Friday, July 04, 2008

The Tip of the Sword: A Brief History of the USS Midway

Like her name suggests, the USS Midway was born out of battle hardened experience and wartime ingenuity. There is something almost organic about her life - even during the earliest moments of construction the Midway was adapting to a changing world. For 47 years she went through a variety of modernizations that kept her and her men at the vanguard of U.S. naval power, responding to crises and providing service well beyond the scope of her planners' intentions. Today's role of aircraft carriers, in no small degree, is born out of what the Midway did as experimentation and precedence. She's been a nuclear deterrent, a scientific guinea pig, an escape for refugees, a symbol of American power and humanity, and, of course, a lethal weapon. The Midway has handled WWII era warbirds and today's Hornet and a good chunk of everything in between and has been a showroom of seafaring aviation. All in all, the Midway’s story serves as a microcosm of U.S. Naval evolution during its most dynamic and tumultuous period in terms of technological advancement and political importance to the world. If you wanted to get an idea at what the U.S. Navy was up to at any given time from 1945 to 1991, taking a look at what the Midway was doing would give you a pretty good glimpse.

The Midway’s hull, ordered in 1942 and laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock, was originally planned for a new Montana class of battleship. It incorporated innovations and ideas picked up after the early battles in the Pacific War - thicker steel and more transverse bulkheads - innovations that provided extra protection against torpedo attacks. In the wake of the Battle of Midway and other action, the Navy had also noticed the rise in importance of aircraft carriers and focused more urgent construction towards them. Using the Midway's giant battleship hull for a new larger class of carrier was a tricky endeavor, but made sense during the rushed wartime construction of 1943. The unique design gave the Midway excellent maneuverability, uncommon for a carrier, but those same features also caused her to pitch and roll excessively. The weight of the flight deck further aggravated her ability to launch and retrieve aircraft in heavier waters. Athough six Midway class carriers were planned, only three were actually built and, for the first ten years of her life, the Midway was the largest ship in the world - the first of a succession of carriers to be too large to pass through the Panama Canal.

The Midway was commissioned days after the Pacific War ended in 1945 sponsored by Mrs. Bradford D. Ripley II, the widow of a naval aviator who died in the war (she was also known as Heiress Barbara Cox Anthony, one of the richest women in Hawaii). She was accompanied by Lt. George Gay who was part of VT-8, a squadron that was almost entirely wiped out during the Battle of Midway. Lt. George Gay was the only survivor of 30 men. While he floated in the water, he witnessed the American attack that sank three Japanese carriers and instantly turned the tide of the war before being picked up the next morning by a PBY. Lt. Gay later served with the VT-11 over Guadalcanal, a squadron that years later would serve on the Midway for two decades as the VA-115.

Norfolk was the Midway's first home. After a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, she served in the Atlantic as the Flagship for Carrier Division 1. During Operation FROSTBITE (1946) the Midway sailed in the Labrador Sea, near the Arctic Circle, testing carrier flight operations in extreme cold conditions, often with 3 to 4 inches of snow and ice on the deck. This operation was made particularly relevant by the prominence of the Soviet navy who operated in similar waters. The Midway's stability concerns, first perceived during the shakedown cruise, became more acute in the choppy North Atlantic waters.

The Midway was back in the Caribbean in September of 1947 for Operation SANDY, in which a captured V-2 rocket was launched off the carrier's unmodified flight deck. It was the first time a rocket had been fired off a moving platform or a ship at sea. In this regard, Operation SANDY was the dawn of naval missile warfare. Given the unpredictable nature of the V-2, the launch was an extremely dangerous venture. The V-2 cleared the ship's conning tower, then tilted off course and was destroyed before it could reach any nearby islands.

