Scouts had found the two fleets well beyond gun range of the escorts. For the first time in Naval history, the combatants would not lay sight of each other in their main ships. The fighting would be done by air attack.
Both sides knew of the other and launched attacks. The fleets passed within sight in the air, and both did grievous damage to the other. The Americans sank IJN Shoho, and damaged Shokaku. Zuikaku lost too many of her pilots for continued operations. USS Lexington and USS Yorktown were hit by bombs and headed for Pearl under their own power.
The Americans at first thought they had just two damaged carriers. The fires on the Lexington were out when a sudden explosion ripped through the ship. In the future the US Navy would be the finest navy in the world at fighting shipboard fires, but for now fire control could not save the carrier. The order was sounded and the crew left without further loss of life.
Yorktown had severe damage to her flight deck. She steamed for Pearl at top speed, all her officers acutely aware there were only two operational Allied carriers in the whole Pacific. She returned without incident.
She would sail three days later for the last time, her holes patched for the time being. She would be the third carrier in a sea battle that would change the course of the war.