Over an active career of nearly 50 years, the USS Midway dropped anchor in various overseas harbors throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Known in Navy parlance as “port calls,” the visits occurred during scheduled routine deployments and wartime emergencies. Since Midway was so large, many port visits required her to anchor well from shore, requiring the ship’s boats, or local water taxis, to travel to and from the ship. Carriers are notorious for spending weeks and sometime months at sea. Hence, a stopover at an exotic coastal haven is a tonic for recharging and relaxing after the monotony of extended cruising.
Visits to foreign lands, regardless of region, invariably involved restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and vendors hawking all sorts of trinkets. Sometimes a port was merely a gateway to other, larger venues inland like capital cities or safaris for sailors eager to experience a new world of sights and sounds. Ports of call were always welcome and, for many, created the best memories for times on the bounding main.
Midway departed for her first official overseas deployment in 1947. Homeported in Norfolk, Va., she made the Mediterranean Sea her watery beat for the next seven years. Her first stopover was, naturally, the British bastion of Gibraltar, at the western entrance of the Mediterranean and gateway to the Middle Sea. The exoticness of North Africa next beckoned with visits to the Moroccan port of Tangier and Bone (present-day Annaba) in Algeria. The next visit to Malta, a strategic island in the central Mediterranean, reminded Midway’s crew that World War II was just two years past, as the ravages of the heavy bombing were still prevalent. Port call to Genoa in northern Italy offered tours to Pisa, and a call at Naples also yielded outings to the Vatican and Rome as well as the wonders of Pompeii. Not to be outdone, a concluding anchoring off the French Riviera topped off Midway’s first deployment before her return to Virginia.
Midway’s next deployment occurred in those halcyon days of early 1950, just before war broke out in Korea. Once again patrolling the Mediterranean, this cruise found the carrier returning to many of the same ports, with the addition of tours further east to the Aegean Sea with stops in Istanbul, Athens, and Crete. However, cruises in 1952 and 1953 were much more somber as Midway and her sister ships guarded the southern flank of NATO as nuclear-capable carriers in case Korea was a feint for the actual attack in Europe. Nevertheless, visits to additional ports in Sicily and Rhodes added to the ship’s repertoire of calls.
With the arrival of the first “supercarriers” of the USS Forrestal class, Midway could be spared for duty in the Pacific. She was too large for the Panama Canal, so shortly after Christmas in 1955, she headed southeast from Norfolk and made for South Africa. Cape Town was her call to the other end of the continent before she plied her away across the Indian Ocean, a region that would become all too familiar to a new generation of Midway crew members decades later. The next stop was Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and the port city of Colombo. By the time the carrier entered the South China Sea, tensions had increased between communist China and Taiwan over some small island seizures. Due to Midway’s deterring presence, no new combat occurred, and the crisis was defused. Happy visits to Subic Bay in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Yokosuka, Japan, her future home, ensued before her trek eastward across the Pacific and trip to Pearl Harbor. Upon her return to the states, a long layover at the naval base in Bremerton, Wash., for a much-needed modernization took her away from fleet duties for the next two years.
A new Midway, with an angled flight deck, started out for her first western Pacific deployment, more colloquially known as Westpac, in 1958. The deployment included the obligatory visit to Pearl Harbor, return calls at Subic Bay, Yokosuka, and Hong Kong, and a break in the action spent in Okinawa. After final stopovers back to Subic Bay and Yokosuka, Midway traveled back to her new homeport of Alameda.
Deployments leading up to the mounting crisis in Southeast Asia saw routine calls on Hawaii, Guam, Subic Bay, Okinawa, Hong Kong, and the Japanese ports Yokosuka, Kobe, and Sasebo. The outbreak of war in Vietnam produced Midway’s first combat deployment in 1965, where protracted patrols on Dixie and Yankee Stations off the Vietnamese coast saw intensive flight operations in the early days of the war. Port calls, expectedly, were necessarily curtailed. However, Subic Bay, Hong Kong, and Yokosuka were the scene for some much need R&R before Midway spent the rest of the 1960s in San Francisco completely transformed.
Although the air war over Vietnam had diminished by her 1971 deployment, long patrols on Yankee Station meant a repeat of the port calls seen in 1965. The 1972 deployment, on the other hand, started as an emergency early departure from Alameda in response to the surprise Easter invasion of South Vietnam by Hanoi’s forces. Midway steamed straight for her portion on Yankee Station to support the intensive air campaign over North Vietnam. All-too-brief visits to Subic Bay, Hong Kong, and even Singapore punctuated the constant tempo of air operations in the Tonkin Gulf.
In 1973, a new homeport was provided in Yokosuka for Midway to help ease the strain on the carrier force after the Vietnam War’s drawdown, and the crew quickly settled into a new life in a new land. Port visits in 1974 included the familiar locales and Pusan (present-day Busan), South Korea. The 1975 cruise was famously interrupted by the desperate improvisation of evacuating South Vietnamese refugees from Saigon during Operation Frequent Wind, along with some notable operational diversions to Okinawa, Thailand, and Guam. However, restful visits to Subic Bay and Singapore helped relieve the tension.
By the mid-1970s, a new routine took shape for Midway’s deployments as U.S. interests in the Middle East required cruises deep into the Indian Ocean. Port calls to Karachi, Pakistan, and wondrous Perth, Australia, were added to the ship’s itinerary. Eventually, Mombasa, Kenya, including safaris inland, lent a new sense of adventure during downtime. By the start of the 1980s, Pattaya Beach in Thailand became a welcome respite for at least six deployments and encore visits to Perth, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
The 1984 cruise saw Midway crawl into Singapore after a draining 111 days at sea. The 1987 cruise sent Midway to the east coast of Australia with a rousing call at Sydney. During the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, Midway stood off Korea’s divided peninsula for security and revisited Pusan.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 prompted a pioneering visit to the Persian Gulf to test the feasibility of conducting carrier strikes from confining waters in case a war erupted. After confirming the viability of this tactic, a stop at Abu Dhabi at Christmas time dazzled Midway’s crew.
Combat operations commenced soon after as part of Operation Desert Storm, with more hectic combat sorties. By the time coalition ground forces ended the conflict, Midway’s time as a deploying carrier was in its final chapter. As her decommissioning loomed, it was time to head back to America and a gloomy fate. After emergent tasking to the Philippines to help rescue Air Force personnel and their families abandoning Clark Air Force during the raging volcanic eruption from Mount Pinatubo, Midway bade farewell to Yokosuka. Once pier side at Naval Air Station Coronado in San Diego, she lowered her ship’s pennant for the last time in April 1992, concluding 47 years of being the U.S. Navy’s tip of the spear.
A tow to the Navy’s inactive ship facility in Puget Sound was her next call. Still, it would not be her last, as a small but mighty non-profit organization back in San Diego quietly cemented its plans to give Midway new life and a new career as a floating naval ship museum – but that’s another story!
Launch em’… until next time,