From the first day of the encounter, both the Japanese and American commanders labored under inaccurate reconnaissance reports. The battle also resulted in a major impact on Japanese naval resources, and would later create problems for them at the Battle of Midway.The battle unfoldsAt 6 a.m. The Japanese planes were flown off the Zuikaku in search of the enemy that they feared might approach sternward.When the Japanese search planes spotted ships in the east at 7:30, they began to believe that the coming engagement would be an early victory. As it turned out, those ships were not the American carriers, but the American destroyer Sims, and the oiler Neosho. Little did they know that the approaching battle would be between heavily-armed and lightly-protected aircraft carriers.Shortly before 8 a.m., the Japanese scout planes flew over the Neosho and the Sims. The report from the pilots described them as a "carrier and a cruiser." Erroneous reports like that made the enemy think that they were approaching a much larger force than what was really in the water. The ships did not have any time to react and the stricken Sims was sinking fast. The badly hit Neosho was drifting in the sea. The crew of the Neosho radioed its position and also was ordered to abandon ship. They were barely able to get the message out before the power went off, and as they waited in the cold life rafts, they figured they would not be rescued for days.A few hours later, the Yorktown carrier dispatched scout planes. That group consisted of the light carrier Shoho and four heavy cruisers. When the message was sent back to base, it was heard as “two carriers and four heavy cruisers.” With the thought that a huge striking force was on its way, the Yorktown and the Lexington ordered 53 scout-bombers, 22 torpedo planes, and 18 fighters to take off. So many bombs were dropped that the Shoho sank in minutes.The Japanese were furious with the successful attacks from the United States, and decided to attempt an assault from a different angle. After that failure, the Japanese suspended the attack at Port Moresby while they awaited the outcome of the Coral Sea battles.On May 8, the Japanese and American carrier commanders concentrated once again on finding the enemy before the other. Soon after ascertaining the Japanese fleet's position, the U.S. Fitch, a veteran of the Langley, Lexington, and Saratoga.Both Japanese and American planes came upon their respective enemies at about 11 a.m. However, the American attack on the Shokaku carrier left the ship unable to launch any planes. planes were followed later by part of the Lexington's air force. The Shokaku was so badly damaged that the ship had to be returned to the Japanese mainland for repairs. The sister ship Zuikaku lay under heavy weather nearby and was not seen by the Americans.The Japanese began their attack just after 11 that morning. It was a heavy swipe at the Lexington. About an hour later, the Lexington was still afloat, having withstood the beating from the air, but fires began to appear. The crew managed to put out the fires, and the ship was declared still in service.The battle winds downBy the end of the day, the Japanese and the Americans had pulled back from the immediate fighting area. The next day, the Japanese sent the Zuikaku back to the battle waters for a few days to ensure that the Americans would not come back to attack them, but their supplies were low, and they had to withdraw the carrier on May 11. At the same time, the Yorktown was ordered back to Pearl Harbor for some quick repairs. The Battle of the Coral Sea signaled a major development in the war because it decisively stemmed the Japanese drive to the south — and Australia.
To keep the US and Europeans out of the South Pacific, the Japanese intended to invade Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. The US found out about the project through signals intelligence and joined up with the Australians to oppose the attack. The Japanese had decided that if they captured the important port, they would be able to use New Guinea as a base. From there, they could attack Australia, Fiji, and Samoa. The Japanese project was labeled Operation MO.
The Americans send out ships to participate in what would become the Battle of the Coral Sea
When the Americans discovered that Operation MO was being planned, they gave it their highest priority. Their codebreakers advised the attack was scheduled for May 3. They also said the Japanese route to New Guinea included passing through the Coral Sea. The Americans would be waiting.
Battle of the Coral Sea - History
By John Wukovits
World War II was less than six months old when the American public, already stunned by the debacles at Pearl Harbor and Guam, faced one of its darkest moments. Thousands of miles across the Pacific, the American commander in the Philippines, Maj. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, surrendered to the Japanese. “With broken heart and head bowed in sadness but not in shame,” he radioed on May 6 to President Franklin D. Roosevelt from his bastion at Corregidor, “I report to your excellency that today I must arrange terms for the surrender of the fortified islands of Manila Bay.”
But the tides of war often turn dramatically. Within 72 hours, American ships, planes, and sheer guts would turn gloom and despair into optimism and hope in a little-known portion of the South Pacific. The naval encounter in the Coral Sea, the lustrous waters bordering Australia’s northeast coast, would knock the Japanese back on their heels and give both the American public and its military cause to celebrate.
The Japanese steamed into the Coral Sea with every reason to believe that another success lay before them. They had triumphed everywhere in the Pacific since December 7, 1941, when they had administered a crushing blow to ill-prepared American naval units at Pearl Harbor. What could possibly halt them now?
Intercepting the Japanese Plans
Three Japanese naval forces converged on the Coral Sea. A left arm under Rear Admiral Kujohide Shima, featuring one minelayer, two destroyers, a transport, and various smaller craft, would seize the small island of Tulagi off Guadalcanal’s northern coast in the Solomon Islands for use as a seaplane base. At the same time, Rear Admiral Sadamichi Kajioka’s right arm of 12 troop transports, escorted by the new light carrier Shoho and four heavy cruisers, would advance south from Rabaul, steam through Jomard Passage in the Louisiades, and seize Port Moresby on the southeast coast of New Guinea. This bold thrust would place Japanese forces within easy range of Australia itself and threaten vital American supply lines to the distant Allied nation.
To the east of the Coral Sea, Vice Admiral Takao Takagi led two carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, proud veterans of Pearl Harbor, escorted by two heavy cruisers and six destroyers, to intercept any American naval force trying to halt the Port Moresby invasion. Most Japanese commanders doubted that any American carriers remained in the region. They fully expected to achieve their objectives before the United States could mount an effective answer.
The United States, however, was more aware of the unfolding events than the Japanese realized. Due to the tireless efforts of American code breakers, analysts could read up to 15 percent of the Japanese JN-25 code, their most widely used code. Radio analysis plotted Japanese movements by studying the location, volume, and pattern of intercepted messages, giving Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, vital information on enemy troop movements.
By early April, the Navy’s intelligence team at Pearl Harbor under Lt. Cmdr. Joseph J. Rochefort was able to provide Nimitz with details of the Japanese plans for the Coral Sea offensive. Rochefort estimated that the Japanese had no intention of invadeing Australia itself, but that they would shortly launch an operation to seize the eastern end of New Guinea. This move would be quickly followed by a vast operation in the Pacific that would involve most of the Combined Fleet.
The news greatly concerned Nimitz, whose capabilities were hampered by the absence of Admiral William Halsey and two carriers, then taking part in the Doolittle air raid of mainland Japan. At a time when he most needed every resource at his disposal, a key component of Nimitz’s air arm was busy on a bombing raid against Tokyo. He had two remaining carriers to deploy, but if he committed them to the Coral Sea, he left an unprotected Pearl Harbor open to further attack.
