World War II in the Pacific
On Jan 1, TF-17 is activated around the large carrier
Yorktown (CV-5) at San Diego,
newly returned from the Atlantic. She had been transferred to Atlantic
Neutrality Patrol 9 months earlier. Other Pacific fleet units in the
Atlantic were also recalled: battleships Mississippi (BB-41) and Idaho
(BB-42) leaving from Iceland, arriving the end of January, and New Mexico (BB-40)
arrived that summer, where they performed convoy escort for the rest of the year.
The first task for Yorktown was to escort Second Marine Brigade to Samoa, 4000 miles from the US and 2/3 of the way towards Australia. Samoa is a key point that must be manned before moving to defend Fiji, which is considered a target by the Japanese. The convoy departs 6 Jan. Protection of troops was so important that Enterprise (CV-6) TF-8 departs Pearl Jan 11 to join the convoy near Samoa and to link up with Yorktown. That same day, a Japanese submarine shells naval facilities at Pago Pago. Also, Japan finally declares war on the Netherlands as the Dutch East Indies are invaded.
Lexington (CV-2) TF-11 returns from patrolling the Oahu-Johnston-Palmyra triangle replaced by Saratoga (CV-3). While 500 miles SW of Hawaii patrolling between Pearl and the Marshalls, Sara is torpedoed by I-6 on 11Jan. She is able to return to Pearl and is sent to Bremerton, WA. for repairs until June 1.
As replacement aircraft arrive at Pearl Harbor, units were sent to the outposts. Reconnaissance flights begin from Canton Island and Fijis 16Jan42, meanwhile, across the ocean, the Japanese army invades Burma.
On the 22nd, Lexington heads to raid Wake Island. One day into the mission, the mission is canceled because her fleet oiler, Neches (AO-5), is torpedoed and sunk by I-72 on 23Jan.
At the same time, the Marines are off-loaded at Pago Pago 20-23 January. The Japanese invade the Australian base at Rabaul, which is to become their major strong point of the South Central Pacific. Yorktown and Enterprise, their escort duties completed, set course for the Japanese-held Marshalls and Gilberts.
A week later Lexington is sent south to cover the withdrawal from the attack on the Gilberts and Marshalls, to screen another major troop convoy, and on for action in the South Pacific.
US troops are rushed to establish garrisons on the islands that mark the path of convoys from the US West Coast or from the Panama Canal. The first half of the trip is open water.
Yorktown is ordered from Phoenix to reinforce Lexington.
They join-up 6 Mar intending to raid Rabaul. When the Japanese invade
the north coast of New Guinea, the two US task forces divert to blunt
the occupation of New Guinea.
Enroute they learn Java surrendered.
Positioning themselves between New Guinea and Australia,
104 planes from Lexington and Yorktown
make a dangerous crossing over the Owen Stanley Mountains
to attack the Japanese invasion fleet on 10 March,
sinking four ships, damaging 13 out of 18. The fleet air arm gains
experience and confidence.
MacArthur departs Corregidor 11Mar for Australia arriving Melbourne 22Mar42, discovering along the way that there is no Allied army to command.
The Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) surrenders 12 March. Japanese land in the northern Solomons in their continuing movement to interdict the Australian-US link. Enterprise returns to Pearl.
At mid-month: Enterprise is in for overhaul after her extended mission. Lexington starts back to Pearl to refit after her tour in the South Pacific. Yorktown remains in the Coral Sea. Saratoga is still on the West Coast for repairs. A new fleet carrier, Hornet (CV-8) is in transit from the Atlantic. Hornet arrives San Francisco 20 Mar. Lexington arrives Pearl for overhaul 26 Mar.
March ends with three successful raids completed: Wake, Marcus, and New Guinea. Enterprise and Lexington are in overhaul, Saratoga under repair, Yorktown in the Coral Sea, and Hornet is newly arrived on the West Coast. Meanwhile, the Japanese are occupying the Western Pacific as fast as they can load, move, and unload troops.
Hornet boards 16 Army B-25s under command of
LtCol Doolittle and departs San Francisco 4 Apr.
Two Japanese carrier task forces raid Ceylon and adjacent
Indian Ocean areas, sinking 4 warships and 23+ merchantmen.
The British Far East fleet retreats to Africa.
Enterprise departs Pearl on the 8th to rendezvous at sea with Hornet, about the time that forces on Bataan surrender; US-Philippine forces remain in the fortress on Corregador Island. Lexington leaves Pearl 13Apr to return to the eastern approaches of Australia. Next day Nimitz takes command of the South Pacific ; he sends Yorktown to Tongatabu to replenish in preparation for battles anticipated by the end of the month.
18Apr Hornet flies off the Doolittle Raiders for Tokyo ;
Hornet and Enterprise head back to Pearl.
18Apr MacArthur assumes command of the SW Pacific Area.
22Apr Lexington joins Yorktown at Tongatabu, south of Samoa.
25Apr Enterprise and Hornet arrive Pearl.
27Apr Yorktown heads back to the Coral Sea.
28Apr Ghormley arrives from Europe to take command of South Pacific from Auckland, New Zealand. Intelligence tells of a coming attack on the Solomons and Port Molsby, New Guinea. Success will allow direct attack on Australia and cut the supply line from the US to Australia. Enterprise and Hornet rush to the South Pacific.
April ends with the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo having shaken up the Japanese, causing recall of the combined fleet to home waters. The Allies have established reconnaissance bases along the two main shipping routes. Two US carriers are ready for battle in the South Pacific and two more are steaming to join the fray, but will not make it in time for to engage in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese have gathered an invasion fleet and carrier force to occupy the southern coast of New Guinea (operation MO) and continue their southern flanking advance by landing in the Solomon Islands. Note the reason for urgency : Australia and New Guinea are separated by 100 miles; by contrast, Florida and Cuba are separated by 140 miles.