Ramsden.info - Famous Ramsdens

Major-General W. H. C. Ramsden C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C.

Major-General William Havelock Ramsden (1888-1969) was a regular (full-time) officer of the Royal British Army, serving for 35 years from 1910 at the age of 21, until his retirement after World War II in 1945 at the age of 56.

W.H. Ramsden served during an unprecedented period of global conflict including both world wars. He saw action in some of the greatest battles of the second world war including the fall of France (being one of the last to be evacuated from Dunkirk in 1939), and the fall of Tobruk (1942). 

He rose in rank through Captain in (1916), General Staff Officer (1926), Lt Col (1936), Lt Commander (1938), to Major-General (1940).

Ramsden entered the Second World War as commander of the British 50th Division of the volunteer so-called Territory Army (TA). The 50th Division was based out of Northumberland, and were referred to as the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.


Preparation for WWII – 1936 to 1939

Run-down and under-funded during the inter-war period after The Great War (WW1), the 50th Division suffered from a lack of volunteers and equipment. Uniforms were drawn from Great War stocks, and annual training camps were repeatedly cancelled to save costs. Only in 1936 did this situation slowly begin to change with the realisation that war in Europe was again a serious possibility.


British Territorial Army structure

The structure of a Division was hierarchical from Division > Brigade > Battalion > Company > Platoon > Section > Soldier.

The British Territory Army consisted of 29 volunteer Soldiers in 3 Sections of 10 per Platoon led by a Platoon Sergeant-Major (PSM) equaling 30 volunteers per Platoon. As well as the new Bren Light machine gun rifle for each soldier, each Platoon was allocated an Anti-Tank rifle, and a small (2") mortar. (Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that these weapons were not made available for much needed training before the declaration of war). 

Other types of Platoons (presumably also grouped in 30's) consisted of Signals, Anti-Aircraft, Mortar (using 3" mortars), Pioneer, Carrier, Drums, and Administrative.

[These Platoon types need further clarification]

A Company consisted of 3 volunteer Platoons, plus a Company Headquarter (HQ) staff of 10 regular army (full time) soldiers and officers termed Permanent Staff Instructors (PSI). These PSIs performed the Company administration and organised training throughout the week when the (volunteer) soldiers were at work.

The Company HQ consisted of two Captains (one the Officer Commanding, the other the Second in Command), the Company Sergeant Major, the Company Quartermaster Sergeant and six soldiers, bringing the Company total to an even 100 personnel.

Each Company was usually located in a different physical area to other Companies, as they drew their volunteers from their respective local surrounding areas. Each Company usually occupied and maintained its own training, administration, storage and accommodation facilities.

[Insert details here about these following structures]

A Battalion consisted of four Companies, usually labelled Company A, B, C & D (400 personnel).

A Brigade consisted of 3 or 4 Battalions, usually labelled 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th (1200–1600 personnel). 

A Division consisted of 2 or 3 Brigades (2400–4800 personnel).


The Green Howards

[Insert introduction to Green Howards here]

In 1938, the 4th and 5th Battalions of the Green Howards were organised in a way typical to most Territorial Army infantry battalions in the United Kingdom. They were based in a distinct geographic area with the HQ in one major town and with detachments across the local region. At a higher level the battalions were subordinate to the 150th Infantry Brigade which was based at Malton in the North Riding. Initially comprising four battalions; 4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and the 4th and 5th Green Howards.

The 150th Brigade had been reorganised in 1936 to a three battalion organisation with the 5th DLI transferred to the 151st Brigade. 150th Brigade was in turn assigned to the 50th (Northumbrian) Division based in Darlington. 50th Division was a first line territorial division with a proud record of service from World War 1. In 1938 the division was chosen to be converted to a motorised formation and consequently lost one of its brigades but gained two Troop Carrying Companies with sufficient lift in theory to move the two remaining brigades; the 150th and 151st.

