Midway-class aircraft carrier
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USS Midway before SCB-110 upgrade
|Operators:||United States Navy|
|Preceded by:||Essex class|
|Succeeded by:||Forrestal class|
|In commission:||10 September 1945 – 11 April 1992|
|Preserved:||USS Midway (CV-41)|
968 ft (295 m) overall901 ft (275 m) waterline
|Beam:||121 ft (37 m)|
|Draft:||33 ft (10 m)|
|Speed:||33 knots (61 km/h)|
|Aircraft carried:||Up to 130 (1940s–50s), 65–70 (1980s)|
The Midway-class aircraft carrier was one of the longest-serving aircraft carrier designs in history. First commissioned in late 1945, the lead ship of the class, USS Midway, was not decommissioned until 1992, shortly after service in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The CVB-41 class vessels (then unnamed) were originally conceived in 1940 as a design study to determine the effect of including an armored flight deck on a carrier the size of the Essex class. The resulting calculations showed that the effect would be a reduction of air group size—the resulting ship would have an air group of 64, compared to 72 for the standard Essex-class fleet carriers. The design was also heavily influenced by the wartime experience of the Royal Navy's armored carriers:
As a result of study of damage sustained by various British carriers prior to our entry into the war, two important departures from traditional U.S. Navy carrier design were incorporated in the CVB Class, then still under development. HMS ILLUSTRIOUS in an action off Malta on 1 January 1941 was hit by several bombs, three of which detonated in the hangar space. Large fires swept fore and aft among parked planes thereby demonstrating the desirability of attempting to confine the limits of such explosions and fires by structural sectionalization of the hangar space. On the CVB Class the hangar was therefore divided into five compartments separated by 40 and 50-pound Special Treatment Steel (STS) division bulkheads extending from the hangar deck to the flight deck, each fitted with a large door suitable for handling aircraft. It is hoped that this sectionalization, in conjunction with sprinkler and fog foam systems, will effectively prevent fires from spreading throughout the hangar spaces, as occurred on FRANKLIN on 30 October and 19 March. The damage experiences of several British carriers, which unlike our own were fitted with armored flight decks, demonstrated the effectiveness of such armor in shielding hangar spaces from GP bombs and vital spaces below the hangar deck from semi-armor-piercing (SAP) bombs. Accordingly, the CVB Class was designed with an armored flight deck consisting of 3-1/2-inch STS from frames 46 to 175 with a hangar deck consisting of two courses of 40-pound STS between frames 36 and 192. Although none of the CVB Class carriers were completed in time to take part in war operations, the effectiveness of armored flight decks against Kamikaze attacks was demonstrated by various carriers attached to the British Pacific Fleet ...— 
The concept went to finding a larger carrier that could support both deck armor and a sufficiently large air group. Unlike the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, for which the armored deck was part of the ship structure, the Midway class retained their "strength deck" at the hangar deck level and the armored flight deck was part of the superstructure. The weight-savings needed to armor the flight deck were achieved by removing the planned cruiser-caliber battery of 8-inch (203 mm) guns and reducing the 5-inch antiaircraft battery from dual to single mounts. They would be the last USN carriers to be so designed; the size of the Forrestal-class supercarriers would require the strength deck to be located at flight deck level.
The resulting carriers were very large, with the ability to accommodate more planes than any other carrier in the U.S. fleet (30–40 more aircraft than the Essex class). In their original configuration, the Midway-class ships had an airwing of almost 130 aircraft. It was soon realized that the coordination of so many planes was beyond the effective command and control ability of one ship. However, their size did allow these ships to more easily accommodate the rapid growth in aircraft size and weight that took place in the early jet age. While Midway and Coral Sea followed the US Navy's policy of naming aircraft carriers after battles (two Casablanca-class escort carriers gave up their names for the larger ships) USS Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the policy of naming aircraft carriers after former US Presidents that the US Navy generally follows today.
While the resulting ships featured excellent protection and unprecedented airwing size, they also had several undesirable characteristics. Internally, the ships were very cramped and crowded. Freeboard was unusually low for such large carriers; in heavy seas, they shipped large amounts of water (only partially mitigated by the fitting of a hurricane bow during the SCB-110/110A upgrades) and corkscrewed in a manner that hampered landing operations. In addition, in contrast with the earlier Lexington, Yorktown and Essex-classes, the beam (width) of the Midway-class carriers meant that they could not pass through the Panama Canal.
