U.S. Navy - A Brief History of Aircraft Carriers: Battle of the Coral Sea

The Carriers header
A Brief History of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers
The Battle of the Coral Sea

Sources: United States Naval Aviation, 1910-1970 [NAVAIR 00-80P-1]
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

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crew members abandon the USS Lexington May 4-8, 1942 - The Battle of the Coral Sea. In the first naval engagement of history fought without the opposing ships making contact, U.S. carrier forces stopped a Japanese attempt to land at Port Moresby by turning back the covering carrier force. In the battle, the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho and the U.S. lost the carrier, USS Lexington (CV 2).

Task Force 17 (Rear Adm. Fletcher) with the carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5), bombed Japanese transports engaged in landing troops in Tulagi Harbor, damaging several and sinking one destroyer. They then joined the other Allied naval units, including Task Force 11 (Rear Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch) with USS Lexington (CV 2). On 7 May, carrier aircraft located and sank the light carrier Shoho.

The next day, the Japanese covering force was located and attacked by air, resulting in the damage of the carrier Shokaku. Simultaneously, the Japanese attacked task Force 17, scoring hits on Yorktown. Lexington was struck by a torpedo to port. Seconds later, a second torpedo hit to port directly abreast the bridge. At the same time, she took three bomb hits from enemy dive bombers, producing a 7 degree list to port and several raging fires. By 1300 her skilled damage control parties had brought the fires under control and returned the ship to even keel; making 25 knots, she was ready to recover her air group. Then suddenly Lexington was shaken by a tremendous explosion, caused by the ignition of gasoline vapors below, and again fire raged out of control.

At 1558 Capt. Frederick C. Sherman, fearing for the safety of men working below, secured salvage operations, and ordered all hands to the flight deck. At 1707, he ordered, "abandon ship!", and the men began going over the side into the warm water, almost immediately to be picked up by nearby cruisers and destroyers. Adm. Fitch and his staff transferred to the cruiser USS Minneapolis (CA 36); Capt. Sherman and his executive officer, Cmdr. M. T. Seligman insured all their men were safe, then were the last to leave their ship.

Lexington blazed on, flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air. The destroyer USS Phelps (DD 361) closed to 1500 yards, fired two torpedoes into the carrier's hull and, with one last heavy explosion, Lexington slid beneath the waves.

Last Update: 15 June 2009