By the end of 1938 the 4th Green Howards had finally finished transferring their Battalion HQ from the county town of Northallerton to Middlesborough alongside the HQ Company. Of the rifle companies; A Company was based in Redcar and Yarm and C Company in Skelton all around the outskirts of Middlesborough. B Company was stationed in Guisborough on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors and Thirsk in the Vale of York. Finally D Company was in Richmond close to the Catterick Garrison and the location of the Green Howards Depot and Northallerton near Thirsk. The 5th Green Howards were based in Scarborough and along the East Coast of Yorkshire. A Company was also based in Scarborough with a detachment at Whitby. B Company was located in Bridlington and Driffield. C Company was at Beverley, Market Weighton and Pocklington. D Company was inland at Malton, Pickering and Sand Hutton.

More significant to the TA Green Howards was the decision taken by in March 1939 by the Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha to double the size of the Territorial Army across the board. This increase from 170,000 to 340,000 caused serious organisational difficulties as there had been no prior plans to implement this change. In response to this directive the existing TA battalions were directed to each raise a duplicate battalion. Consequently the 4th Battalion was to raise the 6th Battalion and the 5th Battalion to raise the 7th Battalion.

However both these new units took time to bring themselves up to strength, never mind training to reach the required standards. In addition to sharing buildings with the new units, the old battalions also had to find the manpower and leaders to form the new units. For example, 11 officers and 200 soldiers were transferred from the 4th Battalion to the 6th. The effect that this would have had on the  territorials can be easily imagined. At a time when tensions were rising across Europe and serious preparations for war were being made, frontline TA battalions were being shorn of half of their trained leadership cadre. Whilst the size of the military force had been rapidly increased their effectiveness had been badly damaged. Without effective leadership units treated like this could go to pieces.

However with the establishment of national service in 1939, the possibility of volunteering soon ended and the territorial battalions, like their regular counterparts were to be fed by conscripted ‘militiamen’ fed through the Depot, now renamed an Infantry Training Centre.

By now the 4th and 5th Green Howards were up to full strength and any further recruiting was being fed into the duplicate battalions. Indeed the doubling of the TA, a sign of the seriousness of the situation in Europe must have been a powerful incentive to recruiting. However both battalions had large numbers of inexperienced soldiers in the ranks. When the 4th Battalion deployed to its July 1939 annual camp at Halton most of its recruits had joined the battalion only within the last 3 months. months. This influx was causing almost inevitable problems with already limited resources being stretched even further.

The training a military unit receives is of prime importance in the way in which it performs on the battlefield. History is full of examples of small, well trained forces triumphing over larger but less well trained armies. The historical perception is that the British Army of World War 2 is of an army relatively poorly trained in the art of war when compared with its principle enemy, Germany. It is interesting to examine what sort of training these typical Territorial Army battalions received during the time period being considered.

Tactical training seems to have been very infrequently practised. Indeed the only worthwhile periods of tactical training seem to have taken place during the annual camp periods. This may well have been due to the difficulties in massing the battalions for training at weekends and in the availability of training areas. However field craft at the unit and sub-unit level does not seem to have been well practised. There is evidence that sand tables or ‘rock drills’ were used to pass on tactical procedures to the troops but this is no substitute for the real thing.

While practical exercises in the field do not seem to have been a frequent occurrence, the Tactical Exercise Without Troops was much more commonplace for the officers. At least most of the officers will have been aware of procedures used for battalion, brigade and division level operations even if they will not have practised them. The value of these sorts of TEWT at the sub-unit level and above is greater than that of the section or platoon level ‘rock drill’.

Towards the end of September 1939 the units were dispatched to the Cotswolds where the 50th Northumbrian Division was concentrating to conduct training prior to its move to France.

The divisional history confidently asserted that 50th Division was ‘well trained and ready for war by the end of 1939.’ This seems far from the true state of affairs with only limited training at the sub-unit level and even less at higher levels. While the individual soldier may well have mastered his personal weapon and drills there seems to be no indication that the battalions were approaching any level of proficiency at the drills that counted. Even worse TEWTs being held for the benefit of the officers were too idealistic and out of touch with reality.

France – 1939

[Insert details here about 25 Infantry Bde, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), France 1939-1940
and the French/Belgium defeat and Dunkirk.]


