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The USS Neosho at Coral Sea
Battle of the Coral Sea
The U.S.S. Neosho
at Coral Sea
1 - 6, 1942: Preliminary Engagements
U.S.S. Neosho, one of the few tankers in the Pacific Fleet, had been
operating with the Admiral Jack Fletcher's Yorktown carrier group throughout the
South Pacific in in the spring of 1942, in the weeks preceding the Battle of the
Coral Sea. When Fletcher learned about a Japanese build-up at the port of
Rabaul, near New Guinea, he sailed north to repulse what appeared to be a
planned Japanese invasion of the key city of Port Moresby, New Guinea, thus setting
the stage for the Battle of the Coral Sea.
the morning of May 1, Fletcher's group,
including the Neosho with my Uncle Bill Leu aboard, rendezvoused with
Admiral Aubrey Fitch's Lexington carrier group, which had sped down from Pearl
Harbor to help thwart the Japanese invasion. A cautious commander,
Fletcher spent the next two days refueling, the Yorktown group from the tanker
Neosho and the Lexington group from the tanker Tippecanoe. Some of
Fletcher's superiors would later criticize Fletcher for "dinking
around" and refueling when he should have been looking for the Japanese
during these two days, but Fletcher believed in being prepared before going into
battle. Besides, the exact location and strength of the Japanese fleet was
the evening of May 3, Admiral Fletcher received word that the Japanese had
invaded the island of Tulagi earlier that same day. Fletcher and the
Yorktown group were out of touch with Admiral Fitch and the Lexington group and
couldn't convey the message to Fitch, so Fletcher sped north to try to repulse
the Tulagi invasion, leaving the U.S.S. Neosho behind, along with an escort, the
destroyer U.S.S. Russell. While Fletcher sped north, the Neosho and
Russell headed to the pre-appointed rendezvous site where, the next morning,
they met the Lexington group and informed Admiral Fitch of the Yorktown group's
change in plans and a new rendezvous point set for May 5.
next day, the Neosho, now with the Lexington group, rendezvoused with the
Yorktown group and learned about Fletcher's attack on Tulagi island.
Although the attack wasn't as successful as initially thought, the Yorktown's
fighters and bombers had caused the Japanese to withdraw from Tulagi. The
entire American fleet combined into Task Force 17 and sailed slowly west while
next evening, May 6, Admiral Fletcher received a report saying the Japanese
fleet was preparing to enter Jomard Pass. Fletcher ordered the Neosho
along with an escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Sims, to remain behind, while
the rest of the task force sped west. As the men on the Neosho and Sims
watched the fleet sail off into the sunset that evening, they had no idea what
lay in store for them.
Above left: The U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) in Norfolk, Virginia
on August 7, 1939, about three months after it was launched. This is just after
it was commissioned by the U.S. Navy. For a supersized photo, click
Above center: The U.S.S. Neosho (right) refueling the
aircraft carrier Yorktown in the Coral Sea, about May 2, 1942. This was
five days before the Neosho was attacked by Japanese dive bombers.
Above right: The Neosho crew refueling the Yorktown
in the Coral Sea.
The Yorktown (right) and Neosho
(center) from the rear of a U.S. torpedo bomber (TBD) that's just taken
off. This was just before the Battle of the Coral Sea. The
small ship on the horizon to the right of the plane's tail fin is the destroyer U.S.S.
Sims. This is the only photo that I've ever seen of the Neosho
and Sims together.
Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho: May 7 - May 11, 1942
this section, I've posted excerpts from Edwin Hoyt's fine book, "Blue Skies
and Blood." I've added information to the excerpts and edited them where
the follow pages:
Table of Contents:
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