From November of 1947 to March of 1948, the Midway made the first of seven voyages to the Mediterranean. On the second Mediterranean cruise, from January to March of 1949, the Midway launched a large P2V Neptune on a nonstop 25 hour 4,800 mile flight to San Diego with a detour over the Panama Canal and Corpus Christi to display its nuclear strike capability. The Navy had modified twelve Neptunes to launch from one of the three Midway class carriers. They were too large to use the ships' hydraulic catapults and had to use booster rockets for take-off. Nor could the Neptune land on the carriers. At the time, however, the Neptune was the only aircraft available that could make a carrier launch, even under such particular conditions, carrying a 9000 lb. atomic bomb.

The Midway returned to the North Atlantic in 1949, this time operating within the Arctic Circle and earning her entry into the The Royal Order of the Blue Nose. By 1950 she was back in the Mediterranean and was the Flagship of Air Group Four. When war broke out in Korea, the Midway, instead of rushing to the scene, was kept in the Mediterranean to maintain the nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union. At the time, only the Midway class carriers were capable of handling the planes large enough to carry nuclear bombs, and the need for her to guard NATOs southern flank was more urgent than providing air support in the Korean theater.

Returning to Norfolk after a fourth cruise to the Mediterranean, the Midway received several modifications - namely the removal of some guns to reduce weight and extra reinforcement to the flight deck so that she could handle heavier jet aircraft as well as the composite engine Savage, which replaced the P2V Neptune. In January of 1952, the Midway was back in the Mediterranean for the fifth time - this time with Air Group Six - participating in a NATO exercise called Operation GRAND SLAM.

In December of 1954 the Midway transferred to the Pacific after a round-the-world cruise and joined the Seventh Fleet. She reached Taiwan during the first Taiwan Straits Crises in February of 1955. Days after the U.S. Senate ratified the Formosa Resolution on 28 January, which called for U.S. intervention in the event of a Communist invasion of Taiwan, the Red Chinese, after weeks of threatening the nearby Tachen Islands (then controlled by the Nationalists), started shelling Tachen in preparation for an invasion. The Seventh Fleet, with the Midway as the flagship of Carrier Division Four, immediately took action. The USS Stoddard rushed to Okinawa to retrieve Rear Admiral Ruble, the commanding officer of the evacuation effort, and brought him to the Taiwan Straits. On 7 February the admiral and his staff were transferred via cable to the lead ship in the evacuation effort, the Midway, in seas so rough that the move left the admiral and his aides drenched.* During the crisis the Midway provided air cover as 24,000 military personnel and Tachen civilians (along with their livestock) escaped the island and the communist onslaught. After the operation the Midway continued to patrol the Taiwan Straits into June before completing the last leg of her round-the-world cruise. She arrived in Alameda on July, 1955.

In October the Midway relocated to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and was decommissioned in order to receive the first of what would eventually be three major modernization projects. When she emerged and was recommissioned in September 1957, she was practically a brand new ship. Much of her WWII era armor and anti-aircraft guns, now obsolete, had been removed. She received an enclosed "hurricane" deck, an expanded bridge and, most significant of all, an angled deck which allowed the Midway to launch and retrieve aircraft simultaneously, whereas a traditional straight deck could only perform one operation at a time, a vulnerability the Japanese learned too well during the Battle of Midway. Along with the angled deck the Midway moved and enlarged her three elevators for improved efficiency and to handle larger and heavier aircraft. Three steam catapults were installed, two at the bow and one on the angled portion of the deck. The Midway's flight deck also received jet blast deflectors, improved arresting equipment and the largest aviation crane ever put on a carrier at that time.

With her new flight deck, the Midway was able to accommodate supersonic aircraft for the first time. In August of 1958, when she departed for the Western Pacific, she contained, as part of Air Wing 2, a squadron of F-8 Crusaders (the VF-211 Red Checkertails), and a squadron of F3H Demons (the VF-64 Free Lancers), both supersonic aircraft. During that first cruise, a Demon from the Free Lancers became the first Navy fighter to fire the new Sparrow missile.

