World War II: USS Lexington (CV-16)

USS Lexington (CV-16) in the Pacific
USS Lexington (CV-16), late 1944. US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Lexington (CV-16) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier that entered service with the US Navy during World War II. Named in honor of USS Lexington (CV-2) which had been lost at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington saw extensive service in the Pacific during the conflict and served as Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's flagship. Lexington was modernized after the war and continued to serve with the US Navy until 1991. Its final assignment saw it act as a training carrier for new naval aviators at Pensacola.

Design & Construction

Conceived in the 1920s and early 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were designed to conform to the limitations set forth by the Washington Naval Treaty. This agreement placed restrictions on the tonnage of different types of warships as well as capped each signatory's overall tonnage. These types of restrictions were affirmed through the 1930 London Naval Treaty.

As global tensions increased, Japan and Italy departed the treaty structure in 1936. With the collapse of the this system, the US Navy began designing a new, larger class of aircraft carrier and one which drew from the lessons learned from the Yorktown-class. The resulting design was wider and longer as well as included a deck-edge elevator. This had been employed earlier on USS Wasp (CV-7).

USS Lexington surrounded by scaffolding.
USS Lexington (CV-16) is prepared for launching at Quincy, MA, September 1942. US Naval History and Heritage Command

In addition to carrying a larger air group, the new design possessed a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament. Designated the Essex-class, the lead ship, USS Essex (CV-9), was laid down in April 1941. This was followed by USS Cabot (CV-16) which was laid down on July 15, 1941 at Bethlehem Steel's Fore River Ship in Quincy, MA. Over the next year, the carrier's hull took shape as the US entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On June 16, 1942, Cabot's name was changed to Lexington to honor the carrier of the same name (CV-2) which had been lost the previous month at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Launched on September 23, 1942, Lexington slid into the water with Helen Roosevelt Robinson serving as sponsor. Needed for combat operations, workers pushed to complete the ship and it entered commission on February 17, 1943, with Captain Felix Stump in command.

USS Lexington (CV-16)


  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Fore River Shipyard - Bethlehem Steel
  • Laid Down: July 15, 1941
  • Launched: September 23, 1942
  • Commissioned: February 17, 1943
  • Fate: Museum Ship, Corpus Christi, TX


  • Displacement: 27,100 tons
  • Length: 872 ft.
  • Beam: 93 ft.
  • Draft: 28 ft., 5 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Complement: 2,600 men


  • 4 × twin 5 inch 38 caliber guns
  • 4 × single 5 inch 38 caliber guns
  • 8 × quadruple 40 mm 56 caliber guns
  • 46 × single 20 mm 78 caliber guns


  • 110 aircraft

Arriving in the Pacific

Steaming south, Lexington conducted a shakedown and training cruise in the Caribbean. During this period, it suffered a notable casualty when the F4F Wildcat flown by 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick crashed off the coast of Venezuela on June 2. After returning to Boston for maintenance, Lexington departed for the Pacific. Passing through the Panama Canal, it arrived at Pearl Harbor on August 9.

Moving to the war zone, the carrier conducted raids against Tarawa and Wake Island in September. Returning to the Gilberts in November, Lexington's aircraft supported the landings on Tarawa between November 19 and 24 as well as mounted raids against Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands. Continuing to operate against the Marshalls, the carrier's planes struck Kwajalein on December 4 where they sank a cargo ship and damaged two cruisers.

At 11:22 PM that night, Lexington came under attack by Japanese torpedo bombers. Though taking evasive maneuvers, the carrier sustained a torpedo hit on the starboard side which disabled the ship's steering. Working quickly, damage control parties contained the resulting fires and devised a temporary steering system. Withdrawing, Lexington made for Pearl Harbor before proceeding on to Bremerton, WA for repairs.

Aerial view of aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16).
USS Lexington (CV-16) underway during World War II. US Naval History and Heritage Command

It reached Puget Sound Navy Yard on December 22. In the first of several instances, the Japanese believed the carrier to have been sunk. Its frequent reappearance in combat coupled with its blue camouflage scheme earned Lexington the nickname "The Blue Ghost."

Return to Combat

Fully repaired on February 20, 1944, Lexington joined Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force (TF58) at Majuro in early March. Taken by Mitscher as his flagship, the carrier raided Mili Atoll before moving south to support General Douglas MacArthur's campaign in northern New Guinea. Following a raid on Truk on April 28, the Japanese again believed the carrier to have been sunk.

