Battle of the Coral Sea

gigatos | November 11, 2021


The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought between 4-8 May 1942, was a major naval battle of the Pacific War, fought between Imperial Japanese naval forces and Allied air and naval forces from the United States and Australia during World War II. The battle is established as the first naval battle in which enemy aircraft carriers directly attacked each other, and it was also the first naval battle in which enemy fleets did not directly target and fire upon each other.

In an attempt to strengthen its position in the South Pacific, Japanese Empire forces decided to invade and occupy Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi(d) in the Solomon Islands to the southeast. The plan was called Operation MO and involved several major units of the Japanese fleet, including three aircraft carriers, to provide air defences for the invading fleet, under the command of Shigeyoshi Inoue(d). The United States learned of the Japanese plan by intercepting communications and sent two aircraft carriers accompanied by American and Australian cruisers(d) under Admiral Frank J. Fletcher to stop the Japanese offensive.

On 3 and 4 May, Japanese forces invaded and occupied Tulagi, although several of the supporting warships were captured and sunk or only damaged by aircraft from the aircraft carrier ””Yorktown””(d). Having been warned by now of the presence of American carriers in the area, Japanese carriers entered the Coral Sea with the intention of finding and destroying Allied naval forces.

Since 7 May, aircraft carriers from both sides have executed air strikes on two consecutive days. On the first day, the United States sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō, and the Japanese sank a destroyer and severely damaged an oil tanker (which was later allowed to sink). The following day, the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku and the American aircraft carrier ””Lexington””(d) (which was also evacuated) were damaged, and the aircraft carrier Yorktown was damaged. As both sides suffered heavy damage in the form of lost aircraft and damaged or destroyed aircraft carriers, the fleets withdrew from the conflict area. Having lost the air defences provided by the carriers, Inoue withdrew the fleet from Port Moresby with the intention of attacking later.

Although it was a tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of the number of ships sunk, the battle would prove to be a strategic victory for the Allies for several reasons. The Japanese expansion, which had seemed unstoppable up to that point, was repulsed for the first time. More importantly, the Japanese aircraft carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku – one damaged and the other with depleted aircraft numbers – would be unable to engage in the Battle of Midway, which was to take place the following month, thus ensuring a tie in aircraft numbers between the two adversaries that would contribute significantly to the U.S. victory in that battle. Because the Japanese lost aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway, they were unable to invade Port Moresby from the ocean. Two months later, the Allies took advantage of the Japanese strategic vulnerability and launched the Guadalcanal Campaign which, along with the New Guinea Campaign, led to the breakup of the Japanese defenses in the South Pacific and was a major factor in Japan”s defeat in World War II.

Expansion of the Japanese Empire

On 7 December 1941, using aircraft carriers, the Japanese attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack destroyed or damaged most of the fleet”s warships and led to the formal declaration of war between the two countries. At the beginning of this war, Japanese commanders sought to neutralize the American fleet, occupy territories rich in mineral resources, and gain a strategic military base to defend their distant empire. At the same time as Pearl Harbor, the Japanese also attacked Malaya, provoking the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to join the United States in the war against Japan. According to the Imperial Japanese Navy”s “Secret Order Number 1″ dated November 1, 1941, the purpose of Japan”s initial campaigns was to “remove British and American forces from the East Netherlands Indies and the Philippines and establish a policy of self-government and economic independence.”

To achieve these ends, in the early months of 1941, in addition to Malaya, Japanese forces attacked and occupied the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, New Britain Island, the Gilbert Islands and Guam, inflicting heavy losses on Allied ground, naval and air forces. Japan planned to use these territories to establish a defence zone for its empire from which it aimed to employ attrition tactics to defeat any Allied counterattack.

At 5pm on 3 May, Fletcher was told that the Japanese fleet that had invaded Tulagi had been seen the day before approaching the Solomons. What Fletcher didn”t know was that Task Force 11 had finished refueling that morning, earlier than scheduled, and was only 111 km east of Task Force 17, but was unable to communicate its position because Fletcher had forbidden radio communications. Task Force 17 changed course and headed at 27 knots toward Guadalcanal to launch air strikes on the Japanese at Tulagi the next morning.


  1. Bătălia din Marea Coralilor
  2. Battle of the Coral Sea
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