In late August of 1958, the Quemoy-Matsu crisis (the second Taiwan Straits crisis) began. Again, the Red Chinese threatened the Chinese Nationalists by attempting to seize Quemoy and Matsu, two islands occupied by the Nationalists near Taiwan. The Communists had actually shelled the islands back in 1954 through April of 1955 as a diversion for their invasion of the Tachen Islands. Whereas the U.S. was unwilling to include the Tachen islands in the Formosa Resolution, it did re-affirm that Quemoy and Matsu, which held a quarter of Chiang Kai Shek's forces, were both defensible by the Seventh Fleet and would fall under the security umbrella of the resolution. The fleet, with the Midway, this time as the flagship of Carrier Division Five, sailed to the Taiwan Straits as a show of support for the Nationalists. With the memory of over a million men lost during their last entanglement with U.S. forces in Korea and in light of a few deliberately placed remarks from Eisenhower regarding the use of nuclear weapons to defend Taiwan, the Red Chinese backed down from their attempt to seize Matsu and Quemoy.

From August 1958 to May 1964 the Midway embarked from Alameda on five cruises to the Western Pacific. The average cruise was about six months. In 1961 the Midway responded to the Laotian crisis and operated off the coast of Vietnam. In 1962 she participated in exercises to test the air defenses of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan. In 1963, while off the coast of California, the first fully automated landings on a carrier took place on the Midway when an F-4 Phantom and F-8 Crusader both touched down on her deck.

The Midway embarked on her first combat cruise to Vietnam on 6 March 1965. Over the next eight months, during the course of that cruise, the Midway's aircraft flew just shy of 12,000 combat missions. On 17 June, F-4 Phantoms from the VF-21 Free Lancers were credited with two kills of MiG-17s over Vietnam (a possible third was unconfirmed). Three days later, two pair of Skyraiders from the VA-25 Fist of the Fleet were intercepted by two MiG-17s. The Skyraiders, prop driven planes far slower than the MiGs, dropped their load and, flying low to the jungle canopy for cover, managed to shoot down one of the MiGs. These three kills constituted the first MiG 17s shot down over Vietnam. When the Midway returned to Alameda in November of 1965, she received the Navy Unit Commendation Medal as well as the Battle Efficiency "E".

In February of 1966, the Midway was decommissioned a second time for another massive modernization program. This time, her deck was expanded from just under 3 acres to just over 4 acres. Her elevators and bow catapults received increased weight capacity to handle ever heavier jets. To reduce weight, the third catapult on the cross deck was removed. The angle of the cross deck was changed from 10 degrees to 13 degrees and she received improved arresting gear to go along with a longer run out, causing less stress on the landing aircraft and allowing the ship to handle planes a third heavier than before. She also received a sophisticated computerized tactical data system. The Midway reemerged 4 years later, again, as the most modern conventionally powered carrier in the fleet. But because the program had gone 230% over budget, it was controversial and had an impact over the fate of other carriers that had been considered for similar modernization programs.

After spending 1970 going through refresher training and shakedown, the Midway headed out to Yankee Station for her second Vietnam combat cruise. During the intense flight operations during this cruise, the Midway's crew was sending up to 150 sorties a day. Because of a North Vietnamese invasion into South Vietnam, the Midway was hurried back out to Yankee Station for a third combat cruise. The Midway's aircraft played a crucial role in stopping the North Vietnamese from resupplying men and equipment into South Vietnam. Also of note during this cruise, a HH-3A chopper from the HC-7 Seadevils flew twenty miles behind enemy lines through mountainous terrain and enemy fire to retrieve a downed A-7 pilot - the deepest penetration for a rescue mission by a helicopter since 1968. And on 12 January 1973, an F-4 from the VF-161 Chargers scored the last MiG in the war, three days prior to the ceasefire.