Nimitz’s intelligence officer, Commander Edward T. Layton, reassured him that no enemy naval forces were steaming toward Hawaii. Nimitz decided to gamble. The enemy may have more powerful forces to commit to battle, but Nimitz knew their plans in advance and thus had the element of surprise on his side. He could place his ships at optimum positions to halt the Japanese advance.
The Race to the Coral Sea
On April 25, Nimitz met in San Francisco with Admiral Ernest King, commander of the U.S. Fleet and chief of naval operations. King and Nimitz both worried that Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, who commanded the two available aircraft carriers, was too timid, but they doubted that the more aggressive Halsey would return from the Doolittle Raid in time to be involved in the coming action. Called “Whiskey Jack,” Fletcher was aboard the carrier Yorktown when his orders arrived. He was to rendezvous with Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch’s TF-11, anchored by the carrier Lexington, 300 miles south of Tulagi at a position called Point Buttercup. There they were to join four cruisers coming from Australia under Australian Admiral Sir John Crace and halt the Japanese, even though Fletcher commanded a mere half of the firepower his opponent could bring to bear.
As Fletcher churned to the Coral Sea, Halsey returned from his raid. On April 25, he entered Pearl Harbor with Hornet and Enterprise, only to learn that he would soon be on his way to the South Pacific. He was to depart no later than April 30 and race 3,500 miles across the Pacific to the Coral Sea. If Halsey arrived in time to participate in the battle, he would be the senior commander and would take charge of all four carriers, including Fletcher’s Yorktown and Lexington. Halsey was six days away from the Coral Sea.
On May 3, the Japanese occupied Tulagi, and Fletcher hurried north on his own rather than rendezvousing with Fitch or Crace. This bold move divided his forces, leaving him vulnerable to a strong Japanese attack, but luck was on his side as a massive cold front containing rain squalls and winds up to 35 knots hid him from enemy search planes.
Japanese aircraft aboard Kuikaku prepare for a morning sortie on May 5, 1942.
Twelve Devastator torpedo planes and 28 Dauntless dive-bombers lifted off Yorktown shortly after 7 am on May 4, flying without fighter protection, which Fletcher needed to hold back in case the carrier was attacked. An hour later, Lt. Cmdr. William O. Burch led the bombing raid against Tulagi. Most of the Dauntlesses’ bombs fell wide of their marks, in part because their windows and gun sights had fogged over when the planes dropped from cooler temperatures in the upper altitudes to the warmer climes below. The Devastators proved ineffective as well, hitting only one minesweeper with 11 torpedoes. Two subsequent runs produced similarly disappointing results, with most bombs hitting far from their targets.
Fletcher, encouraged by accounts that his aviators had innocently exaggerated, reported to Nimitz that he had sunk two enemy destroyers, three gunboats, and a cargo ship and damaged several others. “Some fun!” he told Nimitz. His commander radioed back: “Congratulations and well done to you and your force. Hope you can exploit your success with augmented force.” Fletcher, in truth, had inflicted only minor damage. The Japanese lost the destroyer Kikuzuki, two light minesweepers, and a merchant minesweeper.
The air attack on Tulagi spurred the Japanese to action as they now knew, much to their consternation, that at least one American carrier was operating in the area. In response, the Japanese sent Admiral Takagi with Shokaku and Zuikaku from Rabaul, escorted by two heavy cruisers, around the eastern end of the Solomons into the Coral Sea. They had one thought in mind—find and destroy the American carriers.
For two days the opposing forces scoured the Coral Sea without success, coming within 70 miles of each other on May 6 without realizing it. One Japanese land-based search plane sighted and correctly reported Fletcher’s position that day, but that resulted in no response when the report was routed through Rabaul instead of directly to Takagi.
Drawing Off the Japanese Attack
Fletcher and Takagi sent search planes out again on the morning of May 7. A Japanese pilot spotted the tanker Neosho and her escort, the destroyer Sims, at 7:36 am, but in his excitement the pilot reported the pair as a carrier and a cruiser. Armed with this misleading information, Takagi launched all planes from both his carriers, and it was not until they arrived over the American vessels that the Japanese realized they had not found the aircraft carriers.
The two American ships below were helpless against the onslaught that followed. Four planes broke off from one wave of Neosho attackers to strafe and bomb the tanker, spitting bullets topside and against the hull. Other aircraft rocked Sims with three bombs. The first landed on the no. 2 torpedo mount and exploded in the forward engine room, the second hit the after upper deck house and exploded in the after engine room, and the third bomb smashed onto the no. 4 gun. Within a minute, Sims split in half and began to sink. As the destroyer disappeared, a sailor in the water saw the captain, Lt. Cmdr. Willford M. Hyman, on the bridge, “riding her down like one of the captains of old.” A huge explosion lifted the ship 10 feet out of the water, leaving only 68 survivors.
At the same time, Neosho absorbed seven hits, including a suicide plane smacking into the no. 4 gun station. The ship’s machine gunners remained at their jobs, firing at the enemy planes even though two men were killed instantly, one being decapitated by flying fragments. Captain John S. Phillips and the crew drifted powerless for four days in the damaged Neosho before a rescue ship, the destroyer Henley, located them on May 11. After removing 123 survivors, Henley sank the oiler with torpedoes. In all, 235 men were lost on Sims and another 179 on Neosho.
This attack cost Takagi only six planes, but the disappointed commander was after larger targets. Instead of hunting down enemy carriers, his air units had been occupied all morning against secondary vessels. Neosho and Sims had unwittingly drawn the attack the Japanese intended for the carriers, leaving Fletcher untouched and free to strike. There was only one problem—he had not yet located the Japanese. It was not for a lack of trying. Fletcher split his force at dawn, sending Crace west to block a Japanese advance through the Louisiades while Fletcher headed north to guard the route.
Bypassing an American destroyer, a Japanese dive-bomber heads straight for the carrier Lexington.
“Dixon to Carrier. Scratch One Flattop!”
Fletcher’s hunt apparently ended at 8:15 when a search plane sent word of two carriers and four heavy cruisers 175 miles northwest of Fletcher. Convinced that he had discovered Takagi’s main force, Fletcher ordered all planes to attack. The force was already on its way when the pilot returned and reported that instead of carriers, he had actually sighted two heavy cruisers and two destroyers. Fletcher erupted at the news, telling the unfortunate pilot that his error had just cost the United States two carriers. Fletcher’s planes were now flying against comparatively minor targets and speeding away at a time when he needed them to defend against Takagi’s carriers, which had to be somewhere close.
The planes sent to hit the supposed two carriers did not return empty-handed, however. As they raced toward what they thought would be Takagi’s main force, American pilots stumbled on Shoho and four heavy cruisers just north of the Jomard Passage in the Louisiades. At 10:50 am, 93 planes attacked, but as it was not yet standard procedure to have a strike coordinator, all the aircraft went after the big game—the carrier—and left the cruisers untouched. An aerial melee ensued as Japanese fighters rose to meet the intruders, following the Americans as they dipped to deliver their attacks. Lt. Cmdr. Robert Dixon of Lexington said the fighters “came right on down with us in a terrible free-for-all mix-up, staying with us right to the water.”
