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
, 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
), 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
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
“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
very close to the tunnels
where he planned the Dunkirk evacuations.