Saturday, 5 September 2009

Battleships are cool (an occaisonal series)

HMS Ramillies was a Revenge-class battleship of the Royal Navy. The ship is notable for having served in both the First and Second World Wars.
Ramillies joined the 1st Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet in May, 1917. In the disturbances between Turkey and Britain in 1920, Ramillies fired from her position in the Sea of Marmora at Turkish shore targets. During the 1926 general strike she was sent to the River Mersey to land food supplies. When political disturbances broke out in Palestine in 1929, Ramillies was sent out to support the British presence.

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. Essentially at the outbreak of WW2 Ramillies was obsolete. In late 1939 Ramillies sailed for the East, with a stint in the Indian Ocean, when HRH Prince Philip was a crew member.

After the entrance of Italy into the war in June 1940, Ramillies served 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 Malta with much needed supplies. She was to join up with Force H from Gibraltar under Admiral Somerville which was in the area escorting three large fast merchant ships heading east, two for Malta and one headed for Alexandria.
Admiral Somerville had his flag in the old battlecruiser HMS Renown, along with the cruisers HMS Sheffield, HMS Manchester and HMS Despatch and five destroyers. 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 Bône Algeria. 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.
Somerville pushed ahead to rendezvous with the Ramillies so as to get between the Italians and the convoy. Odds favoured the Italians. Campioni, however, 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, the Italians turned away and made for Naples.

The Ramillies was on duty in the North Atlantic Ocean escorting Convoy HX-106, when on 8 February 1941 the two new German battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, appeared over the horizon. The captain of the Scharnhorst offered to draw off the Ramillies, so that the Gneisenau could sink the merchant ships.. The Captain of Gneisenau however, strictly followed Hitler's directive not to engage enemy capital ships. The presence of Ramillies was sufficient to deter the attack.
When the new German battleship Bismarck broke out into the North Atlantic Ramillies was well east of Newfoundland 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. The Admiralty ordered Ramillies to leave its convoy and steam on a course to intercept the enemy ship. 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 heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.
On 6 June 1944 Ramillies provided fire support for the Normandy Landings. the east of the landing area, was her assigned area with the primary task of silencing the Berneville battery. She began by 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. She knocked out another 6" battery on 8 June 1944.
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. On 10 June she hit enemy railway marshalling yards near Caen, many miles inland. On 11 June Ramillies hit a concentration of 200 enemy tanks, inflicting great damage. 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 was put in reserve on 31 January 1945 at Portsmouth and was used as an accommodation ship. 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 Museum in London.

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