HMS Warspite (03)
Despite her excellent war record, HMS Warspite was not saved from the scrap heap.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
HMS Warspite (03) was a Dreadnought Battleship of the Queen Elizabeth-class in service with the British Royal Navy. The hull of this all-new "big gun" ship design was patterned after the "Iron Duke" battleship class. When on the drawing board, the Queen Elizabeth class was championed by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill knew he needed allies to convince the War Department to fund the massive project so he persuaded Admiral Sir John "Jackie" Fisher to come out of retirement and help secure the construction of Warspite and her sister ships. They were successful in their efforts and Warspite was officially launched on November 26th, 1913 from the Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth and formally commissioned on March 8th, 1915. World War 1 (1914-1918) was already underway by then.
The Queen Elizabeth-class were constructed as "Super Dreadnoughts" which reflected their having more firepower, thicker armor and larger overall dimensions than preceding Dreadnought warships. Winston Churchill was able to push through the 15-inch main guns being developed in secret for the Elizabeth-class. In 1913, these guns were the largest rifled cannons of their kind anywhere in the world, making the Elizabeth-class the first to be designed around this new armament. Her architects chose to mount the guns in 4 x twin-gun turrets, all fitted inline with two forward emplacements and two aft. This was a change from previous Dreadnought battleships which included five total twin-gun turrets. The decision to remove the fifth turret helped to reduce the vessel's overall displacement and provide more internal space and tonnage for a larger powerplant - which significantly increased the speed of the class. Capable of 24 knots in ideal conditions, the Queen Elizabeth-class of World War 1 were considered the first true "fast battleships".
The 15-inch (381.0 mm) main gun barrel weighed approximately 100 tons and was 650.4 inches (16.52 m) in length. The shell was separate from the charges and weighed 1,920 pounds (870 kg) on their own. When fired, the recoil of the barrel was 46 inches (1.2 m) and a trained, experienced gunnery crew could maintain a healthy 2 rounds-per-minute rate-of-fire. Muzzle velocity was rated at 2,575 feet-per-second (785 m/s). By the time of World War 2 in 1941, the maximum elevation of the guns were changed from 20-degrees to 30-degrees. This elevation change allowed a streamlined shell to have a maximum range of 23,734 yards at 20 degrees and 32,500 yards (29,720 m) - more than 18 miles - at 30-degrees elevation.
The 6" BL Mk XII series were chosen as secondary armament and all 14 systems were placed in casements along the sides of the hull as built - 7 to port and 7 to starboard. The caliber was 6 inches and each gun weighed 6-tons. The length of the bore was 45 calibers (270 inches) and the weight of each shell was 100lbs (45kg). A gunnery crew could maintain a rate-of-fire of 7 rouns-per-minute with a maximum range out to 13,500 yards. In practice, the design of these guns of 1915 was such that in they were to fire forward for protection against smaller ships attempting to make torpedo runs on the vessel. The guns were close to the waterline and their use in this fashion proved them to be almost ineffective. Another possibility was to put four guns aft however this plan was abandoned and finally two guns were placed on the boat deck. After the Battle of Jutland in 1916, they were removed altogether as it was found the gun crews were too exposed to enemy fire.
The class also fielded 2 x 3" BL Mk 1 QF series anti-aircraft guns added in 1915. At this point in time, the general feeling by warplanners was that aircraft could not sink a battleship-type vessel therefore the need for anti-aircraft gun protection was a low priority. The caliber of these weapons was 3 inches and the length of the bore was 45 calibers (135 inches). The weight of the individual gun was 1-ton (2000lbs) and the shell weighed 12lbs, 8 oz. The crew could maintain a rate-of-fire of 20 rounds-per-minute. The shells' maximum range was approximately 11,200 yards.
Torpedo tubes were still seen as required armament on capital ships in 1915. As such, Warspite was given four torpedo launch tubes - two mounted forward and two mounted aft - in fixed launchers below the water line. The bow mounts - one port and one starboard - were about 80 feet back from the bow and the two aft tubes were situated as one port and one starboard under the most-aft 15-inch "D" turret emplacement. Each station held five torpedoes of 21-inches (533mm) in diameter and the length of bore of each was 45 calibers (270in). Each torpedo tube weighed 6 tons and the torpedoes themselves were 22 feet, 7.5 in long (6.896 m). The warhead weighed 280 pounds and the complete torpedo weighed 3,206 pounds (1,454 kg). Maximum range of these weapons was 18,500 yards with a cruise-to-target speed of 19 knots. The tubes were removed during the 1941 refit when destroyers took on the "torpedo boat" role in the British Royal Navy.