The surprised Shoho still had planes on her deck and elevator. When she turned into the wind to launch, she presented an easy target to American aviators. Bombs struck near the after elevator and exploded inside the rear hangar at 11:20, while five torpedoes crashed into the starboard stern, wrecking the carrier’s steering and propulsion. In less than 30 minutes, Shoho was dead in the water.
The carrier sank after a tremendous explosion, flames leaping 400 feet into the air. More than 600 of the 900-man Japanese crew died, and all but three planes were lost. Shoho was the first Japanese ship larger than a destroyer sunk by Americans in the war. An excited Dixon uttered a memorable phrase that was widely printed by newspapers back home when he radioed back: “Scratch one flattop! Dixon to carrier. Scratch one flattop!”
Numbers Against Battle Experience
The carrier’s loss caused Takagi, who first wanted to destroy the American forces, to order the transports heading toward Port Moresby to remain north of the Louisiades rather than continue through Jomard Passage. The pullback marked the farthest south the Japanese would reach in the war. The steady advance begun on December 7 had been halted. From this point on, the Japanese would be heading in the opposite direction.
That night Takagi dispatched another group of aircraft to locate and hit Fletcher. The planes failed to find their quarry, and as they returned American fighters pounced on them, shooting down nine in the process. Eighteen surviving Japanese planes continued searching for their own carriers in the dark. When they spotted carrier lights, the pilots blinked a request in Morse code to land, but were greeted instead by hostile antiaircraft fire. In the darkness they had flown toward Lexington, which shot down more of the group as the rest fled.
Fletcher considered sending a surface force to engage the Japanese, but without clear knowledge of their location, he did not want to split his force. He needed every ship and aircraft for whatever lay ahead the next day. Fletcher possessed 122 aircraft and five heavy cruisers, one more of each than what Takagi brought to the battle. The Americans had the edge in destroyers and radar, but Takagi’s force was battle tested and experienced, while Fletcher’s was not. Whichever commander found the other first would have the upper hand.
Anticipating a Clash
May 8 was torridly hot. Expecting battle, medical teams aboard the American carriers and escort vessels prepared surgical dressings and morphine. Yorktown’s canteen issued 10,000 candy bars so that the sailors would have something to eat while at their battle stations. Miles distant, the Japanese handed out rice cakes to their crews. It looked to be a long day for both sides.
Eighteen scouting planes lifted off from Lexington at 5 am. The ship’s captain, Frederick C. Sherman, concluded that the skies would be filled with aircraft from both sides trying to locate the other. Chances were that the opponents would see each other at the same time, creating a situation in which the two foes might deliver their knockout blows at the same time. “There we were,” wrote news correspondent Stanley Johnston, aboard Lexington, “two powerful air-striking forces within 30 miles of one another wrapped in the invisibility lent by a rainy night. All of us felt that morning would bring a momentous day. In our enemy we recognized a tough, fanatical foe whose courage and cunning could not be discounted. Our forces appeared about equal. It seemed to be a question of who would get the first blow home. All of us felt that history was in the making.”
The situation called for risks, and at 7:15 the Japanese air commander gambled and launched 69 torpedo planes and dive-bombers before his scouts had found Fletcher. He believed the search planes would soon locate the American carriers and provide his attackers with the necessary information. He surmised correctly. At 8:02 am, Yorktown’s radar picked up an aircraft 18 miles to the northwest and heard the pilot radio his report. Sherman predicted that the Japanese air group would appear at about 11 o’clock. He could only hope that his search planes could locate the enemy soon. His wishes materialized at 8:20, when an American scout plane piloted by Lt. J.G. Smith spotted Shokaku and Zuikaku 175 miles northeast of the Lexington and heading south.
The U.S. Navy oiler Neosho is left burning and slowly sinking after an attack by Japanese dive-bombers on May 7.
At 8:22, Sherman, aboard Lexington, received Smith’s contact report. Two minutes later he intercepted a radio transmission from a Japanese aircraft indicating that the enemy had also spotted the Americans. The first carrier duel of the war was about to begin.
Taking Shokaku Out of Action
In the ready rooms of both Yorktown and Lexington, pilots leapt to their feet. Thirty Dauntlesses, nine Devastators, and 14 Wildcats lifted off Yorktown, followed 10 minutes later by Lexington’s 24 Dauntlesses, 12 Devastators, and 10 Wildcats. By 9:25 the air groups from both American carriers had departed. Ninety-five minutes later the Yorktown bombers sighted the two enemy carriers eight miles apart. Instead of attacking immediately, the bombers circled for 20 minutes, waiting for the slower torpedo planes to arrive. This unfortunate lapse gave the Japanese time to launch additional fighters, while Zuikaku raced toward a nearby rain squall for shelter.
Lieutenant Joseph Taylor of Yorktown started the fight by leading a group of torpedo planes toward Shokaku. As Zeros pounced on the inexperienced Americans, dive-bombers followed from 17,000 feet and dropped two 1,000-pound bombs on Shokaku, mangling the flight deck and destroying the aircraft repair shop.
Lieutenant John J. Powers held steady as his plane sped toward Shokaku, waiting until beyond the normal release point to ensure his bomb hit the target. Powers successfully landed a direct hit, but the explosion demolished him and his plane. Most of the other American aircraft missed with their bombs or torpedoes. One Japanese sailor joked that the American torpedoes were so slow that “we could turn and run away from them.” Not one of the Mark 13 torpedoes found its target.
The American pilots lost 43 aircraft while registering only a handful of hits. However, these successes ignited gasoline fires aboard Shokaku. Although the Japanese brought the fires under control, the carrier was no longer able to launch aircraft from her warped deck. Losing her main capability, the carrier limped back to Truk, where extensive repairs kept her out of action until July.
“They’re Going to Bop Us”
It now became Fletcher’s turn as Japanese forces descended on both American carriers. As Lt. Cmdr. Kuichi Takahashi searched the Coral Sea with 69 aircraft, the pilot who had first discovered Fletcher, Warrant Officer Kanzo Kanno, flew directly across Takahashi’s path and agreed to lead the planes to the carriers. Kanno did this knowing that he would not have enough fuel to make it back to his own carrier.
At 10:55, Yorktown’s radar detected the Japanese force 68 miles out. Each carrier launched eight Wildcat fighters, but the fighters flew at an altitude far below that of the oncoming Japanese formation, an error that allowed the enemy planes to safely fly above the American fighters. Stripped of his aerial defenses, Fletcher, who stood outside Yorktown’s flag bridge wearing an old-style World War I helmet and watching through binoculars, would have to rely on his antiaircraft guns to ward off the enemy. Yeoman Tom Newsome, standing just inside the door, heard Fletcher say, “They’re going to bop us.”
Takahashi led his planes in at 11:18, coming out of the sun at a 45-degree angle. A wall of American antiaircraft fire greeted the intruders, hitting one of the first invaders so accurately that the plane disintegrated, sending the crew spinning into the skies. Yorktown evaded the first string of torpedoes with a series of desperate maneuvers, but the ship could not escape every missile sent against her. At 11:25, 14 Japanese dive-bombers straddled the carrier with 11 near misses that loosened hull plating, rained shrapnel against gun mounts and bridge, and lifted the ship’s screws completely out of the water.
