Despite the title, this is a POW picture rather than a war picture. The actual naval battle is merely tacked on to the final 5 – 10 minutes of the film, largely via the use of stock footage (some anachronistic) and actual newsreels.
In 1942, commander Jeff Conway (Cliff Robertson) of the submarine USS Dragonfish is sent on a reconnaissance mission to discover the precise whereabouts and strength of the 5th Japanese carrier fleet being readied for the invasion of New Guinea and Australia during World War II.
Conway raises his periscope right in the midst of the Japanese fleet, takes many photographs and begins his return voyage with the precious intelligence. Unfortunately, enemy mines (placed by Japanese divers in post-WWII scuba gear!) damage the sub, and he is forced to surrender.
The officers of the sub crew are taken to a special Japanese prison camp on a small well-fortified island where the intelligent and extremely polite – but not quite likeable – Commander Mori (Teru Shimada) attempts to extract information about the sub’s mission.
Aided by Karen Philips (Gia Scala), a beautiful Eurasian interpreter who has the confidence of the Japanese, the surviving prisoners manage to escape from their island prison and help turn the tide of the war in one of the most decisive battles in naval history, stopping the Japanese expansion towards Australia.
Patricia Cutts plays Australian nurse Lt. Peg Whitcomb.
Battle of the Coral Sea had seven technical advisers, covering everything from prisoner-of-war deportment to experts on various US Navy vessels and aircraft. There was even a former Japanese naval command (James Goto) to instruct the Hollywood-variety Japanese (including future Star Trek star George Takei in his first feature film role).
The other advisers were Cmdr. Arthur Giesser, Cmdr. William R Boose, Cmdr. AT Burley, Lt Cmdr. Arthur Burkholder and CPO Al Smith.
Much of the movie was filmed in a secluded cove on the isthmus of Catalina Island, California.
Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Conway
Lt. Peg Whitcomb
Lt. Len Ross
Maj. Jammy Harris