Cruises & Squadrons
Tip of the Sword
Museum Help Requests
My Scale Models
Who am I?
The History of
Midway's Magic ~
The outset of World War II saw a progression of American aircraft carrier design
leading to larger and more heavily armored battle carriers. CVB-41, the lead
ship of the
class, was ordered on August 7, 1942. She was the first
fleet carrier to have the distinction of being named after a WWII battle. The carrier
battle of Midway Island in June 1942 turned the tide of World War II and proved
conclusively the potential of naval aviation. CVB-41 was the third American ship
and the second aircraft carrier to bear the name of
Midway. The name of the
Midway, a fleet auxiliary, was changed to the USS
Panay in April,
1943. The second ship bearing the name was a jeep carrier USS
which was changed to the USS Saint Lo in September 1944.The product of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, she was the
lead ship of three 45,000-ton Midway
class CVBs, followed by USS Franklin
D. Roosevelt, CVB-42 and USS Coral Sea, CVB-43. Two additional ships were canceled.
Midway's keel was laid on October 27, 1943. The Midway class hull arrangement was
modeled on the canceled Montana class battleships and was a new, much larger
design intended to correct certain problems in the Essex class design. They had
armored flight decks, requiring a much larger hull and lower freeboard, to
reduce top weight. They also carried a very heavy AA battery of 5/54 weapons.
The armor requirement was originally meant to counter 8" cruiser gunfire, but by
the time the ships were laid down the focus had shifted to defending against
Launched on March 20, 1945, she was sponsored by Mrs. Bradford William Ripley,
Jr. Commissioned on September 10, 1945, with Captain Joseph F. Bolger in
was the largest warship in the world for the first decade of her
service. Every aspect of her construction included the most modern design
innovations possible. Twelve Babcock and Wilcox boilers powered four
Westinghouse geared turbines which developed 212,000 horsepower for a maximum
speed of 33 knots. Midway was designed with two catapults, fourteen arresting
cables, and six barriers. Her design aircraft compliment was 137. In their early
years, the Midway class carriers were the only ships capable of operating
nuclear strike aircraft.
Midway was first underway on October 12, 1945 and performed her first arrested
landing of an F4U-4 Corsair. Her Caribbean shakedown cruise lived up to all
expectations, the only negative being a pronounced proclivity to drench the
flight deck and the bow 40mm quad mount with green water in moderately heavy
seas. Seriously overweight, Midway tended to plunge through, rather than ride
over, heavy seas. The result of wartime demands that had continually added more
tonnage, Midway quickly earned a reputation as a "wet" ship with her forward
flight deck, gun galleries and hangar spaces frequently awash. In her final
described this plunging as "Rock & Roll."
In late February 1946 Midway
became flagship for Carrier Division 1, operating in the
Atlantic where she commenced flight training exercises in earnest. A few months
late she embarked on her first major operational assignment, which included Operation FROSTBITE, conducted from March 1 to 28, 1946. Operating
in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait, MIDWAY, three destroyers and a fleet oiler
conducted a cold weather evaluation of aircraft, personnel and ships. Embarked
onboard Midway was a Coast Guard helicopter and crew, which signified the first
use of a helicopter for plane guard duty. Helicopter air-sea rescue techniques
were refined and the infamous "poopy suit" was evaluated. Midway
flight and refueling operations during these tests despite heavy weather damage
to elevator hangar doors and having two to four inches of snow on the flight
deck at various times.
Early in 1947, operating off the East Coast with her recently redesignated
battle group, CVBG-1, Midway operated F4U-4B Corsairs and SB2-C-5 Helldivers.
She conducted three training cruises in the Caribbean before sailing from her
homeport at Norfolk, Virginia, on another experimental mission. On that landmark
cruise, she was accompanied by scientific observers as her crew fired a captured
German V-2 rocket from the flight deck on September 6, 1947. The purpose of
Operation SANDY was to see if a large rocket could be launched from the deck of
an aircraft carrier with little to no modifications. The actual ship launch test
was only conducted once. There were prior tests carried out at White Sands on a
simulated aircraft carrier deck to see what effects the rocket would have if it
were to explode on the deck. This test marked the first time such a weapon was
fired from a ship at sea or a moving platform. It decisively demonstrated the
potential of large rocket fire from surface ships.
On October 29, 1947, Midway departed on her first deployment to the
Mediterranean. Her air wing group was CVBG-1, made up of two fighter squadrons,
which flew F4U-B Corsairs and AD-1 Skyraiders. Port calls during this cruise
included Gibraltar, Algeria (Bone), Malta (Marsaxlokk Harbor), Italy (Genoa,
Naples, and Taranto), Sicily (Augusta), and France (Gulf D'Hyeres). On February
18, 1948, a Midway launch capsized off Hyeres, France, killing eight. The
deployment concluded in Norfolk, Virginia in March of 1948. A return trip to the
Mediterranean was made from January to March 1949. This time, two Marine fighter
squadrons were aboard. This cruise was hallmarked when a P2V-3 Neptune launched
from Midway off the coast of Norfolk, flew to the Panama Canal, then over Corpus
Christi, Texas and on to San Diego, California. This 4,800 mile non-stop flight
was completed in 25 hours and 40 minutes. This operation was part of the Navy's
determination to develop a carrier-based nuclear strike capability. The Navy
modified twelve Lockheed P2V Neptunes to carry the 9000-lb Mk VIII atomic bomb.
