Operation Bertram

Operation Bertram


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Operation Bertram

Operation Bertram (1942) was the tactical element of the deception plan for the second battle of El Alamein, and focused on convincing the Germans both that the offensive wouldn't begin until some time in November and that the main attack would come on the southern end of the front line.

Operation Bertram was run by Lt Colonel Charles Richardson, a recently arrived member of the planning staff of the Eighth Army. Richardson was given two tasks – first to hide the buildup on the northern part of the Alamein line, and help convince Rommel that the main attack would come in the south, and second to convince Rommel that the attack wouldn't start until nearly November, two weeks after the genuine 'D-Day' of 23 October. The work was carried out by the Middle East Camoflage Department, commanded by Major Geoffrey Barkas. He had performed a similar role for General Auchinleck earlier in the year (Operation Sentinal), but Bertram would be on a much larger scale. Barkas was informed of the plan by Montgomery's chief of staff, de Guingand, on 17 September, and offered to create two dummy armoured brigades on the south front. Montgomery liked the idea, but wanted it to be on a bigger scale, and ordered them to create an entire fake armoured corps.

Operation Bertram thus had to achieve several different things. It had to hide the massive British buildup in the north, create the impression of a bigger buildup in the south, and indicate that preparations were two weeks less advanced than was the case.

The most difficult part of the plan was hiding the massive buildup in the north. X Corp's two armoured divisions were to move to an assembly area codenamed Martello, at El Imayid, around twenty miles east of the front. The field guns were to assemble at Cannibal 1, five mile east of the front, and then move further west to Cannibal 2 just before the start of the attack. A series of approach tracks needed to be bulldozed from the front to Martello.

The problem of the approach tracks was dealt with by having them completed in short patches, which didn't obviously lead from Martello to the front. The gaps were completed just before 'D-Day'.

A vast amount of store had to be concealed in the north – 3,000 tons at El Alamein station alone (600 tons of supplies, 2,000 tons of petrol and 420 tons of engineering supplies), and another 3,000 tons fifteen miles further east (again at El Imayid). A series of ingenious plans were used to hide these supplies. Much of the petrol was hidden in existing slit trenches, of which around 100 sections had been dug over time. Each trench was lined with a one-tank wide wall of petrol cans during the hours of darkness, making them slightly narrower. This difference wasn't visible from the air.

The food was hidden in plain site. Each night the supply trucks brought more supplies to the supply dumps. The food was stacked and then covered with the same sort of camoflague netting used to hide three on trucks. More food could be hidden under the fringes of the netting, or in soldier's tents. From the air this appeared to be a standard lorry park, and the illusion was completed by posting a unit of soldiers in the dump to operate vehicles and keep it working.

The 25-pounder field guns were hidden in a similar way – their limbers were backed up to the guns, and the combined parts were then covered by a canvas dummy truck. The wheels from the guns and limbers completed the illusion. The move from Cannibal 1 to Cannibal 2 was carried out overnight, and the cover was back in place before dawn.

The Martello area was filled with trucks (dummy and real) as quickly as possible. As each tank arrived it would replace one of these trucks, and would be hidden under a 'sunshield', a canvas canopy designed to look like a truck from the air. The Germans would inevitably spot this large assembly area, but wouldn't see any of the activity, and would hopefully dismiss it as a fairly dormant truck park.

Aound 400 dummy M3 Grant tanks and 1,750 dummy vehicles and guns had to be built for the false buildup in the south. This was supported by the creation of two high fake supply dumps just to the east of the false water pipe (see below). There was also one double-bluff. On 15 October a set of dummy gun batteries were set up east of the Munassib Depression. After a few days the camofluage was allowed to slip to make it clear that these were dummy guns. The Germans noticed this slip, but the dummy guns were then replaced with the real thing. During the battle one German armoured column was caught out by this trap.

The most famous attempt to deceive the Germans about the timing was the construction of a dummy water pipeline, running south from El Imayid on the coastal railway across the front, and then turning south-west to head towards the possible launching point for an attack in that area at Samaket Gaballa. The pace of progress would be set so that the pipeline would be completed ten days after D-Day. The Germans would be able to monitor the pace of progress, and see work on a series of dummy pumping stations, and from that work out when the pipeline would be completed. Work on the new pipeline began on 26 September. It was a very simple exercise. A short stretch of fake pipeline was made from crushed petrol cans. On the first night a stretch of trench was dug, and the false pipeline placed next to it. Each night after that the existing trench was filled in, a new section was dug, and the false pipework was moved alongside it. Three dummy pumping stations were built along the route of the pipeline.

Operation Bertram also covered the final advance of the British armour in the days immediately before the battle. The first move, from the training area to a staging area in the south was carried out in daylight, in the hope that the Germans would notice this and take it as evidence for an attack in that area. The tanks then moved into Martello on the night of 20-21 October (D-3), and were hidden under their sunscreens by dawn. Dummy tanks were then erected back at the original staging area, in the hope that the Germans would believe that the armour was still some way to the rear. A wireless deception unit then operated from the empty staging area, in a further attempt to keep the Germans guessing.

At the start of the battle a dummy amphibious landing was staged behind the northern end of the Axis line. This involved sonic deception, with the recording of battle sounds played from loudspeaksers on motor torpedo boats. The threat of an amphibious landing was real, and this appears to have distracted the Axis high command at the start of the battle, adding to the confusion caused by the artillery barrage, the absence of Rommel and the death of his deputy, General Stumme, of a heart attack right at the start of the battle.

Just how far the Germans were deceived is hard to tell. Rommel was away from the army, recovering from an illness, throughout October, and didn't rejoin his army until 25 October, two days into the battle, suggesting that the Germans hadn't expected an attack in late October. In addition Rommel's armour was split in half, with one German and one Italian armoured division in the north and the same in the south. This was unusual for Rommel, who preferred to mass his armour, and again suggests that the Axis high command didn't know where the Allied attack was coming from.

Operation Bertram, and its intelligence led sister Operation Treatment, were the first of a series of increasingly elaborate Allied deception plans. Similar operations were put in place to hide the invasion of Sicily, and most famously to try and prevent the Germans from reacting quickly after D-Day (Operation Fortitude).


OPERATION BERTRAM – THE COVER PLAN FOR EL ALAMEIN I

In 1940 the War Office established the Camouflage Development and Training Centre at Farnham Castle in Surrey. It was the preserve of a mixed bag of individuals including Hugh Cott, a distinguished Cambridge zoologist who applied the coloration found on animal skins to guns and tanks. From the art world there was the Surrealist artist and friend of Picasso, Roland Penrose, who wrote the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage. Penrose’s party trick was successfully to hide his lover, the acclaimed American model, photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller, in a garden, naked, camouflaged from prying eyes with body paint and netting. He reasoned that if he could hide a naked woman in a garden full of people, anything could be hidden.

Perhaps the most famous of the British camoufleurs was the popular stage magician Jasper Maskelyne. Following the publication of his memoirs in 1949, Maskelyne has long been seen as the leading light in the deception world. However, the truth about the ‘war magician’ appears somewhat less fantastic under scrutiny. Maskelyne arrived in Cairo on 10 March 1941 as part of a detachment of 12 camouflage officers sent to work with Barkas. He spent much of his time performing magic shows for entertainment purposes and later went on to work for the escape and evasion department MI9, where he helped in devising concealed escape devices for POWs.

Maskelyne’s actual involvement in military deception appears to have been a bit of a sham. Curiously enough, people appeared much more confident with the dummy vehicles when they were told they had been devised by a well-known illusionist. It also appears that Dudley Clarke encouraged Maskelyne’s boasting to some extent, because it diverted attention away from A Force and himself. Somewhat ironically, then, Maskelyne’s main contribution to deception may have been to provide a cloak behind which others could work in secret.

