Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Battle for Australia - Battle of the Coral Sea

Imagine the momentum built up by an empire that has rapidly expanded, seemingly unstoppable, sweeping through its enemies, your defenses. Imagine that empire headed your way, relentlessly nearing your homes, your beaches, your country.

That's what living in Asia was like as the Japanese rolled to victory after victory. In early May, 1942, they were driving toward Port Moresby in New Guinea, a place that could allow them to dominate the northern part of Australia. And they got stopped.

Not in one of those "we have met the enemy and he is ours" moments, but in a battle in which the tactical losers gained a strategic advantage that came to full fruition later. Australian and US forces engaged the Japanese and stopped them. It was the The Battle for Australia - Battle of the Coral Sea:
The Battle of the Coral Sea was a series of naval engagements off the north-east coast of Australia between 4 and 8 May 1942. It was fought by Allied (United States and Australian) and Japanese aircraft against four different major groups of warships.
It was the first aircraft carrier battle ever fought, and the first naval battle in which the opposing forces of surface ships at no stage sighted or fired at each other. All attacks were carried out by aeroplanes.It is also the largest naval battle that has ever been fought off Australia’s shores.

The battle was significant for two main reasons:

* it was the first time in World War 2 that the Japanese experienced failure in a major operation; and
* the battle stopped the Japanese sea-borne invasion of Port Moresby. Others will cover the carrier battle better than I can (see Steeljaw Scribe here). But I want to take exception with the assertion that the "two main reasons" set forth above were the most significant. As the same author notes, the Japanese plan was not necessarily to invade Australia, but to make it unusable to the Allies:
By early 1942 the Japanese had achieved their initial aim of having a defensible perimeter around their territorial gains.

A war plan of November 1941 identified areas to be rapidly occupied or destroyed as soon as the war situation permitted, and ‘important points in the Australian area’ were part of that.

But there was now disagreement between the Japanese Army and Navy leaders about what should be done next. The Army favoured continuing the offensive beyond New Britain, to include capturing Port Moresby, the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. This would cut off communication and supplies between Australia and the United States, thereby isolating Australia and negating its potential as a supplier of fighting personnel and commodities, and a base from which resurgent American military might could be applied against Japan’s new possessions.
The failure of that plan, as a result of the Battle of the Coral Sea, coupled with the American victory at Midway, allowed the island hopping campaign that pushed back the Japanese defense perimeter to the Japanese homeland.

It kept a vital sea line of communication open and helped seal the ultimate victory.

Three Medals of Honor were awarded for actions during the Battle, as set out here.

Sixty-five years ago.

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