8 May 1942
Greetings, and welcome to my return to the Pacific! Both the US Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy are on the prowl in the southwestern Pacific; the Japanese have their eyes on Australia, or at least cutting off the lines of communication between the US and Australia, and the Americans are looking to not allow that to happen. On 3-4 May 1942, while fighting raged on New Guinea, the Japanese attempted secure their flank, sending an invasion fleet into the Solomon Islands to put troops ashore on Tulagi (across the channel from Guadalcanal), in order to conduct an amphibious assault on Port Moresby on 10 May.
But the Americans noted the Japanese invasion force in the Solomons, and the USS Yorktown launched strike aircraft that sunk or damaged several Japanese warships, though now the Japanese were aware the US carriers were in the vicinity, made doubly worse by the fact the Americans were shorthanded: they had only the Yorktown and the Lexington in the area because the Hornet and Enterprise had just returned to Pearl Harbor following the Doolittle Raid. These were faced by the Japanese fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, and the light carrier Shoho. The two opposing forces marshalled their troops, refueled, consolidated, and began searching in earnest for each other.
This morning, Lt(jg) Casey led the fighter escort for the Lexington strike force which, combined with the Yorktown’s strike force, managed to sink the Japanese light carrier Shoho. But the Killer Pelicans’ escorts had a rough go: they downed three Zeros and damaged another, but they lost one Wildcat, had the other three damaged, and five of their six assigned dive bombers were shot down, the sixth returning to the Lexington, damaged. Lt Casey scored two more kills to become a Veteran (total of four kills), but he was shot down and badly wounded, which will cause him to miss the Battle of Midway.
Both sides carried out preparation for battle throughout the night, then launched scouts shortly after 0600 the next morning, to find the other side’s carriers. The Americans got lucky first, sighting the Japanese carriers at 0820, though the Japanese were only two minutes behind. Both sides hurried to turn into the wind and launch their strike groups! The Japanese launched 18 fighters, 33 dive bombers, and 18 torpedo bombers, while the Yorktown and Lexington launched a combined 15 Wildcats, 39 Dauntlesses, and 21 Devastators, though the Lexington’s contingent was about 10 minutes behind the Yorktown’s.
At 1055 the Lexington’s air search radar acquired the inbound Japanese strike group at a range of 68 nautical miles and vectored nine Wildcats to intercept; it was 1113 local time when Lt(jg) Fitzsimmons again led the Lexington CAP into battle. And this time he found the enemy, but it didn’t work out very well for the Americans. Lt Fitzsimmons and Lt Allen saw their aircraft damaged, Ens Chipman had to disengage and retreat, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Three Wildcats were shot down, with Ensign Camili being wounded, but Ensigns Gordon and Mann were killed in action, while no Japanese aircraft were shot down, and enemy torpedo bombers managed to put three torpedoes into the USS Lexington.
It’s now 1123, and another radar contact has been acquired, believed to be another Japanese strike group, this one comprised of Val dive bombers escorted by Zeros. All available Wildcats were scrambled to meet the new threat.
The US CAP is up over the Lady Lex, still burning from torpedo hits. Yes, I cheated here. The Americans have exactly six pilots from their CAP section left, so I mounted all six of them up (rather than rolling to see who would fight, and potentially going into battle with less than six Wildcats). Having said that, I’m saying that Lieutenants Fitzsimmons and Allen, who had their aircraft damaged in the last fight, were not able to land between last fight and this one, so they’re going into the fight already damaged. Also, Ensign Green was previously shot down and picked up, so he doesn’t have an aircraft, but somehow the CAG found one for him and launched his ass up to get in the fight.
The Japanese fighter pilots are their normal, super aggressive selves.
But Ensign Head is showing off some fancy footwork, enough to earn a Navy Cross!
As, finally, not everything is going the Japanese’ way!
To see how the fight went, please check the blog at:
Smoke billows from fires aboard the Lexington, and she lists to port after taking two torpedo hits and two bomb hits, though the fires would be under control within an hour. Yorktown was also hit by one bomb, though this was quickly repaired, and by 1230 the two aircraft were able to recover their returning strike groups.
But that’s where we’re going next: we’re jumping to 1130, where Lt Cmdr Case is leading a four-Wildcat escort for Scouting and Bombing-2 Dauntless Dive Bombers looking to attack the Japanese fleet carriers.