Over the following two decades, the Midway distinguished herself in yet another way. Departing Alameda for Yokosuka on 11 September 1973, she became the first and only forward-based carrier in the U.S. Navy as a result of an agreement with Japan. The agreement was made during a trend in Japan of closing and consolidating U.S. bases. In 1951, shortly after the peace treaty, the U.S. operated 3,848 military facilities in Japan. That number dropped significantly at the end of the occupation (by about 1000) and continued to drop until, by 1972, the number of U.S. military facilities was around 100. Although leftist Japanese opposition to the Japanese-American alliance had lost influence since its peak in 1960, it nevertheless still made a lot of noise. To these groups, any tidbit was reason enough to charge that the Americans were violating the trust of the Japanese. For example, when goats appeared in the grassy fields around Atsugi, opposition groups claimed it was proof positive that chemical weapons were illegally being stored there despite U.S. denials, and that the goats were being used as an early detection system for possible leaks. As it turned out, the goats were used as cheap lawnmowers. In another instance, opposition groups discovered that a phone directory at a Marine base in Iwakuni referenced a unit with a name alluding to something nuclear. Again, the opposition groups charged that this was proof of a violation and that nuclear weapons were stored at the facility. In reality, the unit was simply providing training in the event of a nuclear attack. Still, the charges persisted until a Japanese inspection team was called in to verify the American claims. These groups consistently harassed and tried to obstruct U.S. military operations, but after the handover of Okinawa back to the Japanese, much of the wind was taken out of their sails. Nevertheless, prior to the agreement, Yokosuka, which had served as a key U.S. naval facility, was slated to be handed over to the JSDF. That Yokosuka (and Atsugi, already predominately occupied by Japanese forces) so quickly became a focal point of a new long term commitment which allowed the U.S. to strengthen its presence in the region indefinitely was a remarkable development and speaks to the strong partnership evolving between the two countries. The agreement, including the Navy's Overseas Family Residency Program, was a win-win for both sides. Financially, it meant that the economy surrounding the base housing complex would not dry up, but it also meant a continuation of the close cooperation between the U.S. Navy and the JDFS. For the U.S., it meant we could maintain a carrier presence in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and meet all our security commitments at a fraction of the cost during a time when the U.S. Navy was having to cut back on the total number of carriers in the fleet. The Family Residency program was also important for morale and retention rates. The transition from a conscription system to a fully volunteer force meant that the Navy would have to find innovative ways to maintain enlistments. Having a program that allowed sailors to keep their families closer to their area of operation was a godsend in a variety of ways.

The U.S., however, was not permitted to have nuclear weapons in Japan. This stipulation meant the carriers must find another location to keep their nuclear arsenal when not at sea. That location, in the case of the Midway, was the Philippines. Understandably, the possession of nuclear weapons was the Midway's most sensitive matter and at no time was the presence of nuclear warheads disclosed publicly. Weapons were carefully cataloged. If an A-6 took off from Cubi Point with a bomb, the serial number would be scrupulously checked upon departure and re-checked upon arrival to the Midway and vice-verse. The weapons were carefully stored under lock and key and Marines were dispatched to guard them. Strict guidelines were used in handling of the weapons. For instance, while on board ship, only aviators traveling in pairs could enter the area to check on the ordnance before or after a flight. When the weapons were brought on deck, only authorized personnel were able to even look at them while other personnel were ordered to get down and face the deck until the weapons were no longer in the vicinity. Meanwhile, the Marines in charge of the security had strict orders to enforce.

Though maintaining her nuclear ability was one of the Midway's most sensitive logistical concerns, it was not the only one. Keeping a carrier home based in the Far East meant that the supply lines, when not simply outsourced, needed to stretch across the ocean. It also meant that the considerable maintenance of the ship would have to be done thousands of miles away from the States. Regarding the former, it was somewhat convenient for the Midway that the U.S. Navy maintained a policy of refueling and resupplying its ships entirely at sea - at the time the only navy in the world to do so. About every two or three days the Midway would take on fuel for herself and her air wing. Resupplying was done side by side with the supply ships, often in heavy seas. There was a danger inherent in this system (evidenced by some of the accidents detailed below) but it kept the fleet at its peak readiness. Regarding the maintenance: the Midway utilized her neighborhood ports. Her flight deck routinely received a new surface while in port in the Philippines, using Filipino contractors. In Hong Kong, Chinese crews would give the ship a new coat of paint. Her electrical work was done in Yokosuka by Japanese electricians. This system benefited everyone. The U.S. received the maintenance work at a fraction of of cost while the work created many jobs for the local economies.

