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The Navy's USS Midway Fought for 50 Years

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: This aircraft carrier did its duty and shows the durability of American warships.

On March 20, 1945 the shipyard in Newport News, Virginia launched what would remain for a decade the largest warship on the planet. Named USS Midway after the decisive World War II carrier battle, she would be commissioned September 8 just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender.

Few of the over four-thousand-man complement departing on Midway’s first patrol could have imagined that same ship—admittedly, in drastically modified form—would be sailing into combat forty-six years later, her deck laden with supersonic jet fighters.

Midway was joined a month later by New York-built sistership USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (or ‘Rosey’), the first U.S. carrier to be named after a former U.S. president. The last ship of the class, USS Coral Sea, was launched in 1947.

The Midway-class was meant to be a "beefier battle carrier" compared to the twenty-four Essex-class carriers that entered service in the latter half of World War II. Naval engineers particularly sought to introduce an armored flight deck. British carriers with armored decks proved more resilient and quicker to recover from dive bombing and kamikaze attacks that crippled U.S. flattops. But armored flight decks were also considerably heavier, limiting deck size and number of aircraft carried.

The American engineers went big to get both deck armor and more planes. The Midway measured longer than three football fields and could carry an unprecedented 130 aircraft: four squadrons of gull-winged Corsair fighters and three of Helldiver bombers. Three-and-a-half inches of armor plating protected her flight deck, while eighteen five-inch 52-caliber guns were mounted to blast attacking aircraft from afar. Sixty-eight rapid-firing 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter cannons provided close protection.

The ships could attain 33 knots powered by twelve boilers turning four Westinghouse steam turbines, but consumed 100,000 gallons of fuel daily, necessitating refueling every three days.

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