With funding from billionaire Paul Allen, submarine explorers have found the wreck of the USS Lexington -- an aircraft carrier that was lost during the Second World War. Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel discovered the ship about two miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean in the Coral Sea area, about 500 miles east of Australia.

Allen said, according to a press release, “To pay tribute to the USS Lexington and the brave men that served on her is an honor.” He added, “As Americans, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who served and who continue to serve our country for their courage, persistence and sacrifice.”

Known to many as “Lady Lex,” the Lexington was one of the first aircraft carriers ever built for the U.S. Navy. As one of the first U.S. aircraft carriers ever built, the Lexington became known as “Lady Lex.”  On May 8, 1942, the Lexington was struck by multiple Japanese torpedoes and bombs. This resulted in the deaths of 216 sailors and multiple aircraft. Other ships the American fleet came to the aid of the surviving crew members, rescuing 2,770. The Lexington was subsequently sunk by friendly fire to keep it out of enemy hands. 

“Lexington was on our priority list because she was one of the capital ships that was lost during WWII,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Allen. “Based on geography, time of year and other factors, I work with Paul Allen to determine what missions to pursue. We’ve been planning to locate the Lexington for about six months and it came together nicely.”

Originally, the Lexington was commissioned as a battlecruiser but was eventually christened as an aircraft carrier in 1925. In concert with the USS Yorktown, the Lexington was in the fight during the momentous Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942), which came less than six months after the Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Battle of Coral Sea was the first carrier battle in history and wrought a permanent setback for the forces of the Empire of Japan, which had overrun much of Asia, captured strategic islands in the Pacific, and threatened to invade Australia.  along with the USS Yorktown against three Japanese carriers. This was the first carrier versus carrier battle in history and was the first time Japanese forces suffered a permanent setback in its advances on New Guinea and Australia. However, the U.S. suffered the grievous loss Lexington and crew. 


The Lexington had been mortally wounded by Japanese bombs and torpedoes, but it was the USS Phelps that delivered the final, fatal torpedoes that sank the crippled ship. It was the first aircraft carrier in history to be lost. Besides the crew, sister naval vessels rescued the Lexington’s skipper and his faithful dog and ship mascot, Wags. In addition to the Lexington, the United States lost the USS Sims (DD-409)  and the USS Neosho (AO-23). In addition, the Yorktown was damaged. For their part, the Japanese navy lost one light carrier (Shōhō) and suffered significant damage to a fleet carrier (Shōkaku).

“As the son of a survivor of the USS Lexington, I offer my congratulations to Paul Allen and the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel for locating the ‘Lady Lex,’ sunk nearly 76 years ago at the Battle of Coral Sea,” said Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command. “We honor the valor and sacrifice of the “Lady Lex’s” Sailors — all those Americans who fought in World War II — by continuing to secure the freedoms they won for all of us.”

The Battle of the Coral Sea was notable not only for stopping a Japanese advance but because it was the first naval engagement in history where opposing ships never came within sight of each other. This battle ushered in a new form of naval warfare via carrier-based airplanes. One month later, the U.S. Navy surprised Japanese forces at the Battle of Midway, and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific for good.

Based on some initial success with his M/Y Octopus, Allen acquired and retrofitted the 250-foot R/V Petrel with state-of-the-art subsea equipment capable of diving to 6,000 meters (or three and a half miles). Since its deployment in early 2017, the ship was active in several missions in the Philippine Sea before its transition to the Coral Sea off the Australian Coast. An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) helped find the Lexington.


Expeditions led by Allen have also resulted in the discovery of the USS Indianapolis (August 2017), USS Ward (November 2017), USS Astoria (February 2015), Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team was also responsible for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service. Allen’s expedition team was permanently transferred to the newly acquired and retrofitted R/V Petrel in 2016 with a specific mission around research, exploration and survey of historic warships and other important artifacts.

Among the aircraft discovered by the expedition are seven Douglas TBD-1 Devastators. Also visible to the discoverers were anti-aircraft guns and the ship plate. A video recorded by the AUV clearly shows the word "Lexington" inscribed on the steel structure of the ship, in addition to guns and aircraft.




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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