As the badges and poppies from ANZAC Day are packed away, sadly another commemorative day is upon us. The first week in May marks the anniversary of an event that impacted Australian forces in particular – the Battle of the Coral Sea

This battle was significant for many reasons and occurred at a critical stage of WWII. It was a major battle between naval fleets, initiated by the Japanese and targeting allied forces – specifically the USA and Australia. They aimed to strengthen their position in the Pacific region, by occupying Port Moresby in New Guinea. Extending the defence permitter they had created - that ran from northern Japan to the Marshall Islands and the southern parts of Indonesia to Burma - would enable them to gain access and control of the key Pacific allies in the region. By occupying Australia and New Zealand, they would successfully secure the upper hand in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. This, however, was not to be.   

The campaign kicked off on the 4th of May 1942 and was conducted in the Coral Sea between the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and Australia’s northeast coast. This area covered thousands of square kilometres – a fact that would be the downfall of the Japanese forces in the end. The first planes took to the air on 4th May, and over the next 4 days, innovative strategies and tactics were implemented by all sides. Unusually, the battle was not won on strength alone. A number of factors contributed to the Japanese defeat, including bad weather that resulted in low visibility for the planes sent out by the respective carriers to fight on their behalf. Some of these planes also had limited reach and the footprint of the battleground was beyond the scope of many of them to access targets. 

The Battle of the Coral Sea was unique for several reasons, the greatest being that it was the first failure of Japanese forces during WWII. It was also the first naval battle where none of the ships sighted each other, and a naval or sea battle was fought via combat that was conducted in the air. The fact that this battle could be fought without the fleets even seeing each other is astonishing. The blind reliance on reconnaissance aircraft and the sheer bravery of those involved make their sacrifice even more moving. Today’s veterans will reflect on this campaign on the 8th of May and deeply understand the resolve and tenacity required to protect and defend themselves in such challenging circumstances. 

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the largest naval battle fought off the Australian coast and the defeat by the allies of Japan altered the course of our country’s history.