It also required some coordination as well. During one cruise, perhaps the first since the Japanese electricians received the contract for the Midway - she wasn't out to sea a day when she tried to switch to her own power only to end up powerless, dead in the water. The reason? The American design of the ship meant that her ground wires came off a negative current, whereas in Japan, the custom is to make the positive the ground. However, once such issues were resolved, the system resulted in a more efficient upkeep for the Midway. And in Japan, it meant that the community in Yokosuka directly took part in the Midway's operations - feeling pride in the ship and not just observing a foreign ship in its port.

It is somewhat noteworthy and speaks to the benevolence between the Japanese and the Americans that a U.S. aircraft carrier named after the pivotal battle in the Pacific War would now find a gracious home in Yokosuka - a place that had been a station for kamikaze squadrons just twenty-eight years before.

In April of 1975, the Midway was called to Vietnam again, though this time it was to save refugees from the onslaught of Communist forces during the fall of Saigon. During Operation FREQUENT WIND, the Midway, after sending much of her air wing to the Philippines and bringing on extra H-53 helicopters, brought on board 3,073 U.S. personnel and Vietnamese refugees. In a dramatic moment, while they had the bulk of the refugees already on deck, a South Vietnamese pilot, flying a small Cessna, circled the Midway asking permission to land. After learning that the pilot had his five children stored on the aircraft and that having the plane touch down on the ocean was not possible, the Midway's crew pushed every available helicopter overboard and allowing the Cessna enough room to land. Once the Cessna, known as Bird Dog 1, touched down, crew members stopped it. When the children emerged from the storage compartment, the Midway's crew burst into applause. Today, the same Cessna is displayed at the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum to commemorate the moment.

Throughout the 1970s, the Midway participated in exercises and war games with other carriers and other vessels. The Midway, because of its forward based status, prided itself as the ship that was ever ready and got the job done while other ships were merely tourists. Even before the forward based deployment, the Midway maintained a certain pride in their efficiency and accuracy. As Midway veteran Scott Smith retells, during a multi-prong competition she had with the Kitty Hawk in the early sixties, the Midway's Skyraider attack squadron (the VA-25 Fist of the Fleet) resorted to innovative tactics to win the rocket competition:

"The competition was for the best score by a division (four planes) dropping three bombs and firing three rockets. At that time, we were still using the WW-II HVAR rockets fired from the zero-length launchers on the wings. They had a very poor fire rate because time and salt air had corroded the electrical pigtails. This was a little hairy, because unfired rockets often came off their launchers during recover. Then they went skipping up the deck and, hopefully, over the side. I figured we could get 100% firing only by loading each aircraft with six rockets. Sure enough, the flight of Arabs (VA-115) had several misfires. Our guys got off three rockets from each plane. We won the bombing competition by a few feet and won the rocket competition by default. My hedge against misfired rockets brought the trophy to Midway."

Although there was some grumbling on behalf of the Kitty Hawk crew since this singular competition had determined the entire contest, which had been tied up to that point, it was nevertheless deemed legal.

Ironically, the competing squadron on the Kitty Hawk, the VA-115 Arabs, would soon be deactivated in 1967, not long after the Midway's decomissioning, to make the transition from the A-1 Skyraider to the A-6 Intruder, and would find a home on the Midway when the ship emerged from her modernization in 1971. The VA-115 would remain on the Midway until she was retired - dealing out the same treatment to opposing squadrons as it received from the VA-25. In one instance circa 1975-76, while the Midway was battling the Enterprise, an Arab Intruder, flown Cmd. Grafton and BN Sherfill, infiltrated the opposing squadron's rotation around the Enterprise and, with the Enterprise assuming the Arab A-6 was part of its own air wing, gained clearance to land. Grafton made his approach at a slow speed with his canopy open and deliberately over-shot the arresting gear. He threw out a handful of leaflets letting the Enterprise know she had just been sunk and took off to celebrate another victory for the Midway.

