• Si Biggs

Operation Dragoon - Royal Marines

Unit/ Formation: HM Ships


Location: Mediterranean


Period/ Conflict: World War II


Year: 1944


Date/s: 15 August – 14 September 1944


Operation Dragoon was the code name for the Allied invasion of Southern France on 15 August 1944.


Royal Marines onboard H.M.S. Ramillies [2]

The operation was initially planned to be executed in conjunction with Operation Overlord, the Allied landing in Normandy, but the lack of available resources led to a cancellation of the second landing. By July 1944 the landing was reconsidered, as the clogged-up ports in Normandy did not have the capacity to adequately supply the Allied forces. Concurrently, the French High Command pushed for a revival of the operation that would include large numbers of French troops. As a result, the operation was finally approved in July to be executed in August.


Hundreds of Royal Marines supported the operation serving aboard HM Ships, HMS Ramillies was one of many HM Vessels to support the landings. Ramillies carried out bombardments between 15 and 28 August.


Two of HMS Ramillies ships cats in15 inch gun in Malta [2]

On D-Day itself, Gunfire Support Group Alpha primarily engaged coastal batteries guarding landing sector Alpha, around the Gulf of St. Tropez. Ramillies fired ten rounds at the heavy battery south of St. Tropez at 06:15 and twenty-four rounds at the battery near Cape Camarat at 06:54. Thereafter there was little need for further support as the invading infantry moved quickly inland. On 17 August, Ramillies moved to the Sitka sector and bombarded German positions on the island of Port-Cros. Guided by a spotter aircraft flying from Quincy (CA-71), she scored six direct hits on the town's fort.


Ramillies at anchor during the First World War, painted in dazzle camouflage [Wikipedia]

The ground forces fought their way west towards Toulon. Supporting fire from the bombardment force assisted French forces who captured half of the city, but batteries on the St. Mandrier Peninsula continued to hold out. It was decided that a determined effort would be made to destroy or capture the forts on 25 August and the day before, Ramillies, who had been ordered to Algiers, received orders to return to the assault area.


US tender transferring German POW's to HMS Ramillies Operation Dragoon 1944 [2]

Arriving off Porquerolles at 14:00 on 25 August, she joined Lorraine and a number of cruisers. Confusion initially reigned and Ramillies did not open fire until 16:40, firing sixteen rounds before her targets were obscured by smoke. Recommencing fire at 18:38, she fired a further forty-six rounds, scoring several hits and silencing two batteries. Several batteries continued to hold out however, and on 26 August, the bombardment continued. Ramillies fired thirty-five rounds, scoring direct hits and observing no retaliatory fire.



13 German POWs on H.M.S. Ramillies after South of France Invasion Aug 1944 Photo Courtesy of S/M Fred Smith [Ramillies Association]

On 27 August she fired forty-eight more rounds, of which at least thirty-four fell within 50 yards of her target batteries. The German gun crews surrendered the following day.


Ramillies was finally released from the assault area on 29 August. [1]


Royal Marines 4inch gun crew with Charles Parsons 1940's [2]

HMS Ramillies Log:


July

After release from NEPTUNE prepared for bombardment duties in Mediterranean. Allocated for service under US Command for support of landings in South France. (Operation DRAGOON - For details see LANDINGS IN SOUTH FRANCE (HMSO).


August

Passage to Gibraltar

11th - Arrived at Algiers to join ALPHA Gunfire Support Group in Task Force 84. (Note: The Group had already sailed for Malta and programme rearranged).

10th - Took passage to join cruisers ORION, AURORA, AJAX and BLACK PRINCE, US cruiser USS QUINCY and French cruiser GLOIRE in Assault area.

15th - Joined Gunfire Support Group. Provided naval gunfire support with ships of Group during landings by 3rd US Div in the Baie de Cavalaire. Batteries at St Tropez and Cape Camarat silenced.

19th - Transferred to SITKA area. Fired 12 rounds at fort. After defence collapsed in SITKA area took passage to Propriano.

24th - Took passage to Algiers from Propriano. Recalled to support military operations in Marseilles Bay.

25th - Arrived at Porquerolles with cruiser SIRIUS and US cruiser OMAHA. Joined in the bombardment of batteries on St. Mendrier peninsula.

26th - Resumed bombardment of batteries.

27th - Bombardment in continuation. (See above references for details).

29th - Released from US command and remained in Mediterranean. [3]



Royal Marines Ack-Ack AA crew [2]

HMS Ramillies


HMS Ramillies (pennant number: 07) was one of five Revenge-classsuper-dreadnought battleships built for the Royal Navy during the First World War. They were developments of the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships, with reductions in size and speed to offset increases in the armour protection whilst retaining the same main battery of eight 15-inch (381 mm) guns.


15 Inch Guns at the Imperial War Museum


The now iconic 15 inch guns from HMS Ramillies and HMS Resolution outside IWM’s Lambeth Road building were installed and unveiled to the public in 1968.


The removal was carried out by Robert Wynn and Sons at a cost of £2,575 for the move and £700-£800 for mounting the guns. To minimise disruption, the removal from storage at Shoeburyness to IWM was carried out at night.


[1] Read more about Operation Dragoon here: Naval History and Heritage Command - Operation Dragoon: The Invasion of Southern France

[2] HMS Ramillies Association

[3] Royal Navy History net

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