Although they were intended to augment the US Pacific fleet during World War II, the lead ship of the class, Midway, was not commissioned until 10 September 1945 (eight days after the Surrender of Japan). None of the class went on war cruises during the Korean War. They were mainly deployed to the Atlantic and Mediterranean. During the 1950s, all three ships underwent the SCB-110 modernization program, which added angled decks, steam catapults, mirror landing systems, and other modifications that allowed them to operate a new breed of large, heavy naval jets.
All three of the Midway class made combat deployments in the Vietnam War. Coral Sea deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin six times, Midway deployed on three occasions, and Franklin D. Roosevelt made one combat deployment before returning to the Mediterranean.
In the late 1960s, Midway underwent an extensive modernization and reconstruction program, which proved to be controversial and expensive and thus was not repeated on the other ships. By the 1970s, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Coral Sea were showing their age. All three retained the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in their air wings, being too small to operate the new Grumman F-14 Tomcat fleet defense fighter or the S-3 Viking anti-submarine jet. In 1977, Franklin D. Roosevelt was decommissioned. On her final deployment, Roosevelt embarked AV-8 Harrier jump jets to test the concept of including VSTOL aircraft in a carrier air wing.
Coral Sea was rescued from imminent decommissioning by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan's proposed 600-ship Navy gave the remaining ships a new lease on life. Coral Sea underwent extensive refits to address the ship's poor condition. When the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet became operational in the mid-1980s, the Navy quickly deployed them to the Midway and Coral Sea to replace the older F-4s. A 1986 refit for Midway removed her 6" armor belt and bulged her hull to try to increase freeboard. While successful in this regard, the bulges also resulted in a dangerously fast rolling period that prevented Midway from operating aircraft in heavy seas. The bulging was therefore not repeated on Coral Sea.
The Reagan era reprieve could not last indefinitely. In 1990, Coral Sea, which had long since earned the nickname "Ageless Warrior", was decommissioned. Midway had one last war in which to participate, and was one of the six aircraft carriers deployed by the U.S. against Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. A few months after the campaign, the last of the class left Navy service.
Coral Sea was slowly scrapped in Baltimore as legal and environmental troubles continually delayed her fate. Midway spent five years in the mothball fleet at Bremerton, Washington before being taken over by a museum group. The ship is now open to the public as a museum in San Diego, California.
Ships in class
|Midway||Newport News Shipbuilding and Dockyard Co., Newport News||27 October 1943||20 March 1945||10 September 1945||11 April 1992||Museum ship at San Diego|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt
|New York Naval Shipyard, New York City||1 December 1943||29 April 1945||27 October 1945||30 September 1977||Broken up at Kearny, 1978|
|Coral Sea||Newport News Shipbuilding and Dockyard Co., Newport News||10 July 1944||2 April 1946||1 October 1947||26 April 1990||Broken up at Baltimore, 2000|
- AR 600-8-27 p. 26 paragraph 9–14, p. 28 para 2–14
- Friedman, U.S. Aircraft Carriers, p. 213: "Table 9-1. Evolution of Schemes for the Midway Design 1940–41". Design CV-D displaced 28,000 tons and had a nominal complement of 64 aircraft.
- Roberts, John, The Aircraft Carrier Intrepid., p. 8. London: Conway Maritime Press, 1982.
- Friedman, U.S. Aircraft Carriers, p. 138: Friedman discusses how the proposed Essex-class carriers were designed for a nominal complement of 74 aircraft in 4 squadrons of aircraft, but these numbers were constantly revised due to changes in aircraft weight and dimensions, and the perceived increased need for fighters which had smaller dimensions than strike aircraft.
- STS = Special Treatment Steel. STS was a form of high tensile steel that was often used to provide armor protection. 40 and 50-pound refers to armor that was 1-inch (25 mm) or 1.25 inches (32 mm) thick (40 or 50-pound weight per square ft).
- Bureau of Ships, Navy Dept CV13 Damage Report
- AR 600-8-27 p. 26 paragraph 9–14, p. 28 paragraph 2–14
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