A number of boats and barges were assigned to HMS Warspite and her sister ships. The types consisted of a number of 32-foot Cutters with oars, 2 x 27-foot Whalers with sail and oars, a 42-foot sailing launch and a 36-foot pinache boat. Also assigned were 1 x 50-foot steam pinache, 1 x 45-foot steam Admiral's barge, a number of the standard 16-foot dinghy watercraft. Warspite was fitted with 8 x 40" searchlights as-built. After the Battle of Jutland, due to the poor performance of the British Fleet during the night action, an additional 8 lights were added making for a total of 16 searchlights placed about the superstructure.
Belt armor for the class was 13 inches amidships, tapering forward to 6 inches and aft to 4 inches. Above the waterline belt, the armor was 6 inches. The upright walls - or bulkheads - in the ship were from 6-inches to 4-inches thick forward and aft. The main 15-inch turrets weighed 750 tons, each having 13-inch armor fronts, sides of 11-inches and the turret roof with 4.25inch armor protection. The barbettes were given 7 to 10 inches above the belt and 4 to 6 inches below the belt. 6" guns were protected by 6-inch armor and the conning tower had 11-inch sides, a 3-inch roof and 4-inches on the revolving hood.
The propulsion system chosen were 24 x boilers, each having 285 psi maximum pressure and each driving 4 x direct drive turbines. The vessel had 4 x shafts and 75,000 shaft horsepower at 300 rpm. Electrical power for onboard systems was provided for by 2 x oil-driven 450kW dynamos and 2 x turbine-driven 200 Kw dynamos. Shortly after construction a single reciprocating engine-driven 200 kW dynamo was added to support the ships systems. The design speed was 24 knots at 56,000 shaft horsepower and, during trials in 1915, Warspite made 24.1kts at 56,600 shaft horsepower. The propellers each had 3 x 11 foot blades that turned at 275 revolutions per minute. 2 x 30 foot rudders were set behind the propellers, one between the first and second propeller and the second between the second and third propeller, allowing the ship to turn 360-degrees under power. Fuel storage below decks held tanks for 3,300 tons of oil and bins for100 tons of coal.
Warspite's first commanding officer was Captain Edward Montgomery Phillpotts. The Admiralty released Warspite to sea and she sailed into the Atlantic for a number of sea trials which included gunnery action of the new 15-inch (381 mm) main guns. Churchill himself was onboard when the guns were fired to test their accuracy and potency. The gunnery was on target and Churchill was satisfied with the new guns. Warspite then completed her sea trials and was posted to the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet in late 1915. On the journey, led by her escorting destroyers, Warspite grounded in the Forth resulting in damage to her hull. After repairs, she joined the Grand Fleet with the newly-formed 5th Battle Squadron which had been formed specifically for the fast battleship Queen Elizabeth-class. In December of 1915, Warspite was involved in a fast attack exercise with ships of her class and accidentally collided with her sister ship HMS Barham in a fog bank. The collision caused extensive damage to Warspite forcing her to return to Plymouth for repairs. Upon completion she returned to the fleet.
During World War 1, the overall strategy of Germany was to break the British blockade and to allow German mercantile shipping to once again bring much-needed supplies into Germany. The British strategy was to starve the people of Germany into capitulation so the Royal Navy was to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet as well as keep German Navy warships and submarines away from Britain's own shipping lanes. World War 1 had been ongoing for two years now when, in May of 1916, Warspite, and the 5th Battle Squadron joined the Grand Fleet to take part in the first battle of her career - the Battle of Jutland.
Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer commanded the German fleet and the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The German fleet's intention was to destroy only a portion of the Grand Fleet for the German Navy held an inadequate number of ships to engage the entire British fleet as a whole. Churchill said Jellicoe was the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon. At the end of May, Scheer ordered the entire High Seas Fleet to sortie into the North Atlantic expecting to meet Admiral Beatty's battlecruiser squadron based on the Forth and destroy it. The Royal Navy knew Scheer's plans (having broken the German naval code) and the Grand Fleet sailed out to meet him.
