YORKTOWN HOLDS THE LINE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
After the raid on Lae and Salamaua, Lexington departed on 16 March 1942 for Pearl Harbor, and joined Enterprise in dock for repairs and alterations. Saratoga was still undergoing repairs to torpedo damage inflicted on 11 January. Hornet was still en route from the Atlantic coast after a minimal "shakedown" cruise. With Wasp and Ranger operating in the Atlantic, that left Yorktown alone to hold the line against the Japanese in the South Pacific.
Maintaining her distance from land-based Japanese bombers, Yorktown patrolled the Coral Sea and stood ready to carry out offensive operations whenever an opportunity presented itself . However, following the Lae-Salamaua Raid on 10 March, the situation in the South Pacific appeared to have temporarily stabilised. The Japanese were busy replacing or repairing the ships damaged in that raid, and making preparations for Operation MO - the capture of Port Moresby and Tulagi, now fixed for May 1942.
While holding the line in the South Pacific in April 1942,Yorktown prepares to launch. The Task Force 17oiler Guadaloupe is in the background.
Having been continually at sea since departing Pearl Harbor on 16 February, the ships of TF-17 were beginning to run low on fresh food. Without the benefit of air conditioning, the crews of TF-17 were also enduring the hardships of a lengthy operating spell in the tropics. Even more alarming for Rear Admiral Fletcher, was a deterioration in the rubber sealing of the gasoline tanks of the Wildcat fighters of VF-42. With the approval of CINCPAC, Yorktown and her escort warships put in to Tongatapu in the Tonga Islands on 20 April for much needed maintenance and provisioning.
During the first half of April, monitoring of the Japanese naval code JN25 by Allied code-breakers had indicated that the Japanese were preparing to renew their push to sever communications between the United States and Australia. Admiral Nimitz was able to inform Rear Admiral Fletcher that there were strong indications that the Japanese were preparing amphibious forces to attack and capture the major Allied base at Port Moresby in the Australian Territory of Papua and Tulagi in the British Solomons. Yorktown accordingly departed Tongatapu on 27 April, bound once more for the Coral Sea. The Lexington task force TF 11, now commanded by Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, departed Pearl Harbor to join Fletcher's TF 17 in the Coral Sea. and arrived in the vicinity of Yorktown's group, south-west of the New Hebrides Islands, on 1 May.
These events were now laying the foundations for the first major fleet to fleet action between the American and Japanese navies following Pearl Harbor.