Battle of the Coral Sea
Laying the Foundation for Pacific Dominance
Billows of dark grey smoke filled the Hawaiian skies. With ships toppled over and aircraft in ruins, it was like a grave site. At about 8:10 that morning, Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese had dropped a 1,800-bomb through the deck of the battle ship USS Arizona (BB 39).
The crushing blow sank Arizona with more than 1,000 Sailors trapped inside. Next, torpedoes capsized the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) with 400 Sailors aboard. By the day's end, some 20 ships and 300 aircraft were severely damaged or destroyed, and about 2,500 Sailors and Soldiers lay dead in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Historians consider the attack to be one of the most devastating incidents in our country's history. It had been a shocking wake up call to citizens who wanted to stay out of the war, and with subsequent losses throughout the Pacific, Americans needed a morale boost. The Navy wanted to take the fight back to the Japanese and set the tone for the rest of the war.
Planners saw their opportunity when U.S. intelligence personnel intercepted Japanese plans to capture Port Moresby on the southeastern coast of New Guinea, hoping to eliminate the last Allied base between Japan and Australia. The U.S. responded by sending two carriers, USS Lexington (CVN 16) and USS Yorktown (CV 5), as well as cruisers, destroyers, submarines, land-based bombers and patrol seaplanes.
On May 7, 1942, Japanese scout planes located the Navy-operated oiler Neosho (AO 23) and the destroyer USS Sims (DD 409). The ensuing conflict, the Battle of the Coral Sea, would be the first naval battle between aircraft carriers, and the first battle in which opposing ships never saw or directly fired upon one another. They didn't need to: Aircraft carriers had become the most important ships in naval warfare, as opposed to battleships. They could deploy large numbers of aircraft in a short period of time, allowing a larger attack radius. The same was true of the enemy: Thirty-six Japanese dive bombers attacked the two American ships, hitting Sims with three bombs. The destroyer broke in half, sinking immediately. Only 14 crew members out of 192 survived.