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Painting of a dark ship with two funnels and two cage masts steaming through heavy seas
A 1922 painting by Louise Larned depicting the definitive design of the Lexington class, with eight 16 in (410 mm)/50 caliber guns and two funnels
Class overview
Builders: Fore River Shipbuilding, New York Shipbuilding and Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company
Operators:  United States Navy
Planned: 6
Completed: 0, though 2 were converted to aircraft carriers
Cancelled: 6
General characteristics
Type: Lexington class battlecruisers
Displacement: 43,500 long tons (44,200 t; 48,700 ST), 44,638 long tons (45,354 t; 49,995 ST) full load, 51,217 long tons (52,039 t; 57,363 ST) emergency full load[1]
Length: 874 ft (266 m) overall[1][2][3]
Beam: 105 ft 4 in (32.1 m)[1] or 105 ft 5 in (32.1 m)[2][4]
Draft: 31 ft (9 m)[1][4]
Propulsion: Turbo-electric drive, four shafts, 16 boilers, 180,000 shp[1]
Speed: 33.5 knots (38.6 mph)[1][2][3]
Range: 12,000 nmi (22,000 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h)[1]
Armament: 8 × 16-inch (406 mm)/50 cal (4 × 2)[1]
16 × 6-inch (152 mm)/53 cal[1]
4 × 3-inch (76 mm)/50 cal[1]
8 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, 4 submerged[1]
Armor: 7 in (178 mm) belt[1]
5–9 in (130–230 mm) barbettes[1]
12 in (305 mm) conning tower[1]
11 in (280 mm) turret[1]
6 in (152 mm) side[1]
This article is about the original battlecruiser class. For information on the two members that were converted to aircraft carriers, see Lexington class aircraft carrier.

The Lexington class battlecruisers were the only class of battlecruiser to ever be ordered by the United States Navy.[A 1] Six—given names from battles in the American Revolutionary War or the original six frigates—were planned as part of the massive 1916 building program, but their construction was repeatedly postponed in favor of escort ships and anti-submarine vessels. During these delays, the class was redesigned several times; they were originally designed to mount ten 14"/50 caliber guns and eighteen 5"/51 caliber guns on a hull with a maximum speed of 35 knots, but by the time of the definitive design, these specifications had been altered to eight 16"/50 caliber guns and sixteen 6"/53 caliber guns, with a speed of 33.25 knots to improve hitting power and armor (the decrease in speed was mostly attributed to the additions of armor).

While four of the ships were eventually canceled and scrapped on their building ways in 1922 to comply with mandates outlined by the Washington Naval Treaty, two (Lexington and Saratoga) were converted into the United States' first fleet carriers.[5][A 2] Both saw extensive action in the Second World War, with Lexington conducting many raids before being sunk after the Battle of Coral Sea and Saratoga battling in the Pacific and the Far East. Though she was hit by torpedoes on two different occasions, Saratoga survived the war only to be sunk as a target ship during Operation Crossroads.[A 3]





As early as 1912, the U.S. Navy (USN) was thinking of constructing new battlecruisers to combat the four new Kongō-class battlecruisers that the Imperial Japanese Navy was producing.[6] However, when it was thought that Congress would not approve any battlecruisers without reducing the number of battleships, the Navy decided that battleships, such as the new "super-dreadnought" Nevada-class whose construction had just begun, were more important since Congress—in the Navy's eyes—was not approving enough battleships.[1] In 1903 the General Board assumed that the U.S. would build two battleships per year, but Congress "balked", approving just one ship in 1904 (fiscal year 1905), two ships in 1905 (FY 1906), one ship in both 1906 and 1907 (FY 1907–1908), and one ship in both 1912 and 1913 (FY 1913–1914). The approval of two New York class ships in 1910 (FY 1911) instead of just one was apparently "something of a personal triumph for Secretary of the Navy von Lengerke Meyer."[7]

However, 1916 found the U.S. preparing for war, and so the USN began many types of ships to support the coming conflict. In this year, the Navy laid down two Tennessee-class battleships, ten Omaha-class cruisers, and the first 50 destroyers of the Wickes class, among other ships.[8] In addition, they ordered six new Lexington-class battlecruisers. These ships, along with the Omaha and Wickes classes, were intended to be part of a 35-knot (40 mph) scouting force that would support a large battle fleet. However, the ships were not laid down right away, as capital ship construction had been suspended to facilitate construction of needed merchant ships and anti-submarine warfare destroyers.[1]

The six Lexington class ships would have been named Lexington, Constellation, Saratoga, Ranger, Constitution, and United States and would have been designated CC-1 through CC-6,[A 4] with "CC" signifying their status as battlecruisers.[1][A 5] Although the class was planned to be the U.S.'s first battlecruisers, it was not of a new design; instead, it expanded upon already-existing 10,000–14,000 ton cruiser designs.[1][6]

