Coral Sea Campaign
0700 to 1300, May 4, 1942
After the initial Allied attack on Lae both sides settled back and began to work on long
range plans. Between 0700 and 1100 assets were shifted from base to base to prepare to meet the
onslaught of the enemy forces. Both sides also frantically searched for the other's carriers. If these
could be neutralized then achieving victory would be much more likely. Both fleets were moving
at flank speed throughout this period to get into position to attack the enemy.
The Allies lost two PBYs during the morning, both over the Japanese base at Tulagi. This
may reduce their ability to locate the enemy.
At about 1100 fortune smiled on the Allies. Eight Dauntlesses of VS2 from the Lexington,
on a search mission, found the seaplane tender Kimakawa Maru and her two light cruiser escorts
in the Louisiade Archipelago and immediately launched an attack. The attack wasn't as successful
as they would have liked, with only the light cruiser Tenryu slightly damaged. This was just a
sideshow, however, as a PBY from 20 RAAF reported seven ships just North of the Trobriand
Islands and within range of land based bombers at Port Moresby.
Analyzing this data and hoping it might be the main IJN carrier force, the Allies scrambled
eleven B-26 Marauders of 19/22 Bomb Group and four SBD Dauntlesses of 8/3 Bomb Group,
with an escort of three Airacobras from 35/8 Pursuit Group, to see what was there and what
damage they could do. The Japanese, on the other hand, responding to a false sighting to the
Southeast, had sent a flight of bombers and many fighters from their carrier Zuikaku on a futile
mission. These fighters would be sorely missed.
As the Allied flight came into visual range of the Japanese task force they saw that it
indeed was the main carrier force. The Japanese had only six planes from the Zuikaku flying CAP
when the Allied attack arrived. The Allied commander was heard to remark "Oh boy! Oh
The American bombers kept their formations very tight and the Zeros had a very difficult
time getting into position. The majority of the Zeros went after the dive bombers, but they
delayed their attack too long and the Dauntlesses escaped virtually unhurt. There was little
dogfighting as the Airacobras were embarrassed by the maneuverability of the Zeros and kept well
out of the way for most of the fight.
The dive bombers went after the carrier Zuikaku, and landed one bomb on her deck, but
this caused very little damage. One of the flight broke off to attack the Shokaku, but it was shot
down before it could release its bomb. The Marauders, though, had better luck.
They were initially ordered to attack the Zuikaku, but due to a miscalculation the
Marauders were unable to get into position to launch at that vessel. It what must have been an
astounding sight for the Japanese the B-26s flew right over the deck of the Zuikaku. Several of
the pilots reported that they saw Japanese officers firing pistols at them!
AA fire was heavy and the Marauders started taking some serious damage. One
evaporated in a sheet of flame as a shell exploded in its fuel tank. The rest pressed on the attack
and the flight launched three torpedoes at the carrier Shokaku. These all turned out to be duds. A
second launch was more successful and the Shokaku took two very serious hits, became shrouded
in smoke, and immediately took on a visible list to port. A second flight attacked the heavy cruiser
Hagaro and left it burning and listing as well. Both were assumed to be sunk.
After the attack the Allies had a surprising number of planes return to Port Moresby. Most
were very badly shot up and will take a very long time to repair. But the Japanese, with the loss of
one of their heavy carrier, have been seriously injured. Both sides will have to regroup and
reevaluate their plans based on this new development. The Japanese have proclaimed that they
will still take Port Moresby and isolate Australia, but the Allies will probably sleep better