The Middle East – 1940

Once in the Middle East, the 4th and 5th Green Howards would fight with much the same organisation as they had fought with in France. One major deficiency was in the lack of anti-tank guns integral to the battalion which would prove to have serious consequences in the Western Desert.

On arrival in the Middle East the division began to concentrate at Tel el Kabir and began the acclimatisation process.

Unfortunately the training process was hindered by personality clashes at higher levels. Major-General Ramsden and Brigadier Haydon, respectively commanders of 50th Division and 150th Brigade, had little love for each other. During this work up training each commander stationed himself at opposite ends of the training area to take a series of platoon and company rotations. After having learned a tactic from one commander the element would proceed to the other who would countermand what had been learned. This added a needless element of confusion for the troops.


Siege of Tobruk – 1941 to 1942

According to Scott Gilmore. Chapter Eleven. A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurka Rifles. A Burma Memoir. Brassey's: London, 1995. (as sourced from Tobruk http://www.ku.edu/carrie/specoll/AFS/4/d/4d4a2.html):

Tobruk was the first port of any size on the Mediterranean coast traveling west from Alexandria. ... it had become well-known for a gallant defense ... as the German and Italian forces swept past the garrison and beseiged it for nine months. The town was now [1942] a battered cluster of roofless and ruined white buildings. The harbor was cluttered with masts and stacks of sunken vessels rising above a sparkling sea. Around us the hard desert plain was strewn with the debris of earlier battles: burned-out lorries, destroyed guns, the rusting hulks of tanks. Pilistrino was well within the defensive arc of Tobruk's fortifications; in places the earth was a warren of abandoned diggings rapidly filling with drifting sand.


According to Andrew Geer. Mercy in Hell. An American Ambulance Driver with the Eighth Army. MaGraw Hill, New York 1943.
(as sourced from Tobruk http://www.ku.edu/carrie/specoll/AFS/4/d/4d4a2.html):

We found our way three or four miles to the southwest of the city in the area of the old fort of Pilistrino. Never was such Godforsaken land fought over by man. The ruins of countless battles and raids lay open to our view as we wove our way through abandoned equipment, shells, and grenades to our new home. We were assigned to a bleak, open stretch of desert, too far from the sea to benefit from its breeze, but in the right spot for the khamsins to howl and blot all out in a cloud of dust and sand.

Rommel's attack began on the day and hour Major Bert assured me it would---May 27 at ten o'clock in the evening. From then until we were ordered out of Tobruk the roar of battle was in our ears. We charted the fluctuations from the ever-changing voice of battle. Our work multiplied. The men working from the Pilistrino base came to dream of the road to Bardia. Hume's section at the hospital worked day and night. Several times they asked for volunteers to help them out; the response was overwhelming. Men who had already done a two-hundred-mile run over shockingly crowded roads went into Tobruk to work the night through, with another two hundred-mile run facing them in the morning. Felix Jenkins was sent on a single detachment to Captain McCarthy at a check post where a pool of ambulances is kept for dispatch to areas of greater need. When the retreat began and communications broke down, we were unable to get in touch with Jenkins for many days. One day he showed up on the El Alamein line still on the job with his captain.

The news from the front was good. We talked with wounded from all sectors; the attack was being held and in many places thrown back. Our light and heavy bombers were passing over in hourly raids. Our fighter protection was good. Few columns along the roads and tracks were being shot up. Each morning as we drove to Tobruk we saw the prisoner-of-war cages bulging with German and Italian prisoners. Supplies were coming along the coast road in three- and five-ton trucks, with the vehicles bumper to taillight for miles on end. Against this traffic our drivers had to fight their way with sorely wounded men.


