HMS Warpite Should Have Been Saved

HMS Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship launched in 1913, is celebrated for her distinguished service in both World Wars, earning more battle honors than any other Royal Navy ship.

Known for her resilience and formidable firepower, she played crucial roles in key naval engagements such as the Battle of Jutland, the Battle of Cape Matapan, and the D-Day landings.


Design of HMS Warspite

The Battle of Jutland

HMS Warspite During WWII

Decommissioning of HMS Warspite

Design of HMS Warspite

HMS Warspite was part of the Queen Elizabeth class, a revolutionary design that represented a significant leap forward in battleship technology. These ships were among the first to be powered by oil instead of coal, a transition that allowed for greater speed and efficiency. This shift to oil-fueled engines was crucial, as it enabled the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships to achieve a maximum speed of 24 knots, making them the fastest capital ships in the world at the time of their commissioning.

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The Queen Elizabeth-class design was the brainchild of Admiral Sir John “Jackie” Fisher and First Sea Lord, who envisioned a new generation of battleships that combined unprecedented firepower, armor, and speed. The class comprised five ships: Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Barham, Malaya, and Valiant.

HMS Warspite in the Indian Ocean, 1942.

HMS Warspite was laid down at the Devonport Dockyard on October 31, 1912. The ship measured 639 feet (195 meters) in length, with a beam of 90 feet (27 meters) and a draught of 30 feet (9 meters). Her standard displacement was approximately 33,410 tons, which increased to around 36,000 tons when fully loaded.

Warspite’s primary armament consisted of eight 15-inch (381 mm) Mk I guns, mounted in four twin turrets. These guns were capable of firing a 1,920-pound (871 kg) shell up to 30,000 yards (27,432 meters). This firepower was revolutionary at the time, allowing Warspite to engage enemy ships at unprecedented ranges. The ship’s secondary armament included twelve 6-inch (152 mm) guns, eight of which were mounted in casemates along the sides of the hull. These were intended for defense against smaller vessels and torpedo boats. Additionally, Warspite was equipped with two 21-inch (533 mm) submerged torpedo tubes.

One of the defining features of the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships was their armor protection. Warspite’s belt armor, which protected the sides of the ship, was up to 13 inches (330 mm) thick in the most critical areas. The deck armor ranged from 1 to 3 inches (25 to 76 mm) thick, providing additional protection against plunging fire and aerial bombs. The main gun turrets were also heavily armored, with up to 13 inches of protection.

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The ship’s propulsion system was a significant advancement over earlier designs. Warspite was powered by 24 Yarrow boilers, which generated steam for four Parsons steam turbines. These turbines drove four propeller shafts, producing a total of 75,000 shaft horsepower (56,000 kW). This powerful propulsion system enabled Warspite to reach her impressive top speed of 24 knots.

HMS Warspite pictured in the Sicilian Narrows, oiling a destroyer, 1943.

In terms of crew accommodations, Warspite was designed to house approximately 1,220 officers and men. The living conditions aboard were typical of the period, with cramped quarters and limited amenities.

The construction of HMS Warspite was a testament to British naval engineering prowess. The ship was launched on November 26, 1913, with considerable fanfare. Following her launch, Warspite underwent sea trials and fitting-out, during which her weaponry and systems were tested and fine-tuned. She was officially commissioned into the Royal Navy on March 8, 1915, just as World War I was escalating.

The Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland, fought from May 31 to June 1, 1916, was the largest naval battle of World War I and a defining moment in HMS Warspite’s early career. As a member of the 5th Battle Squadron, Warspite was part of Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas’s force, which was initially positioned in support of Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet. This squadron, composed of the most modern and powerful battleships of the Royal Navy at the time, was pivotal in providing the heavy artillery needed to counter the German High Seas Fleet.

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The engagement began when British and German reconnaissance forces encountered each other in the North Sea, leading to a series of clashes between battlecruisers before the main fleets converged. Warspite, alongside her sister ships, played a crucial role in the initial phases of the battle. Her advanced fire control systems and powerful 15-inch guns allowed her to deliver accurate and devastating salvos at long ranges, outmatching many of her adversaries.

HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya during the Battle of Jutland.

During the battle, Warspite’s capabilities and the challenges of naval warfare were vividly demonstrated. At a critical juncture, Warspite experienced a steering gear malfunction while under heavy fire from German battleships. This mechanical failure caused her to execute an uncontrolled 360-degree turn, repeatedly exposing her broadside to enemy fire. Despite this precarious situation, Warspite’s crew maintained their composure and continued to engage the enemy with remarkable effectiveness.

