Scramble the F4F Wildcats our Carrier's Under Attack
Fresh from their successes in the Indian Ocean, the Japanese decided (unwisely) to extend their defensive perimeter outwards from their main forward base of Rabaul, in New Britain. Accordingly, they put together two invasion forces; one intending to land troops at Port Moresby, on the southern tip of New Guinea, and a second to put troops ashore on the island of Tulagi, in the southern Solomons. Simultaneously, a powerful screening force centered on the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku was dispatched from Truk to prevent any interference from any Allied naval forces that might be in the area. As it turned out, the carriers Lexington and Yorktown were in the Coral Sea, the Americans having been alerted to the likelihood of such a Japanese move by radio intelligence. What followed was the first true carrier vs. carrier battle, where neither task force actually came within sight of each other, and the issue was decided entirely by aircraft.
The results of the affair was probably a tactical victory for the Japanese, as they managed to sink the heavy carrier Lexington, heavily damage the Yorktown, and sink a destroyer and an oiler. For their part, the Americans managed to achieve their first substantial warship kill against the Japanese Navy by sinking the light carrier Shoho. They also severely damaged the Shokaku. From a strategic perspective, though, the Americans scored an important, multi-dimensional victory. First, the invasion of Port Moresby was thwarted, thus boosting Allied chances in the bitterly fought New Guinea campaign, and fending off a threat to the supply lines running between the US and Australia. Second, and perhaps equally important, the Japanese were denied the services of their two newest carriers on the eve of the Battle of Midway (although it is debatable whether they would have been used there). Shokaku was in the shop for quite a while, and Zuikaku spent until June 12 replenishing her airwings. Had these two carriers been available on June 4th, things might well have turned out very differently at Midway.