America’s Only Battlecruiser

America’s Only Battlecruiser

A painting of the Lexington class’ original planned configuration

The USN 1916 Naval Act included a class of battle cruisers but they were delayed while more urgent ships were built.

After the war the battle cruiser project started up with the Lexington class.

The first design was for a ship of 42,600 tons armed with 10 x 14 inch guns and a speed of 35 knots. To achieve the required shp the ship had boilers on two decks with most below the main armoured deck along the hull and some above the armoured deck.

Saratoga on 8 March 1922, after her construction had been suspended. The circular barbettes on blocks on her deck were intended for the battlecruiser’s main battery

The turbines were between in the center of the boilers that were each side of the turbines. This arrangement required 7 funnels.

As America moved to 16 inch guns for the battleships Lexington was redesigned with 8 x 16 inch guns, plus Britain gave America details on HMS Hood. The new design had the machinery laid out similar to Hood with the boilers ahead of the turbine rooms.

HMS Hood, which influenced the design of the Lexingtons

The final design was 42,600 tons, 8 x 16 inch, 14 x 6 inch guns, 4 x 3 inch AA guns and 8 x 21 inch torpedo tubes. The main belt remained at 5 to 7 inches and the deck was 1.5 to 2.5 inches. The speed was reduced to 33 knots with 180,000 shp.

Constitution under construction in Philadelphia in July 1921. Seven months before work was suspended pending the outcome of the Washington Naval Conference
After ships were lain down construction was stopped due to the Washington Naval Treaty and then the battle cruiser program was cancelled with two hulls converted into carriers.
Contemporary photograph of a painting by Louise Larned, 1922, depicting the definitive design of the Lexington class. Whose construction was cancelled under the Washington Naval Limitations Treaty.

If the WNT never happened and the Lexington’s were built they would have been out classed by British and Japanese new battle cruiser. Comparing the Lexington battle cruisers to the British G3’s and Japanese Amagi class showed the weaknesses in the Lexington’s in that the guns were good but the armour was too light.

G3’s 48,000 tons, 9 x 16 inch, 16 x 6 inch guns, 6 x 4.7 inch AA guns plus many pompoms.

IJN battlecruiser Kongō, for which the Lexington class was to be a response

The G3’s would have made 32 knots with 160,000 shp and have a 12 to 14 inch main belt and decks from 3 to 8 inches. The Amagi class at 46,000 tons and armed with 10 x 16 inch guns, a 10 inch belt and a 30 knot speed was slower but had more 16 inch guns. Two of the Lexington class hulls that were converted to large fast carriers served the navy better that they would have as battle cruisers in WWII.

Lexington shortly before her launch, circa 1925

So as carriers the two Lexingtons were very successful.

Written by David O Connell

America’s Only Battlecruiser

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