HMS Warspite (03)

HMS Warspite (03)

HMS "Warspite" (pennant number 03) 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 Grand 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 S. 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.

Early career

"Warspite's" first commanding officer upon commissioning in 1915 was Captain Edward Montgomery Phillpotts. "Warspite" joined the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet following 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 Force. On 31 May, "Warspite" took part in her first, and largest, engagement in her career, the Battle of Jutland. "Warspite" received fifteen hits from main armament guns of 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 "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 towards the German High Seas Fleet.The rangefinders and the transmission station were out of order and only "A" turret could fire, but under local control all 12 salvos fell short of their target. Midshipman Herbert Annesley Packer was promoted and mentioned in dispatches for his command of "A" turret. The Warspite was no longer a fighting force and therefore 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 service life.

During the battle, "Warspite" suffered fourteen killed and sixteen 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 1 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 again 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" 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 receive more repairs. Later that year, on 21 November under the command of Hubert Lynes, "Warspite", along with the rest of the Grand Fleet, set sail to receive the German High Seas Fleet into internment at Scapa Flow. 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. In September 1931, she was ship of the watch at Invergordon during the initial stages of the Invergordon Mutiny. She was at sea when other major warships of the Atlantic Fleet mutinied.

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 under the command of Captain Victor Alexander Charles Crutchley, 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: in 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 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 which were intent on acting as commerce raiders. "Warspite", however, made no contact with any German capital ship during her searches.

In April 1940, "Warspite" served in the Norwegian campaign, providing essential battleship support during the Second Battle of Narvik, when "Warspite" and numerous British destroyers attacked eight German destroyers trapped in Ofotfjord, near the port of Narvik. Vice-Admiral William 'Jock' Whitworth, leader of the operation, transferred his flag to "Warspite" on the day the battle commenced. "Warspite's" Fairey Swordfish, a bi-plane fragile in appearance, attacked and sunk the German U-boat "U-64", to become the first aircraft to sink a U-boat in World War II. The German destroyers were soon engaged by the British destroyers. One heavily damaged German ship, the "Erich Koellner", was sunk by broadsides from "Warspite". "Warspite" targeted the "Diether von Roeder" and "Erich Giese", the former was scuttled by the ship's crew, while the "Erich Giese" was sunk by "Warspite" and destroyers. The objective of eliminating all eight German destroyers, which were running out of both fuel and ammunition, was achieved with minimal loss.


During the summer of 1940, "Warspite" was transferred to the Mediterranean theatre and fought in several engagements. The most important of these were the important strategic victory at the Battle of Cape Matapan in which three Italian heavy cruisers and two destroyers were sunk in a night action, and the Battle of Calabria. Her sister ships were all heavily damaged during their time in the Mediterranean. HMS "Barham" was sunk and "Valiant" and "Queen Elizabeth" both spent time resting on the bottom of Alexandria harbour after their hulls were holed in an attack by Italian frogmen. "Warspite" stayed afloat but was damaged several times.

During the Battle of Calabria she was credited with achieving the longest range gunnery hit from a moving ship to a moving target in history. This was a hit on the "Giulio Cesare" at a range of approximately 26,000 yards (see also the "Scharnhorst", which scored a hit on the "Glorious" at approximately the same distance, in June 1940). "Warspite" also took part in the naval portion of the Battle of Crete, where she was badly damaged by German bombers.

Indian Ocean

In 1941, "Warspite" departed Alexandria, and began her journey to the USA to be repaired at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton. Repairs and modifications there began in AugustShrader, Grahame F. "USS Colorado: The 'Other' Battleship" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" December 1976 pp. 46] and ended in December, which included the replacement of her worn out 15 in guns. She was still at the shipyard when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. After working-up around the west coast of North America, "Warspite" departed the area to join the Eastern Fleet 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 relocate 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 "Ryūjō" and included six cruisers, while the second group included five carriers which had launched the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, 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.

Return to 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". "Warspite" began her bombardment of Sicily on 17 July, when she poured heavy fire onto German positions at Catania.

Between 8 September 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", which 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", now commanded by her one time midshipman Herbert Annesley Packer was back in action on 15 September, at Salerno. The American sector was in a precarious situation after the Germans had counter-attacked, and when "Warspite" and "Valiant" arrived at Salerno they commenced a bombardment of German positions that effectively saved the Allied forces. However disaster soon struck "Warspite", for on 16 September she was attacked by a squadron of German aircraft, armed with an early guided missile, the Fritz X (FX-1400). She was hit three times, one of them striking 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. Casualties were minor; 9 killed and 14 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. The tow proved extremely difficult, and at one point she was drifting sideways through the straits of Messina having broken all the tow lines. She eventually 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. "X" turret, badly damaged by the FX 1400 attack, remained inoperative. 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.

After repairs, 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 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 hard aground in Prussia Cove. It was a defiant end to her career, and "Warspite" was towed to St. Michael's Mount, where she had to be scrapped "in situ" over the next few years.cite web
title = 1946-62
publisher = St. Ives Trust
date =
url =
accessdate = 2008-03-15
] The ship that 'refused to die', finally met her lamentable end, when breaking work was completed in 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, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham in particular, and became a legend, her name becoming synonymous with majesty and courage.

Battle Honours

(First World War)

*Jutland 1916;

(Second World War)

* Atlantic 1939;
* Narvik 1940,Norway 1940;
* Calabria 1940, Mediterranean 1940-41-43,;
* Malta Convoys 1941, Matapan 1941, Crete 1941:
* Sicily 1943, Salerno 1943:
* English Channel 1944, Normandy 1944, Walcheren 1944, Biscay 1944.

"Warspite " carries the most battle honours for any individual ship in the Royal Navy, and the most awarded for actions in the Second World War.

ee also

*HMS "Warspite" for other ships of this name.
*Admiral Victor Alexander Charles Crutchley, VC, captain 1937-1941 and notable British naval commander in the Pacific.

In popular fiction

The ship has inspired a number of works of fiction, which include, among others:
*Duncan Harding's "Sink the Warspite" ISBN 0-7278-5764-9
*Douglas Reeman's novel "Battlecruiser" in which the title ship, although of a different class, suffers several steering mishaps at critical times and fights in similar engagements. ISBN 0-09-943987-5


External links

* [ Maritimequest HMS Warspite Photo Gallery]

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