The Battle of the Coral Sea fought from 4–8 May 1942, was a major naval battle between the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and naval and air forces from the United States and Australia, taking place in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The battle is historically significant as the first action in which aircraft carriers engaged each other, as well as the first in which neither side’s ships sighted or fired directly upon the other.
In an attempt to strengthen its defensive position in the South Pacific, Japan decided to invade and occupy Port Moresby (in New Guinea) and Tulagi (in the southeastern Solomon Islands). The plan to accomplish this was called Operation MO, and involved several major units of Japan’s Combined Fleet. These included two fleet carriers and a light carrier to provide air cover for the invasion forces. It was under the overall command of Japanese Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue.
The U.S. learned of the Japanese plan through signals intelligence, and sent two United States Navy carrier task forces and a joint Australian-American cruiser force to oppose the offensive. These were under the overall command of American Admiral Frank J. Fletcher.
On 3–4 May, Japanese forces successfully invaded and occupied Tulagi, although several of their supporting warships were sunk or damaged in surprise attacks by aircraft from the U.S. fleet carrier Yorktown. Now aware of the presence of U.S. carriers in the area, the Japanese fleet carriers advanced towards the Coral Sea with the intention of locating and destroying the Allied naval forces. Beginning on 7 May, the carrier forces from the two sides engaged in airstrikes over two consecutive days. On the first day, the U.S. sank the Japanese light carrier Shōhō; meanwhile, the Japanese sank a U.S. destroyer and heavily damaged a fleet oiler (which was later scuttled). The next day, the Japanese fleet carrier Shōkaku was heavily damaged, the U.S. fleet carrier Lexington critically damaged (and later scuttled), and Yorktown damaged. With both sides having suffered heavy losses in aircraft and carriers damaged or sunk, the two forces disengaged and retired from the battle area. Because of the loss of carrier air cover, Inoue recalled the Port Moresby invasion fleet, intending to try again later.
Although a tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of ships sunk, the battle would prove to be a strategic victory for the Allies for several reasons. The battle marked the first time since the start of the war that a major Japanese advance had been checked by the Allies. More importantly, the Japanese fleet carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku – the former damaged and the latter with a depleted aircraft complement – were unable to participate in the Battle of Midway (the following month) while Yorktown did participate, ensuring a rough parity in aircraft between the two adversaries and contributing significantly to the U.S. victory in that battle. The severe losses in carriers at Midway prevented the Japanese from reattempting to invade Port Moresby from the ocean and helped prompt their ill-fated land offensive over the Kokoda trail. Two months later, the Allies took advantage of Japan’s resulting strategic vulnerability in the South Pacific and launched the Guadalcanal Campaign; this, along with the New Guinea Campaign, eventually broke Japanese defenses in the South Pacific and was a significant contributing factor to Japan’s ultimate defeat in World War II.
In the terms of the Pacific War, how did this battle change the shape of the campaign before the battle of Midway?
How do you guys think Midway would have went if the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku were present at the battle alongside the other carriers?
Neither side saw each other during this battle and yet it happened.
Pretty much declared a draw, what do you guys think?