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  Shōhō 祥鳳
IJN
Zuihō-class aircraft carrier

11,443 Tons (standard)
674' 2" x 59' 8" x 21' 7"
4 × Twin 12.7 cm AA guns
4 × Twin 25mm AA guns
Aircraft: 30

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IJN 1941

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USN May 7, 1942

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Robert Benney 1942
Ship History
Built by Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in Yokosuka. Laid down December 3, 1934 as a submarine tender ship named Tsurugisaki. Launched June 1, 1935. Completed January 15, 1939. During 1941, converted into a Zuihō-class aircraft carrier with the superstructure removed and a flight deck and hangar installed. Renamed Shōhō 祥鳳 meaning "Happy Phoenix". Commissioned November 30, 1941 at Nagasaki into the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) with Captain Ishinosuke Izawa in command.

Wartime History
On December 22, 1941 assigned to 1st Air Fleet, Carrier Division 4 under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo at Yokosuka. At the start of the Pacific War, U.S. Navy intelligence knew this carrier by the wrong name "Ryukaku" due to a cryptanalytic and translation error. During late 1942, a Japanese Prisoner Of War (POW) revealed the correct name.

On January 4, 1942 the Shoho Air Group's twelve fighters plus twelve B5N1 Kate carrier attack planes begin training at Yokosuka Naval Base.

On February 4, 1942 departs Yokosuka with six unassembled A6M2 Model 21 Zeros aboard as cargo. Escorted by Hokaze and arrives Truk on February 10, 1942.

On February 13, 1942 departs Truk bound for Rabaul escorted by Hokaze.

On February 17, 1942 six A6M2 Zeros took off from Shoho and landed at Lakunai Airfield at Rabaul. These six Zeros became the first Zeros at Rabaul. On February 22, 1942 departs Rabaul escorted by Hokaze and returns to Truk on February 26, 1942.

On March 7, 1942 departs Truk bound for Rabaul escorted by Hokaze On March 9, 1942 delivered nineteen A6M2 Model 21 Zeros to Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul. These Zeros were assigned to the 4th Kokutai and later the Tainan Kokutai. Departs Rabaul and returns to Truk on March 10, 1942.

On April 6, 1942 departs Truk escorted by Hokaze arriving at Yokosuka five days later for maintenance including the addition of four triple 25mm Type 96 anti-aircraft guns.

On April 18, 1942 Shōhō is ordered to attack the U.S. Navy carrier force that launched the "Doolittle Raid". Immediately, the carrier is hastily readied while a cruisers force departed immediately.

On April 19, 1942 at 4:15am departs Tokyo Bay without aircraft. While underway, her aircraft fly out and land the carrier. Shōhō joins the cruisers force that sortied the previous afternoon to chase the U.S. Navy carrier force that launched the "Doolittle Raid". Unable to find the Americans, the pursuit is canceled on April 20, 1942 at 9:30pm and Shōhō returns to Yokosuka escorted by Arashi and and Nowaki.

On April 24, 1942 departs Yokosuka with an incomplete air group due to pilot and aircraft shortages. Aboard are twelve fighters including both A6M2 Zeros and A5M4 Claudes plus six B5N1 Kates. Also aboard are disassembled A6M2 Zeros.

On April 29, 1942 arrived at Truk escorted by Sazanami. The next day assigned to Crudiv 6 under the command of Rear Admiral Goto for "Operation MO" the planned the invasion of Tulagi and Port Moresby plus Aoba, Kinugasa, Furataka, Kako and destroyer Sazanami. On May 2, 1942 an A6M2 Zero ditches into the sea, the pilot killed.

On May 3, 1942, the support force reaches Queen Carola Harbor on the west coast of Buka Island then departs later that day arriving at Tulagi Harbor. The mission was successful and without any losses and afterwards returns to Queen Carola Harbor.

Battle of the Coral Sea
On May 4, 1942 Shōhō departs Queen Carola Harbor in the afternoon to respond to the carrier aircraft from USS Yorktown CV-5 that attacked Tulagi at the start of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Instead on May 5, 1942, diverted to escort Rear Admiral’s Abe Transport Force and proceeds westward towards Port Moresby.

On May 6, 1942 at 10:30am off southern Bougainville, spotted and bombed by B-17 Flying Fortresses from Australia. Their bombs fell wide but her location was radioed.

Sinking History
On May 7, 1942 at 10:40am during the Battle of the Coral Sea spotted by aircraft from the USS Lexington CV-2 near Misima Island. At the time, two A5M4 Claudes and one A6M2 Zero were flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the carrier.

At 11:10am, SBD Dauntless dive bombers from VS-2 began dive bombing and were intercepted by the fighters and missed the carrier which maneuvering and one Dauntless was shot down by a Zero. Shoho launched three additional A6M2 Zeros.

At 11:18am other Dauntless dive bombers began dive bombing the carrier and scored two hits with 1,000 lbs bombs on the flight deck that exploded inside the hanger igniting fuel and aircraft.

After his attack, Lieutenant Commander Robert E. Dixon, commander of VS-2, radioed to commander Admiral Fletcher "Scratch one flat top!" that became the famous phrase from the Battle of the Coral Sea and Naval warfare. At the same time, Devastators from VT-2 launched torpedoes from both sides of the carrier, scoring five hits and knocking out steering and power, flooding the engine and boiler rooms.

At 11:25am SBDs from USS Yorktown CV-5 dive bombed scoring hits with eleven more 1,000 pound bombs leaving the carrier dead in the water.

At 11:29am, TBD Devastators from VT-3 attacked claimed ten more hits, but the Japanese only reported only two more. Leaving the target, they were intercepted by the Japanese CAP over the carrier, but F4F Wildcats from VF-3 claimed two A5M Claudes and an A6M2 Zero shot down.

At 11:31am heavily damaged and burning, Captain Izawa ordered the crew to abandoned ship as Shoho sank stern first on an even keel at 11:35am, with the three A6M2 Zeros still airborne from the CAP.

Over 23 minutes, Shoho was attacked by 92 carrier aircraft and suffered at least 13-14 bombs and 7 torpedoes hit the carrier. Shōhō was the first Japanese aircraft carrier lost during the Pacific War. In total, 834 of Shoho's crew died during the attack, went down with the carrier or drown while awaiting rescue. When Shoho sank, at least 30 aircraft were lost aboard the carrier. One of the SBD pilots, Lt(jg) William E. Hall earned the Medal of Honor for his role sinking the carrier.

Rescue
Roughly 300 crew successfully abandoned ship. After the sinking the Japanese ships in the area turned to the north to avoid further attacks and the Port Moresby invasion force aborts their mission and returns to Rabaul. Around 2:00pm, destroyer Sazanami to return to rescue 203 survivors (131 plus 72 wounded) including Captain Izawa.

References
Combined Fleet - IJN Shoho: Tabular Record of Movement
Naval History and Heritage Command - Coral Sea: Events of 7 May 1942

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Last Updated
May 9, 2021

 

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