The British and German fleets sailed in standard formations with scouting squadrons of faster cruisers sailing ahead of the main body. The battle began on May 31st as Admiral Beatty, commanding the squadron, and was seven miles behind the cruisers who sighted the smaller German cruiser flotilla commanded by Admiral Hipper. Hipper was lured south into range of the main German fleet. Two British cruisers were destroyed as the Germans tried to overtake and destroy the British cruiser fleet. The 5th Battle Squadron appeared after the destruction of HMS Indefatigable and, as the German fleet closed on the British ships, they found themselves under plunging fire from Jellicoe's main battle fleet as the British crossed the "T" - the ultimate "broadside against the bow" maneuver in navy lingo. As the German fleet crossed the British fleet they received 27 direct hits while only scoring 2 hits on British ships.
HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya were engaged with the German battleships at about 4 pm on the first day of the battle. During violent maneuvers to avoid a collision with HMS Valiant, Warspite's steering jammed causing her to steam in circles, exposing her to heavy German guns though (inadvertently) drawing fire away from the damaged cruiser HMS Warrior. After two full turns, Warspite was under control and came to a heading against the attacking German fleet. Earlier damage made it possible that only her first turret could engage enemy targets. Inevitably, Warspite was saved from annihilation only when the German fleet was forced to turn and run from the guns of the British Grand Fleet. In all, Warspite suffered fifteen direct hits from German 11-inch and 12-inch shells. Her engine room was taking on water and her speed was reduced to just 16 knots. When she regained steam she was ordered to return to Rosyth for repairs. She reached the British port on June 1st. The outcome of the battle saw the Germans losing one heavy and four light cruisers, one pre-Dreadnought battleship and five destroyers. The British losses were three heavy and four armored cruisers along with and eight destroyers. Overall the surviving German capital ships had suffered serious damage and the final result of the battle increased British naval dominance of capital ships over Germany. The battle ended any threat from the German High Seas Fleet for the balance of the war. The blockade continued and the Royal Navy continued to control the North Sea till war's end.
Warspite was repaired by July 20th, 1916, and returned to the fleet only to be involved in a collision with HMS Valiant on August 24th. The damage suffered required that she undergo massive repairs in Plymouth, these lasting until September 28th. Her steering damage that occurred in the Battle of Jutland was never completely repaired and would continue to dog the vessel the rear of her fine career. She returned to the fleet and for some time served as flagship for 5th Battle Squadron. In June of 1917, Warspite - again having steering problems arise - collided with HMS Destroyer, causing enough damage that both ships were required to return to Scapa Flow for repairs. Her problems only continued when, on July 9th, 1917, HMS Warspite was undergoing these repairs. On that day, a coal fire had sprung aboard the nearby HMS Vanguard, ignited cordite in a weapons storage that caused a massive explosion. HMS Vanguard sank, taking with her 804 British sailors and leaving only 2 survivors. HMS Warspite's final mission of World War 1 occurred on November 21at, 1918 when she set sail into Scapa Flow to accept the German surrender from the High Seas Fleet.
After the war, Warspite was assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron, Atlantic Fleet, with operations centering mainly in the Mediterranean. In 1924 she entered dry dock for a two year period and underwent a revision that saw her two smoke funnels removed and replaced with a single, larger funnel. Her beam was also widened to 104 feet to allow for anti-torpedo bulges to be implemented along her hull and deck armor was increased. After the work had concluded, Warspite was a flagship once more, this time in the Mediterranean. She then was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet in 1930.
During the period from 1934 to 1937, the Navy decided to upgrade their Elizabeth-class vessels. The project centered on replacing the entire propulsion system with a more modern arrangement to better suit the class. As such, the original twenty-four boilers of the class were removed in favor of six new individual boiler rooms. Additionally, four new engine rooms were built along with new gearing rooms for the geared Parsons turbines. The new engines decreased fuel consumption by 35% and led to greater endurance as well as uprated output. The lighter engines further allowed the vessel to take on more weaponry and additional armor protection to meet the demands of the new world - a world once again gearing up for total war. Four of Warspite's the 6-inch gun turrets were removed while her forecastle area was increased. The 200 ton conning tower was removed while 4x2 4" inch guns and 4x4 2-pdr "pom-pom" anti-aircraft guns were added. Deck armor was increased to 5-inches critical ammunition store areas and 3.5 inches now covered the engines and applicable compartments. Warspite's superstructure was revised as well and reduced in overall size to allow for an onboard aircraft hangar to be installed. The original fire control system was replaced by the more modern HACS MkIIIa system as threats to warships from enemy aircraft were proven in World War 1. A new fire control system - Mk VII - was added for the 15-inch gun batteries. Warspite was made ready for sail by the end of 1937, making her the most modernized ship in the British fleet and the most powerful in the world for a time. She returned to the Mediterranean Fleet as the flagship once again. However, as Warspite prepared to steam to Mediterranean waters, her steering issues arose, delaying her official return for several months more.
