After their victory in the Philippines, the Japanese forces prepare the new operation MO to take Port Moresby and Tulagi in order to get advanced bases against Australia. After a reinforcement request by admiral Inouye, admiral Yamamoto sends him a Carrier task force with the great aircraft carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku.
At the same time, Admiral Nimitz receives the task to end the Japanese threat on Australia at all cost with his low means. He will soon be able to concentrate CV Yorktown and CV Lexington in the Coral Sea to fight off the Japanese attack.
Admiral Inouye organises his forces into several Task Forces :
Port Moresby Invasion Fleet (Rear Admiral Marumo Kuninori) :
- Troop transports
- Cruisers Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa, Furutaka
- Light cruisers Tenryū, Tatsuta, Yubari
- A division of destroyers
Invasion Support Fleet (Rear Admiral Gotō Aritomo)
- Light Aircraft Carrier Shoho
- A division of destroyers
Port Tulagi Invasion Force
- Several destroyers
- seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru
Carrier Battlegroup (Vice Admiral Takagi Takeo)
- Aircraft carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku
- cruisers Myōkō, Haguro
- A division of destroyers
Admiral Marumo will conduct his forces to the north coast of New Guinea island, landing his troops on the rear of the Australian brigade covering Pt Moresby. Then the fleet will move through the d'Entrecasteaux islands to Port Moresby to shell the Australian forces and support the ground offensive.
Admiral Goto will move from Rabaul to the vicinity of d'Entrecasteaux islands and will provide air support to the ground offensive then search and destroy allied naval units coming from the west.
The recon unit will establish itself close to Santa Isabel and start searching for US Task forces while Tulagi invasion group will move east of the Solomon islands to attack Tulagi at night.
Meanwhile, the main Carrier group will move to the north-west of the Coral Sea and will have for sole purpose to search and destroy the US Task forces.
Leaving the Australian west coast, the TF 44 (now the TG 17.3) will rush to Port Moresby / D'Entrecasteaux islands to try to stop the invasion of Port Moresby, identified as the main objective of the japanese Operation MO. The main carrier TF 17, organised around US Carriers Yorktown and Lexington and led by Admiral Fletcher, will move to the south of D'Entrecasteaux islands and coordinate air strikes with bombers from Townsville. It will also conduct search and destroy operation against Japanese naval forces - especially invasion forces and carriers.
The Japanese fleet got underway on May, 4th 1942. The invasion fleet proceeded to its landing zone close to Buno under cloud cover which prevented PBYs and P39 to find the fleet.
Finally, on May, 7th, a PBY identified the Shoho. Admiral Fletcher was very soon informed and hurried north.
While the landing was in progress on the north coast of New Guinea, the Tulagi invasion group reached its destination but was discovered by a recon flight. While Fletcher still didn't have any intel about the Japanese carriers, he decided to send an air strike on that small force around Guadalcanal. But that day, the naval air force will fly for nothing and will never find the japanese vessels. Having some more important matters to do, Fletcher decided to abandon Tulagi and rushed north.
Meanwhile, (and after an intense air battle over Moresby) the 144th regiment, supported by elite marine troops, turning the Australians, routed them at the battle of Port Moresby. The Australian were crushed and severely pushed back. The operation MO was already a success. And while the cruisers of TG 17.3 were moving to intercept the Invasion fleet, they faced the Shoho air group. The Chicago was heavily damaged in the attack. Several counter attacks by B17 had no effect.
But then, Fletcher was - at last - able to give a blow. 120 aircrafts took off from both carriers and attacked the Shoho which only had 6 fighters remaining to protect itself. But the US attack was completely disorganised and a full strike of torpedo bombers arrived without air cover and were shot down like turkeys.
Then, the main strike was on the Shoho, whipping out its CAP and assaulting the Carrier. But thanks to AA fire, the Shoho could disrupt the attack and was hit only twice. But the bomb did destroyed the remaining air crafts. The Shoho had no more aircraft.
Having found the US Carrier task force, Admiral Takagi moved his own carriers to intercept.
The next night, however, 3 cruisers from US TG 17.3 faced off the japanese cruisers of the invasion group. Surprised by the Japanese, the Chicago - already damaged - was sunk. The remaining vessels retreated south-west toward Fletcher's Task Force.
With a complete japanese cruiser division isolated from the main body, Fletcher saw an opportunity to avenge his defeat of the night. He sent a full scale air assault. With no air cover and no AA defense, the result was logical. The Aoba was pulverised and the Tenryu was heavily damaged. The remaining ships rushed north-east to the Goodenough bay.
At this time, Takagi had lost contact with the US Task Force. A new search operation was undergone with the information that Fletcher splitted his forces : In fact, Fletcher created a Task Group with all his cruisers and several destroyers, keeping only several destroyers as a screening force for his Aircraft Carriers. the Cruiser group was to move to the Louisiade Archipelago and try to attack the Japanese carriers in a surface action.
The last part of the battle was confusing. It began with an air strike from the US Carriers against the Shokaku and the Zuikaku - at last identified - which ended up in a disaster : 45 plane were destroyed for no hits on the Japanese carriers. Then, Takagi sent a counter strike on the US Carriers and could damage the Lexington, loosing 30 planes in the process to the CAP and the AA defense. Satisfied that the battle was turning fairly in his favour, Takagi was caught by the cruiser division. Despite the long range, the US Cruisers avenged the loss of the Chicago and sunk the Zuikaku along with all its aircrafts !
The remains of Takagi's forces quickly withdrawn.
Admiral Fletcher, after a last attempt the next day, retreated to his bases.
The result of the campaign was a tactical victory for the Japanese : Tulagi and Port Moresby were both captured. But the loss of the Zuikaku and many skilled aircrews would greatly hampers future japanese campaigns, while the US Navy will be able to concentrate 4 Carriers to Midway for a decisive blow.
Great session report... thanks,
Soon to come : Either Midway or The Solomon Campaign.