BANGKOK – A piece of prized World War II U.S. naval history, the wreckage of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which was sunk by the Japanese in a crucial sea battle, has been discovered by an expedition funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
The expedition team announced that the wreckage of the Lexington, crippled by the enemy and then scuttled May 8, 1942, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, was found Sunday on the seabed in waters about 2 milesdeep, more than 500 miles off Australia's east coast.
“To pay tribute to the USS Lexington and the brave men that served on her is an honor,” Allen said on his web page.
The battle helped stop a Japanese advance that could have cut off Australia and New Guinea from Allied sea supply routes and crippled two Japanese carriers, leading to a more conclusive U.S. victory at sea a month later at the Battle of Midway.
The sea battle is also famous for being the first in which the opposing ships did not come in sight of each other, carrying out their attacks with carrier-launched aircraft.
Allen's teams have made several previous important shipwreck discoveries, including three other U.S. Navy vessels, an Italian destroyer, and the Japanese battleship Musashi.
The Lexington, which had been affectionately dubbed “Lady Lex,” was badly damaged by bombs and torpedoes, but the order to abandon ship was given only after a secondary explosion set off an uncontrollable fire. Some 216 crew members lost their lives, but 2,770 others were safely evacuated before its sister ship, the destroyer USS Phelps, fired torpedoes to send it to the bottom of the ocean. Allen said on his Twitter account that the ship went down with 35 planes, 11 of which had been found so far by his expedition.
Allen has said that he undertakes such ventures in part to honor his father, who served in World War II, by finding and preserving the artifacts of that conflict.