FC (Mk. 3) Radar Antenna on the Lexington – April/May 1942

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After studying numerous references, including wreck photos and refit plans, I’ve finally installed the FC radar on my 1/700 USS Lexington (CV-2) to more accurately reflect its appearance at the time of its loss during the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942.

My current modeling project is a Coral Sea Lexington – more precisely the ship after it left a March 26 – April 15, 1942 refit at Pearl Harbor. For most of the 80+ years after her loss, what precisely was changed on Lexington during that refit was not known. Certainly it was known that her AA armament was beefed up, most prominently by removing her four massive cruiser 8″ gun turrets, but beyond that it was unclear what precisely was changed.

The discovery something over 24 years ago of plans for and some of the photos of that refit for the first time gives us the ability to study what was done – and not done – in that brief refit. While the photos of the turret removal have been published several times, it wasn’t until Wiper’s excellent 2009 Warship Pictorial #33 on Lexington that I saw the plans themselves. I’ll go through the details of the plans when I finish the build, but for purposes of this post I will concentrate on the installation of the Mk. 3 FC radar antenna on the roof of the forward 8″ director platform.

Mk. 3 FC Radar Antenna

Mk. 3 FC Radar Antenna

The FC – also referred to as Mark 3 or Mk. 3 – was a main battery fire control radar, first tested in May 1941, used often on U.S. surface combatants – battleships and cruisers, for example. It did not provide height information, but used lobe switching to achieve high directional accuracy. It was a significant improvement over the existing CXAM-1 radar, installed on Lexington in June 1941. both in terms of what it could do and how reliable it was. Stern at. p. 127, 129. Its most effective use was probably in the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal when it allowed the U.S. battleship Washington to straddle the Japanese battleship Hiei with its very first salvo, and quickly disable it. See FC Fire Control Radar, The Pacific War Encyclopedia.

Lexington‘s sister ship Saratoga had two FC units installed to direct its main battery of 8″ guns during and immediately after a November 1941 refit but, importantly, it was also used as a backup air search set, and Saratoga was very complimentary of it. Stern, p. 128-29. Stern states that while Lexington was scheduled to received a FC installation, it was not accomplished before her loss. Id. at 129.

It now appears that this is incorrect, and Lexington did received a single FC installation on the roof of the forward 8″ director platform during the March/April refit.

CV-2 March/April 1942 refit plans, reproduced in Wiper p. 36-37

Wiper, p. 36-37. The installation was described as a “Temp.[orary] Composite FC Radar Ant.[enna] Eleva.[tion] & Train Mounting / Train Drive Units”.

Wiper, p. 51

Wiper specifically calls out the installation in a photo in the publication. Wiper, p. 51.

But we now have confirmation of the installation from another source – the Lexington itself. The RV Petrel team, sponsored by Paul G. Allen, took video footage of the carrier’s wreck on March 3-4-2018, including detailed photographs of the remains of the island. The very helpful analysis by Into the Breach clued me into the island photos, which included one he puzzled over, eventually concluding that it was “possibly” the 5″ director platform.

But it’s not – it’s a view from directly over the roof of the forward 8″ director platform, and specifically shows the FC director mount at above left – right where the plans said it would be, and the famous photo from May 8 shows it.

How to Model It In 1/700

Fortunately the Mk. 3 radar is present in GMM’s 1/700 Naval Ship set, which provides not one, but two of these tiny radars. And coincidentally I had just installed the other one on my old 1992 scratchbuilt battleship Texas year before last.

So I simply replicated that on the 8″ director roof of my Lexington.

Sources:

FC Fire Control Radar, The Pacific War Encyclopedia, http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/F/c/FC_fire_control_radar.htm (accessed February 4, 2024).

Stern, Robert C., The Lexington Class Carriers, (Naval Institute Press: Annapolis, 1993).

Wiper, Steve, USS Lexington (CV-2); Warship Pictorial 33, (Classic Warships Publishing: Tucson, 2009)

The Wreck of the USS Lexington, an Ongoing Analysis, Into the Breech, http://uncommonsenseok.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-wreck-of-uss-lexington-brief.html (accessed February 4, 2024).

NH 84812 Mk. 3 FC Radar Antenna, https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-84000/NH-84812.html (accessed February 4, 2024).

RV Petrel Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/rvpetrel/ (accessed February 4, 2024).

About Post Author

Michael C. Smith

Marshall, Texas lawyer. I post on things that attract my interest while puttering in my study. Mostly family, books, home, history, World War II and scale modeling.
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