Maskelyne’s more limited role is also suggested by the artist Julian Trevelyan, a fellow graduate from Farnham. An interesting character in his own right, Trevelyan was a member of the British Surrealist movement and before the war had experimented with injections of hallucinogenic synthetic Mescalin crystals, an experience which led him to exclaim: ‘I have been given the key of the universe.’ His feet firmly back on the ground, Trevelyan was sent from the United Kingdom on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East to witness the deceptions being carried out there by Barkas’s department.

In March 1942 Trevelyan visited Tobruk and then went to Barkas’s Camouflage Training and Development Centre at Helwan near Cairo. He was generally impressed with what he saw, except perhaps with a dummy railhead complete with dummy rolling stock and station, which he claimed that the Germans complimented by dropping a wooden bomb on. Having witnessed the hand of Barkas at work, the artist remarked: ‘It is thanks to Barkas, principally, that the formidable technique of deception has been elaborated. You cannot hide anything in the desert all you can do is to disguise it as something else. Thus tanks become trucks overnight, and of course trucks become tanks, and the enemy is left guessing at our real strength and intentions.’

Returning to the situation at El Alamein, Barkas followed Auchinleck’s orders to congregate his dummies behind the main lines and was overjoyed that he, for the first time, received the magic words ‘operational priority’ to assist him. Operation Sentinel saw the land between El Alamein and Cairo become dotted with camps, complete with smoke rising from cookhouses and incinerators. Canteens were set up with dummy vehicles parked outside while their imaginary drivers were inside enjoying an equally notional ‘brew’. To thicken the defensive positions, the craftsmen at Barkas’s school at Helwan developed a wide range of decoys, including batteries of field guns that could be stowed inside a single truck. Within three weeks of starting the build up Barkas was simulating enough activity to indicate the presence of two fresh motorized divisions in close reserve to the main line.

After his failure to break through the Alamein line Rommel was forced onto the defensive. With an impatient Prime Minister anxiously watching proceedings, the British made their preparations for a counter-attack scheduled for 23 October. To cover this attack, two cover plans were developed, Operations Treatment and Bertram.

Shortly after Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army on 13 August he held his first meeting with Colonel Dudley Clarke and was given an appraisal of his command’s activities, which centred on maintaining a notional threat against Crete. Montgomery did not disapprove of Dudley Clarke’s tactics in fact he endorsed them. When planning the counter-offensive, in addition to the notional threat against Crete, Montgomery wanted A Force to use its intelligence channels to make the Germans believe the start date, or D-Day, for the forthcoming Allied desert counter-offensive would be 6 November, two weeks later than actually planned. This A Force ruse was codenamed Treatment.

At the time, Dudley Clarke was heavily involved with the planning for Operation Torch. In October he was called to attend a meeting with the London Controlling Section, which was set up to ensure Anglo-American cooperation in deception once the US forces began operating in North Africa. As he would be away from Egypt at the crucial time, Clarke handed over management of Treatment to his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Noël Wild.
Having been acquainted with him for some time before the war, in April 1942 Clarke had poached Wild from his job as a staff officer at GHQ Cairo. The circumstances of his recruitment were somewhat irregular. One evening Major Wild went to a Cairo hotel to cash a cheque and was ambushed by the A Force chief, who bought him drinks to celebrate Wild’s promotion to lieutenant colonel as Clarke’s deputy. When Wild enquired what the promotion entailed, and what exactly Clarke did, he was met with evasive replies. The only certainty was that Clarke wanted someone he knew and trusted in the post.

After a night’s sleep Wild accepted the position and was indoctrinated into the weird and wonderful world of A Force. By the time of Treatment, Wild was well enough versed in its techniques to use the A Force channels to hint that there were no plans to commit to a major offensive against Rommel. As long as German forces continued to advance into the Caucasus through the Soviet Union, the British were said to be apprehensive about their rear. Instead, Montgomery’s sole purpose was to use the lull in the fighting to train and test his troops for future operations. According to information sent out by the Cheese network, if there was going to be any major British attack it would be against Crete. This information was taken so seriously that Hitler ordered the island’s garrison to be strengthened on 23 September. He reiterated this order on 21 October, just two days before the British offensive was due to open.

To divert attention away from the last week of October, a conference was scheduled in Tehran. In attendance would be the British Commanders-in-Chief Middle East, PAIFORCE (Persia and Iraq) and India. This conference was scheduled for 26 October, three days after D-Day. In Egypt the last week of October was left open for officers to take leave and many had hotel rooms booked in their names.

The tactical counterpart to Treatment was codenamed Bertram and was given to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Richardson to devise and implement. An engineer by training, Richardson had only recently joined the planning staff of Eighth Army HQ after having spent a year with SOE in Cairo. Privately he was dismissive of the dummy tanks Auchinleck had used in Sentinel as a ‘pathetic last resort’. Richardson was sceptical about the chances of fooling the Germans, in particular the Luftwaffe and its photo-reconnaissance interpreters.

Richardson was summoned by Montgomery’s chief of staff, Freddie de Guingand, and received the outline of the British plan, which was a direct assault along the coastal road, on the right of the British position. He was then told to go away and come up with a suitable cover plan that would conceal the intention of the offensive for as long as possible, and when that was no longer possible, to mislead the enemy over the date and sector in which the attack was to be made.

For this purpose Montgomery wanted a plan that advertised false moves in the south, while concealing his real moves in the north of the sector. Pondering the situation from Rommel’s point of view, Richardson thought that the German field marshal might ‘buy’ the suggestion of a British attack from the south, as it was the sort of tactic he might resort to himself. The other thing Richardson had to consider was how to persuade Rommel the attack was not going to be delivered on 23 October, as was the case. The preparations for the battle were so vast that Richardson supposed they could only stall the enemy’s thinking by about ten days. The way he proposed to do this was ingenious. His idea was to construct a dummy pipeline bringing water to the southern flank. German reconnaissance would no doubt spot this pipeline and, by gauging the speed with which it was being constructed, they would be able to project the date on which the British would be ready to begin their operations. This date would be set at ten days after D-Day. Richardson took the plans to de Guingand, who approved them, and passed them on to Monty for his final endorsement.

With official approval granted, Richardson needed someone actually to implement the plans. Richardson was aware of A Force’s existence, probably through de Guingand, who had until recently been the Director of Military Intelligence in GHQ Cairo. However, Richardson was reluctant to use A Force because he believed Clarke’s work was so ‘stratospheric and secret’ it was best to keep well out of it. Instead Richardson used GHQ’s Camouflage Department under Barkas.

On 17 September Barkas and his deputy, Major Tony Ayrton, were invited to de Guingand’s caravan and warned that what they were about to hear was top secret. The Chief Engineer of the Eighth Army was about to make a number of bulldozed tracks running from an assembly area codenamed Martello towards the front line, running parallel with the coast road and railway. Shortly afterwards large concentrations of vehicles and tanks would begin concentrating at Martello along with vast quantities of stores and munitions. Beyond Martello, but about five miles behind the front line, a great number of field guns would be marshalled at an area codenamed Cannibal 1. These would then be moved closer to the front line to deliver an opening barrage from positions directly behind the front line codenamed Cannibal 2. De Guingand wanted to know if the Camouflage Department was able to assist with the following objectives:
1. To conceal the preparations in the north.
2. To suggest that an attack was to be mounted in the south.
3. When the preparations in the north could not be concealed, to minimize their scale.
4. To make the rate of build up appear slower than it actually was, so that the enemy would believe there were still two or three days before the attack commenced.

Although sobered when told he had about a month to achieve all this, Barkas was inwardly jubilant that at last Camouflage was about to make a ‘campaign swaying’ contribution.
Barkas and Ayrton left the caravan to formulate their plan and took a stroll along the beach where their voices were drowned out from prying ears by the waves breaking on the shore. Two hours later, having typed up an appreciation and report on the subject, they went back to de Guingand, offering to suggest

For this purpose Montgomery wanted a plan that advertised false moves in the south, while concealing his real moves in the north of the sector. Pondering that two armoured brigade groups were concentrating to the south. When Montgomery’s reply was delivered a few days later, Barkas was told to make provision for an entire phantom armoured corps in the south.