All three Midway carriers participated in extensive tests that saw this
70,000-lb long-range patrol bomber clear the deck with JATO-assisted rolling
takeoffs. Unable to be launched by the ship's hydraulic catapults because of the
aircraft's weight, the P2V's wingspan barely cleared the ship's island during
its takeoff run. A "make do" aircraft modification too heavy to land on the
carriers, the P2Vs turned in impressive performances flying mock "A-bomb" runs.
Soon replaced by the more suitable folding-wing AJ-1 Savage, the Navy
nevertheless proved that its carriers had nuclear delivery capability.
Midway departed Norfolk in October 1949 once again bound for cold weather
operations. She operated in the Arctic Circle, gaining membership in "The Royal
Order of the Blue Nose," and returned to Norfolk on December 22, 1949.
Midway deployed to the Mediterranean for a third time in January 1950 with Air
Group Four. Port calls included Istanbul, Cyprus, Malta, Cannes, Oran and
Lisbon. She returned to Norfolk in May of that year. On June 26, a Naval airship
piloted by Lt. John Fahey, landed and then took off from the Midway during a
demonstration for the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander in Chief, U.S.
Atlantic Fleet who were aboard Midway. With less than two months to turn around,
Midway redeployed in July, exchanging Air Group Four for Air Group Seven. She
arrived in Gibraltar with an upgraded fighter capability consisting of F9F-2
Panthers and F8F-1B Bearcats. On October 17th LTJG H. Urban, a pilot from VC-4
became Midway's first
Centurion. He made his 100th Midway trap (his 207th career carrier
landing) while flying an AD-3N. On this cruise, Midway served as the flagship of COMCARDIV Six and
returned to Norfolk in November.
The first two years of Midway class carrier operations revealed several
shortcomings which were progressively addressed with refits and modifications to
maintain the ships' first-line assault carrier status. Their flight decks were
reinforced to accept the landing weight of the new 45,000-lb twin-engined,
jet-augmented AJ-1 Savage. At this time the process of reducing wartime armament
began when four of their eighteen five-inch/54 DP guns were removed. Also begun
was the gradual replacement of 40mm Bofors with twenty new three-inch/50
fast-firing semi-automatic AA guns. The
test of rigorous steaming soon revealed several other deficiencies which could
not be ignored. Skippers complained that the Midway's bridge area was too
cramped. This was corrected during construction by extending the island
structure on the Coral Sea, and retrofitting enlarged areas to the
Midway and Franklin D.
Roosevelt during overhaul. These changes also afforded better placement of the gun
directors. Later, the three ships would be fitted with "hurricane" bows that
enclosed the forward flight deck and hull.
From November 1950 until April 1951, Midway
was in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard
for reinforcement of the flight deck to accommodate heavier aircraft. After
conducting brief carrier qualifications off the Carolina coast, she steamed
south for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After completing refresher training Midway
returned to Norfolk in July.
In January 1952, Midway
made her fifth Mediterranean cruise with Air Group Six
embarked. During this cruise, Midway
participated in Operation GRAND SLAM, a
multi-national English, French, Italian and U.S. exercise. Upon completion of
this exercise, she operated in the eastern Mediterranean before returning to
Norfolk in May 1952. From 26 to 29 May 1952, the feasibility of the angled deck
concept was demonstrated in tests conducted on a simulated angled deck aboard Midway
by Naval Air Test Center pilots and Atlantic Fleet pilots in both jet and
prop aircraft. In August 1952, Midway
departed Norfolk for NATO exercises in the
North Sea. This was a combined exercise with USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, USS
Wasp, and USS Wisconsin. On October 1, upon her return to Norfolk, Midway
redesignated as attack carrier CVA-41.
Again with less than two months preparation, Midway
departed on her sixth
Mediterranean cruise in December of 1952. The basic composition of the air group
remained unchanged. Participating in NATO Operation RENDEZVOUS from March 15 -
was the flag ship of Carrier Division Four and made port calls at
Gibraltar, France (Golfe Juan and Marseilles), Italy (Taranto,
Naples, Genoa, and LaSpezia), Algeria (Algiers and Oran), Sicily (Augusta),
Greece (Rhodes and Salonika), Golfe Juan, and Spain (Barcelona & Palma). Returning to
Norfolk in May 1953, Midway
entered a five-month regular overhaul.
In January 1954, Midway
deployed to the Mediterranean for the seventh time.
Just before entering port in Athens for a state visit, Midway collided with a
replenishment ship, USS Great Sitkin, AE-17. Occurring in the Aegean Sea about
1700 on a Sunday, the ships were conducting side-by-side transfer of materials
in rough seas. Swells were reported to be about 15 feet between the ships. Upon
casting off the last securing lines, the Great Sitkin began a sharp starboard
turn. This caused her port stern area to sideswipe the Midway's aft starboard
side, just above the waterline, crushing one of the starboard weather deck 5"
gun mounts. There was no fire and damage control made temporary repairs while
underway. Also during this cruise, a major fire on the flight deck occurred when an F2H bounced over the barrier
and went into the pack. Casualties were four pilots and approximately four crew. This
cruise was extended an additional month due to their relief, USS Bennington
having a catastrophic port catapult machinery explosion, which killed about 100
of the crew. The Bennington had to return to CONUS for repairs before finally
departing for the Mediterranean. Midway
returned to Norfolk in August of 1954.
In December 1954, with Air
Group One aboard,
Midway departed Norfolk on a world cruise, which culminated in her transfer to the
Pacific Fleet. Joining the Seventh Fleet off Taiwan in February 1955, she became
the flagship of COMCARDIV Three, operating off the Philippine Islands and Japan.
