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The Battle of the Coral Sea was a battle which took place in the South Pacific from May 4, 1942 to May 8, 1942. The participants of the battle were Australia, the United States, and Japan. The battle was extremely important because if it were to result in a Japanese victory, the path would be clear to an invasion of Australia, however, if it were to result in an Allied victory as it did, Japan would be for the first time in the war be stopped  and it would mark Japan's transition into the defensive from Midway on.

One of the more notable things about the battle is that the battle was fought entirely by aircraft with not a single pair of enemy ships making contact with each other. All the ships sunk were due to aircraft bombardment. In total, Japanese casualties consisted of one light aircraft carrier (the Shōhō) and the regular aircraft carrier Shokaku being heavily damaged.[1]

Additionally, 1 Japanese destroyer was destroyed and another destroyer damaged along with 92 aircraft and 966 killed. The Allied casualties consisted of the loss of the USS Lexington (CV-2), a destroyer, and an oiler destroyed

along with 69 aircraft destroyed and 656 killed. The battle result is inconclusive and is often dubbed a Japanese tactical victory because of the damage inflicted to the Allies, it is also dubbed an Allied strategic victory because it stopped the Japanese invasion of Australia.

Planning and Preparation

In order to protect Japan's recent gains in the Dutch East Indies, Japan planned to capture all the islands in the Soloman chain to create a barrier around their new territories. Additionally, Japanese military commanders like Isoroku Yamamoto believed that in order to ensure Japan's safety in the Pacific, they would need to eliminate the American's carriers.[2] Although the Japanese did not mean to directly attack the American carriers in a naval battle, once they had discovered them, they quickly attacked the enemy fleet. In reality, the Japanese had deployed their carriers to protect their other warships and transport ships which were headed for the invasion of Port Moresby. This invasion force was then discovered by Allied forces. Following its detection, the Allied forces, namely the United States dispatched several warships including the USS Lexington and USS Yorktown.

The Battle

The battle of the Coral Sea began on May 4, 1942 when the aircraft carrier Yorktown launched three strikes against the Japanese garrison and seaplane base on Tulagi Atoll. The Japanese base was badly damaged and mostly destroyed and nearby, a destroyer and several transport ships were also destroyed.[3] Although the base had been attacked, neither side had been successful in locating the enemy's main fleet. By May 7 both sides were in position ready to combat each other. That same day the Japanese launched their first strike against the Allied fleet missing most of their targets. However, secondary attacks managed to sink the USS Sims (DD-409). Later that day, commander of the Royal Navy ships in the battle Rear Admiral J. C. Crace came under attack by Japanese bombers, followed by American B-26 Marauders which mistook his taskforce for the Japanese.
USS Lexington under attack at Coral Sea

The USS Lexington under attack by Japanese aircraft, at the battle of the Coral Sea.

US intelligence later claimed to have spotted the Japanese fleet, but when investigated by Yorktown planes, it turned out to be just support elements. However, planes dispatched from the Lexington found and along with planes from the Yorktown sunk the light aircraft carrier Shōhō. The next day, May 8 saw far more combat. Early on, planes dispatched from both sides attacked each other's carriers resulting in the destruction of the aircraft carrier Lexington and the damaging of the carrier Shokaku. The Lexington was only doomed when a bomb hit the main ammunition cache decimating the ship with an internal explosion. Following these events, the Japanese fleet pulled back, effectively ending the battle.



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