The Battle of The Coral Sea:
The Tide Turns
In the spring of 1942, after Japanís successful attack on Pearl Harbor and invasions throughout the islands of the Pacific Ocean, Japan planned to expand its empire towards Australia. Japan controlled a quarter of the globe. Japan would try to extend its empire southeast, taking the sea lanes of the south Pacific so they could attack ships that went by, cutting off China and Australia from the United States. They would first concentrate on taking over Port Moresby, a main Allied base in New Guinea. For two months, Japan strengthened its bases on the island of New Britain. This would put Japan into position for invading northern Australia. By May 4, 1942, Japan had gathered a very powerful fleet, including 6 aircraft carriers, and Japanís navy headed toward Port Moresby.
The Secretís Out:
That didnít surprise Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet. U.S. code-breakers broke the Japanese navyís secret code. This helped the U.S. because it could
find out where and when Japan was going to attack, so they could get ready to defend themselves. Admiral Nimitz sent two carriers, the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown, to the Coral Sea to stop the Japanese.
The battle of the Coral Sea was the first naval battle in history where the opposing ships never saw each other. Planes launched from the decks of the aircraft carriers fought the entire battle. After the Japanese invaded Tagula (a small island to the north of the Guadalcanal, off the east coast of New Guinea), the U.S. navy attacked quickly with planes from the Yorktown. Although the U.S. planes sank several small Japanese ships with this attack, it made the Japanese aware that there was a U.S. carrier nearby, and Japanese pilots started to search for the U.S. carrier. The U.S. lied to their leaders by saying they sunk numbers of warships, but they really caused little damage. They lied so their people would stay calm.
A Big Game of Hide and Go Seek:
On May 7, a Japanese search pilot thought he found a U.S. carrier and cruiser. Japanese bombers were launched from the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, but they only found two small U.S. ships, the Sims and the Neosho. The Japanese bombers left to try to find the U.S. carrier and cruiser without attacking, so they could cause more destruction than just destroying two small ships. They couldnít find the main U.S. force, so they went back to bomb the two small U.S. ships that they had found earlier. The Sims went down in less than a minute, and the Neosho was left burning and helplessly floating on the ocean. More than 400 people died aboard the Sims and Neosho.
A half an hour later, a U.S. search pilot found the Japanese carrier, Shoho, with its group of cruisers and destroyers. Air group commander, William Ault, led his bombers down first. Bombs and torpedoes almost destroyed the carrier. Fire covered the flight deck. As the attack went on, the Shohoís power died and fire spread all over the ship. For the first time in history, a Japanese carrier had been sunk.
It was raining, but planes from the USS Yorktown took off, searching for the Japanese navy. Thirty-nine planes tried to fly down onto the Japanese carriers, the Shokaku and the Zuikaku. The Zuikaku was hidden by a rain storm, so the Americans focused their attack on the Shokaku. Dive-bombers waited for torpedo planes to get into position, which gave Shokaku time to launch its fighters. The Japanese fighters forced most of the U.S. planes to launch their torpedoes from too far away to hit their target, but Lieutenant John Powers flew to within 300 feet of the Shokaku before dropping his bomb, seriously damaging the flight deck. His plane crashed, and he died. Two more bombs hit the flight deck, making it impossible for planes to land or take off from the Shokaku. Lieutenant Powers changed the course of the war. In order to allow the Shokakuís pilots to land, the crew of the Zuikaku had to push their own planes overboard to make room for them. Slowly, Shokaku withdrew from the battle.
Japanese pilots had better luck. The U.S. only had 15 fighters on combat air patrol, so the U.S. carriers didnít have a lot of protection. The Japanese planes hit the Yorktown with a 551 pound bomb, which created fires, killed 66 men, and forced the ship to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
Itís a Hit:
The USS Lexington wasnít very fortunate, either. The leader of the second attack at Pearl Harbor, Japanese Lieutenant Commander Sizekazu Shimekazu, dove his squad of torpedo planes at the Lexington. Two small bombs hit the deck and the smokestack. Two torpedoes crashed into its port side. Fires spread over the boat, trapping sailors below deck.
Within an hour, the crew put out the fires and had the Lexington almost back to normal. The damage seemed under control until a spark from an electric generator, accidentally left running, lit steering fuel vapors on fire below deck. The 900-foot long carrier erupted in a huge explosion. Three destroyers and two cruisers stood by to help as Admiral Fitch gave the order to abandon ship. Even Fitchís dog, wrapped in a life jacket, was rescued by one of the U.S. ships standing by. Rather than having it float aimlessly, the Americans sunk the Lexington.
Loss, Yet Victory:
The Battle of the Coral Sea was a strategic victory for the U.S. Japan lost one carrier and two carriers were severely damaged, so they would not be there for the Battle of Midway. The Shokaku would take two months to repair, but the Zuikaku was missing too many planes to continue. Although the U.S. lost one carrier and had one severely damaged, the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby was postponed forever.
David Matusek. The Battle of the Coral Sea. <http://www.geocities.com/Bunker/2206/> Last Visited: February, 2002.
Edwin P. Hoyt. The Battle of the Coral Sea. <http://users.pandora.be/dave.depickere/Text/coral.html> Last Visited: March, 2002.
Stokesbury, James L. "World War II." World Book 2001, 2001.
Wright, Micheal. "The Coral Sea." The World at Arms, 1989.