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.
At 1123, radar contact acquired another Japanese strike group, comprised of Val dive bombers escorted by Zeros, and vectored the Lexington’s Combat Air Patrol to intercept. The six Wildcats charged headlong into the Japanese formation, suffering two aircraft lost (and one pilot KIA) and one damaged in brutal action that saw Ensign Head awarded the Navy Cross for shooting down four enemy aircraft! Lt Allen added another two kills, and Ensign Chipman added one, with the rest of the Japanese aircraft breaking off the attack, so not a single Val dive bomber was able to press home the attack. However, the Lexington is still in trouble caused by the torpedo hits earlier.
At 1130, LtCmdr Case led a four-ship escort for “Scouting Two’s” SBD Dauntless dive bombers to attack the Japanese carrier Shokaku. The Japanese CAP was successful, shooting down four of the SBDs and forcing the last two to return to base, damaged, though they lost four of their own (two to defensive fire from SBDs!), with LtCmdr Case and Ens Riggins both scoring kills.
At 1140, LtCmdr Case re-formed his flight of Wildcats and had them escort Bombing Two’s SBD Dauntlesses into an attack on the Japanese carrier Zuikaku. In a wild fight that saw two Dauntlesses shoot down enemy Zeros, then four Dauntlesses arrive over the target but fail to land a single bomb on the target’s deck, LtCmdr Case’s fighters came through unscathed while downing a single Japaanese fighter.
At 1150, the remaining members of the Lexington’s CAP (Lieuntenant (Junior Grade) Allen, Ensign Chipman, and Ensign Head) found themselves between the Japanese strike group and their carrier, so they threw themselves once again at the enemy. In the end, Ens Chipman scored two kills and Lt Allen scored one, but both were shot down, while three Kates, a Val, and a Zero escaped to fight again.
But it’s now 1200, and the Lexington’s strike group is on the way back to the carrier when it spots the Japanese strike group returning to their carrier. LtCmdr Case calls “Tally Ho!” and the four Wildcats zoom in to take one last running shot at the enemy.
LtCmdr Case (far left) is already working over some Kates when Ensign Didier pulls in behind to help out (top right).
To see how the fight went, please check the blog at:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes the aerial dogfights over the Coral Sea on 7 and 8 May 1942. Here’s how it shook out:
Losses: 12 F4F Wildcats, with 3 pilots KIA and 4 pilots WIA
Kills: 22 (13 A6M Zeros, 6 D3A Vals, and 3 B5N Kates)
The Killer Pelicans led three strikes that lost 10 of 18 SBD Dauntlesses.
The Killer Pelicans had one pilot awarded the Navy Cross (Ensign Head) and two pilots receive the Bronze Star with ‘V’ device (Lt Casey and Ensign Riggins).
The series of fights was a lot of fun; well, okay, not a lot of fun, I sure took my lumps! But it was fun, and the process worked. This series of fights was really a great laboratory to figure out exactly what I wanted/needed to do to balance aircraft capabilities and pilot skills. I think I’ve got it down, and so I’m ready to keep it rolling. Next up, I need to play a few fights over New Guinea with my Army squadron, the Chickenhawks, then it’s time to stage the invasion of Guadalcanal, finally.