USS Lexington (CV-2) was recently discovered some 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia in the Coral Sea by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen this past Sunday.
“Lady Lex,” as she was known, was scuttled after receiving numerous bomb and torpedo hits from Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942. The battle was the first in history in which the various ships from opposing sides never sighted nor fired upon one another. The battle was mainly fought by fighter, torpedo and dive bomber aircraft from the U.S. and Japanese fleet carriers, which included Lexington and USS Yorktown (CV-3), as well as Imperial Japanese Navy carriers Shoho and Shokaku. To prevent her capture, Lady Lex was sent two miles to the bottom by USS Phelps (DD-360), taking 216 crew members with her.
The photos taken by R/V Petrel show sections of Lexington, as well as some of the 35 aircraft that had also been sent to the bottom. Among some shots of almost pristine looking Devastator torpedo bombers, a much-talked about Grumman F4F Wildcat complete with Felix the Cat insignia of VF-3, as well as the markings for four aerial kills, has led to speculation over whom the pilot of the fighter had been. Many have speculated it was Ensign Dale Peterson, who had flown alongside famed pilots Lt. Butch O’Hare and Lt. Cmdr. Jimmy Thach. However, Ens. Peterson was killed on May 8, 1942, during an air mission flying escort for bombers of VT-2 against Shokaku, hundreds of miles away from Lexington. He also had only 1.5 kills in his tragically brief career as a fighter pilot. Some have also claimed the owner of the White F5 was Lt. Noel Gayler, a decorated pilot who later retired from the Navy as an admiral.
Despite ongoing research and arguments concerning the U.S. Navy aircraft lying two miles below the Coral Sea, the discovery of Lady Lex, following so closely after Allen’s discovery of the tragic USS Indianapolis (CA-35), has really left World War II and naval history buffs excited.