Between the world wars, Smith was an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a student and an instructor at the Command and General Staff College, a student at the Army War College and the École Supérieure de la Guerre in France, and a member of the General Staff's Military Intelligence Division. In March 1942, Smith was appointed assistant commander of the 76th Division, and later that year, as major general, he was given command of the 27th Division.
During the June 1944 invasion of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, Smith's 27th Division fought alongside two Marine divisions as part of the Army-Marine Corps V Amphibious Corps. In the opinion of Major General Holland M. ("Howlin' Mad") Smith, a Marine general who commanded the corps, the 27th Division performed poorly. Before the battle's end and with the concurrence of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, commander of the operation, Holland Smith relieved Ralph Smith for his failure to "attack on time" and lack of aggressiveness. The relief of an army general by a Marine Corps general was unprecedented and led to bitter recriminations. An army board of inquiry exonerated Ralph Smith, and many army officers said he was victimized by his reluctance to sacrifice lives in ill-conceived frontal assaults planned by the corps staff. Holland Smith's defenders claimed the relief was justified and that the army exonerated Ralph Smith to excuse the failings of the 27th Division. Whatever the merits of the arguments, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall would not again permit Holland Smith to command army troops.
After his relief, Smith commanded the 98th Division and then served as military attaché in France before retiring in October 1946. Smith died at Palo Alto, California, on 21 January 1998 at the age of 104, the last of the U.S. divisional commanders from World War II.
John Kennedy Ohl
Cooper, Norman V. A Fighting General: The Biography of General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Association, 1987.; Gailey, Harry A. "Howlin Mad" vs. the Army: Conflict in Command, Saipan 1944. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1986.; Love, Edmund G. The 27th Infantry Division in World War II. Washington, DC: Infantry Journal Press, 1949.