Retreat from Tobruk – 14 June 1942

According to Correlli Barnett. Part IV. The Desert Generals. New York: Berkeley. 1960.
(as sourced from Tobruk http://www.ku.edu/carrie/specoll/AFS/4/d/4d4a2.html):

While the fate of Tobruk was being decided, the troops in the Gazala line had begun on 14th June to try to escape from Rommel's closing trap, a process known at the time as the 'Gazala Gallop'. Their sole eastward route was the Via Balbia, and all that stood between it and Rommel was a line of small boxes hastily manned and supported by bits and pieces of 1st Armoured Division and 32nd Army Tank Brigade. Against this thin, desperate line, so true to British military traditions, Rommel personally drove the Afrika Korps. All the day, as the South Africans slipped away along the Via Balbia, the line stood firm and, when at last at nightfall Rommel broke it, his troops were so exhausted they lay down in the breach and slept. Rommel watched helplessly as the rest of the South Africans escaped under the muzzles of his silent guns.

The 50th British Infantry Division was placed too far south in the Gazala defences for it to escape by the Via Balbia, even if that narrow road could have carried the volume of traffic. The division---under General W. H. Ramsden---therefore broke out westwards into open desert and motored right round Bir Hacheim, behind Rommel. "The journey back to the frontier was calm," said General Ramsden afterwards. "We stopped in the desert for a brew-up." In the afternoon Ramsden reported to Ritchie at Maddalena, whence Eighth Army headquarters had now removed. They sat in a car and Ritchie explained the situation and how Tobruk was to hold out as a hinge for a countermove, after re-organisation of the army. Despite the fast flowing current of rout and confusion, Ritchie remained "calm and collected".


According to Charles P. Edwards. An AFS Driver Remembers. New York: AFS, 2002.
(as sourced from Tobruk http://www.ku.edu/carrie/specoll/AFS/4/d/4d4a2.html):

... it was to be the last retreat of British forces, and indeed of Allied forces in Europe and Africa during the war; back then it seemed like the knell of doom. Pessimism ran high. Rommel was hell bent for Alexandria, Cairo, the Suez Canal and points East and nothing was going to stop him.


The fall of Tobruk – 21 June 1942

According to W.G.F. Jackson. The Battle for North Africa, 1940-1943. Mason/Charter: New York 1975
(as sourced from Tobruk http://www.ku.edu/carrie/specoll/AFS/4/d/4d4a2.html):

Rommel lost no time in launching his attack on Tobruk. He used the plan which had been elaborated over so many frustrating weeks in 1941 before it was forestalled by 'Crusader'. He issued his orders on 18 June; used the 19 for assembly and final reconnaissance; and opened his attack at first light on the 20th. The operation, which was supported by every aircraft that Kesselring could assemble in time, was a masterpiece of rapid improvisation and ruthless determination to succeed. It also showed what good soldiers can do when buoyed up by success, however tired they may be.

The sector chosen for the assault was on the south-east corner of the perimeter, held by 11th Indian Brigade. To ensure surprise, the Afrika Korps assembled with the Ariete around Gambut as if getting ready to advance to the frontier. [to the east]

During the afternoon 21st Panzer Division fought its way relentlessly northwards towards Tobruk itself and by 5 pm was calling for the Axis artillery fire to be lifted off the port so that it could advance down the last escarpment into the town. [...]

As dawn broke a white flag was raised above 6th South African Brigade HQ. 32,000 men: 19,000 British, 10,500 South Africans and 2,500 Indians---fell into Rommel's hands together with large quantities of supplies which could not be destroyed in time.

The fall of Tobruk shook the Allied cause as severely as the loss of Singapore earlier in the year. Churchill heard the news in Washington and on his return to London had to face a motion of censure in the House of Commons expressing no confidence in his conduct of the war. The reasons for the débâcle are many and complex but can be reduced to four.

First of all, Tobruk was no longer a fortress. Most of its mines had been removed for use in the Gazala Line after the decision was taken not to defend the port again. The wire had fallen into disrepair; the anti-tank ditch was broken down in many places; and the field defences were silted up. There was not enough time between 12 June, when it became obvious that Tobruk might be invested and 20 June when it was attacked, to make good these deficiencies.

Secondly, the German force, which attacked Tobruk, was very different from the scratch team which Rommel threw against it in the Spring of 1941. It was a highly professional panzer group with the experience of 'Crusader' and the victories of 'Gazala' behind it. In contrast, Klopper's 2nd South African Division was relatively new and inexperienced. Its morale was good, but it had not been tempered by battle like the Afrika Korps.

