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What if USS Enterprise and USS Hornet had been committed to the Coral sea instead of being sent on t

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by USS Washington, May 13, 2014.

  1. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    In early May of 1942, the Battle of the Coral sea, the first naval confrontation in history where opposing forces never came into direct contact with one another, instead resorting to air power to strike at their enemies, was raging between the navies of the United States of America, Australia, and the Empire of Japan. The allied forces, under the command of Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, consisted of Task Forces 17 and 11 formed around the aircraft carriers USS Yorktown and Lexington, respectively, along with their assorted escort and support vessels, in addition to a cruiser force designated Task Force 44. Facing the allied forces was the Japanese 4th fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue, consisting of several separate task groups, including a covering force centered around the light carrier Shoho, which was to provide air cover for the Tulagi and Port Moresby invasion forces with the (unrealistic) goal of isolating Australia and New Zealand, while a strike force formed around the fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, along with their escorts, was stationed in the Coral sea to intercept any possible allied response.

    In the 4 day battle that ensued, the Japanese light carrier Shoho and the destroyer Kikusuki were sunk, the Shokaku badly damaged, and the Zuikakus air wings greatly depleted, however the allies suffered losses too; The carrier Lexington, the destroyer Sims, and the tanker Neosho were sunk, while the Yorktown was badly damaged. Despite these losses, though, the allies were able to prevent the Japanese from invading Port Moresby from the sea, improving allied chances in the region, and marking the first time a Japanese invasion attempt had been thwarted. In addition, with the Shokaku damaged and the Zuikakus air units slaughtered, these carriers would be unable to partake in the Battle of Midway, making this a critical factor in the US' victory in that engagement, a defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy would never recover from.

    While the Battle of the Coral sea had been raging, the American carriers USS Hornet and Enterprise were returning from attacking Japan in the Doolittle raid, thus preventing these ships from taking part in the fighting in the Coral sea. Now this is where my alternate history scenario begins; What if the USS Enterprise and Hornet had been committed to the Coral sea operation from the beginning rather than being sent on the Doolittle raid? With two additional carriers at the allies disposal, and the extra striking power that they can provide, would the Japanese carriers have been sighted earlier due to having more scout planes to commit, thus more ground can be covered, and with a greater number of strike planes, perhaps Shokaku is sunk, Zuikaku hit as well, and maybe Lexington survives as the Japanese are hit before they can react? I personally believe the allies could have achieved a more complete victory at Coral sea with Enterprise and Hornet present, as we would have outnumbered the Japanese in both carriers and aircraft. So what do you all think, share your thoughts please.
     
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    At the very least I would expect the attack planes from Enterprise and Hornet to result in the destruction of the Japanese carriers. Even if Yorktown and Lexington are hit as historically this will also allow the other two carriers follow up attacks on the IJN forces in the area.

    How likely the USN is to spot the Japanese vessels earlier is a more difficult question. Perhpas someone more versed in USN scouting operations and greater familiarity with the battle can give us a better idea here.
     
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  3. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    I think it would come down to a matter of Captains: Kirk v. Piccard v. Kirk II
     
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  4. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    My, my Jug's, aren't we forgetting Archer and Pike? Spock during Enterprise's days as a Academy Training ship Decker before Kirk stole the ship (for the first time) Harriman of NCC 1701 B or Garrett of NCC1701 C.

    The possibilities are endless :)
     
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  5. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    Touche
     
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  6. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Mess with a Trekkie, you get the Technobabble! :)
     
  7. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Oh no, the trouble with tribbles all over again.
     
  8. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    I do agree overall, I also wonder is what would be the consequences for no Doolittle raid; Would the Japanese have pursued the Midway operation anyways, albeit on a later date, as prior to the raid, the Japanese Army(It was the army, right?) had opposed Yamamotos plan to attack Midway and draw out the US carriers to destroy them, favoring a push to capture Port Moresby, but after the raid, they gave support to the Admirals plan, as they thought that the bombers that attacked Tokyo came from Midway, so without the Doolittle raid, would this have happened? Or perhaps, could a more devastating defeat at the Coral sea have been enough to convince the Japanese high command of the threat the US carriers presented, and give Admiral Yamamotos Midway operation the green light? What do you think, lwd?
     
  9. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    The Japanese knew the Doolittle raid came from carriers. The task force was sighted and properly reported. However, they didn't know it was long range B-25's on the deck. The wrongly calculated the raid would come the next day from shorter legged carrier aircraft. What the Doolittle raid made the Japanese realize, was that they had a big hole in their perimeter. The Midway invasion was meant to do two things: 1. plug that hole and giving the Japanese a base for long range flying boats. 2. Draw out the American fleet for the ever desired decisive battle.

    The IJN still wants that battle, and Midway is still the best bet to draw out the USN. Too close to Hawaii to ignore.

    So, say no Doolittle raid. The IJN will still want it's decisive battle. Now then, they would likely figured out the USN threw four carriers at them in the Coral Sea. It would be a certainty that the USN would have sustained aviation loses, and still might have lost a carrier to be fair.

    Now you likely have the three Yorktown sisters heading back to Pearl, with maybe the same problems the Yorktown originally had, but now maybe times three. It was all the shipyard at Pearl could handle getting the Yorktown in good enough condition to fight a Midway. Two or maybe all three damaged would mean less carriers where they were needed at "AF."

    There was also a shortage of replacement squadrons available. The Yorktown went back to sea with Saratoga squadrons. If the Enterprise and the Hornet also needed aviation replacements, there were practically none to be had in time.

    IMHO, the IJN would have succeeded at Midway. We likely would have lost more carriers providing they would have made the play date to begin with.
     