Shortly after her arrival in the area, Midway participated in the evacuation of
24,000 military and civilian personnel of the Republic of China from the Tachen
Islands, off the China coast. She remained in the area patrolling the Taiwan
Straits and the South China Sea until June. For this operation, Midway was
awarded the China Service Medal. Midway left Yokosuka, Japan and returned to NAS
Alameda, California in July 1955. She entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard,
Washington and was decommissioned for the first time in October 1955.
While the gradual removal of armament helped to curtail the burden of excessive
weight, the advent of the angled carrier deck not only added additional tons of
displacement, but became a serious factor in stability. Built as axial, or
straight-deck carriers, the problem of cycling and spotting aircraft for either
launching or recovery operations remained a detriment to combat efficiency since
only one function could be performed at a time. The angled flight deck,
pioneered by the British, changed all that.
Midway underwent a modernization project to give her the capability to operate
high performance jet aircraft. She was fitted with two steam catapults on the
bow and a shorter steam catapult in the new angle deck. The purpose of the third
catapult was to allow ready deck launches while keeping the landing area clear
for recoveries in an "alert" situation. Additional improvements included the
installation of a hurricane (enclosed) bow, moving elevator number three to the
starboard deck edge aft of the island, enlarging the number one elevator to
accommodate longer aircraft, new arresting gear, jet blast deflectors, and the
largest aviation crane ever installed on an aircraft carrier. On recommissioning
in September 1957, Midway's load displacement had grown from 55,000 to 62,000
Midway was soon underway in December heading south for shakedown and refresher
training. In August 1958, she was underway on her first deployment as an angle
deck carrier. With Midway's increased combat capabilities, CVG-2 was composed of
two supersonic fighter squadrons and three attack squadrons. On 8 December 1958,
the first firing of a Sparrow III air-to-air missile by a squadron deployed
outside the U.S. was conducted by VF-64, based aboard Midway. During this
cruise, she operated off Taiwan in support of the Quemoy-Matsu crisis as the
flagship of COMCARDIV Five. She returned to Alameda in March of 1959.
In August 1959, after a one-month turn around period, Midway redeployed to the
Far East. During this cruise, she recorded 8,000 landings, including her
80,000th arrested landing. On November 09, 1959, during a port visit to Subic
Bay in the Philippines, a fire broke out in the pump room aboard the carrier.
While the reason was never clear, official sources named arson. Her eleventh
deployment ended with arrival at Alameda in March 1960.
Following a five-month overhaul, Midway underwent refresher training,
operating from Long Beach, California. During this training, the McDonnell F4H-1
Phantom II and the North American A3J-1 Vigilante were aboard for their carrier
qualifications prior to entering actual service. Upon completion of
her refresher training, Midway was underway in February 1961. With Air
Group Two aboard, she operated off the coast of Vietnam during the Laotian
crisis, eventually returning to Alameda in September 1961.
In April 1962, Midway departed for another Far East tour. During this
deployment, her aircraft tested the air defense systems of Japan, Korea,
Okinawa, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The 100,000th arrested landing was made
during this cruise which ended upon arrival at Alameda in October 1962.
After a regular overhaul extending until April 1963, Midway continued its role
as a research and development platform. On 13 June 1963, Lt. Cmdr. Randall K.
Billins and Lt. Cmdr. Robert S. Chew Jr., of Naval Air Test Center Patuxent
River, piloting an F-4A Phantom II and an F-8D Crusader respectively, made the
first fully automatic carrier landings with production equipment on board
Midway off the California coast. The landings, made "hands off" with both flight
controls and throttles operated automatically by signals from the ship,
highlighted almost 16 years of research and development.
Midway made her fourteenth and sixth straight WESTPAC deployment in November
1963. Her most significant improvement was increased jet fighter capacity with
the addition of Mach 2.2 F-4B Phantom IIs. She returned to Alameda in May 1964
to replace the number three elevator which had been destroyed and lost during
extremely heavy seas. This incident happened while Midway was taking on
supplies, using the elevator as the transfer point. A wave hit the elevator,
lifting it and cocking it in the runners. The wave partially went over the
elevator, nearly washing off the sailors who were moving supplies. A second wave
hit the elevator, causing it to drop out the bottom of the runners, lifted it
higher, and then dropped it, snapping the cables. The elevator fell behind the
ship and eventually sunk.
On February 27, 1965, an aircraft from the Midway was inadvertently shot down by
a USS Preble (DLG-15) missile when it over flew a missile range during southern
California maneuvers for the SILVER LANCE exercise. The pilot was killed.
March 1965 marked a milestone in Midway's life as she left Alameda for her first
combat cruise. From mid-April, while operating as part of Task Force 77 in the
Tonkin Gulf, Midway's aircraft flew 11,900 combat missions over Vietnam. On 17
June 1965, while escorting a strike on the barracks at Gen Phu, North Vietnam,
Cmdr. L. C. Page and Lt. J. E. Batson, flying F-4B Phantoms of VF-21,
deployed aboard Midway, intercepted four MiG-17s. Cmdr. Page shot down one, scoring
the first U.S. victory over MiGs in Vietnam. In the same engagement, Lt. Batson
shot down a second MiG with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile. An unconfirmed report
shows that debris from the destroyed
aircraft was ingested by that MiG's wingman, possibly giving Lt. Batson a double kill. On 20 June, four A-1H Skyraiders
from VA-25 were on a mission to locate downed pilots. The Skyraiders were
carrying survival canisters and rocket canisters on the wing racks. A support
ship detected two enemy aircraft coming from the north and warned the
Skyraiders. The Skyraiders immediately dropped all ordnance, including fuel
tanks, and went down to treetop level. Finding a small mountain, they started
circling it, using it for cover. Two MiG-17s came down and made a pass at the
lead Skyraider. The two Skyraiders behind the lead aircraft rolled up and fired
at the MiGs with their 20mm cannons. Missing the first MiG, they hit the second
with their guns, shooting it down. The pilots were Lt. C. B. Johnson and Ltjg.
