HMS Warspite (1913)

From Academic Kids

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HMS Warspite

Career RN Ensign
Laid down:October 31, 1912
Launched:November 26, 1913
Commissioned:March 8, 1915
Decommissioned:February 1, 1945
General Characteristics (original configuration)
Displacement:27,500 tons standard, 33,400 tons full load
Length:645 ft 9 in (197 m)
Beam:90 ft 6 in (27.6 m)
Draught:33 ft (10 m)
Propulsion:Steam turbines, 24 boilers, 4 shafts, 56,500 hp (42 MW)
Speed:24 knots (44 km/h)
Range:4,400 miles
Armament:5 x 15 in (381 mm) guns, 12 x 6 in (152 mm) guns, 2 x 3 in (76 mm) guns, 4 x 47 mm guns, 4 x 21 in (533 mm) submerged torpedo tubes

HMS Warspite was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the British Royal Navy. She was launched on 26 November, 1913 at Devonport Royal Dockyard. She was, and is, one of the most famous and glamorous of names in the Royal Navy. Warspite would, during World War II, gain the nickname "The Old Lady", after a comment made by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham in 1943.

Warspite, and the rest of the class, was the brainchild of two men. One was Admiral Sir John 'Jackie' Fisher, who was First Sea Lord when the first all big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought, came into existence. The other was Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, who was paramount in getting the Queen Elizabeths off the drawing board and into the water; but he was also influenced in a number of decisions about the Queen Elizabeths by Lord Fisher, who had been persuaded to come out of retirement by Churchill.

Warspite's first commanding officer upon commissioning in 1915 was Captain Edward Montgomery Phillpotts. Warspite joined the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet and undertook a number of acceptance trials – including gunnery trials, which saw Churchill present when she fired her 15 in (381 mm) guns and suitably impressed him with their accuracy and power. In late 1915, Warspite grounded in the Forth causing some damage to her hull; she had been led by her escorting destroyers down the small ships channel. After repairs, she rejoined the Grand Fleet – this time as part of the newly formed 5th Battle Squadron which had been created for the Queen Elizabeths. In early December, Warspite was involved in another bit of bad luck when, during an exercise, she collided with her sister-ship Barham, causing considerable damage to Warspite.



In 1916, Warspite, and the rest of the 5th Battle Squadron, were temporarily transferred to David Beatty's Battlecruiser Fleet. On 31 May, Warspite took part in her first, and largest, engagement in her career, the Battle of Jutland. Warpite received fifteen hits from main armament guns from the German capital ships, which resulted in considerable damage, so that she came close to foundering. Her steering jammed after she had attempted to avoid collision with her sister-ship Valiant. Her captain decided to stay on course, in effect going round in circles, rather than stop and reverse, a decision that would have made Warspite a sitting duck. These manoevres saved the HMS Warrior, for the Germans switched their attention from the badly damaged cruiser to the more tempting target of a battleship in difficulty. This gained her the eternal affection of the crew of Warrior, who believed Warspite's actions were intentional. The crew finally regained control of Warspite after two full circles, though the actions undertaken to stop her circling had the negative aspect of potentially taking her straight to the German High Seas Fleet. So the order was given for Warspite to stop to allow repairs, after which she was underway once more. Warspite would, after the Battle of Jutland, be plagued with steering problems for the rest of her life.

During the battle, Warspite suffered fourteen killed and many wounded. She sailed, despite considerable damage, for home after being ordered to do so by Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, commander of the 5th Battle Squadron. On her journey home, on the 1st June, she came under attack from a German U-boat which unsuccessfully fired two torpedoes at her. A second attack occurred soon after, with another torpedo launched but missing. Only a short while after that incident, Warspite confronted a U-boat directly in front of her; she attempted to ram the U-boat but failed. She safely reached Rosyth, where her damage was repaired.


Upon the completion of those repairs, Warspite rejoined the 5th Battle Squadron. Further misfortune soon struck, when she collided once more with a sister-ship, this time HMS Valiant, forcing Warspite to receive yet more repairs. In June 1917, Warspite she collided with Destroyer. The following month, Warspite was rocked at her moorings in Scapa Flow, when HMS Vanguard, a St. Vincent-class battleship, blew up after an explosion in one of her ammunition magazines, resulting in many hundreds of lives being lost on Vanguard.