  10. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Midway was pretty well decided on before the Doolittle raid from what I recall. It did pretty much eliminate any remaining opposition though.

    If the 4 USN carriers are at Coral Sea and the Japanese loose a light and 2 fleet carriers that might make them a bit more cautious though. Historically I think they believed that they had sunk 2 or 3 US carriers. In this case they could likely believe they had sunk anywhere from none to the same or possibly even 4. That might impact their planning quite a bit. If Lexington is hit even a little less hard they may prevent the fuel air explosion that sunk her and she could make it back but whether or not she would be operational is another question.

    The Doolittle raid did have some significant impacts especially as far as Home Island defences and indeed where the Japanese wanted their outer defensive perimeter and how it was to be garrissoned. I think Gaudalcanal may have been influenced by it for instance. No Doolittle raid and loosing Coral Sea could have some significant impacts on how they went about setting up their defence. The possiblilty of a Doolitle raid after Coral Sea (and perhaps Midway) is also a possiblity.
     
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  11. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    It's also worth noteing that the US and Japan had close to the same number of planes involved at Midway in spite of the US only haveing 3 carriers to the Japanese 4. If they go ahead with the Midway op and the US has 4 then it may be even more decisive. If the Coral Sea battle causes them to delay even a couple of days and Lexington survives then they could find themselves facing 5 US carriers at Midway (Sarratoga only missed by a day or two). That means the odds are Yorktown survies and there are enough planes left for a persuit.
     
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  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Not entirely.

    Certainly it was on various faction's wish list, but at the bottom for others. Doolittle did have its place in galvanizing a consensus among the factions. The IJA still adhered to the long term pre war plan that called for a defensive naval battle to destroy the USN. Yamamoto preferred to take the offence and force the Pacific Fleet to give battle, even though the pre-war preconditions could never be met by a "Midway" type battle.

    It is difficult to say what a decisive Coral Sea might have on Japanese thought. First both services routinely lied to each other over the trivialest things. Both greatly overinflated success in actual defeat to save face and Yamamoto remained a gambler at heart.

    My best guess Yamamoto would still gamble to turn the odds in his favor.
     
  13. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    One of the problems for the Japanese is that they could have decisivly lost the Coral Sea battle and yet due to inaccurate reports assumed that they had won it or come out with a tie. In which case Midway would almost assuredly go forward. I'm not sure if the timing would be affected though.

    I suspect you are correct that Yamamoto would risk another throw of the dice. For one thing I suspect the knew that once the war turned against Japan they had little hope of reversing it again. Midway was a chance at regaining the momentum.
     
  14. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    Though even if Lexington could not be patched back up to combat readiness in time for Midway, she could have her air wings transferred to one of the other carriers, just as Yorktown received planes from the Saratoga, ensuring that we'll still have three of our carriers at Midway as historically.
     
  15. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    And with the extra strength provided by Lexington and Yorktowns survival, combined with the Japanese losing all of their fleet carriers from the more devastating defeats at Coral sea and Midway, it makes me wonder how the carrier battles in the Solomons campaign would have gone, assuming the Japanese would have even risked committing their remaining carriers there at all?
     
  16. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Send a light carrier out when you expect your opponet to have multiple fleet carriers. Doesn't sound likely to me. I doubt they even try to establish a base on Gaudalcanal.
     
  17. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    Agreed.
     
  18. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    The USN would almost certainly lost a carrier, probably Lexington who couldn't get out of its own way. The USN were still very poor at conducting coordinated carrier operations, and the IJN were experts by comparison. The Sho and Zui were heavyweight champs to the USN inexperienced contenders, no matter how many carriers we had. Not to mention the US did not yet know how to handle the A6M, and though outnumbered, would have likely shot down quite a few aircraft. Remember not one TBD scored against the first team.

    In the realm of what if, say the rest of the Kido Butai came to play at Coral Sea?
     
  19. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    They already had a seaplane base at Tulagi, the strip for land planes on Guadalcanal across the sound was essentially an expansion of that facility. In the initial "Guadalcanal" landing, most of the Japanese combat troops and the heaviest fighting were on the islands of the Tulagi group. If the Japanese were going to try to hold the area, the loss of carriers might make land-based air even more important. Tulagi had already been raided once by Yorktown's air group, which might have been part of the rationale for building a fighter field. Or, if they thought the balance of carrier power made it impossible to hold a base on Guadalcanal, they would presumably withdraw from Tulagi also.
     
  20. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Especially after reviewing the course of the battle at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Lexington_(CV-2)#Battle_of_the_Coral_Sea I don't find this convincing at all. For instance there's a decent chance that the IJN carriers are spotted and attacked on the 7th given the additional US planes in the area. Even if it is just Enterprise and Hornets planes that attack the two IJN CVs the odds are pretty good that at least one is damaged to the point where operations are inhibited. It's even possible that they get both of them. Given additonal CAP and additonal targets there's a very good chance Lexington doesn't sustain the damage she did historically on the 8th even if both IJN CVs can launch. In return with 4 CV loads of US planes attacking the IJN CVs the odds are they don't last long enough for any follow ups.

    I'm not sure the superiority in coordinated carrier ops was key here. Indeed at Midway it may have been a detriment. A single carrer strike from a USN CV proved capable of putting down multiple IJN CVs at Midway, here we are likely to see at least 4 strikes vs 2 CVs. The A6M didn't seem to domate the confrontation historically either and the addition of a lot more F4Fs are likely to result in an even worse result.

    Your propsed what if is considerably off topic for this one. Might be an intersting one to discus though, just not here.
     
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