By: Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History, Curator for the Navy Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Vice Admiral Ralph Weymouth, U.S. Navy (Retired) on January 22, 2020 at age 102. He was the oldest living graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1938, and serving as an aviator until his retirement in 1973 as the Director of Research, Development, Test and Evaluation in the Office of the CNO. He was awarded the Navy Cross and five Distinguished Flying Crosses as an SBD Dauntless dive-bomber pilot and skipper of Bombing SIXTEEN (VB-16) in twelve major combat operations in World War II, including the “Flight Beyond Darkness” in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. He was also the commander of VF-112 and CVG-11, embarked on USS Philippine Sea (CVA 47) during the critical defense of the Pusan Perimeter and the Inchon landings in the early days of Korean War. He later held command of seaplane tender Duxbury Bay (AVP 38) and ASW carrier Lake Champlain (CVS 39) including the recovery of the first U.S. Mercury program space flight. He also commanded Iceland Defense Force, ASW Group ONE/THREE, and Fleet Air Wing FIVE.
Ralph Weymouth entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1934. He graduated and was commissioned an ensign on June 2, 1938. Ensign Weymouth then went to sea, transiting the Atlantic on an oiler and then serving first as Catapult Officer on the light cruiser Omaha (CL 4) deployed to the Mediterranean in Squadron 37-T. In June 1939, Ensign Weymouth served successively on the destroyer Jacob Jones (DD 130) and light cruiser Trenton (CL 11) serving as part of Squadron 40-T, standing by to evacuate U.S. citizens from Spain during the Spanish Civil War, operating out of French ports until the German invasion. He was commended for his part in evacuating U.S. citizens and foreign refugees from Barcelona, Spain. Trenton returned to the U.S. in August 1940 with the royal family of Luxembourg embarked after their country had been overrun by the Nazis. Having completed his required two years at sea in the surface fleet, Lieutenant (junior grade) Weymouth transferred to aviation, commencing flight training at NAS Pensacola and then at Opa Locka, Fla. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 1941.
In March 1941, Lt.j.g. Weymouth reported to Scouting Squadron THREE (VS-3) as it transitioned to the new Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber and awaited carrier Saratoga (CV 3) to complete a modernization. Saratoga got underway from San Diego upon news of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, with Carrier Air Group THREE (CVG-3) embarked (VF-3, VB-3, VS-3 and VT-3). Lt.j.g. Weymouth flew into Ford Island only three days after the attack and witnessed the destruction. He was aboard Saratoga during the aborted attempt to rescue the U.S. Marine garrison on Wake Island in late December 1941, and when Saratoga was subsequently hit and damaged by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-6 on January 11, 1942. VS-3 remained on Saratoga as she returned to the west coast for repair. The other Saratoga squadrons went ashore and would ultimately fill out Yorktown’s air group due to losses in the Battle of the Coral Sea and would fight in the Battle of Midway. The repaired Saratoga, with VS-3 embarked, arrived in Pearl Harbor the day after the Battle of Midway.
On August 7, 1942 Lt. Weymouth dropped the first bomb in Saratoga’s surprise dawn attack on the Japanese airfield under construction on Guadalcanal, just prior to the U.S. amphibious landings, for which he earned his first of five Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC). In late August he participated in the third major carrier versus carrier engagement of the war, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Lt. Weymouth’s long-range search for the Japanese carrier Ryujo was unsuccessful and he had to land at Guadalcanal due to low fuel and awful weather, meanwhile other Saratoga aircraft found and sank Ryujo. He received an Air Medal for his role in the battle. Lt. Weymouth was on Saratoga when she was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-26 on 29 August 1942 and put out of action for the second time in the war. However, Lt. Weymouth was part of a detachment of VS-3 that operated for the next six weeks in extremely austere and dangerous conditions from Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal, including surviving “All Hell’s Eve,” the bombardment of Henderson Field by Japanese battleships Kongo and Haruna on October 13, 1942. He earned his second DFC in action against two Japanese light cruisers, 14 destroyers and six transports during the Japanese attempt to resupply their forces on Guadalcanal, coincident with the Battle of Santa Cruz in late October 1942. He was also entitled to wear the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal.
Leaving Guadalcanal many pounds lighter in November 1942, Lt. Weymouth returned to the States to become Executive Officer of Bombing Squadron SIXTEEN (VB-16) which would end up as one of the last two squadrons flying the SBD Dauntless from fleet carriers in the war, and embarked on the second USS Lexington (CV 16) a new Essex-class carrier. Lieutenant Commander Weymouth was awarded his third DFC during strikes on Wake Island in September 1943 and Tarawa on October 1943, and he fleeted up to command of VB-16 in October 1943. He earned his second Air Medal for strikes on Kwajalein and was aboard Lexington when she was hit by a torpedo during a Japanese night counter air attack on December 4, 1943 and put out of action. Following repairs, Lexington returned to operations in the Central Pacific. Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth earned his fourth DFC during strikes on Palau and Wolaei on March 30/April 1, 1944. He earned his fifth DFC as the strike leader for a multi-carrier 300-plus plane strike on the Japanese stronghold at Truk on April 29, 1944 (the second major carrier raid on Truk).
