USS Midway CV-41

 USS Midway CV-41

Midway Museum
USS Midway museum is in downtown San Diego.

Australians tend to flog off their old aircraft carriers for scrap. Americans turn them into museums. Who is right?

The latest in the ex-USN carrier fleet to join the floating naval aviation museums such as Intrepid in New York, Hornet in San Francisco, Lexington in Corpus Christi and Yorktown in Charleston, is the name ship of the Midway class alongside downtown San Diego. You find this hard to believe? Check out the website, go to Navy Pier Cam – Choose a View – Midway Museum . There you will see an hourly updated view of the carrier from the roof of a nearby city building.

Too big for Panama Canal

Midway, the first carrier built too large to navigate the Panama Canal, commissioned in 1945, displaced 45,000 tons and was 986 feet (300 metres) long. Importantly, her 12 boilers and 212,000 horsepower turbines drove her at 33 knots, more than fast enough for her three hydraulic catapults to launch her 137 propeller-driven aircraft fully laden, even in no-wind tropical conditions. The first all-steel flight deck in an American aircraft carrier, Midway was built to ride low in the water, to avoid topweight problems. This made her a “wet” ship in any kind of sea.

After two major modernisations, that saw her original open bow enclosed, an angled deck and deck landing sight installed, two steam catapults fitted and other modifications, such as strengthened decks and elevators, she grew to 74,000 tons and 1001 feet (305 metres) long by 1991. Her aircraft complement also changed considerably, proving, once more, a big carrier’s versatility. As the lead ship for nuclear weapons delivery, she launched the first specially converted P2V-3 Neptune by RATOG 5 October 1949. P2V-3s could not be recovered back on board, but Midway proved the concept that the USN could deliver 9,000 lb (4082 kg) nuclear weapons from an aircraft carrier.

Midway, axial deckMidway, Angled deck

Midway, as built, with an axial deck and open bow (left) and in her final configuration, with angled deck and enclosed bows.

Her original propeller-driven aircraft complement evolved over the years to include thoroughbred attack and fighter jets, such as the A-4 Skyhawk, A-6 Intruder, F/A18 Hornet, F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat. Midway also handled the majestic A-5 Vigilante with ease (claims the brochure).
There were three Midway class ships: Midway, Franklin D Roosevelt and Coral Sea. They all stayed in the Atlantic during the late 1940s and early 1950s, along with the big RN fleet carriers, for the “real war” expected any day, while the smaller Essex class and the British light fleet carriers slogged it out in Korea. However, all this changed with Vietnam and later wars. Midway was the first carrier to be based overseas and she homeported in Yokosuka from 1973 for 17 years. She was also the flagship of the Persian Gulf Battle Force Commander in Desert Storm, 1991.

The Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola promises 40 aircraft to enhance Midway‘s displays. Many were in place when the carrier museum opened for business on 7 June last. This kind of government-supported cooperation is in refreshing contrast with some local policies.

V2 launch
Midway was the first ship to launch a surface-to -surface rocket missile (a captured German-built V2, here) 8 September 1947.

Midway  served her country for no less than 47 years until she paid off in 1992. She is much admired. More than 50,000 people visited her in the last three days before being mothballed in Bremerton, WA. Another 23,000 boarded during her first week as a museum in San Diego, and this is in a city of only 1.26 million (in 2002) with many competing attractions.

She is open to visitors daily between 1000 and 1700. Admission charges range from $13 to $7. There is wheelchair access to the flight deck between 1400 and 1600.

USS Wisconsin BB-64

USS Wisconsin BB-64

American battleship museums or memorials may be found in Utah BB-31, Arizona BB-39 and Missouri BB-63, all in Pearl Harbour; BB35 Texas BB-35 in San Jacinto, TX; Massachusetts BB-59 in Fall River, MA; Alabama BB-60in Mobile, AL; Iowa BB-61 (in California, disposition pending), New Jersey BB-62 in Camden, NJ; and Wisconsin BB-64 in Norfolk VA.

Wisconsin commissioned as a brand new Iowa class battleship in April 1944 and in May 2006 she looks even more sparkling than that day. She saw her first action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in December 1944 and was heavily involved in nearly all the major Pacific Ocean naval actions from then until the end of WW II. She decommissioned in 1948 but recommissioned in 1951, in time to catch the Korean War.

USS Wisconsin
USS Wisconsin, next door to the Nauticus and Hampden Roads Maritime Museums.

Wisconsin is remembered as a lucky ship because in heavy fog, on 6 May 1956, she collided with the Fletcher class destroyer USS Eaton, causing damage that required replacing the first 68 feet of Wisconsin‘s bow. There were only two minor casualties, both aboard Eaton. Wisconsin returned under her own power, but with her forward engine room flooded, Eaton was towed home stern first. After repairs, Eaton served with distinction for many years, including gunline duties off Vietnam.

Tomahawk launcherPioneer
One of Wisconsin‘s Tomahawk launchers (left) and her RQ-2A Pioneer UAV. (USN photos)

Wisconsin decommissioned again in 1958 but recommissioned one more time, 30 years later, this time with two Tomahawk batteries in addition to her powerful 16-inch guns. She fired eight Tomahawks in anger for the first time against Iraq, 17 January 1991. She decommissioned again in 1995 and was towed to her present Norfolk home to assume duties as a museum on 7 December 2000.

Wisconsin is also famous for a sortie during Desert Storm when Iraqi soldiers on Faylaka Island surrendered to the battleship’s unmanned Pioneer drone. After a bombardment by USS Missouri using that ship’s UAV, Wisconsin sent her drone over the island at low level. Evidently fearing another bombardment by 2000-pound rounds, the soldiers quickly flashed a number of white sheets and other articles to indicate surrender.


wisconsin bb64
USS Wisconsin BB-64, like other Iowa class battleships, measured 270 x 33 x 8.8 metres
(887 x 108 x 28.9 feet) and displaced about 58,000 tons. Her eight boilers served four turbines
and four shafts that drove the ship at 33 knots. Her main armament included nine 16-inch (40 cm) guns,
12 five-inch (12.7 cm) and four 20 mm Phalanx close-in systems. She carried 32 Tomahawks and
16 Harpoon missiles. There were about 1600 in her crew.


A-4 SkyhawkHampton Roads Museum
A lonely A4 Skyhawk in Blue Angels livery stands sentinel over Wisconsin‘s gangway (left). The USN-run Hamilton Roads Maritime Museum is part of the Nauticus complex.

While in the area, visitors might think about a two-hour harbour cruise of the “world’s largest naval base” to see aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and many of the most modern warships afloat. Check out prices and times at

It is pleasing to see so many warships preserved as museums and memorials, but the ship husbandry contrast between the Essex class carrier Yorktown and the battleship Wisconsin sounds a warning bell. It costs money and requires expertise to maintain any kind of ship, even as a museum piece.

It is clear that not every entrepreneurial town or county in the USA has the ability to keep old warships in the condition they deserve, no matter how much they might charge at the gate.

The Nauticus/Wisconsin complex at One Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA 23510, includes the Hampton Roads Naval Museum that features models and other artefacts illustrating the history of sea power. It pays special attention to the days of sail and the naval battles off nearby Hampton Roads. Helpful docents abound. They all seem very eager to share detailed knowledge with visitors. Like Wisconsin, the naval museum is free of charge, but there was a $9.95 ($8.95 seniors) charge to enter the Nauticus complex. Some areas are closed on Mondays and various holidays, so it’s best to check the website for opening times and the latest data.