C. W. Hartman III and each were awarded a half credit for the kill. The nine-month combat cruise ended in November when
Midway returned to Alameda. For their performance on this cruise,
Midway and her
air wing, Attack Carrier Air Wing Two, received the Navy Unit Commendation Medal
and, in addition, Midway received the Battle Efficiency "E," marking her as the
outstanding carrier in the Pacific Fleet.
February 1966 saw Midway decommissioned once again in order to undergo the most
extensive and complex modernization ever seen on a naval vessel. This upgrade
would take four years to complete, but yielded a much more capable ship and made
Midway operationally equivalent to the newest conventionally powered carriers.
The flight deck was increased in surface area from 2.82 acres to 4.02 acres. The
addition of three new deck-edge elevators could now lift 130,000 pounds compared
with 74,000 pounds of her sister ships, Franklin D. Roosevelt and
Coral Sea. Two powerful
new catapults on the bow, three new arresting gear engines, and one barricade
were installed and rearranged to accommodate a change of 13 degrees to the angle
deck. The smaller waist catapult was removed since it was ineffective in
launching the now heavier aircraft. Modern electronic systems were installed, a
central chilled water air conditioning system replaced hundreds of individual
units, and Midway became the first ship to have the aviation fueling system
completely converted from aviation gas to JP-5. Delays, caused partially by the
simultaneous construction of USS Horne and modernization of USS
unscheduled repairs to the fire damaged USS Oriskany, drove the initial
modernization estimate from 87 million dollars to 202 million dollars.
1970 was a year of preparation for Midway . Now capable of operating the most
modern fleet aircraft, Midway was expected to deliver at least another 15 years
of service life. After recommissioning on January 31 and underway in March,
Builders Trials, Refresher Training and a Post Shakedown yard period helped
bring the ship and crew to a peak of readiness. This was reflected in
outstanding performances by the ship in early 1971 during the Interim Refresher
Training, a fleet exercise, several Carrier Qualification periods and an
Operational Readiness Inspection.
On April 16, 1971, Midway began her sixteenth deployment 13,000 tons heavier
than her original full load displacement. Arriving off the coast of South
Vietnam with Air Wing Five embarked and a crew of 4,500, she relieved USS
Hancock, CVA-19 on May 18. This was the beginning of single carrier operations,
which lasted until the end of the month. During this time, the ship launched
over 6,000 missions in support of allied operations in the Republic of Vietnam.
Departing Yankee Station on June 5, she completed her final line period on
October 31. Midway returned to Alameda on November 6th, after spending 146
consecutive days at sea. For this deployment, Midway was awarded the Meritorious
Due to a sudden North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam, Midway left on April
10, 1972, for a third Vietnam deployment, seven weeks prior to her scheduled
deployment date. On this deployment, Air Wing Five aircraft played an important
role in the effort of U.S. forces to stop the flow of men and supplies into
South Vietnam from the North. On May 11, aircraft from Midway along with those
from USS Coral Sea, CVA-43, USS Kitty Hawk, CVA-63, and USS
CVA-64 continued laying minefields in ports of significance to the North
Vietnamese: Thanh Hoa, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Hon Gai, Quang Khe, and Cam Pha, as well
as other approaches to Haiphong. Ships that were in port in Haiphong had been
advised that the mining would take place and that the mines would be armed 72
hours later. On August 7, an HC-7 Det 110 helicopter, flying from Midway, and
aided by other planes from the carrier and USS Saratoga, CVA-60, conducted a
search and rescue mission for a downed aviator in North Vietnam. The pilot of an
A-7 aircraft from Saratoga had been downed by a surface-to-air missile about 20
miles inland, northwest of Vinh, on 6 August. The HC-7 helo flew over
mountainous terrain to rescue the pilot. The rescue helicopter used its search
light to assist in locating the downed aviator and, despite receiving heavy
ground fire, was successful in retrieving him and returning to an LPD off the
coast. This was the deepest penetration of a rescue helicopter into North
Vietnam since 1968. HC-7 Det 110 continued its rescue missions and by the end of
1972 had successfully accomplished 48 rescues, 35 of which were under combat
conditions. In October, an aircraft crash landed on Midway's deck. This aircraft ran into
a group of parked aircraft and destroyed eight of them, killed 5 crewmen and
injured 23 others. On January 12, 1973, an aircrew flying from Midway was
credited with downing the last MiG of the war. Upon the signing of the
cease-fire on January 15, Midway returned home. The Presidential Unit Citation
was awarded to Midway and Carrier Air Wing Five for exceptional heroism for the
period April 30, 1972 to February 09, 1973. This award was a rare presentation
during the Vietnam War. During this time Midway was on her third Vietnam combat
cruise and spent 208 line days on Yankee Station. CVW-5 had five air combat
victories including the last downing of a MiG during the Vietnam hostilities.
CVW-5 suffered 15 combat and five operational losses in this period.
