Home » Aviation » VIDEO: Billionaire Paul Allen Finds Lost World War II Carrier USS Lexington


VIDEO: Billionaire Paul Allen Finds Lost World War II Carrier USS Lexington

Image of USS Lexington (CV-2) on March 4, 2018. via Paul Allen

Billionaire-turned-explorer Paul Allen has discovered the missing wreck of the World War II carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) at the bottom of the Coral Sea.

The crew of his personal research ship R/V Petrel found the missing ship two miles below the surface and about 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia, he announced on Monday.

“To pay tribute to the USS Lexington and the brave men that served on her is an honor,” Allen said in a statement.
“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.”

Video footages and photos from the wreck show well-preserved examples of the ships’ eight-inch and anti-aircraft guns. Aircraft that were abandoned aboard when the carrier was evacuated are also in excellent condition. Roundels, squadron markings and kill markings are clearly visible on fuselages of the lost aircraft, as pointed out on Twitter by naval journalist Chris Cavas.

Originally conceived as a battlecruiser, Lexington was redesigned to be one of America’s first operational aircraft carriers in 1922.

The Imperial Japanese Navy sank Lexington on May 8, 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

More than 200 sailors died after the ship sank following an attack by Japanese Achi D3A carrier bombers and torpedoes. More than 2,000 sailors were evacuated from the ship before it sank.

“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,” read the statement from Allen.
“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.”

On Monday, U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris thanked Allen for finding the wreck.

“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,” Harris said in a statement.
“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.”

In addition to Lexington, Allen has discovered other World War II wrecks including the cruiser USS Indianapolis, the destroyer USS Ward, the Japanese battleship Musashi and the Italian destroyer Artigliere.

USS Lexington (CV-2) leaving San Diego, Calif. on Oct. 14, 1941. National Archives

“As we look back on our Navy throughout its history, we see evidence of an incredible amount of heroism and sacrifice. The actions of Sailors from our past inspire us today,” retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, said in a statement. “So many ships, so many battles, so many acts of valor help inform what we do now.”

  • thebard3

    Remarkable state of preservation.

  • NavySubNuke

    Amazing. I can’t wait to see additional photos and videos.
    Hopefully the depth and isolated location is enough to protect her from scavengers.

    • muzzleloader

      Well, at a depth of 2 miles, and in the Australian Navy’s backyard, I doubt if scavenging will be likely.

  • Duane

    Thank you Mr. Allen and all who made this possible. Thank you all who served on the Lex when our nation stood on the brink of defeat in the Pacific war – so many owe such a great debt to so few.

  • battlestations

    Was in Reno, Nevada at a casino restaurant in 2009 when an elderly sailor was walking by wearing a USS Lexington hat, as I strained to see which one, low and behold, CV-2! I greeted him as tho he was my Grandpa! Had breakfast and a wonderful conversation with him and his wife. His “Battlestations” was a port side aa gun. When I asked him “What was that day like?” he humbly stated “like any other day, when 125 aircraft attacked.” I’m sure he is gone now, and I am honored to have at least spoken to a man who lived thru that day, aboard that fine ship, during that pivotal battle.

    • Rocco

      Kudo’s to you for being in his presence & god speed to him!!⚓️

    • ADOLF HITLER

      I saw that movie, Hard eight

    • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

      Great story.

  • John B. Morgen

    Next the USS Hornet (CV-8)!

    • muzzleloader

      And the USS Wasp (CV-7).

  • Deplorable Heretic

    Wow! After all these years! While serving aboard the USS Bainbridge CGN-25 in the late 70s we cruised the area of the battles of Savo Island and the Coral Sea. Even at 19 yrs old it was quite sobering to realize the incredible cost of victory in WWII.

  • muzzleloader

    Fantastic find! Thank you, Mr. Allen.

  • vtbikerider

    There’s a Devastator down there! How cool is that— and the markings are still visible. How it made it to the bottom so well preserved is incredible.

    • Ken

      They found at least 7 TBDs.

      • vtbikerider

        Already WIkipedia is updated with this. There are no survivors on land or being restored. Bringing one up would be a worthy endeavor.
        As an aside, it’s incredible that people like Paul Allen and James Cameron are the ones pushing the limits in deep sea exploration. More needs to be done officially for this. I’d love to see a survey of the North Atlantic Convoy routes– there are literally thousands of wrecks down there.

      • Joe Riley

        My Dad’s Dauntless is down there somewhere 🙂

  • Oaf Dawg

    Lexington was NOT sunk by the Japanese, but was scuttled by gunfire and torpedoes from a US Navy destroyer to keep it out of Japanese hands. Had the action not been so chaotic the Lexington could have been towed to a safe port, repaired and put back into service.