On the first day of the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19, 1944) all bombers were launched from the U.S. carriers to clear the decks as the Hellcat fighters engaged in the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” and Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth led his squadron in strikes on Guam. Late the next afternoon, Vice Adm. Mitscher (Commander of the Fast Carrier Task Force – TF-58) ordered a very long-range strike against the retreating Japanese carriers, knowing the recovery would be after nightfall, for which almost none of the aircrews were trained. Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth led the Lexington group of about 18 SBD dive-bombers, 6 TBF torpedo-bombers, and 15 fighters on what would become known as the “Mission Beyond Darkness.” Weymouth passed up attacking the Japanese oiler force and led his group in a twilight strike on the Japanese carrier force, with most of his planes attacking the carrier Hiyo. Although his bomb missed by about 15-feet, causing damage, another bomb from Lexington aircraft wiped out Hiyo’s bridge and she was shortly thereafter fatally hit by torpedoes from another carrier air group.
Due to the long range and critical fuel state, Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth had to lead his group back through the intense anti-aircraft fire of the Japanese carrier force and fight off Japanese fighter aircraft. Vice Adm. Mitscher famously ordered the lights of the U.S. carriers turned on to aid the returning strike. Almost all the SBD’s made it back, while many of the newer SB2C Helldivers in other carrier air groups were forced to ditch. Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth and most of Lexington’s air group recovered on Lexington, although some were forced to recover on other carriers; Lexington’s air group lost three aircraft and one crew on the mission. Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth was awarded the Navy Cross, and in August 1944 was returned to the States to train more dive-bomber pilots, having fought in 12 major combat engagements. VB-16 was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
Between August 1944 and June 1946, Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth served as Training Officer in VSB-1 and Dive Bombing Training Officer on the staff of Commander Naval Operational Training. In June 1946 he reported to the Naval Post-graduate School in Monterey as a student, followed by additional study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was awarded a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in September 1949. He then reported as Navigator on the carrier Kearsarge (CV 33) for a Mediterranean Deployment and then a transfer from her homeport of Quonset Point to Puget Sound where she commenced a major modification.
In April 1950, Commander Weymouth assumed command of Fighter Squadron ONE ONE TWO (VF-112) just as it transitioned to the new F9F Panther straight-wing jet fighter. Carrier Philippine Sea (CV 47) was scheduled to deploy to the Western Pacific in October 1950, but with the North Korean invasion of South Korea in late June 1950, her departure was accelerated to July 5, and she became the third carrier (after Valley Forge (CV 45) and HMS Triumph) to arrived off Korea. VF-112 completed transition training en route and engaged in combat on August 5, 1950, supporting the desperate battle of the Pusan Perimeter in which North Korean forces nearly pushed the remaining South Korean Army and the U.S. Army into the sea. On August 7, Cmdr. Weymouth’s damaged Panther crashed into the sea off the bow of Philippine Sea (and there is a famous photo of him standing on the cockpit of his still floating jet awaiting rescue. NARA 80-G-420687)
Cmdr. Weymouth then fleeted up to command of Carrier Air Group ELEVEN (CVG-11) on Philippine Sea for the major amphibious assault at Inchon, the first engagement with North Korean MiG-15 jet fighters (flying from Communist China, a MiG-15 was damaged by a VF-112 fighter) and the massive Chinese invasion that routed the U.S. Army and led to the U.S. Marines’ fighting retreat at Chosin Reservoir and evacuation from Hungnam, and finally stopping the Chinese advance into South Korea. Philippine Sea returned to the U.S. in April 1951 and was awarded a Naval Unit Commendation and Cmdr. Weymouth was awarded a Bronze Star.
Commencing in June 1951, Cmdr. Weymouth served as the Weapons Officer on the staff of Commander Air Force Pacific and as the Navy liaison officer to the Joint Operations Center for the 5th Air Force and 8th Army. In January 1952 he reported as a student to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA and then to the Bureau of Navy Weapons in the Navy Department, Washington, D.C. as VF (Fighter) Design Branch Head. In July 1954, he reported to the staff of Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet as Aviation Readiness Officer. He then returned to the U.S. Naval Academy as Head of the Department of Aviation, with additional duty as Sail Training Officer.
In June 1959, Captain Weymouth assumed command of the seaplane tender Duxbury Bay (AVP 38) deploying to the Persian Gulf as the command ship for U.S. Middle East Force, including a port visit to Karachi, Pakistan in December 1959 in conjunction with a visit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In August 1960, he assumed command of the ASW carrier Lake Champlain (CVS 39) an Essex-class carrier that had not been converted to angle-deck configuration. Lake Champlain was selected as the primary recovery ship for the first Mercury Program manned space launch, a sub-orbital flight by Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., USN, on May 5, 1961 in “Freedom 7;” he and the capsule were picked up by Lake Champlain-embarked helicopters.
Between July 1961 and June 1962, Captain Weymouth was a student at the National War College in Washington, D.C., before assuming duty as the Northern NATO Desk Officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In February 1964 he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as Assistant for Advanced Technology.