On September 11, 1973,
Midway left Alameda on one of her most important voyages
to date. Arriving in Yokosuka, Japan on October 5, 1973, Midway and Carrier Air
Wing Five marked the first forward-deployment of a complete carrier task group
in a Japanese port as the result of an accord arrived at on August 31, 1972
between the United States and Japan. Known as the Navy's Overseas Family
Residency Program, Midway's crew and their families were now permanently home
ported in Japan. In addition to the morale factor of dependents housed along
with the crew in a foreign port, the move had strategic significance because it
facilitated continuous positioning of three carriers in the Far East at a time
when the economic situation demanded the reduction of carriers in the fleet. It
also effectively reduced the deployment cycles of her sister Pacific Fleet
In April 1975, Midway returned to the waters of Vietnam. On April
20, all fixed-wing aircraft of CVW-5 were flown off to NAS Cubi Point and ten
USAF 40th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron H-53's were embarked. Midway, along with
USS Coral Sea, CVA-43, USS Hancock, CVA-19, USS Enterprise, CVAN-65 and USS
Okinawa, LPH-3, responded to the North Vietnamese overrunning two-thirds of
South Vietnam. On April 29, Operation FREQUENT WIND was carried out by U.S.
Seventh Fleet forces. As South Vietnam fell, the H-53's from Midway flew
in excess of 40 sorties, shuttling 3,073 U.S. personnel and Vietnamese refugees
out of Saigon in two days, bringing them onto the ship. Midway's HC-1 Det
2 Sea Kings then transported the evacuees to other ships. One South Vietnamese pilot flew a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog
observation plane with his wife and five children out to Midway. He passed a
note asking permission to land. The angle deck was cleared and the pilot made a
good approach and landed with room to spare. The crew of Midway met him with
cheers. For her role in the operation, Midway was awarded the Navy Unit
Commendation and the Humanitarian Service Medal.
Immediately following Operation FREQUENT WIND, Midway steamed south into the
Gulf of Siam to Thailand and brought aboard over 100 American built aircraft preventing them
from falling into communist hands. When they were aboard, the ship steamed at
high speed to Guam, where the planes were offloaded by crane in record time.
After the offload in Guam and a brief stop in Subic Bay, Midway entered the Indian Ocean and operated there from October until the end of
November. On November 25, 1975, during post "MIDLINK" exercises, a fatal
accident occurred. While attempting to land on the Midway, an aircraft struck
the ramp, bolted, impacted the barricade, and struck another aircraft. Flying
debris injured two crewmembers. Midway returned to Yokosuka in time to celebrate
the 1975 Christmas holiday.
In June 1976, Midway participated in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT, an exercise in
intense electronic warfare and bombing missions over South Korea. In August
1976, a Navy task force headed by Midway made a show of force off the coast of
Korea in response to an unprovoked attack on two U.S. Army officers who were
killed by North Korean guards on August 18. Midway's response was in support of
a U.S. demonstration of military concern vis-à-vis North Korea.
1977 saw Midway participating in MIDLINK '77, a two-day exercise hosted by the
Iranian Navy, and included representatives of Pakistan, Turkey, and the United
February 1978 saw Midway joining in with the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime
Self-Defense Force) for the largest combined exercise to that date. On May 31,
1978, while docked in Yokosuka, Japan, a fire which originated in the exhaust
ventilation system, quickly spread through the 3A boiler uptakes on the second
deck, and terminated in the main uptake space. The cause of the fire was later
thought to be from welding in a vent system containing a fine oil mist which
ignited and spread. TEAM SPIRIT '79, exercised in the East China Sea and Sea of
Japan, was highlighted by numerous encounters with Russian aircraft.
Midway relieved USS Constellation, CV-64 as the Indian Ocean contingency carrier
on April 16, 1979. Midway and her escort ships continued a significant American
naval presence in the oil-producing region of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.
On August 09, while berthed in Yokosuka, Japan, a fire, caused by a broken
acetylene line, broke out killing one worker and injuring 17 sailors. Also in
August, the Vice President of the United States boarded Midway in Hong Kong for
a courtesy visit. On November 18, she arrived in the northern part of the
Arabian Sea in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant
followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the
overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4 and held
63 U.S. citizens hostage. Midway was joined on November 21 by USS
CV-63, and both carriers, along with their escort ships, were joined by USS
Nimitz, CVN-68 and her escorts on January 22, 1980. Midway was relieved by USS
Coral Sea, CV-43 on February 5, 1980.
Following a period in Yokosuka, Midway was again on duty on May 30, 1980, this
time relieving USS Coral Sea on standby south of the Cheju-Do Islands in the Sea
of Japan following the potential of civil unrest in the Republic of Korea. On
July 29, Midway collided with the Panamanian merchant ship Cactus while
transiting the passage between Palawan Island of the Philippines and the coast
of Northern Borneo 450 nautical miles southwest of Subic Bay enroute to
Singapore. While Midway sustained no serious damage, two sailors working in the
liquid oxygen plant were killed, three were injured, and three F-4 Phantom
aircraft parked on the flight deck were damaged. On August 17, Midway relieved
USS Constellation, CV-64 to begin another Indian Ocean deployment and to complement the
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69 task group still on contingency duty in the
Arabian Sea. Midway spent a total of 118 days in the Indian Ocean during 1980.
On March 16, 1981, an A-6 Intruder from VA-115 aboard Midway sighted a downed
civilian helicopter in the South China Sea. Midway immediately dispatched
helicopters from HC-1
Det 2 to the scene. All 17 people aboard the downed helicopter were
rescued and brought aboard the carrier. The chartered civilian helicopter was
also plucked out of the water and lifted to Midway's flight deck. In September
1981, the Chief of Naval Operations kicked off a tour of Far East Naval Units
when he visited Midway while in port Yokosuka.
