The carrier battle

American accounts

As a result of the loss of the Shoho, damage to the Shokaku, and heavy loss of pilots and aircraft from both their land-based and their carrier air groups, the Japanese support force was greatly reduced. For this reason the invasion force retired and the date of projected occupation was postponed to July. In June however, the disastrous losses in carrier strength suffered by the Japanese at Midway forced final abandonment of the plan to invade Port Moresby by sea. With the turning back of the Port Moresby occupation force at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese southward expansion by sea was stopped and a base saved for the Allies which was destined to be the principal stepping stone in the Allied advance through New Guinea.

[The Campaigns of the Pacific War, United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific), Naval Analysis Division, Washington, 1946, p53]

Captain Frederick Sherman, USN, the Lexington's commanding officer, described his ship's last hours:

Simultaneously, ammunition stores started to explode and the blaze spread to the hanger deck. All this time the engineering crew below deck had stuck to their post, although the intense heat was blistering the paint of the bulkheads around them. The rapidly-spreading fire, however, finally necessitated an order to the engineering men to come up on deck. Even as they came topside telephone communications failed. Had we delayed the order one minute none would have reached the top alive. As communications were destroyed and the steering gear was gone, there was no chance of extinguishing the fire and Rear-Admiral Fitch … decided to abandon ship. I gave the order at 5.07 pm.

At sunset, in orderly fashion, though reluctantly, the men were taken off by destroyers and cruisers. They were so calm that some went below deck and filled their helmets with ice cream from the ship's stores and went over the side eating it. All arranged their shoes in orderly rows before leaving. There were no casualties in the water. All resulted from combat.

Admiral Fitch and I left the bridge together. I saw him off, then made a final inspection tour, and found 50 members of the gun crews who had not left yet. It was very touching when a petty-officer called for three cheers for the captain when they left. I then slipped down the rope to the water, and was picked up and taken to a cruiser.

[Quoted in Chris Coulthard-Clark, Action Stations Coral Sea: the Australian commander's story, North Sydney, 1991, pp121-123]

Japanese accounts

A tally of Japanese losses in the Battle of Coral Sea showed light carrier Shoho, destroyer Kikuzuki, and three small naval units sunk, carrier Shokaku damaged, some 77 planes lost, and a total of 1,074 men killed or wounded. On the other hand, actual losses inflicted on the enemy, as learned after the war, were carrier Lexington, oiler Neosho and destroyer Sims sunk, carrier Yorktown damaged, 66 planes lost, and 543 killed or wounded. Thus, if the Coral Sea battle can be said to have been a Japanese victory, it was a victory only by the narrowest numerical margin, even without taking into account the thwarting of the Port Moresby invasion. Certainly, the actual outcome was a far cry from the sweeping triumph which was announced to the Japanese nation over the radio to the stirring accompaniment of the Navy March.

[Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Kumiya, Midway: the battle that doomed Japan, London, 1957, pp116-117]

Lieutenant Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki from the Zuikaku described how it felt to attack the American aircraft carriers:

When we attacked the enemy carriers we ran into a virtual wall of anti-aircraft fire; the carriers and their supporting ships blackened the sky with exploding shells and tracers. It seemed impossible that we could survive our bombing and torpedo runs through such incredible defences … I had to fly directly above the waves to escape the enemy shells and tracers. In fact, when I turned away from the carrier, I was so low that I almost struck the bow of the ship, for I was flying below the level of the flight deck. I could see the crewmen on the ship staring at my plane as it rushed by.

[Quoted in Chris Coulthard-Clark, Action Stations Coral Sea, p119]

A Japanese diary captured by the Australians at Milne Bay in September 1942 also records details of the Coral Sea battles. The diary probably belonged to Yoshida Kamekichi. He was a member of the 1st Platoon, 3rd Company, Kure Special Naval Landing Party, a Japanese Navy unit designed for landing and ground operations, similar to the US marines. His unit was embarked on board the Japanese transport Goyo Maru, which was in the convoy heading for Port Moresby in early May 1942.

Yoshida's entries for 6-11 May 1942 refer to the Coral Sea battle, and he wrote that on 8 May

… our fleet has met disappointment. Landing in face of the enemy has been postponed for 2 days.

Yoshida Kamekichi's transport was turned back after the Battle of the Coral Sea and instead of Port Moresby they headed towards Rabaul in New Britain and then on to Kavieng in New Ireland.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), The carrier battle, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 4 March 2024,
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