deck when they had no where else to go.

Using Eniwetok as her base, Lexington flew sorties over Guam and against the Palaus and Bonins into August. She arrived in the Carolinas 6 September for 3 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 10 October and Formosa 2 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.

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 Japan’s superbattleship Musashi and scored hits on three cruisers 24 October. Next day, with Essex aircraft, they sank carrier Chitose, and alone sank Zuikako. Later in the day, they aided in sinking a third carrier, Zuihō. As the retiring Japanese were pursued, her planes sank heavy cruiser Nachi with four torpedo hits 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 carrier Ticonderoga as well. On 9 November Lexington arrived 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 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 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 12 January. Leaving the China Sea 20 January, Lexington sailed north to strike Formosa again 21 January and Okinawa again 22 January.

After replenishing at Ulithi, TG 58.2 sailed 10 February to hit airfields near Tokyo 16 February {For account of air battle 16 February 1945 see [1]} and 17 February to minimize opposition to the Iwo Jima landings 19 February. Lexington flew close support for the assaulting troops February 19 to 22 February, then sailed for further strikes against the Japanese home islands and the Nansei Shoto before heading for overhaul at Puget Sound.

Lexington was combat bound again 22 May, sailing via Alameda and Pearl Harbor for San Pedro Bay, Leyte where she joined Rear Adm. Thomas L. Sprague’s task force for the final round of air strikes which battered the Japanese home islands through July until 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 Honshū and Hokkaidō 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, she continued to fly precautionary patrols over Japan, and dropped supplies to prisoner of war camps on Honshū. She supported the occupation of Japan until leaving Tokyo Bay 3 December with homeward bound veterans for transportation to San Francisco, where she arrived 16 December.
She continued as a training carrier for the next 22 years until decommissioned 8 November 1991. On 15 June 1992, the ship was donated as a museum and now operates as the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay at 27.815° -97.389, 2914 North Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, Texas. A MEGAtheater (similar to IMAX) was added in the forward aircraft elevator space. Lexington was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003. The ship is carefully maintained and areas of the ship previously off-limits are becoming open to the public every few years. One of the most recent examples is the catapult room.
[Source: Wikipedia]

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