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I: Coral Sea (5/42)
Operation FS, the Japanese invasion of the South Pacific islands, will likely always be the most ambitious military campaign ever attempted. The plan demanded that thousands of Japanese soldiers be transported as far as 7500km away from their home bases, to capture several islands including one of the most heavily defended naval bases in the world, with a minimum of friendly air support available. At the same time, the Imperial Japanese Navy was expected to blockade an entire continent and to locate and completely defeat the rest of the US Navy in a final decisive battle. All the while relying on only half the tankers normally required for a Navy that size, and an air force that could expect little reinforcement.
While not as large in terms of troops or tonnage as the Torch landings or D-Day, no operation has ever demanded more success from less resources than 'FS'. And in spite of every difficulty, the campaign almost worked. A story of boldness and overreach, this is the tale of the time Japan went an island too far.

On December 7th, 1941, bombs rained down on Pearl Harbour. Over the next four months, Wake, Guam, Hong Kong, Luzon, Singapore and Java would all fall to the Japanese with minimal casualties. The oil fields that convinced the Japanese high command to go to war in the first place were secure, although Dutch sabotage greatly hindered Japanese efforts to get anything useful from them. The plan was that after this string of successes, the Allies would have no choice but to surrender, reopening trade with Japan in exchange for the return of some of their islands. Crucially, no allowance was made for if the Americans refused.
With no Allied surrender forthcoming, the Japanese accelerated and expanded their plans. The most important of these new offensives would begin with the Battle of the Coral Sea...

I: Coral Sea, May 1942

FS was born from a bold idea: if Japan could seize and control a number of key bases off the north and eastern coasts of Australia, they could sever communication between Australia and the United States, and thereby cause a collapse of the Allied coalition. In May of 1942, most Japanese troops in the Pacific had only recently completed the conquest of Java, or were tied up in the battle to take the final American bastion in the Philippines on Corregidor Island. This left few troops available to fight in the South Pacific, and the bulk of that campaign was presently timetabled for July. However, Japan could presently spare the South Seas Detachment, a force of around 5000 men, for an invasion of Port Moresby on the south coast of New Guinea. The invasion was set to take place on the 10th of May.
To escort the invasion, the Japanese sent Admiral Inoue, with the two newest fleet carriers flying the Rising Sun: the Shokaku and Zuikaku, as well as a collection of cruisers and destroyers and a third, smaller carrier in Shoho. Inoue’s opponents would consist of Rear Admiral Fletcher, the US carriers Lexington and Yorktown, and a slightly smaller group of surface vessels. Perhaps more importantly, the Americans had broken the Japanese codes, and knew of the planned invasion of Port Moresby. Their goal was to stop it.
The Battle of Coral Sea can be considered to have begun with the Japanese takeover of Tulagi, a small island in the Solomons that could provide a good anchorage but was otherwise of limited military value. Fletcher received word of the invasion around 1830 on May 3rd, and decided to act. Shortly after dawn on May 4th, he ordered most of his aircraft to attack the Japanese fleet. Despite the favourable weather conditions, the American attack accomplished very little: an old destroyer, three minesweepers and five recon planes were destroyed, at the cost of just one TBD Devastator (whose crew were successfully rescued). Unfortunately for the Americans, Vice Admiral Takagi, commander of the Japanese carrier group, now knew that American carriers were in the area. The valuable ships had eluded the Japanese at Pearl Harbour and been a constant thorn in their side since, raiding various Japanese outposts in efforts to raise morale at home. Takagi wanted them sunk, and on May 5th, he would get his chance.

