The WWII Sea Battle that Saved Australia

Early in WWII, the Japanese were taking island after island in the Pacific. They were planning on attacking Port Moresby in New Guinea in May of 1942. This was just a short five months after their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

If the Japanese could invade and take New Guinea, they would have been able to cut Australia off from the Allies and made it possible to invade Australia. The Japanese had hoped to destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but, by luck, the real might of the fleet, the aircraft carriers, were not at Pearl on that day.

The Japanese, at this time in the war, had two objectives: take Port Moresby and New Guinea and take Midway and potentially complete their plans to destroy the American Pacific Fleet. They would not succeed in either endeavor.

Photo: YouTube/Naval History and Heritage

This video is a brief account of the almost chaotic Battle of the Coral Sea. This would be the first time in history where the opposing naval forces would conduct a battle without ever seeing one another. The American and Japanese fleets would engage in a long-distance aerial battle, attacking each other’s carriers.

The battle would take place over four days, from May 4th to May 8th, 1942, exactly one month before the Battle for Midway. This naval air battle was new to both sides, and they both made some mistakes. The aerial battle began on May 5th. The two fleets had been searching for each other. When the air assets found each other, the battle began in earnest. On May 7th, Japanese carrier-based planes sank a U.S.destroyer and an oiler. Planes from Admiral Fletcher’s U.S. Fleet sank the Japanese light carrier Shōhō and a cruiser.

Photo: YouTube/Naval History and Heritage

The next day, Japanese aircraft attacked and sank the U.S. carrier Lexington and damaged the Yorktown. The Lexington was able to get most of its planes and its crew off before she went down. In return, U.S. planes off of Yorktown had so severely damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku that she had to retire from the battle. By the end of the battle, the Japanese had lost so many planes that would have been needed to support their invasion of Port Moresby that the invasion was abandoned.

The battle had been costly to both sides, but it was a narrow strategic victory for the Allies. It stopped the Japanese plans to invade and take over New Guinea, and it took one of the Japanese heavy aircraft carriers, the Shokaku, out of their planned invasion fleet for Midway, which gave the American fleet at that battle a month later a slight advantage. Midway’s victory over the Japanese fleet at Midway would prove to be decisive and would damage the Japanese Navy’s capabilities for the rest of the war.

Photo: YouTube/Naval History and Heritage

It is said of war that all of the wartime pre-planning goes to hell when the first rounds are fired. The Battle of the Coral Sea was a first of its kind. Those who fought it on both sides were learning the tactics of such warfare by the seat of their pants. It is also true that war successes are as much a matter of dumb luck and the art of flexibility as they are of any sophisticated planning. The Battle of the Coral Sea was just that. The American fleet won a narrow strategical victory, but those pilots and ship captains and crews learned a lot of valuable lessons there too.

Honor and Respect to all who were there. Your sacrifices and your courage will never be forgotten.

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