On September 1st, 1939 World War 2 officially began when the German Pre-Dreadnought Battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein moored close to the Polish fortress at Westerplatte. At 04:47, Schleswig-Holstein opened with her main battery against the Polish positions and fired the first shots of World War 2. The British Admiralty ordered HMS Warspite from the Mediterranean to join the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. Warspite, now part of the Atlantic Fleet, was to take part in the British campaigns in Norway. In April of 1940 the Royal Navy understood that long-term German success in the war depended on the large quantities of Swedish iron ore that departed from the neutral port of Narvik, Norway. The British Navy had blockaded Germany in World War 1 with great success so, as World War 2 began, the fleet was to use naval power against Germany once more. The United Kingdom and France came to Norway's aid with an "expeditionary" force supporting the Second Battle of Narvik.
The British flotilla included the battleship HMS Warspite and nine destroyers - HMS Cossack, HMS Punjabi, HMS Bedouin, and HMS Eskimo plus HMS Foxhound, HMS Kimberley, HMS Forester, HMS Hero, and HMS Icarus. For air support Whitworth was given the aircraft carrier HMS Furious. This substantial force arrived in Norwegian waters on April 13th to which Warspite launched her Swordfish biplane scouts. They sighted the German submarine U-64, anchored in the Herjangsfjord near Bjerkvik, and engaged, sinking her with bombs. U-64 became the first German submarine sunk by battleship-launched aircraft since World War 1 and the first German submarine sunk in the war by aircraft proper.
When the British fleet entered Ofotfjord they found eight German destroyers supporting the Second Battle of Narvik. The Royal Navy found the Germans with little fuel and short of ammunition. Warspite and her accompanying destroyers engaged and sank three German destroyers, the remaining five deciding to scuttle their own ships to avoid them being taken as war prizes by the British. Warspite and her escorts left Norwegian waters the next day so as to be out of range of German land-based aircraft - should there be a retaliatory response.
Warspite arrived back in Scapa Flow with her destroyer flotilla and, after undergoing repairs, refueling and taking on fresh stores, she was ordered back to Mediterranean waters. The main threat to British success in the region was now focused on the modernized Italian Navy. Warspite, and two other battleships and six heavy and five light cruisers, sixteen destroyers and a carrier were matched against the Italian fleet which consisted of two battleships, six heavy and eight light cruisers plus sixteen destroyers. This meeting gave rise to the Battle of Calabria on July 9th, 1940.
The two Italian battleships maneuvered to shell Warspite in a joined effort. The Italian Battleship Giulio Cesare opened fire at a range of 26,400 meters while her sister ship - Conte di Cavour - held up, the Italian strategy being to have only one ship shelled at a time. During the Battle of Jutland it was found that if more than one ship fired at a single target it became very difficult for the rangefinding parties on each attacking ship to tell which direct hits were theirs. Conte di Cavour had been assigned to fire on HMS Malaya and HMS Royal Sovereign, which were trailing Warspite and did not join the engagement. Warspite then split her fire between the two Italian Battleships ships which saved the Giulio Cesare. She straddled the Italian flagship and scored her first hit after only eight minutes. The Italians then withdrew and the action ended with no clear victor. In November of 1940 she supported the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto and in December of 1940 she was part of the naval force charged with bombarding the Italian naval base at Valona.
From March 27th to the 29th of 1941, HMS Warspite, along with the Battleships HMS Valiant and HMS Barham took part in the Battle of the Mediterranean Sea off Cape Matapan near Greece. The order-of-battle consisted of the Italian fleet made up of 1 Battleship, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 17 destroyers. The combined British and Australian fleet consisted of 1 Aircraft carrier, 3 Battleships, 2 light cruisers and 17 destroyers. The British fleet had fewer ships but greater fire power and some 80 aircraft on hand. The Italian ships had no radar and could not spot British ships except by lookouts with binoculars. HMS Ajax found the Italian fleet at night prompting the British battleships HMS Barham, HMS Valiant and flag ship HMS Warspite to close in unnoticed within 3,828 yards. Comparatively the Warspite's main guns held a maximum range of 32,500 yards. The British Battleships opened fire on the Italian ships at point blank range. The Italian ships were illuminated by searchlights from the British vessels and gunners witnessed the Italian cruiser's main turrets blown up meters high into the air. The outcome was a major British victory as losses included only a single aircraft with, three dead and four cruisers lightly damaged. The Italian fleet suffered heavy damage with three heavy cruisers and two destroyers sunk. The Battleship Giulio Cesare was heavily damaged and lost over 2,300 men.