Original and subsequent redesigns

In their original 1916 configuration, the battlecruisers were designed to go at a maximum of 35 knots with ten 14"/50 caliber guns in four turrets (two triple superfiring over two dual) for their main armament and eighteen 5"/51 caliber guns as secondary armament. All of this would have been on a displacement of 34,300 long tons (34,900 t) 34,300 or 34,800 tons; however, these high specifications were tempered by their sparse armor compared with contemporary battleships. To obtain this planned speed, the ships needed to produce 180,000 shaft horsepower, which would require 24 boilers. This large number caused many problems in the design. First, there was simply not enough room to house all these boilers below the armored deck, which was the normal practice. The solution for this was "very unusual": half of the boilers would be placed above the deck on the centerline with armored boxes fitted around each one. Second, the many exhaust uptakes that these boilers would require had to be addressed, so the Lexington's were designed to mount "no less than" seven funnels, with four of them side-by-side.[1][2][6]

A long, dark ship seen from the side with five small, thin funnels visible
A painting of the Lexington class' original planned configuration

However, in 1917, the class was placed on hold so that higher-priority anti-submarine warfare vessels and merchant ships, needed to ensure the safe passage of men and materiel to Europe during Germany's U-boat campaign, could be built, and the opportunity to redesign the ships was not allowed to pass. The main armament was upped to 16"/50 caliber guns due to the plans for new British and Japanese battlecruisers with 15" and 16" inch guns (respectively) and the number of boilers was reduced to 20, allowing all of them to be moved below the armored deck; with the lower number of exhaust intakes, the number of funnels was reduced from seven to five. The secondary armament was increased from the eighteen 5" guns to fourteen 6"/53 caliber guns.[9]

Around 1918, the U.S. naval staff in Great Britain became extremely impressed by the British's newest battlecruiser, Hood of the Admiral class. Because this ship was described as a "fast battleship", the staff advocated that the United States should develop a fast battleship of its own. While several sketches were prepared, the General Board thought that they would make any existing capital ship obsolete, so they soldiered on with the more conventional South Dakota class. However, ideas from Hood were quickly adopted and incorporated into the Lexington class, beginning the final redesign of the class. Influences from Hood showed with the reducing of the main armor belt, the change to "sloped armor", and the addition of four abovewater torpedo tubes that were added to the four underwater tubes that had been included in the original design. Other changes included a widening of the ship to allow for a torpedo protection system, and the vertical belt armor was increased to 9 inches. A new type of boiler allowed the number of boilers to be reduced to 16. Again, with the fewer number of exhaust intakes, the number of funnels was able to be reduced, this time to just two. These improvements, however, increased the normal displacement of the ship to 43,500 tons, which was 300 tons more than the South Dakota-class battleship then being built and 10,900 tons greater than the previous battleship class, the Colorado class.[10][11]

A long, dark ship with two large funnels steaming at sea
A painting that depicts the Lexington class' definitive design, 1919.

However, problems were still present, as shown by the experience of the British battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary during the Battle of Jutland; she was sunk by a single German shell that went through 9 in (230 mm) of armor to blow up one of her turrets. The Lexington class' design called for 3 in (76 mm) of armor on the turret tops—just one-third of Queen Mary.[12]

Conversion for two

Construction finally began upon the battlecruisers in 1920 and 1921, after a delay of almost five months.[1][13] However, that July, U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes called for a conference in Washington D.C. to be held that November. The stated goal was to curb the rapidly growing and extremely expensive naval construction programs.[14] It was obvious to the General Board that the expensive new battlecruisers,[15] which some thought were already obsolete,[16] would be very attractive targets for cancellation. Accordingly, studies were done exploring the possibilities of converting one or more of the battlecruisers to different uses: one looked at a conversion to an aircraft carrier, while another contemplated a conversion to an Atlantic ocean liner.[15]

Conversion of a Lexington to an aircraft carrier had both positive and negative aspects when compared with a "specifically designed carrier". While the conversion would have better anti-torpedo protection, larger magazines for aircraft bombs than a keel-up carrier and a more room for aircraft landings (the after elevator would be 28 feet farther up), it would also be a half-knot slower with less hangar space (about 16 percent less), less emergency fuel and "narrower lines" aft (pilots landing on the converted battlecruiser would not have as wide of a runway to aim for). Comparing costs, a brand-new aircraft carrier would cost $27.1 million, while a conversion of one of the Lexington class, not counting the $6.7 million already sunk into them, would cost $22.4 million.[5][A 6]

