A Bit of History: USS Lexington (CV-2), pt. 1

As promised, this blog is going to be about modeling topics as well as the history of the prototype being modeled.  After all, what kind of collection would I have if I merely flitted from kit to kit, building with no regard for the topic that inspired the project in question?  Perhaps I would be able to pump out more completed kits that way, but this isn’t about mass production for me.  It’s about taking the time to recreate – in miniature – significant moments in world military history.  In her book On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Professor Susan Stewart of Temple University writes that “the function of the miniature is to bring historical events ‘to life’,  to immediacy.”  Such is my goal when unboxing a new kit on my table and setting out on the path to completion.

It makes sense, then, to write a little here about the kit you’ve seen my opening up and beginning to detail over the past week or so.  Trumpeter’s 1:700 scale USS Lexington is – so far –  a fun build that depicts the subject aircraft carrier in her configuration at the time of her sinking on May 8, 1942.  But why is this significant?  What led up to the aforementioned end of the carrier’s life?  The answers to these questions is where we’re headed  – right now.

The Lexington-class carriers actually began life as battlecruisers when their construction began in the early 1920s.  At this stage in world history, the potential for aircraft in naval combat was a grossly misunderstood concept, and the most powerful navies were those with the largest and most numerous guns.  So as to head off a potential naval arms race, in 1922 most of the world powers agreed to set limits to their own shipbuilding through the Washington Naval Treaty.  By this time, construction had begun on all six Lexington-class cruisers.  With the new limits in place, it was decided to scrap all but two of the partially-built vessels; the remaining sisters would be converted in their slips to aircraft carriers, vessels seen as inherently less threatening and decisive than battleships.

Artist's rendition of the Lexington-Class battlecruiser design.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Artist’s rendition of the Lexington-Class battlecruiser design. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

The state of the art in US carrier design before the Lexington-class: USS Langley, CV-1.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The state of the art in US carrier design before the Lexington-class: USS Langley, CV-1. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lexington and her sister Saratoga were completed within a month of each other in 1927.  Upon their completion, they were the largest aircraft carriers in US service until 1945, clocking in at 888 feet each.

Lexington and Saratoga at sea.

Lexington and Saratoga at sea. Image courtesy of world-war-2.wikia.com.

They were built at a time when naval air power was an experimental, untested arm of the service, therefore each would serve as a sort of floating laboratory in the growth of the art.  Over the next fifteen years, Lexington would be modified numerous times, see a dramatic widening of her flight deck, and witness a gradual drawing-down of her armament from her original 8-inch gun load to a purely anti-aircraft artillery combat load.  The striking power of her air wing, creating a projection of power that far, far exceeded what the ship could do on her own, became the obvious offensive tool of choice for Lexington, her sister, and the now-famous Yorktown-class that followed them.  This vessel truly shifted the paradigm of American naval warfare, and the lessons learned during her lifetime would be taken to heart as the darkest years in world history approached in December 1941.

Part two of this history will focus on the Lexington‘s brief service during World War II – from the outbreak of hostilities at Pearl Harbor to her eventual loss five months later at the Battle of the Coral Sea.    As will be seen, however, it was to be a very eventful five months indeed.

USS Lexington in 1938.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

USS Lexington in 1938. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Information for this post came from two publications:

Doyle, David.  Squadron at Sea: USS Lexington CV-2.  Carrolton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, 2013.

Wiper, Steve.  Warship Pictorial #33: USS Lexington CV-2.  Tucson: Classic Warships Publishing, 2009.

Susan Stewart citation from:

Stewart, Susan.  On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.  Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.

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2 thoughts on “A Bit of History: USS Lexington (CV-2), pt. 1

  1. Pingback: A Bit of History: USS Lexington (CV-2), Pt. 2 | The Museum Modeler

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