Battle of Coral Sea: Toughness in Battle Forges Committed Partners

It was the first sea battle in world history where opposing ships were not in visual range of one another during actual fighting. All damage to the ships was inflicted by aircraft. Secondly, it represented the first time since the Dec. 7th attacks that the enemy advance in the Pacific was halted. And finally, because of the battle’s impact, it afforded the Allies in the Pacific a very much-needed confidence boost when our nations – and the free world – needed it.

It was the first sea battle in world history where opposing ships were not in visual range of one another during actual fighting. All damage to the ships was inflicted by aircraft. Secondly, it represented the first time since the Dec. 7th attacks that the enemy advance in the Pacific was halted. And finally, because of the battle’s impact, it afforded the Allies in the Pacific a very much-needed confidence boost when our nations – and the free world – needed it.

By Rear Admiral (select) Michael P. Holland, Director, U.S. Pacific Fleet Maritime Headquarters

On May 7th, I’ll be speaking in Brisbane, Australia, at the 74th Commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea, and recognizing our Australian-American Alliance.  Our relationship has been strong and is only getting stronger.  In fact our countries reaffirmed our commitment to collective security not long ago.

Occurring between the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the victory at the Battle of Midway, it’s understandable why some may not fully appreciate just how crucial this battle was. In short, the American and Australian forces turned back an invasion force to New Guinea in May 1942.  At that place and time, the engagement was significant for a number of reasons.

It was the first sea battle in world history where opposing ships were not in visual range of one another during actual fighting. All damage to the ships was inflicted by aircraft. Secondly, it represented the first time since the Dec. 7th attacks that the enemy advance in the Pacific was halted. And finally, because of the battle’s impact, it afforded the Allies in the Pacific a very much-needed confidence boost when our nations – and the free world – needed it.

USS Neosho  (AO 23). A wave breaks over her main deck, engulfing the hose crew, as she refuels USS Yorktown (CV 5) in early May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Coral Sea. Neosho was lost in that battle. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Neosho (AO 23). A wave breaks over her main deck, engulfing the hose crew, as she refuels USS Yorktown (CV 5) in early May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Coral Sea. Neosho was lost in that battle. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

In this early combat test, our Sailors demonstrated toughness, initiative and integrity. In the end, allied dive-bombers inflicted heavy damage on the enemy carrier Shokaku, and the Zuikaku lost nearly all its aircraft. On the allied side, the American Navy oiler Neosho, destroyer USS Sims and USS Lexington were lost, and USS Yorktown was severely damaged. In reality, both sides withdrew in what might have appeared to a casual observer as a draw. But the objective to take Port Moresby had been thwarted.

If you’d like an excellent primer on the ultimately unsuccessful Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby in May 1942, see Dr. Milan Vego’s account of events in the U.S. Naval War College Review.

Seventy-four years later, I’m humbled to represent our Navy and nation in paying respects to the veterans whose courage and determination stemmed the enemy’s advance so early in the war. Their commitment to the mission – and each other – planted the seeds for our bond today.

Shokaku. Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku attacked by USS Yorktown (CV-5) planes, during the morning of 8 May 1942. Flames from a bomb hit on her forecastle are visible, as are smoke and splashes from dive bombers' near misses off her starboard side. Photographed from a Torpedo Squadron Five TBD-1. What appear to be erratic torpedo tracks are visible in the lower left. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Shokaku. Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku attacked by USS Yorktown (CV-5) planes, during the morning of 8 May 1942. Flames from a bomb hit on her forecastle are visible, as are smoke and splashes from dive bombers’ near misses off her starboard side. Photographed from a Torpedo Squadron Five TBD-1. What appear to be erratic torpedo tracks are visible in the lower left. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

The U.S.-Australia alliance has been an anchor of peace and stability in this region for decades now. Our combined capabilities, coupled with our close relationships, have enabled our national alliance to become a regional anchor of strength, credibility and endurance.

Continued promotion of the rules-based system that evolved over 70 years from the ashes of World War II, remains the best possible way forward for all nations in this region – large and small – to continue to rise peacefully, confidently, securely and economically. The current system that has served us all so well is the foundation for shared use of maritime waterways and resources. Freedom from major conflict and adherence to these rules were catalysts for the economic transformation that spread across Asia in the post-war era.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important engagement, visit the Battle of Coral Sea web section on the Naval History and Heritage Command web site.

 

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