Any debate over converting them was quelled by the signing of the Washington Naval Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty, any capital ships that were under construction by the five signatories (the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) had to be canceled and scrapped. For battlecruisers, this encompassed the United States' Lexington class, Japan's Amagi class, and Great Britain's G3 battlecruisers.[17] However, the treaty did allow the participating nations to take two of the capital ships they had under construction and convert them to aircraft carriers;[5] the U.S. Navy decided to complete the two Lexington's that were closest to completion, Lexington and Saratoga.[18]

Two men in naval officer uniforms hold the ends of a two-meter model of a battlecruiser above a similarly sized model of a conversion to an aircraft carrier. Four men, mostly in civilian clothes, stand behind the models. The battlecruiser model has two large funnels and eight guns, and the conversion has a huge funnel and a long flight deck.
Rear Admiral David W. Taylor (left), Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, and Rear Admiral John K. Robison (right), Chief of the Bureau of Engineering, hold a model of the battlecruiser above a model of the proposed conversion to an aircraft carrier at the Navy Department on 8 March 1922.

The problem was that the tonnage cap for new carrier construction had been set at 27,000 tons, which was too low for any practical conversion of the battlecruisers. An exception, spearheaded by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was added to the treaty. This gave the five nations the option to convert no more than two capital ships that were under construction to 33,000 ton aircraft carriers.[5][19] But even that increase of 6,000 tons (from 27,000 to 33,000) was almost not enough for a conversion—it took creative interpreting of a clause in the treaty to allow for the conversion without removing half of the power plant, which the General Board did not want to do.[5] The clause (Chapter II, Part III, Section I, (d)):

No retained capital ships or aircraft carriers shall be reconstructed except for the purpose of providing means of defense against air and submarine attack, and subject to the following rules: The Contracting Powers may, for that purpose, equip existing tonnage with bulge or blister or anti-air attack deck protection, providing the increase of displacement thus effected does not exceed 3,000 tons (3,048 metric tons) displacement for each ship. No alterations in side armor, in calibre, number or general type of mounting of main armament shall be permitted except:

(1) in the case of France and Italy, which countries within the limits allowed for bulge may increase their armor protection and the calibre of the guns now carried on their existing capital ships so as not to exceed 16 inches (406 millimeters) and

(2) the British Empire shall be permitted to complete, in the case of the Renown, the alterations to armor that have already been commenced but temporarily suspended.[20]

Without this clause, the two carriers would have likely been in serious trouble—1928 estimates for the two ships put Lexington at an actual tonnage of 35,689 tons and Saratoga at 35,544, though on official lists the number given was 33,000 tons with a footnote that stated "[this number] does not include weight allowance under Ch. 11, pt. 3, Sec. 1, art. (d) of Washington Treaty for providing means against air and submarine attack". This tonnage number was actually carried for their entire careers.[5]


Following adoption of the Washington Naval Treaty, construction on all the ships was stopped in February 1922. Two of the battlecruiser hulls were reordered as the Lexington-class aircraft carriers Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3) under the terms of the Treaty, while the other four ships were formally canceled in August 1923 and were scrapped on their building ways.[2]

The Lexington class consisted of six ships, under construction at four locations:

Large ship with no superstructure with scaffold-like steel surrounding her.
Lexington shortly before her launch, circa 1925


The original design of the Lexington class called for ten 14"/50 caliber guns of either the Mark 4, 5, or 6 variety to be mounted in four turrets (two triple superfiring over two double turrets) for the main armament.[6][A 7] Designed in 1916 and put into service by 1918, these guns were installed on the Tennessee- and New Mexico-class battleships.[25]

Later designs called for the 16"/50 caliber Mark 2 and Mark 3 guns that were also to have been used on the South Dakota-class battleship of 1920.[9] Like the 14"/50 caliber gun, the 16" gun was designed in 1916. A prototype was tested and proven on 8 April 1918, and the gun was scheduled to go into service in 1923. However, with the cancellation of both the Lexington and the South Dakota classes, no guns were installed on any ships even though 71 had been built and 44 were being built. In 1922–24 twenty of the guns were given to the Army for use as coastal defense guns along with the Army's 16"/50 caliber M1919 guns.[26] Later planning called for the use of these guns in the Iowa-class battleships, but miscommunication between design bureaus led to the 16"/50 caliber Mark 7 gun being used instead.[27] As a result, all but three of the Navy's remaining Mark 2 and 3 guns were sent to the Army to also be used as coastal defense guns.