Not all the games were with friendly rivals. In a continuation of the Great Game, the Soviets consistently played cat and mouse with the Midway, flying aircraft in close proximity to the ship or sending a destroyer or submarine to monitor the Midway's activities and learn about her defenses.

The Midway participated in Operation TEAM SPIRIT, an intense electronic warfare and bombing exercise in S. Korea near the DMZ aimed at evaluating the effectiveness and coordination of the U.S. and S. Korean forces. Since the the establishment of the DMZ, the N. Koreans routinely violated provisions of the ceasefire. Tunneling under the DMZ was common, and just prior to TEAM SPIRIT, the N. Koreans established a policy that every unit should maintain two tunnels into the South. In addition to the tunneling, the N. Koreans, through unprovoked armed attacks had left over 300 American casualties in various incidents. One such incident took place on 18 August 1976. A S. Korean work crew and two U.S. Army officers with a few enlisted men - all unarmed - entered the DMZ to take down a tree that was interfering with the view from one of the checkpoints. A group of N. Korean soldiers, watching at first, soonafter confronted them and demanded they stop. When the S. Koreans continued cutting, the N. Koreans attacked them with picks and axes, murdering the two U.S. officers and wounding a S. Korean officer, four U.S. enlisted men and three S. Korean workers.

The Midway, having recently finished with Operation TEAM SPIRIT, returned to the Korean coast for Operation PAUL BUNYAN - a show of force preceding a second and final attempt at removing the poplar tree at the center of the controversy. During the three day stand off, the N. Koreans repeatedly tried to shoot down American planes which were operating at times north of the DMZ line, but they did not interfere when another work crew, this time with heavy back-up, removed the tree.

Throughout the remainder of the 1970s the Midway participated in various joint exercises in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, including a two day Iranian-U.S. operation called MIDLINK '77 and a couple of exercises with the Japanese Maritime Defense Force. During the Iranian hostage crisis, the Midway was rushed to the Arabian Sea to join the Kitty Hawk and the Nimitz. The Midway also remained in the Indian Ocean as a contingency force during the outbreak of violence in Yemen between forces in the north and south of that country, partly as reassurance to the Saudis that the U.S. was still committed to the region despite the fall of the Iranian Shah.

It wasn't long before a another crisis reared its ugly head in May of 1980 - this time in S. Korea. On 26 October of 1979 a former president of S. Korea, Park Chung-hee, was assassinated, sparking student protests which led to a coup in December by Major General Chun Doo-hwan, who quickly established martial law. In May of 1980, students again protested against the closure of a university and the protests devolved into riots, later known as Gwangju Uprising. The Midway was dispatched off the coast of the Cheju-Do Island in case the civil unrest grew out of hand.

In March of 1981, after an Intruder from the VA-115 spotted a downed chartered helicopter in the South China Sea, the Midway dispatched her Fleet Angels to the site and all 17 people aboard were saved.

The Midway was dry docked for most of 1986 while she received major enhancements through a new forward based updating program called EISRA (Extended Incremental Selected Repair). Although her deck configuration remained the same, she received improvements to her blast deflectors, arresting gear and catapult systems. She was also fitted with larger rudders, improved fire-fighting pumps and valves and avionic shops to service her new tenant, the F-18 Hornet. The air traffic control equipment was updated and new anti-submarine capabilities were installed. Since the adjustments significantly increased her weight, almost 47 tons of unusable cable was stripped and large hull blisters were added to increase the Midway's buoyancy. These appendages hampered the her performance at sea, and stability issues that had always plague the Midway became worse. The drawbacks from the overhaul created a stir in the Senate, where a committee held hearings and actually voted to retire the ship. The Navy convinced the Senate to over-rule the committee and appropriate an additional $138 million dollars to remedy the hull issues.

