World War I & II: HMS Warspite

HMS Warspite battleship
HMS Warspite bombarding defensive positions off Normandy, 6 June 1944. (Public Domain)

Launched in 1913, the battleship HMS Warspite saw extensive service during both world wars.  A Queen Elizabeth-class battleship, Warspite fought at Jutland in 1916.  After an extensive modernization in 1935, it fought in the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans during World War II and provided support during the Normandy landings.

Nation: Great Britain

Type: Battleship

Shipyard: Devonport Royal Dockyard

Laid Down: October 31, 1912

Launched: November 26, 1913

Commissioned: March 8, 1915

Fate: Scrapped in 1950

Specifications (As Built)

Displacement: 33,410 tons

Length: 639 ft., 5 in.

Beam: 90 ft. 6 in.

Draft: 30 ft. 6 in.

Propulsion: 24 × boilers at 285 psi maximum pressure, 4 propellers

Speed: 24 knots

Range: 8,600 miles at 12.5 knots

Complement: 925-1,120 men

Guns

  • 8 x Mk I 15-inch/42 guns (4 turrets with 2 guns each)
  • 12 x single Mk XII 6-inch guns
  • 2 x single 3-inch high-angle guns
  • 4 x single 3-pdr guns
  • 4 x 21-inch submerged torpedo tubes

Aircraft (After 1920)

  • 1 aircraft using 1 catapult

Construction

Laid down on October 31, 1912, at the Devonport Royal Dockyard, HMS Warspite was one of five Queen Elizabeth-class battleships built by the Royal Navy. The brainchild of First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John "Jackie" Fisher and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, the Queen Elizabeth-class became the first battleship class to be designed around the new 15-inch gun.

In laying out the ship, designers elected to mount the guns in four twin turrets. This was a change from previous battleships which had featured five twin turrets.

The reduction in number of guns was justified as the new 15-inch guns were substantially more powerful than their 13.5-inch predecessors.

Also, the removal of the fifth turret reduced weight and allowed for a larger powerplant which dramatically increased the ships' speed. Capable of 24 knots, the Queen Elizabeths were the first "fast" battleships. Launched on November 26, 1913, Warspite, and its sisters, were among the most powerful battleships to see action during World War I. With the outbreak of the conflict in August 1914, workers raced to finish the ship and it was commissioned on March 8, 1915.

World War I

Joining the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, Warspite was initially assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron with Captain Edward Montgomery Phillpotts in command. Later that year, the battleship was damaged after running aground in the Firth of Forth. After repairs, it was placed with the 5th Battle Squadron which consisted entirely of Queen Elizabeth-class battleships. On May 31-June 1, 1916, the 5th Battle Squadron saw action in the Battle of Jutland as part of Vice Admiral David Beatty's Battlecruiser Fleet. In the fighting, Warspite was hit fifteen times by German heavy shells.

Badly damaged, the battleship's steering jammed after it turned to avoid a collision with HMS Valiant. Steaming in circles, the crippled ship drew German fire away from the British cruiser in the area.

After two complete circles, the Warspite's steering was repaired, however, it found itself on course to intercept the German High Seas Fleet. With one turret still operational, Warspite opened fire before being ordered to drop out of line to make repairs. Following the battle, the commander of the 5th Battle Squadron, Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, directed Warspite to make for Rosyth for repairs.

Interwar Years

Returning to service, Warspite spent the remainder of the war at Scapa Flow along with the majority of the Grand Fleet. In November 1918, it steamed out to aid in guiding the German High Seas Fleet into internment. After the war, Warspite alternated postings with the Atlantic Fleet and the Mediterranean Fleet. In 1934, it returned home for a large modernization project. Over the next three years, Warspite's superstructure was greatly modified, aircraft facilities were built, and improvements were made to the ship's propulsion and weapons systems.

World War II

Rejoining the fleet in 1937, Warspite was sent to the Mediterranean as the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. The battleship's departure was delayed for several months as the steering problem that had begun at Jutland continued to be an issue. When World War II began, Warspite was cruising the Mediterranean as the flagship of Vice Admiral Andrew Cunningham. Ordered to join the Home Fleet, Warspite took part in the British campaigns in Norway and provided support during the Second Battle of Narvik.

Ordered back to the Mediterranean, Warspite saw action against the Italians during the Battles of Calabria (July 9, 1940) and Cape Matapan (March 27-29, 1941). Following these actions, Warspite was sent to the United States for repairs and re-gunning. Entering the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the battleship was still there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Departing later that month, Warspite joined the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. Flying the flag of Admiral Sir James Somerville, Warspite took part in the ineffective British efforts to block the Japanese Indian Ocean Raid.

Ordered back to the Mediterranean in 1943, Warspite joined Force H and provided fire support for the Allied invasion of Sicily that June. Remaining in the area, it fulfilled a similar mission when Allied troops landed at Salerno, Italy in September. On September 16, shortly after covering the landings, Warspite was struck by three heavy German glide bombs. One of these tore through the ship's funnel and blew a hole in the hull.

Crippled, Warspite was towed to Malta for temporary repairs before moving on to Gibraltar and Rosyth.

Working quickly, the shipyard completed the repairs in time for Warspite to join the Eastern Task Force off Normandy. On June 6, 1944, Warspite provided gunfire support for Allied troops landing on Gold Beach. Shortly thereafter, it returned to Rosyth to have its guns replaced. En route, Warspite incurred damage after setting off a magnetic mine. After receiving temporary repairs, Warspite took part in bombardment missions off Brest, Le Havre, and Walcheren. With the war moving inland, the Royal Navy placed the battle-worn ship in Category C Reserve on February 1, 1945. Warspite remained in this status for the remainder of the war.

After efforts to make the ship a museum failed, it was sold for scrap in 1947. During the tow to the breakers, Warspite broke loose and ran aground in Prussia Cove, Cornwall. Though defiant until the end, the battleship was recovered and taken to St. Michael's Mount where it was dismantled.

Selected Sources