Bertram Ramsay

Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay, KCB, KBE, MVO (20 January 1883 – 2 January 1945) was a Royal Navy officer. He commanded the destroyer HMS Broke during the First World War. In the Second World War, he was responsible for the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and planning and commanding the naval forces in the invasion of France in 1944.

Sir Bertram Ramsay
Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay TR2626.jpg
Portrait of Admiral Ramsay
Birth nameBertram Home Ramsay
Born(1883-01-20)20 January 1883
London, England
Died2 January 1945(1945-01-02) (aged 61)
Toussus-le-Noble, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchUnited Kingdom Royal Navy
Years of service1898–1945
Battles/warsFirst World War

Second World War

AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Member of the Royal Victorian Order
Mention in Despatches (two)
Légion d'honneur (France)
Legion of Merit (United States)
Order of Ushakov (USSR)

Personal lifeEdit

Ramsay was born in Hampton Court Palace,[1] into an old family (see Ramsay Baronets). His parents were Brigadier General William Alexander Ramsay and Susan Newcombe Minchener.[2] He attended Colchester Royal Grammar School.

On 26 February 1929, Ramsay married Helen Margaret Menzies, daughter of Colonel Charles Thomson Menzies. They had two sons,

  • David Francis Ramsay (born 1 Oct 1933) who has written a couple of books, had two children, Michael Ramsay (Michael Ramsay has two children called David Paris Ramsay and William Bertram Alexander Ramsay) and James Ramsay (James Ramsay has two children called Bert and Baxter)
  • Charles Alexander Ramsay (12 Oct 1936 – 31 Dec 2017) was educated at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and rose to become Director General of the Territorial Army and the Queen's Body Guard for Scotland.[2]

Early naval careerEdit

Ramsay joined the Royal Navy in 1898. As a naval cadet, he was posted to HMS Crescent in April 1899.[3] Later serving on HMS Britannia, he became a midshipman within a year.[4] By the middle of 1902 he was an acting sub-lieutenant, and he was confirmed in this rank on 15 September 1902.[5] He was promoted to lieutenant on 15 December 1904.[6]

First World WarEdit

During the First World War, Ramsay was given his first command, HMS M25, a small monitor, in August 1915. For two years his ship was part of the Dover Patrol off the Belgian coast. Promoted to commander on 30 June 1916, in October 1917 he took command of another Dover Patrol vessel, the destroyer HMS Broke.[4][7][8] On 9 May 1918, his ship took part in the Second Ostend Raid, a follow up to the Zeebrugge Raid, for which he was mentioned in despatches.[4]

Second World WarEdit

Ramsay retired from the navy in 1938, but was coaxed out of retirement by Winston Churchill one year later to help deal with the Axis threat. Promoted to vice-admiral, he was named Commander-in-Chief, Dover on 24 August 1939. His duties included overseeing the defence against possible destroyer raids, the protection of cross-Channel military traffic and the denial of the passage through the Straits of Dover by submarines.[4]

Operation DynamoEdit

As Vice-Admiral Dover, Ramsay was responsible for the Dunkirk evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo. Working from the tunnels beneath Dover Castle, he and his staff worked for nine days straight to rescue troops trapped in France by the German forces.[9] For his success in bringing home 338,226 British and allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, he was asked to personally report on the operation to King George VI and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[4]

Defending DoverEdit

After Operation Dynamo was completed, he was faced with the enormous problems of defending the waters off Dover from the expected German invasion. For nearly two years, he commanded forces striving to maintain control against the Germans, gaining a second Mention in Despatches.[4] Ramsay was in command when the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau together with escorts passed through the Channel in February 1942. Though the British had made plans to deal with this (Operation Fuller), British forces were taken by surprise, and failed in their efforts to stop them.

Operation TorchEdit

Ramsay was to be appointed the Naval Force Commander for the invasion of Europe on 29 April 1942, but the invasion was postponed and he was transferred to become deputy naval commander of the Allied invasion of North Africa.[4]

Operation HuskyEdit

During the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) in July 1943, Ramsay was Naval Commanding Officer, Eastern Task Force and prepared the amphibious landings.[4]

Operation NeptuneEdit

Ramsay in 1944

Ramsay was reinstated to the Active List on 26 April 1944 and promoted to the rank of admiral on 27 April 1944.[10] He was appointed Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force for the invasion.[4]

In this, he executed what has been described by historian Correlli Barnett as a "never surpassed masterpiece of planning"[11] — coordinating and commanding a fleet of almost 7,000 vessels to delivering over 160,000 men onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day alone, with over 875,000 disembarked by the end of June.

