The Coral Sea 1942 Book Review

The Coral Sea 1942: The first carrier battle

Osprey Campaign Series Book 214

By Marke Stille, Illustrated by John White

Softcover in dustjacket,  96 pages, profusely illustrated, index

Published by Osprey Publishing, November 2009

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-440-4

Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.2 x 9.5 inches

The Imperial Japanese Navy planned Operation Mo to seize Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea for the purpose of isolating Australia and threating Allied air bases there.  This would help secure the southern frontier of their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and protect their bases at Rabaul.  Supporting the Japanese invasion fleet were the large aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and the light carrier Shoho.  American and British signals intercepts warned Admiral Nimitz of the impending operation, and he decided to contest the invasion by sending all four of his available aircraft carriers, although Enterprise and Hornet did not arrive in time to participate in the battle.

The battle was the first naval engagement fought entirely by aircraft.  Although the opposing fleets were often in close proximity they never sighted each other.  The Americans lost the aircraft carrier Lexington, with Yorktown damaged, while the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho, with Shokaku damaged.  With Zuikaku’s air group depleted the Japanese determined the landings at Port Moresby could not be supported and cancelled the invasion.

Both sides claimed victory.  On the Allied side, the threat to Australia was abated and the Japanese juggernaut was turned back for the first time in the war.  On the other hand, the Japanese thought they had sunk two American carriers.  Their own fleet carriers could be repaired and their air groups replenished, and the IJN would enjoy a two to one superiority in aircraft carriers in the meantime.  In reality, damage to the Yorktown was (quite heroically) repaired in time for her to participate in the Battle of Midway, while neither Zuikaku nor Shokaku were present.

Author Mark Stille has done an excellent job of documenting the events leading up to the Battle of the Coral Sea as well as the play-by-play of the battle itself.  Naval battles are complex affairs, but the graphics-intense format of the Osprey Campaign series shines in making a clear presentation of the ship and aircraft maneuvers.  The length of this work is just enough to present this engagement well.  This is one of the better volumes of this series and well worth picking up.