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Mastermind of Dunkirk and D-Day

Brian Izzard

The Vision of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay
This is the major biography of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay in fifty years. Ramsay masterminded the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940. Initially, it was thought that 40,000 troops at most could be rescued.
Brian Izzard's new biography of Ramsay puts him and his work back centre-stage, arguing that Ramsay was the mastermind without whom the outcome of both Dunkirk and D-Day - and perhaps the entire war - could have been very different.

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This is the major biography of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay in fifty years. Ramsay masterminded the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940. Initially, it was thought that 40,000 troops at most could be rescued. But Ramsay's planning and determination led to some 338,000 being brought back to fight another day, although the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy paid a high price in ships and men. Ramsay continued to play a crucial role in the conduct of the Second World War - the invasion of Sicily in 1943 was successful in large part due to his vision, and he had a key role in the planning and execution of the D-Day invasion - coordinating and commanding the 7,000 ships that delivered the invasion force onto the beaches of Normandy. After forty years in the Royal Navy he was forced to retire in 1938 after falling out with a future First Sea Lord but months later, with war looming, he was given a new post. However he was not reinstated on the Active List until April 1944, at which point he was promoted to Admiral and appointed Naval Commander-in-Chief for the D-Day naval expeditionary force. Dying in a mysterious air crash in 1945, Ramsay's legacy has been remembered by the Royal Navy but his key role in the Allied victory has been widely forgotten. After the war ended his achievements ranked alongside those of Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery and General Dwight Eisenhower, yet he never received the public recognition he deserved. Brian Izzard's new biography of Ramsay puts him and his work back centre-stage, arguing that Ramsay was the mastermind without whom the outcome of both Dunkirk and D-Day - and perhaps the entire war - could have been very different.

ISBN: 9781612008387
Format: Hardback
Author(s): Brian Izzard
First Publishment Date: 15 March 2020

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  1. Very highly recommended. review by PWM on 25/11/2020

    It is good question as to why Admiral Ramsay hasn’t achieved the same recognition as, say, Cunningham or Fraser. Whether it was his untimely death in early 1945 or the fact that he hadn’t published his memoirs, this book sets out to redress the omission and succeeds.
    The author covers Ramsay’s early career where his eye for detail and efficiency wasn’t always welcomed; his guide on ship painting must have been a First Lt’s nightmare. His professional drive brought him into conflict with his superiors, and despite his acknowledged qualities, he was placed on the retired list in 1938 as a Rear Admiral. As war loomed, he was recalled to his dormant appointment as Flag Officer i/c Dover which had upgraded to an independent command as Vice Admiral Dover. With the end of the Phoney War in Spring 1940 as the Germans overran France and the BEF retreated to the coast around Dunkirk made the evacuation of the BEF vital. By late 26 May, Ramsay was ordered to launch the evacuation, Op Dynamo, with “the greatest vigour”. Some 850 vessels of all sorts were involved with the initial hope of evacuating some 40,000 men. The description of the strain of the evacuation on everyone from Ramsay to the ships companies shows the extraordinary fortitude of all concerned. Ramsay’s qualities of attention to detail, organisational ability and readiness to delegate to those he trusted paid dividends. He fought hard to retain the destroyers, despite heavy losses, and it was these ships that evacuated the greatest number of the staggering total of 338,000 evacuated.
    1941 saw the “Channel Dash” of Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen and for Ramsay, with very limited resources, an embarrassing debacle. However, he was not held responsible and in 1942, promoted to Admiral, became CinC of Expeditionary Forces. Ramsay’s amphibious career started with Torch, the successful Anglo – US invasion on N Africa. Ramsay’s “sound planning and forethought” was not just recognised by Cunningham, but also by Montgomery. This friendship with Montgomery was evident in the next operation – the invasion of Sicily. Again Ramsay’s meticulous staff work paid dividends and he was the obvious choice for Cunningham to nominate as the Naval Allied CinC for the invasion of Europe. Neptune was the pinnacle of Ramsay’s career; he praised his staff for “their excellent planning and meticulous use of details” – all Ramsay trademarks. By August 1944, Ramsay who was now 61, was both mentally and physically exhausted. In 1945, as the Allies advanced, on 2 January Ramsay flew to meet Montgomery. Tragically, his plane crashed on take off due to pilot error and Ramsay died instantly.
    The tributes said it all – Montgomery a “great sailor and English gentleman”, Eisenhower “a warm personal friend” and a long term shipmate who said “one of those who could walk with kings and keep the common touch”. Ramsay is correctly seen as one of the forgotten heroes of the war, with only an incomplete biography written in 1959. Ramsay, away from his service life, was a devoted family man, loved Jane Austen books and longed for the relaxation of home life that he was sadly denied. Bryan Izzard has written a fascinating and complete biography that is a delight to read of the man described as the “mastermind of amphibious operations”. Very highly recommended.

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