Thirdly, Klopper and his staff were given a task beyond their capabilities. At the beginning of the first siege of Tobruk, HQ Western Desert Force had stayed in the fortress to organise the artillery support system, the counter-attack plans and rehearsals, and the logistic backing. It did not leave by sea until Morshead was satisfied that all was well and that the command system had settled down into a properly co-ordinated machine capable of handling the defence.

But fourthly, the real blame must rest with Churchill, Auchinleck and Ritchie, who, through the interaction of opinion and the combination of circumstance, allowed Tobruk to be invested again. It could not stand in isolation after it had ceased to be part of the main Eighth Army front unless its garrison had the spirit and cohesion which Morshead's Australians acquired as the siege progressed. Klopper's South Africans, Indians and British troops were never given the time to settle down and develop a corporate morale. Rommel deserved his Field Marshal's baton which the grateful Führer bestowed upon him for the capture of Tobruk---the greatest victory of his brilliant military career.


As detailed on (http://www.usswashington.com/dl05jl42.htm) published July 5th, 1942... The First Battle for El Alamein rages on, with the Afrika Korps down to 36 tanks. Gen. Sir Claude Auchinlek, head of the 8th Army, relieves the tired General Norrie, boss of 30 Corps, who needs a rest. General Ramsden of 50th Northumbrian Division takes over. The corps, busy with the folderol of changing commands, performs sluggishly for the next two days, as does the whole of the tired 8th Army.


[Insert details here about the 8th army and the battle with Rommel and the decimation of the 50th Div on June 1.]


Mention of Winston Churchill in Cairo in early August 1942 looking to axe General Ramsden (amongst others) from command in the Mid-East. (http://www.usswashington.com/dl05au42.htm)


According to the personal diary of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke War Diaries 1939-1945 (http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9716/9716.excerpt.html) Excerpt dated 6 August 1942, it was [Prime Minister (PM)] Churchill who decided to split the ME [Middle East] Command in two: a Near East taking up to the canal, and a Middle East taking Syria, Palestine, Persia and Iraq, and that he intended to remove the Auk [Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck] to the Persia Iraq Command as he had lost confidence in him. And he wanted me to take over the Near East Command with [Field Marshal Viscount] Montgomery as my 8th Army Commander! I told him without waiting that I was quite certain that it would be a wrong move. I knew nothing about desert warfare, and could never have time to grip hold of the show to my satisfaction before the necessity to attack became imperative. I feel therefore that, tempting as the offer is by accepting it I should definitely be taking a course which would on the whole help the war the least. Finally I could not bear the thought that Auchinleck might think that I had come out here on purpose to work myself into his shoes! PM was not pleased with this reply but accepted it well. I have been giving it a great deal of thought all day and am quite convinced that my decision was a right one, and that I can do more by remaining as CIGS [Chief of the Imperial General Staff].

Then went round to GHQ where I had interview with [Lieutenant General Herbert] Lumsden, [General Bernard] Freyberg and Jumbo Wilson [Field Marshal Henry Maitland Wilson]. Then on to an AG [Adjutant-General] meeting to lay down policy for amalgamation of units owing to the shortage of reinforcements. Whilst there was sent for by the PM to meet him and [Field Marshal Jan Christian] Smuts and read their final decision. The telegram was to the War Cabinet recommending a splitting of the Middle East into Near East and Middle East. Auk to vacate the former and take over the latter. Alexander to take over Near East, [Lieutenant General William Henry Ewart] Gott to take over the 8th Army. [Major General William Havelock] Ramsden to leave, [Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pelew] Quinan [10th Army] to leave, Corbett and [Brigadier Eric E.] Dorman-Smith also to go. Considering everything this is perhaps the best solution. I accepted it.


According to http://www.info.dfat.gov.au/info/historical/HistDocs.nsf/vVolume/9EAF842B9E24BC13CA256D3B0007A438 confidential correspondence between Australian Government Prime Minister Curtin, to the current UK Prime Minister Churchill on 1 September 1942 about the change in military commands of the Middle East. Paragraph 3 launches directly into the appointment of General Ramsden as commander of the 30th Corps, which then consisted of the 9th Australian division and a South African division. The message restates that it was decided that in the event of General Ramsden becoming a casualty, the command of the Corps would revert to General Briggs.

