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HMS Ramillies (pennant number 07) was a Revenge-class battleship of the Royal Navy, named after the Battle of Ramilliesmarker. The ship is notable for having served in both the First and Second World Wars. Despite her age, she was active throughout the latter war, with service ranging from convoy escort to shore bombardment to engaging enemy battleships.

Construction and launch

Ramillies was built by William Beardmore and Company at Dalmuirmarker in Scotlandmarker. She was launched on 12 June 1916 and commissioned on 1 September 1917. Commissioning was delayed because her rudder was damaged during launch. She was towed with great difficulty to the Cammell Laird works on the River Merseymarker for repairs.

In common with other Revenge-class battleships, Ramillies suffered from having her secondary armament, the 6-inch (152 mm) guns, located too low, on the main deck, with the result that in heavy weather they were liable to be awash.

Because of an increasing awareness of the danger of torpedo attack from submarines and destroyers, Ramillies, being completed later than her sisters in this class, had anti-torpedo bulges fitted. These were streamlined external compartments fitted along the waterline and filled with various shock absorbent materials, designed to take the impact of a torpedo before it could breach the hull.

Ramillies had aircraft platforms installed on B and X turrets in 1918 as well as a catapult to launch the airplanes. The Fairey Flycatcher was flown during most of the 1918 to 1939 period, useful for both spotting shells and scouting.

Early days

Ramillies joined the 1st Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet in May, 1917.

In the disturbances between Turkeymarker and Britainmarker in 1920, Ramillies fired from her position in the Sea of Marmoramarker at Turkish shore targets.

In 1924, Ramillies joined the 2nd Battle Squadron of the British Atlantic Fleet. During the 1926 general strike she was sent to the River Mersey to land food supplies, along with HMS Barhammarker. By late 1926 she was with the Mediterraneanmarker Fleet.

During the interwar period, Ramillies was lightened by having crushing tubes, wood and cement filling removed from her anti-torpedo bulges. By 1928, her antiaircraft defences had been altered to 4-4" quick fire Mark IV guns and her two forecastle deck 6" guns were removed.

When political disturbances broke out in Palestine in 1929, Ramillies was sent out to support the British presence.

From June 1932 to August, 1934 she was in Plymouthmarker for a major refit.

Old Empire, Old Ship

During 1937 Ramillies had her anti-aircraft batteries changed to 8 × 4-inch (102 mm) quick-fire Mark XVI arranged in dual mountings. Two eight barrelled 2 pdr "pom-poms" anti-aircraft gun mounts were added as well.

Ramillies lost her torpedo tubes before the outbreak of World War II and had her aircraft catapult removed.

It was found more difficult to modernize the Revenge class battleships than the Queen Elizabeth class (e.g. HMS Valiant), since the smaller displacement and more narrow hull prevented the installation of larger machinery to increase speed, perhaps the greatest need.

The new and the modernized Japanese battleships under construction in the 1930s made 24 to 27 knots (44 to 50 km/h), while the modernized Italian ships made 26 to 28 knots (48 to 52 km/h) and the new Littorio class made 30 knots (56 km/h). The German pocket battleships could achieve 28 knots (52 km/h), while the battleships/battlecruisers Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau made 32 knots (59 km/h) and the Bismarckmarker and the Tirpitzmarker made 29 knots (54 km/h). By 1939, Ramillies' design speed of 23 knots (43 km/h) could no longer be achieved with her old machinery. Often 18 knots (33 km/h) was her top speed, though in an emergency she could sometimes make 20 knots (37 km/h).

This put the Royal Navy in a difficult spot. When Ramillies and her sisters were in a battle fleet, the entire group was reduced to their top speed. This enabled faster Italian fleets to choose whether to engage and, if battle loomed, to manoeuvre to advantage. Had they been faced by superior Japanese forces, the British would have been too slow to get away.

When on convoy protection duty and attacked by enemy battleships, Ramillies was too slow to pursue or to gain the most favourable position. However, her 15-inch (381 mm) guns were still lethal, and changed the course of events on several occasions.

Obsolete but needed

Despite her age, she gave useful service in the Second World War, doing everything from engaging enemy battleships to convoy escort to shore bombardment. Ramillies illustrated the value of an old capital ship for its deterrent effect, making technically superior enemy ships decide not to attack for fear of sustaining damage while in British-controlled seas, far from repair bases.

Outbreak of the Second World War

The outbreak of the war found Ramillies as part of the British Home Fleet based at Scapa Flowmarker. She participated in a sweep of the waters between Icelandmarker, Norwaymarker and Scotlandmarker from 31 August to 7 September 1939 with a mission to intercept Germanmarker merchant ships trying to get back home before the start of war.