After Cape Matapan, Warspite was sent to the United States for repairs and to receive upgraded anti-aircraft guns. She arrived at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state and was under repair when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 - thrusting America into the war. Warspite was completed at the end of December and joined the British Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. She then took part in Allied efforts to block the Japanese Indian Ocean raids but the Japanese forces ultimately captured Malaya , Singapore and the Dutch East Indies forcing the remaining British warships to withdraw to Trincomalee, Ceylon and, ultimately back to the Mediterranean. On April 21st, 1941Axis reinforcements were flooding into North Africa through Tripoli prompting Warspite to take part in the bombardment of the city.
In May of 1941,as the Germans invaded Crete, Warspite and HMS Valiant were sent to block the Italian Mediterranean fleet. HMS Warspite took up a position off the west coast of Crete and waited for the Italian fleet. However German land-based aircraft found her and attacked, Warspite being hit by bombs which destroyed the starboard 4-inch and 6-inch guns. Damaged, Warsprite was forced to retire back towards Alexandria. Upon inspection, she was found in need of extensive repairs and was ordered back to England for such. Soon Warspite was refurbished and sent back to the Mediterranean, ultimately taking part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July of 1943, she being used as a bombardment ship against inland targets.
In September of 1943, while supporting the Salerno landings with offshore gunfire, Warspite escorted the Italian Fleet into internment at Malta after their formal surrender to the Allies. Back on station, she was bombed by German aircraft with three Ruhrstahl Fritz-X bombs - anti-ship, wire-guided glide bombs. It became one of the first operational attempts involving "precision guided" anti-ship munitions. One bomb penetrated Warspite's six decks deep before exploding at the Number 4 boiler room, ultimately destroying the boiler. A second Fritz-X missed Warspite directly but managed to blast a hole in her hull at the waterline. The hole on her port side allowed 5,000 tons of water to gush in causing a total loss of power throughout the ship. The bombs were powerful for their time however it was only luck that minimized personnel losses. Her lack of ship power required her to be towed to Malta by the USS Hopi and USS Moreno - both 1,675 ton fleet tugs with crews of 80 men. After some repair she returned to Britain and was in dry dock for 9 months. It became obvious the ship could not completely be repaired and she was desperately needed back in the war zone. Warspite, now fielded with less firepower, returned to action to bombard Normandy during Operation Overlord on June 6th, 1944 - the Allied invasion to retake Northern France.
During D-Day she could only fire six of her 15-inch guns, eight of her twelve 40inch anti-aircraft guns and forty of her "pompom" cannons. Even with these drawbacks she took part in the bombardment of German positions inland of the coast at Sword Beach. At the start of November the British were pushing to take the port city of Antwerp. Warspite supported the Allied landings on the island of Walcheren and was stationed at the mouth of the Scheldt. Warspite, and the monitors HMS Roberts and HMS Erebusboth having a single turret with two 15-inch guns, bombarded German gun batteries at the western end of the island. As the allies moved further inland and the Germans retreated, land-based targets for the Warspite went out of range of her 15-inch guns. Warspite was no longer needed as a bombardment ship and the war was essentially over for the battle-worn ship. She was placed in "Category C" reserve on February 1st,1945. The war in Europe was over by the end of May while the war in the Pacific would soon follow by the end of August.
Her many crew men tried to convince the British Admiralty to make Warspite a floating museum ship but their attempts ultimately failed. Due to her condition, the decision was made that she be sold for scrapping in 1947. During the tow to the scrap heap, Warspite broke loose and ran aground in Prussia Cove, Cornwall - some of her crew believing that the ship attempted to make a break for the North Sea instead of allowing herself to be broken up for scrapping. The battleship was recovered and taken to St. Michael's Mount where she was unceremoniously dismantled in 1955. A memorial stone was erected near the sea wall at Marazion. The remains of the masts were set on display at Prussia Cove while one section was erected on a point overlooking the cove itself. HMS Warspite was awarded the most battle honors of any ship in the Royal Navy - even besting Lord Nelson's famous HMS Victory - and became the most awarded warship for actions concerning World War 2. Her storied career spanned decades of excellent service and two world wars - a resume shared by only a few other vessels in the world.