In December, 1983, Midway deployed to the North Arabian Sea and set a record of
111 continuous days of operations.
From 1976 until 1983, Midway made six Indian Ocean cruises accounting for 338
days. She made 28 port calls in Subic Bay for 167 days, nine port calls in Hong
Kong for 40 days, seven port calls in Pusan, Korea for 32 days, seven port calls
in Sasebo, Japan for 28 days, three port calls in Perth, Australia for 16 days,
three port calls in Mombassa, Kenya for 14 days, three port calls in Singapore
for 11 days, one port call in Karachi, Pakistan for three days, and one port
call in Bandar Abbas, Iran for two days. Perhaps it was the exotic nature of
Midway's liberty ports that contributed to the "Midway Magic".
After several years of dependable overseas service, on December 2, 1984,
Midway and her crew were awarded their second Meritorious Unit Commendation, for
service rendered from July 27, 1982, until May 1, 1984.
On March 23, 1986, Midway collided with a Korean fishing boat in the
Yellow Sea. The boat was hit with elevator number one, damaging it but leaving the carrier unscathed.
(I have received a report that the boat was North Korean instead of South
Korean, as many histories tell it. The basis behind this is that Midway
could not send the crew home to the North and were reluctant to give them to the
South, which was their enemy.)
On March 25,
the final fleet carrier launchings of an A-7 Corsair II and an F-4S Phantom II
took place off Midway during flight operations in the East China Sea. The
Corsairs and Phantoms were being replaced by the new F/A-18 Hornets. On March
31, Midway moored to Dry Dock 6 at Yokosuka Naval Base to begin the "most
ambitious work package in its 40-year history." EISRA-86 (Extended Incremental
Selected Repair Availability) condensed the workload of a major stateside
carrier overhaul from the usual 12-14 months, into an eight-month modernization.
This included the addition of the catapult flush deck nose gear launch system,
the additions of MK7 MOD1 jet blast deflectors, restack and rereeve of arresting
gear engines, installation of larger rudders, the addition of new fire main
system valves and pumps, new air traffic consoles, a new viable anti-submarine
warfare capability, the construction of intermediate maintenance avionics shops
to support the F/A-18 aircraft, and the removal of over 47 tons of unusable cable.
Blisters were also built and mounted to the sides of Midway. With this monumental task
being completed three days ahead of schedule, the first Air Wing Five F/A-18
Hornet trapped aboard Midway on November 28, 1986.
On January 9, 1987,
Midway was reactivated with Battle Group ALFA and departed
Yokosuka. On May 22, while enroute to Eastern Australia, Midway trapped a
VMA-331 AV-8 Harrier operating off USS Belleau Wood, LHA-3. These Harrier
operations were the first in Midway's history. On this cruise, Midway
first U.S. Navy carrier to visit Sydney, Australia since 1972. Over 7,000
visitors toured the ship during the 10 day port call. On July 10, the launch of
a VFA-195 Hornet marked the 76,000th catapult shot from the port catapult since
Midway's recommissioning in 1970. On November 14, the EA-3B "Whale" made its
last run from the deck of Midway. The Whale was replaced by a C-2 Greyhound from
VRC-50, which embarked aboard Midway on November 9 for an Indian Ocean
During 1987 and 1988, the ship deployed to the Indian Ocean as part of Operation
ERNEST WILL, earning the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
At the time of her refit
in 1986, hull bulges had to be added to create additional buoyancy to compensate
for the increased tonnage. However these ungainly appendages seriously effected
Midway's stability. During sea trials in 1986, excessive rolls in moderate seas
took green water over her flight deck, thereby hampering flight operations. A
1988 Senate committee, outraged by the inept modifications carried out in the
shipyard, voted to retire Midway early as a cost-saving measure. However, after
considerable Navy lobbying the committee was overruled, with $138 million voted
to remedy her stability dilemma.
On March 13, 1989, Midway participated in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT in the waters
off South Korea for the second consecutive year. From June 7-8, Midway was put
on standby after the massacre in Tiananmen Square for possible evacuation of
American citizens from the People's Republic of China.
Midway's dependability for rapid response was reaffirmed on August 16, 1989 as
she celebrated her 44th year of service by deploying again to the Indian Ocean.
On August 28, Midway participated in Exercise THALAY, a three day exercise with
Royal Thai Navy ships. On September 9, Midway logged its 200,000th catapult shot
since being recommissioned in 1972. On September 30, an F/A-18 Hornet aircraft
from the Midway mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on the deck of the USS
Reeves, CG-24, during training exercises in the Indian Ocean 32 miles south of
Diego Garcia, creating a five-foot hole in the bow, sparking a small fire, and
injuring five sailors. On November 10, Midway became the first Navy carrier to
pull pier side in Fremantle, Australia. While returning from this cruise,
Midway participated in Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE, supporting the Philippine government
of President Corazon Aquino against a coup attempt. The operation, run in
conjunction with the Air Force and assisted by the USS Enterprise (CVN-65)
lasted from December 2 to December 9. For this action, she earned another Armed
Forces Expeditionary Medal.
1989 and 1990 saw extensive sea time, including deployments to the Northern
Arabian Sea and trips to Australia, Diego Garcia, Hong Kong, Kenya, Korea,
Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore.
From 1973 to 1991, Midway's history is hallmarked by Indian Ocean cruises and
port calls at some of the most exotic Far East ports. Being America's first
forward deployed ship, Midway remained on the "knife's edge" of readiness and
maintained a highly visible presence in the region in support of U.S. policy.