In the Middle East, in 1987, the Iran-Iraq war was dragging on into its seventh year. Over the past three of those years, a tanker war had been fought after Iraq attacked Iranian tankers in 1984 and the Iranians retaliated by attacking Kuwaiti vessels carrying Iraqi oil. Although this tit-for-tat engagement did little to damage either side, by the third year it was enough of a threat for the U.S. to employ the largest naval convoy since World War II, called Operation EARNEST WILL, to protect Persian Gulf shipping lanes for Kuwaiti vessels. The Midway was called in to participate in the operation from 1987 to 1988.

Throughout the latter 1980s, the Midway was not idle for long. In early June of 1989, the Midway was on standby in the contingency that American citizens would need to be evacuated during the incident at Tiananmen Square. Later in 1989, still regularly patrolling the Indian Ocean, the Midway participated in Exercise THALAY, a joint operation with the Royal Thai Navy. Directly after that, the Midway made the first pier-side stop in Fremantle, Australia. When Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE began to protect Filippino President Aquino, the Midway, along with the Enterprise, were the carriers chosen for the operation. The longevity of the Midway's cruises, as well as the uninterrupted days at sea, set records and established the carrier's reputation as always being at the tip of the sword. She was serving at the tip in early 1990, when the official announcement was made for her final decommissioning in 1991.

In June of 1990 two explosions aboard the Midway killed three men and caused a fire that raged for 10 hours. The incident sparked a frenzy from the press, which speculated whether the event would hasten the Midway's retirement. It didn't.

The Midway has endured accidents before, of course. The sea presents obvious perils and the flight deck of a carrier is one of the most dangerous work environments in the world. The Midway's first accident was in February of 1948 when a launch capsized in the sea near Hyeres, France, killing eight men. In 1954, the Midway collided with a supply ship, the USS Great Sitkin, near Athens, damaging one of the Midway's 5" guns. Later during that same cruise, a F2H bounced over the barrier and into a pack of planes, killing eight men. The first of several major fires broke out in November 1959 in the pump room while the ship was at Subic Bay. The reason for the fire was thought to be arson. In 1964, the Midway lost one of her elevators while using it to bring on supplies while in heavy seas. In February 1965, a Midway aircraft was inadvertently shot down by the USS Preble, killing the pilot. In 1972, an aircraft crashed upon landing, destroying eight other aircraft and killing five men. In 1975, another crash landing killed two men. In May 1978, a fire broke out in the ventilation shafts and spread to the boiler uptakes and to the second deck. Another fire broke out in 1979 from a broken acetylene line and killed one man while injuring 17 others. In May 1980, the Midway collided with a Panamanian merchant ship, causing little damage to the carrier, but killing two men and injuring three others. In 1986, the Midway collided with another ship, this time a Korean fishing boat (there is some debate as to whether it was North or South Korea) when the boat ran into one of the Midway's elevators. In short, the Midway experienced several accidents and, for the most part, finished out her cruises. It is a testament to the vessel and her crew that there were not more fatalities over the long course of her career. The Midway has proudly received numerous safety and efficiency awards.

In October of 1990 she was patrolling the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, participating in Operation IMMINENT THUNDER in November. When Operation DESERT SHIELD started, the Midway was the only carrier operating in the Persian Gulf.

When Operation DESERT STORM began, A-6 Intruders from one of the Midway's two medium attack squadrons, the VA-185 Nighthawks, were the first carrier planes over the beach. Because of the crowded narrow waters of the Persian Gulf and because of the Midway's peculiarly tight turning radius, she was able to operate in the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf where larger and newer carriers could not. Because of this unique advantage in positioning, the Midway was the Admiral's flagship for the entire strike force during the Gulf War. During the war, the Midway launched over 3,300 sorties, averaging up to 121 a day, and dropped over 4 million pounds of bombs and missiles on Iraqi targets.

