History | 22 December 2015“We Beg the Privilege to Produce Another Lexington” Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Embark in the adventure of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, fondly referred to as “Lady Lex,” from its construction to its unfortunate demise through Phil Keith’s captivating book Stay the Rising Sun. The incredible story of the beloved ship and its passionate crew is told with the respect and fervor it deserves. Below is Keith’s mindful telling of the impact the ship had, and the immediate panic to salvage the cherished aircraft carrier after following its destruction “We Beg the Privilege to Produce Another Lexington” USS Lexington (AVT-16), underway for training exercises in 1968. US Navy Almost immediately, Captain Sherman and Commander Seligman began canvassing the rescue ships for a tally of Lex’s remaining crew to get an accurate count of the living and a correct record of the missing and the dead. There was another purpose to the count, however: Sherman wanted to keep the surviving members of the crew together and, as soon as possible, get them all aboard a replacement carrier and back into the fight. He wanted a complete record and to know the status of every sailor. They were still under his command. Sherman’s official after-action report, which he completed and submitted to the commander, Pacific Fleet, on May 15, 1942, asked specifically “[t]hat a new carrier, the first available, be renamed Lexington to carry on the traditions of that great ship. That the officers and men survivors of Lexington and her air group be retained together as a unit, to man the new Lexington. This will be of the utmost value for morale, not only to these men but for the country as a whole, and will best utilize this group of well-trained, seasoned, and tested officers and men.” It was a pipe dream, and Sherman probably knew it, but he wanted to express his preferences nonetheless. For one thing, shortly after the Coral Sea, Admiral King placed him on the promotion list to rear admiral. As soon as the paperwork was completed, he would be given survivor’s leave and reassigned, with his new flag, and it wouldn’t be as the CO of an aircraft carrier. He had become too senior for such a command. He would also be sporting a new decoration: the Legion of Merit, with combat “V,” awarded for his exemplary performance in handling Lexington during the Coral Sea engagements. Admiral Fitch made a similar recommendation for keeping the crew together and giving them another carrier, as did Admiral Fletcher; but the needs of the service, whatever they might be, would ultimately determine the disposition of the crew. After three months in Washington, DC, serving on the staff of the chief of naval operations, Sherman was sent back to the Pacific as commander of Carrier Task Force 16, Admiral “Bull” Halsey’s old command. All six of the indomitable Patten brothers survived the sinking. Allen, Marvin, and Bub went overboard and were rescued by the destroyer Morris. The cruiser New Orleans saved Bick, Bruce, and Gilbert. Neither set of brothers knew the whereabouts of the other until both ships reached Tonga Island. All were sent home to Iowa, where they went on a War Bond drive that successfully raised millions of dollars. In July 1942, they were joined in service by the seventh brother, Wayne, who was no longer “Patten Pending.” Wayne went off to Navy boot camp; Gilbert, Allen, and Bub were sent to the escort carrier USS Altamaha (CVE-18) and would be joined by Wayne as soon as he finished basic training. Marvin, Bick, and Bruce were sent to the troop ship USS Monticello (AP-61), the former Italian luxury ocean liner SS Conte Grande; Ted went to the troop carrier USS J. Franklin Bell (APA-16). After the sinking of USS Juneau in November 1942 with the loss of all five Sullivan brothers, the Navy clamped down on brothers serving aboard the same ships, and all eight Pattens were reassigned and scattered, with Marvin going to the new Lexington, CV-16. Amazingly, all eight brothers survived the war without a scratch. The Navy did not release the news of the loss of Lexington until June 12,1942, five days after the US victory at the Battle of Midway. Outside of those who were on board Lady Lex and their families, the loss of the ship was most profoundly felt among those who had built it and by the residents of the town of Lexington, Massachusetts. Hundreds of the original shipyard workers at the Fore River Shipyard, men and women who had swarmed over her decks as she rose in the ways, were still hard at work. The entire shipyard felt a powerful bond with “the old lady,” and the workers were mad as hell that the Japanese had sunk her. For the denizens of Lexington town, it was as if a piece of their Revolutionary War sacrifice and glory had been ripped away. As recounted in a profile by the navy’s All Hands magazine, “The following day [June 13] the towns people formed a committee and launched a campaign to have another vessel carry the name Lexington to war. The quest was enthusiastically taken up by the workers at Quincy Shipyard.” On June 16, 1942, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox received a telegram in his office in Washington, DC: Twenty-three thousand workers at Bethlehem’s Fore River Yard where the Lexington was built, respectfully urge you to give the name Lexington to your carrier CV-16. We glory in the achievement of that fine ship, the sacrifice of which,to many of us, is a personal loss. We pledge our utmost efforts to build ships with all the speed and all the skill that is in our power. We beg the privilege to produce another Lexington. It was a powerful missive, and Knox, being a crafty old former newspaper man, knew a perfect public-relations ploy when he saw one. He hustled over to the White House, telegram in hand, and showed it to President Roosevelt. Both men agreed that the request should be granted. Knox telegraphed his