Crewmen on Yorktown could easily see the bombs drop from aircraft that dipped to 1,500 feet above the water’s surface before releasing their bombs. Captain Elliott Buckmaster engaged in evasive actions with each of the attacking aircraft, waiting until the pilot committed to his dive and then swinging the rudder sharply toward the plane to present smallest target. When one Japanese pilot pulled out low over the water, Buckmaster had already begun to engage the next bomber, issuing such a constant stream of course changes that the carrier made a series of giant “S” imprints on the surface.
Dozens of near misses straddled the carrier, and six bombs showered the ship with shrapnel. One bomb struck the carrier flight deck and exploded inside, killing or wounding 66 crewmen. Another bomb penetrated Yorktown’s flight and hangar decks before exploding four levels below, killing 37 men. Although mortally wounded from the blast, Lieutenant Milton E. Ricketts, commander of Repair Party 5, opened a fireplug valve, aimed the hose at the center of the fire, then crumpled to the deck and died. Crews managed to extinguish the flames before too much damage was done, enabling the carrier to continue at 24 knots.
“The Air Fighting Now Became a Melee”
Lexington faced her own ordeal. At 11:13 am, the port side 5-inch guns on the carrier opened fire. According to pilot Ensign Ralph V. Wilhelm, the “sky was just a solid blanket of antiaircraft bursts all between 1,000 and 3,000 feet altitude.” Thirteen torpedo planes attacked Lexington in an arc that extended from the port beam and across both bows in an anvil formation, approaching the carrier on both sides of her bow so that no matter which direction Captain Sherman directed the ponderous carrier, she would turn toward a bevy of torpedoes.
“The air fighting now became a melee,” wrote Sherman. “Our own planes were mixed in with the enemy and the sky was black with flak bursts.” Despite the intense antiaircraft fire, the Japanese charged straight at the carrier rather than drop out of formation, a courage that impressed Sherman. “It was beautifully coordinated. From my bridge I saw bombers roaring down in steep dives from many points in the sky, and torpedo planes coming in on both bows almost simultaneously. There was nothing I could do about the bombers, but I could do something to avoid the torpedoes.”
One bomb appeared to be falling right at the admiral, who briefly wondered if he should duck behind the thin armored shield. He concluded that if he were meant to die from that bomb, there was nothing he could do about it, so he turned his attention to evading the torpedoes by turning the massive carrier slowly to one side or the other.
Torpedo wakes dissected the ocean, while bombs splashed on both sides. “Great geysers of water from near misses were going up higher than our masts,” recalled Sherman, “and occasionally the ship shuddered from the explosions of the ones that hit.” He evaded the first torpedoes and shifted rudder to outmaneuver the second group of planes, but when they split to attack both bows, “it became a matter of wriggling and twisting as best we could to avoid the deadly weapons heading our way.”
Two wakes that Sherman knew he could not avoid churned directly toward the port beam, and he braced himself for the explosion. Nothing happened. The torpedoes were running too deep and had passed completely under the ship. Two more torpedoes ran parallel to the ship 50 yards out on either side and passed close by, but Sherman’s luck had run out. At 11:18, a torpedo struck Lexington’s port side near the island, two minutes before two more slammed into the port side near the bow. In quick succession a 1,000-pound bomb smashed into the flight deck and a 500-pound bomb demolished the smokestack.
he Japanese carrier Shoho erupts in flames after an American dive-bomber scores a direct hit on her deck during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Shoho sank within minutes of the attack. Painting by Robert Benney.
Sinking the Lexington
The brief battle packed incredible death and destruction in its few minutes. By 11:40, the fighting had ended, only 22 minutes after the first torpedo splashed into the ocean. “Suddenly all was quiet again,” wrote Sherman. “It was as though some hidden director had signaled for silence. The Japanese planes were no longer in sight, the guns had stopped shooting for lack of targets.” He glanced at his watch and noticed that the attack had lasted only nine minutes. “It seemed hours since we had first sighted the enemy planes.”
While both American carriers sustained damage, they were able to maintain speeds of 25 knots and resume flight operations. Sherman, who had wondered if his ship would emerge from the fight, was delighted with the results. Lexington was far from secure, however. Aboard the ship, correspondent Stanley Johnston was writing about the day’s action for newspaper readers back home when at 12:47 pm a huge internal explosion rattled the ship. “I was sitting in the navigating cabin, writing up the events of the morning from my notes when there came a jolt heavier than any of the explosions during the battle,” recalled Johnston. “Then from deep down inside the ship resounded the dull rumble of an explosion.” The eruptions rocked the carrier as smoke emerged from the edges of the flight deck elevator.
Caused by an accumulation of gasoline vapors leaking from damaged storage tanks, the fires quickly spread, turning the surface of the elevator in the flight deck to an ominous dull red. The bulkhead in the forward engine room was white-hot, and temperatures soared to 160 degrees, causing dizziness and violent headaches among the fire tenders. Fires rapidly spread in the ship’s lower levels, causing additional explosions that made damage control all but impossible. The carrier’s executive officer, Commander Morton T. Seligman, realized that the ship was doomed. Sooner or later the flames would reach the torpedo warheads on the mezzanine of the hangar deck and cause more severe explosions. One officer put his hand to a torpedo warhead to test it and immediately jerked it away in pain. He looked down to see his hand covered with blisters.
At 5:07 pm, Admiral Fitch said to Sherman, “Well, Ted, let’s get the men off.” Although hesitant to give up his ship, Sherman saw no other course and agreed with Fitch. He reluctantly gave the order to abandon ship. While the wounded were lowered to waiting boats, the rest of the crew slid down ropes into the 80-degree water, where they were quickly retrieved by escorting destroyers. The crew abandoned the ship with such calm that not one life was lost. Some of the crew filled their helmets with ice cream from the service store and calmly ate it while they waited. Others neatly aligned their shoes on deck. “There was not the slightest panic or disorder. I was proud of them,” wrote Sherman.
Sherman ordered Seligman to leave, then stood alone on the carrier for a final glimpse. While he struggled with his thoughts, an immense explosion rocked the carrier amidships by the elevator. Planes and debris flew everywhere, forcing Sherman to duck under the edge of the flight deck for cover. The commander decided that it was time to leave. He walked to the side and slid down the rope into the water.
Fletcher ordered the destroyer Phelps to sink Lexington with torpedoes. At 10 pm, a brace of torpedoes sped toward Lexington while rescued crewmen aboard other ships cried openly. As they watched, the ship that had been their home at sea slowly settled beneath the waves. “The stricken vessel started getting deeper in the water, slowly going down, as if she too was reluctant to give up the battle,” recalled Sherman. “With her colors proudly flying and the last signal flags, reading ‘I am abandoning ship,’ still waving at the yardarm, she went under on an even keel, like the lady she always was. As she disappeared from sight, there was a tremendous underwater explosion from her magazines. It was the end of the Lexington.”
