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Category Archives: Midway

Then and Now: Century of Service Shows Need for Shipyard Investment at Pearl Harbor

By Capt. Greg Burton, Commander, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & IMF

They rushed to put out hundreds of fires around Pearl Harbor, organized an ammunition-passing party, worked on disabled engines and cut men out of the hulls of sunken ships. These workers saved dozens of lives and were charged with resurrecting the fleet that brought peace to a world that was burning. Just six months after the initial bombing of Pearl Harbor, the battered and bloodied USS Yorktown aircraft carrier limped back to Pearl Harbor following the Battle of Coral Sea. Once again, these heroes answered the call. I’m not talking about sailors or soldiers. I’m talking about tradesmen who loved and served their country.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard workers helped turn the tide of the war at Midway and also repaired and maintained the ships that would sail triumphantly into Tokyo Bay. This support continued through the Korea conflict, Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf War and in combat operations in support of ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along the way, they prioritized environmental stewardship and safety programs and supported the Navy in its transition to nuclear propulsion.

As in years past, today’s shipyard workers possess the grit, determination and capacity unique to and necessary for sustaining the most powerful Navy in the world.

Next month, Lionsgate will release Midway, a new movie that will highlight epic stories from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s 111-year history. One story is repairing the USS Yorktown (CV-5).

The USS Yorktown saw its first major battle after the Japanese Imperial Navy sent an invasion force through the Coral Sea and the U.S. Navy moved to intercept. The enemy hit Yorktown with a bomb that exploded on the fourth deck. Later, a near miss landed close enough to open up her hull. Following orders, the crippled Yorktown returned to Pearl Harbor trailing an oil slick 10 miles long.

Yorktown’s skipper prepared an action report detailing the carrier’s damage for Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief. U.S. Pacific Fleet. It would be a preliminary estimate of the necessary repairs for returning the carrier to the high seas. An effort that put the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard workforce in the history books.

The sobering report detailed a 551-pound armor-piercing bomb plunging through the flight deck and penetrating 50 feet into the ship before exploding above the forward-engine room. It destroyed six compartments, the lighting systems on three decks and took out her radar and refrigeration systems. The bomb also damaged the gears controlling an elevator while the near misses opened seams in her hull and ruptured the fuel-oil compartments.

Rear Adm. Aubrey Fitch speculated that repairs would take 90 days. Adm. Nimitz didn’t have 90 days.

Thanks to the intelligence work by Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort and his team at Station HYPO (also located at the shipyard in Building 1) the Navy broke the Japanese Imperial code and intercepted plans detailing a pending Japanese attack at Midway. Adm. Nimitz had already started sending battle groups and air wings to Midway. The question in his mind was whether shipyard workers could repair the Yorktown in time for that battle.

After Yorktown eased into Dry Dock 1 with the caisson closing behind the ship and the pumps draining out the water, Adm. Nimitz in waders trudged through about a foot of water to inspect the ship. After staring at the burst seams and hull damage, Adm. Nimitz turned to the technicians and said, “We must have this ship back in three days.” After a long silence, a repair expert replied, “Yes, sir.”

Within minutes, repairmen swarmed the dry dock. Eventually, 1,400 of them would work around the clock for almost 72 straight hours to get the job done. To meet the vast electricity needs for the repairs, the Navy contacted the Hawaiian Electric Company who supported the massive effort with a series of rolling blackouts throughout the island.

Workers made only the most urgent repairs. Instead of fixing all of the hull’s ruptured seams, they welded a massive steel plate over the damaged section. Yorktown arrived at 11 a.m. on May 28 and on the morning of May 30, with shipyard workers still onboard mending the ship, Yorktown steamed out of Pearl Harbor and sped to one of the most decisive battles in history.

Through this monumental repair effort, which deserves to be honored and glorified on the silver screen, those workers who completed this nearly-impossible task cemented Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as a national strategic asset; and today’s shipyard workers are still writing history today. People are our Navy’s and our nation’s greatest asset and we have amazing people. They develop innovative solutions to challenging problems and maintain the most powerful Navy in the world. They are the force behind the fleet!

As we recount and honor the shipyard’s past, we must look to its future.  Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s strategic importance cannot be overstated due to its proximity to Indo-Pacific area of operation. A frank assessment of the shipyard reveals a need to invest in its dry docks, infrastructure, and capital equipment – much of which predates Yorktown’s 1942 docking.

Dry Dock 1 is the location of the “Yorktown miracle.” In 1913, it imploded under faulty piling and a bad foundation, but after painstaking redesign and reconstruction, it rose again. On December 7, 1941, it was the overhaul site for the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), as well as USS Cassin (DD-372) and USS Downes (DD-375) with both destroyers sustaining severe damage from Japanese bombs. In August 2019, Dry Dock 1 turned 100 years old. It is still capable of docking all ships and submarines homeported at Pearl Harbor, however, the Navy is taking a proactive approach with the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP) to ensure the Navy can use facilities like Dry Dock 1 well into the future. This is necessary to support new ships and submarines such as Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines and new variants of Virginia-class fast-attack submarines.