He defused a potential conflict between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British Sovereign, King George VI, when Churchill informed the King that he intended to observe the D-Day landings from aboard HMS Belfast, a cruiser assigned to bombardment duties for the operation. The King, himself a seasoned sailor and a veteran of the Battle of Jutland in the First World War, likewise announced that he would accompany his Prime Minister. The two were at civil loggerheads until meeting with Admiral Ramsay, who flatly refused to take the responsibility for the safety of either of them. Ramsay cited the danger to both the King and the Prime Minister, the risks of the planned operational duties of HMS Belfast, and the fact that both the King and Churchill would be needed at home in case the landings went badly and immediate decisions were required. This settled the matter and both Churchill and King George VI remained ashore on D-Day.[12]

While the port of Antwerp was vital for the Allies after D-Day, Admirals Cunningham and Ramsay warned SHAEF and Montgomery that the port was of no use while the Germans held the approaches. But Montgomery postponed the Battle of the Scheldt, and the delay in opening the port was a grave blow to the Allied build-up before winter approached.[13]


On 2 January 1945, Ramsay was killed when his plane crashed on takeoff at Toussus-le-Noble Airport southwest of Paris. He was en route to a conference with General Bernard Montgomery in Brussels.[4] Ramsay was interred in Saint-Germain-en-Laye New Communal Cemetery.[14] A memorial to all who died in the crash was erected at Toussus-le-Noble in May 1995.[15]



Statue of Ramsay in the grounds of Dover Castle

A statue of Ramsay was erected in November 2000 at Dover Castle, close to where he had planned the Dunkirk evacuation.[4] His name also appears on the Colchester Royal Grammar School war memorial and a portrait hangs in the school. A secondary school in Middlesbrough was named in his honour, but has since been renamed at least twice.

In February 2020, the Scottish Borders Council announced plans to build a museum at the family home of Vice-Admiral Ramsay. "A former garden store will be converted at Bughtrig House in Coldstream to create the museum in his honour," BBC News reported.[18]

Admiral Ramsay's legacy has been remembered by the Royal Navy; they have used his name for the Apprenticeship Centre at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, the Ramsay Building which was opened by his son in March 2012.[19]

In film and fictionEdit

His involvement in the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day landings has led to several appearances as a character in film and television drama – in Dunkirk (1958, played by Nicholas Hannen), The Longest Day (1962, played by John Robinson), Churchill and the Generals (1979, played by Noel Johnson), Dunkirk (2004, played by Richard Bremmer), Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004, played by Kevin J. Wilson), Churchill (played by George Anton) and Darkest Hour (2017, played by David Bamber).


  1. ^ Farrell, Brian P. (19 May 2011). "Ramsay, Sir Bertram Home (1883–1945), naval officer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35661. Retrieved 5 September 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b "Person Page".
  3. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (35809). London. 21 April 1899. p. 11.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay". Archived from the original on 3 November 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  5. ^ "No. 27610". The London Gazette. 30 October 1903. p. 6611.
  6. ^ "No. 27745". The London Gazette. 20 December 1904. p. 8720.
  7. ^ "No. 29687". The London Gazette. 28 July 1916. p. 7480.
  8. ^ Sumner, Ian. British Commanders of World War II, By, page 32 (Google books)
  9. ^ "Dover Castle – The Secret Wartime Tunnels". Archived from the original on 3 November 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  10. ^ "No. 36501". The London Gazette. 5 May 1944. p. 2071.
  11. ^ Barnett (1991), p. 780.
  12. ^ "24 Facts about D-Day". BBC. Retrieved 9 July 2016.
  13. ^ Beevor, Antony (2012). The Second World War. London: Weidenfiels & Nicolson. p. 634. ISBN 978-0-297-84497-6.
  14. ^ "Bertram Ramsay", Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  15. ^ "Memorial". Aérostèles, lieux de mémoire aéronautique. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  16. ^ "No. 34867". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 June 1940. p. 3499.
  17. ^ "No. 36783". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 November 1944. p. 5091.
  18. ^ "Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay: Dunkirk Mastermind Museum Approved". BBC News. 8 February 2020. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  19. ^ "Navy apprentices' new home at Fareham's HMS Collingwood honours war hero". The News. 18 April 2012. Archived from the original on 25 October 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2016.

Further readingEdit

  • Barnett, Correlli (1991). Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War. Norton & Company. London.
  • Woodward, David (1957). Ramsay at War. The Fighting Life of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay. – London: W. Kimber.

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Post created
Commander-in-Chief, Dover
Succeeded by
Robert Cunliffe