    • Nerdyredneck

      While I get what you are saying about she could have been saved in better times, saying she was not sunk by the Japanese is like saying a shooting victim did not die because of the shooting but because their heart stopped beating.

      • Steve OafDawg Moore

        No, your analogy would be more like shooting a shooting victim to put him out of his misery. The Lex was a blazing inferno from ruptured av gas tanks, but she was built on a battlecruiser hull, not keel up as a carrier, and was arguably tougher. She probably would have burned for days without any firefighting efforts, but would probably have remained afloat. At that time in the war the Japanese pretty well controlled the seas, so it was highly probable they would have been able to salvage the hulk and towed it to Truk, or even back to Japan. So, in reality the Japanese severely damaged the Lex, but did not actually sink her.

        • James Bowen

          The same was true of at least one of the Japanese carriers at Midway. Are you saying the U.S. Navy did not sink them?

          • Steve OafDawg Moore

            Just saying the article should read “The Lexington was damaged so severely by the Japanese that the Navy was forced to scuttle her by firing five torpedoes into the ship until she finally sank” or something similar . As for Midway, most of the Japanese carriers were damaged so badly they had to be scuttled. I believe only Hiyru sank with being scuttled. I guess I would word it “the Japanese LOST 4 carriers at Midway, the Americans LOST 1 carrier at the Coral Sea”. Dunno, I’m probably nit picking, but I think history should be more accurate in it’s depictions of events, especially when just a few more or different words would give the reader a much more accurate description of events.

          • Nerdyredneck

            You are right, that is a better analogy but she still ultimately sank due to what the Japanese did to her regardless of who finished her off.

        • Joe Riley

          Correct. Look online at any photos of her burning. She might have floated around out there for many hours, if not days. I suppose once any fires ignited her remaining munitions, it moght have done the trick, but they had no way of knowing if the Japanese would be returning in force. No sense in giving them a smoking beacon to homer in upon.

    • Ken

      Lexington was lost as a result of combat with the Japanese. With the fires ripping through the ship and her age, it is unlikely it would’ve been salvaged in any case.

    • Chesapeakeguy

      Look, if a ship is lost because of enemy action, that enemy gets the credit for sinking it. If it is so badly damaged that it has to be abandoned, the enemy gets credit for that too. The Lex was sunk as a RESULT of enemy action. Period. All these other attempts at ‘quantifiers’ are merely exercises in semantics. The JAPANESE sank the Lex, just like they did the Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp, and all the other ships.

      • Joe Riley

        True, but who sent her down? We did. The U.S.S. Phelps.

        • Chesapeakeguy

          OK. But WHY was it necessary for us to send her down? Because the Japanese blasted her into being a total, useless wreck. Certainly if the Japanese could have placed a tow line on her and got her to one of their ports, that would have been a great PROPAGANDA coup for them. But it wouldn’t have been practical, in that the ship was so devastated as to be useless as an actual vessel of war. Not to mention the hazard and peril such an operation would have placed on the Japanese ships tasked with towing her in. I’ll bet my last dime that had WE not put the final torpedoes in her, the Japanese would have.

          • Joe Riley

            My father was a dive bomber pilot on the Lexington. He let me read his copy of “Queen of the Flattops” when I was a kid. According to the book, the Lex was sending up so much smoke into an otherwise clear sky, that they feared it would easily alert the IJN to their position, so a decision was made to have the Phelps torpedo her. They couldn’t know if another attack was imminent, so it seemed the prudent course of action.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            That’s cool about your Dad. It makes perfect sense to sink her under such conditions. But I fear that we will all become confused by semantics. She had been so damaged by the enemy, that they had to dispose of her to keep that enemy from doing the same thing to other ships.

          • Joe Riley

            Thanks, and I get what you’re saying, but here’s what I’m thinking: my dad was awarded the Navy Cross for dive bombing and helping to sink the Shoho, which went right down, but what if the Shoho had merely burned for hours due to battle damage and the IJN sank her later instead? Would my dad still have been awarded a Navy Cross? Speculation, but I think it’s kind of important. I just get weary of hearing or reading, “The Japanese navy sank the Lexington”, because it makes it sound like a skillful achievement by their pilots. A fine point, I know, but a meaningful one, at least to me.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            But your Dad DID bomb the Shoho, and it WAS sunk. He was instrumental in leaving her a wreck. If she had stayed afloat and the Japanese had sunk her, your Dad and all other Navy fliers who put ordinance into her would STILL be responsible for that. These ships, all of them, on both sides, were sunk because of enemy action. I look at it as the same as putting a wounded animal out of its misery. I hope anyone reading this does not conclude that I’m being disrespectful in comparing a beloved ship to an animal, but I do believe the analogy is a viable one. Realistically, none of those ships could be saved.

