Monday 5 May 2014

HMS Ramillies.

HMS RAMILLIES   23-Apr-42   to 19-Jun-42

Ramillies was a Royal Sovereign class Battleship and was named after the Battle of Ramillies in the Spanish Netherlands, which today equates roughly to modern Belgium. The Duke of Marlborough won this battle in 1706. HMS Ramillies was completed in Glasgow in 1917, just too late to take part at the Battle of Jutland. Once again Dad had joined a vessel that wasn’t exactly straight from the builders yard.
LOA    624’
Beam   88’
Draft   28.5’
Speed  21.5kts
Displ    29150 tons
Crew   1124
Arma   8 x 15”, 12 x 6”, 8 x 4” AA, 16 x 2lb AA, 1 aircraft (The right hand barrel, as you look from the front, of the gun outside the Imperial War Museum is from HMS Ramillies).

HMS Ramillies in 1943.

Ramillies had been operating out of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Addu Atol ( A British Naval base on the southern most Maldives Island, constructed in 1941 and later became RAF Gan). Her task had been to prevent the Japanese entering the Indian Ocean but with the fall of Malaya etc they were to secure Madagascar to prevent the Japanese taking it and therefore being able to threaten our supply lines to Egypt and Burma/India. They were nominated for Operation Ironclad (Invasion of Madagascar) as a replacement for Malaya who had been required back in the Mediterranean to assist in the protection of Malta convoys. She sailed from Kilindini, the port of Mombasa, on 16th April.

22-Apr-42       Ramillies arrives in Durban and Rear Admiral Syfret raises his flag in her.
23-Apr-42       Dad joins Ramillies after arriving in Durban aboard the Illustrious.
28-Apr-42       Sailed from Durban with carrier Illustrious, cruiser Hermione and destroyers Laforey, Lightning, Lookout and three others.
3-May-42        All the ships taking part in Operation Ironclad join up and organise for the invasion. Carrier Indomitable with destroyers HMAS Nizam and Norman join fleet.
5-May-42        Troop landings were started on the west coast in Courrier Bay, opposite Diego Suarez Bay. Ramillies gave covering fire. The landings were unopposed as the Vichy French had thought it impossible to get an invasion fleet through the reefs.
6-May-42        The advance towards the towns of Antsirane and Diego Suarez was been helded up by resistance from the Vichy French. It was decided to transfer 50 of the marines from Ramillies direct to Diego Suarez Bay using HMS Anthony. The troops were aboard her at 1545 and she set off at full speed round the north of the island with the Ramillies following at a slower pace. In the dark Anthony raced through the 500 yard channel protected by 12.5” guns. Fire was received but was not accurate and was returned in full measure. Anthony dropped the Marines alongside the port at 2000 and they achieved surprise and took all their objectives very quickly and broke resistance of the enemy troops.

Operation Ironclad.

7-May-42        At 1040 Ramillies opened fire with her heavy armaments on shore targets and ceased fire at 1050. By 1500 the enemy in the area had surrendered.
8-May-42        Ramillies entered Diego Suarez Bay and anchored.
29-May-42      During the evening a float plane was spotted at high altitude and a few rounds were fired at it. There is also a story that a float plane was seen to make to land in the bay that night. As it was between Ramillies and Frobisher and there was some doubt as to identification no guns were fired at it and it moved away. Whether it was the same plane or not it was later learned that it was from the Japanese submarine I-10 and with it’s information an attack was planned by mini submarines from mother submarines I-10, I-16 and I-20.
30-May-42      The Navy assumed that the plane was from a Japanese warship. Frobisher and Ramillies
made steam and Frobisher left Diego Suarez Bay for the safety of the sea but before Ramillies could
depart the results of an aerial search to 200’ out reported all clear and Ramillies re-anchored near to the tanker British Loyalty.
HMS Ramillies following a refit in 1939

Around 1730 I-16 and I-20 launched their mini subs (M-16 and M-20). I-10 didn’t make the rendezvous as she was damaged in bad weather. M-20 penetrated the harbour and at 2025 fired a torpedo at Ramillies. It hit on the port side below ‘A’ turret making a 30’ x 30’ hole in the bulge and bottom plating. Just as the torpedo struck Dad was having a mug of cocoa.

The explosion caused the vessel to leap in the air. The rim of the cocoa mug hit him on his front tooth and that is how he got the chip that was with him for the rest of his life. There was an initial loss of electrical power and the 6” armour plating was bent upwards. The forward magazine and shell rooms for the 15” and 6” guns were flooded. Dad said that all the hammocks and blankets etc were taken to try and plug the hole.
At 2120 M-20 fired her second and last torpedo. After the first explosion British Loyalty got underway and as she was moving astern the torpedo hit her, saving the Ramillies. M-16 never attacked and was never found, but a body was found later. After her attack M-20 left the bay and headed north to the rendezvous. When her batteries ran out she was beached. The demolition charges didn’t go off. The two crew made contact with local natives and were escorted towards Cape Amber, the northern most point. On 1st June they enter a village and ask for food but are later denounced to the British. On 2nd June Marines from 5 Commando intercept them and a fire fight ensues where the two Japanese are killed along with one Marine. There is a monument to the Japanese at the spot.

Similar Japanese midget submarine showing scale.

31-May-42      Ramillies was moved to a small bay with her bows pointing seaward to present the smallest aspect. The forward draft had increased by nearly 20’. To counteract this the Union Castle vessel Greystoke Castle was brought alongside and the anchors and cables, ammunition and stores from for’d were transferred to her and other measures taken to stem the flow.
2-Jun-42          The Constructor Officer for the Eastern Fleet arrives on the destroyer Decoy and confirms that Ramillies is seaworthy enough to move to Durban.
3-Jun-42          She leaves for Durban escorted by cruiser Emerald and destroyers Active, Decoy and Duncan.
7-Jun-42          The escort was strengthened by corvettes Fritillary and Jasmine.
9-Jun-42          Arrive in Durban and repairs immediately commenced. Ramillies finally sailed for Cape Town on 6th August for further repairs. Her main armament was inoperable for this transit. She left Cape Town on 13th August for Devonport via Freetown and Gibraltar. She finally arrived 8th September and repairs were not completed until June 1943!
16-Jun-42        Dad signs off the Ramillies and his records show he was posted to HMS Canton.

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