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Battle of the Coral Sea - Carrier battle, first day

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Battle of the Coral Sea
Allied response
Tulagi
Carrier battle, first day
Afternoon operations
Carrier battle, second day
Recovery, reassessment and retreat
Significance
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Carrier battle, first day


Morning strikes

At 06:25 on May 7, Fletcher detached Crace's cruiser and destroyer force, now designated Task Group (TG) 17.3, to block the Jomard Passage. Fletcher understood that Crace would be operating without air cover since TF17's carriers would be busy trying to locate and attack the Japanese carriers. Also, the detachment of Crace's warships reduced the anti-aircraft defenses for Fletcher's carriers. Nevertheless, Fletcher decided that the risk was necessary in order to ensure that the Japanese invasion forces could not slip through to Port Moresby while he was engaged with the Japanese carriers.

Believing that Takagi's carrier force was somewhere north of his location, in the vicinity of the Louisiades, Fletcher directed Yorktown to send 10 SBD dive bombers as scouts to search that area beginning at 06:19. In the meantime, Takagi, located approximately 300 miles due east of Fletcher, had launched 12 Type 97 carrier bombers at 06:00 to scout for TF17. Hara believed that Fletcher's ships were located to the south and advised Takagi to send the aircraft to search that area. Around the same time, Gotō's cruisers Kinugasa and Furutaka launched four Kawanishi E7K2 Type 94 floatplanes to search southeast of the Louisiades. Augmenting their search were several floatplanes from Deboyne, four Kawanishi Type 97s from Tulagi, and three Mitsubishi Type 1 bombers from Rabaul. Each side readied the rest of its carrier attack aircraft to launch immediately once the enemy was located.

At 07:22 one of Takagi's carrier scouts, from Shōkaku, reported that it had located American ships 182 degrees, 163 miles from Takagi. At 07:45 the scout confirmed that it had located "one carrier, one cruiser, and three destroyers." Another Shōkaku scout aircraft quickly confirmed the sighting. The Shōkaku aircraft had actually sighted and misidentified the Neosho and Sims. Believing that he had located the American carriers, Hara, with Takagi's concurrence, immediately launched all of his available aircraft. A total of 78 aircraft, including 18 Zero fighters, 36 Type 99 dive bombers, and 24 torpedo aircraft began launching from Shōkaku and Zuikaku at 08:00 and were on their way by 08:15 towards the reported sighting.

At 08:20, one of the Furutaka aircraft found Fletcher's carriers and immediately reported it to Inoue's headquarters at Rabaul, which passed the report on to Takagi. The sighting was confirmed by a Kinugasa floatplane at 08:30. Takagi, trusting the reports from his own scout aircraft, disregarded the cruiser floatplane reports.

At 08:15, a Yorktown SBD, piloted by John L. Nielsen, sighted Japanese cruisers, either from Marumo's or Gotō's forces, screening the invasion convoy and, making an error in his coded message, reported them as "two carriers and four heavy cruisers" 200 miles northwest of TF17. Fletcher concluded that the Japanese main carrier force had been located and ordered the launch of all available carrier aircraft to attack. By 10:13, the American strike of 93 aircraft, including 18 Wildcat fighters, 53 SBD dive bombers, and 22 TBD Devastator torpedo bombers, was on its way. At 10:19, Nielson landed and discovered his coding error. At 10:12, however, Fletcher had received a report from a United States Army B-17 search aircraft which had sighted an aircraft carrier and ten transports between 30 to 60-miles from the cruisers sighted by the Yorktown SBD. The sighting was of Shōhō and the Port Moresby Invasion Force transports. Believing that this was the main Japanese carrier force, Fletcher redirected the airborne strike force towards this target.

At 09:15, Takagi's strike force reached its target area, saw the Neosho and Sims, and searched in vain for the American carriers. Finally, at 10:51 the Shōkaku scout aircraft realized that they were mistaken in their identification of the oiler and destroyer as aircraft carriers. Takagi now realized that Gotō's cruiser floatplane reports were correct and the American carriers were between him and the invasion convoy, placing the invasion forces in extreme danger. Takagi ordered his aircraft to immediately attack the Neosho and Sims and then return to their carriers as quickly as possible. At 11:15, the torpedo bombers and fighters abandoned the mission and headed back towards the carriers with their ordnance while the 36 dive bombers attacked the two American ships.

Four dive bombers attacked Sims and the rest dived on Neosho. The destroyer was hit by three bombs, broke in half, and sank immediately, killing all but 14 of her 192-man crew. Neosho was hit by seven bombs. One of the dive bombers, hit by anti-aircraft fire, crashed into the oiler. Heavily damaged and without power, Neosho was left drifting and slowly sinking. Before losing power, Neosho was able to notify Fletcher by radio that it was under attack and in trouble, but garbled any further details as to just who or what was attacking her and gave wrong coordinates for its position.

The American strike aircraft sighted Shōhō a short distance northeast of Misima Island at 10:40 and deployed to attack. The Japanese carrier was protected by six Zeros and two Type 96 fighters flying combat air patrol (CAP), as the rest of the carrier's aircraft were being prepared below decks for a strike against the American carriers. Goto's cruisers surrounded the carrier in a diamond formation, 3,000 to 5,000 yards off each of Shōhō's corners.

Attacking first, Lexington's air group hit Shōhō with two 1,000 pound bombs and five torpedoes, causing severe damage. At 11:00, Yorktown's air group attacked the burning and now almost stationary carrier, scoring with up to 11 more 1,000 pound bombs and at least two torpedoes. Literally torn apart, Shōhō sank at 11:35. Fearing more air attacks, Gotō withdrew his warships to the north, but sent the destroyer Sazanami back at 14:00 to rescue survivors. Only 203 of the carrier's 834-man crew were recovered. Three American aircraft were lost in the attack, including two SBDs from Lexington and one from Yorktown. All of Shōhō's aircraft complement of 18 was lost but three of the CAP fighter pilots were able to ditch at Deboyne and survived. At 12:10, using a prearranged message to signal TF17 on the success of the mission, Lexington SBD pilot Robert E. Dixon radioed "Scratch one flat top! Signed Bob."


Last Updated ( Saturday, 18 April 2009 14:12 )  

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