The Daily Lex – April 30th

Midway comes to San Diego

By lex, on January 6th, 2004

I was coming in to work today and saw a ship, where my old ship used to be…

It looked like an aircraft carrier, only smaller…

The USS Midway (CV-41) arrived in town late last night – I thought she was going to Broadway Pier, but instead she was at Pier M/N, where my old boat used to moor, back before they decommissioned the old girl (snuffle).

Midway has been decommissioned for the better part of 10 years, and has recently been prepared to be a museum piece for downtown San Diego. The thing that struck me was how very small she was, compared to USS Last Ship, which in turn was small in comparison to the Nimitz class ships that make up the bulk of the carrier force these days.

Midway was a forward-deployed carrier for many years, homeported in Yokusuka, Japan. I never flew off of her (but did fly off one of her sister ships, Coral Sea). She was unique in a couple of different ways: for one thing she only had bow catapults, with no cats on the waist. Strangely, she only had three arresting gear cables, or wires. Turns out the deck was too short for another wire aft, and too short forward to put an arresting gear that would stop a jet before it went over the end without breaking something off.

This deck layout makes operating the carrier in Cyclic Operations (the normal mode) rather difficult. With no waist catapults (the ones in the landing area, angled outboard) the flight deck crew had to do a full re-spot of all the aircraft from the preceding recovery prior to the next launch. On a Nimitz-class (with a much bigger flight deck), this could take 2 hours. Midway’s crew could somehow do it in less than 45 minutes. This flexibility coined the expression “Midway Magic,” and it became a part of her legend as a fighting ship.

For the Midway crew, the difficult was easy, and the impossible merely took a little longer.

When I was stationed in Japan, the Midway had recently been relieved by the USS Independence, a Forrestal-class carrier. Her sisters (aside from Forrestal) were Saratoga and Ranger. They were awkward brutes, transitions between the World War II modified ships to the Nimitz class ships. Indy was not an easy ship to love, and she suffered in comparison to the magical Midway.

The air wing would ask to do certain things that Indy couldn’t do, and get turned down by the ship. The pilots would start off saying, “well on Midway, we used to do thus and such.” Which of course drove the Indy guys nuts. “You’re not on Midway anymore.”

By the time I joined the ship, the Midway had become “the M-word,” and we weren’t allowed to utter it anymore.

Being a small carrier (45,000 tons, as opposed to 80k on my ship, and around 100k on the Nimitz class), she tended to bob around in heavy seas a bit more than was thought proper for a lady. The shipwrights in Japan thought they could attach some stabilization blisters to her hull, so that she would ride a bit better, in order to help the pilots get aboard in poor weather. Someone didn’t do all their fluid dynamics homework very well, since in certain sea conditions, the blisters turned what had been a mildly objectionable pitch, roll and heave into something that belonged in a circus sideshow, or drunk tank.


One of the things I liked about the older carriers were the names they carried – they evoked famous battles fought and won, or were the names of brave ships from an earlier era recycled to the new age. We had the ESSEX, YORKTOWN, INTREPID, HORNET, TICONDEROGA, LEXINGTON, BUNKER HILL, WASP, BOXER, BON HOMME RICHARD, ANTIETAM, PRINCETON, KEARSARGE, ORISKANY, SHANGRI-LA (?), TARAWA, VALLEY FORGE, and PHILLIPINE SEA. We had KITTY HAWK, CONSTELLATION and AMERICA. We had an ENTERPRISE.Then we named a ship JOHN F KENNEDY in memorial of Camelot lost, and the gates were opened to all manner of political monikers. After NIMITZ, we had EISENHOWER, VINSON, ROOSEVELT, LINCOLN, WASHINGTON, STENNIS, TRUMAN, REAGAN and finally BUSH (the elder).Politicians.I guess once the floodgates are open, everyone wants a drink. And for $5billion or so, who are the uniform guys to complain? Call it “FUSCHIA” or “PUMICE” so long as we get her on schedule and she floats.Please don’t get me wrong, I admire all (or most) of these men. Still, I sometimes envy the Royal Navy, with their INVINCIBLEs and BROADSWORDs and DEVASTATIONs. Those are names to wear on your sleeve or cap with pride.

