The Death of a Lady: The USS Lexington (CV-2) at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Part II: Photographs

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

The previous post described the Battle of the Coral Sea, included a transcript of portions of the log of the USS Lexington describing the action on May 8 1942, and included images of the entire log for that day.

The following photographs were taken by unidentified Navy photographers during the May 8 action.  They provide a graphic portrayal of the events described in the Log.

The USS Lexington after the initial torpedo hits. You can see a Japanese torpedo plane approaching from the left. The smoke and spay on the water behind the plane is from anti-aircraft fire.
Not all the Japanese planes succeeded in getting through to their targets.
Deck of the Lexington sometime after 1400 hours by which time all planes had been landed.
The #2 gun position after a bomb hit. When this picture was taken the resulting fire had been extinguished.
About 1600 hours. Excess personnel are disembarking in boats and to life rafts. Alongside in the smoke is the USS Morris taking off sick and wounded.
Boats with excess crew and wounded moving away from the Lexington.
Crew leaving the Lexington. USS Morris taking off sick and wounded on the starboard side and USS Anderson (?) taking off crew from port side.
Excess crew leaving the ship. A small explosion has just taken place amidships.
A big explosion at about 1737 hours. Debris can be seen hitting the water.
The Lexington burning after the 1737 hours explosion.
Lexington after all hands had abandoned ship. Fires on deck and in superstructure.

In his battle report, Captain Sherman wrote:

The picture of the burning and doomed ship was a magnificent but sad sight.  The ship and crew had performed gloriously and it seemed too bad that she had to perish in her hour of victory. But she went to a glorious end, more fitting than the usual fate of the eventual scrap heap or succumbing to the perils of the sea.  She went down in battle, after a glorious victory for our forces in which the LEXINGTON and her air group played so conspicuous a part.

Despite the damage suffered by the Lexington, only about 216 of her crew died; about 2735 survived.  All losses were the result of air combat of the air group or torpedo and bomb hits and fire on board; no member of the crew drowned during evacuation of the ship.

NEXT: Battle Report

Source: The photographs are enclosures to LEXINGTON, Serial 0100, May 15, 1942, World War II Action and Operational Reports (NAID 305236), Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.