quoted another naval aviator Lewis Bishop:
“Made first pass at an angle of about 50 degrees,
speed 300 mph. Dived to within 100 ft of trucks,
releasing bombs in string.” Numerous vehicles
were destroyed or damaged, but the actual num-
ber was unknown.
Weather canceled missions on the third
day, but by then, the Chinese had crossed the
Salween north of the site, cutting off the Japanese advance.
The Coral Sea: A New Era of Naval
The naval millennium arrived in early May 1942.
For the first time in the 3,100-year recorded history of navies, two fleets fought without sighting
one another. The Battle of the Coral Sea was conducted entirely by carrier-based aircraft.
The Coral Sea is bounded by Australia and New
Guinea to the west and the Solomon Islands to the
north. Imperial Japan wanted the Allied base at
Port Moresby, in eastern New Guinea, to interdict
sea lanes to Australia. U.S. intelligence ferreted
out Tokyo’s plan and sent two carrier task forces
to intercept the multifaceted Japanese operation.
The Imperial Navy assigned a light carrier to
The Battle of the Coral Sea
in May 1942 was the first of
four carrier engagements
that year. The battle
blunted Japan’s thrust at
Port Moresby, New Guinea,
resulting in the loss of the
small Japanese carrier Shoho
and the giant USS Lexington.
(Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
Lexington sustained heavy damage
that proved fatal when gasoline fumes
that accumulated in a generator room
exploded, ripping her hull.
screen the invasion transports and two large flattops independent of the landing force. Opposing the operation were USS Lexington (CV-2) and
York town (CV- 5).
Both navies had developed ships, aircraft, and
procedures over the past 20 years.
The battle opened on May 4, when Rear Adm.
Frank Jack Fletcher’s Task Force 17 launched
strikes against the Japanese seaplane base at
Tulagi, near Guadalcanal. The Yorktowners sank
a destroyer and three minesweepers, then with-
drew to rejoin Rear Adm. Aubrey Fitch with
The two fleets probed for each other over the
next two days, coordinating with land-based
Early on May 7, reconnaissance reported the
Japanese light carrier Shoho screening the invasion transports. Lacking other information, the
Americans shot their wad: Both carriers contributed to the 93-plane strike, which found the target under clear skies.
Lexington Air Group was first on the scene and
began pummeling the little carrier in a combined
bombing-torpedo attack. Leading Yorktown’s
scouts was Lt. Cmdr. William Burch, who wrote,
“The Jap carrier was maneuvering heavily, then
turned into the wind to launch planes. I called
Lt. Cdr. Joe Taylor with our torpedo planes...he
asked me to wait because it would be five minutes
before he could arrive. I told him I wasn’t going
to wait because the carrier was launching planes
and I wasn’t going to let them get off.