At 08:20, a Lexington SBD piloted by Joseph G. Smith spotted the Japanese carriers through a hole in the clouds and notified TF 17. Two minutes later, a Shōkaku search plane commanded by Kenzō Kanno sighted TF 17 and notified Hara. The two forces were about 210 nmi (240 mi; 390 km) away from each other. Both sides raced to launch their strike aircraft….
Yorktown's dive bombers, led by William O. Burch, reached the Japanese carriers at 10:32…. The Yorktown dive bombers commenced their attacks at 10:57 on Shōkaku and hit the radically maneuvering carrier with two 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs, tearing open the forecastle and causing heavy damage to the carrier's flight and hangar decks…. Lexington's aircraft arrived and attacked at 11:30. Two dive bombers attacked Shōkaku, hitting the carrier with one 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb, causing further damage…. With her flight deck heavily damaged and 223 of her crew killed or wounded, Shōkaku was unable to conduct further aircraft operations. Her captain, Takatsugu Jōjima, requested permission from Takagi and Hara to withdraw from the battle, to which Takagi agreed. At 12:10, Shōkaku, accompanied by two destroyers, retired to the northeast.
At 10:55, Lexington's CXAM-1 radar detected the inbound Japanese aircraft at a range of 68 nmi (78 mi; 126 km) and vectored nine Wildcats to intercept…. The Japanese attack began at 11:13… a pincer attack on Lexington, which had a much larger turning radius than Yorktown, and, at 11:20, hit her with two Type 91 torpedoes…. Takahashi's bombers damaged Lexington with two bomb hits and several near misses…. At 11:27, Yorktown was hit in the center of her flight deck by a single 250 kg (550 lb), semi-armor-piercing bomb which penetrated four decks before exploding, causing severe structural damage to an aviation storage room and killing or seriously wounding 66 men….
The strike forces, with many damaged aircraft, reached and landed on their respective carriers between 12:50 and 14:30…. Forty-six of the original 69 aircraft from the Japanese strike force returned from the mission and landed on Zuikaku. Of these, three more Zeros, four dive bombers, and five torpedo planes were judged damaged beyond repair and were immediately jettisoned into the ocean…. At 14:22, Fitch notified Fletcher that he had reports of two undamaged Japanese carriers and that this was supported by radio intercepts….
Around 14:30, Hara informed Takagi that only 24 Zeros, eight dive bombers, and four torpedo planes from the carriers were currently operational. Takagi was worried about his ships' fuel levels; his cruisers were at 50% and some of his destroyers were as low as 20%. At 15:00, Takagi notified Inoue his fliers had sunk two American carriers – Yorktown and a "Saratoga-class" – but heavy losses in aircraft meant he could not continue to provide air cover for the invasion. Inoue, whose reconnaissance aircraft sighted Crace's ships earlier that day, recalled the invasion convoy…. Zuikaku and her escorts turned towards Rabaul while Shōkaku headed for Japan….
Lexington's crew began abandoning ship at 17:07…. Two hundred and sixteen of the carrier's 2,951-man crew went down with the ship, along with 36 aircraft…. TF17 retired to the southwest…
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