“The Turning Point in the War”
With Lexington’s loss, the Japanese had gained a tactical victory, but the United States had triumphed strategically. For the first time in the war, a Japanese invasion had been rebuffed the troop-packed transports were ordered back to Rabaul. Repair parties patched Yorktown in time for her to play a key role in the crucial Battle of Midway the following month, while the Japanese sorely missed the presence of the two carriers that saw action in the Coral Sea, a factor that helped tip the scales in America’s favor.
The Battle of the Coral Sea caused celebrations back home. “Japanese Repulsed in Great Pacific Battle with 17 to 22 of Their Ships Sunk or Crippled,” boasted the May 9 issue of the New York Times. Morale that had been shattered by the devastating attack against Pearl Harbor and the swift losses of Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines now had been lifted. “It was, in truth, the greatest battle in the history of the U.S. Pacific Fleet,” gushed Time magazine. “That day on the sun-bathed Coral Sea the Jap caught hell and absorbed a shattering defeat.” The article added that the Japanese “had unquestionably taken a beating—the first serious defeat of his headlong career through the South Pacific.”
Sherman agreed with Time’s assessment. “The Battle of the Coral Sea was the turning point in the war and a milestone in history,” he wrote. “It proved the dominance of the aircraft carrier and ended the period of Japanese advance.” He likened the battle to the Civil War confrontation between the Monitor and the Merrimack.
Such confusion existed on both sides during the battle that naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison labeled Coral Sea the “Battle of Naval Errors.” But the esteemed chronicler also recognized the positive impact the battle had made to the American cause. “Call Coral Sea what you will,” wrote Morison, “it was an indispensable preliminary to the great victory of Midway.” That in itself made the Battle of the Coral Sea a signal chapter in American military history.
Joseph Taylor is my grandfather. I am working to get him the medal of honor.
The Battle of the Coral Sea
MIDN Lachlan Montgomery joined the RAN in February 2014 coming from a family of five in Ringwood Victoria. His father is a serving member of the Victorian Police Force and his mother an office manager at the Ringwood High School. He enjoys running, computers and flying with the career goal to become an Aviation Warfare Officer.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was a series of naval engagements off the north-east coast of Australia between the 4th and 8th May 1942. It is considered by many to be the turning point of the war against the Japanese. The Japanese advance on Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea was the precursor to the first aircraft carrier battle, in which the Japanese Fleet was badly damaged and forced to withdraw.The Battle of the Coral Sea resulted in Australia being released from the immediate threat of invasion by the Japanese, and prevented Australia from being isolated from its American allies. It also resulted in the Americans maintaining naval superiority of the Pacific region. The battle paved the way for a decisive Allied victory at the Battle of Midway just one month later, and hence is an extremely important event not only in regards to the survival of Australia, but to the downfall of the Japanese war machine. The aim of this essay is to discuss the lessons learnt from the Battle of the Coral Sea by examining the following points in addition to the involvement of the RANand the significance of the battle to Australia. These are divided into the following aspects:
- The influence of carrier air power upon the battle,
- The influence of intelligence upon the conduct of the battle,
- Claims of tactical defeat and strategic victory,
- The strategic impacts upon events ashore in New Guinea, and
- The involvement of the RAN and the significance of the battle to Australia.
Precursors to the Battle of the Coral Sea
The great war between the US and Japan opened in a totally unexpected manner. The destruction of much of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour was a huge blow to their tactical capability. However, as a result of all its Pacific aircraft carriers not being present at Pearl Harbour during the attack, the United States considered how to use these ships to reverse the Japanese expansion across the Pacific. (Stille).
Stillestates that as a result of the Japanese success at Pearl Harbor, air power was now considered a dominant factor in naval warfare. In order to avoid being totally defensive in the face of an unstoppable Japanese carrier force, the United States began a series of carrier strikes in the Central and South Pacific. These proved somewhat ineffective, but forced the Japanese to postpone their proposed Port Moresby operation. When the Japanese were ready to move on New Guinea in the South Pacific, two of the US Pacific Fleet Carriers had been deployed to conduct a raid on Tokyo, meaning the US could only send two carriers to the South Pacific to counter thepredicted Japanese offensive. With part of the Japanese Carrier Force committed to join theSouth Pacific operation, history’s first aircraft carrier battle seemed imminent.
The influence of carrier air power upon the battle
Millot (1974) contends that the war in the Pacific led to a new kind of warfare – one which relied on the use of air power. In fact, the Battle of the Coral Sea was based around a type of warfare where the opposing carrier groups never sighted nor fired upon each other.
The Carrier Air Groups of both sides were primarily made up of three types of aircraft. These consisted of fighters, dive bombers and torpedo aircraft, forming a ‘Combat Trio’ with the goal to project overwhelming force upon the enemy ships. As a primarily carrier only battle, these aircraft would prove vital to the attack of enemy forces – a new kind of ‘Over the Horizon warfare’ emerged.
The Japanese and Americans had very different aircraft design philosophies as seen below in figure 1.
|Japanese Mitsubishi A6M.2 Type 0 Fighter||American Grumman F4F Wildcat Fighter|
|Unloaded weight||1680kg||Unloaded weight||2425kg|
|Loaded weight||2410kg||Loaded weight||3179kg|
|Power/weight ratio||0.39hp/kg||Power/weight ratio||0.32hp/kg|
|Cruising speed||207mph||Cruising speed||147mph|
|Rate of climb||2571ft/min||Rate of climb||2000ft/min|
As shown above, the Japanese utilised lightweight, manoeuvrable and fast aircraft with high rates of climb. This came at the cost of reduced pilot protection, armour and special features such as self-sealing fuel tanks. The Americans however, had the slower, heavier Wildcat, inferior in almost every way to the Japanese Zeros apart from its stout construction. This interesting comparison proves the uniqueness of each carrier force and a few of the strengths/weaknesses of each.
Overall, the Battle of the Coral Sea had the strategic effect of ‘promoting’ the aircraft carriers’ importance to naval warfare, and thus resulted in a dramatic increase in numbers of these ships produced. It also essentially removed the battleship from the elevated position it held as the ‘flagship’ of navies worldwide and presented air power with utmost importance for future naval engagements. The Battle of Midway which occurred in early June 1942 is proof of this.
The influence of intelligence upon the conduct of the battle
Intelligence proved vital to the outcome of the Battle of the Coral Sea. As an over the horizon carrier battle, seaplanes were the primary method of predicting the next moves of the enemy forces. Australia played an important role with intelligence. Coastwatchers were on the job, spotting Japanese seaplanes as they departed their forward bases at Lae and Salamaua on the north eastern coast of New Guinea. The Australians observed the routines of the Japanese and hence discovered they had begun to mass air and sea power in the area – pointing to an attack on Port Moresby. This knowledge was a contributing factor to the American deployment of sea power to the area in anticipation of a clash (Hoyt).
