The Americans have taken the partially-built Japanese airfield on Guadalcanal and are rushing to finish it. Admiral Yamamoto has decided on a strategy to land a great number of reinforcements and at the same time draw the U.S. carriers to their doom. While the carrier Ryojo goes with the landing force, the Emperor’s last two fleet carriers are tasked with the destruction of the American carriers. Meanwhile, the admiral himself will lead the main force, onboard the flagship Yamato . Henderson Field is just on the edge of completion, and the Japanese are planning an all-out assault to take it back. Admiral Nimitz has ordered Fletcher to use everything he has to stop Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet. Only the carrier Hornet is to be kept in reserve. The Enterprise , the Wasp , and the Saratoga are at his disposal. Protecting the Marines and crippling the IJN carriers are priorities one and two.
The Japanese forces on Guadalcanal are in need of reinforcements and supplies. The main body of the Combined Fleet is in the van, with the carriers providing support from behind this screen of destroyers and battleships. While the main force keeps the Americans occupied, a group of transports will have the opportunity to slip in and drop off sufficient forces. Success in this maneuver should guarantee a quick victory for the Emperor’s troops on Guadalcanal. Rear Admiral Kinkaid has replaced the injured Fletcher, and he is in command of Task Force 61 – the Hornet and the Enterprise . He knows that the Japanese have carriers in the area of Guadalcanal. These ships must be found and destroyed, in order to prevent Yamamoto’s plan from taking shape. If no extra enemy forces reach Guadalcanal, the U.S. has a very good chance of taking the entire island before the end of the year.
American submarines have been harassing the Japanese navy’s fuel supply for months. Most of the IJN ships have to fall back on unrefined fuel all too often. Now, the U.S. has occupied Saipan. If they establish an airbase there, they will be able to launch regular attacks directly on the home islands. Admiral Toyoda has devised a desperate plan to thwart the Americans and deny them Saipan. All of Japan’s remaining carriers, split into three carrier groups, are converging on the Marianas. After land-based strikes have weakened the American carrier forces, the Japanese carriers will launch an all-out attack that should cripple the U.S. fleet. The massed power of the Fifth Fleet’s Task Force 58 is lying in wait for the Japanese at Saipan. Seven heavy carriers and eight light carriers, plus a multitude of battleships, destroyers, cruisers, and other ships have prepared a hammering ambush. Admiral Kelly’s Expeditionary Force includes twelve more escort carriers, just in case. The Americans’ intention is clearly to annihilate the Japanese fleet and take away the enemy’s ability to fight in the air.