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CC-1 Lexington Class

During the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, battle cruisers were built by Great Britain, Germany and Japan, initially as an expansion of the armored cruiser type and later as a kind of fast battleship. The U.S. Navy had avoided the type until the great "Preparedness" movement of 1916 spawned a program to built six.

The six battle cruisers of the Lexington class, authorized under the 1917-1919 building programs, were the only ships of their type ever ordered by the U.S. Navy. Intended as fast combat scouts for the battle fleet, these large ships had a prolonged development history. Their original 1916 design was to displace 34,300 tons with a main battery of ten 14-inch guns, relatively light armor and a speed of 35 knots. By 1919, the plans had been recast on the basis of World War I experience to produce larger ships armed with 16-inch guns, better protection and a slightly lower speed. The ship's arrangement amidships, featured two very long centerline machinery spaces, each with four boiler rooms to each side and torpedo protection bulkheads outboard of the boiler rooms.

An index of the tremendous size of the United States Hattle Cruiser Sataratoga, under construction at New York Ship, was the power plant with which she was to be equipped. If, for example, the Snratoga should steam into Boston Harbor and her generators should be connected with the electric circuits of that city, the 181,ooo H.P. of these generators would furnish sufficient electrical power to light the city, run all of the street railway systems and supply all other needs for electricity. This huge power plant, consisting of twenty watertube boilers, four main turbines and eight generators, supplied current for the electric drive of the four propeller shafts, and provide a speed of 33.6 knots for this 44,973-ton vessel.

The Saratoga, of which the keel was laid on 25 September 1920, on the longest of the covered ways, was to have a length of 874 feet, with a beam of 105 feet, depth of 56 feet and draft of 31 feet. Her armament included eight 16-inch guns, and she was to carry a crew of 1,165. This battle cruiser is one of six, authorized in 1917, which were placed under construction in government and private yards, and were the largest and most powerful type of fighting craft built to date.

On 1 December 1917, Constitution was renamed Old Constitution to permit her original name to be assigned to a projected battle cruiser. Given first to CC-1 (renamed Lexington) then to CC-5 (originally named Ranger), the name Constitution was restored to "old Ironsides" on 24 July 1925, after the battle cruiser program had been cancelled under the Washington naval treaty. Constitution (CC-5) was some 13.4 percent complete at the time of her cancellation.

Construction of the Lexington class ships was held up by other priorities during the First World War, and none of them were laid down until mid-1920. The following year's naval limitations conference in Washington, DC, had these expensive battle cruisers, and their Japanese and British contemporaries, among its main targets. Following adoption of the Washington Treaty, their construction was stopped in February 1922. The treaty allowed the conversion of two of the battle cruiser hulls to the aircraft carriers Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3). The other four were formally cancelled in August 1923 and scrapped on their building ways.

USS Lexington, a 33,000-ton aircraft carrier, was converted while under construction from the battle cruiser of the same name. Built at Quincy, Massachusetts, and commissioned in December 1927, Lexington was one of the U.S. Navy's first two aircraft carriers that were large and fast enough to be capable of serious fleet operations. During the late 1920s, through the 1930s and into the early 1940s, she took an active part in the development of carrier techniques, fleet doctrine and in the operational training of a generation of Naval Aviators.

Some have argued that the Washington naval treaties limited advances in carriers, particularly multi-carrier operations. But it appears that USS Langley, USS Lexington, and USS Saratoga would not have been built faster without treaties. Yet key developmental work was done on them and was directly reflected in the design of the USS Essex class carriers. By the time more carriers became available in the late 1930s, the treaties were no longer in force. Lacking treaties, USS Lexington and USS Saratoga would have been completed as battle cruisers. What kind of carriers America might have designed then is hard to know, but Britain had sent the design of its first built-for-purpose carrier to the United States in late 1917, and one may wonder if and why American designers would have de-parted significantly from the plans of the acknowledged world leaders. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, paid an immediate and lasting price for its four extant carriers. Given the inability to replace them for budgetary reasons, it was stuck with the physical limits built into them. Since that directly affected aircraft design, and in turn concepts of operation, the Royal Navy was effectively locked into learning the wrong lessons from the wrong ships.

The CC hull number series was resurrected in the early 1960s for assignment to a group of command ships. However, this usage was completely separate from the battle cruiser hull number series.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:36:42 ZULU