World War 2 The Battle of the Coral Sea ww2

The Battleground

The Battle of The Coral Sea

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941,the Japanese swept over Southeast Asia, they took control of Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore and the Philippines.

Island by island the Japanese advanced across the Pacific, South towards Australia and East toward the United States.

The Japanese wanted to create a massive economic empire that would guarantee supplies of oil and raw materials they required to build up their military power.

The Japanese seemed an unstoppable force, but in May 1942 and also in June two enormous naval battles were to prove decisive in halting the Japanese advance.

The Battle of the Coral Sea (northeast of Australia) and the Battle of the Midway (Central pacific).

The Battle of The Coral Sea May 1942

The Battle of The Coral Sea May 1942

Aiming to cut the supply lines between Australia and the USA, Japan's next targets were Tulagi, North of the Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and Port Moresby on New Guinea.

At Truk on the Caroline Islands, in preparation for an invasion on Australia, the Australians had assembled a force, which set sail for Rabaul in New Britain on the 30th of April 1942.

The Japanese at the same time were mustering a separate naval force as a part of their master plan.

The Strike force included the 2 Aircraft carriers involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Shokaku and the Zuikaku, 2 cruisers and several destroyers, the aircraft carriers, carried 125 planes between them.

The Japanese at this time occupied most of this area; 140 land-based aircraft could also support their naval forces.

America rallied to the defence of Australia, their long-term friend and ally, sending a taskforce, Taskforce17, under the command of Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher.

The taskforce comprised of 2 aircraft carriers, the Yorktown and the Lexington, 7 Cruisers and several destroyers.

The American carriers, carried 138 planes.

Dauntless Dive Bombers on the Yorktown

En Route to the Coral Sea

On the 3rd of May, The Japanese landed a small force on Tulagi and the island was under Japanese control by 11am; at this point Rear Admiral Fletcher made the decision to strike back.

At 0630 0n May 4th, 28 Dauntless dive-bombers and 12 Devastators took flight from the Yorktown; they arrived over the island of Tulagi at 0815.

The first strikes sunk a destroyer, three minesweepers, a patrol boat further strikes sank 4 landing barges and destroyed 5 Kawanishi H6K Mavis flying boats.

On returning to the Yorktown the Americans had only lost one Dauntless over the target, and 2 Wildcats, which had strayed off course and crashed into the Guadalcanal the 2 pilots survived and were rescued.

The Japanese strike force headed west toward the Coral sea but due to bad weather US reconnaissance planes could not find the fleet, a Japanese flying-boat did spot the US fleet but it was shot down by Wildcats.

The New Guinea Invasion force set off from Rabaul with 6 Japanese army transports, five Naval transports and a destroyer escort under the command of Rear Admiral Kajioka in his Flagship Yubari, it met with a support group off the island of Bougainville and headed south toward the Jomard passage that led to the Coral sea.

The fleets at this point began to sight each other, a Japanese Flying boat spotted the Yorktown and the Lexington but the incident went unreported for 18 hours.

The Japanese support group was seen by US air force B17's but they failed to find the main task force.

On the night of May 6th the fleets were around 70 miles apart although neither of them were aware of each other, later both fleets made a change of course and ended up further apart.

The British Royal Navy also happened to be in the area at the time their fleet was made up of 2 Australian cruisers and one American cruiser, escorted by some destroyers.

The Shoho Blasted by a Torpedo

The Sinking of the Shoho

On May7th 1942, Fletcher ordered the British to close the southern end of the Jomard Passage, whilst his fleet closed in from the Southeast. Soon after the order was issued, US reconnaissance planes reported seeing two Japanese aircraft carriers and four heavy cruisers approaching the Louisiade Archipelago, north of the Jomard passage.

Fletcher thinking that this was the main Japanese force sent out 93 planes to attack it which left only 47 planes with the fleet. It soon became clear that there had been an error in communication when a spotter plane returned to the fleet and relayed the message that they had only spotted 2 heavy cruisers and 2 destroyers.