enthusiastic approval to the shipyard. The Navy already had an Essex-class carrier hull on the ways at Fore River. It had barely been laid down but had already been designated CV-16 and was scheduled to become USS Cabot, after the first English explorer to trek North America. That was quickly changed to Lexington. Good to their word, the shipyard workers produced the new Lexington in record time: fourteen months from start to finish and a year ahead of schedule. The ship, with Capt. Felix Stump in command, was commissioned on February 17, 1943. The Essex-class carrier was the backbone of the US Navy’s capital ship program from its inception, in 1943, through the 1970s. A remarkable twenty-four Essex-class flattops were constructed, including CV-16. At 36,000 tons (full load), the new Lexington was almost as long as her predecessor (824 feet, versus 888 feet for CV-2). She had geared steam turbines instead of turbo electric drives and could do better than CV-2’s thirty-five knots. She hosted 2,600 officers and enlisted men, sported 62 guns of various calibers when built (all removed by 1967), and could host 96 aircraft (later 110). In the new Lexington, the Navy applied many lessons learned from the years of experience it had gained with the old Lexington and its fate in the Coral Sea. With newer, heavier aircraft and less deck space, catapults became necessary. The elevators on CV-2 had sometimes jammed during fleet exercises and combat conditions, making all or part of the flight deck unusable; CV-16 would have two flight-deck elevators but would also sport a third elevator on the deck edge along the port side. Air conditioning was incorporated into the power plant design to provide the crew comfort as well as cooling for the ever-growing machinery needs.Aviation fuel tanks were integrated into the hull design—they could still be damaged by torpedoes or mines, but they were equipped with counter-flooding. Gas could be pumped overboard, if need be, and the tanks were isolated from the interior crew spaces. Electrical equipment was shielded to prevent sparks and installed away from areas where flammable materials existed in quantity. As much as possible, flammable materials were eliminated altogether throughout the ship. Deck surfaces were no longer slathered in linoleum; lead-based paints replaced enamels; stuffed furniture was replaced with stark plastic and metal; and as many empty spaces as possible were packed with asbestos (the dangers of lead and asbestos not yet being known). The teak deck gave way to steel covered in a material similar to asphalt. Firefighting equipment was increased in quantity and quality. Oxygen masks, self-contained breathing equipment, hazard suits, and fire proof gloves were updated and also multiplied. Specialized training programs for damage control and firefighting were designed, deployed, and made mandatory for certain shipboard personnel. Tactics also changed, and fortunately, these changes took place almost immediately. Air Wing commanders had learned that squadron attacks had to be better coordinated. Sending in torpedo squadrons without adequate fighter cover was suicidal—proven again with the luckless VT-8 at Midway. Bombers, as Ted Sherman had believed, could be used protectively as well as for scouting and bombing missions. The number of fighters aboard a carrier needed to be increased so that they could handle the critical roles of protecting the strike aircraft as well as the mother ship. If air wings from different ships were tasked with the same mission, they would have to be coordinated as one strike group—something the Japanese had been doing from the outset.Fighter direction aboard the carrier that was in tactical control of the air mission also needed to be better coordinated and equipped. Newer, more powerful radars were coming along, as well as larger command centers. The miniscule space allocation for the FDO was beginning to morph into more of a combat information center, or CIC. One of the Americans’ biggest disappointments at Coral Sea was the dismal performance of the anti-aircraft guns and gunners. Cruisers, destroyers, and the mounted batteries on the carriers all scored poorly. Given the amount of lead they pumped into the sky, in some cases putting up virtual walls of bullets in front of their Japanese targets, the kill ratio was still pitiful. The gunners simply couldn’t keep up. Their aim points were invariably behind their targets. Even leading the aircraft and using their tracer rounds as spotters, the bullets didn’t arrive before the speedy Zeros and attack planes had sped ahead of the ordnance. The “Mark 1, Mod Zero Eyeball” was no longer a match for the technology, and certainly not with the ranges involved. It became apparent that modern fire-control computers and automatic guns were the only solutions to the gunnery challenge.The bomber pilots, time and again, complained about the fogging of their bomb sights. Pilots typically took off in tropical temperatures at sea level and then climbed to altitudes of 10,000 to 17,000 feet, where they encountered below-zero temperatures. On attacking, they plunged from 17,000 feet backdown to 1,000 feet. Due to the radical altitude changes and rapidly fluctuating temperatures and atmospheric pressures, their sights would invariably cloud over. Admiral Nimitz called this situation, at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the “outstanding material defect of the 3-day action.” This unhappy situation brought on an all-out development effort that finally resolved the issue in late 1943, when the Navy began deploying reflector-type bomb sights that proved far superior to the telescopic sights used at Coral Sea and Midway. Medical and Supply Departments learned valuable lessons from Coral Sea as well. Emergency medical kits were stocked all over carriers after Coral Sea. Dr. White and others discovered that the application of emergency bandages and tapes, along with