Battle of the Coral Sea

May 03, 2019

On 4 May 1942, the pivotal four-day Battle of the Coral Sea commenced, seeing US and Australian allies defeat the advancing Japanese Empire, dramatically changing the direction of WWII in the Pacific.

This strategic Allied victory thwarted Japan's Pacific aspirations. By failing to take Port Moresby by sea – and isolate Australia from America – Japan turned its efforts to capturing the city via an overland PNG route, triggering the four-month Kokoda Campaign later that year.

Like the Siege of Tobruk a year before, where German imperialists first met their match against dug-in Aussie and other “Rats of Tobruk”, the Battle of the Coral Sea was the first major defeat the Japanese military machine suffered in the Pacific. Losing in the Coral Sea punctured Japan's aura of invincibility and reversed momentum and confidence. The Allies went on to smash the Japanese in the Battle of Midway one month later, from which they never recovered.

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Further details

The aircraft carrier Japan lost in the Coral Sea deprived them of vital air-power they needed to seize the strategic Midway Atoll air-base from the Americans. While both sides lost an aircraft carrier and destroyer each, the Japanese lost a third more aircraft and a half more men than the Allies, despite having more ships and similar numbers of aircraft.

Australian involvement in the battle included the two cruisers HMAS Australia (heavy) and Hobart (light), our signal decoders in Melbourne that picked up the early intel on the Japanese assault, and reconnaissance aircraft from our bases in Townsville and Cooktown.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was unique in two other respects. It was the first air-sea battle in history – where aircraft launched from ships at sea played the lead role, with the chief targets being the aircraft carriers themselves. It was also the first sea battle where the opposing ships neither saw nor fired on each other.

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