In 1942, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was told "to hold what you've got and hit them when you can." The "hitting" was to be done by U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers. By mid-January 1942, the carrier force in the Pacific was comprised of Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga, with Saratoga out of action for five months because of a torpedo hit. In February and March 1942, U.S. carriers conducted hit-and-run raids against Japanese forces and installations in the Gilberts, Marshalls, Wake and Marcus Islands in the Central Pacific, Lae and Salamaua on New Guinea, and, on April 18th, the famed "Doolittle raid" against Japan. In the next eight months, there followed a series of sea-air battles unprecedented in the history of naval warfare.
The battle of the Coral Sea (April 4-8, 1942) was the first sea battle where opposing surface forces never saw or fired on each other. The battle was a strategic victory for the Unites States, and a Japanese plan to take the Allied base at Port Moresby on the coast of New Guinea was thwarted. The battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942) resulted in the destruction of four enemy carriers and has been called the turning point of the Pacific war. For six months desperate sea and air battles raged up and down the Solomon Sea as the Allies struggled for control of the island of Guadalcanal. Two carrier battles, the battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 24-25, 1942) and the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (October 26-27, 1942) resulted in serious losses on both sides, but Guadalcanal remained in U.S. hands.
There were no more carrier battles during the Guadalcanal campaign, though the fighting continued unabated until the last Japanese troops were evacuated and the island was secured on February 9, 1943. Eighteen months would pass before the carriers would face each other in battle again.