Devastators and Wildcats from scuttled USS Lexington to be raised from seabed
Five years after the rediscovery of the USS Lexington, 500-odd miles off the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia, a proposal to recover several of the aircraft carrier’s Douglas TBD-1 Devastators and Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats from the seabed has recently been drawn up.
The Lexington was scuttled on 8 May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea after being bombed by Japanese aircraft, and now lies at a depth of 9,800ft. The wreck was discovered in March 2018 by a team on the research vessel M/V Petrel, the expedition being funded by philanthropist Paul Allen, the now deceased Microsoft joint founder who also set up the world-class Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field, Seattle.
Currently there is not a single example of the ill-fated TBD-1 Devastator surviving on dry land. As the carrier descended to the bottom of the Pacific, the aircraft detached from the after-portion flight deck to settle away from the hull of the ship. One of the Wildcats is particularly significant, having been flown by four US Navy aces: Lt Cdr John Smith ‘Jimmy’ Thach, Lt Noel A. Gayler, Lt Albert Vorse and Lt Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare, after whom Chicago’s main airport was subsequently named. According to the classification system employed by the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) of the Smithsonian Institution, all of these airframes are rated category one — aircraft which are historically significant by their use in a specific event of note.
The management of the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida, the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum in Michigan and the National Museum of the US Navy in Washington DC have indicated they wish for these aircraft to be displayed in their museums. None of the aircraft are grave sites, and the great depth at which they have lain for 80 years has ensured that they are in reasonably good condition. A and T Recovery — set up by Allan Olson and Taras Lyssenko, and which has an excellent track record, having successfully recovered 40 World War Two US Navy aircraft from Lake Michigan — is behind the proposal. It is hoped an expedition to recover these hugely significant airframes will be mounted during the summer of 2023.