The Naval Air Station (NAS) South Weymouth was an operational U.S. Navy airfield from 1942 to 1997. It was originally conceived as the Navy's northeastern most "light-than-air" blimp station during World War II. The site was placed in caretaker status at the end of the war, but was reactivated in the early 1950's when the Naval Air Reserve Training Program from the nearby Squantum airbase was reassigned to South Weymouth.
NAS South Weymouth was selected for closure during the 1995 round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. Find a more detailed history of NAS South Weymouth below.
NAS South Weymouth was established through the efforts of Captain Charles E. Rosendahl, Chief of the Navy’s Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) Program. The LTA program was developed to provide anti-submarine patrolling of the nation's east coast using blimps or airships. Public Act No. 635 of the 75th U.S. Congress, referred to as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 10,000 Plane Program, provided the enabling legislation to construct and open NAS South Weymouth. The base had the distinction of being the first NAS proposed in the Navy’s original 1940 war plan.
The site of NAS South Weymouth was originally surveyed for use as a municipal airport in 1938. At more than 1,200 acres, it was almost completely undeveloped when the Navy acquired the land two years later. Construction began in September 1941 and totaled about $6 million, making it the largest wartime construction project completed on the South Shore. The base was formally commissioned on March 1, 1942.
World War II
During World War II, the base’s primary mission was to patrol the Atlantic Coast and protect Allied convoys by spotting enemy submarines. Its main facilities consisted of two massive aviation hangers. The first hanger, known as LTA Hanger 1 or the "big hanger,” was made of steel and shaped like a giant Quonset hut. It was the second largest aviation hanger in the world, covering eight acres in area, and the largest of its type with no central support. The second hanger, known as LTA Hangar 2, was made from timber – the more common construction material of World War II, which helped conserve rationed metals. Other on-site facilities included a 2,000-foot diameter landing mat, a 4,500-foot cinder-surfaced turf runway, and six mooring circles.
Throughout the war, NAS South Weymouth served as home base for Airship Patrol Squadron ZP-11. This squadron operated 12 K-class blimps, which were used for patrols and convoy-escort missions in and around the Massachusetts Bay and the Gulf of Maine. In addition to ZP-11, NAS South Weymouth hosted wartime detachments of Airship Patrol Squadron ZP-12, based out of NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey, and Airship Utility Squadron ZJ-1, based out of Meacham Field in Key West, Florida. ZJ-1's NSA South Weymouth detachment flew K- and G-class blimps in support of research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and further helped recover test torpedoes for the Navy’s base in Newport, Rhode Island
In 1944, NAS South Weymouth was the starting point for the first transatlantic crossings of non-rigid airships. Two Navy K-ships from Blimp Squadron ZP-14 left South Weymouth on May 28, 1944 and landed about 16 hours later in Argentina, Newfoundland, Canada. The two airships then flew approximately 22 hours to Lagens Field on the island of Terceira in the Azores archipelago. The last leg of the flight was about 20 hours and ended at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, now Kenitra, Morocco. Four additional K-ships followed on June 11th and 27th, respectively. These six airships were used for nighttime anti-submarine warfare operations, employing magnetic-anomaly detection to locate U-boats in the relatively shallow waters around the Straits of Gibraltar. Later, ZP-14’s K-ships conducted mine spotting and mine sweeping operations in key Mediterranean ports and various escort missions, including that of the Allied convoy carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the Yalta Conference in early 1945.
Post-World War II
NAS South Weymouth was downgraded to a Naval Air Facility (NAF) on August 9, 1945 after Germany surrendered, thus ending the submarine threat to the east coast. It was thereafter used to store surplus naval aircrafts, which were awaiting final disposition. During this period, the site was known as a Naval Aircraft Parking Station (NAPS). NAF South Weymouth was again downgraded on June 30, 1949, being placed into caretaker status as an Auxiliary Landing Field (ALF).
In 1950, due to the outbreak of the Korean War, the Navy began emphasizing jet training for Naval and Marine Air Reservists in New England. The NAS in nearby Squantum, Massachusetts, the “birthplace of Naval Reserve Aviation,” had no additional room to lengthen its runways. Air traffic from this base also interfered with operations at Logan International Airport in Boston. As a consequence, NAS Squantum was closed, and its personnel, facilities, and the reserve program transferred to South Weymouth.
Between 1952 and 1953, NAF South Weymouth was refurbished to better accommodate conventional aircraft operations. The site's original World War II facilities were not equipped for “heavier-than-air” uses. Hangar 2 was razed, three new paved runways were built, and a CPN-4 ground-controlled approach facility and modern control tower were established. The base was reactivated as a full-fledge NAS for reserve training on December 4, 1953.
The post-World War II mission of NAS South Weymouth was to provide combat-ready Naval Air Service squadrons and units to integrate with the regular operating forces of the Navy. In 1972, at the time of Weymouth’s 350th anniversary, the following squadrons and units were participating in the base’s mission: one Naval Air Reserve Staff (NARS Z-1), three Naval Air Reserve Divisions (NARDIVS Z-1, Z-2, and Z-3), one Replacement Training Unit (RTU 92), three Operational Control Units (OPCONS EL13Z-3, VN4Z-2, and GR4Z-1), one Intermediate Maintenance Unit (IMSU 23Z-1), an Air Intelligence Unit (NAIRU Z-1), a Systems Command Unit (NASRU Z-1), and a Systems Analysis Unit (RSAND Z-1). The NAS South Weymouth also housed a detachment of some 160 active duty marines, supporting almost 500 Marine Corps Air Reservists, and there were another 36 officers and some 375 enlisted men on active duty to support the reserve squadrons assigned there.
Though officially a reserve base, NAS South Weymouth hosted an unusual Navy unit between 1953 and 1961. This was a secretive research and development outfit known as the Naval Air Development Unit (NADU). The unit was tasked with providing flight testing support for research projects associated with MIT's Lincoln Laboratories and other defense contractors. NADU operated a diverse aircraft fleet, including the world’s largest airship model, the ZPG-2W.
Blimp operations were formally discontinued at NAS South Weymouth in July 1961. This was done in advance of the NADU's disestablishment on October 1, 1961. Hanger 1, or the “big hanger,” was further demolished in 1966 and replaced with a much smaller concrete-arch hanger (the new Hanger 1). In 1966, Attack Squadrons 911 and 912, flying A-4 Skyhawk jets, were assigned to NAS South Weymouth to train naval pilots and crews for combat missions.
The national Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) first recommended that NAS South Weymouth be closed in 1990. In the face of strong community objection, the base was removed from the list a year later. By the third and final round of the BRAC process, however, NAS South Weymouth was again recommended for closure. After various visits, BRAC officials voted unanimously to close the base in 1995. A year later, the base hosted a “Farewell to Boston” Air Show, which drew over 100,000 visitors. The airfield officially closed on September 30, 1996, after the last C130T Hercules jet and P-3C Orion jet flew off in a final tribute. Finally, on September 30, 1997, NAS South Weymouth closed, ending over 55 years of service to the Navy as the "Home of New England's Naval Air Reserve."
Today, an A-4 Skyhawk jet mounted on a pedestal in a small park known as Shea Memorial Grove, named for the NAS Squantum reservist CDR John "Jack" Shea who was killed in action when the aircraft carrier USS Wasp was sunk during WWII, stands as a perpetual reminder of the site's naval heritage.