Shoho the First Japanese Carrier Sunk in WWII

The Shoho , sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea, was the first Japanese aircraft carrier sunk during WWII.

On June 1, 1935, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched the submarine tender Tsurugizaki. In 1941, work began to convert the ship into an aircraft carrier. By the end of January 1942, the conversion was complete and the ship was renamed Shōhō meaning Auspicious or Happy Phoenix.


                                               Shoho in 1941

Command of the Shoho was given to Captain Ishinosuke Izawa and by February she began operations ferrying aircraft to the Japanese base at Truk.

In April 1942, Shoho was assigned to participate in Operation MO, the Japanese plan to capture New Guinea and the Solomon islands.


Mitsubishi A5M fighter. The plane was named “Claude” by the Allies.

Shoho provided air cover for the landings at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands on May 3rd and narrowly escaped attack by aircraft from the USS Yorktown who bombed and severely damaged the Tulagi invasion fleet on May 4th.

On May 7th, an American scout plane reported two Japanese carriers in the Coral Sea off the eastern tip of New Guinea. Believing these to be the large Japanese fleet carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku which were known to be operating in the Coral Sea, the Americans launched planes from Yorktown and Lexington to intercept them.

At 10:40am, aircraft from the Lexington spotted the Japanese ships which turned out to be Shoho and her escorts.  The first wave of American Dauntless dive bombers began their attack at 11:10am. During their dive, they were attacked by an A6M Zero and two outdated A5M Claude’s from Shoho. One Dauntless was shot down by the Zero and several others were damaged. The Dauntless’ bombs missed as Shoho took evasive maneuvers and launched three more Zero’s for self-defense.


TBD Devastators of the USS Yorktown prepare to attack Japanese ships in New Guinea’s Huon Gulf in March 1942

At 11:18, another wave of Dauntless’ nosed over and began their dives. This time they hit Shoho with two 1,000 lbs. bombs that penetrated her flight deck and exploded in the ships hangers among fully fueled and armed aircraft.

Almost simultaneously, Lexington’s Devastator torpedo bombers began their low level runs.  Attacking from both sides they scored five hits, flooding Shoho’s engine and boiler rooms and knocking out her steering and power.


A 1,000-pound bomb explodes on the deck of the Shoho

At 11:25 dive bombers from the Yorktown arrived on scene and dropped eleven 1,000 lbs. bombs on the stricken carrier which was now dead in the water. The final blow came at 11:29 when Devastators from Yorktown scored several more torpedo hits.

At 11:31, Captain Izawa ordered the crew to abandon ship. Four minutes later, Shoho slipped beneath the waves along with 834 of her crew.

As the American planes headed for home, they were jumped by the Shoho’s remaining fighters, but escorting American fighters fended them off shooting down two Claude’s and a Zero. Watching Shoho sink, Lexington’s dive bomber commander, Robert E. Dixon radioed “Scratch one flat top!”


The torpedo finds its mark on the Shoho

The Americans had sunk their first Japanese carrier of WWII, at the cost of three dive bombers, two from Lexington and one from Yorktown. 203 Japanese survivors, including Captain Izawa were later rescued by the destroyer Sazanami. The sinking of Shoho would be a prelude to a two day carrier battle between the American carriers Lexington and Yorktown and the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku.

The Battle of the Coral Sea would later claim the carrier Lexington, but the Americans had won an important victory. They had checked Japanese expansion in the southwest Pacific and news of one “scratched” Japanese flat top was a significant boost to moral back home.

For more reading on the Battle of the Coral Sea check out:

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

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