Lexington class battlecruisers

The Lexington class battlecruisers were the first American battlecruisers to reach the construction stage, but were cancelled before being completed. The US Navy had first considered building battlecruisers in 1912 in response to the Japanese Kongo class ships. These ships would have been nearer to fast battleships than to true battlecruisers, with relatively heavy armour, but at the time budget constraints meant that the navy concentrated on battleships instead.

The Lexington class battlecruisers were ordered as part of the 1916 programme. They were to act as part of a 35kt scouting force, operating alongside the Omaha class cruisers and flush deck destroyers. This force was to act as a scouting force in support of the main battle fleet. The Lexington class ships thus needed to be capable of surviving a clash with enemy battlecruisers but not with battleships.

The basic design was scaled up from a series of 10,000-14,000 ton cruiser designs. The first version was for a 34,800 ton ships armed with ten 14in guns in two twin and two triple turrets. In 1917 this was changed to eight 16in guns. In order to achieve its design speed the Lexington class ships needed 180,000shp. When they were first designed this needed 24 large boilers. Only half could fit below the armoured deck, so they would have been split, with half above the armour. In 1917 all capital ship construction was suspended in favour of merchant ships and the anti-submarine warfare programme. When work resumed the larger boilers had been replaced by sixteen small-tube boilers, all of which could fit below the protected deck. The design was also modified by that of HMS Hood which greatly impressed contemporary observers, and by the British analysis of the loss of British battlecruisers at the battle of Jutland. This reported that the lack of armour wasn't a problem but poor anti-flash protection had been, and so the Lexington class ships received an improved arrangement of magazines and a sloped armour belt.

All six Lexington class ships were laid down in 1920-21 but it was soon clear that they wouldn't be needed as battlecruisers. Early in 1921 the Navy began to consider converting them into carriers. Work on the battlecruisers was cancelled after the Washington Naval Treaty. Constellation, Constitution and United States were simply scrapped. The material gathered for the battlecruiser Ranger was used to construct the US Navy's first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger CV4. Lexington and Saratoga was completed as aircraft carriers, with the designations CV2 and CV3.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Emergency full load


Top Speed



12,000nm at 10kts

Armour – belt


 - turret face


 - turret side


 - barbette


 - coning tower





105ft 4in


Eight 16in guns in four twin turrets
Sixteen 6in guns
Four 3in guns
Eight 21in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1,297 normal
1,326 as flagship

Ships in Class


USS Lexington

Completed as carrier CV 2

USS Constellation

Cancelled 17 August 1923

USS Saratoga

Completed as carrier CV 3

USS Ranger

Cancelled 17 August 1923

USS Constitution

Cancelled 17 August 1923

USS United States

Cancelled 17 August 1923

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (31 May 2012), Lexington class battlecruisers , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_lexington_class_battlecruisers.html

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