Someday perhaps, we’ll even have a ship named the USS BILL CLINTON.

Won’t be a frigate though. A frigate only has one screw.


Filed under Lex, Sea Stories

9 responses to “The Daily Lex – April 30th

  1. 509th Bob

    The Shangri-La was named after the mythical place identified by FDR as the launching site for the Doolittle Raid.

    • Snake Eater

      An entry into the who really gives a rats- a** /useless information catagory…

      ….Shangri-La was also FDRs name for the presidential retreat in the MD montains now known as Camp David…which thereafter was re- named during the Eisenhower administration for Ikes grandson David…who is now,for better or for worse, the sainted husband of Tricky-Dicks daughter…Julie…go figure. Best, Frank C.

  2. Spencer

    “Someday perhaps, we’ll even have a ship named the USS BILL CLINTON.

    Won’t be a frigate though. A frigate only has one screw.”

    Snicker. Ha! How I miss that wit.

  3. Jimmy J.

    My old ship. Retired a year before I did. Operating at Yankee Station with a 110% complement of aircraft was no picnic. Getting an A-1 down to hangar bay for an engine change was like asking the aircraft handling officer for a miracle. But miracles were performed…………..regularly.

    At Yankee Station we had a typhoon form just to the south of us so quickly there was no time to run for open seas. ‘Twas an interesting two days. We were taking green water over the flight deck and occasional sitings of our destroyer escorts were truly frightening. They were often engulfed by waves with screws out of the water. Rough as it was aboard Midway, we counted our blessings to be there rather than aboard the DDs.

    Have visited Midway twice since she has become a museum. Both times for squadron reunions. At this remove, (47 years) service aboard seems more like a dream that happened long ago and far away in a different universe. Yet when standing in our old ready room, the memories return. You can almost hear the squawckbox blaring, “Pilots man your aircraft!” The ladder from ready room to flight deck seems steeper than remembered, but stepping from the island onto the deck recalls the excitement of manning aircraft for Rolling Thunder strikes. Saddle up and head north. It was what we did.

  4. Pogue

    I served two years on the Midway, followed by a deployment on the Forrestal. The key to the respot was that everyone knew what had to be done, and did it. When the Air Boss called “recovery complete” the first aircraft to be respotted were already hooked up to the tow tugs. When I got to the Forrestal it seemed like they would have been better off if they forgot about the waist cats all together – they spend so much time and effort trying to keep them clear they forced themselves into unnecessary moves.

  5. Daryle LaMonica

    Before I found lex I was in “Sandy Eggo” for a conference and had the chance to visit the Midway. As a museum it blew away the Intrepid back at home. I haven’t been to the Intrepid since they did the renovation recently. I have to find a day to get back over there to see what they changed.

    • Daryle, I recall the Navy/City having to dredge around the Intrepid in order to haul her to Jersey for the overhaul. Seems the old girl had been gathering silt all those years. Quite an expensive overhaul, too, IIRC. Glad they did it, though. Didn’t the yard remove the screws before taking the ship back to Manhattan?

  6. I met an E-2 pilot who once flew from Midway, and who remarked that the fantail had an unusual “sashay” going through the water. Made for an interesting trip down the chute, he recollected. Another former Midway crewman also remarked that the blisters were the result of American Naval Engineers. Apparently the Japanese had other ideas to stabilize the ship that, in retrospect, would have been more effective. Given the Japanese yard workers knew the ship better than we did, we’d have been smart to listen to them.

    The biggest problem with the blisters, IIRC, was their raising the ship out of the water almost 6′, making the ship extremely “tender” and susceptible to heavy rolls. Another buddy, who was aboard the day MIDWAY took the “death roll”, said everybody was scared spitless and thought she was going to put them all under. More of that magic, I guess, kept her right side up.

  7. Mike Kozlowski

    …Family history has put Kozlowskis on Ranger (CV-4) and Philippine Sea (CV-47), and I was stationed in Hampton Roads long enough to see their successors….but for some reason Coral Sea and Midway always appealed to me – that even with their age and design problems, they stayed in the line and earned their legends.

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