    • James B.

      I’ve read that she was beyond economical salvage, but her burning hulk was too easily visible, so she was scuttled to deny the Japanese a marker to find the remaining US ships.

      • Joe Riley

        You are correct. 🙂

    • Joe Riley

      It wasn’t to keep her from falling into enemy hands. Her internal fires were raging out of control. The smoke she was sending up had our Navy concerned that it would allow the Japanese to pinpoint their position and attack again.

    • Pat Patterson

      The Lex was unsalvageable.

  • vincent zito

    Will they be bringing the ships bell up?

  • tom elliott

    In 1958 the captain of my ship was Keith Taylor, he was on the Lexington and the battle where he won the ‘Navy Cross’. Graduated flight training March 1941, became captain of USS Pine Island 1957.

  • suds

    To all of our friends in Australia, on behalf of the officers and crew of the USS Lexington who if they could, would say, you are welcome.

  • bluewaternavy

    8 inches were landed earlier. 5″ 38 cal Dual mounts were scheduled to be their replacements, but LEX sank before it was done.

  • RobM1981

    It was more emotional to watch than I expected. Powerful.

  • William Blankinship

    Mr. Allen is doing a great work. He is living all little boys and girls dreams of being an explorer plus helping keep the sacrifice that many men and women made for this country alive. I have know several WW11 veterans and have enjoyed listening to their stories. Most all gone now.

  • Leatherstocking

    Small note – the 8-inch batteries were replaced in March 1942 so Lady Lex went down with 5-in, 1.1-in and smaller AA weapons. Rest in Peace for our sailors entombed in her.

  • BiggerHorns

    I toured the follow-on Lex when I was in Navy “A” school at Corry Station Pensicola.
    I went on to become pilot of the DSV 4 Sea Cliff, a 20,000 ft capable manned submersible. The worlds deepest diving at the time. Worked with Bob Ballard filming a Nat Geo special commemorating the 50th anniversary of the battle of Savo Island, Guadalcanal. We surveyed the wrecks and laid commemorative plaques on their decks, including the Canberra.
    Rest in peace shipmates!

  • Thomas

    Isn’t the Lexington in Corpus Christi?

    • Danny Lewis

      That’s the follow on Lexington, CV16, this is about CV2.

  • Kim

    When the article from the WSJ about finding the submerged “Lady Lex” came into my inbox originally forwarded to my sister from a dear family friend, and then forwarded once again to me, I couldn’t help but tear up…with pride and with memories. Wish I could thank Mr. Paul Allen personally for he and his crew’s persistence and dedication to his incredible explorations. Since I was unable to read the entire WSJ article without a subscription, some internet research led me to this site. Just reading the comments made me feel the presence of my dad who served aboard the USS Lexington, fought as a rear gunner in a TBD in the Battle of the Coral Sea, and was on it on May 8, 1942 when he was forced to abandon her. My dad lived to 83 and is no longer with us, but my siblings and I have his Distinguished Flying Cross that he was awarded for shooting down 2 Japanese planes. His twin brother, a pilot, was only 20 years old, when he was killed during a flight training over Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. I so regret not asking my dad more about his service during the war as he never spoke about it unless directly questioned, but in reading some of the comments on this site, it was like listening to my dad again…..I remember him telling us that the Lady Lex was hit bad enough, and so that she would not fall into enemy hands, she was taken down by our own naval forces…..and then, of course, the story we would occasionally rib him about, until his last day on this earth…..he told us that in his rush to “jump ship” he left $16 in his locker…..whenever he recalled that, he just shook his head in disbelief, almost as if he was disappointed in himself…..a product of the Great Depression and the Greatest Generation. When I look at those incredible underwater pictures of the sunken Lady Lex, curiosity has me wondering if somewhere down there, almost 2 miles under the surface, if there is a locker with $16 sitting inside!
    I can’t thank Mr. Allen enough for finding the aircraft carrier my father served aboard, and I can only imagine the hearts and immense gratefulness of the families who’s loved ones were not fortunate enough to have jumped ship that day in May 1942. After 76 years they are found! May we never forget their sacrifice and may God continue to rest the souls of those brave sailors. 🇺🇸⚓️✈️

    • muzzleloader

      Wonderful post.

    • Jeanne

      My dad was on the USS Lexington and he used to tell a story about some of the sailors waiting to be rescued. One of his buddies had the keys to the ice cream freezer. He unlocked the freezer and they filled their helmets up with ice cream before evacuating. He was also an Eagle Scout and he had his Eagle pin in his locker onboard the carrier. The pin was eventually replaced by The Boy Scouts of America after he told them his was at the bottom of the Coral Sea! I am so grateful for our military who have served and those currently serving to protect our freedom!