In 1918, Warspite suffered a fire in one of her boiler rooms, forcing her to received more repairs. Later that year, on the 21st November, Warspite, along with the rest of the Grand Fleet, set sail to receive the German High Seas Fleet into internment at the Firth of Forth. The High Seas Fleet would mostly be scuttled by the Germans in 1919 while in internment at Scapa Flow.


In 1919, Warspite joined the 2nd Battle Squadron, part of the newly formed Atlantic Fleet. She would spend much of her time in the Mediterranean while part of that Fleet. In 1924, she took part in a Royal Fleet Review at Spithead, with King George V present at the event. Later that year, Warspite underwent a partial modernisation, which included the addition of new small calibre guns as well as increased armour protection and the alteration of parts of her superstructure. The modernisation was completed in 1926. That same year, after spending so much time in the Mediterranean as part of the Atlantic Fleet, Warspite was finally based there when she became the flagship of Commander-in Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, as-well as also acting as flagship of the Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Fleet.

In 1930, Warspite rejoined the Atlantic Fleet. The following year, in September, she was present at Invergordon where the Fleet had converged for naval exercises. It was to be quite a notorious moment in Royal Navy history, for the Invergordon Mutiny occurred. Warspite was the ship of the watch during the initial troubles, but was at sea when the mutiny actually began and her crew did not take part.

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HMS Warspite. Grand Harbour, Malta 1930s

In 1934, Warspite received a complete modernisation. Her superstructure was radically altered, allowing an aircraft hangar to be fitted, and changes were also made to her armament and propulsion systems. The modernisation was completed in 1937, Warspite returning to active service that same year. She deployed once more to the Mediterranean, becoming flagship of the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet. However, she was delayed for a number of months due to problems with her propulsion machinery and with the steering blight left over from Jutland in 1916 still causing problems. She was further hit by two unfortunate incidents: at one she came close to hitting a passenger liner with shells, and she subsequently fired, accidentally, into the Maltese city of Valletta with her anti-aircraft guns (AA).

Peace shattered

In June 1939, Vice Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham replaced the previous Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. On 3 September that year, war was declared, and the UK was once more at war with Germany, but not Italy, yet. Warspite subsequently left the Mediterranean to join the Home Fleet where she became involved in a variety of hunts for German capital ships who were intent on acting as commerce raiders. Warspite, however, made no contact with any German capital ship during her searches.

In April 1940, Warspite was needed in the Norwegian Campaign where she proved her worth during an operation against eight German destroyers trapped in the port of Narvik, and which would become known as the Second Battle of Narvik. Vice-Admiral William 'Jock' Whitworth, leader of the operation, transferred his flag to Warspite on the day the battle commenced. A large number of Royal Navy destroyers were to take part in the battle. Warspite's Fairey Swordfish, a fragile looking bi-plane, hit and sunk the German U-boat U-64, making it the first aircraft to sink a U-boat in WWII. The German destroyers were soon engaged by the British destroyers. One German ship, the Koellner, which had already been heavily damaged by British destroyers, was destroyed by broadsides from Warspite. Warspite made attacks on the Roeder and Giese, the former of which was blown up by its own crew, while Giese was destroyed by the RN destroyers and Warspite. The objective of eliminating all eight German destroyers, which were running out of both fuel and ammunition, was achieved with minimal loss.

New ally, new enemy

In 1941, Warspite departed Alexandria, and began her journey to the USA where she would be repaired at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton. Repairs and modifications there began in August and ended in December, which included the replacement of her worn out 15-in guns. By then, Warspite was now in a country that had entered the war on the Allies side earlier that month, after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese. After working-up around the coast of North America, Warspite departed the area to join the fight in the Indian Ocean.

In January 1942, Warspite joined the Eastern Fleet, becoming the flagship of Admiral Sir James Somerville, who had, in 1927, commanded the Warspite. As part of the Eastern Fleet, Warspite was based in Ceylon and was part of the fast group of the Fleet, which also included the two carriers Formidable and Indomitable, while four slow Revenge-class battleships and the old carrier Hermes comprised the slower group.