This entailed making 400 dummy Grant tanks and at least 1,750 transport vehicles and guns. Barkas was given ample resources, including three complete pioneer companies, a transport company and a POW unit. While he masterminded production of the material and devices, Barkas charged Ayrton and his colleague, the former Punch illustrator Brian Robb, with the actual deception work on the battlefield.


OPERATION BERTRAM – THE COVER PLAN FOR EL ALAMEIN II

The deception scheme was composed of a number of separate plans, their component parts coming together to form a veritable symphony of deceit. The first problem was the approach tracks that were bulldozed from Martello to the front line. Although there was absolutely no hope of hiding their existence from the Luftwaffe, their purpose could be concealed. Ayrton went up in an aircraft to enact the role of a German reconnaissance pilot taking photographs. Ayrton’s solution to the problem of the tracks was ingenious. He called in at the Chief Engineer’s with annotated aerial photographs and suggested that rather than starting at Martello and driving directly to the front, the bulldozers should complete only patches of the track and join them together only much closer to D-Day.

More solutions were found to disguise the stores. Over 3,000 tons of stores had to be hidden at El Alamein train station, about five miles behind the front line. This included 600 tons of supplies, 2,000 tons of petrol, oil and lubricants and 420 tons of engineer stores. A similar amount required concealment at a second station about 15 miles to the east. In the forward area the most pressing problem was finding suitable storage for the cans of petrol. Ayrton and Robb found that there were about a hundred sections of slit-trenches in the area, all of which were lined with masonry. Supposing that these trenches were already well known to Germans from reconnaissance photographs, it was decided to line the trenches with a single course of petrol cans on each side. This slight reduction in the width of the trenches did not appear to change the shadows cast by the trenches, so 2,000 tons of fuel was successfully stored overnight. Confirmation of their success came when British air observers were sent out to locate the new fuel dumps and failed.

The food supplies arrived at the dumping ground in trucks by night. The trucks were met by guides and led to pre-arranged unloading sites in the open, featureless piece of terrain. As they were unloaded, the stores were stacked in such a way that they resembled three-ton trucks covered by camouflage netting. Further stores were stacked under the apron of the net, with the remaining boxes stacked and hidden under soldiers’ tents. To complete the illusion of a park of thin-skinned vehicles, a small unit of soldiers was moved into the area to animate it and real trucks were diverted to drive through it to create tracks and demonstrate the sort of activities associated with a vehicle park. Similar arrangements were made for the concealment of ammunition and other military stores close to the rail stations at El Alamein and also further back.

The British offensive was to be opened by an enormous barrage of around 400 25-pounder field guns. These guns had to be hidden at their assembly point and then again at their barrage positions. It was not simply a case of hiding the guns, but also their limbers and the distinctively shaped quad tractors used to transport them. It was found that by backing the limber up to the gun and rigging a canvas dummy vehicle over the top with the limber and gun’s wheels protruding, the effect was to produce a convincing three-ton truck. In turn the quads had a rectangular tent put over the back of them to make them also appear as trucks. Each gun crew was then trained in making the transformation from assembly area (Cannibal 1) to the barrage point (Cannibal 2) – the codename Cannibal deriving from the way the dummy ‘swallowed’ the thing it was protecting. When the time came to move the guns into position, the transition occurred at night and the gun crews had their tents and covers in place before the sun came up.

As for the Martello staging area, the problem was collecting hundreds of armoured vehicles in an area just 12 x 8 miles (19 x 13km). Since there was no way of hiding such an assembly, it was decided to fill up the Martello area with as many thin-skinned vehicles and dummies as quickly as possible. The Germans would no doubt notice this concentration area, but because nothing appeared to be happening there, they would come to ignore it.

Meanwhile, each tank that was destined to arrive at Martello was assigned a special point where it would be concealed. Each tank was provided with a ‘sunshield’, an invention that Barkas attributed to Wavell, who had earlier shown him a sketch of a tank with a canopy over it. The idea was that each tank would have a quickly detachable cover to make it look like a truck. In all, 772 ‘sunshields’ were issued before El Alamein. The tank crews were trained how to use them and then taken up to Martello and shown their hiding place in advance. On the night of 20–21 October Xth Armoured Corps began moving from its staging area to Martello. On arrival the crews had their ‘sunshields’ rigged before first light. Back at the staging area, the track marks were obliterated, the empty fuel cans were collected and a dummy tank was erected where the real tank had previously stood. From the point of view of German photo-reconnaissance, nothing had changed since the previous day, except the arrival of more trucks in an already busy assembly area behind the British lines.

The main focus of the build up in the south, where Montgomery wanted Rommel to think the attack was coming from, began on 26 September with the start of the dummy water pipeline codenamed Diamond. A five-mile-long section of trench was dug and a ‘pipeline’ laid parallel to it. The actual ‘pipeline’ was constructed from crushed, empty petrol cans laid along the ground in a line. Overnight the trench would be filled in and the ‘pipeline’ gathered up to be reused in the next section of trench. Dummy pump houses were built at three points along the line, complete with overhead tanks and can filling stations. To add further credence to the illusion, these areas were populated by dummy vehicles and mannequins of soldiers.

To the east of Diamond, an area codenamed Brian (after Brian Robb) was set aside for the build up of dummy stores. Despite a sandstorm and the unexpected arrival of a horde of British tanks on field manoeuvres, two days before D-Day Barkas’s men had created what appeared to be a huge stockpile of stores.

With the real artillery hidden to the north dummy batteries were set up at the eastern end of what was codenamed the Munassib Depression. This area was chosen for the site of a series of dummy gun batteries, which were set up on 15 October. They were camouflaged exactly the same way a genuine battery would be hidden, but after a few days the camouflage was allowed to lapse so that the Germans would realize the guns were dummies. Shortly after D-Day, the dummy field guns in Munassib were replaced with the genuine items, much to the surprise of a column of German armour which decided to probe against what it thought was a harmless decoy position.

Last, but by no means least, at the opening of the battle a non-existent amphibious landing was staged behind German lines between El Daba and Sidi Abd el Rahman. This operation saw the use of sonic deception – where battle sounds were played over loudspeakers mounted on fast motor torpedo boats operating just off shore. This technique was still in its early stages, but had been pioneered by GSI(d) almost a year earlier. Barkas was not overly impressed with sonic deception, complaining that the recordings of gunfire sounded like dustbins being struck. However, better amplification was being developed by movie companies in the United States and so the ruse would be used again later in the war.

The night of 23 October was clear and brightly illuminated by a full moon. At 9.40pm, the calm was ruptured by the detonation of hundreds of British field guns. For 15 minutes, just short of a thousand British guns pounded the German batteries in front of them. There was a five-minute pause before the barrage recommenced at 10pm, this time targeting German forward positions. Behind the barrage Allied infantry began advancing through the Axis minefields.

At the opening of the battle Rommel was not in Egypt. He had been in poor health since August and had returned to Germany in September on leave. On 3 October he was presented with his field marshal’s baton in Berlin and declared that he was at the gateway to Egypt and had no intention of being flung back.

His understudy was General Georg Stumme. On the night of 23 October Stumme and his chief signals officer went forward on a reconnaissance towards the British lines. It was an ill-chosen adventure moments before the opening of the British attack. In the opening barrage the signals officer was killed by machine-gun fire and Stumme suffered a heart attack. He was unused to the climate in North Africa and had been overworking: the shock of the barrage and the close proximity of the signals officer’s death finished him off. It was some time before he was missed and the body recovered. Meanwhile in Berlin it was a full 24 hours before the seriousness of the situation was realized and Hitler ordered Rommel to return and resume command.

With the charismatic field marshal missing for the first 48 hours of the battle and overwhelming Allied superiority, the end result of El Alamein was never really in doubt. The Axis troops fought hard but were gradually worn down in a battle of attrition. When a renewed offensive began on 2 November Rommel realized the game was up. Despite being told to stand and fight by Hitler, by 4 November the Afrika Korps began to retreat to the west. Four days later the Torch landings began.