Since 1937, Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard workers have used this hydraulic steam press for metal forming operations. Today it must be serviced after each use. The proposed $21 billion Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program would replace aged capital equipment in addition to repairing and upgrading dry docks while optimizing shipyard layouts to improve productivity and throughput. (PHNSY & IMF photo by Amanda Cartagena-Urena)

Just as the shipyard was so important to national defense then, it remains so today and investment in infrastructure is critical to allow us to keep our ships in the fight. According to Adm. Nimitz, the enemy’s failure to destroy the shipyard’s dry dock facilities and other critical infrastructure during the Pearl Harbor attack shortened the War in the Pacific by two years. That drives home the point that investing in the modernization of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is of supreme importance to our nation’s security as we look to a new Great Power Competition.

The Navy’s four shipyards are more than a century old. Designed and laid out to build ships of wood, sail, and coal, their mission has changed over time; now, used to repair our nation’s most complex ships – nuclear powered aircraft carriers and submarines.  SIOP is a once-in-a-century undertaking that will deliver modern facilities to maintain today’s and tomorrow’s fleet and will help ensure the on-time and on-cost delivery of submarines and carriers. 

SIOP focuses on repairing and upgrading our dry docks, optimizing the layout of the shipyards to improve productivity and throughput, and replacing aged capital equipment.  The Navy estimates this work will take about 20 years and cost $21 billion across the four public shipyards, phasing the work so we can continue to support the ongoing maintenance needs of the fleet. 

Executing SIOP allows us to continue to keep our ships in the fight, strengthens naval power and increases our capabilities while recovering 300,000 workdays per year through improved productivity. 

What an opportunity we have to shape the future while honoring our legacy and supporting current mission success. We are the force behind the Navy the nation needs!

Since 1942, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s electrical shop has used this bridge crane. While some parts have been replaced, all original beams, gears, and tracks remain. The proposed Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program is a once-in-a-century undertaking that will deliver modern equipment and facilities to maintain today’s and tomorrow’s fleet. (PHNSY & IMF photo by Amanda Cartagena-Urena) poyrazdogany

Then and Now: Midway and Submarine Force

By Rear Adm. Blake Converse, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet

“When I assumed command of the Pacific Fleet on 31 December 1941, our submarines were already operating against the enemy, the only units of the fleet that could come to grips with the Japanese for months to come. It was to the submarine force that I looked to carry the load. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.” — Adm. Chester Nimitz, Commander, U.S. Pacific

Midway, a feature-length film scheduled for release on November 8, tells the story of the Sailors who fought so bravely in June 1942 to thwart the Japanese attack at Midway.  This retelling comes at a critical time for our Navy and our nation. Seeing the Battle of Midway on the big screen serves as a reminder of the critical importance of a strong and combat ready Navy to the security of our Nation. 

As you walk the historic submarine piers of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, you see visceral reminders of the beginning of the war and its conclusion – the memorial to USS Arizona (BB-39), which was sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the battleship USS Missouri (BB-61), on which the peace agreement was signed in Tokyo Harbor to end the war. Adm. Nimitz also walked on these piers during WWII and witnessed both the devastation of the Pearl Harbor attack and the unparalleled industriousness of our Navy and civilian work force as they recovered from that attack, rebuilt our Navy, and set sail to take the fight to the enemy at the Battle of Midway.   

In May 1942, the submarine USS Nautilus (SS 168), under the command of Lt. Cmdr. William Brockman Jr., departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for her first war patrol. Her mission was to search for the Japanese fleet sailing for Midway, and she succeeded.  USS Nautilus assisted in leading U.S. aircraft directly to the Japanese carrier Hiryu and harassing the enemy while our aircraft ravaged the Japanese Fleet. USS Nautilus survived 42 depth charges, several of her torpedoes failed to detonate, and Japanese aircraft and ships spotted her multiple times, forcing Nautilus to dive and evade multiple times. Yet, despite these challenges, the crew’s efforts were critical to the success of the battle and resulted in Brockman receiving the Navy Cross for the Battle of Midway.  

USS Nautilus (SS-168) underway, March 1933. (U.S. National Archives photo.)

U.S. submarines would go on to take the fight to the Japanese across the Pacific, wreaking havoc on the critical maritime supply routes that supported their industry, and ravaging their warships. Although submarines only made up only 2% of our entire Navy during WWII, they sank 30% of Japanese warships and 55% of Japanese merchant ships.  

But this wartime effort was not without significant sacrifice. The U.S. submarine force experienced some of the highest casualty rates of any force in WWII. A foundational part of our training as submariners is the study of this legacy of sacrifice and commitment in the face of the enemy. In this training, we make it a point to ensure that today’s submariners recognize that even though we eventually achieved victory, we were not ready for unrestricted submarine warfare when we entered the fight after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our weapons were erratic, our tactics unrefined, and our training inadequate to the task. Yes, we eventually overcame each of these obstacles to halt the Japanese advance and set the conditions for victory in the Pacific, but there is no guarantee that the pace of future combat operations will forgive such a lack of foresight and preparation. We have to be ready to deploy and sustain high-end combat operations with little or no warning – and today we exercise that every single day in our Submarine Force. 