[This needs clarification. What is a Corp., and what was Curtin's intent? To protect or remove Ramsden? Who is Briggs?]


According to the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (NZeTC.org) (http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Alam-c13-2.html) 'Part of the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945' report of 'Alam Halfa and Alamein' on 18 September 1942 ... The exercise had been watched by a number of senior officers from Eighth Army, including Major-General Lumsden of 10 Corps and Lieutenant-General Leese, who had assumed command of 30 Corps from Major-General Ramsden on 12 September.


According to the book review of 'Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein' by Niall Barr, (http://www.rusi.org/forward.php?structureID=S40757DE201D21&ref=B421B11F2DBA1A&showall=&print=true) ... laments the "brusque dismissal of Major General Ramsden" by Montgomery who placed his own men he could trust in command.


Sicily – 1943

In 1943, the 'Report #126' of 'Canadian Operations in Sicily' (http://www.forces.gc.ca/dhh/downloads/cmhq/cmhq126.pdf) reports that the 3rd (British) Division led by Major-General W.H.C. Ramsden, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C. was selected by the War Office to provide the assault division from the United Kingdom for Operation "HUSKY", the assault on Sicily. Scotland was chosen for mountain terrain training, and the 1st Canadian Infantry Division under General McNaughton was assigned to replace the British 3rd Division for operation Husky, thus ending General Ramsden's involvement.


Sudan – 1944

[Insert details of Sudan Defence Force and British Troops, Sudan and Eritrea 1944-1945]



Except where otherwise noted, the majority of this topic detailing the 'Green Howard Battalions' was sourced from a dissertation by Private Dan Hebditch – 'The 4th and 5th Battalions, The Green Howards, 1938-42', (http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~dheb/2300/Historical/MA/45GH3842.pdf) who had access to the regimental magazine  (publication, not munitions) 'The Green Howards Gazette' archives and the Green Howards Museum in Richmond, North Yorkshire.


Service biography

According to Kings College London - Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives http://www.kcl.ac.uk/lhcma/locreg/RAMSDEN.shtml
RAMSDEN, William Havelock (1888-1969), Major General

Joined West India Regt 1910; (age 21)
World War I 1914-1918;
Machine Gun Corps, Cameroons and Nigeria 1915-1916;
Capt, East Yorkshire Regt 1916;
France and Belgium 1917-1918;
General Staff Officer, Weapon Training, Eastern Command 1926-1930;
East Yorkshire Regt, India 1934;
Lt Col, 1 Bn Hampshire Regt 1936;
operations in Waziristan, North West Frontier, India 1936-1937;
operations in Palestine 1938-1939;
Commander, West Lancashire Area 1939;
World War II 1939-1945;
Commander, 25 Infantry Bde, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), France 1939-1940;
Commander, 50 Div, Middle East Force 1940-1942;
Commander, 30 Corps, Middle East Force 1942;
Commander, 3 Div 1942-1943;
Commander, Sudan Defence Force and British Troops, Sudan and Eritrea 1944-1945;
Retired 1945 (age 56)

Died 1969 (age 80).


According to a military science librarian (http://www.generals.dk/general/Ramsden/William_Havelock/Great_Britain.html)
Generals of WWII:
Ramsden William Havelock, Lieutenant-General

1936 Commanding Officer 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment
1939 Commanding Officer West Lancashire Area
1939 - 1940 Commanding Officer 25th Brigade, France
1940 Acting General Officer Commanding 47th Division
1940 Commanding Officer 25th Brigade
1940 - 1942 General Officer Commanding 50th Division, Cypres - North Africa
1942 General Officer Commanding XXX Corps, North Africa
1942 - 1943 General Officer Commanding 3rd Division
1944 - 1945 General Officer Commanding British Troops in Sudan
1944 - 1945 General Officer Commanding Sudan Defence Force
1945 Retired.