Thursday, May 6, 2010

Silently Searching

Early on the morning of the 5th, Fletcher aboard the Yorktown and her Task Force 17 joined with the Lexington and her Task Force 11, as well as the Australian Task Force 44. On May 6th, Fletcher had received solid evidence from Pearl that the Japanese planned to invade Port Moresby on the 10th. From this, Fletcher deduced that the invasion force would enter the Coral Sea within the next few days, most likely sailing in from Rabaul and would pass near the Louisiades Islands . Fletcher ordered his ships refueled then turned the now 24 ship strong battle group westward hoping to engage the Japanese off the Eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.

Admiral Takeo Takagi, commander of the Shokaku and Zuikaku Strike Task Force was positioned northeast of the Solomon Islands sailing southeast. Takagi and the Strike Force rounded the tip of San Cristobal and passed into the Coral Sea, early in the morning hours of May 6th. Knowing that the American carriers still lurked in the Coral Sea, Takagi ordered his ships refueled the morning of the 6th, believing a battle would take place the next day. At 10:00, a reconnaissance plane flying out of the recently invaded Tulagi airbase sighted the American Battle Group. The Allies were steaming approximately 300 miles from Takagi's Strike Force, which was at the edge of his aircraft's range. Still taking fuel, Takagi believed that the Allies were sailing south, widening the gap, so he did not launch an attack on the carriers. Takagi instead ordered Admiral Chuichi Hara and the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku to sail toward the Allied Battle Group so that they would be in position to attack the next morning at dawn.

During the course of the day, the Americans and the Japanese launched unsuccessful land based air attacks against each other. The American B-17's based in Australia, although unsuccessful in their bombing raids, were able to supply Admiral Fletcher with updated Japanese fleet counts and positions throughout the day. Late in the day, Fletcher dispatched the Oiler Neosho and the Destroyer Sims from the main battle group in an effort to protect the Battle Group's fuel supply. The Allied Battle Group then turned northwest toward the Jomard Passage, where Fletcher was convinced the Invasion Group would enter the Coral Sea within a matter of hours.

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