The victory at El Alamein is often described as the turning point of the war against the Nazis, or, as Churchill put it, ‘the end of the beginning’. Along with the surrender of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad on 31 January 1943, El Alamein marked a point in the war when the balance swayed in favour of the Allies, and one on which all future successes were built.

Although one might speculate that the German defeat was down to a lack of air superiority, a lack of operational intelligence, the inferiority of their numbers and the disruption of their supplies, the success of Treatment and Bertram cannot be overlooked. Barkas modestly and rightly noted that none of his colleagues was ‘so foolish’ as to think that El Alamein had been won ‘by conjuring tricks, with stick, string and canvas’ and attributed the success to the bravery of the fighting men. However, in a speech in the House of Commons on 11 November Churchill acknowledged the importance of ‘surprise and strategy’ in the battle:

By a marvellous system of camouflage, complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert. The enemy suspected – indeed, knew – that an attack was impending, but when and where and how it was coming was hidden from him. The Xth Corps, which he had seen from the air exercising fifty miles in the rear, moved silently away in the night, but leaving an exact simulacrum of its tanks where it had been, and proceeded to its points of attack. The enemy suspected that the attack was impending, but did not know how, when or where, and above all he had no idea of the scale upon which he was to be assaulted.

For the first time on a large scale, the planning of a cover for an operation involving camouflage, decoys, bogus signals traffic and double agents, had been successfully achieved. With varying degrees of success, this same recipe would now be applied to every major Allied operation in the build up to the Normandy invasion in 1944.


Planning

Bertram was devised by Dudley Clarke to deceive Erwin Rommel about the timing and location of the expected allied attack by the Eighth Army. [2] It consisted of physical deceptions using dummies and camouflage, concealing real movements, in particular of Montgomery's armour. [3] Bertram was accompanied by electromagnetic deceptions codenamed "Operation Canwell" using false radio traffic. [4] The front line was relatively short: it stretched from the Mediterranean Sea in the north, near El Alamein railway station, to the effectively impassable Qattara Depression in the south, a distance of only about 30 miles. It was therefore clear to the enemy that the attack must come in this space, and since the only road was in the north, surprise and full-scale attack in any other location might have been thought unlikely. The deceptions were planned to make the enemy believe that the attack would take place to the south, far from the coast road and railway, and about two days later than the real attack. [2] [5]

Soon after his arrival on 8 August 1942, the new Middle East commander, Harold Alexander, visited Geoffrey Barkas's camouflage unit at Helwan to assess its ability to implement Bertram. He looked at everything intently, but seemed most interested in the woodworking shop. [6]

On 16 September 1942, Freddie de Guingand, Montgomery's chief of staff, summoned Barkas and Tony Ayrton to Eighth Army headquarters near Borg-el-Arab. He told them this was to be top secret, that Alexander had been impressed by his visit to Helwan, and that he wanted Camouflage's advice. He introduced Charles Richardson, who worked for Dudley Clarke's secretive 'A' Force and was to implement the deception Montgomery needed. Richardson had not been trained in deception planning, given the accelerated training of staff officers in 1940, nor had he ever prepared a deception plan before. He was determined it should succeed, since, as he wrote, "if it failed it would do far more damage than having no plan at all". [7] de Guingand outlined the basic plan: an attack in the north, along the line of the coast road, with a feint some 20 miles to the south. The tanks would take two days to move into battle position from their forming-up positions. Engineering work was already under way. He then astonished them by asking them to hide the hundreds of tanks and field guns, and the thousands of tons of matériel, that were to be used for the decisive attack at El Alamein. Barkas had been hoping for such an opportunity, and now he was being offered the chance to camouflage perhaps the largest desert battle ever attempted. [8]

Barkas and Ayrton went out onto the beach dunes to sit and think. Barkas recalled the sacked Jasper Maskelyne, a stage magician who had briefly worked for him, saying he needed his vanishing tricks now. Ayrton agreed, suggesting they use Sunshields to make the tanks seem to be trucks, and vice versa. By the end of that afternoon they had typed up a plan and presented it to de Guingand and Richardson. They proposed to create two dummy armoured brigades to deploy in the south. They would give the appearance of not being ready by making it seem the tanks had not moved from their forming-up areas (Murrayfield and Melting Pot). Dummy tanks would replace them there while they would mimic trucks when they arrived in the forward Martello area. [8]

Richardson asked if they could use something like Steven Sykes's dummy railhead which had worked so well at Misheifa. [9] Barkas answered that he intended to build a dummy water pipeline to go down south, and to be obviously not ready. [8]

Within two weeks Barkas's plan was accepted, but with one change requested by Montgomery: the dummy armour was doubled to represent a whole armoured corps of over 600 vehicles. [8] Richardson integrated the camouflage plan with the main plans: in Barkas's words, Richardson "amplified it a great deal to fit in with all the other major considerations, which he knew and I didn't." [10]

Barkas, a former film director, was set to work "on the task of providing props for the biggest 'film production' on which I ever expect to be engaged". [11] Work began on 27 September, giving 4 weeks before the day of the attack. [8]


Bertram Ramsay

Born in 1883, Adm. Bertram Home Ramsay spent nearly his entire life in the service of the Royal Navy. During, Ramsay's 29 year career in the navy he commanded a monitor, destroyer, three cruisers and a battleship, and during Normandy, the largest amphibious assault force ever collected. In 1915, Ramsay had a stroke of good luck he turned done the opportunity to be a Flag Lieutenant in the cruiser Defiance, which was later sunk at the battle of Jutland.

He was promoted to Rear Admiral in May 1935 and Ramsay retired for the first time in 1938, but returned to the service of his country at the beginning of WWII.

One of Ramsay's first duties in the war was Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British Expeditionary Force, along with some French soldiers, from the shores of Dunkirk.

Ramsay's forces, bolstered by a number of civilian vessels, managed to save a majority of Allied forces from the German encirclement and most likely prevented a premature end to the war.

Following Dunkirk, Ramsay went on the offensive. In November 1942, he led the allied fleet in support of Operation Torch, the invasion of Africa. The next year, Ramsay, landed the Montgomery's British 8th Army in Sicily and continued to provide naval bombardment throughout the successful Sicilian campaign.

Ramsay's experience in commanding invasion fleets made him Eisenhower's natural choice to lead the naval forces in Operation Overlord. Despite Ramsay's concerns that the large waves on the channel would degrade the accuracy of his fleet's gunfire, the invasion was launched on June 6th, 1944. His minesweepers began the invasion by scouring the channel for mines and clearing ten channels to Normandy for the invasion fleet.

After the channel was cleared of mines, Ramsay's fleet began landing men and equipment ashore while pounding suspected German strong points with gunfire. The 702 vessel strong naval bombardment fleet ranged in size from battleship all the way down to landing craft that were specially fitted with rockets. Ramsay's planning and experience made history's largest amphibious invasion possible. In 1945, Ramsay's life was cut short when he was killed in a plane crash.


In March of 1862, Union General George B. McClellan outflanked the Confederate main army in Northern Virginia by landing 121,000 men on the Virginia Peninsula to the south, between the James and York rivers. The goal was to march up the Peninsula and capture Richmond before the Confederates had time to rush in reinforcements to protect their capital, and things went smoothly at first, as McClellan successfully disembarked with no difficulty, and began marching to Richmond.

The only opposition standing between McClellan and Richmond were 12,000 Confederates at Yorktown, commanded by John B. Magruder and outnumbered 10 to 1 by Union forces. Magruder, realizing his small force stood no chance in a fight, and desperately needing to buy time until reinforcements arrived, set out to bamboozle McClellan into slowing down.

Fortunately for the Confederates, Magruder was the right man in the right place at the right time. Renown before the war for his florid manner and proneness to theatrics and ostentatious displays, Magruder resorted to theatrics and display to put on a show and trick McClellan into believing that he faced far stronger opposition than was the case. Taking advantage of the small Warwick river which separated him from the advancing federals, Magruder set out to convince McClellan that its 14 mile length on the opposite bank was heavily fortified and strongly garrisoned. While the fortifications were real, Magruder lacked the men to occupy them in any strength that could have stopped McClellan had he attacked.