After the war, as the Midway was preparing for retirement, she was called upon one last time to the Philippines to help with an evacuation after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Within a day of her orders, the Midway was loaded and ready to embark on Operation FIERY VIGIL. During the evacuation, she brought aboard 1,823 evacuees, mostly Air Force personnel.
In August of 1991, the Midway sailed out of Yokosuka for the last time for San Diego and her final decommissioning in 1992. After spending 5 years on the inactive reserve list, she was finally stricken from the Navy's list in 1997. She was turned into a floating museum and opened up to the public on 7 June 2004. Currently, she is the most visited carrier museum in the world.

The Midway's life took on various missions. Starting out as the ultimate supercarrier for the Pacific War, she just missed combat duty in that conflict and almost immediately transitioned into a cold warrior. After seven cruises in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic as the West's nuclear deterrent against the Soviets, she transitioned to the Pacific and helped Chinese Nationalists escape the Communist menace. Later she would help Vietnamese refugees escape the same threat under a different flag. Her aircraft shot down the first and last MiGs of the Vietnam war. Throughout the Cold War, the Midway was at the forefront of a continual dangerous cat and mouse game with the Soviets. She responded to various crises and helped to protect our allies and the world's seaplanes. When the Persian Gulf War broke out, the Midway was there to lead the task force during Operation DESERT STORM. In short, the Midway was always there to handle any situation. To maintain this constant vigilance over the better part of half a century, over 225 thousand sailors, airmen and marines served on her from 1945 to 1992. Since the Midway's decommissioning, she has re-emerged with a new mission as a museum ship. Today, the Midway sits in San Diego and is currently the most often visited museum ship in the world.

Most of the factual data of this history came from the excellent and concise history by Troy Prince at his Midway Sailor site, which is a gold mine of photo galleries, squadron links, cruise and squadron information and a lot more. Other sites that provided information include the resource rich, though less up to date CV-41 USS Midway, and the Naval Historical Center. The History channel's USS Midway: The Hero Ship is a good one hour primer with nice shots of Operation SANDY and Operation FROSTBITE, though much of the other footage doesn't seem to be of the Midway or her aircraft. Wikipedia has a decent basic outline of the ship, too. For information regarding the base realignment in Japan that led to the forward-positioning of the Midway, Assignment: Tokyo - an Ambassodor's Journal (1969-1972) by former ambassador to Japan, Armin H. Meyer, is well worth a look. Finally, much of the information regarding the Midway's operation from the mid-70s comes from my dad's account.

The USS Midway
The Tip of the Sword: A Brief History of the USS Midway
Gator Control: The VA-115
Aircraft of the USS Midway

On the Deck and In the Air, 1974-77
Pollywog to Shellback: Crossing the Line, 1975

Japan: A Forward-based Homefront
Home: Yokosuka and Nagai
Japan: Kamakura, Fuji and Izu areas
Ports of Call
Subic Bay
Hong Kong


Anonymous said...

Information on the loss of elevator #3 is incorrect. I was the elevator operator at the time of the loss. The elevator was lost due to a hard turn to port without consideration for the elevator being in the down position with an aircraft and personnel on it.

tracy trussel said...

what about the typhoon cruise of 1998 when the ship took a 24 degree roll while we were sailing through typhoon ruby?

tracy trussel said...

The Typhoon cruise was in 1988 in the western Pacific.

E.D. Lancaster said...

Great blog. What a tribute to a great warrior. MIDWAY has always embodied the spirit of America, through the good times and the bad. Her work ethic changed my life. You did a fine job.

Anonymous said...

Skidway was my first ship and yep, I sure do remember that big roll during Typhoon Ruby. A bit hazy now but seem to recall we were supposed to be doing REFTRA or something. Lots of folks were sea sick, we really were rockin' and rollin'.