Somerville soon decided to relocated his Fleet for its own protection. He chose the Addu Atoll, part of the Maldives, to be his new base. Despite the threat of Japanese attack, Somerville had sent two heavy cruisers, Cornwall and Dorsetshire and the carrier Hermes back to Ceylon. In early April, two Japanese naval forces began the Indian Ocean raid. One force was led by a light fleet carrier, the Ryujo and included six cruisers, while the second group included five carriers which had launched the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, and four battleships. They were deployed to the Indian Ocean to search for Somerville's Eastern Fleet, at that time, the only significant Allied naval presence in the area. The first sighting of the Japanese occurred on 4 April 1942, and orders were given for the two detached cruisers to return to the Fleet. The Fast Group, including Warspite, set sail from their base with the objective of launching a strike against the Japanese forces within the next few days. All three ships that had been detached from the Fleet, the Cornwall, Dorsetshire and Hermes, were eventually sunk by Japanese forces with the loss of many lives. An attack on the Japanese forces by Somerville's fleet never occurred, and the Japanese soon left the region altogether, after failing to find and destroy the Eastern Fleet. The rest of Warspite's time in this theatre was largely uneventful, with only limited naval operations by the Royal Navy occurring in that theatre. Warspite departed the area in 1943, heading once more for the Mediterranean

Back in the Mediterranean

In June 1943, Warspite joined Force H, based in Gibraltar and took part in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, in July, along with the battleships Nelson, Rodney and Valiant, and the carriers Formidable and Illustrious. She did not take part in the initial bombardment of Sicily, not bombarding the island until the 17th July, when she poured heavy fire onto German positions at Catania.

Between 8 and 9 September, Force H, covering the landings at Salerno, came under fierce German air-attack, but shot down many German planes. On 10 September, Warspite, who had battled the Italian Fleet during her time in the Mediterranean in 1940-41, led them, now surrendered to the Allies, into internment at Malta.

Warspite was back in action on 15 September, at Salerno. The American sector was in a precarious situation after the Germans had counter-attacked, and the day Warspite and Valiant arrived at Salerno they commenced a bombardment of German positions that effectively saved the Allies. Disaster soon struck Warspite, however, for on 16 September she was attacked by a squadron of German aircraft, armed with an early guided missile, the FX-1400. One of them slammed into Warspite near her funnel, ripping through her decks and causing immense damage, making a large hole in the bottom of her hull, and crippling much of Warspite as it did so. A number of the crew were killed and wounded. Her appearance had dramatically changed in just a few moments, from an imposing battleship to one shattered and war scarred. She was soon on the journey to Malta, being towed by United States Navy (USN) tugs. She reached Malta on 19 September and undertook emergency repairs there before being towed to Gibraltar. Warspite then moved back to the UK for further repairs at Rosyth, in March 1944.

The last duties

On 6 June 1944, Warspite took part in the Normandy Landings as part of the Eastern Task Force, firing on German positions to cover the landing at Sword Beach. She subsequently helped support the Americans on their beaches. She also helped support Gold Beach a few days later. Her guns worn out, she was soon sent to Rosyth to be regunned. On the way, she set off a magnetic mine, causing heavy damage, but made it to Rosyth safely. She received only partial repairs, enough to get her back into action for bombardment duties.

She bombarded Brest, Le Havre and Walcheren, the latter of which was an assault on that island which began on 1 November, with Warspite providing support for the troops, in what was to be the last time she fired her guns. Largely inactive since Walcheren, Warspite was placed in Category C Reserve on 1 February 1945. Following the end of the war, there were pleas to retain Warspite as a museum ship like Lord Horatio Nelson's HMS Victory, but they were ignored and the ship was sold for scrap in 1947.

She had survived Jutland, the many horrors of the Second World War, and post-World War I RN cuts, and in 1947 Warspite would achieve one more victory when she escaped the indignity of the breakers yard. After already experiencing trouble on the journey to the breakers due to a storm, she broke free of her anchor, subsequently running aground in Prussia Cove, a defiant end to her career, and where she would be scrapped until 1950. Warspite had gained the affections of some of the most famous figures in the UK, including some of the most revered Royal Navy commanders in its history, Sir Andrew Cunningham in particular, and became a legend, her name becoming synonymous with majesty and courage. She was arguably the greatest battleship the Royal Navy ever possessed.

See also

Queen Elizabeth-class battleship
Queen Elizabeth | Warspite | Valiant | Barham | Malaya

List of battleships of the Royal Navy
de:HMS Warspite

fr:HMS Warspite


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