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Home > Family History > USS Neosho > The Battle of the Coral Sea > The USS Neosho at Coral Sea



The Battle of the Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea




May 1 - 6, 1942:  Preliminary Engagements

The U.S.S. Neosho, one of the few tankers in the Pacific Fleet, had been operating with the Admiral Jack Fletcher's Yorktown carrier group throughout the South Pacific in in the spring of 1942, in the weeks preceding the Battle of the Coral Sea.  When Fletcher learned about a Japanese build-up at the port of Rabaul, near New Guinea, he sailed north to repulse what appeared to be a planned Japanese invasion of the key city of Port Moresby, New Guinea, thus setting the stage for the Battle of the Coral Sea. 


On the morning of May 1, Fletcher's group, including the Neosho with my Uncle Bill Leu aboard, rendezvoused with Admiral Aubrey Fitch's Lexington carrier group, which had sped down from Pearl Harbor to help thwart the Japanese invasion.  A cautious commander, Fletcher spent the next two days refueling, the Yorktown group from the tanker Neosho and the Lexington group from the tanker Tippecanoe.  Some of Fletcher's superiors would later criticize Fletcher for "dinking around" and refueling when he should have been looking for the Japanese during these two days, but Fletcher believed in being prepared before going into battle.  Besides, the exact location and strength of the Japanese fleet was still unknown.


On the evening of May 3, Admiral Fletcher received word that the Japanese had invaded the island of Tulagi earlier that same day.  Fletcher and the Yorktown group were out of touch with Admiral Fitch and the Lexington group and couldn't convey the message to Fitch, so Fletcher sped north to try to repulse the Tulagi invasion, leaving the U.S.S. Neosho behind, along with an escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Russell.  While Fletcher sped north, the Neosho and Russell headed to the pre-appointed rendezvous site where, the next morning, they met the Lexington group and informed Admiral Fitch of the Yorktown group's change in plans and a new rendezvous point set for May 5.


The next day, the Neosho, now with the Lexington group, rendezvoused with the Yorktown group and learned about Fletcher's attack on Tulagi island.  Although the attack wasn't as successful as initially thought, the Yorktown's fighters and bombers had caused the Japanese to withdraw from Tulagi.  The entire American fleet combined into Task Force 17 and sailed slowly west while refueling.  


The next evening, May 6, Admiral Fletcher received a report saying the Japanese fleet was preparing to enter Jomard Pass.  Fletcher ordered the Neosho along with an escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Sims, to remain behind, while the rest of the task force sped west.  As the men on the Neosho and Sims watched the fleet sail off into the sunset that evening, they had no idea what lay in store for them.


Neosho_in_1939_-_600x400.jpg (28043 bytes)    Neosho_Fueling_Yorktown_-_600x480.jpg (40713 bytes)    Neosho_Fueling_Yorktown_CU_-_600x480.jpg (68576 bytes)

Above left:  The U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) in Norfolk, Virginia on August 7, 1939, about three months after it was launched.  This is just after it was commissioned by the U.S. Navy.  For a supersized photo, click here.

Above center:  The U.S.S. Neosho (right) refueling the aircraft carrier Yorktown in the Coral Sea, about May 2, 1942.  This was five days before the Neosho was attacked by Japanese dive bombers.

Above right:  The Neosho crew refueling the Yorktown in the Coral Sea.


Neosho At Coral Sea From US Plane - 600x370.jpg (40631 bytes)  

Left:  The Yorktown (right) and Neosho (center) from the rear of a U.S. torpedo bomber (TBD) that's just taken off.  This was just before the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The small ship on the horizon to the right of the plane's tail fin is the destroyer U.S.S. SimsThis is the only photo that I've ever seen of the Neosho and Sims together.



The Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho:  May 7 - May 11, 1942

In this section, I've posted excerpts from Edwin Hoyt's fine book, "Blue Skies and Blood."  I've added information to the excerpts and edited them where necessary. 


This section includes the follow pages:


Table of Contents:

U.S.S. Neosho  (AO-23)

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) Home Page


Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos


Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho


The Pearl Harbor Attack  (December 7, 1941)

Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Bill Leu Interview:  Pearl Harbor Attack

U.S. Navy Action Report:  U.S.S. Neosho


The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942)

The Battle of the Coral Sea:  Summary

Battle Action:  April 30 - May 4, 1942 

Battle Action:  May 5 - May 7, 1942

Battle Action:  May 8, 1942

The U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea

May 7, 1942:  The Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting For Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

List of Survivors & Casualties

The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942 - cont.)

Bill Leu Interview:  Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Coral Sea

Action Report of the U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of the U.S.S. Sims

U.S.S. Helm Report

Other Ships at Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Sims (Neosho's Escort)

The U.S.S. Henley (Neosho's Rescuer)

The U.S.S. Helm (Rescued Life Raft)

Coral Sea Scrapbook

S.F. Examiner Article, July 10, 1942



President Bush's Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

Obituary of Captain John S. Phillips


U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum


Sources & Further Information

The current page is shown in bold.