By chance at 11 am as they were flying towards the original target, the squadron from the Lexington spotted a Japanese Aircraft carrier (The Shoho) and its escort of 4 cruisers and a destroyer off the coast of Misima Island, they attacked the Shoho and in the first wave they blew 5 aircraft over the side of the ship. Successive attacks saw the carrier hit hard with 6 torpedoes and 13 bombs, listing and burning the Shoho sank at 11:35am losing 600 souls of the 800 who were onboard. Only 6 American planes were lost in the attacks.

The Sinking of the Shoho left the Japanese invasion force without air cover, which stopped their progression north of the Louisaides until the Jomard passage was cleared.

Searching for Fletcher's Fleet

The same afternoon the British fleet was attacked by wave after wave of land based torpedo bombers, but no ships were sunk in the attacks.

Japanese reconnaissance planes reported back that they had spotted Fletchers aircraft carriers, they launched over 60 sorties and sank the USS Sims a destroyer and an oil tanker before they realised that the original report had been a mistake and they were attacking the Back up to the American fleet.

At 4:30 pm the Japanese launched 15 torpedo planes and 12 dive-bombers with instructions to find Fletcher's fleet and destroy it, but due to bad weather and the lack of radar the Japanese had little chance of finding them.

The American fleet picked up the squadron on radar and launched wildcats from the Lexington to attack them; they shot down 9 of the Japanese bombers and lost 2 wildcats in the battle.

The Japanese Torpedo squadron failed to find the fleet and dumped their torpedoes into the sea before returning to their carriers, but they had been a lot closer to the fleet than they had realised at the time, at 7:00pm three of the Japanese planes spotted a Morse code signal from an Aldis lamp on the York town, and managed to escape the guns, earlier in the day a spotter was shot down by The Yorktown. 11 more of the Japanese planes failed to find their ships in the dark and crashed into the sea, of the 27 planes sent out to find the fleet only 6 returned safely.

US Bombers

Zero Fighter

The Battle of the Coral Sea

Having failed to clear the Royal Navy from the Jomard passage, the Japanese invasion force withdrew leaving Fletcher and the Japanese Strike force to battle it out in the Coral sea, this was the first battle in history where neither of the opposing ships saw engaged or even saw each other.

On the night of May 7th both Fleets sailed farther apart from each other, neither willing to risk an engagement.

At 10:30am the American dive-bombers sighted the Japanese fleet and went into the clouds to wait until the slower torpedo planes caught up.

The American planes attacked The Shokaku, just as the cloud cover was dispersing but they had been spotted and the Japanese had already sent out fighters to repel them, 3 Dauntlesses were shot down disrupting the American attack but 2 of their payload had hit the Japanese ship, damaging the flight deck making it impossible for any more planes to take off, the other bomb started a fire on the ship. The ship remained controllable though and as a result the American torpedoes missed their target or failed to explode.

The dive-bombers failed to find their target ran low on fuel and had to return to the Lexington, the torpedo planes and fighters though continued the search and found the target 15 miles out, they came under attack immediately from Japanese Zero's the wildcats were driven off by the zero's but not before the devastators released their torpedoes, yet again the torpedoes failed to find their targets.

On May 8th at 6am both the Japanese and American fleets sent out reconnaissance planes, the Japanese had a slight advantage because their location was overcast whereas the American fleet were exposed by clear skies, at 8:15 am by chance an American Dauntless from The Lexington dived below the clouds and saw some ships, and although it was shot at it escaped back into the clouds. The Japanese fleet were 175 miles northeast of the Americans; the pilot of the Dauntless Quickly radioed the information to the American fleet.

At 8:50am, The Yorktown sent out 24 dive-bombers and 2 fighters followed by 9 torpedo planes and 4 fighters as an escort. A few minutes later The Lexington sent out a flight of 22 dive-bombers with 2 fighters and 11 torpedo planes escorted by 9 fighters.

The Japanese had also spotted the American fleet and had sent 51 bombers and 18 fighters to attack them.

At 10:30am the American dive-bombers sighted the Japanese fleet and went into the clouds to wait until the slower torpedo planes caught up.