Midway no longer went in for overhauls, rather her upkeep was managed through
periods of EISRA (Extended Incremental Ship's Restricted Availability). These
brief periods allowed Midway to be serviced, but also available at any time. In
the post-Vietnam era prior to 1990, Midway earned four Battle Efficiency
Ribbons, the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, three Armed Forces
Expeditionary Medals, the Humanitarian Service Medal and two Meritorious Unit
Midway's last two years in commissioned service would prove to be perhaps her
most historic. In 1990, while celebrating 45 years of service, Midway received
official announcement on her decommissioning. An announcement in February
confirmed that she was scheduled to decommission in 1991. Even with this
announcement, Midway continued to maintain her seagoing reputation by being
underway more than most other aircraft carriers. With her unique combination of
modernized strength and years of experience, she strived to maintain peace and
stability in the Western Pacific.
Disaster struck the Midway on June 20, 1990. While conducting routine flight
operations approximately 125 nautical miles northeast of Japan, the ship was
badly damaged by two onboard explosions. These explosions led to a fire that
raged more than ten hours. In addition to damage to the ship's hull, three crew
members died and eight others were seriously injured in the line of duty. All 11
crewmen belonged to an elite fire-fighting team known as the Flying Squad. When
Midway entered Yokosuka Harbor the next day, 12 Japanese media helicopters flew
in circles and hovered about 150 feet above the flight deck. Three bus loads of
reporters were waiting on the pier. About 30 minutes after Midway cast its first
line, more than 100 international print and electronic journalists charged over
the brow to cover the event. The news media made a major issue out of the
incident, as it happened amid other military accidents. It was thought that the
accident would lead to the ship's immediate retirement due to her age.
Despite the announced decommissioning and the fire, Midway's role as a potent
member of the U.S. Naval forces was again reaffirmed when she departed Yokosuka,
Japan on October 2, 1990 in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. On November 2,
1990, MIDWAY arrived on station in the North Arabian Sea, relieving USS
Independence, CV-62. For the DESERT SHIELD portion of the campaign,
the only carrier in the Persian Gulf. She was the first carrier to operate
extensively and for prolonged periods within the mined waters of the Gulf
itself. On November 15, she participated in Operation IMMINENT THUNDER, an
eight-day combined amphibious landing exercise in northeastern Saudi Arabia,
which involved about 1,000 U.S. Marines, 16 warships, and more than 1,100
aircraft. Midway also made the first Persian Gulf port call for an aircraft
carrier when she visited Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for Christmas of 1990.
Midway was also the flagship of the Persian Gulf Battle Force Commander, Rear
Admiral Daniel P. March (Commander Task Force 154). Admiral March was the
operational commander for all coalition naval forces within the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, the United
Nations set an ultimatum deadline of January 15,1991 for Iraq to withdraw from
Kuwait. After steaming for two and a half months in the North Arabian Sea,
Operation DESERT STORM, the fight to liberate Kuwait, began on January 17, 1991.
Aircraft from Midway flew the initial air strikes of Operation DESERT STORM. An
A-6E Intruder from the "Nighthawks" of VA-185 flying from Midway
first carrier-based aircraft "over the beach" during that first strike. During
the conflict, Midway's aircraft flew 3,339 combat sorties, an average of 121 per
day during the war. Midway aircraft dropped 4,057,520 pounds of ordnance on
targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait.
The jet aircraft aboard
Midway were not alone in taking the fight to the Iraqis. HS-12 conducted two
Combat Rescues, rescued and captured a total of 25 Iraqi sailors, destroyed nine
mines, and captured the first piece of Kuwaiti soil - a small island (the only
property captured or liberated by the Navy). HS-12 also recovered the body of an
Iraqi Naval Officer who had apparently been killed by his crew. At the end of
the war, HS-12 chased down an escaping speed boat and forced it ashore on
another island. The four captured occupants turned out to be members of the
Iraqi Secret Police.
After 43 days of combat, Kuwait had been liberated with a resounding defeat of
Iraqi forces. Operation DESERT STORM ended at midnight on February 27, 1991.
Midway was the only one of the four carriers
operating in the Persian Gulf to lose no aircraft or personnel. Midway departed the Persian Gulf on March 10 and returned to Yokosuka, Japan.
For her actions during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, Midway again
received the Battle Efficiency Award and the Navy Unit Commendation.
Midway's versatility was again demonstrated in June of 1991 with her
participation in Operation FIERY VIGIL. On June 16, Midway was given one day's
notice to sortie from her berth in Yokosuka, Japan and steam at high speed for
Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines to assist with the evacuation of
military personnel and their families following the volcanic eruption of Mt.
Prior to departing,
Midway crewmen worked through the night loading enough food and supplies to provide for
5,000 people for two weeks. Items included 1,100 cots, pet food, and baby
diapers and bottles. Within 24 hours of receiving notice of the emergency,
Midway was underway with the helicopters of HS-12 as the sole
representative of Air Wing Five embarked.
Midway made her best speed
toward Subic Bay, slowing briefly near Okinawa to embark six helicopters from
HMH-772 and a
contingent of Marines. The ship arrived at Subic Bay June 21 and brought aboard
1,823 evacuees, almost all of them Air Force personnel leaving Clark Air Base.
Additionally, Midway brought aboard 23 cats, 68 dogs, and one lizard, pets of
the evacuees. Midway's guests were greeted with a clean bed, a hot shower, and a
steak dinner, their first hot meal in more than a week.