Signal interception was also a means of intelligence prior to the battle. A joint USN/RAN Unit known as Fleet Radio Unit Melbourne (FRUMEL) played an important role in the Battle of the Coral Sea. US Naval Intelligence was able to decode Japanese naval communications and as such was almost as well informed as to what was being planned as Japanese commanders were (Straczek). On 13 April, the British intercepted a Japanese message stating that the ‘Fifth Carrier Division’ was en-route to the area. Upon receipt of this intelligence from the British and confirming its authenticity, the US deployed all four of the Pacific Fleet’s available carriers to the area. Only two of these carriers, USS Lexingtonand USS Yorktownwere able to make it to the area of operations in time due to USS Hornetand USS Enterpriseconducting a raid on Tokyo. Interestingly, the Japanese believed only one American carrier was in the area of their planned operation, and did not expect such a strong carrier response to their invasion until it was well underway. This perhaps had a serious effect on Japanese performance during the battle, as they hadn’t expected the large American force present during their operation.
Therefore it can be said that intelligence had a significant impact upon the conduct of the battle, primarily involving American predictions of Japanese movements, and the subsequent deployment of carrier groups to the area. We must also not forget that the Japanese intelligence in this situation was inferior to that of the United States, demonstrated by their underestimation of US carrier power in the region. This is a vital lesson in the importance of intelligence in this kind of ‘blind’ warfare. (Straczek & Hoyt).
Claims of tactical defeat and strategic victory
There is no doubt the Battle of the Coral Sea had a heavy impact on both the Americans and the Japanese, but who really won? There are claims of a tactical defeat along with strategic victory from the American point of view. Stille states that the battle has correctly been described as a strategic American victory. The Americans had, for the first time, repelled a Japanese attack and subsequently prevented the Japanese sea-borne invasion of Port Moresby. This attack was Japan’s best chance at taking the port and airfield, and hence posing a major threat to Australia’s security. The failure of the sea approach resulted in the later failed attempt to take the port by land over extremely rough terrain. So in the sense of a wide viewed approach, the United States had a strategic victory during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Some possess the view that whilst a strategic victory, the battle was a tactical defeat for the US Navy. This can be attributed to the fact that whilst sinking only a light Japanese carrier Shohoand damaging a fleet carrier Shokaku, the US Navy lost Lexington, one of its four operational fleet carriers. Observing from an isolated perspective, this ‘tactical defeat’ could be considered true, however looking back to the broad strategic overview, this is not accurate, as the primary Japanese goal of achieving carrier dominance over the Americans had failed. Therefore it is apparent that whilst some considered the battle an American tactical defeat, the disabling of a large portion of the Japanese Carrier Force paid rich dividends for the American position in the Pacific.
Strategic impact upon events ashore in Papua New Guinea
As previously mentioned, the halt of Japanese naval advances on Port Moresby resulted in a land campaign over increasingly difficult terrain. This Japanese attempt proved to be unsuccessful, meaning that Port Moresby remained under Allied control. Resultantly, Australia was protected from the threat of invasion. It can be said that the Battle of the Coral Sea had a huge impact upon events ashore in Papua New Guinea, not the least of which was the survival of Port Moresby. Had this important port been taken in a Japanese naval assault, the enemy would have aimed to cut off Australia and its important contribution to the war effort. The consequences of this occurring would have been disastrous to Australia.
The involvement of the RAN and the significance of the battle to Australia.
The Royal Australian Navy had a significant involvement during the Battle of the Coral Sea. A Support Group attached to Task Force 17, the American Carrier group, consisted of HMAS Australia and HMAS Hobart as well as several USN ships. This group was headed by Rear Admiral J.G Crace of the Royal Navy. After being split from the carrier force to cover the Jomard Passage and intercept the Japanese invasion force as it exited, the support group became the target of heavy bombing and strafing attacks. After repelling these attacks, the group was free to intercept the Japanese invasion force. However Admiral Inouye, in charge of this invasion force, reversed his ships whilst they clarified the sightings of ‘battleships’ in the area. Had Crace’s ships not been detached from Task Force 17, the Japanese force would have been able to enter Port Moresby, resulting in grave consequences for the Allies.
As mentioned previously, Australia was a vulnerable target which relied greatly on Port Moresby for its security. The Battle of the Coral Sea resulted in Australia being protected from the threat of imminent invasion and supply lines between the United States and Australia remained open. It was also the first time Australian ships had been involved with a major US carrier group, a proud moment in history indeed. (Jacobsen).
Many lessons were learnt from the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first of which being the immense importance of air power in future naval engagements. As a new kind of ‘over the horizon’ warfare had emerged, it became apparent that aircraft would be vital to the success of any kind of naval warfare from that point onwards. Intelligence also proved to be an extremely important factor in deciding the victor in naval engagements. The Americans having effective intelligence prior to the Coral Sea battle meant they were able to deploy their carriers to the area, possibly changing the tide of the war in the Pacific. Despite losing a quarter of its carrier strength, the US had a strategic victory during this battle, one that assisted their position for later conflicts in the Pacific region, particularly the Battle of Midway. The Coral Sea battle held significant strategic importance insofar as control of Port Moresby being maintained by the Allies and in regard to the security of the Australian mainland. The Royal Australian Navy’s contribution, although small in the scheme of things, was significant and contributed to the final result not just during this battle but throughout the Pacific War.
Frame, T., The Battes that Shaped Australia. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1994.
Hoyt, E.P., Blue Skies And Blood – The Battle of the Coral Sea. New York: iBooks, inc., 1975.
Jacobsen, M., The Battle of the Coral Sea 1942– Conference Proceedings 1992. Sydney: Australian National Maritime Museum, 1993.
Macdougall, A., Australia’s Navy. Waverton: Waverton Press, 2005.
Millot, B., The Battle of the Coral Sea. United States of America: Naval Institute Press, 1974.
Stille, M., The Coral Sea 1942 – The First Carrier Battle. Great Britain: Osprey Publishing, 2009.
What is the Significance of the Battle of the Coral Sea?
From the perspective of the Allies, the immediate significance of their strategic victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea was obvious: they had taken their first steps toward hindering Japan’s string of victories in the Pacific that had helped it dramatically expand the territory it controlled and its sphere of influence.
In the months following the attack of Pearl Harbor and the US’s entry into the war, Japan had gained dominance over multiple nations across Asia and the Pacific. With the Battle of the Coral Sea, this growing dominance was stopped in its tracks at Port Moresby, which Japan was forced to abandon due to the damage done to its invading force. The battle proved to the Allied forces the ferocity of Japanese naval forces should not be taken lightly.
It was with this small but significant victory in the Coral Sea where the US proved — to itself, to the Allied nations, and to the world at large — that the Pacific would change from being the ground underneath the steamroller that was Japan’s military and into a new theater of the global war that would experience every bit of the struggle that defined the Second World War.
The Battle of Midway
But there were other tremendous things that were significant to the Battle of Coral Sea things that the world could not possibly have predicted — the most obvious being its impact on the somewhat better-known (and notably more dramatic) Battle of Midway, which would follow shortly afterward.
In early April 1942 the staff of the Combined Fleet had presented the Naval General Staff with a proposal for the invasion and capture of Midway Island. By this action it was hoped that the American Fleet would be enticed “into an ambush where the American Fleet could be annihilated by overwhelming numbers”. After much negotiations the two staffs agreed to go ahead with the Midway operation after the capture of Port Moresby. However, planning progressed slowly until 18 April 1942, when American B25 bombers, led by Lieutenant Colonel James H Doolittle, attacked targets in the Japanese capital of Tokyo.
