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Book Review, NRJ 60.3

August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Battleship Ramillies: The Final Salvo

Edited by Ian Johnston with Mick French

The British R-class battleships always were overshadowed by their faster precursors of the Queen Elizabeth class and, consequently, also received less modernization during the inter-war period. Nevertheless, they acquitted themselves well during World War II (after the dramatic early loss of Royal Oak at Scapa Flow in 1939); one, Royal Sovereign, even being transferred to the Soviet fleet under Lend-Lease.

Ramillies was the last of the class to commission, in 1917. This intriguing book explores the ship’s history through a compilation of narratives by men who served aboard during its thirty-year career. This makes for a somewhat disjointed reading experience, but the benefits far outweigh this.

The vast majority of the narratives collected by the editors came from sailors on the lower deck rather than from commissioned officers. The cumulative impact of this collection is that it paints a vivid and highly engaging picture of life aboard a major warship of the Royal Navy, primarily during wartime but also during the years of peace between the two world wars. Ramillies saw very wide service during World War II, operating successively with the Home Fleet, as part of Force H at Gibraltar, in the Indian Ocean, with the Mediterranean Fleet, in the Far East again, and during the invasions at Normandy and in the South of France.

This wide service is reflected in particularly interesting reminiscences from the sailors manning the battleship. They describe both the moments of combat drama and also the long periods of boredom and discomfort, especially noticeable in an old ship without air-conditioning that served for prolonged stretches of time in hot and humid climates. These stories are backed up with a wide selection of photographs, many of which come from private collections and have never been published before. One very nice touch is the inclusion of a few stories from the Home Front: the wives of those who served.

This book also has some potential value to model makers interested in the ship. The photographs often reveal details not immediately obvious in drawings. In addition, the end papers present full-color side views of Ramillies at the beginning and the end of its service, both, interestingly, in camouflage.

Battleship Ramillies: The Final Salvo is a most enjoyable read. It is informative on many levels and highly recommended to those interested in the realities of sailors’ lives in wartime.

  •  Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2014
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 256 pages
  • Photographs, notes, index. £25.00
  • ISBN: 9781848322073

Reviewed by Mark Meyers, New Bern, North Carolina

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