In late September 1939 Ramillies escorted a troop convoy to Alexandriamarker in Egyptmarker. In October she was stationed at Gibraltarmarker.

From 5 January 1939 to 27 November 1940, Ramillies was commanded by Captain Harold T. Baillie-Grohman.

Indian Ocean

In late 1939 Ramillies sailed for the East, with a stint in the Indian Oceanmarker, when HRH Prince Philip was a crew member. She visited New Zealand at Christmas 1939 and from 6 January 1940 to 12 February she escorted 13,000 New Zealandmarker troops from Wellingtonmarker to Suezmarker. From 15 April to 7 May 1940 she escorted Australian soldiers from Melbournemarker to Suez.

But before this she was diverted from escort duties when the Admiralty became aware of the presence of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Speemarker in the Indian Ocean off Lourenço Marques (current Maputomarker, Mozambiquemarker) on 16 November 1939. Ramillies was detached at Adenmarker and formed Force J along with the battleship HMS Malaya, and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. They were sent south to intercept the German raider, but she sailed back into the South Atlantic where she was brought to action in the Battle of the River Platemarker off Montevideomarker by Force H, the cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles, joined by HMS Exeter from Force G.

Mediterranean

After the entrance of Italymarker into the war in June 1940, Ramillies served in the Mediterranean. Along with HMS Royal Sovereign she escorted a convoy from Alexandriamarker, Egypt, to Maltamarker between 27 June and 30 June 1940. From 16 August to 18 August she bombarded the port of Bardia and Fort Capuzzomarker in the Italian colony of Libyamarker in North Africa. On the way back she was attacked by Italianmarker aircraft, but was not hit. She was a part of Admiral Andrew Cunningham's Mediterranean fleet, Force D, based at Alexandriamarker.

Ramillies escorted a convoy from Alexandria to Malta between 8 October and 14 October 1940. On the way back the ships were attacked by eight Italian torpedo boats. There were no British losses, but three of the Italian boats were sunk and four damaged.

From 25 October to 28 October 1940, Ramillies escorted a convoy bound from Alexandria to Cretemarker. In the period 10 November to 13 November she was on convoy escort duty from Alexandria to Malta, and then went on to Crete. During this time an enemy submarine spotted Ramillies and fired torpedoes but did not hit her.

The Royal Navy's attack on the main Italian naval force at Tarantomarker, on 11 November 1940, reduced the Italians to two serviceable battleships. Cunningham was then able to release to North Atlantic convoy duty his oldest and slowest battleships, the Ramillies and the Malaya, thus freeing up escort destroyers in the Mediterranean.

Ramillies steamed west with the Mediterranean fleet in late November 1940 forming part of the escort for four merchant ships bound for Maltamarker with much needed supplies. When she was in the central basin of the sea, she broke off from the rest and headed west. Accompanied by the cruisers Berwick and HMS Newcastle, she steamed through the Sicilian Narrows. The Newcastle had been in Malta for several days, where she had landed 15,000 gallons of aviation fuel, 40 Hawker Hurricane engines and 300 RAF technical personnel. They were to join up with Force H from Gibraltar under Admiral James Somerville which was in the area escorting three large fast merchant ships heading east, two for Malta and one headed for Alexandria. They would turn the escort duties over to Admiral Cunningham at a rendezvous point and make haste out of the danger area and return to Gibraltar. Ramillies was making her best possible speed of 20 knots (37 km/h) running the gauntlet nicknamed "Bomb Alley".

Admiral Somerville had the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal somewhat behind the rest of the force, his flag in the old battlecruiser HMS Renown, along with the cruisers HMS Sheffield, HMS Manchester and HMS Despatch and five destroyers. At 10:40 am on 27 November 1940, a scouting plane from the Italian cruiser Bolzano reported a force of one battleship, two cruisers and four destroyers north of Bônemarker Algeriamarker. Italian Admiral Inigo Campioni was at sea with two battleships, six heavy cruisers and fourteen destroyers. His orders were to attack only if faced by a decisively inferior enemy. With a two-to-one superiority in capital ships, he had his opportunity and altered course to intercept. His force was centred around the new and powerful battleship Vittorio Veneto and the modernized battleship Giulio Cesare. This was a dangerous situation for the British.

