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The History Of the USS Midway Explained

March 5, 2024 By CityPASS

The USS Midway stands as a monument to naval engineering and military history. Commissioned shortly after the end of World War II, the USS Midway served the United States Navy for an astonishing 47 years, making it the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Throughout its service, the Midway played a pivotal role in numerous historic events, reflecting the evolving nature of naval warfare and global political landscapes. From pioneering new technologies to engaging in key military operations, the USS Midway's journey is a fascinating chronicle of resilience, innovation, and valor.

In its lifespan, the USS Midway transitioned from a straight-deck carrier to one equipped with an angled flight deck, underwent multiple modernizations, and participated in some of the most significant military events of the late 20th century. This article delves into the rich history of the USS Midway, exploring its name's origin and recounting 10 historical moments that define its legacy.

Where Did the USS Midway Get Its Name?

Commissioned in 1945, the USS Midway was named after the important Battle of Midway, fought in June 1942. This battle was a crucial turning point in the Pacific Theater during World War II. At Midway Atoll, the U.S. Navy delivered a great blow to the Japanese Imperial Navy, shifting the balance of power in the Allies' favor. The naming of the carrier was a tribute to the bravery, strategy, and sacrifice demonstrated in this historic battle, forever linking the ship to a moment of profound significance in naval history.

10 Historic Moments of the Longest-Serving Aircraft Carrier

1. Operation Frostbite: Developing New Flight Deck Procedures

In 1946, the USS Midway set out on a groundbreaking mission known as Operation Frostbite. This operation was not just a test of the carrier's endurance but also a key moment in naval aviation history. Conducted in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, Operation Frostbite had far-reaching objectives and outcomes that would shape the future of carrier operations in cold environments.

The operation involved rigorous testing of the ship's equipment and the performance of naval aircraft in sub-zero temperatures. The primary goal of Operation Frostbite was to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of aircraft operations under extreme cold weather conditions. This was a response to the growing recognition that the U.S. Navy might need to operate in the Arctic or similarly harsh environments as geopolitical tensions shifted in the post-World War II era.

2. Operation Sandy: 1st Moving Platform Large-Rocket Launch

Operation Sandy in September 1947 marked a notable milestone in naval history. This operation saw the USS Midway, a symbol of American naval prowess, achieve a technological feat: the first successful launch of a large rocket from a moving ship. This exercise showcased the Midway's versatility and marked a turning point in the evolution of missile technology and naval warfare. The choice of the USS Midway for this operation was strategic. As one of the largest and most advanced carriers of its time, the Midway offered a spacious and robust platform necessary to undertake such an ambitious launch.

3. Carrier Suitability Tests: The F9F-5 Panther Crash

In the early 1950s, the USS Midway was involved in carrier suitability tests for various aircraft, including the F9F-5 Panther. Unfortunately, one of these tests resulted in a crash on the flight deck. This incident occurred during a routine landing procedure, a critical moment when the aircraft transitioned from flight to deck operations. The crash underscored the challenges associated with operating high-speed, high-performance jet aircraft in the confined space of an aircraft carrier. The Panther's crash was particularly instructive, highlighting issues related to approach speed, landing gear strength, and the arrestor cable system's ability to capture and decelerate fast-moving jets safely.

4. Operation Mainbrace: North Sea Maneuvers With NATO

During Operation Mainbrace in 1952, the USS Midway participated in large-scale North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) maneuvers in the North Sea. This exercise involved roughly 200 ships, 1,000 planes, and 80,000 personnel from various NATO countries, aiming to strengthen allied defenses against the Soviet threat. The Midway played a crucial role, executing extensive air operations and showcasing the strategic value of carrier-based aviation in NATO's defense strategy. The operation was a display of military strength and a testbed for new naval tactics and technologies, enhancing interoperability among the NATO forces. This operation revealed the necessity of alliance unity and preparedness, positioning the USS Midway as a dependable force in safeguarding the strategic interests of the North Sea region.

5. Operations in the Western Pacific: The Quemoy-Matsu Crisis

In the late 1950s, the USS Midway was deployed to the Western Pacific during the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis. As tensions escalated between Communist China and Taiwan, the Midway's presence demonstrated U.S. support for Taiwan and deterred potential aggression. Throughout the crisis, the USS Midway was actively involved in patrolling the Taiwan Strait, a key maritime corridor. Its operations included evacuation of refugees from the Republic of China, reconnaissance flights, and readiness exercises, ensuring a constant state of preparedness should conflict erupt.

6. Cape Town: The 1950s Apartheid Incident

A lesser-known but valuable episode occurred when the USS Midway visited Cape Town in the 1950s. Amidst South Africa's apartheid regime, the carrier refused to adhere to local racial segregation laws. This incident underscored the U.S. Navy's commitment to equality and civil rights.

7. Vietnam: First and Second Deployment

The USS Midway's deployment to Vietnam marked a momentous chapter in its history. Participating in numerous carrier strikes against military targets in North and South Vietnam, the Midway played a crucial role in U.S. military operations. It also helped with the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. Its service during this period underscored the carrier's strategic importance and combat effectiveness.

8. Northeast of Japan: Onboard Explosion Tragedy

In 1990, the USS Midway experienced a tragic incident northeast of Japan. Two onboard explosions resulted in the loss of life, spotlighting the inherent risks of carrier operations. This tragedy led to enhanced safety measures and operational protocols on carriers, emphasizing the importance of rigorous munitions handling and emergency response procedures.

9. Operation Desert Storm: Iraq Invasion of Kuwait

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, following the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the USS Midway was at the forefront of the conflict. It launched carrier strikes, showcasing its advanced capabilities in real combat situations and playing a key role in the successful aerial campaign against Iraqi forces. The Midway's involvement in this operation demonstrated its offensive power and strategic value in quick-response scenarios, contributing greatly to the liberation of Kuwait.

10. Operation Fiery Vigil: The Eruption of Mount Pinatubo

In 1991, the USS Midway participated in Operation Fiery Vigil, aiding in the evacuation of personnel from Clark Air Base and Naval Base Subic Bay following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. This humanitarian mission demonstrated the carrier's versatility and commitment to aiding allies in times of crisis.

Visit This Historic Carrier in San Diego With CityPASS® Tickets

Today, the USS Midway serves as a museum ship in San Diego, offering a glimpse into its storied past and the broader history of naval aviation. Visitors can explore the flight deck, hangar, and living quarters, experiencing first-hand what life was like aboard one of the most famous aircraft carriers in history. Enhance your visit to San Diego, discover the legacy of the USS Midway, and enjoy savings on other top San Diego attractions with CityPASS® tickets.

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Header Image Courtesy of USS Midway Museum

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