Coral Sea Campaign

1700 May 5, 1942

Allied Afteraction report 1700 hours 5 May 1942

Following our successful strike at Lae earlier in the day, I ordered a follow-up strike by the B-17's on their return leg to Australia. The plan called for a low level raid by B-25's to draw down any CAP before the B-17's arrived. Through a snafu in communications, the order to launch the preliminary strike went to the 33rd Squadron of the 22nd Bomb Group (B-26) rather than the 2nd of that group (B-25). The B-26 aircraft with its substantial anti-shipping capability was to have B-26 been held on reserve for another chance at Japanese carriers, but the error in the end was very beneficial. The B-26 squadron was twice the size of the B-25, and that aircraft is generally superior as a bomber. The medium bombers performed admirably, absorbing all the damage five Zeroes could inflict and sustaining even more damage from the base AA, all the while losing only one aircraft. Their bombing delivered a severe blow to Lae's airstrip, and when the B-17's followed them in crippling damage was inflicted.

The U.S. Navy didn't fare nearly so well. The Japanese discovered the cruiser group augmenting the air defenses at Port Moresby and launched a strike by torpedo-bearing Nells. Our CAP was too high to interfere in the low level attack, although a heroic power dive by one flight of Airacobras nearly made it in. AA defenses exacted a heavy toll on the attackers, insuring the Nells won't be available for another strike anytime soon, but we lost one heavy cruiser (the Minneapolis) and a Farraguat-class destroyer. Two other cruisers took moderate damage.

AIracobra Bad as this was, it was not unexpected, and the final action of the day was far more disturbing. The first oiler task force providing support and replenishment to the destroyer escorts in the region were discovered by search planes. The enemy, apparently believing they had found our carriers launched a large strike by carrier-based aircraft and a follow-on strike by torpedo-armed Betty medium bombers. Once again AA defenses made this a very expensive operation for the carrier aircraft but by the time the Betties arrived, only a single destroyer was afloat. The Worden managed to escape the first five torpedoes fired, but that was all. She went down with all hands.

We expect to renew actions at first light. The objective remains the protection of Port Moresby from invasion, but the possibility of bagging a too-aggressive Japanese carrier is tantalizingly close. May 6 will make history.

USS Yorktown
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