In a trip which included a
high-speed night transit of the Van Diemen Passage, Midway took the evacuees to
the island of Cebu in the Philippines. On arrival, HS-12 and HMH-772 flew them to Mactan International Airport. There, the evacuees boarded Air
Force transport planes for flights that would eventually take them to the United
In August 1991, Midway
departed Yokosuka, Japan for the last time, steaming towards her first United
States port call in almost 18 years. She had been the first carrier to be
"forward deployed" in a foreign country, sailing for 17 years out of Yokosuka,
Japan. Arriving in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Midway turned over the duty as the "Tip
of the Sword" to USS Independence, CV-62.
would be replacing
as the forward deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. This turnover
included swapping CVW-5 for CVW-14, the first air wing change for
years. After leaving Hawaii,
made a brief visit to Seattle, Washington,
where more than 50,000 people visited the ship during a three-day open house.
On September 14, 1991,
arrived at her final homeport, Naval Air Station North Island in San
Diego, California. Her crew then began the tremendous task of preparing the ship
for decommissioning and preservation as part of the Ready Reserve Fleet.
As part of her
decommissioning preparation, the Navy sent out a Board of Inspection and Survey
team to assess the ship's material condition and evaluate her capabilities. To
perform this inspection, the ship got underway for one last time on September
24, 1991. On this day, the ship successfully completed a rigorous series of
tests, including full-power sea trials.
trapped and launched her last
aircraft that day, with the honor falling to Commander, Carrier Air Wing
Fourteen, Captain Patrick Moneymaker, flying an F/A-18 Hornet. At the completion
of the day's events,
headed for home at 32 knots. Despite her age and
imminent decommissioning, the inspection team found
fully operational and
fit for continued service, a testimonial to the men who maintained the ship
throughout her many years. At the end of her career,
last embarked flag
officer, Rear Admiral Joseph W. Prueher noted,
had "sprinted across the
for the last time at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, California on
April 11, 1992. She was stricken from the Navy List on March 17, 1997 and was stored at the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Washington.
On September 30, 2003, a long awaited event happened... after eleven years,
Midway was finally underway again! Although only under tow by the Foss
Maritime Company's tugs Lauren Foss and Lindsey Foss, she was
heading back out to sea for another voyage. With the Lindsey Foss only
assisting during the harbor transit, the Lauren Foss continued towing
Midway on her journey to Oakland, California.
October 07, 2003 saw Midway arriving at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in
Oakland, California. Restoration work was performed before Midway
was again taken under
tow on December 31. The Foss Maritime Company's Corbin Foss towed
Midway down the coast of California, arriving in San Diego Bay on January
05, 2004. Midway was temporarily berthed at NAS North Island to load restored aircraft and
also add ballast and equipment in preparation for her move
across the bay to Navy Pier.
Midway's final journey occurred on January 10, 2004. Several hundred
guests were aboard as she was towed across San Diego Bay to her new home at Navy
Pier. With much celebration and ceremony, Midway was berthed at Navy
Pier, where she officially opened as the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum on
June 07, 2004. Once again, Midway's popularity showed as 3,058 visitors
went aboard on opening day.
Conceived and built during
the desperate days of World War II, the carriers of the
class carried a
crew of 4,500 and up to 70 aircraft. The 1,000 foot-long
was once the
largest carrier afloat, growing from 45,000 tons in 1945 to 74,000 tons in 1991.
However, she had a displacement about two-thirds that of contemporary
nuclear-powered flattops. When operating at sea the ship was refueled every
three days, burning approximately 100,000 gallons of oil a day. When first
bow was open to the sea, and was enclosed in 1957 as part of
a major overhaul.empty compartments, her catapults
forever silent, her main engines cold and motionless, her halyards clear, we
will remember her and say "There truly was Magic here."
The ability to adapt to new technologies, systems, platforms, and operational
needs is nowhere better exemplified than in the design and 50-year operational
history of the USS
Midway. Designed during World War II, in 1945 this "flattop"
initially operated piston-driven propeller aircraft, yet returned from her last
deployment in 1991 with the Navy's most modern, multipurpose strike-fighters.
Her original axial-deck design was modified to an angled-deck layout, her
original hydraulic catapults were replaced with more powerful steam catapults,
and the most basic electronics replaced by advanced sensors and communications
sailed in every ocean of the world, covering more miles than anyone can
count. It is estimated that more than 200,000 young Americans trod her decks,
gaining manhood, fighting their country's wars and sometimes paying the ultimate
price. After ultimately serving her country for 47 years,
now rests at
Bremerton, Washington, ready to begin her final "tour of duty" as a floating
museum in San Diego. She will become a tribute to the contributions of the armed
services and as a dynamic, interactive beacon of education and entertainment.
How popular is the
Midway? In the three days before being mothballed, more than
50,000 people visited her for a final look.
"Midway Magic" is more than a slogan. The ship operated longer, survived more
modernization projects and was forward deployed longer than any other aircraft
carrier. It was the crew of the
that provided the sorcery. But, like the
magician's hat from which the rabbit appears, the
was the vessel in which
the magic had been created.
Long after the quiet descended on Midway's
Click here to download this history
as a printable MS Word document.
Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the present; by Roger Chesneau
Combat Fleets of the World 1990-1991; by The U.S. Naval Institute
San Diego Aircraft Carrier
Sea Classics, August 1999, Volume 32, Number 6; by Challenge Publications
U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History; by Norman Friedman
Personal recollections from myself and other previous crewmembers