|Second Battle of the North Pacific|
|Part of World War II,|
|United States||Empire of Japan|
|Commanders and leaders|
The Second Battle of the North Pacific was the third major fleet engagement of the Pacific War in World War II. After the disastrous loss the year before in the 1st Battle of the North Pacific, the United States refused to give up until they had completely defeated the Japanese. This led to another naval battle for the Hawaiian Islands. Having learned valuable lessons the year before, the US navy struck at the Japanese task force guarding Hawaii with the largest fleet history had ever seen. The small task force defending Hawaii was effectively wiped out, paving the way for the Liberation of Hawaii by the US Marine Corps and Army.
After the US Navy's defeat in the First Battle of the North Pacific, the Americans withdrew to California to lick their wounds and prepare for another attempt. Having learnt valuable lessons in that battle, they transferred all of their carriers from the Atlantic to the Pacific. American shipyards also turned out new fleet carriers such as the Bunker Hill, the Essex, and the Wasp. Joining them were the repaired Hornet and the obsolescent Ranger, several light carriers and close to a dozen escort carriers, giving the Americans the most powerful carrier fleet in history. Japan's situation on the other hand was precarious as she had only launched one new fleet carrier since the war had broken out, the Taiho, and even that ship wouldn't be ready to fight for another year. The US submarine war on the Hawaiian Islands was also cutting the vital supply of fuel needed to train the replacement pilots, all of whom were dangerously inexperienced. On top of that, the defeats the Germans had suffered in North Africa meant that the British could being attacking the Japanese empire from the west, while down in Australia the US Army Air Force was becoming an increasingly troublesome enemy. All in all, Japan's limited resources were being stretched thin by early 1943. The Japanese suffered another blow when the Zuikaku was damaged by a submarine attack as she was returning to join the fleet in Hawaii. This left the Japanese task force defending Hawaii with only two fleet carriers.
The Battle Begins
The much-awaited battle finally came in April, when Japanese picket boats spotted the US fleet. The Japanese Task Force sailed from Pearl Harbor, minus Zuikaku which was still laid up in port, and headed for the biggest gap in their picket boat line. Although it was suggested by Saburo Shindo that the Japanese Strike Force detour in order to prevent the American pilots from following their path back to the Japanese fleet, the need to maintain radio silence prevented the two carriers from coordinating any such plan. Meanwhile the US fleet, aware that the element of surprise had gone, was quick to move into action, sending up their strike force and combat air patrol (CAP). American aircrews were now operating from better and more powerful carriers, and flying with the new Hellcat fighter and better torpedo planes like the TBF Avenger. Their pilots had been taught by veterans of the first battle and knew how to fight the dreaded Zero. The Japanese only had a experimental radar on Akagi, and while the Army had deployed the advanced Hien fighter, it wouldn't be able to take part in the battle.
The attack on the American fleet
As the Japanese strike force took off, they radioed the US fleet's position back to Hawaii, where their Mitsubishi G4M bombers were waiting. They took off to attack the US fleet from the south. The Japanese Strike Force consisted of 120 planes, only a third as many that had hit Hawaii at the start of the war. Although they spotted the US fleet first, the US strike force heading towards their own fleet also spotted them. The new Hellcat fighters pounced on the Japanese strike force, given Zero pilots a rude shock as they quickly found themselves outclassed for the first time in the war. The American fighters only distracted the Zeros as their main targets were the dive bombers and torpedo planes. After mauling the Japanese strike force, they abruptly left to protect their own bombers, leaving the remainder to the US fleet's CAP. Upon reaching the US fleet, the Japanese believed that the Americans still hadn't learnt their lesson from the year before, seeing that they still grouped their carriers together rather than spacing them out. This made them easier targets to hit, and they managed to sink a light carrier, damage an escort carrier and a fleet carrier; but the latter could still launch planes. By then the US Navy's CAP was taking a heavy toll on the Japanese aircraft, and they fled without assessing what damage they had done.
The defeat of the Japanese task force
Now armed with some devastating firepower, the US strike force that took off for the Japanese Fleet consisted of Hellcat fighters, Wildcat interceptors, Dauntless dive bombers, and Avenger torpedo bombers. On their way to the Japanese fleet, the US strike force ran into the Japanese aircraft coming the other way. The Hellcats engaged the attack planes, while the Wildcats kept watch over their own bombers. The Hellcats quickly shot down many planes, before withdrawing to protect their own strike force. They arrived at the Japanese fleet and quickly overwhelmed the Japanese own CAP. This gave the attack planes the opportunity to strike at the Japanese carriers with little interference. The Akagi was hit first with torpedoes and then with bombs, dooming the ship. Next, the Shokaku was hit with bombs, crippling her. Rear Admiral Tomeo Kaku accepted full responsibility for the defeat and went down with the Akagi. After the Shokaku was crippled, the US strike force spotted the incoming G4M bombers from Oahu; every single bomber was shot down by the Hellcats. Those attack planes still carrying bombs and torpedoes then dived on the Japanese cruisers and destroyers, sinking some and damaging many. Having won the battle, the US strike force headed back to their fleet. On the way, they again encountered their Japanese counterparts, and the Hellcats struck. What little remained of the Japanese strike force was obliterated; its commander Mitsuo Fuchida was shot down by Joe Crosetti, and all of the remaining dive bombers and torpedo planes perished with him. Only a handful of Zeros led by Saburo Shindo managed to escape to Oahu.
The Battle Ends.
Shokaku had been so badly damaged by the attack that she was beyond saving and had to be abandoned, so Japanese destroyers sank her with torpedoes. This left the Zuikaku as the only carrier in Hawaiian waters, but she was laid up in Pearl Harbor and unable to escape, let alone fight. With their air power effectively wiped out, the Japanese Navy had suffered its first devastating defeat in three and a half centuries, the last being at the hands of the Koreans back in the 16th century.
With the battle over, Japanese naval power in the Eastern Pacific ceased to exist. This success led to the go-ahead for a massive bomber raid on the islands using B-17's and B-24's. The raid destroyed Zuikaku, the last Japanese fleet carrier in Hawaiian waters, and leaving Japan only half of her prewar fleet carrier force. Realizing that Hawaii was lost, the Japanese Naval High Command refused to send any more reinforcements to the island, considering it more wise to conserve what little strength they had left. While many in the Navy accepted this, the Army was less than enthusiastic, especially General Tomoyuki Yamashita, with whom the responsibility of Hawaii's defense now lay. Lieutenant Saburo Shindo understood the Navy's decision to abandon Hawaii, realizing that even if Japan had brought to bear all its carrier force against the US fleet, it still would have lost. Isoroku Yamamoto's dark prediction about US industrial might had finally come true. With acceptable losses, the US Fleet then moved on to its next phase: the liberation of Hawaii.