USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41) was an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, the lead ship of her class, and the first to be commissioned after the end of World War II. Active in the Vietnam War and in Operation Desert Storm, as of 2004 she is a museum ship in San Diego, California. She is the only remaining aircraft carrier of the World War II era that is not an Essex-class ship.
Midway was laid down October 27, 1943 by Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Virginia. Her revolutionary hull design was based on what would have been the Montana class battleships and gave her superior maneuverability over all previous carriers. She was launched March 20, 1945; sponsored by Mrs. Bradford William Ripley, Jr.; and commissioned September 10,1945, Captain Joseph F. Bolger in command.
Early operations and deployment with the 6th Fleet
After shakedown in the Caribbean, Midway joined in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet training schedule, with Norfolk her homeport. From February 20,1946 she was flagship for CarDiv 1. In March, she tested equipment and techniques for cold weather operations in the North Atlantic. East Coast and Caribbean training was highlighted by Operation Sandy in September 1947, in which she test fired a captured German V-2 rocket from her flight deck, the first such launching from a moving platform.
On October 20, 1947, Midway sailed for the first of her annual deployments with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. A powerful extension of re, she was out of commission until September 30, 1957, while she underwent an extensive modernization program (SCB-110). Midway received an enclosed "hurricane bow," an aft deck-edge elevator, an angled flight deck, and steam catapults.
Home ported at Alameda, California, Midway began annual deployments with the 7th Fleet in 1958, and was on such duty in the South China Sea during the Laotian Crisis of Spring 1961. During her 1962 deployment, her aircraft tested the air defense systems of Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, and Taiwan. When she again sailed for the Far East March 6, 1965, her aircraft were prepared for combat operations, and from mid-April flew strikes against military and logistics installations in North and South Vietnam.
Returning to Alameda on November 23rd, Midway entered San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard on February 11,1966 for a massive modernization (SCB-101.66) which proved to be very expensive and controversial. The flight deck was enlarged from 2.8 to 4 acres (11,300 to 16,200 m²). The elevators were enlarged, relocated, and given almost double the weight capacity. Midway also received new catapults, arresting gear, and a centralized air conditioning plant. Massive cost overruns raised the price of this program from $88 million to $202 million, and thus precluded a similar modernization planned for Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42). Midway finally recommissioned on January 31,1970. It was also found that the modifications significantly reduced the ship's seakeeping capabilities and ability to conduct air operations in rough seas, which necessitated further modifications to correct the problem.
The first and last air-to-air kills in Vietnam
Illustrative of the major contribution the carrier made to the war was a notable "first" for aviators of her Attack Carrier Wing 2, who in June of 1965, downed the first three MiGs credited to U.S. Forces in Southeast Asia. On 12 January 1973, LT V. T. Kovaleski (pilot) and LT J. A. Wise (RIO) of the Midway's VF-161 Chargers downed a North Vietnamese MiG-17 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder launched from their F-4B Phantom II. This was the last air-to-air kill of the Vietnam War.
A return to Vietnam
Midway returned to Vietnam and on May 18,1971, after relieving Hancock (CV-19) on Yankee Station, began single carrier operations which continued until the end of the month. She departed Yankee Station on June, 5th and completed her final line period on October 31st. She returned to her homeport on November 6th.
Midway, with embarked Carrier Air Wing 5 (CVW 5), again departed Alameda for operations off Vietnam on April 10,1972. On May 11th, aircraft from Midway along with those from Coral Sea (CV-43), Kitty Hawk (CV-63), and Constellation (CV-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. Midway continued Vietnam operations throughout the summer of 1972.
On August 7,1972, an HC-7 Det 110 helicopter, flying from Midway, and aided by planes from the carrier and from Saratoga (CV-60), conducted a search and rescue mission for a downed aviator in North Vietnam. The pilot of an A-7 Corsair II aircraft from Saratoga had been downed by a surface-to-air missile about 20 miles (30 km) inland, northwest of Vinh, on August. 6th 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.
On October 5,1973, Midway, with CVW 5, put into Yokosuka, Japan, marking the first forward-deployment of a complete carrier task group in a Japanese port, the result of an accord arrived at on August 31,1972 between the U.S. and 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.
Operation Frequent Wind, other jobs
Midway, Coral Sea (CV-43), Hancock (CV-19), Enterprise (CVN-65) and Okinawa (LPH-3) responded April 19,1975 to the waters off South Vietnam when North Vietnam overran two-thirds of South Vietnam. Ten days later, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by U.S. 7th Fleet forces. During this operation, Midway had off loaded fifty percent of her regular combat air wing at NS Subic Bay, Philippines. She steamed to Thailand and embarked 10 large US Air Force CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters for the purpose of ferrying people from Saigon out to the fleet cruising in the South China Sea. Hundreds of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese were evacuated to waiting ships after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. One South Vietnamese pilot landed an 0-1 Bird Dog Observation Airplane aboard Midway, bringing himself and his family to safety. The Bird Dog is now on display at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fl.