For secondary armament in their original design, the Lexington class was to have mounted eighteen 5"/51 caliber guns. These guns were originally mounted on the Florida- and Wyoming-class battleships, but they found their way into the secondary armament of every U.S. battleship that was built prior to the Washington Naval Treaty. Also, many of the destroyers, submarines, and auxiliaries that were built during this time mounted this gun as their main gun. The secondary armament was later upped to fourteen 6"/53 caliber guns in casemates during one of the redesigns.These guns were the main armament on the Omaha-class light cruisers, Narwhal, Nautilus, and Argonaut, and they were going to be the secondary armament on the South Dakota-class battleships.[28][29][30]


  1. ^ The Lexington class were the only class of U.S. Navy ships to be officially referred to as battlecruisers. The World War II-era Alaska-class, officially classified as "large cruisers", but some modern historians have classified them as battlecruisers. The design of the Alaska's owed little to the Lexington class or other true battlecruisers, instead using a scaled-up Baltimore-class heavy cruiser with the machinery of an Essex-class aircraft carrier. See: Gardiner and Cheasneau (1980), p. 122; Scarpaci (2008), p. 17
  2. ^ The U.S. Navy's first aircraft carrier was Langley, but she was never more than an experimental ship because she was too slow—at a top speed of 15.5 knots, she was not able to keep pace with any escorts including the slow battleships. See: Friedman (1983), p. 37; Gardiner and Gray, pp. 120–121; and the DANFS entry on Langley.
  3. ^ For more information, see the entries for Saratoga and Lexington in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships: "Lexington" and "Saratoga".
  4. ^ This would be similar to the U.S.'s use of "BB" for battleships and "CV" for aircraft carriers, among many other designations. See Hull classification symbol.
  5. ^ The designation "CC" was later revived for the "command ship" USS Northampton (CLC-1).
  6. ^ Both of these figures (the $6.7 and $22.4) are estimates for one of the lesser-advanced ships like Ranger. The former cost would be higher and the second lower for one of the more-advanced ships.
  7. ^ Though no source states what Mark was used, the only three versions of the 14" U.S. gun that were 50 caliber were Marks 4, 5 and 6.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Gardiner and Gray (1984), p. 119
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Lexington Class (CC-1 through CC-6)". Navy Department, Naval Historical Center. 26 February 2004. Retrieved 8 December 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Pike, John (5 September 2008). "CC-1 Lexington Class Specifications". Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Ranger". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 5 December 2008. "" 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Friedman (1983), p. 43
  6. ^ a b c d Morison and Polmar (2003), p. 70
  7. ^ Friedman (1985), p. 101
  8. ^ Gardiner, Gray (1984), pp. 119–120, 124
  9. ^ a b Morison and Polmar (2003), p. 71
  10. ^ Gardiner and Gray (1984), pp. 118–119
  11. ^ Morison and Polmar (2003), pp. 71–72
  12. ^ Sinesi (1998), p. 22
  13. ^ Sinesi (1998), p. 26
  14. ^ Morison and Polmar (2003), p. 74
  15. ^ a b Friedman (1983), pp. 41 and 43
  16. ^ Morison and Polmar (2003), p. 72
  17. ^ See: Washington Naval Treaty, Chapter II, Part III, Section II
  18. ^ a b c d e f "Board for Selling Doomed Warships; Admirals Oppose Sinking at Sea Under Terms of the Five Power Naval Treaty" (PDF). The New York Times: p. 20. May 2, 1922. 
  19. ^ See: Washington Naval Treaty, Chapter I, Article IX
  20. ^ See: Chapter II, Part III, Section I, (d)
  21. ^ "Lexington". DANFS. Retrieved 5 December 2008. "" 
  22. ^ a b "Saratoga". DANFS. Retrieved 5 December 2008. "" 
  23. ^ "USS Constitution (CC-5), 1918 Program – construction cancelled in 1923". Navy Department, Naval Historical Center. 20 Feb 2000. Retrieved 5 December 2008. 
  24. ^ "United States". DANFS. Retrieved 5 December 2008. "" 
  25. ^ DiGiulian, Tony (15 August 2008). "14"/50 (35.6 cm) Mark 4 and Mark 6". Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  26. ^ DiGiulian, Tony (26 July 2008). "United States of America 16"/50 (40.6 cm) Mark 2 and Mark 3". Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  27. ^ DiGiulian, Tony (3 November 2008). "United States of America 16"/50 (40.6 cm) Mark 7". Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  28. ^ Morison and Polmar (2003), p. 69–71
  29. ^ DiGiulian, Tony (9 February 2008). "5"/51 (12.7 cm) Marks 7, 8, 9, 14 and 15". Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  30. ^ DiGiulian, Tony (8 February 2008). "6"/53 (15.2 cm) Marks 12, 14, 15 and 18". Retrieved 23 November 2008. 


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