The naval millennium arrived late, but in the
spring of 1942, for the first time in history,
opposing fleets fought decisive engagements
without sighting one another.
That year, the U.S. and Japanese navies had
been testing, evaluating, and perfecting aircraft
carriers for two decades. Though both remained
heavily committed to battleships, their carriers
steamed at the tip of Neptune’s trident, as
evidenced in May.
American code breakers divined Tokyo’s
intention to seize Port Moresby, New Guinea,
threatening sea lanes to Australia. The U.S. Pacific
Fleet sent its only available carriers to intervene.
On May 7, USS Lexington (CV-2) and Yorktown
(CV- 5) launched a massive 93-plane air strike
against the small carrier Shōhō. She went down in
barely 20 minutes.
The next morning, both task forces exchanged
blows. “Lex” and “Yorky” struck first, badly
damaging Shōkaku, which limped away. But
Japan’s highly professional aviators sank Lexington
and damaged Yorktown, which withdrew to Pearl
Coral Sea was a U.S. strategic victory but a
costly one. Both sides lost about half their aircraft,
an indicator of things to come.
The combination of SBD dive-bombers and F4F Wildcats proved lethal in the
battles of the Coral Sea and Mid way. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
The USS Yorktown lists heavily after being torpedoed by I-168 on
June 6, 1942. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)