Magruder directed his forces to create a din, with drumrolls and men cheering in woods behind the lines, to fool their foes into believing there were far more Confederates in the vicinity than was the case. He also employed the same column of men over and over, marching them within sight of the federals to take up positions on the defensive line, then slipping away outside the Union observers&rsquo line of sight, reassembling in column, and marching back to the defensive line to take up defensive positions once more.

With such theatrics, Magruder convinced McClellan that the Confederate positions were too strong for a frontal attack &ndash a task made easier by McClellan&rsquos predisposition to take counsel of his fears and believe himself outnumbered. On April 5, 1862, the Union commander ordered a halt on his side of the Warwick river, had his men dig in, and set out to conduct a siege when he could have simply bulled through, swatted Magruder aside, and seized Richmond as it was his for the taking.

For a month, McClellan methodically prepared for a huge attack to break through Magruder&rsquos &ldquostrong defenses&rdquo, concentrating men, guns, and munitions for a massive bombardment scheduled for May 5, 1862, followed by an overwhelming attack. Having already bought his side a month to prepare for the defense of Richmond, Magruder slipped away on the night of May 3, leaving behind empty trenches for the enemy to occupy. McClellan resumed his advance on Richmond, but by then the Confederates had concentrated sufficient forces to thwart him.


Bertram Ramsay: The Mastermind of Operation Dynamo

AT 7:30 A.M. ON MAY 15, 1940, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL was awakened by an urgent telephone call from French premier Paul Reynaud. “We are beaten,” the distraught Reynaud blurted out in English. “We have lost the battle.”

Churchill, who had been in office for only a few days, was still groggy. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Surely it can’t have happened so soon?” he finally responded. He thought Reynaud might be misjudging things.

But Reynaud wasn’t. After the German army attacked the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, the Allies figured that the Ardennes, a heavily forested region whose rugged terrain was thought to be impassable to tanks, and the Maginot Line, a vast fortification stretching along the Franco-German border from Switzerland to Luxembourg, would stymie their advance. But the German armor had somehow burst through the supposedly impenetrable forest. Now, more than 1,800 tanks and a force of 325 Stuka dive-bombers were moving to trap the Allied armies on the northern coast of France and capture or annihilate them. By the time Churchill and his aides flew to Paris to meet with their French counterparts that afternoon, panic had already set in. Churchill could look out a window in the Quai d’Orsay, the French diplomatic headquarters, and see bonfires blazing, as French officials burned documents in a frenzied effort to keep them out of German hands.


Ramsay confers with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Dover Castle in 1940. (Imperial War Museums)

Over the next several days, Lord John Gort, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, gradually pulled back his troops and tried to protect his exposed flank from the advancing Germans, who had turned north toward the English Channel in what Field Marshal Erich von Man­stein called the “sickle cut.” But when Gort’s chief of staff, General Henry Pownall, called the War Office in London on May 19, the situation he described was dire. With the French unable to plug the massive holes in their lines that the Germans had opened, the BEF had three options, none of them good. It could stand and fight, and risk being cut off by the German advance. It could counterattack to the south, in the hope that the French might rally somehow and join in from the north. Or it could withdraw to the French coast and prepare to evacuate across the English Channel.

The last option seemed unthinkable to the British government. A full-scale evacuation was a logistical nightmare that would require hastily moving at least a quarter of a million soldiers—three times the number that had been evacuated from Anzac Cove and Cape Helles after the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Churchill believed that if the British forces fell back to France’s Channel ports, the Germans would wipe them out before they could manage their escape.

Nevertheless, at a May 19 meeting at the War Office, military leaders for the first time took up the possibility of an evacuation that they still considered unlikely, just in case. They would use three French ports on the Channel coast to ship soldiers home the priority would be nonessential base personnel, a few thousand each day, for a total of 15,000. They also decided, just in case, to consider what was deemed “the hazardous evacuation of very large forces.” But nobody wanted to spend much time on that improbable notion.

To handle the operation, they chose an officer who, at the time, was one of the lesser luminaries in the British naval establishment. Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay, 57, was a slight figure with a quiet voice and unemotional manner, though beneath that he was stubbornly resolute. Just a few years before, he had been shunted aside and allowed to retire, only to be recalled when the Admiralty needed a flag officer to shape up long-neglected naval operations at the British port of Dover. The War Office decided to put some additional staff and 36 vessels, including civilian Channel ferries, at Ramsay’s disposal. That was all.

No one, not even Ramsay, could have guessed that he was about to become one of the most celebrated heroes of World War II. As the mastermind of the rescue operation, Ramsay would orchestrate the biggest, most difficult evacuation in military history, one that rescued the British Army from destruction and helped make possible the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

IN DOVER ON MAY 20, RAMSAY MET WITH BRITISH ARMY OFFICIALS. The situation in France had worsened, and “emergency evacuation across the Channel of very large forces” had risen to the top of the agenda. The men huddled in a manmade cave some 85 feet below Dover Castle, part of a subterranean complex of tunnels and rooms that had been carved into the cliffs by captured French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. The main space, equipped with a big wooden table to track ship movements in the waters in Ramsay’s territory, was known as the dynamo room because it had housed an electric generator during World War I. The evacuation itself was soon designated Operation Dynamo.

Ramsay’s office—which he dubbed the igloo, because of its whitewashed walls—was at the far end of the corridor. It had a balcony cut into the cliff face that provided the dank headquarters with a little sunlight. It also had a spectacular view of Dover Harbor, but it didn’t provide much enjoyment. As he worked at his desk at night, Ramsay could see the glow of flames from the French coast, where German artillery and bombs were raining hell on British and French soldiers and civilians.

Immediately after the meeting, Ramsay’s staff, along with other officials in the Admiralty and Ministry of Shipping back in London, quickly set about compiling lists of civilian ferries and other ships that they could commandeer on short notice for an evacuation. Someone mentioned that about 40 Dutch barges had been brought to England after that country fell to the Germans. Ramsay ordered them requisitioned and staffed by naval reservists. It also occurred to Ramsay that soldiers waiting to be picked up by ships might get thirsty, so he ordered 80,000 cans of water, and kept them in reserve. In a few days’ time, that prescience would save many British lives.

That was typical of Ramsay. Beneath his bland exterior and unexcitable demeanor, he was hard driven, exacting about details, and, to the consternation of his superiors, prone to grab the initiative when the decision-making process didn’t move fast enough. He could be unrelenting when he thought he was right, which was much more often that not. “It was widely held amongst his contemporaries,” noted British journalist David Divine, who once interviewed Ramsay, “that he had little human sympathy.”

Ramsay’s career in the Royal Navy had taken some odd turns. He was the third son of a British Army general who commanded the 4th Hussars, a cavalry unit in which a young Winston Churchill served, and grew up in garrison towns. His brothers went to public school and became army officers, but his parents couldn’t afford for him to go that route as well. So instead, a few days before his 15th birthday, he joined the navy as a cadet on HMS Britannia.

His first experience with amphibious operations came in the Somaliland campaign in 1904, when as a sublieutenant he was part of a naval brigade that landed on a beach in heavy surf and fought its way ashore. He also learned how easily things could go awry in the heat of battle. As Ramsay told the story, at one point in the battle he gave the order to charge and ran forward, waving his cutlass and shooting his pistol, only to notice, after a few yards, that no sailors had followed him. After that, he made sure that his men started out first.

Ramsay went on to serve on the battleship Dreadnought, and during World War I he became captain of the destroyer Broke, part of the Dover patrol that hunted U-boats and bombarded German positions in Belgium. After the war, his exceptional organizational skills and talent for getting things done led to his promotion in 1934 to chief of staff to Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse, commander in chief of the Home Fleet. It was a coveted post, but it nearly sank him. Backhouse didn’t like to delegate authority, and Ramsay grew so frustrated that the two had a falling out. At the end of 1935, Ramsay stepped down and was put on half pay.