There was little loss in terms of military assets. But the Doolittle Raid had a lasting psychological effect on most Japanese citizens who watched in horror as their capital got pummeled. After this, Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye, Commander of the Fourth Fleet at Rabaul, was instructed that the Port Moresby operation was to take place in early May with the Midway operation planned for the following month.
Had the Doolittle raid not occurred there is the real possibility that the majority of the Japanese aircraft carriers may have been involved in Operation Mo. The aircraft carrier Kaga (72 combat planes) was originally allocated to take part in the operation but with the advancement of the timetable she had to be omitted as she was in dockyard hands till late April 1942. As it was, Admiral Inouye still had the aircraft carriers Shoho, Shokaku and Zuikaku. After completion of Operation Mothe carriers were to rejoin the rest of the fleet and take part in the planned operations against Midway Island.
Not discouraged by their Coral Sea setback, the Japanese forces now turned their attention to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific, with a mind not only to lay claim to the island, but also to destroy the United States Pacific Fleet (4).
Their plans would once again be intercepted by US codebreakers, and the subsequent clash between the US and Japan would result in a far more decisive victory for the US than the one they had enjoyed at the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Japan lost around 3,000 men and several hundred planes, and this played a major role in forcing Japan to give up their ambitions of conquering the Pacific in forcing them to fall back into a defensive position.
However, though the US’s victory here drastically changed the course of the Second World War, many theorize that it would likely not have been possible were it not for their smaller Coral Sea victory for despite Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s (Commander-in-chief of combined Japanese fleet, who was the best Japanese naval strategist in World War II) confidence that the Japanese naval power outnumbered that of the US navy, the damage endured by the Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea (particularly to the aircraft carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku, which were, as a result of their damage, both unavailable for service at the Battle of Midway) lent American forces an advantage that, many argue, ultimately was to thank for their victory.
More than this, however, the Battle of Coral Sea also represented another important landmark, not just in World War II, but in the history of battle in general.
An Oddity in Naval History
As mentioned earlier on, despite both sides making heavy use of their navy, this was the first battle in history in which neither sides’ ships spotted or fired upon each other at any point.
Instead, more or less, all the actual fighting would be done by planes, which would sweep down and strike at the ships whose gunners struggled to keep up with the swift movement of the aircraft.
It was unprecedented in the history of war for a naval engagement to be so indirect in many ways, it served as a representation of how the technological developments of the 20 th century had changed the face of war forever.
It could, some argue, even be seen as something of a representation of the threat of long-distance warfare that would come to define the Cold War era.
Regardless, despite being shorter and often overshadowed by other, better-known battles, it is quite clear that the Battle of the Coral Sea served as both a major turning point in the story of World War II’s Pacific front and as a landmark in the history of naval warfare in general.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was fought between the Japanese and Allied navies from May 4 through May 8, 1942 in the Coral Sea, about 500 miles northeast of Australia. Occurring only six months after the surprise Japanese attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and a month before the decisive battle at Midway, it was one of the first naval battles fought in the Pacific during World War II. The battle, roughly a draw, was an important turning point in the Pacific campaign.
In the spring of 1942, a few months after their surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces planned to invade southern New Guinea, a move designed to knock Australia and New Zealand out of the war. The Allies, including the U.S. and Australia, gathered a large fleet in the Coral Sea to thwart the invasion. After several days of searching and skirmishing, the Japanese and Allied fleets found each other on May 8 and each sent aircraft to attack the other. Both air attacks occurred at about the same time approximately 200 miles apart with both sides suffering moderate losses. The most significant Allied loss during the battle was the sinking of the American aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Lexington. That evening, with the battle roughly a draw, both sides retreated but would meet again a month later at the decisive Battle of Midway, 3,000 miles away in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was important for several reasons. It was the first pure carrier-versus-carrier battle in history as neither surface fleet sighted the other. Though a draw, it was an important turning point in the war in the Pacific because, for the first time, the Allies had stopped the Japanese advance. Before the battle, the Japanese had enjoyed a continual string of victories while afterwards, it suffered an almost continual series of defeats, including at Midway one month later, a major American victory.
Shortly after the Battle of the Coral Sea, many called it one of the most important naval battles in world history and, at the time, it probably was. Seventy years later, the battle is still widely known throughout Australia with many Aussies referring to it as, "The battle that saved Australia." For most Americans, however, the Battle of the Coral Sea has faded into obscurity.
Cruisers Minneapolis, New Orleans, Astoria, Chester and Portland. Destroyers Phelps, Dewey, Farragut,Alywin and Monaghan.
Carriers Yorktown and Lexington. Destroyers Morris, Anderson, Hammann and Russell.
Cruisers Australia (Australian Navy), Hobart (Australian Navy) and Chicago. Destroyers Perkins andWalke.
Oilers Neosho and Tippecanoe. Destroyers Sims and Worden.
Carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. Heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro. Destroyers Ariake, Yugure, Shigure,Shiratsuyu, Ushio and Akebono. Tanker Toho Maru.
Light carrier Shoho. Heavy cruisers Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka. Light cruisers Yubari, Tenryuand Tatsuta. Destroyers Sazanami, Oite, Uzuki, Asamagi, Mutsuki, Yunagi and Yayoi. MinelayerTsugaru. Gunboats Keijo Maru, Seikai Maru and Nikkai Maru. Twelve transports and auxiliary craft. One patrol boat.
Destroyers Kaikuzuki and Yuzuki. Minelayers Okinoshima and Koei Maru. Transport Asuman Maru. Auxiliary craft.
- Adm. Nimitz (CinCPac) to Adm. King (Cominch)
- Interrogation of Japanese Prisoners taken after Midway Action 9 June 1942
- Commander Cruisers, Pacific Fleet to CinCPac
- Commander TF-16 to CinCPac (Hornet & Enterprise)
- USS Hornet (CV-8)
- USS Enterprise (CV-6)
- USS Yorktown (CV-5)
- Commander Destroyer Squadron 6 to ComCruPacFlt
- USS Hammann (DD-412)
- Ensign George Gay's narrative of the battle (sole survivor of VT-8 -- Hornet's torpedo squadron)
- Adm. Nagumo's After Action Report to Imperial Japanese Headquarters
- UNITED STATES STRATEGIC BOMBING SURVEY
- Interrogations of Japanese Officials:
- [Nav. No. 1 - USSBS No. 6] Captain AMAGAI Takahisa, IJN Air Officer on CV Kaga
She was laid down under Maritime Commission contract by Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Kearny, New Jersey, 22 June 1938 launched on 29 April 1939 sponsored by Mrs. Emory S. Land, wife of Rear Admiral Emory S. Land (Ret.), Chairman of the Maritime Commission and commissioned on 7 August 1939, with Commander AV. E. A. Mullan in command. 