Coral Sea’s second day began uneventfully. Although both sides knew the other’s carriers were in the area, neither knew exactly where. Both needed to refuel some of their ships, and for much of the morning the efforts to refuel dominated both commanders’ attention. While this was happening, a Japanese H6K flying boat based in Rabaul discovered the American fleet. Although the flying boat was shot down just minutes later, the message was sent back to 25 Air Flotilla’s HQ. More importantly, it was then passed on to Inoue*.
Inoue, after some consideration, decided to act. His own forces were now protected by the cold front that had shielded the Americans the previous day, and it was apparent that Fletcher was still refuelling some of his ships. The Americans, he believed, probably didn’t know where the Japanese carriers were, meaning that any counterattack they launched would be confused and weak. An order was sent to Takagi, to launch two-thirds of his available strike forces: 60 bombers, an even split between torpedo-carrying B5Ns (known as ‘Kate’s to the Allies), and D3A (‘Val’) dive bombers, as well as 18 A6M ‘Zero’ fighters as escorts. If a more certain positioning of the American carriers was found, the reserves were to be sent out immediately. Else, he would have to guess.
As it turned out, Takagi had guessed correctly. Just a few hours after the recon report came in, the strike force found the two American carriers. Both were protected by a combined combat air patrol of 16 F4F Wildcat fighters, but it was evident that the Americans were not expecting a Japanese attack. Fletcher rushed to get as many fighters as possible into the air, and called for urgent reinforcements from the land-based aircraft in Australia and New Guinea. Unfortunately for Fletcher, the battle was taking place too far east for any fighters to be sent to assist, although a squadron of P-39s based out of Port Moresby was launched in case any additional Japanese planes were sent out of Rabaul.
Takagi’s strike proved decisive. Both American carriers were pounded by the Japanese onslaught, while the elite Japanese pilots did to the carriers what they had done to the battleships at Pearl Harbour. Lexington was hit by no fewer than four torpedoes, and sank quickly. Yorktown meanwhile had its flight deck plastered by the dive bombers, as well as two torpedoes, one of which hit the engine room. As the Japanese departed, Yorktown was scuttled by her crew. Luckily for the Americans, the Japanese never launched a second wave, and efforts to evacuate the crews of both carriers saved enough men to be considered a success.
Takagi’s amazing success had not come cheaply however: the two carriers cost him eleven Zeroes, ten dive bombers and fourteen torpedo bombers – half his striking power against an unprepared foe. Planes, at least for the moment, were replaceable. His elite pilots were not.

By dawn of May 6th, the great battle was over. Bereft of any carriers, and too far from Australia or New Guinea to cover his forces with land-based aircraft, Fletcher gave the order to retreat. Those ships that could be safely sent to assist in defending Port Moresby were sent west, while Takagi was ordered to move his carriers west to cover the invasion force. A flight of B-17 bombers would attempt to bomb the Japanese fleet from high altitude later that day, which damaged a cruiser but was otherwise ineffective, and in the late afternoon news arrived announcing the fall of Corregidor Island. The Japanese had now conquered the Western Pacific, and their position in the south had never looked stronger.
The invasion attempt on Port Moresby itself followed as planned on May 10th. The bulk of Japanese airpower in the South Pacific was committed to the battle, including much of the carrier strike forces and nearly 40 aircraft based in Rabaul, many of them bombers. The Australian garrison, only slightly smaller than the Japanese invaders, gave good account of itself but was ultimately overwhelmed, as the furious naval battle taking place off the coast failed to scatter the Japanese ships. Japanese losses approached 1500 ground troops and another 40 aircraft, but the port and airbases were secured in the following days. In addition to the defenders of New Guinea itself, the Allies saw two destroyers sunk and three cruisers with varying levels of damage, while the Japanese light cruiser Yubari was also sent to the bottom.

*This is the PoD: historically the message made it only as far as flotilla HQ.

I wonder if this is gonna influate the German's war effort

Hard to say, because historically the Japanese thought they had killed both US carriers anyway (the more important divergence is getting Fletcher away from the transports). So any news Hitler gets from Tokyo is going to be similar to OTL except for Moresby's fall (which isn't going to matter to him), at least until 4 June. By then, Stalingrad is already set to happen, First Alamein is similar (even if the Australians and NZers get pulled from Africa), and FDR is still going to be set on Torch (Germany first!). So at least in terms of major events, '42 isn't going to change much. Whether FS inspires Hitler to do something crazy later on... we'll see.

This looks interesting. Watched
Thanks! Glad you like it so far :)

II: Aftermath of Coral Sea (5/42-6/42)
II: Aftermath of Coral Sea, May-June 1942

In the days immediately following the decisive battles at the Coral Sea and Port Moresby, both sides were forced to reconsider their plans. The Japanese efforts to take Nauru and Ocean Island while the battle of Port Moresby was being fought, were yet another success, although hardly a notable one. The attempted feint by two of the remaining US carriers – Hornet and Enterprise, achieved nothing as Japanese reconnaissance planes failed to find the US force.
In Washington, considerable criticism was directed towards Admiral Fletcher for his aggressive strike towards Tulagi, a move which informed the Japanese of the US carriers’ presence and ultimately enabled the fateful strike on May 5th. His subsequent performance in handling the retreat from the Coral Sea was overlooked by the press, but not by President Roosevelt, who made sure the commander stayed on duty (indeed, once the anger towards him died down, he was promoted to Vice Admiral).
Allied planners were concerned that the next Japanese move would be made against the Australian mainland, either Darwin in the north or somewhere along the Queensland coast. Loudest among all of these was General Douglas MacArthur, who insisted that forces be pulled out of New Caledonia and sent to defend Australia, while also advocating an invasion of New Guinea before the Japanese could consolidate their position. He received some reinforcements, most notably the 32nd and 41st Infantry divisions which had been sent from the West Coast in March, but no additional forces were to be sent to Australia unless an invasion actually began.
Several proposals for a counterattack were made, including a plan to land forces on Milne Bay in eastern New Guinea and construct a new airbase that was scrapped due to the considerable risk posed by nearby Japanese carrier forces. Operation “Watchtower”, aimed at Tulagi and other positions in the Solomon islands, was also cancelled as intelligence indicated more Japanese fleet units were likely to be sent South in coming months. Eventually the American command fell back on the ‘Germany First’ philosophy and sent much of the allocated equipment for ‘Watchtower’ to assist in the invasion of North Africa planned for November. The 1st Marine Division would be sent to New Zealand.
Elsewhere in the Pacific, the overall Allied strategy was one of great caution. With no significant victories over the Japanese other than the First Battle of Wake, many were becoming hesitant to risk further naval resources without a clear advantage. The carrier Saratoga, having recently been refitted at Puget Sound, was sent to Auckland where it would come under Fletcher’s command, while Hornet and Enterprise were sent back to Pearl Harbour to conduct training exercises.