Somerville became aware of the danger from the Italian fleet and sent his convoy off to the southeast with a small escort. He pushed ahead to rendezvous with the Ramillies and the Berwick, so as to get between the Italians and the convoy. Odds favoured the Italians, since Ramillies was slow and her guns were outranged by the Italians. In addition Somerville's ships were within easy range of shore based enemy aircraft. But, his object was to get the convoy safely to Malta, so he charged ahead at the Italians. He sent his cruisers out front under Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, keeping his two slower capital ships further back screened by destroyers. The Ark Royal was well behind with two escorting destroyers. Campioni, after hearing of the presence of another British capital ship and an aircraft carrier, decided not to risk Italy's only two serviceable capital ships and after a brief exchange of gunfire at long range, in which Ramillies got off several salvoes, the Italians turned away and made for Naplesmarker. Berwick was damaged in the engagement, as was one Italian destroyer.

The engagement was called the Battle of Cape Spartivento.

The North Atlantic: Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Bismarck

Ramillies was assigned to North Atlantic convoy duty on her return to Britain. This was a critical assignment as the British Empire and Dominions were now alone, submarine losses were high, and the home country was in immediate danger of being starved into submission. Should German surface raiders, whether converted merchantmen, heavy cruisers, pocket battleships or full-sized battleships, break out and destroy a British convoy, it might be sufficient to tip the balance. Across this ocean came food, rubber, lumber, mineral ores, weapons and munitions from Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, South Africa, South America, Canada and the United States, oil from Venezuela and the Middle East and troops from India and Canada. One decimated troop convoy might lead Canada and the other dominions to stop moving troops across. Outward bound were troops, munitions and aircraft for East Africa, the Middle East, Indiamarker and the Far East.

On 12 January 1941 Ramillies left Britain as escort for 40,000 troops in a large convoy from Britain south past the danger zone to West Africa. They were bound for the Middle East.

The Ramillies was on duty in the North Atlantic Oceanmarker escorting Convoy HX-106, some 41 ships, eastbound from Halifax, Nova Scotiamarker to Liverpoolmarker, England when on 8 February 1941 the two new German battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, appeared over the horizon. The German squadron was under the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens. The captain of the Scharnhorst offered to draw off the Ramillies, so that the Gneisenau could sink the merchant ships. This strategy, if successful, would have entailed some risk to Scharnhorst; although she was slower, Ramillies was armed with the accurate and powerful 15"/42 Mark I gun and was capable of doing serious damage to the German vessel. In the event, Lutjens strictly followed Hitler's directive not to engage enemy capital ships.

The presence of Ramillies was sufficient to deter the attack. Later two of the convoy's merchant ships were sunk by submarines, including the MV Arthur F. Corwin loaded with 14,500 tons of aviation spirit. She went down on 13 February taking all 59 crew with her.

On 24 May 1941, Ramillies, Captain Arthur D. Read commanding, was south of Cape Farewell, Greenlandmarker, on duty escorting Convoy Hx 127 eastbound from Halifax. Some 57 merchant ships were in the group bound for Liverpoolmarker, with the most common cargoes being, oil, aviation spirit, lubricants, gasoline, lumber, grain, steel, sugar, scrap iron, and pig iron. Two ships carried general cargo, and there were single ships carrying molasses, trucks and cereal. Other escort vessels were designed to meet a submarine menace, and included a modern Canadian destroyer, HMCS Ottawa, the Indian navy sloop, RIN Sutlej, an ex-US Navy obsolete destroyer, HMS Salisbury, an escort destroyer, HMS Hambledon, corvettes HMS Larkspur, HMS Begonia and several other smaller ships. If anything Ramillies would have been a liability dealing with submarines. She was there as insurance against attack by surface raiders.

If Ramillies had to face a major surface attack, the two destroyers were probably the only escorts of value to her.

The new German battleship Bismarckmarker broke out into the North Atlantic after sinking the battlecruiser HMS Hood, Britain's largest warship, in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. Ramillies was well east of Newfoundlandmarker to the southwest of Bismarck, and if Bismarck had continued its raid, Ramillies was all that the Royal Navy had to stop it from ravaging the sealanes off North America. On 24 May 1941 the Admiralty ordered Ramillies to leave the convoy and steam on a course to intercept the enemy ship. The Bismarck sustained some damage in the action against the Prince of Wales, and opted to make for France for repairs, instead of continuing on a convoy raiding mission.

It is a measure of the desperate situation of the Royal Navy that such an old ship was sent out alone to intercept one of the world's most potent battleships, supported by the powerful German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugenmarker. Fortunately for her, she was not put to the test.

