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Editorial Note on “the Battle of Naval Errors”
May 7, 1942
Naval intelligence alerted Admiral Nimitz to the concentration of Japanese forces in the seas east of New Guinea; he dispatched the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown operating in the Coral Sea. The engagement the United States Navy’s official history called “the Battle of Naval Errors” began early on May 7, after a week of maneuvering and reconnaissance, when planes from the outnumbered United States fleet attacked elements of the Japanese fleet. United States naval airmen sank the small carrier Shoho and the next day damaged the larger Shokaku. Japanese airmen retaliated by sinking Lexington and damaging her sister ship; with only Yorktown and forty aircraft, Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher (U.S.N.A., 1906) retired toward Hawaii. The engagement—the first naval battle fought exclusively by carrier-based aircraft—was a tactical victory for the Japanese, who sustained relatively fewer losses, but an Allied strategic success. The Japanese task force designated to seize Port Moresby turned back, thus preserving Allied control of a site that could have been used to threaten northern Australia and its communications with the United States. Additionally, repairs to Shokaku and the need to replace pilots and aircraft on her sister ship Zuikaku kept both carriers out of the battle of Midway. (Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, pp. 21-64, quote on p. 63.)
Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), p. 190.