      • Joe Riley

        That’s awesome! Yes, in “Queen of the Flattops”, the author related how orderly the preparations to abandon ship were. There were crewmen sitting on the deck eating ice cream from the kitchen. Finally, the Captain said to his X.O. (if I recall), “Well, we’d better get the men off.” My own father, an aviator, went down a net onto a waiting destroyer. “Never got my butt wet!”, he told me – ha!
        His high school class ring went down with her. If they ever locate any footlockers…

  • Danny Lewis

    My Father’s first two years in the Marine Corp were stationed aboard the LEXINGTON, 1938-1940. His love for the LEXINGTON lasted until his passing in 2003. I have his photo album from then, and it is interesting to view all of the places he got to go and see. My Father had two dreams in life, the Cubs winning the World Series and finding the LEXINGTON. Both wishes have now been fulfilled.

    • muzzleloader

      It was a different Navy in your Dad’s day. Personnel were not shipped to different commands so frequently as they are today. In that time, a sailor might spend most of a career on one ship. His shipmates were like brothers, the old Chiefs like uncles, and thier ship was thier home. When ships were lost, wether it was a Carrier or a Criuser, sailors wept because of their sense of loss. God bless you, and your Dad, for his service.

  • El_Sid

    Amazing preservation – and BZ to the submersible engineers, the quality of modern lighting/cameras makes a big difference. But Allen’s not correct in saying she was the first carrier ever sunk, he needs to brush up on his history :

    HMS Courageous (50) 17 September 1939 – U-boat, Ireland
    HMS Glorious (77) 8 June 1940 – Scharnhorst/Gneisenau, North Sea
    HMS Ark Royal (91) 14 November 1941 – U-boat, Gibraltar
    HMS Audacity (D10) 21 December 1941- U-boat, Eastern Atlantic
    USS Langley (CV-1) 27 February 1942 – Japanese air attack off Java
    HMS Hermes (95) 9 April 1942 – Japanese bombers, Sri Lanka
    Shōhō 7 May 1942 – US air attack,in part from Lexington(!), Coral Sea

    (ah – I see he’s now changed that)

    • tiger

      The RN was hard on Carriers.

      • Nina Leo

        Or you could say the Kriegsmarine was.

  • Merlin Dorfman

    I had understood that the Lex’s 8″ guns were unshipped before the Coral Sea battle…in fact were emplaced as coast defense guns on Oahu. Not true?

    • Braddock Grimsley

      They were removed. The author misidentified Lex’s 5in/25 AA guns as 8 inchers.

      • Merlin Dorfman

        Thanks. And IIRC there were plans to replace the 8″ with the iconic 5″/38 cal twin gunhouses which CV3 eventually got but CV2 went to Coral Sea and went down with nothing in those emplacements.
        On the subject of CV2:
        – My understanding is that the 8″ were in gunhouses not armored turrets as on heavy cruisers. Did these emplacements have the shell storage, lifting, and loading mechanisms as on the cruisers? Did the 5″ on CV3 use those facilities or were they removed or left unused?
        – I have a vague recollection of the “Buck Rogers” comic strip ~1950 showing the Lex discovered and used for reclaimed steel–apparently steel was very scarce in the 25th century. But will samples of CV2 steel be brought up? Pre-1945 steel has much less radioactivity than anything since 1945 and has uses in scientific instrumentation.

        • Braddock Grimsley

          Lex had turrets of a similar design to US treaty cruisers, but they were shaped differently. The handling equipment would have varied slightly from gun to gun, but Lex would have had similar equipment to the treaty cruisers.
          I would assume the free space would have been used to store 5″ ammo, but it could have been used to store equipment or spare parts, I’m not entirely sure.
          As for bringing samples up, it would be very unlikely. Lex is a protected war grave, after all. They could possibly bring some of the aircraft up, but it’s all speculation at this point. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  • Steve Hicks

    Sam, the IJN did not sink “Lady Lex”. The U.S. Navy did to keep her from being captured by the IJN.

    • Joe Riley

      Not to keep her from falling into enemy hands. Her internal fires were out of control. The smoke plumes might have alerted the IJN to their position. That’s why torpedoes from the Phelps sent her down.

  • ChrisLongski

    I didn’t know the Lex had any 8-inch guns. I thought those turrets were removed…

  • tiger

    Now lets find a Missing Airbus……….

  • Pops

    Who commenting here could not agree that the USN should have another aircraft carrier named Lexington? Enough of these modern carriers named after mediocre politicians and such. For that matter, another Yorktown and Saratoga would be more fitting for the nation than more politicians names ginned up by the Beltway cabal, the largest self-licking ice cream cone on the planet!