Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay

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Image:  Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay.
Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay.

Bertram Home Ramsay was born in London in 1883 to an old Scottish family. He entered the Royal Navy in 1898, joining the ‘Britannia’ and passing out as a midshipman the next year.

In August 1915 he received his first command, the ‘M 25’, a small monitor. Thus he began his association with the Dover Patrol, and for the next two years he spent most of his time off the Belgian coast, supporting the left flank of the armies. In October 1917 he transferred to the command of the destroyer ‘Broke’, also of the Dover Patrol. In this ship he took part in the Ostend operations of 9 May 1918 (a follow up to the Zeebrugge Raid), for which he was mentioned in despatches. He resigned from the Navy in 1938 but was recalled with war threatening in 1939.

Ramsay hoisted his Vice-Admiral’s flag, as officer-in-charge, Dover, on 24 August 1939. So the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September found him at his post and commanding waters very familiar to him. Familiar too must have been the early tasks which came his way: the denial of the passage through the Straits of Dover to submarines; defence against possible destroyer raids; protection of cross-Channel military traffic. And other repetitions of 1914 - 1918.

With the German assault on France and the Low Countries, Dover at once became the centre of great activity, but the climax came when, with the collapse of France, Ramsay was ordered to bring the British soldiers home from Dunkirk. “Operation Dynamo” lasted from 26 May to 4 June 1940 and evacuated 338,226 British and allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. On completion of this great achievement, Ramsay reported on the operation to the King in person, and was rewarded by the honour of the K.C.B. from the King.

On his return to Dover, Ramsay found his problems multiplied tenfold by an enemy in possession of the French coastline. For nearly two more years he strove to maintain control of the waters under his command in the face of air attack, the assaults of hostile small craft, and cross-Channel bombardment. Throughout the autumn of 1940 Dover was in the forefront of precautions against invasion. They were anxious days but Ramsay remained fresh, fit and imperturbable. Despite losses coastal traffic was kept going. At the end of 1940 he was mentioned in despatches for his services.

Ramsay left Dover 29 April 1942 to take up his appointment as Naval Force Commander for the invasion of Europe but when this was postponed he was transferred to command the Algerian landings in North Africa, which began in November of that year. In July 1943 he prepared the amphibious landings in Sicily as Naval Commanding Officer, Eastern Task Force. In 1944 he was appointed Naval Commander in Chief for “Operation Overlord”, much to the relief of General Eisenhower who thought Ramsay an exceptionally able commander. “Operation Overlord” officially began on 6 June 1944, D-Day, and one million soldiers were landed on the coast of France, a marvellous testimony to Ramsay’s ingenuity. His next project involved the invasion of the island of Walcheren in Holland.

On 2 January 1945 Ramsay left his headquarters on a flight to Brussels to attend a meeting with General Montgomery. His aircraft crashed on taking off and Ramsay was killed instantly. He was buried at St.Germain-en-Laye. He was made a grand officer of the Legion of Honour by the French, and in June 1945 his widow was in Paris to receive his insignia. In November 2000 an statue of Ramsay was erected at Dover Castle very close to the tunnels where he planned the Dunkirk evacuations.

Image:  The memorial to Admiral Ramsay.

Image:  The memorial to Admiral Ramsay.

Two views of the memorial to Admiral Ramsay erected in front of the old Officers Mess at Dover Castle, by the Duke of Edinburgh in November 2000.



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