Leaving its homeport of Norfolk in late 1947, the USS Midway (CV-41) steamed to the Mediterranean Sea for its first overseas deployment since being commissioned two years earlier. In conjunction with its primary mission of patrolling the waters of Europe’s soft underbelly at the start of the Cold War, the ship’s crew was also treated to several exciting port visits from Gibraltar and Africa to Italy and France.

It was during some much deserved R & R along the French Rivera that tragedy struck. While returning to Midway from the port city of Hyeres on Feb. 16, 1948, the ship’s motor whaleboat capsized and sank in heavy seas, claiming the lives of eight members of the crew.

To honor the lost crew, the USS Midway Museum is now exhibiting a completely restored motor whaleboat that is suspended on the aft starboard quarter of the ship where it can be seen by the public.

“I think this is a great tribute to these men,” said Scot Whaley, Midway’s facilities manager and a retired Navy chief boatswain’s mate. “We have also mounted a plaque with the names of the crew inside the boat on the gunnel. We want to ensure that they will never be forgotten.”

The plaque honoring the Midway crewmembers who died in the 1948 motor whaleboat accident is part of the exhibit.

It is estimated that more than 1,500 motor whaleboats were built and used aboard almost every Navy ship for more than 40 years before being replaced in the 1980s. A multipurpose vessel, the motor whaleboat served as a lifeboat, mail and cargo boat, and liberty boat.

The restoration of the diesel-powered boat actually began nearly a decade ago. A group of volunteers from the museum’s ship restoration and exhibits teams patched and painted the boat and restored all its brass. New gauges and stainless steel were also installed. Following its refurbishment, the 6,200-pound craft was placed in storage for eight years.

“I was really very proud of the work the volunteers did,” said Bill Coleman, the museum’s exhibits manager. “The boat looked brand new when they finished.  It’s been a long time coming. The boat truly adds to the appearance of the aft starboard quarter.”

“This was a great team effort and the boat really fills out the starboard side of the ship,” said Scot, who was a coxswain in motor whaleboats during his naval career. “Motor whaleboats were the work horse of the Navy for decades, and I’m proud that we’re not only able to display the boat to the public, but that we can honor the Midway crewmen who were lost off the coast of France more than 75 years ago.”

The motor whaleboat exhibit being installed.

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