Was Port Moresby the first rea defeat of the IJN in the air?

Conslaw

Senior Airman
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422
Jan 22, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana USA
Japan conducted over 100 raids on Port Moresby starting February 1942. In the course of those raids, several IJN aces ran up huge scores, and the conventional wisdom is A6M Zeroes made mincemeat out of allied fighters. The score between the fighters is debatable, but the undeniable fact is the Allies were not driven out of Port Moresby. The strategic objective was not achieved. Are there any statistics that support an argument that despite the end result, the attrition of allied air forces in and around Port Moresby was worth the resources expended by Japan in the effort?
 

Greg Boeser

Master Sergeant
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Jul 29, 2016
Minnesota
Hard to say. Statistically, what do you hope to prove?
The Japanese game plan from the beginning was to shock the western powers with a series of rapid victories, then fight a defensive war until the western powers lost heart. Key to this plan was to overwhelm the scattered garrisons before any meaningful defense could coalesce. In this they failed. They did not have the resources necessary to complete their conquests fast enough. Nor did they have adequate resources to defend their conquests. In the Southern Area, they had only one fighter unit, and one bomber unit until July, 1942. Australian forces exceeded this by April, and US reinforcements meant a steady buildup of strength. While the Japanese had air superiority in the first few months of 1942, by the beginning of the Guadalcanal campaign, Allied airpower vastly outnumbered the Japanese. And there was nothing they could do to change that.
 

WARSPITER

Staff Sergeant
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Oct 23, 2007
The battle of the Coral Sea is big factor in this question. The bombing of Moresby was ongoing to soften the defences and reduce Allied aircraft
numbers. As Greg noted this failed as the build up of Allied forces was unstoppable.

Coral Sea in May was a strategic loss for japan because the plan was to secure Port Moresby by the 10th May but the invasion force was made to
turn back with the Japanese losing a lot of aircraft in the process plus pilots - allied replacements were coming at a growing rate, Japanese were not.

All the raids on Moresby were negated by this setback for Japan as they then had to resort to the long overland route.
 

Conslaw

Senior Airman
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Jan 22, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana USA
I'm basically just trying to kickstart a conversation in a forum that has been too quiet lately. Specifically, I am curious whether there is any positive spin the IJN can take out of the early phase of the New Guinea air campaign, because the war at sea and the land ware became a disaster, and in 1943, the Japanese Army's air units were devastated.
 

Greg Boeser

Master Sergeant
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Jul 29, 2016
Minnesota
It's a hard question to answer. I see no upside. They captured Rabaul without a fight, but the Australians and USN made them pay for every inch of ground thereafter. The 4th AG was nearly wiped out attacking Lexington in February. The landings at Lea and Salamaua should have been unopposed, but here again, USN airpower turned up to spoil the party. This delayed things long enough that Port Moresby was reinforced and the invasion fleet was turned back at Coral Sea. Japanese airpower failed to neutralize Port Moresby, failed to support the landing at Milne Bay, and failed to prevent the US landings at Guadalcanal.
 

Conslaw

Senior Airman
606
422
Jan 22, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana USA
It's a hard question to answer. I see no upside. They captured Rabaul without a fight, but the Australians and USN made them pay for every inch of ground thereafter. The 4th AG was nearly wiped out attacking Lexington in February. The landings at Lea and Salamaua should have been unopposed, but here again, USN airpower turned up to spoil the party. This delayed things long enough that Port Moresby was reinforced and the invasion fleet was turned back at Coral Sea. Japanese airpower failed to neutralize Port Moresby, failed to support the landing at Milne Bay, and failed to prevent the US landings at Guadalcanal.
 

EwenS

Staff Sergeant
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1,958
Oct 19, 2021
It's a hard question to answer. I see no upside. They captured Rabaul without a fight, but the Australians and USN made them pay for every inch of ground thereafter. The 4th AG was nearly wiped out attacking Lexington in February. The landings at Lea and Salamaua should have been unopposed, but here again, USN airpower turned up to spoil the party. This delayed things long enough that Port Moresby was reinforced and the invasion fleet was turned back at Coral Sea. Japanese airpower failed to neutralize Port Moresby, failed to support the landing at Milne Bay, and failed to prevent the US landings at Guadalcanal.
Reinforcement of Port Moresby had occurred in Jan 1942 when 30th Australian Infantry Brigade and supporting arms arrived. The next Australian Brigade arrived in July.

There is a summary of the Port Moresby defences on this thread:-

And also here, including extracts from a pre-war Japanese study of the defences.

And more here from the Australian RAAF Official History

The first includes some detail on how the Lexington & Yorktown strike on Lae/Salamaua was made to work
 

Wildcat

Major
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Apr 11, 2005
South East Queensland
It's interesting to compare losses (to me anyway). According to South Pacific Air War Vol. 2, the Japanese lost 35 aircraft in the March-April 42 timeframe. These are confirmed losses, including aircraft shot down by AA, destroyed on the ground, etc. For the Allies in the same time period, they lost 50 aircraft. As for fighters, the Japanese lost 26 Zeros (14 destroyed on the ground) for 19 P-40s, the vast majority being RAAF.
 

Wildcat

Major
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Apr 11, 2005
South East Queensland
They appear to be total as there are a handful of non-operational losses listed such as the 3 B-25s that ditched off the Papuan coast after becoming lost on a flight from Charters Towers to Port Morseby (pg 181). Japanese losses all appear to be combat related though..
 

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