In Tokyo, two plans competed for attention: ‘MI’ and ‘FS’. As most ground forces were still in Java and the Philippines after the fall of those locations in the previous months, it would take a long time to transport them to Truk, Rabaul and other South Pacific bases in order to attempt an invasion of Fiji, Samoa or New Caledonia. At present the official FS timetable dictated the first invasion, aimed at New Caledonia, to begin on July 8th, which looked unrealistic in face of the daunting logistical requirements that the operation demanded, especially as the forces originally earmarked for the campaign were now tied up around Port Moresby, barely sufficient to garrison the area.
Discussions turned towards the now little-known MI plan. MI called for a formation of as many IJN carriers has possible to assist in an amphibious assault against the tiny islands of Midway, located northeast of Hawaii. By attacking Midway, the carriers would be able to draw the remaining American fleet into a final battle that would see its total destruction. The airbases at Midway would then be able to host Japanese bombers, which would target Hawaii and ensure the security of the Central Pacific. The plan was set to be carried out in early June, a fact well-known by the American code-breakers.
MI was a contentious plan at best. The Army bitterly opposed it, and refused to have anything to do with Midway. Even among Navy ranks, the plan was losing popularity. Coral Sea had destroyed two American fleet carriers, and the Japanese believed their opponents now only had two left in the Pacific. Some among the Japanese ranks were convinced that the Americans could be drawn into a decisive battle somewhere else, preferably somewhere more in line with the other Japanese goal: to isolate Australia from the United States. If Enterprise and Hornet could be forced into battle in the South Pacific, there would be no need for the Midway operation at all.
Ultimately, MI would be scrapped because of the problem that the war was trying to solve: oil. Japan entered the war with a very limited stockpile of oil, sufficient for perhaps a year of intensive operations at most, and had burned a great deal of this in the campaigns in the Western and Central Pacific. As detailed plans for both MI and FS were drawn up, the Japanese realised that while either operation by itself could be supplied by the current stockpile, attempting both would use up more fuel than the IJN was willing to accept, knowing that a reserve would be needed in case of an American counterattack. With this in mind, and no clear prospect of meaningful victory from the Midway plan, MI was abandoned.

FS, on the other hand, enjoyed widespread support from both the Army and Navy (a considerable rarity at this or any other time). Coral Sea and Port Moresby had ensured that, in the absence of an unlikely severe Japanese defeat, the plan would be executed some time in the later half of 1942, but at present many details of the plan were quite vague. New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa were the stated targets, with both ports and airbases as the objectives on each island. The original timetable called for a July attack, although one of the first revisions to the plan after Coral Sea was to postpone various parts of the plan by as much as one month. In this region, the cyclone season begins around November: all objectives needed to be completed by then or combat operations would become impossible for months – a situation that the IJA was currently experiencing in Burma as the conferences dragged on.

Without the need to send the carriers off to Midway in June, all six carriers present at Pearl Harbour gathered once more in Truk throughout late May and early June for a much-needed rest and refit. All six had seen heavy action across the Pacific and many crews were worn out. Aircraft stocks were replenished, taken out of bases as far away as the Home Islands to ensure that FS, now the highest priority for equipment, would be as strong as possible. New planes were sent to Truk and Rabaul, allowing a small reserve to be built up, although demands on the many other fronts never allowed this to become as large as it really should have.
Staff in Tokyo spent this time altering the plan for FS. Among the most important changes was the addition of Efate and Espiritu Santo, two key islands in the New Hebrides, as first-stage targets for invasion. Admiral Yamamoto, who designed the final version of the FS plan, also advocated that Fiji, rather than New Caledonia, should be made the primary objective, and it was there that the second landing should take place. The Allied naval base at Noumea, and the nearby airfield at Tontouta, would continue to attract attention however, and although New Caledonia would now be the last significant island marked for invasion, Imperial Headquarters was determined to take it as well. The date of the first landing, postponed many times in the past, was now set for late July.
To ensure the operation’s success, the IJA created a new formation, the 17th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Hyakutake. The majority of 17th Army – roughly 40,000 men – would be used to conduct landings in the New Hebrides, Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia, while a series of smaller forces attached to the army would act as garrisons in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. By mid-July, the majority of the army would be deployed in Rabaul, ready to begin the operation. It would be Japan’s largest amphibious invasion since the attack on the Philippines in December.