His career in tatters, Ramsay went back to Scotland, where he and his wife, Margaret—“a tall and graceful brunette,” as a columnist for the Washington Post columnist once gushed—and their two young sons lived in a mansion in the country. Still in his 50s and living a life of leisure, he rode horses, took up carpentry, and played golf, his passion. But he was frustrated being out of the action, seeing improvements that he’d advocated while in the navy going unaddressed. In May 1937, he wrote to Churchill, his father’s former officer. But Churchill was out of office and couldn’t do anything to help him. Around that time, Ramsay turned down the Admiralty’s offer of a post in China—the sort of job that he knew was a prelude to being forced into retirement. It seemed as if he were through.

But fast-escalating tensions in Europe changed everything. When it looked as if England might have to go to war against Germany in 1938, Ramsay was recalled and appointed vice admiral in charge of the port of Dover. His job was to bolster the nation’s defenses against submarines, keep enemy ships out of the English Channel, and transport and supply the British Expeditionary Force on the continent, if needed.

Two days after then-prime minister Neville Chamberlain met with German chancellor Adolf Hitler for the infamous Munich talks, Ramsay arrived in Dover, where he discovered that there wasn’t even a headquarters suitable for running a modern naval operation. The medieval castle wouldn’t do, and the labyrinthine complex beneath it had been taken over by rats. The wireless room had been converted into a lavatory. Ramsay and his aides worked out of a local hotel until the tunnel space could be made ready for them. Ramsay’s flag lieutenant, James Stopford, took a radio set from the Chatham dockyard and set it up, while trying to ignore the residual stench.

Stopford also waged a monumental battle to get a single telephone line to France, after the Admiralty’s bureaucrats balked at the £500 cost. It was fortunate that he prevailed. That line would provide the only uninterrupted communications link to BEF commander Lord Gort’s headquarters on the French coast in the desperate days to come.

BY MAY 21 THE WAR OFFICE HAD HAMMERED OUT A PLAN FOR A POSSIBLE EVACUATION. Ramsay was to use the French ports of Calais, Boulogne, and Dunkirk. The ferries were to pick up 10,000 men from each of the ports daily, working in pairs but never with more than two in harbor at a time. It was a precise, orderly plan, the sort that paper-pushers in London would find prudent. But it never would have worked.


British and French troops wait on the beaches and dunes of Dunkirk, France, to be evacuated. (Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The next day, May 22, the War Office informed Ramsay that it would delay the decision on whether to evacuate for at least two more days. As officials in London deliberated, the Germans’ 2nd Panzer Division attacked Boulogne, one of the three evacuation points, and the 1st and 10th Panzer divisions attacked Calais. The official plan was rapidly going up in smoke.

From that point, there would be no more meetings. Ramsay and his team would create their own plan, adjusting to shifting events in real time and improvising when needed. The qualities that had nearly torpedoed his navy career—the stubborn self-assurance that he was always right, the impulse to circumvent authority and take the initiative—made him almost perfectly suited for this task.

Ramsay aimed, as usual, to surround himself with like-minded men, and he assembled a core staff of 16 officers to whom he freely delegated responsibility. They worked the phones relentlessly, ignoring normal bureaucratic channels and slashing red tape. Wrens—members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service—labored alongside them. Ramsay’s operation ran around the clock, with exhausted staffers grabbing a few hours of fitful sleep in the underground before coming back on duty.

Ramsay already knew that Operation Dynamo would have to be vastly bigger than the leadership in London envisioned it would involve hundreds of ships. Putting together an amphibious operation of that scale would have been daunting even without the extreme time pressure that he and his team faced. They had to choose the safest routes across the Channel, exposing ships to the least risk possible from German artillery, submarines, torpedo boats, and minefields. The ships that made it back to England would have to be refueled, and repaired if necessary, so that they could go back to pick up more men. After the troops arrived, they had to be put on trains home so that the ports wouldn’t become hopelessly congested. And Ramsay and his men had to coordinate with the BEF, so that soldiers were in the right spots to be picked up—all with very limited communication. Aside from using the phone line to Gort’s headquarters in La Panne, the only way to send a message to Ramsay would have been to write it down and hand it to a ship’s wireless operator for transmission.

At his headquarters on May 23, Ramsay met with a group of French admirals to work out their role in an evacuation. When they said they hoped his plan wouldn’t be needed, the ever-impatient Ramsay bluntly told them that he was putting it into effect immediately, starting with the removal of base personnel.

Throughout his stressful time in Dover, Ramsay had continually sent letters to his wife, Margaret, scribbling a few lines at a time between meetings and crises. In a letter to her that evening, he confided that the pressure was already becoming intense. “No bed for any of us last night,” he wrote. “I’m so sleepy that I can hardly keep my eyes open….The situation becomes more difficult from hour to hour.”

OVER THE NEXT TWO DAYS, THE GERMANS CLOSED IN ON CALAIS, taking out another evacuation port. The BEF was now only buying time to get to Dunkirk, their last hope, before the Germans did. The scenario was so dire that Lieutenant General Alan Brooke wrote in his diary: “Nothing but a miracle can save the BEF now, and the end cannot be far off.”

Across the water in Dover, such a miracle was starting to materialize. From Ramsay’s window on the morning of May 26, he could see a harbor packed with ships—destroyers, minesweepers, and civilian cross-Channel ferries, plus a motley assortment of British fishing boats and Dutch and Belgian small craft. Four tugboats waited to guide the big navy ships into action.

By afternoon, the order to begin the evacuation still hadn’t come. Ramsay didn’t bother waiting for it. At 3 p.m. he quietly started sending out the ferries from Dover and the small boats from Ramsgate Harbour, about 20 miles north, so that they wouldn’t get stuck in a cluster off the coast and become sitting ducks for German dive-bombers. They already faced a big problem. Route Z, a quick 39-mile passage to Dunkirk that had been swept for mines, was no longer safe, because Germans had moved close enough to Dunkirk that their artillery would be able to menace ships. Route X, which was farther to the northeast, was 55 miles, but it was full of dangerous shoals and minefields. Instead, the ships had to take route Y, a roundabout path that was twice as long as X, heading to the east to skirt German minefields and then turning back toward Dunkirk.

Finally, just before 7 p.m., First Sea Lord Dudley Pound gave the order for Operation Dynamo to begin “with the greatest vigor.” At that point, it seemed, the brass in London had pretty much accepted a catastrophic loss of most of their army. They envisioned Ramsay rescuing up to 45,000 men over two days, “at the end of which it is probable that evacuation will be terminated by enemy action.” At least one senior officer thought that Ramsay would be lucky to get even 30,000 men out.


From Dover Castle, Bertram Ramsay trains his telescope on the French coastline. (Imperial War Museums)

But Ramsay didn’t give up so easily. The initial plan was still to rely on civilian ferries, while the military ships protected them from the Germans as best they could. He staffed each ferry with a naval lieutenant commander, plus 10 navy sailors who were experienced enough to handle the ropes under enemy fire. He wanted them to load and depart at four-hour intervals to avoid delays that would leave them vulnerable to attack.

Just before midnight the first ship, Mona’s Queen, carrying 1,200 men, arrived back in Dover. A few hours later, Canterbury pulled in with another 1,340 men. But the sense of relief was tempered by new worries. The returning ships reported that Dunkirk was a hell zone. German bombs had reduced the docks and harbor infrastructure to rubble, and the ships had been strafed by German aircraft and fired on by artillery on the coast.

Ramsay seemed to fear that all was lost. “I am directing at this moment (it is 1 a.m.) one of the most difficult and hazardous operations ever conceived,” he confided in a letter to his wife, “and unless [God] is very kind, there will be many tragedies attached to it.”

