Lexington class

Design History
The U.S. fleet that had sailed to Britain in support of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet in 1917/18 had had a good chance to analyze the British stance towards carriers. The British had been in dire need for aircraft support of their Grand Fleet, something that float planes could not provide, especially where the destruction of Zeppelins was required. Similarly, the fragile float planes could not be expected to land on the sometimes rough North Sea without serious danger to crew and plane.

For all these reasons, Britain had concluded that a flat top carrier was required, and had rebuilt HMS Furious and HMS Argus into carriers. They had also concluded the design of the first purpose-built carrier, HMS Hermes.

Unsurprisingly, the Grand Fleet's knowledge of the value of aircraft in direct support of the fleet led the U.S. to conclude that a similar project was needed. Unlike the British however, who with Argus and Hermes had produced rather small ships, the United States was headed for larger, more capable vessels. Early studies led to nothing, but in 1919, a demand arose to design a carrier of 35 knots with large aircraft capacity. The only available design for such a high-speed vessel was for the Constellation class battlecruisers, huge vessels designed to be the fleet's eyes in a future conflict.

Based on this large vessel, a big carrier emerged, but a lack of funds made construction impossible. Through 1920, designs for other aircraft carriers were passed around, based on smaller cruisers, but the demands for large aircraft capacity coupled with powerful defensive armament soon led back to the 35.000ton carrier based on the Constellation design. By July 1921, the Navy had a design for a 39.000ton carrier that promised high-speed, good survivability, and strong air group.

At about the same time, Secretary of State Hughes began to send out invitations for the Washington Conference on Naval Disarmament, and the likelihood of cancellation of the battlecruisers already being built led to the proposal that two of the large ships be converted into carriers. Although at 36.000tons, the two proposed carriers were some 3000 tons heavier than the treaty allowed, clever argumentation saved the project. It was a tight design already, with little weight to spare, and major efforts were necessary to keep the design within the limits.

The final design showed battlecruiser armor and a heavy surface-fire armament. The vessels picked for conversion were Lexington and Saratoga, which became CV-2 and CV-3 respectively.

At 35 knots, they possesed a 888ft flight deck, a portside island and a huge smokestack. Eight 203mm L/55 guns were placed in four twin gunhouses, two each infront and abaft the superstructure. Twelve 127mm L/25 guns formed the primary anti-air armament. Although launched in 1921 and 1920, respectively, neither carrier commisioned until the winter of 1927, Saratoga before Lexington.

The two carriers once commissioned formed the most powerful aircraft carrier formation then in service. As the most important part of Aircraft, Battle Force, they participated prominently in all Fleet Problems starting with Fleet Problem IX of January 1929. During that famous Problem, Saratoga displayed some of the value of the aircraft carrier as an independent strike platform when she "attacked" and "destroyed" the Panama Canal locks. The value of this experience was overshadowed, however, by her own sinking later on; no conclusive data was obtained to advance the cause of aviation.

During most Fleet Problems, Saratoga and Lexington operated on different sides to test aviation tactics; aboard these two vessels, most of the future U.S. wartime tactics were developed, including deckload strikes.

Until the arrival of Ranger, the two Lexingtons and Langley were the only test-beds for carrier doctrine; less through their defects than due to the lack of adequately powerful airplanes, the Navy did not arrive at greatly optimistic predictions for air power vs. Battleships.

However, the services delivered by Lexington and Saratoga were immensely valuable in affirming other critically important points: the vitality of having aircraft in support of the fleet, and the fleet in support of the carriers.

The outbreak of World War II saw both carriers in the Pacific. Lexington was delivering planes to Midway, Saratoga was then on the West Coast, but returned quickly to Pearl Harbor ready to deliver a Marine Fighter Squadron to Wake; that effort, under the command of Rear-Admiral Frank Fletcher, was not successful. On January 11th, 1942, Saratoga was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine off Hawaii and sent to Bremerton, there receiving a refit and repair lasting until May 22nd, and including replacement of the 203mm guns by 127mm L/38 twins. Lexington meanwhile, under command of Vice-Admiral Wilson Brown, attempted a raid on Rabaul and then sailed to the Coral Sea, where, joined by Yorktown, she raided Lae and Salamaua. In May 1942, the two carriers joined in the Battle of the Coral Sea, where Lexington suffered bomb and torpedo damage. Although appearing salvageable, damage control errors resulted in a gas fume explosion later in the day, after which crippling fires resulted in her abandoning. She was scuttled on May 7th by destroyer Phelps.

Saratoga did not return to service in time for Midway, but was Frank Fletcher's flagship at the Guadalcanal landings and participated in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Not much thereafter, she was again torpedoed and out of service until 1943. In that year, she joined HMS Victorious as the only active Allied carriers in the South Pacific. She remained in the South Pacific until November, when in company with the new light carrier Princeton, she raided Rabaul. After a short refit at Hunter's Point, thereafter deploying to the British Eastern Fleet to support it in raids against Sabang in April and Soerabaja in May. Back to the Pacific Fleet via a Puget Sound refit, Saratoga became a night carrier and joined Enterprise in January 1945 to form a Night Carrier Division. She was bombed twice during her service off Iwo Jima, returning to Bremerton for extensive repairs. She did not return to battle, and, as the oldest and least useful U.S. carrier after the war, after her troop-returning duties during the Magic Carpet operation, she was expended in the Bikini nuclear bomb tests and sunk after Test "Baker".

Ships in class:
CV-2 Lexington
CV-3 Saratoga

Standard: 36.000 tons
Full: 43.054 tons
Length: 270.66m / 888ft
Beam: 32.3m / 106ft
Draft (Full Load): 9.265m / 30ft 4 3/4"
Height: ???? / ????
Crew (Officers/Men): 241/2540
Endurance: 10,000nm at 10kn
Speed: 35 knots
Belt: 7 - 5in / 178 - 127mm
Deck: 2in / 50mm
Barbettes: No barbette armor
Gunhouses: Presumably no armor
Conning Tower: 80lbs STS / 36,2kg STS per sqf
Armament and Equipment
(As designed):
Main: 8 x 203mm L/55 in four twin turrets, two each abaft and ahead of the island
Secondary: 12 x 127mm L/25 around the flight deck
AA: None
Aviation: 72 Aircraft

(Saratoga, August 1942):
Main: 16 x 127mm L/38 in four twin turrets, two each abaft and ahead of the island, and eight singles around the flight deck
AA: 16 x 40mm L/56 in four quad mounts, 20 x 28mm L/75 in five quad mounts, 30 x 20mm L/70 in single mounts
1 x F4F-7 Wildcat photo-recon fighter
CAG3: 1 x SDB-3 Dauntless dive-bomber
VF- 3: 34 x F4F-4 Wildcat fighters
VB-3: 16 x SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bomber
VS-3: 17 x SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bomber
VT-3: 15 x TBF-1 Avenger torpedo-bomber