Then no japanese attacks on Dutch Harbor neither (also mean no Akutan Zero)?

Also, with the fast loss of two fleet carriers, will the US consider the convertion of Alaska-class large cruiser into carriers?
Then no japanese attacks on Dutch Harbor neither (also mean no Akutan Zero)?
Nope. The plan to take the Aleutians has been shelved entirely.
I wasn't aware of that Zero story, so thanks for letting me know about it :) . Although it's reasonably likely that the Allies would capture a Zero at some point, just not as quickly.

Also, with the fast loss of two fleet carriers, will the US consider the convertion of Alaska-class large cruiser into carriers?
They considered it IOTL late 1941, deciding it wasn't really worthwhile, and the subject doesn't appear to have been brought up again after that - even when the Saratoga and Wasp were taken out around September. Plus, the first Essexes are not that far away from being completed, while Alaska won't be ready until '44 or so.

Should I take the TL into 1944, I will make sure to do something with the Alaskas though! (At least as long as CalBear doesn't ban me for keeping MacArthur in a command :p).

III: Japanese Planning (7/42)
III: Japanese Planning, July 1942

Planning the operation that would become FS was well underway in Tokyo as early as January 1942, although various delays (particularly in the Philippines) ensured that the original plans, with an invasion date in April, would not be carried out. Indeed as April approached, the overall situation across the Pacific was looking such that the operation would be cancelled (or postponed indefinitely). For a brief period of time the Navy’s plan to lure the American fleet into a decisive battle near Midway would be favoured instead.
During this time, the plans decided upon the overall objective of isolating Australia’s communications with the United States and the prevention of any Allied counter-attacks against the southeastern sector of Japan’s defensive perimeter, but capturing New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. Naval forces were to be transferred upon the completion of present objectives in the Indian Ocean, and nine infantry battalions would be used to secure the islands. Under this plan, New Guinea was to be taken in May and the Midway Islands in June, with the assumption that these two operations would destroy the remaining Allied naval forces.
By May, final drafts of the FS plan were being prepared when the Battle of the Coral Sea and the subsequent capture of Port Moresby rapidly altered the balance of power in the South Pacific. In the days before Coral Sea, the plans at the Imperial General Headquarters had allocated six aircraft carriers to FS, while the Allies were thought to only have two. Such an advantage (and the apparent ease at which US carriers were sunk at Coral Sea) convinced the IGHQ to cancel the Midway operation at the last minute, instead preferring to fight the decisive battle in the waters near New Caledonia. Cancelling Midway would also free up around a quarter of a million tons of fuel oil, which would be essential if the operation was to last any significant length of time.

Even though the Coral Sea operation went almost exactly according to plan (and some would argue even better), the Japanese did learn one extremely valuable lesson from the battle. Port Moresby was one of the first seriously contested landings the Japanese had attempted – nearly 5000 Australian forces had defended the position. While Japan had been successful in storming the beaches, their success had come in a large part down to the availability of several cruisers and destroyers to provide naval gunfire support, and several waves of bombers disabling the Australian artillery. Landing on a defended beach would be difficult, and in subsequent plans for FS, the Army settled upon a 3:1 ratio between attackers and defenders as the requirement for a successful landing. In addition, most of the islands targeted by FS were large enough that simply avoiding the enemy’s defences when landing the first wave would be possible – storming them by land would be easier than by sea.
Intelligence reports in March and April indicated that Allied defences were strongest in Fiji, with an estimated 7000 New Zealand defenders and another 3000 local volunteers. The Samoan islands were garrisoned by around a battalion of US Marines, while New Caledonia was thought to host around 3000 US and Australian soldiers – a number even the Japanese were uncertain about (as it turned out, the Allies had deployed an entire division in Noumea). Using a 3:1 ratio, nine battalions would not be sufficient to destroy these forces. That job would instead fall to a corps-sized formation, the newly-constituted 17th Army.

