Battle of the Coral Sea, 7-8 May 1942
Overview and Special Image Selection



The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and eastward from New Guinea, was the first of the Pacific War's six fights between opposing aircraft carrier forces. Though the Japanese could rightly claim a tactical victory on "points", it was an operational and strategic defeat for them, the first major check on the great offensive they had begun five months earlier at Pearl Harbor. The diversion of Japanese resources represented by the Coral Sea battle would also have immense consequences a month later, at the Battle of Midway.

The Coral Sea action resulted from a Japanese amphibious operation intended to capture Port Moresby, located on New Guinea's southeastern coast. A Japanese air base there would threaten northeastern Australia and support plans for further expansion into the South Pacific, possibly helping to drive Australia out of the war and certainly enhancing the strategic defenses of Japan's newly-enlarged oceanic empire.

The Japanese operation included two seaborne invasion forces, a minor one targeting Tulagi, in the Southern Solomons, and the main one aimed at Port Moresby. These would be supported by land-based airpower from bases to the north and by two naval forces containing a small aircraft carrier, several cruisers, seaplane tenders and gunboats. More distant cover would be provided by the big aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku with their escorting cruisers and destroyers. The U.S. Navy, tipped off to the enemy plans by superior communications intelligence, countered with two of its own carriers, plus cruisers (including two from the Australian Navy), destroyers, submarines, land-based bombers and patrol seaplanes.

Preliminary operations on 3-6 May and two days of active carrier combat on 7-8 May cost the United States one aircraft carrier, a destroyer and one of its very valuable fleet oilers, plus damage to the second carrier. However, the Japanese were forced to cancel their Port Moresby seaborne invasion. In the fighting, they lost a light carrier, a destroyer and some smaller ships. Shokaku received serious bomb damage and Zuikaku's air group was badly depleted. Most importantly, those two carriers were eliminated from the upcoming Midway operation, contributing by their absence to that terrible Japanese defeat.


This page features a historical overview and special image selection on the Battle of the Coral Sea, chosen from the more comprehensive coverage featured in the following pages


Click photograph for larger image.

Photo #: 80-G-17026

Battle of Coral Sea, May 1942


Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho is torpedoed, during attacks by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft in the late morning of 7 May 1942.
Photographed from a USS Lexington (CV-2) plane.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives

Online Image: 52KB; 740 x 425

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-16569

Battle of Coral Sea, May 1942


USS Lexington (CV-2) during the action, seen from USS Yorktown (CV-5), 8 May 1942.
Large number of planes on deck and low sun indicate that the photo was taken early in the morning, prior to launching the strike against the Japanese carrier force. Yorktown has several SBDs and F4Fs on deck with engines running, apparently preparing to take off. Lexington, whose silhouette has been altered by the earlier removal of her 8-inch gun turrets, has planes parked fore and aft, and may be respotting her deck in preparation for launching aircraft.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, U.S. National Archives

Online Image: 120KB; 740 x 610

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-17031

Battle of Coral Sea, May 1942


Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku under attack by USS Yorktown (CV-5) planes, during the morning of 8 May 1942. Flames are visible from a bomb hit on her forecastle.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives

Online Image: 85KB; 740 x 610

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-19100

Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942


USS Lexington (CV-2) under Japanese dive bomber attack, shortly before Noon on 8 May 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives

Online Image: 62KB; 740 x 605

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-16802

Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942


View on the flight deck of USS Lexington (CV-2), at about 1500 hrs. on 8 May 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The ship's air group is spotted aft, with Grumman F4F-3 fighters nearest the camera. SBD scout bombers and TBD-1 torpedo planes are parked further aft. Smoke is rising around the after aircraft elevator from fires burning in the hangar.
Note fire hose, wheels, propellers, servicing stands and other gear scattered on the flight deck.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives

Online Image: 89KB; 740 x 625

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-7403

Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942


Destroyers alongside USS Lexington (CV-2) to assist in the carrier's abandonment, after she had been mortally damaged by fires and explosions during the afternoon of 8 May 1942.
Photographed from a cruiser (probably USS Minneapolis). Note SOC scouting plane, with a damaged wingtip, on the cruiser's port catapult.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives

Online Image: 84KB; 740 x 610

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-11916

Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942


A heavy explosion on board USS Lexington (CV-2) blows an aircraft over her side, 8 May 1942. This is probably the "great explosion" from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar, aft, that took place just after the ship's Commanding Officer, Captain Frederick C. Sherman, left Lexington.
At left is the bow of USS Hammann (DD-412), which was backing away with a load of the carrier's survivors on board.
This view appears to be cropped from Photo # 80-G-7413.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives

Online Image: 69KB; 740 x 610

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: NH 51382

USS Lexington (CV-2)


Burning and sinking after her crew abandoned ship during the Battle of Coral Sea, 8 May 1942.
Note planes parked aft, where fires have not yet reached.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 84KB; 740 x 610

 


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions





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