Warspite’s gunners managed to inflict significant damage on several German ships during this maneuver. Notably, she engaged and hit the German battleship SMS Markgraf multiple times, contributing to the overall damage inflicted on the High Seas Fleet. The mechanical failure, however, also made Warspite a prime target, and she was hit by 13 German shells, resulting in considerable damage and casualties.

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The bravery and skill of Warspite’s crew during this harrowing ordeal earned the ship a reputation for resilience and toughness. Despite the heavy damage sustained, Warspite remained afloat and combat-capable, a testament to the robust design and construction of the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships. After temporary repairs, she was able to return to port under her own power, underscoring her durability and the determination of her crew.

Damage sustained during the Battle of Jutland when a 12 inch shell penetrated the port side.

The Battle of Jutland itself was tactically inconclusive, with both sides claiming victory. Strategically, however, it reinforced British naval dominance, as the German fleet did not venture out in full force for the remainder of the war.

HMS Warspite During WWII

Warspite’s first significant action in World War II came during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940. As Germany invaded Norway, the Allies sought to disrupt German operations and support Norwegian forces. Warspite, leading a flotilla including destroyers and aircraft, engaged and sank the German submarine U-64, showcasing her versatility by incorporating aerial reconnaissance and attack capabilities from her onboard aircraft. Later, during the Second Battle of Narvik, Warspite’s firepower was crucial in destroying eight German destroyers trapped in the fjords, effectively crippling German naval strength in the region.

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The Mediterranean Sea was a vital battleground where Warspite’s presence was crucial in maintaining Allied control. Her involvement in several key battles demonstrated her strategic importance and combat prowess.

Firing her 15 inch guns during the Sicily campaign, 1943.

On July 9, 1940, Warspite engaged the Italian fleet at the Battle of Calabria, also known as the Battle of Punto Stilo. She faced off against the Italian battleships Giulio Cesare and Conte di Cavour. In a remarkable display of gunnery, Warspite scored a direct hit on Giulio Cesare at a range of approximately 24 kilometers (15 miles), one of the longest-range naval gunfire hits in history. This engagement showcased Warspite’s fire control accuracy and the skill of her crew, contributing to the Italian fleet’s withdrawal and establishing Allied naval superiority in the region.

One of Warspite’s most significant contributions came during the Battle of Cape Matapan from March 27 to 29, 1941. This decisive engagement saw the Royal Navy intercept and ambush an Italian fleet attempting to disrupt Allied supply lines to Greece. Warspite, alongside her sister ships Valiant and Barham, played a central role in the night action that decimated the Italian fleet. Utilizing superior radar technology and night fighting tactics, Warspite’s guns helped sink the Italian heavy cruisers Fiume, Zara, and Pola, as well as two destroyers. This battle significantly weakened the Italian Navy’s operational capabilities and secured Allied control over the eastern Mediterranean.

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Malta, a strategic Allied stronghold in the Mediterranean, was under constant Axis air and naval attack. Warspite provided essential naval gunfire support and convoy protection to the beleaguered island. During Operation Pedestal in August 1942, Warspite was part of the naval force that ensured the safe passage of a vital convoy to Malta, delivering crucial supplies and reinforcements. Despite facing intense air attacks, the operation was a success, bolstering Malta’s defenses and enabling it to continue as a critical base for Allied operations.

HMS Warspite firing on German positions, supporting the landings on Sword Beach.

In 1944, HMS Warspite was assigned to support the Allied invasion of Normandy, known as Operation Overlord. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, Warspite was part of the naval bombardment force tasked with softening German defenses on the coast of Normandy. Her 15-inch guns bombarded enemy positions at Gold Beach, providing crucial support for the landing forces. Warspite’s firepower helped neutralize German artillery and fortifications, facilitating the successful landings and subsequent liberation of France.

Decommissioning of HMS Warspite

Following the end of hostilities in 1945, Warspite was placed in reserve. The wear and tear from years of active service in two world wars had taken a heavy toll on her structure and systems. Extensive battle damage, coupled with the general advancements in naval technology, meant that the cost of repairing and modernizing Warspite would be prohibitively high. She was decommissioned on February 1, 1945, and officially retired from active service.

HMS Warspite ready to meet the scrapper.

In 1947, Warspite was sold for scrap to the British Iron & Steel Corporation. However, her journey to the breakers’ yard would be anything but ordinary, reflecting the ship’s enduring spirit and the deep connection many had with her.

On April 19, 1947, Warspite left Portsmouth under tow, heading for the scrapyard in Faslane, Scotland. During this final voyage, she encountered severe weather conditions that caused her to break free from her towline. On April 23, 1947, she ran aground in Mounts Bay, near the Cornish village of Prussia Cove. Efforts to refloat the battleship proved challenging and were delayed due to the ship’s size and the rugged coastline.