The American planes attacked The Shokaku, just as the cloud cover was dispersing but they had been spotted and the Japanese had already sent out fighters to repel them, 3 Dauntlesses were shot down disrupting the American attack but 2 of their payload had hit the Japanese ship, damaging the flight deck making it impossible for any more planes to take off, the other bomb started a fire on the ship. The ship remained controllable though and as a result the American torpedoes missed their target or failed to explode.

The dive-bombers failed to find their target ran low on fuel and had to return to the Lexington, the torpedo planes and fighters though continued the search and found the target 15 miles out, they came under attack immediately from Japanese Zero's the wildcats were driven off by the zero's but not before the devastators released their torpedoes, yet again the torpedoes failed to find their targets.

With clear skies above them the Americans were a sitting duck in the water, and at 10:55am they came under attack from the Japanese both the Lexington and the York came under heavy attack.

The Yorktown managed to dodge 8 torpedoes and everything that the dive bombers threw at her in the first wave of the attack, but in the second wave an 800pound bomb penetrated the deck went through 3 floors of the ship and then exploded, killing 66 American sailors instantly, the Yorktown was ablaze but still afloat, the Japanese then turned their attention on the Lexington, they attacked both bows with torpedoes.

2 torpedoes hit and all 3 of the Lexington's boiler rooms were flooded, 2 dive-bombers also scored direct hits which caused the ship to list, the Japanese then turned for home jubilant in their success. But their jubilation was short lived when on their return they realised that they had to ditch into the sea because of the damage to their carriers caused by the Americans.

Fuel was escaping from the Lexington and at 12:47 a spark from a generator caught fire and the ship was rocked by an enormous explosion, a second explosion was heard 2 hours later. The fires onboard the ship became too much for the crew to handle and at 5:10pm the order was made to abandon ship.

At 7:56 PM an American Destroyer hit the Lexington with 5 torpedoes sending her to the bottom of the sea.

The Japanese and The Americans both claimed victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese because they had damaged the American fleet and the Americans because they halted the Japanese invasion of Port Moseby.

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Comments 9 comments

balisunset profile image

balisunset 8 years ago from A tropical paradise island

For Japan this is a tactical victory, trading a tiny carrier for a large US fleet carrier

 For US this is a strategic victory, the first time that Japanese offensive is blunted.

 If just Japan didn't divide their mighty Kido Butai, Zuikaku and Shokaku will be available for Midway offensive.

 There we would see 6 Japanese carriers facing 4 US carriers, a great showdown that Yamamoto have been dreamt of.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Fascinating reading, Jimmy. It particularly interests me because my uncle Bill (Hogan) was killed when his destroyer, the Gregory, was sunk, along with its sister ship, the Little, on the morning of Sept. 5, 1942 by a superior Japanese force. I'm very glad that you've taken an interest in WW II history, and I appreciate these hubs.


Cathy 8 years ago

Hey Jimmy

Love your pieces! Thanks for sharing your passion for historical research. Have you ever been to Arromanches? Great history place!

Love to you and yours!

Cathy


balisunset profile image

balisunset 8 years ago from A tropical paradise island

Hi Torpey...USS Gregory is actually a fast transport (APD), converted from obsolete destroyers....


2patricias profile image

2patricias 8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Thanks for an interesting Hub. Wish my history teacher had been half as good.


jacobworld profile image

jacobworld 8 years ago from Ireland

goos stuff


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Thanks for the clarification, balisunset. I guess I should have known. I have a cousin who obtained declassified information from several sources, including some data, I believe, through Freedom of Information. Based on "NavSource Online, Destroyer Photo Archive" the USS Gregory was a "DD-82 APD-3," as you've indicated. Also, the Four Stack APD Veterans Ship Conversion List says the Gregory was commissioned on April 6, 1918. I have copies of statements given by several survivors, including Commanding Officer H. Heine, Jr., describing what they saw, heard and did on that fateful day, Sept. 5, 1942. The Conversion List also indicates the Gregory was "Sunk by enemy gunfire (DDs Yadachi, Hatsukuki & Marukumo.)


Kevin Michaels profile image

Kevin Michaels 8 years ago from New England

Not to be a pain but the carrier pictured above is the USS Enterprise, isn't it?


angel dang 5 years ago

i hate wars

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