|Solomon Islands or Battle of the Santa Cruz?|
|Carrier action - post first strike actions|
Although a tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of ships sunk, it came at a high cost for Japanese naval forces. Both damaged carriers were forced to return to Japan for extensive repairs and refitting. After repair, Zuihō returned to Truk in late January 1943. Shōkaku was under repair until March 1943 and did not return to the front until July 1943, when she was reunited with Zuikaku at Truk.
The most significant losses for the Japanese Navy, however, were in aircrew. The U.S. lost 26 aircrew members in the battle. The Japanese, on the other hand, lost 148 aircrew members including two dive bomber group leaders, three torpedo squadron leaders, and 18 other section or flight leaders. Forty-nine percent of the Japanese torpedo bomber aircrews involved in the battle were killed along with 39% of the dive bomber crews and 20% of the fighter pilots. The Japanese lost more aircrew at Santa Cruz than they had lost in each of the three previous carrier battles at Coral Sea (90), Midway (110), and Eastern Solomons (61). By the end of the Santa Cruz battle, at least 409 of the 765 elite Japanese carrier aviators who had participated in the Attack on Pearl Harbor were dead. The Japanese lost so many aircrew members that undamaged Zuikaku and Hiyō were also forced to return to Japan because of a scarcity of trained aircrew to man their air groups. Admiral Nagumo, upon being relieved of command shortly after the battle and reassigned to shore duty in Japan, stated, "This battle was a tactical win, but a shattering strategic loss for Japan. Considering the great superiority of our enemy's industrial capacity, we must win every battle overwhelmingly. This last one, unfortunately, was not an overwhelming victory."
With its veteran carrier aircrew ranks decimated, and with no quick way to replace them because of an institutionalized limited capacity in its naval aircrew training programs and an absence of trained reserves, Japan lost its strategic opportunity to defeat Allied naval carrier forces in a single, decisive battle before the industrial might of the U.S. placed that goal out of reach. Although they returned to Truk by the summer of 1943, the Japanese carriers played no further offensive role in the decisive Solomon Islands campaign. Historian Eric Hammel summed-up the significance of the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands as, "Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory. That victory cost Japan her last best hope to win the war.