HMS Warspite

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HMS Warspite was a Queen Elizabeth class battleship that served in both world wars, taking part in the battle of Jutland in 1916 and the battle of Matapan in 1941. In 1943 she was badly damaged by an early guided missile, demonstrated how far naval warfare had changed since she was laid down in 1912.

First World War

During the First World War HMS Warspite gained something of a reputation as an unlucky ship. In April 1915 she joined the 5th Battle Squadron, only to run aground in September in the Firth of Forth. She returned to the fleet on 23 November, after two months of repairs at the Tyne. On 3 December, during exercises, she collided with the Barham and spent most of the rest of December at Devonport. 

HMS Warspite 15in guns
HMS Warspite
superfiring 15in guns

HMS Warspite after her second refit
HMS Warspite
after her second refit

At the battle of Jutland the 5th Battle Squadron was attached to the battlecruiser fleet under Admiral Beatty. As the two battlecruiser fleets approached each other on 31 May, Beatty saw a chance to isolate a group of German cruisers, and at 2.30 began a chase to the S.S.E. By the time he sighted the German battlecruisers, at 3.30pm, the 5th Battle Squadron was over seven miles begin the battlecruisers, and did not enter the fight until after 4. The squadron appeared after the destruction of the Indefatigable but before that of the Princess Royal and probably saved Beatty’s squadron from further disasters.

At 4.33 the first British ship sighted Admiral Scheer’s battleships. The British immediately turned back to the north west, and began the retreat towards Jellicoe and the battleships of the Grand Fleet. The 5th Battle Squadron once again lagged behind the battlecruisers – by the time they reached the Grand Fleet the gap was up to four miles, and so came under fire during the chase. HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya were engaged with the German battleships during this part of the battle. Warspite was hit and damaged during this phase of the battle. 

As the 5th Battle Squadron was in the process of taking up its position in the main line of battle, the Warspite’s helm jammed. She did two full circles under heavy fire from the main body of the German fleet, and was only saved from destruction when Scheer was forced to perform his 160 degree turn to escape from the guns of the Grand Fleet. She suffered fifteen hits from 11in and 12in shells, had her engine room flooded and her port feed tank wrecked. Her speed was reduced to 16kts, and when she had to ask where the main fleet was she was ordered to return to Rosyth. Despite the heavy damage, she only suffered 14 dead and 16 wounded. She reached Rosyth by 3pm on 1 June. In their first statement on the battle, the Germans claimed to have sunk her.

The Warspite was repaired by 20 July, just in time to suffer serious damage in a collision with the Valiant on 24 August, requiring repairs that took until 28 September to complete. She was briefly flagship for the squadron (from February 1918), before undergoing a refit from March-May 1918.

HMS Warspite was modernised twice between the wars. In 1924-1926 her two funnels were merged into one and she was given anti-torpedo bulges that expanded her beam from from90ft 6in to 104ft. In March 1934 she became the first of the Queen Elizabeth class ships to undergo a second more dramatic refit. This time her engines were replaced, increasing available power from 75,000shp to 80,000shp but reducing her fuel consumption by a third. Her deck armour was thickened and extra anti-aircraft guns fitting, giving her eight 4in quick firing Mk XVI AA guns and thirty two 2pdr pompom guns in four eight gun mountings. 

Second World War

HMS Warspite was particularly active during the Second World War. On 13 April 1940 she led a force of destroyers into Narvik fjord, which sank eight German destroyers before withdrawing on the following day to avoid air attacks. She returned to carry out a three hour bombardment on 24 April, during the unsuccessful land campaign around Narvik.

In March 1940 it had been decided to send the Warspite to the Mediterranean, in case Italy entered the war. She finally arrived in May, and would take part in many of the most important naval actions of the Mediterranean campaign. In June 1940 she was present at the first major clash between the British and Italian fleets, off Calabria. She straddled the Italian flagship from 26,000 yards (23,800m) and scored her first hit after only eight minutes. The Italians then withdrew.

In November 1940 she took part in the wider naval operations that preceded the Swordfish attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto (11 November) and in December 1940 she was part of a force that bombarded the Italian naval base at Valona.

