Coral Sea, Battle of the

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Coral Sea, Battle of the (1942).The first confrontation during World War II between American and Japanese aircraft carriers occurred on 7–8 May 1942 in the Southwest Pacific. Imperial Japanese naval forces under Vice Adm. Shigeyoshi Inoue, Fourth Fleet commander, sought to capture Port Moresby in southeastern New Guinea and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands in order to threaten Australia to the south across the Coral Sea. The fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku under Vice Adm. Takeo Takagi and the light carrier Shoho with 140 planes covered the invasion forces.

Warned in April by naval code breaking of ULTRA intelligence, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, hurriedly deployed Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher's Task Force 17 with the carriers Lexington and Yorktown (a total of 138 planes) to the Coral Sea. In support were Australian and American naval and air forces from Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area.

Tulagi fell on 3 May. The Port Moresby landing was scheduled for 10 May. However, Fletcher attacked the invasion force on 7 May and sank Shoho. That morning Takagi failed to find the American carriers, but sank the fleet oiler Neosho and destroyer Sims. On 8 May in the main carrier duel, Fletcher lost Lexington and 66 planes and suffered damage to Yorktown, in return for damaging Shokaku. Although Fletcher withdrew, Inoue canceled the Port Moresby invasion due to high Japanese carrier plane losses (73 aircraft). Shokaku and Zuikaku missed the Battle of Midway in June, but Yorktown contributed decisively to the victory.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first naval battle in which opposing forces fought solely with carrier aircraft. Although it achieved a tactical victory, Japan also suffered its first strategic defeat of the Pacific War.
[See also World War II, U.S. Air Operations in; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in.]


Samuel E. Morison , History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. IV: Coral Sea, Midway, and Submarine Actions May 1942–August 1942, 1950.
John B. Lundstrom , The First South Pacific Campaign, 1976.
John B. Lundstrom , The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway, 1984; 2nd ed., 1990.

John B. Lundstrom

Coral Sea, Battle of the

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CORAL SEA, BATTLE OF THE (7–8 May 1942). As part of its World War II plan to isolate Australia, Japan sought to capture Port Moresby, in southeastern New Guinea. In early May 1942 an invasion force of three carriers under Rear Adm. Sadamichi Kajioka moved into the Coral Sea, east of New Guinea. American intelligence had broken the Japanese code, however; and a task force under Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher, including the carriers Lexington and Yorktown, was in position to intercept.

On the morning of 7 May, Japanese planes sank an American oiler and an American destroyer in an attack on what they thought was the main body of Fletcher's task force. American fliers, meanwhile, sank the Shoho. When the Japanese finally did go after Fletcher's force, they failed to locate it in the growing darkness and lost a score of planes in the effort. The next morning Fletcher's pilots missed the Zuikaku in a rainsquall but seriously damaged the Shokaku. The Japanese sank the Lexington but suffered heavy plane losses. Deprived of air cover, Kajioka called off the Port Moresby invasion.

The Battle of the Coral Sea, history's first carrier battle, was tactically a draw: the Americans lost more ships, and the Japanese, more planes. But it was an American strategic victory. Not only was Port Moresby saved, but both surviving Japanese carriers had been put out of action—the Shokaku for repairs and the Zuikaku in order to replenish its aircraft. Neither could take part in the great battle of Midway, in June, whereas the Yorktown was repaired in time to participate.


Hoyt, Edwin P. Blue Skies and Blood: The Battle of the Coral Sea. New York: Jove, 1975.

Lundstrom, John B. The First South Pacific Campaign: Pacific Fleet Strategy, December 1941–June 1942. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1976.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 4. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.

Stanley L.Falk/a. r.

See alsoAircraft Carriers and Naval Aircraft ; Bismarck Sea, Battle of ; Midway, Battle of ; World War II, Navy in .

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Battle of the Coral Sea 1942

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