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Visiting the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California

Updated on June 15, 2012
USS Midway ~ 41
USS Midway ~ 41
Flight Deck
Flight Deck
Captain's Bridge
Captain's Bridge
Sick Bay
Sick Bay
Mess Hall
Mess Hall

The History of the USS Midway

In 1942 the aircraft carrier USS Midway was ordered by the US Navy and built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. in Virginia. By 1945 the Midway was completed, launched, and commissioned. Named after the Battle of Midway, she was the lead ship in her class and the first to be commissioned after WWII.

At 45,000 tons and 972 feet long, the Midway was the first ship that could not use the Panama Canal due to her weight and size. The hull design was revolutionary giving her superior maneuverable.

In 1946 Midway joined the US Atlantic Fleet. Her home port was Norfolk, Virginia. In 1947 she made history when a captured German V-2 rocket was launched off her flight deck. The first time a rocket was launched from a moving platform. She also received alterations to accommodate heavier aircraft that year.

In 1954 she left Norfolk on a world cruise, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope for Taiwan. In 1955 Midway again made news when pilots evacuated 15,000 Chinese troops and 20,000 Chinese civilians, along with their pigs, cows, and chickens, from the Tachen Islands.

In 1957 she underwent extensive modernization including a hurricane bow and an angled flight deck. By 1958 she was home ported in Alameda, California and began deployment in the South China Sea.

In 1962 she was deployed during the Laotian Crisis. US combat forces were ordered to Thailand by President Kennedy in response to North Vietnam's drive to extend it's control. The small kingdom of Laos was a strategic stepping stone southward. The alert of US forces ended when a ceasefire and Geneva Conference brought stability to Laos. In 1965 her aircraft was prepared for combat and began flying air strikes against military installations in North and South Vietnam.

In 1966 she entered San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard for massive modernization including enlargement of the flight deck. Massive overruns in the price of improvments created controversy over the expense of these programs. The modifications also created problems with air operations in rough seas. Further modifications were necessary to correct the problems.

In 1970 the Midway was recommissioned and continued operations in Vietnam throughout the summer of 1972. The crash landing of an A-6 destroyed 8 aircraft parked on the flight deck, killing 5 crewmen, and injuring 23 others.

By 1973 the Midway had downed 5 North Vietnamese MiGs,continued to lay minefields in major ports in Vietnam, and conducted search and rescue missions. By the end of 1972 she had accomplished 48 rescues under combat conditions.

By 1975 North Vietnam had overrun South Vietnam and hundreds of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese were evacuated to waiting ships after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese.

One of those refugees was South Vietnamese Air Force Major Bung-Ly who loaded his wife and five children into a small plane, miraculously found the Midway out at sea, and after a lot of chatter, made an emergency landing on the flight deck. Major Ly received a standing ovation amid wild cheers from the crew.

By 1979 the Midway was a significant naval presence in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. She was deployed during the 1979 hostage crises in Iran when militants of the Ayatollah Khomeini took 63 US citizens hostage in support of the Iranian Revolution. After a failed rescue mission, the crises ended in 1981 with successful negoitations for the release of the hostages.

In the 1980's the Midway continued serving in the western Pacific. In 1986 she received more modifications that proved unsuccessful and increased the vessel's instability in high seas.

In 1990 disaster struck the Midway when an explosion and fire killed 11 crewmen and damaged the ship. Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Midway was again on station in the North Arabian Sea after repairs.

In 1991 Operation Desert Storm started when Iraq refused to withdraw from Kuwait. The US Navy launched 228 sorties from the Midway along with more than 100 Tomahawk missiles from nine other ships.

In 1991 Midway left for her final deployment in the Philippines. Mt. Pinatabo erupted and Midway evacuated 20,000 military members from Clark Air Base on the island of Luzon. The Midway returned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and then set sail for San Diego, California where she was decommissioned in 1992.

In 2004, after 47 years of service to her country, the Midway was moored at the Broadway Pier in downtown San Diego, her final destination as a memorial museum.

When opened to the public in 2004 she became the largest museum devoted to carriers and naval aviation in history. She had 879,281 visitors in her first year of operation as a museum.

The Midway is a large and impressive aircraft carrier museum with jet and airplane displays on the flight deck. Visitors can actually sit in the cockpits of some of the planes.

Career: United States

Name: USS Midway

Namesake: Battle of Midway

Ordered: 1 August 1942

Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding

Laid down: 27 October 1943

Launched: 20 March 1945

Commissioned: 10 September 1945

Decommissioned: 11 April 1992

Struck: 17 March 1997

Fate: museum ship

General characteristics

Class and type: Midway-class aircraft carrier

Displacement: 45,000 tons at commissioning
74,000 tons at decommissioning

Length: 972 ft (296 m)

Beam: 113 ft (34.4 m)
136 ft (41.5 m); 238 ft (72.5 m) at flight deck after modernization

Draft: 34.5 ft (10.5 m)

Propulsion: 12 boilers, four Westinghouse geared turbines.

Speed: 33 knots (60 km/h)

Complement: 4,104 officers and men

Armament: At commissioning:
18 × 5"/54 caliber Mark 16 guns,
84 × Bofors 40 mm guns,
68 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
At decommissioning:
2 8-cell Sea Sparrow launchers,
2 Phalanx CIWS

Aircraft carried: 137 theoretical, 100 (WW2-Korea), 65 (Vietnam-retirement) Source:


There is an audio tour that explains life on board and areas of interest on the ship by sailors who served onboard.

It takes at least 3 hours to see all the exhibits led by knowledgeable docents.

The Captain’s bridge gets busy with traffic and long lines. Visit it first and before the 4pm closing.

Take a hike. There are plenty of great hiking trails in San Diego County.

Be sure to visit Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and Old Town San Diego, the birth place of California.

Are we there yet? What to take on a road trip:

An ice chest with food, snacks and drinks for everyone. Forget sharing.

Don't forget your chargers, headphones, earplugs, meds, and a bag for garbage.

Take along your Kindle and cell phone to keep yourself and the kids occupied on long road trips. Down load any e-books and apps that will help you.

Remember to take along a great camera. We found the Sony Nex-5 to be light weight and user friendly. With downtown San Diego as a dramatic back drop, the flight deck is a great spot for pictures.

Streets, freeways, and traffic jams are frustrating. Take a map or good GPS system with you and visit off season.

Kindle Edition E-Books

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    • Kathy Atwood profile image

      Kathy Atwood 6 years ago from California, USA

      Thanks twobmad. I enjoyed writing the piece and I learned alot about the Midway.

    • twobmad profile image

      Ruatte 6 years ago from Myanmar(Burma)

      Great information Kathy... well read. and it shows that you did a great compilation of facts