In purely material terms, the Battle of the Coral Sea was a Japanese victory. Although the Imperial Japanese Navy lost significantly more personnel (966 to 656) and aircraft (ninety-two to sixty-nine), its pilots had sunk a full-sized fleet carrier in exchange for a smaller light carrier.
However, the seemingly inconclusive battle was a turning point for the Allies. Australia and its foothold in New Guinea remained secure, forcing Japanese forces to commit to a costly and ultimately unsuccessful ground campaign on the latter island. Meanwhile, the damaged Shokaku could not participate in the Battle of Midway, an even larger carrier battle that brought an end to Japan’s advances in the Pacific War.
America’s first fleet carrier had fallen fighting precisely the kind of battle it had spent over a decade developing tactics for. Just a year later, a new Essex-class carrier was christened USS Lexington (CV-16), and would remain in U.S. Navy service until 1991.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This article first appeared several years ago.