In May 1942, the Japanese were poised to take Port Moresby in New Guinea.
At all costs the Americans had to stop them.
Admiral Frank Fletcher was dispatched with two aircraft carriers – Yorktown and Lexington – with orders to destroy the Japanese invasion force.
The fate of the Pacific was in the balance.
‘Coral Sea 1942’ tells the dramatic story of that conflict.
The battle spread over five days as each side desperately searched for the other. At first, all Fletcher could find were side shows. He smashed a secondary invasion at Tulagi. He sank the light carrier Shōhō protecting the invasion fleet. But only on the fifth day did he find his real prey: the carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku. The Zuikaku fled to hide under thick cloud, while the Shōkaku was pounded by American bombers and torpedo planes. Crippled, she too fled.
Meanwhile the Japanese carrier planes mounted attack after attack on the Yorktown and Lexington. The latter was mortally damaged by volcanic-sized explosions in her fuel tanks.
But the great Coral Sea victory came at a price. Pilots died in dog-fights; crippled planes fell into the sea; damaged planes crashed onto carrier flight decks; and pilots found themselves stranded on remote islands.
But the battle was an American triumph. Japan entered it as an aggressor at the peak of her imperial power. She left the battle with her dominance shattered.
The tide had turned.
‘Coral Sea 1942’ is a brilliantly concise and insightful guide to one of the greatest naval battles of the 20th-century.
Richard Freeman graduated in mathematics before following a career in distance education. He now writes on naval history. His other books include ‘Britain’s Greatest Naval Battle’ and ‘A Close Run Thing: The Navy and the Falkland War’.
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