Another typical assignment was to provide ocean escort to convoy HX 130, bound for Liverpool with 45 merchant ships. Ramillies joined the convoy just outside Halifaxmarker harbour at 1530 hours on 1 June 1941 and remained with the ships till 9 June at 53 30 north and 46 48 west, the mid-ocean meeting point, where an escort from Britain took over.

Return to the Indian Ocean: Target India

Ramillies was a part of a British fleet put together hurriedly in March 1942 under Admiral James Somerville in an attempt to prevent Japanesemarker naval forces from cutting the sea lanes to Indiamarker. The scratch fleet consisted of two aircraft carriers and three old Revenge-class battleships. They did not encounter the main part of the Japanese fleet, which withdrew after causing great destruction to Allied shipping, including sinking an aircraft carrier and several other smaller warships.

In May 1942 Ramillies was still in the Indian Oceanmarker and was sent to cover the Allied invasion of Madagascar. On 29 May 1942, a reconnaissance plane from the Japanese submarine I-10 spotted Ramillies at anchor in Diego Suarezmarker harbour. Ramillies changed berth after the plane was seen. However, the Japanese submarines I-16 and I-20 launched two midget submarines, one of which, commanded by Lieutenant Saburo Akieda, managed to penetrate the harbour and to fire its two torpedoes. The first torpedo severely damaged Ramillies at about 20:25; the second sank the oil tanker British Loyalty at 21:20. Lieutenant Akieda came under depth charge attack from the corvettes Genista and Thyme but managed to beach his submarine and flee inland with Petty Officer Masami Takemoto. Both were killed in a firefight with Royal Marines three days later.

Ramillies was reported sunk by the Japanese, but in fact was merely severely damaged. She was towed to Durbanmarker for temporary repairs, then in August 1942 she returned to Plymouthmarker under her own steam and was back in service in June 1943.

While in drydock, an additional 2-inch (51 mm) of steel was added to the main deck over the magazines. This reflected the lessons from the sinking of the Hood as well as of the effectiveness of dive bombers at the Battle of Midwaymarker. As well an additional four 6-inch (152 mm) guns were removed and two more four-barrelled antiaircraft pompoms were added. This reflected the awareness of a greater risk posed by aircraft than by smaller surface vessels. It was ironic that Ramillies faced such a surface attack later in the war. Fortunately the remaining 6-inch (152 mm) guns were sufficient to handle it.

D-Day and the south of France

On 6 June 1944 Ramillies provided fire support for the Normandy Landings. Sword Beach, at the east of the landing area, was her assigned area with the primary task of silencing the Berneville battery. She began by opening fire on the 6" (152 mm) battery, knocking out four of the six guns in the first 80 minutes and keeping the attention of the rest, allowing landing craft to proceed unmolested. By evening she accounted for the other two guns.

During the course of the first day she repelled an attack by two German destroyers which fired five torpedoes at her, all missing. She also drove off a pack of E boats with her secondary 4- and 6-inch (102 and 152 mm) guns. That evening she returned to Portsmouthmarker and reammunitioned the next day. She was back off Normandy on 8 June 1944 and knocked out another 6" battery.

On 9 June Ramillies, directed by forward observation posts, fired on German tanks, guns, infantry concentrations and motor vehicles with great success, breaking up German units before they could launch counterattacks. She also beat off an attack by German E-boats.

On 10 June she hit enemy railway marshalling yards near Caenmarker, many miles inland.

On 11 June Ramillies hit a concentration of 200 enemy tanks, inflicting great damage. That night she bombarded more railway marshalling yards.

On 12 June she suffered a near miss when attacked by a dive bomber.

A German mobile artillery fired 32 rounds at Ramillies on 15 June, of which two hit the ship. One crew member was wounded in the leg. Ramillies moved out of range and continued her bombardment. On 16 June she continued her bombardment and on 17 June she hit a mobile battery.

In the course of her Normandy engagement she fired 1,002 15-inch (381 mm) shells, thought to be the greatest bombardment by any single ship to that time.

Ramillies provided similar fire support for the invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944. Her particular task was to silence the batteries at the entrance to Toulonmarker harbour.

Finish

Ramillies was put in reserve on 31 January 1945 at Portsmouthmarker and was used as an accommodation ship. John Egerton Broome was captain from 1945 to 1946. She was sold in 1946 and scrapped in 1949. One of Ramillies' 15-inch (381 mm) guns has been preserved and can be seen at the Imperial War Museummarker in Londonmarker. The ship's bell is preserved at HMCS Star, a Naval Reserve Division at Hamiltonmarker, Ontario, Canadamarker.

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