In the plans drafted after Coral Sea, the 17th Army was to be composed of various units from all across the Pacific. Under the April plans, the South Seas Detachment was to be the most important force in the invasion, but that unit was still hunting down continued Australian resistance in New Guinea and so was not available. Knowing that the Navy would not accept the operation without Navy units taking part in the invasions themselves, it was decided to use the units previously allocated to the invasions of Midway and the Aleutian Islands – now known as the 2nd Combined SNLF, a total of approximately 5000 men. Many roles were discussed for them, but it was eventually decided that they would be used to capture Samoa. The most distant objective would be an entirely Navy affair.
The Army’s contribution was originally defined as the 41st Infantry Regiment coming from Java and the 35th Brigade from Mindanao, a total of around 5000 men. With Fiji’s defences alone now known to be larger than that, this force was deemed insufficient and the IGHQ rushed to find the forces that would bring 17th Army to the appropriate strength. Among the forces transferred would be the 4th and 29th Regiments, taken from Java with the 41st, the 28th Regiment presently deployed in Saipan, and the 66th and 115th Regiments from Northern New Guinea. In addition, the construction units building an airfield on Guadalcanal island were to be allocated to FS as soon as the Guadalcanal airfield was finished, so that an airfield within range of New Caledonia could be established in the New Hebrides. This brought the strength of the first wave of invaders just above 30,000 men, 80% of them Army.
17th Army’s order of battle also included the 228th and 229th Regiments (also deployed in Java) as a first set of reserves deployed to Rabaul only in late July, and a variety of smaller units including the 2nd Tank ‘Regiment’ (which had about 60 tanks, most of them Type 97 mediums), two artillery battalions, an engineer regiment, a company of armoured cars and two field AA battalions. Furthermore, the entire 48th Infantry Division, a 25,000-strong formation currently garrisoning Timor against a potential Allied strike towards the East Indies, was considered as an emergency reserve, although not placed under 17th Army command. Most of these forces were preparing in Rabaul or Truk by the end of June, with the beginning of FS now set for late July.

IV: Japanese Planning 2 (7/42)
IV: Japanese Planning 2, July 1942

In contrast with the substantial increase of Army forces committed between the April and May versions of FS, the Imperial Navy’s force allocation to the plan remained mostly unchanged in the final revisions of the plan. The most significant change to the plan was the increase of the number of battleships from two (likely the two Nagato-class ships) to five, which would see the 70,000-ton giant Yamato, Japan’s newest and mightiest warship, sent to the South Pacific, along with the much older Kongo and Hiei. If the South Pacific was to be the site of the decisive battle, the battleships would have to be there. Consideration was given to the transfer of several other battleships, including Ise and Fuso, but many within Navy ranks were beginning to see these ships, which dated back to World War I, as obsolescent. The ships would use up a lot of fuel sailing to Truk, much less New Caledonia, and the decisive battle was already half-won at Coral Sea. It was thought that the older battleships would be unnecessary.
When the warships were assembled at Truk in mid-June, the Japanese could call on a total strength of eight carriers (the six veterans of Pearl Harbour, plus Shoho and Zuiho), nineteen cruisers (fourteen heavy), nineteen submarines and just shy of 50 destroyers. In addition to this, thirty cargo ships were assigned to supply the operation (a substantial amount considering the Midway operation had only called for twelve!), and a variety of smaller craft including oilers and minesweepers were attached to the fleet. This incredible undertaking had stretched the Japanese Empire to its limits, but the armada had been assembled.
Even before the Americans were given a say in the plans however, the Japanese were already struggling. While operations in the Philippines and Malaya could be conducted from relatively nearby bases at Formosa and Saigon, the small incomplete airfield at Guadalcanal was Japan’s closest base at just 2000km from Fiji. Most fleet operations would instead have to come from Rabaul (for smaller units, around 3000km) or Truk, over 4000km away. At least until bases could be secured, any ships operating across much of that distance would be vulnerable to Allied air and submarine attack, while the distance was too great to support any sort of ‘supply line’ in a traditional sense. Instead, IGHQ decided that carriers could be used to support individual convoys that would drop large loads of supplies at a time on the islands. The carriers would ensure that the supply ships could not be attacked by air, while escorting destroyers and cruisers would protect the ships from submarines on their month-long round-trip from Rabaul.
While this would provide a solution to the supply issue, it took away from the carriers’ other major roles, namely the defeat of Allied airpower on the islands and the defeat of remaining US warships should they appear. The final version of the FS plan called for a major ‘first strike’ be made by a carrier group to defeat each island’s airpower before the troops were landed, but there was not enough fuel for all eight carriers to maintain a constant presence around the islands. The decisive battle itself was even less well thought-out: the best plan the Navy staff could come up with was to have the battleships on call at Truk, ready to sail out and meet the US battle line whenever it appeared. Six days’ cruising away, it was a poor solution to what the Navy considered to be its greatest objective, but no-one at Tokyo came up with anything better. Such a challenge should have served as a warning to those who advocated the plan. Instead Tokyo would rely on martial spirit where traditional methods wouldn’t work.