Moving north to the Marianas, Mitscher's carriers next began reducing Japanese air power in the islands prior to the landings on Saipan in June. On June 19-20, Lexington took part in the victory at the Battle of the Philippine Sea which saw American pilots win the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" in the sky while sinking a Japanese carrier and damaging several other warships.

Battle of Leyte Gulf

Later in the summer, Lexington supported the invasion of Guam before raiding the Palaus and Bonins. After striking targets in the Caroline Islands in September, the carrier commenced attacks against the Philippines in preparation for the Allied return to the archipelago. In October, Mitscher's task force moved to cover MacArthur's landings on Leyte.

With the beginning of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Lexington's aircraft aided in sinking the battleship Musashi on October 24. The next day, its pilots contributed to the destruction of the light carrier Chitose and received sole credit for sinking the fleet carrier Zuikaku. Raids later in the day saw Lexington's planes aid in eliminating the light carrier Zuiho and the cruiser Nachi.

On the afternoon of October 25, Lexington sustained a hit from a kamikaze which struck near the island. Though this structure was badly damaged, it did not severely hamper combat operations. In the course of the engagement, the carrier's gunners downed another kamikaze that had targeted USS Ticonderoga (CV-14).

Repaired at Ulithi after the battle, Lexington spent December and January 1945 raiding Luzon and Formosa before entering the South China Sea to strike at Indochina and Hong Kong. Hitting Formosa again in late January, Mitscher then attacked Okinawa. After replenishing at Ulithi, Lexington and its consorts moved north and commenced attacks on Japan in February. Late in the month, the carrier's aircraft supported the invasion of Iwo Jima before the ship departed for an overhaul at Puget Sound.

Bow view of aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16)
USS Lexington (CV-16) photographed from the back seat of a SBD dive bomber which has just taken off, during TF-58 strikes in the Marianas, June 13, 1944. US Naval History and Heritage Command

Final Campaigns

Rejoining the fleet on May 22, Lexington formed part of Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's task force off Leyte. Steaming north, Sprague mounted attacks against airfields on Honshu and Hokkaido, industrial targets around Tokyo, as well as the remnants of the Japanese fleet at Kure and Yokosuka. These efforts continued until mid-August when Lexington's final raid received orders to jettison its bombs due to the Japanese surrender.

With the end of the conflict, the carrier's aircraft commenced patrols over Japan before taking part in Operation Magic Carpet to return American servicemen home. With the reduction in fleet strength after the war, Lexington was decommissioned on April 23, 1947 and placed in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Puget Sound.

Cold War & Training

Redesignated as an attack carrier (CVA-16) on October 1, 1952, Lexington moved to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard the following September. There it received both SCB-27C and SCB-125 modernizations. These saw modifications to Lexington's island, the creation of a hurricane bow, installation of an angled flight deck, as well as a strengthening of the flight deck to handle newer jet aircraft.

Recommissioned on August 15, 1955 with Captain A.S. Heyward, Jr. in command, Lexington began operations out of San Diego. The following year it commenced a deployment with the US 7th Fleet in the Far East with Yokosuka as its home port. Arriving back in San Diego in October 1957, Lexington moved through a brief overhaul at Puget Sound. In July 1958, it returned to Far East to reinforce the 7th Fleet during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis.

Aerial view of aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16).
USS Lexington (CV-16) at sea in the 1960s. US Navy

After further service off the coast of Asia, Lexington received orders in January 1962 to relieve USS Antietam (CV-36) as a training carrier in the Gulf of Mexico. On October 1, the carrier was redesignated as an anti-submarine warfare carrier (CVS-16) though this, and its relief of Antietam, was delayed until later in the month due to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Taking over the training role on December 29, Lexington began routine operations out of Pensacola, FL.

Steaming in the Gulf of Mexico, the carrier trained new naval aviators in the art of taking off and landing at sea. Formally designated as a training carrier January 1, 1969, it spent the next twenty-two years in this role. The final Essex-class carrier still in use, Lexington was decommissioned on November 8, 1991. The following year, the carrier was donated for use as a museum ship and is currently open to the public in Corpus Christi, TX.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Lexington (CV-16)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). World War II: USS Lexington (CV-16). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Lexington (CV-16)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).