USS Tang (SS 306) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, Dec.2, 1943. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.)

Last month, we celebrated the return of USS Olympia (SSN 717), our oldest Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, from her final deployment. Olympia completed a circumnavigation of the earth, transiting both the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, and conducting operations in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after USS Olympia’s successful return, we welcomed home one of our newest Virginia class fast attack submarines, USS Illinois (SSN 786), who returned to Pearl Harbor from her first deployment. She was the first Block II Virginia-class submarine to ever deploy to the Indo-Pacific region, during which, the crew completed a full spectrum of operations to support the highest priority tasking.

USS Illinois (SSN 786) departs Groton, Connecticut to conduct sea trials. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics Electric Boat.)

We are in an era of great power competition. Utilizing the strength, determination, and lessons learned from those brave submariners before us, we will continue to be first to the fight, just like at Midway. We are trained, equipped, and ready to fight tonight because we have not forgotten our past.  

Editor’s Note: The four-part “Then and Now” NavyLive blog series is presented so interested audience members have an idea of what’s changed, and what has not, since the famed Battle of Midway. As the nation faces the Great Power Competition, “Midway” is an authentic representation of the Pacific in the opening months of WWII and can help people understand the value we provide today, and honors the toughness, initiative, integrity and accountability that are Sailors’ core attributes. The movie reflects the extraordinary determination and courage of those who fought in WWII, and showcases how the Navy team worked together then, as we do today. poyrazdogany

Remembering the Battle of Midway

By Rear Adm. Roy Kelley

Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic

If time travel were possible, it would be interesting to go back and watch the Battle of Midway unfold. Sitting in the radio room, I could listen to pilots give updates on the position of the Japanese fleet. Then I would make my way to the flight deck and stand in awe watching Navy Avengers and Wildcats launch and recover. How amazing it would be to see and hear firsthand the actions of brave Sailors who literally reshaped history and the world as we know it today.

As a member of the Naval Air Force Atlantic team, the Battle of Midway is especially close to my heart because of the incredible impact it had on the Navy, Naval aviation and the evolution of how we conduct war from the sea.

Battle of Midway, June 1942. Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) TBD-1 aircraft are prepared for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 , June 4, 1942.Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

From 1942 to 2019, over the course of 77 years, many aspects of naval warfare have evolvedbut some things remain resolute. During World War II, the aircraft carrier and its embarked air wing replaced the battleship as the most powerful naval offensive weapons system; that tide has not shifted.

It is amazing to see aircraft carriers are just as strategically vital to our nation’s defense now as then. While the concept of launching and recovering aircraft at sea has remained the same, the capability and lethality of our flattops has changed enormously.

The carriers at Midway were 820 feet long and dependent on oilers for fuel. Modern carriers are nearly 1,100 feet long and run on nuclear power. They can remain at sea for 25 years before needing to refuel.

As for our aircraft, the evolution is striking. Modern jets and helicopters have an increased lethality and can conduct a much wider range of missions, to include anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, search and rescue, precision strike, offensive and defensive counter-air and many others.

One area where you would find little difference, however, is the quality of our men and women serving in uniform. From the Revolutionary War through the Battle of Midway to our ships deployed around the world today, our Sailors transcend time, passing pride, patriotism and professionalism from one generation to the next.

Those serving today are a direct reflection of the Sailors that stood on the bridge, worked on the flight decks and sat in the cockpit of aircraft taking off from USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise and USS Hornet in June 1942. I have no doubt that just like their predecessors, these dedicated and extremely bright men and women will lead the next “greatest generation.”

In 1942, our Navy was the only thing standing between freedom and tyranny. And ironically, today we are facing similar global threats around the world.


GULF OF ALASKA (May 25, 2019) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Gulf of Alaska. Theodore Roosevelt is conducting routine operations in the Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erick A. Parsons/Released)

Our fleet of 11 aircraft carriers have traveled millions of miles across the world’s oceans to fight our adversaries, deter aggression and ensure international waters remain free. Our current adversaries may be flying a different flag than those in 1942, but their intent to restrict access and intimidate other nations on the high seas is something we have seen before.

The aircraft carrier proved its worth at Midway. And today and for decades to come, our Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers will remain the backbone of the fleet.

Three U.S. Navy aircraft carriers at Midway turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Today, at this moment, we have four carriers at sea: Lincoln, Reagan, Truman and Eisenhower. Each is manned by our nation’s best, prepared to take the fight to our enemies and ensure tyranny remains far from our shores.

For those who served at the Battle of Midway, we thank you for stepping forward to defend our great nation. For those who gave their lives during this historic engagement, your sacrifice was not in vain and will forever be rememberedespecially by your shipmates in Naval aviation. jbell