The plan was finalised in early July, with orders sent out to the various fleet commands in Truk and Rabaul. This plan laid out the following objectives:
  • First, two regiments (28th and 41st) are to land on Efate, except for a small detachment instead ordered to Espiritu Santo. Both islands are to be secured with the intention of capturing or building an airbase which can then be used against Allied positions at New Caledonia. Construction units on Guadalcanal are to be made available for this purpose should existing installations not prove sufficient for operational needs.
  • Second, a total of four regiments (4th, 29th, 66th and 115th) and the 35th Brigade are to land on the south coast of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian islands in two waves. The first shall depart Rabaul at the same time as the New Hebrides forces, the second once the appropriate shipping can be made available. These forces are to capture the Allied naval base at Suva and any airfields on the Fijian islands. Following this, the remainder of Viti Levu is to be secured and further operations considered against the Allies on nearby islands.
  • Third, the Imperial Navy is to conduct operations against the American bases on Tutuila in the Samoan islands, and Wallis island, upon the satisfactory completion of operations in the New Hebrides or Fiji. Should enemy resistance be light, Navy forces should seek to capture the islands, otherwise destruction of facilities followed by a withdrawal is ordered. Operations should be directed towards nearby islands, particularly Upolu, as the situation allows.
  • Fourth, all forces save those tasked with the occupation of the secured islands will then be used against Allied positions in New Caledonia, in cooperation with Vichy French authorities, as directed by Imperial Headquarters in following orders. The operation against New Caledonia is expected to begin no later than the first week of September.
  • In the event that a significant Allied naval presence is detected, all available resources are to be committed to their destruction. This will include the battleships stationed at Truk and any carrier groups active in the South Pacific other than those ensuring the safe delivery of supplies to ground forces.
  • The entirety of the FS Operation is to be completed before the beginning of the season of tropical storms in November.
Before the coded message containing these orders made it to Rabaul, the Allies promptly intercepted the message, decoding before the Japanese commanders could. Admiral Fletcher was immediately notified, although a lack of available warships limited his ability to fight back against the entire might of the Kido Butai. On July 18th, 1942, the first of the troopships began to leave port. Operation FS had begun...

Will the Eastern Front be different ITTL?
Maybe late in the war, once the impact of FS has had time to make a difference to say Torch or D-Day. But butterflies take a long time to fly across the Atlantic, and neither Hitler nor Stalin is particularly concerned about events in the Coral Sea.

Hey! If it isn't my favorite Panzer Corps Modder! I never knew you were on
I believe you have just discovered one of the reasons why I don't mod PzC any more :p

Glad to know I'm remembered.

V: Allied Planning (7/42)
V: Allied Planning, July 1942

The Allied commands in the South Pacific were first organised only days before the Battle of the Coral Sea. General Douglas MacArthur, having escaped from the Philippines just ahead of the Japanese invaders, held the primary Army command, known as the South West Pacific Area, responsible for all territories north and west of the Australian mainland, as far as Java and the Philippines. The Navy commands were divided into the North, Central and South Pacific Areas, all three under the overall command of Admiral Nimitz, while the South Pacific Area was commanded more directly by Admiral Robert Ghormley. His command extended from a line in the Tasman Sea as far north as the Gilbert islands, covering virtually all of the area contested during FS (the only significant exception being the Japanese bases at Rabaul, which was in MacArthur’s region, and Truk, which was technically part of the Central Pacific Area but in practise was ignored by the Allied leadership until well into 1943).
Ghormley was an uninspiring and pessimistic officer, who spent much of his time at his headquarters in Auckland – indeed it appears that his appointment was more due to favouritism from President Roosevelt than any great skill. His greatest contribution to preparations against FS was to consistently remind Washington that resources for a proper defence of the area were insufficient, especially as Japan’s seemingly endless string of success didn’t look to be ending soon.
More important to the campaign was the recently promoted Vice Admiral Fletcher. Fletcher’s experience in the war so far had been dominated by bad luck – his efforts to relieve Wake island in December had been called back after the Japanese captured the island, and his failed attempt to attack the Japanese carriers at Coral Sea had instead resulted in the loss of his own. In the wake of the battle, Fletcher had managed to keep most of his remaining force intact (although how much of this success was due to Japanese focus on Port Moresby remains open to debate), and once it became evident that the Japanese were going to continue their focus on the South Pacific, Fletcher’s force was reinforced with those ships that could be made available.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much that could be available. The carrier Saratoga had been hastily transferred south to ensure that the defenders would not have to rely exclusively on land-based aircraft. In a region where all major bases were too far apart to support each other, this provided some much-needed flexibility. Fletcher’s surface fleet mostly consisted of a small force of destroyers and light cruisers, nearly all of them veterans of Coral Sea. While they were numerous enough to provide adequate escorts for Saratoga, they hardly formed a striking force of their own. The arrival of the battleship North Carolina in early July would help, as would a pair of New Zealand’s light cruisers, but both Fletcher and Roosevelt knew that the IJN would control the seas until a much greater force could be sent as reinforcements. A small force of submarines had also been present at Coral Sea, but these were under MacArthur’s command, and the general had no interest in giving them to Fletcher.