On the afternoon of May 27, the destroyer Wolfhound sped across the water, carrying Captain William Tennant, Pound’s chief staff officer, who had been sent down from London to be the senior naval officer at Dunkirk. When he came ashore, Tennant was shocked by the sight of Dunkirk in ruins—“there was not a pane of glass left anywhere,” he later recalled—and bodies lying in its streets. BEF officers were waiting for him in a candlelit office within Bastion 32, the bunker-like headquarters of Admiral Jean-Marie Charles Abrial, the French naval officer in overall command of the coast. The docks were now unusable.

Scrambling for a solution, Tennant looked to the pair of breakwaters, or moles, at the harbor’s outer edge. The eastern mole was nearly a mile long. It wasn’t designed to bear the stress of ships berthing and bumping into it, and it had just a narrow plank walkway that would allow only several men to walk abreast. But it was all they had, so they turned it into an improvised pier. There was no gangway, so the British fashioned one from repurposed mess tables. At 10:30 p.m., Tennant signaled Wolfhound to send a personnel ship to pick up 1,000 men as a test. Queen of the Channel got the assignment, and by 4:15 a.m. the following morning its decks were crammed with 950 men. On its way back across the Channel, the steamer was bombed by a German aircraft and it sank, though most of its men were rescued by another ship. But the mole itself had worked. As a result, the number of men rescued from Dunkirk would increase from 7,669 on May 27 to 11,874 on May 28.

In Dover, Ramsay had been up all night. An officer who visited him in the early morning found him pale from the hours underground but still remarkably cheerful and energetic. Later that day, Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville, a well-liked officer who’d also been recalled from the retired list, checked on Ramsay at the behest of the Admiralty to see how he was holding up. Somerville called back to London and asked permission to stay and help out. For the rest of the operation, Somerville played an invaluable role as Ramsay’s nighttime stand-in, leading a team that took over for Ramsay and his aides from 2:30 a.m. until after breakfast, so that they could get a few hours of rest.

But Ramsay had plenty of worries left to keep him awake. German planes were stepping up their air attacks in an effort to make good on Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring’s promise to Hitler that he could obliterate the waiting British troops at Dunkirk without sending in tanks. With catastrophe looming, Ramsay saw that a well-paced flow of rescue vessels wouldn’t get the job done in time. He sent out all the navy craft at his disposal—a cruiser, nine destroyers, two transports, and other ships—to pick up soldiers as well. They lowered small boats to retrieve men who were queuing up outside Dunkirk, on the long, featureless stretches of sand along the coast. It was a maddeningly slow process, as each ship could pick up only about 50 men an hour by using the small boats. Ramsay asked other naval commanders to lend him additional ships and pressed naval and shipping officials back in London to find him more small boats to reach the beaches.

BY MAY 28, RAMSAY HAD 22 DESTROYERS AND OTHER CRAFT, and they were picking up dramatically larger numbers of men. The destroyer Sabre put on a demonstration of efficiency, picking up 800 soldiers in a single trip. That day Operation Dynamo evacuated a total of 17,804 men, well more than twice the count from the previous day. In addition, Ramsay’s minesweepers managed to clear Route X, providing a quicker way across the English Channel than the roundabout Route Y. Ramsay then ordered his ships to use Route X exclusively.

German planes were still a terrifying menace. But Operation Dynamo got a break when storm clouds hindered visibility and kept the aircraft on the ground for much of the day.

There was other dispiriting news. The Belgians had surrendered, eliminating one more obstacle to Hitler’s armies. In a short speech to the House of Commons, Churchill warned members—and the British people—to prepare themselves for “hard and heavy tidings.”

On the morning of May 29, Ramsay got some horrible news. One of his older destroyers, Wakeful, had been cut in half by a direct hit from a German torpedo boat. When the destroyer Grafton came to the rescue, it was torpedoed as well. As the clouds lifted, the Luftwaffe took to the air again. Five other destroyers were damaged as well.

At 7 that evening, Ramsay received an errant message that Dunkirk harbor was blocked with burning wreckage. Worse yet, Admiralty officials in London worried that Ramsay would lose ships that might be needed to protect the coast from a German invasion. At 8 p.m. Sea Lord Pound notified Ramsay that they were pulling six of the best modern destroyers he had at his disposal. He was left with a bunch of aging navy ships and seemingly had nowhere to dock them.

But Ramsay was determined to keep going. He ordered his ferries and his 15 older destroyers to continue the evacuation at maximum speed. And, improvising once more, he had his team dispatch all of the remaining craft, except for hospital ships, to the beaches around Dunkirk and to designated concentration points where troops would gather to be picked up.

Despite all the setbacks, Operation Dynamo had racked up an astonishing performance. In a single day, it had rescued 47,310 soldiers, more than the War Office had envisioned for the entire evacuation.

On May 30, Ramsay sent a destroyer, Vanquisher, to inspect the harbor at sunrise. The news turned out to be surprisingly good. Dunkirk was a mess, but the harbor wasn’t completely blocked, and the mole was still usable as a pier. The mass pickups there could resume.

In addition, Ramsay’s call for more civilian craft was rewarded. At the Dover headquarters, his team was managing a rescue fleet that included hundreds of different types of craft, ranging from merchant vessels and fishing trawlers to pleasure yachts, with the small boats working out of Ramsgate. Ramsay, meanwhile, juggled multiple tasks. When he wasn’t occupied with the evacuation itself, he guided efforts to repair damaged ships and send them back into the fray. Simultaneously, he also worked with shipping officials, who rounded up crews of sailors and rushed them to Dover by automobile, so they wouldn’t get lost in the crush of returning soldiers. And he made sure to send emergency supplies of water and rations to the soldiers who were queueing up for rescue.

That afternoon, Ramsay also managed to pull off a major coup. He telephoned Sea Lord Pound and insisted that he get back the modern destroyers. No one kept a transcript of the conversation, and what exactly they said to each other remains a mystery. But Ramsay must have been persuasive, because by 3:30 p.m. the six destroyers were on their way back to rejoin Operation Dynamo.

That day, 53,823 men were rescued. Ramsay met with British Army officials and made arrangements for the final evacuation of the BEF’s rear guard of 4,000 men, according to Ramsay biographer Admiral W. S. Chalmers. The plan was to scoop them up in the early morning hours of June 1. The end was in sight.

But then, one more complication arose.

ON THE MORNING OF MAY 31, CHURCHILL AND HIS AIDES FLEW TO PARIS to consult with their French counterparts. The French weren’t happy when they learned that 150,000 of the 220,000 British soldiers had been evacuated, but only 15,000 of France’s 200,000 troops. Premier Reynaud argued that the disparity would seem like a betrayal to the French public. Something had to be done. Churchill, seeing that he was in a bind, proclaimed that the French and the British would leave arm in arm. He worked out a deal with the French: The evacuation would be extended a few more days, and from that point on, equal numbers of British and French soldiers would be evacuated.

Operation Dynamo’s pace became even more brutal. The Luftwaffe, desperate to keep the BEF from escaping its trap, pounded the ships with bombs and unleashed torrents of machine-gun rounds from low altitude. Ramsay’s armada took heavy hits, losing three British destroyers and a French destroyer in one day. But it still came through: 68,014 men were evacuated on May 31 and another 64,429 on June 1.

At dawn on June 2, between 3,000 and 4,000 British soldiers were left on the outskirts of Dunkirk, where they’d been working with French forces to hold the line against the German advance. Ramsay and Tennant decided to pause the evacuation effort for the daylight hours. With the Germans closing in and fewer ships to work with, it was too dangerous. But that also gave them time to plan a final push. Royal Air Force fighters would patrol the harbor just before nightfall to keep German aircraft from disrupting the operation. Meanwhile, Ramsay’s 11 remaining destroyers would sail for Dunkirk that evening and arrive at 30-minute intervals, starting at 9 p.m. He plotted a more precise plan for the other craft as well. Navy motorboats would take position in the harbor and guide ships to the mole.

At 11:30 p.m. Tennant sent a two-word message to Ramsay: “BEF evacuated.” He and Major General Harold Alexander, the remaining BEF officer, then cruised along the shoreline in a torpedo boat to take one last look. “Is anyone there?” Alexander called out through a megaphone. He got no response. Then they headed back to England. That day, 26,256 soldiers—most of them French—had been rescued.