In January 1965, Rear Admiral Weymouth assumed command of the Iceland Defense Force, with additional duty as Commander Barrier Force Atlantic and Commander Fleet Air Keflavik, where he was awarded a Legion of Merit for innovative ASW operations against early Soviet ballistic nuclear missile submarines transiting the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom Gap en route operations in the Western Atlantic.
In February 1967, Rear Adm. Weymouth assumed command of Anti-Submarine Group ONE, embarked on ASW carrier Yorktown (CVS 10). While en route to the Gulf of Tonkin, the Yorktown Group was diverted on short notice to the Sea of Japan, in reaction to the North Korean seizure of the intelligence collection ship Pueblo (AGER 2) providing ASW and search and rescue (SAR) support to the large U.S. naval force in the Sea of Japan, for which he was awarded his second Legion of Merit. The Yorktown Group then proceeded to the Gulf of Tonkin providing ASW and SAR support to U.S. carriers at Yankee Station and U.S. ships on the gunline and in Operation Market Time until Yorktown departed for the States in June 1968. He then shifted his flag to ASW carrier Bennington (CVS 20) as Commander ASW Group THREE, continuing operations in the Gulf of Tonkin/South China Sea. Rear Adm. Weymouth then assumed command of Fleet Air Wing FIVE, based in Norfolk but flying P-3 Orion detachments out of Sangley Point, Philippines in support of U.S. Navy operations off Vietnam, and where he earned a third Legion of Merit.
In December 1970, Rear Adm. Weymouth assumed duty as Director, Navy Program Planning in the Office of the CNO. In January 1971, he was promoted to Vice Admiral and subsequently became the Director of Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) for the CNO until his retirement on January 1, 1973.
Vice Admiral Weymouth’s awards include, the Navy Cross, Legion of Merit (3), Distinguished Flying Cross (5), Air Medal (two gold stars), Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, American Defense Service medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with two 2 silver and two bronze stars), American Campaign Medal, WWII victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal (2), Korean Service Medal (with three stars), United Nations Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal (with two stars), as well as French Legion of Honor and French Naval Aviation Wings, the Icelandic Order of the Falcon of the Degree Commander with star (the “White Falcon”), National Order of Vietnam Fifth Class, Gallantry Cross with Palm (Vietnam) and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device.
Navy Cross: “The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander Ralph Weymouth, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as a Pilot of a carrier-based Navy dive-bomber and Commanding Officer of Bombing Squadron SIXTEEN (VB-16) attached to the USS Lexington (CV 16) in action against the enemy fleet in the vicinity of the East Philippine Sea on June 20, 1944. Lt. Cmdr. Weymouth led a large strike group of planes from Air Group SIXTEEN in an attack on Japanese carrier forces which were beyond the safe range limits of his planes. His flight of dive-bombers scored seven direct hits on a large carrier not previously damaged and two direct hits on another. The torpedo bombers scored nine direct bomb hits on the carrier not previously damaged. He personally made a direct hit on the undamaged carrier. His attack resulted in the sinking of one carrier and the burning and probably sinking of another. The flight was under continuous aerial attack (even in the dives) for 25 minutes resulting in three planes shot down by enemy aircraft while his flight shot down four enemy planes. The return flight was made at night with the additional hazard of a night carrier landing, low on fuel and several damaged planes. His courage and disregard for his own safety were at all times keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” (It should be noted that award citations are based on the best information available at the time but are not necessarily completely historically accurate.)
After his retirement in 1973, Vice Adm. Weymouth charted a very different path. Profoundly moved by his visits to Nagasaki during the Korean War, he became an ardent and vocal anti-nuclear weapons activist, as well as a strong proponent of environmental conservation. He was an early leader in Veterans for Peace (not the same as the Veterans for Peace in Vietnam in 1967) founded in 1984 for the purpose of advocating for alternatives to war. He also devoted considerable time to his sailboat in Maine, and to his very large extended family.
Ralph Weymouth joined the U.S. Navy at age 17 to help his family through the Great Depression, not knowing he would be called upon to risk his life time and time again to defeat Fascist aggression. For three consecutive years and 12 major combat operations he demonstrated extraordinary valor in intense battle conditions. His calm leadership on the “Mission Beyond Darkness” contributed directly to the survival of so many of Lexington’s Air Group, after having sunk a Japanese carrier. His role in the Korean War was critical, as the prompt arrival of the U.S. aircraft carriers was vital in halting the rapid North Korean advance in the first months of the war (Air Force fields in Korea were overrun and those in Japan were at extreme range). He became a leader in U.S. anti-submarine warfare at a critical time of the expansion of the Soviet submarine fleet, both in numbers and operating areas, and a leader in developing advanced technologies that ultimately contributed to winning the Cold War. In his later years, his anti-war views were sometimes in opposition to U.S. policy, but after his experience in World War II and Korea, no one could claim he didn’t know what he was talking about, and he demonstrated the courage of his convictions. He was described by those who knew him as “an inspiration to all with his example of thoughtful, gentle and patient ways” and as someone who “left everything better than he found it.” I would argue that includes the U.S. Navy and our nation.
Rest in Peace Admiral Weymouth.