The Allies could count on one major advantage in the campaign, namely their intelligence efforts. The Japanese codes had been broken early in the war, and the Japanese appeared to be totally unaware that they had done so. As a result, Washington knew exactly what Japan’s plans were, including what islands were being targeted, how many forces were committed and even the fact that Vice Admiral Yamaguchi would be their main opponent. Had Fletcher been able to call upon a more substantial naval force, it is very likely that the operation could have been destroyed in its opening days.
Yet the Allied intelligence proved to be as much of a hindrance as a help in the weeks between Coral Sea and the first landings of FS. For much of May, the Allies believed that Midway would be the Japanese target, while officers in Tokyo argued amongst themselves. While no naval forces were committed to the defence of Midway, the decision was made to expand the bases on Efate with the intention of using the island as a staging point for a potential counterattack in the Solomons. The 1st Marine Division had been allocated to such a plan, codenamed ‘Watchtower’, only for intelligence to then warn that the Japanese would be coming south after all. Watchtower was cancelled, the Marines sent to New Zealand (the first plan was to send them to Australia, but the Navy was reluctant to give more forces to MacArthur), and plans for a new airfield on Espiritu Santo scrapped.
The defence of Efate became a topic that saw great debate throughout June. Unlike Japan’s other targets, the New Hebrides were close enough to Japanese bases that the IJN could potentially maintain a presence around them for an extended time if necessary. Should they do so, it was considered inevitable that any garrison on the islands would be doomed to siege and eventual surrender. If the islands were to be contested at all, a much larger force would need to be sent than was currently present in order to have a defence strong enough to throw the Japanese landings back into the sea upon their landing. Efate’s bases were not up to supplying that many forces however, and most supplies would have to come by sea, where they would run the risk of destruction by the Japanese Navy. This indecision would cause great trouble for Allied efforts on the island – while the construction crews were evacuated in early July (as was the 4th Marine Defence Battalion) and many demolitions carried out, the remaining garrison was left behind. The 24th Infantry Regiment was left uncertain of its future: a second evacuation effort, or a desperate defence, and blame for this fiasco can be assigned entirely to Admiral Ghormley.

Japanese intelligence had predicted that Fiji would be the most strongly defended location in the South Pacific, and had dedicated more than half of their forces to its capture. The reasons for doing this were obvious to both sides: Fiji was the central position through which communications between Australia and the United States would pass. Yamamoto had declared the islands, principally Viti Levu, as the sole most important objective of FS other than the defeat of the US Navy.
In May, Fiji had been defended by the New Zealand 8th Brigade, as well as some local Fijian units. Ethnic tensions in Fiji, principally between those of Indian heritage and those who were not, resulted in most Indo-Fijians refusing to fight, but even so the British colony raised over 4000 soldiers. The available defence, slightly smaller than Japanese estimates, was deemed insufficient for the expected task, and the US 37th Infantry Division was ordered to defend the islands in June. Allied strength on the islands reached close to 20,000, giving them a slight numerical advantage over the estimated Japanese forces.
The decision to commit the bulk of their strength to Fiji left just two battalions to defend the large naval base at Pago Pago in Samoa – the US 7th Marine Defence Battalion and the 1st Samoan Battalion, a native unit that the Americans had trained. Both were deployed to Tutuila, the island hosting the naval base and most other military installations. Further to the west, Wallis island was garrisoned by the 8th Marine Defence Battalion and a unit of Seabees who were tasked with building an airbase on the island. Work had only just begun in July, while the island’s harbour had only the barest of facilities. Despite the intelligence warnings, the Allied commanders believed that the threat to Samoa was only remote owing to the enormous distance between it and any Japanese bases, and any suggestion of further reinforcement was dismissed. Fiji was under greater threat, and there were not enough soldiers to defend every island. The decisive battle would be fought in Fiji.