On the morning of June 3, Ramsay met with his aides at the Dover headquarters. An unknown number of French soldiers were still waiting in Dunkirk, including a force of 25,000 who had manned a rearguard action to slow the German advance. The Admiralty had ordered Ramsay to make one more effort to rescue them. At 10 a.m. he sent a message to his exhausted ship crews, sounding almost apologetic as he implored them to summon one last burst of energy. “I had hoped and believed that last night would see us through,” he said, explaining that the French had been too busy fighting to get to the pier in time to embark. “I must call on all officers and men detailed for further evacuation tonight to let the world see that we never let down our ally.”

As Ramsay’s aide, Captain M. G. S. Cull, would later recall, it was the first time that his boss—who outwardly had seemed tireless and unafraid up to that point—­appeared to be showing the strain. “The remaining ships were few, battered and scarcely fit for service,” Cull wrote. “Ought he to call on the men for more? Was it fair to them?…Was it right to risk their remaining strength and courage?” In a tensely worded message to the Admiralty at 6:50 that evening, Ramsay warned his superiors that it was the last time he could send out his exhausted men, saying it was “a test which I feel may be beyond their endurance.”

That night Ramsay’s remaining ships sailed once more for Dunkirk. They brought back 26,175 French soldiers. The last British destroyer to leave, HMS Shikari, finally departed for Dover at 3:40 a.m. on June 4, to the sound of German machine guns on the shore as the enemy closed in on the harbor.

That afternoon at 2:23, the Admiralty sent a message that Operation Dynamo had finally concluded. To celebrate, Ramsay drove to Sandwich and played a round of golf. He shot a 78—his best score ever. As he wrote to his wife that evening: “The relief is stupendous, and the results are beyond belief.”

RAMSAY’S RESCUE OF 338,336 SOLDIERS AT DUNKIRK MADE IT POSSIBLE for Winston Churchill to go to the House of Commons on the evening of June 4 and give a speech that was full of defiance and determination rather than sorrow and fear. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,” the prime minister proclaimed to the British public. The nation had staved off what would have been the greatest military disaster in its history, and its army had survived to fight another day. Many of those who had scurried up the improvised gangway at the eastern mole would eventually join with American forces in taking back Europe from Hitler.

Ramsay was subsequently knighted for his efforts—an honor that he modestly made light of in a telegram to his wife in Scotland. “Lady Ramsay…I am proud to congratulate you on your new title. Love, Bert.”

Dunkirk had established Ramsay as a master of military logistics—a visionary who understood how to devise and coordinate naval operations to move large numbers of troops and had the improvisational skill to alter the game plan on the fly. The officer that the Royal Navy had once pushed into retirement became one of the Allies’ most potent secret weapons. Ultimately, he was tapped to become the architect of Operation Neptune, the naval portion of the Normandy invasion, in which he supervised thousands of vessels transporting, protecting, and supplying 132,715 troops.


A bronze statue erected on the grounds of Dover Castle in 2000 depicts Bertram Ramsay looking across the English Channel to the place where he saved the Allies from defeat. (123RF)

Tragically, Ramsay would not live to see the final victory that his innovative style had helped make possible. On January 2, 1945, a few weeks before his 62nd birthday, he was on his way to Belgium when his plane ran into bad weather and crashed.

Ramsay never became as famous as Bernard Law Montgomery or Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he hasn’t been forgotten. Sixty years after Ramsay received the message that the BEF had been evacuated, Prince Philip stood atop the white cliffs of Dover and unveiled a statue of the man that First Sea Lord Sir Michael Boyce hailed as “without doubt one of the finest naval officers of the 20th century.” The bronze likeness depicts Ramsay, telescope in hand, gazing out across the water, toward the place where he saved the Allies from defeat. MHQ

—PATRICK J. KIGER is an award-winning journalist who has written for GQ, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Urban Land, and other publications.

This article appears in the Autumn 2017 issue of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History.


Bertram was laid out in 1858 as an outgrowth on the railroad, which was completed to that point in 1859. [4] It was named for Capt. John Bertram, who was instrumental in bringing the railroad there. [5]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.68 square miles (4.35 km 2 ), all land. [7]

Located on the Union Pacific Railroad main line (former Chicago and North Western Railway), which has a nearby large trestle over Big Creek, the city is primarily a bedroom community of Cedar Rapids. [ citation needed ] Bertram is also close to Palisades-Kepler State Park. [ citation needed ] Bertram Bridge, which also spans Big Creek is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historical populations
YearPop. ±%
192096
1930102+6.2%
194090−11.8%
1950128+42.2%
1960170+32.8%
1970177+4.1%
1980216+22.0%
1990201−6.9%
2000263+30.8%
2010294+11.8%
2019290−1.4%
Source: "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau . Retrieved 2020-03-28 . and Iowa Data Center
Source: U.S. Decennial Census [8]

2010 census Edit

As of the census [2] of 2010, there were 294 people, 106 households, and 81 families living in the city. The population density was 175.0 inhabitants per square mile (67.6/km 2 ). There were 114 housing units at an average density of 67.9 per square mile (26.2/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the city was 98.0% White, 1.4% African American, and 0.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.4% of the population.

There were 106 households, of which 24.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 68.9% were married couples living together, 2.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.7% had a male householder with no wife present, and 23.6% were non-families. 18.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 2.80.

The median age in the city was 46 years. 28.9% of residents were under the age of 18 5.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24 15% were from 25 to 44 31% were from 45 to 64 and 19.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 57.1% male and 42.9% female.

2000 census Edit

As of the incorrect census [9] of 2000, there were 681 people, 98 households, and 76 families living in the city. The population density was 533.5 people per square mile (205.4/km 2 ). There were 101 housing units at an average density of 79.1 per square mile (30.5/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the city was 96.18% White, 1.91% African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.15% Asian, 0.15% from other races, and 1.47% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.47% of the population.

There were 98 households, out of which 20.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 72.4% were married couples living together, 3.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.4% were non-families. 18.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.66.

The age spread is 10.7% under the age of 18, 62.4% from 18 to 24, 7.9% from 25 to 44, 14.7% from 45 to 64, and 4.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21 years. For every 100 females, there were 112.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.3 males.

However, the official population was later revised to 263 when officials discovered that 418 students living in a Cornell College dormitory in nearby Mount Vernon had incorrectly been reported as living in Bertram. [10]

The median income for a household in the city was $58,750, and the median income for a family was $66,500. Males had a median income of $46,750 versus $32,143 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,015. About 2.6% of families and 16.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including none of those under the age of eighteen or sixty-five or over.


2010-2019

Approaching 100 Years

With its centennial birthday on the horizon, Granite continues to execute on strategically growing and strengthening its position in the transportation, water, power, mining, and rail markets.

Very few companies have the privilege of celebrating a 90-year anniversary, but in 2012, Granite was one of the fortunate few. That year Granite completed its acquisition of Kenny Construction, a national contractor specializing in the power, tunnel, water and civil markets. An important milestone, the acquisition expands Granite’s presence in power delivery and water infrastructure markets across the country.

Capping off 2012, Granite participated in a joint venture to rebuild New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge, the largest bridge project in New York’s history. As part of its diverse project portfolio, Granite continued to complete hundreds large and small infrastructure-related projects from coast to coast including one of the largest dam removal projects in California history, the Carmel River Reroute and San Clemente Dam Removal Project.

The year 2018 was highlighted by the acquisitions of Layne Christensen and LiquiForce, both of which advanced Granite’s goal of becoming a full suite provider of construction and rehabilitation services for the water and wastewater markets. The year also marked the safest year for the company, continuing a long-standing trend of safety improvement. In 2019, Granite was honored to be recognized for the tenth consecutive year as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies® by Ethisphere Institute®.

With its 100th birthday around the corner, Granite is stronger than ever and poised for growth in the next decade and for generations to come


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