Upon completion of ferrying people to other ships, she returned to Thailand and disembarked the Air Force helicopters. The CH-53s then airlifted over 50 South Vietnamese Air Force aircraft to the ship. With almost 100 helicopters and aircraft of the former South Vietnamese Air Force aboard, she steamed to Guam where the aircraft and helicopters were off loaded in twenty-four hours. On her way back to the Philippines to pick up her air wing she was rerouted to act as a floating airfield in support of special operation forces rescuing a pirated cargo ship (see Mayagüez incident). She picked up her regular air wing again a month later when she returned NAS Cubi Point, Philippines.
On August 21, 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 18th. (The U.S. response to this incident was Operation Paul Bunyan). Midway's response was in support of a U.S. demonstration of military concern vis-à-vis North Korea.
Midway relieved 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 November 18th 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 4th and held 63 U.S. citizens hostage. Midway was joined November 21st by Kitty Hawk (CV-63), and both carriers, along with their escort ships, were joined by the Nimitz (CVN-68) and her escorts on January 22,1980. Midway was relieved by Coral Sea (CV-43) on February 5th.
Missions in the 1980s
Following a period in Yokosuka, Midway relieved Coral Sea May 30, 1980 on standby south of the Cheju-Do Islands in the Sea of Japan following the potential of civil unrest in the Republic of Korea. While transiting the passage between Palawan Island of the Philippines and the coast of Northern Borneo on July 29, Midway collided with the Panamanian merchant ship Cactus. The Cactus was 450 nautical miles southwest of Subic Bay and headed to Singapore. The collision occurred near the liquid oxygen plant and two sailors working in the plant were killed, three were injured. Midway sustained light damage and three F-4 Phantom aircraft parked on the flight deck were also damaged. On August 17th, Midway relieved Constellation to begin another Indian Ocean deployment and to complement the 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 HC-1 Det 2 helicopters 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.
Midway continued serving in the western Pacific throughout the 1980s. In order to alleviate persistent seakeeping issues, Midway received hull blisters in 1986. The modification proved unsuccessful.
On March 5, 1986, the final carrier launching of a Navy fleet F-4S Phantom II took place off Midway during flight operations in the East China Sea. The aircraft was manned by pilot Lt. Alan S. "Mullet" Colegrove and radar intercept officer Lt. Gregg "Ichabod" Blankenship of VF-151. Phantoms were being replaced by the new F/A-18 Hornets.
Operation Desert Storm and the 1990s
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait, and U.S. forces moved into Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield to protect that country against invasion by Iraq. On November 1, 1990, Midway was again on station in the North Arabian Sea, relieving Independence. On November 15th, 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. Meanwhile, the United Nations set an ultimatum deadline of January 15,1991 for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
Operation Desert Storm began the next day, and the Navy launched 228 sorties from Midway and Ranger (CV-61) in the Persian Gulf, from Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) en route to the Gulf, and from John F. Kennedy, Saratoga, and America in the Red Sea. In addition, the Navy launched more than 100 Tomahawk missiles from nine ships in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Desert Storm officially ended February 27th, and Midway departed the Persian Gulf March 11, 1991 and returned to Yokosuka.
A final cruise and then on to life as a museum
In August 1991, Midway departed Yokosuka and returned to Pearl Harbor. Here, she turned over with Independence which was replacing Midway as the forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka. Midway then sailed to San Diego where she was decommissioned at Naval Air Station North Island on April 11, 1992 in a ceremony in which the main speaker was Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on March 17, 1997. During the decommissioning process, she was used to film portions of the movie At Sea, a documentary on carrier life shown only at the Navy Museum in Washington D.C. Both sailors and their families participated in the filming or the homecoming scenes.
On September 30, 2003, Midway began her journey from the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Washington, to San Diego, California in preparation for use as a museum and memorial. She was docked at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in Oakland, California, during the first week in October while the construction of her pier in San Diego was completed. Then, on January 10, 2004 the ship was moored at her final location at the Broadway Pier in downtown San Diego, where she was opened to the public on June 7, 2004. In its first year of operation, the museum doubled attendance projections by welcoming 879,281 guests aboard.
Visitors may tour the ship's flight deck, hangar bay, mess hall, bridge, primary flight control area, enlisted and junior officer quarters, sickbay, and portions of the engine rooms. Additionally, over 25 restored WW2 and postwar naval aircraft are on display in the hangar and on the flight deck. Self-guided audio tours are provided with admission. Events and meetings are held on board as well. Five to six evening events are held aboard Midway every week. Midway now books events three years in advance.
Bringing the ship to San Diego as a museum was the source of some controversy. Critics raised objections including environmental concerns and blocking of scenic sightlines. Under the terms agreed to in receiving space to dock the ship, a portion of the ships bow is accessible free of charge to allow all visitors to enjoy views of the San Diego harbor and skyline without paying admission, and the preservation of some acres of land as a wetland habitat. Admission charge for rest of ship is $17 for adults, as of May 2008. There were also concerns that the Midway Museum would steal customers from other local attractions. For example, the ship is located near the independently operated Maritime Museum of San Diego, which includes a collection of historic ships including the tall ship Star of India and the HMS Surprise, a replica British frigate used in the filming of the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Through 2004, the Maritime business has actually received an increase of visitors, and the Executive Director of the Maritime Museum believes that part of the credit goes to the arrival of the Midway.