In perhaps his only major contribution to the campaign’s planning, Admiral Ghormley was adamant that under no circumstances would any forces be withdrawn from New Caledonia. Despite the large and quickly growing Allied base at Noumea, the long and narrow island appeared to be only an afterthought in the latest version of the Japanese plans (a major change from the top priority it had once been). With all the focus on Fiji from both the Japanese and Allied commands, New Caledonia looked like an attractive source of reinforcements – it was currently hosting more than 20,000 Allied soldiers.
Ghormley’s argument was centered around those old plans: if the Japanese decided Fiji was too difficult to conquer, they may decide to ignore Yamamoto’s recent insistence on Fiji and instead attempt to take New Caledonia instead. While losing Fiji would be a considerable nuisance, losing the much larger base at Noumea would be a catastrophe as bad as the loss of Singapore had been four months earlier. It would force the Allied command back to either Brisbane or Auckland, which would make a counteroffensive through the South Pacific almost impossible. No matter what, Noumea would have to be held.

VI: First Blood (7/42)
VI: First Blood, July 1942

“In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” - Such was Admiral Yamamoto’s prediction of the outcome of a war between Japan and the Allies. July 26th, 1942, just seven and a half months after Pearl Harbour, would be forever known as the day that Yamamoto would be proven right for the first time. Japanese offensives would continue, but they would no longer ‘run wild’ as they had in the first months of the war.

The sinking of the light carrier Shoho on that day was only a very small victory for the Allies. The light carrier had begun its life as a submarine tender, and was regarded as a very poor conversion effort. Only able to hold 30 aircraft, most of them old A5M (‘Claude’) fighters, the decision to send her as part of FS’ first wave came down to the need to send the larger decks to Fiji and Samoa instead. Later that day, the Japanese would land around five hundred men on Espiritu Santo, and most of their aircraft had been sent further south to suppress the American airbase on Efate.
The Americans were aware of the coming invasion, and planned to use the few aircraft they did have in the New Hebrides (a squadron of B-17s and another of F4F Wildcats) to delay and damage the invasion force as much as possible, before flying to bases on New Caledonia. Japanese patrols had intercepted several American scout planes in the morning, but two returned to base safely. One reported nothing, having been sent almost due east from Efate, the other had spotted the Japanese approaching from the northwest.
The American commander on the ground acted as the Japanese had at Coral Sea. With very limited information other than the fact that two Japanese carriers were in the area and that something was to the northwest, he sent all of his B-17s into the air. Flying at around 20,000 feet, they would be hard to intercept, while the Japanese patrols would likely be weak if they intended to attack Allied bases that day. The bombers would be sent without escorts, owing to the need to defend Efate, but they were given orders to abort the mission and return to New Caledonia if the Japanese were prepared. As things were, the Japanese were launching their own bombers off Akagi and Shoho at the same time. Flying along different paths, the two groups of aircraft did not encounter each other, while the Shoho, operating at some distance away from Akagi, had only four fighters and two destroyers to act as escorts.
From very early in the war, the B-17 had a poor reputation among the Japanese. While the B-17 would soon prove its worth when bombing cities (and had already become a nuisance through repeated missions against Port Moresby), it had a much more difficult time bombing ships. Nearly all of the American bombs missed Shoho and the destroyers (the landing ships were further to the south at this time), but one hit was all that it took to cripple the carrier. Where exactly the bomb landed is not known, but a huge fireball was soon observed to consume much of the ship, which broke into pieces and sank. Nearly all of the crew was lost, with no time to escape the ruined ship. Her aircrews were forced to land on Akagi.
In the United States and other Allied nations, the news immediately became a front-page headline. Other than the Doolittle Raid in April, few efforts against the Japanese had returned any positive results, and any victory was better than no victory at all. Morale was boosted on the home front, while in Japan the news was never announced at all.

The loss of Shoho did not significantly deter the Japanese fleet, which pressed on towards Efate. Aircrews chased the Americans away from the islands as two bombing raids were launched against the airstrip on the island, while the Americans effectively abandoned the islands to their fate. Admiral Fletcher held his naval forces back, nearly all of them being kept south of New Caledonia to prevent their destruction by an overwhelming Japanese force.
The landing on Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the New Hebrides, was a relatively uneventful operation. The Americans had withdrawn what forces they had on the island in June, and the Japanese moved into Luganville unopposed. Too far from New Caledonia to be of any real use, Espiritu Santo was captured only to deny its use by the Allies. Those Japanese soldiers left behind were to serve as an occupation force, with no expectation of resupply - there was no hope of ensuring a constant line of supplies to Espiritu Santo while keeping up with the demanding timetable of FS, and the Japanese knew it. Only around 500 strong, they were ordered to live off the land, with more ammunition promised in the event of an Allied attack that would never come. Forgotten by their own commanders and ignored by their enemies, the soldiers on Espiritu Santo could only watch as a much more fierce battle erupted to the south.

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