Conversion at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was completed on 7 July 1941, Neosho immediately began the vital task of ferrying aviation fuel from west coast ports to Pearl Harbor. On such a mission she arrived in Pearl Harbor on 6 December, discharged a full cargo to Naval Air Station Ford Island, and prepared for the return passage. 
Next morning, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor found Neosho alert to danger her captain—Commander John S. Phillips—got her underway and maneuvered safely through the Japanese fire, concentrated on the battleships moored at Ford Island, to a safer area of the harbor. Her guns fired throughout the attack, splashing one enemy plane and driving off others. Three of her men were wounded by a strafing attacker. 
For the next five months, Neosho sailed with the aircraft carriers or independently, since escort ships—now few and far between—could not always be spared to guard even so precious a ship and cargo. Late in April, as the Japanese threatened a southward move against Australia and New Zealand by attempting to advance their bases in the Southwest Pacific, Neosho joined Task Force 17 (TF 17). At all costs, the sea lanes to the dominions had to be kept open, and they had to be protected against attack and possible invasion. 
As the American and Japanese fleets sought each other out in the opening maneuvers of the climactic Battle of the Coral Sea on 6 May 1942, Neosho refueled the carrier Yorktown and the heavy cruiser Astoria, then retired from the carrier force with a lone escort, the destroyer Sims. 
The next day at 1000, Japanese search planes spotted the two ships and misidentified them as a carrier and her escort.  78 aircraft from Shōkaku and Zuikaku soon arrived and began searching in vain for the "carrier" force. [ citation needed ] Eventually, they gave up and returned to sink Sims and leave Neosho—victim of seven direct hits and a suicide dive by one of the bombers—ablaze aft and in danger of breaking in two. She had shot down at least three of the attackers.  One of her crewmen, Oscar V. Peterson, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts to save the ship in spite of his severe injuries suffered in the attack.  
Sound seamanship and skilled damage control work kept Neosho afloat for the next four days. The stricken ship was first located by a RAAF aircraft, then an American PBY Catalina flying boat. At 13:00 on 11 May, the destroyer Henley arrived, rescued the 123 survivors and sank by gunfire the ship they had kept afloat. With Henley came word that the American fleet had succeeded in turning the Japanese back. 
The Americans sent Task Force 17 under Rear-Admiral Frank J. Fletcher to the Coral Sea, to stop the advance of the Japanese fleets. Task Force 17 had two aircraft carriers – the Yorktown, Fletcher’s flagship, and the Lexington, which had started life as a cruiser before being converted into a carrier. Unlike their opponents, the Americans had radar in their fleet.
They carried three types of aircraft – 72 obsolete Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive-bombers 36 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators, torpedo bombers with a poor ‘climb’ and limited range and 36 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters, whose role was to counter enemy aircraft and protect the bombers. The planes from the Yorktown carried new equipment to help identify friend from foe in the chaos of aerial combat.
Opposing them was Rear-Admiral Takagi’s force – the aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, both veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack, two cruisers and a destroyer screen. On the Japanese carriers were 42 Aichi D3A Val dive-bombers, 41 Nakajima B5N torpedo planes, and 42 Mitsubishi A6M5 Zeros to provide fighter cover. These planes were technologically superior to those of the Americans.
President Hoover still gets fan mail from overseas
Posted On January 28, 2019 18:44:54
It is easy to overlook the significance of Herbert Hoover’s food relief efforts by looking merely at numbers. The precise number of people Hoover saved from starvation remains murky but most scholars agree it is in the hundreds of millions. Ironically, one of the most brutal leaders of modern times, Joseph Stalin, is credited with the following aphorism: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”
Scholars have since discredited the attribution. The quote, whomever said it, aptly applies to post-World War I era Europe. Herbert Hoover, against the wisdom of world leaders, used the American Relief Administration to provide food to Russian people living in areas controlled by the Bolsheviks as well as areas controlled by White Russian forces. Remaining above politics knowing that hunger is apolitical, Hoover provided food to roughly eighteen million Russians. This goodwill was not lost on those who received food as continues to be evident in letters the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum staff receive from descendants.
It is important to highlight these letters because they focus on individual lives that were prevented from becoming both tragedies and statistics. It places a human face on the food relief efforts and, more importantly, provides some sense of what drove Hoover in his tireless efforts to eradicate hunger. The following account is provided by Natalia Sidorova.
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“I am writing you to celebrate the legacy that Herbert Hoover has earned in history by his compassion and care for millions of people in Russia and other countries who were on the brink of death by starvation.
About 97 years ago, my grandmother Zinaida Tiablikova moved to Moscow from her small town Klin, fifty miles to the north. She lived alone while she studied chemistry at Moscow University.
At that time there was a terrible food shortage throughout all of Russia as a result of the chaos following the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war between White and Red Russians. Many poor Russians from the Volga region came to Moscow in desperate hope of finding food in the city.
In 1920 a friend of my grandmother told her that the American Food Administration provided warm meals once a day for needy people, primarily children. Although most of the food centers were in the Volga River region where starvation was an enormous problem, there also were a few food centers in Moscow.
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My grandmother Zinaida went to one of these food centers on Miasnitskaya Street in Moscow. Throughout most of 1920 she and many other persons received a delicious hot meal once a day. She remembered on occasion receiving condensed milk and hot chocolate. For the many poor Russians these were special treats because they had never had condensed milk or chocolate before. Certainly these nutritious meals protected her and many other persons from death by starvation or other diseases caused by lack of food.
She told me that there was a photo of Herbert Hoover on display at the food center, even though Mr. Hoover himself did not want such public recognition. The people of the community chose to display his photo as their own spontaneous expression of their gratitude to Mr. Hoover and to the American people.
I now have a daughter named Galina who goes to college here in America. I have told her this story of my grandmother. This story demonstrates to my daughter that the American and Russian people can be great friends to one another in times of need.
Zinaida with two classmates, 1925.
I doubt that Mr. Hoover himself then was supportive to the Bolshevik ideology which in recent years has fallen into disrepute even among conservative Russians. However, Mr. Hoover put aside his own personal beliefs about politics and economics so that he could help other persons.
My grandmother always spoke with great appreciation of the generosity of the American people as expressed through the person of Herbert Hoover. She was always amazed that Mr. Hoover possessed special administrative skills so that he could distribute food to remote regions where the food was in greatest demand. She was delighted for the American people when she learned years later that Mr. Hoover was elected President. She cherished the memory of his photo in the food center and she prayed for him throughout her life.
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My grandmother is not with us any more to express her own gratitude to Mr. Hoover. As her grand-daughter I accept that task with full enthusiasm. As an American citizen who was born in Moscow, I thank Mr. Hoover and I thank all the people of America for their generosity and compassion to millions of poor Russians in one of the darkest hours in our history. The legacy of Mr. Hoover’s goodness and the goodness of the American people is inscribed in the hearts of millions of Russian people.
Mr. Hoover’s legacy is also a beacon of hope for future generations. In a world that continues to be torn apart by conflict of all types, Mr. Hoover’s example reminds us that the best response to a crisis is compassion.”
Watch the video: The Battle of the Coral Sea 1942: The First Aircraft Carrier Battle in History (January 2022).