morphine sticks and burn medications, as soon as possible after injury made a difference in saving lives and speeding recovery. The serviceable but hard to handle tannic acid jelly was soon replaced by more manageable paraffin canisters. Supply departments began to concentrate on battle necessities rather than providing as many different solutions to the needs of as many sailors as possible. The new Lexington might not carry a pack of rosin for a violin bow, but it would stock far more beans, bandages, and bullets. Ammunition storage would be much less haphazard. With CV-2’s basic battle cruiser design, no consideration had been given to the proper stowing of the huge quantities of aviation ordnance that was required. As a result, belts of bullets, torpedo warheads, and five-inch gun rounds had been stuffed into any available extra space. One of the main reasons that the admiral’s quarters aboard Lady Lex had become such a charnel house after the first Japanese bomb was that a number of five-inch rounds had been stored within it, as an afterthought. It is most likely that the concussion from one of these rounds killed both the ship’s senior supply officer and senior dental surgeon. The Japanese were learning, too. No fewer than forty-one admirals had a hand in some aspect of the planned Port Moresby invasion and the Coral Sea actions. Admirals Yamamoto and Inoue both took steps to slim down the chain of command. Their anti-aircraft gunners did not perform any better than their American counterparts. The Japanese were also far behind in the development of firing control solutions and radar. Their experiences in the Coral Sea made both these deficiencies top priorities. The American pilots surprised their Japanese adversaries. Up until that point, the Japanese had ruled the skies as well as the seas. The Chinese Air Force proved to be no real competition for the Japanese airmen; other opponents, the British in particular, had been flying ancient air frames from scattered and poorly coordinated land-based facilities. The US Navy’s carrier pilots were a different story. They were aggressive, fearless, and tenacious. Even though they were flying slower and less maneuverable aircraft, they stayed in the fight. Their airplanes could also take tremendous amounts of punishment and had heavier weapons. The Japanese quickly realized that their advantages of speed and dexterity could be overcome by American armor and self-sealing gas tanks.In assessing the outcome of the Battle of the Coral Sea, many historians have summed it up as a tactical victory for the Japanese but a strategic victory for the Allies. The Japanese had enjoyed an unbroken string of victories in the Pacific Theater since the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, but the halt of the Port Moresby invasion broke their streak. While the IJN bound up its wounds, the Americans gathered strength. Thanks, also, to a lucky break in deciphering the next objective, the Americans were able to gain a decisive advantage for the next round. The loss of one Japanese light carrier at Coral Sea plus denying the IJN’s two heavy carriers for the fight at Midway was profound. When four fleet carriers were lost at Midway, the momentum was taken away from the IJN permanently. Bucking convention, this author would also give the tactical victory at Coral Sea to the Allies, based on the following definition: “A tactical victory may refer to a victory that results in the completion of a tactical objective as part of an operation or a victory where the losses of the defeated outweigh those of the victor.” The tactical objective at Coral Sea for the Allies was to stop the MO Strike Force. That objective was achieved. Who, then, suffered the greater losses? In the first carrier-versus-carrier battle in the history of naval war-fare, the Japanese lost three carriers to the Allies’ one light carrier sunk,one temporarily damaged and lost to aircraft operations, and one whose air wing was temporarily crippled. The loss of Lexington was regrettable, but, in truth, she had survived beyond her strategic usefulness, and her own flaws contributed more to her demise than did the Japanese bombs and torpedoes. She was a grand old ship, indeed, and we should always remember that she and her crew were the point of the spear that stopped the Japanese juggernaut and started changing the course of World War II. Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of World War II Author: Phil Keith Her crew called her the “Lady Lex” – see how her fierce battle turned the tide in the Allies’ favor. In May 1942, the United States’ first naval victory against the Japanese in the Coral Sea was marred by the loss of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington. Another carrier was nearly ready for launch when the news arrived, so the navy changed her name to Lexington, confusing the Japanese. The men of the original “Lady Lex” loved their ship and fought hard to protect her. They were also seeking revenge for the losses sustained at Pearl Harbor. Crippling attacks by the Japanese left her on fire and dead in the water. A remarkable 90 percent of the crew made it off the burning decks beforeLexington had to be abandoned. In all the annals of the Second World War, there is hardly a battle story more compelling. Lexington‘s legacy did not end with her demise, however. Although the battle was deemed a tactical success for the Japanese, it turned out to be a strategic loss: For the first time in the war, a Japanese invasion force was forced to retreat. The lessons learned by losing the Lexington at Coral Sea impacted tactics, air wing operations, damage control, and ship construction. Altogether, they forged a critical, positive turning point in the war. The ship that ushered in and gave birth to a new era in naval warfare might be gone, but fate decreed that her important legacy would live on. 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