On 28 March 1941 Warspite, Valiant and Barham took part in the battle of Matapan, one of the most one-sided naval battles of the war. Together with the Valiant she sank the Italian cruiser Fiume, while all three battleships reduced the cruiser Zara to a burning wreck (she was later sunk by the destroyers). The Italians also lost the cruiser Fiume and the destroyers Vittorio Alfieri and Giosuè Carducci. British casualties were one pilot killed.

In April 1941 the situation in the western desert was at a critical stage, and Axis reinforcements were flooding into Africa through Tripoli. Admiral Andrew Cunningham, the British Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean didn’t want to run the risk of a naval bombardment of the port, but after the Admiralty gave him a choice between using HMS Barham as a blockship or risking a bombardment, he took his fleet to attack Tripoli. Warspite took part in that bombardment, which began at 5am on 21 April. The entire fleet then escaped undamaged.

In May 1941 the Germans invaded Crete. The Mediterranean fleet took serious damage during this campaign. HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant, under the command of Rear-Admiral Rawling, took up position 100 miles west of Crete at dawn on 20 May, to guard against the Italian fleet. The real danger turned out to be from German aircraft, and on 22 May the battleships moved north to support a cruiser squadron that was under attack. Soon after the two squadrons met, Warspite was hit by bombs, destroying her starboard 6in and 4in guns. She escaped back to Alexandria, but was then forced to leave the eastern Mediterranean for repairs.

The Warspite was back in action in time to take part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, where she was used to bombard enemy targets inland. In mid-September, during the Salerno landings, she was rushed to the beaches to provide support. On 16 September 1943 she was attacked by German aircraft using the Ruhrstahl Fritz-X (FX1400) guided bombs.

Three of the guided missiles hit the Warspite. One penetrated through six decks, before exploding against her double hull, blowing a hole in the bottom of the ship. The other two hit the side compartments, destroying one boiler room and flooding five of the other six. No fire broke out, but Warspite had no steam, and her guns and radar stopped working. She took on 5000 tons of water and sank by five feet. She had to be towed back to Malta for repairs, and was out of action until the summer of 1944.

This damage was never entirely repaired. However, by the summer of 1944 she could fire six 15in guns, eight 4in antiaircraft guns and forty pompoms. On D-Day she took part in the naval bombardment of German positions near the coast. At the start of November she supported the Allied landings on the island of Walcheren, at the mouth of the Scheldt, during the campaign to capture the port of Antwerp. On 1 November Warspite, with the monitors Roberts and Erebus, bombarded German gun batteries at the western end of the island. As the fighting moved away from the coasts, Warspite was no longer needed as a bombardment ship, and early in 1945 she was paid off into the reserve.

 

As built

After refits

Displacement (loaded)

31,500t (design)
33,670t (as built)

36,450t
Includes 815t of water

Top Speed

23kts

23.5kts

Range

4,500 nautical miles at 10kts

 

Armour – deck

3in

5in-3.5in

 - belt

13in-6in

 

 - bulkheads

6in-4in

 

 - barbettes

10in-4in

 

 - turret faces

13in

 

 - conning tower

11in

3in-2in

Length

645ft 9in

 

Armaments

Eight 15in Mk I guns
Fourteen 6in Mk XII guns
Two 3in Mk I AA guns
Four 3pdr saluting guns
Four 21in submerged torpedo tubes

Eight 15in Mk I guns
Eight 6in Mk XII guns
Eight 4in quick firing Mk XVI AA guns
Thirty two 2pdr pompom guns in eight gun mountings

Crew complement

925-951

 

Launched

26 November 1913

Completed

March 1915

Captains

Captain Phillpotts (1916)

Sold for break up

1946

Warspite, From Jutland to Cold War Warrior, Iain Ballantyne. A history of the super-dreadnaught HMS Warspite, a warship that played a major part in both World Wars, fighting at the battles of Jutland and of Cape Matapan. An interesting story, well supported by a large number of quotes from sailors who served on the Warspite. Also includes brief histories of the other seven warships to carry the same name. [read full review] cover cover cover
 The War at Sea, 1939-1945, Volume I: The Defensive, S. W. Roskill. This first volume in the British official history of the war at sea covers the period from the outbreak of the war through to the first British disasters in the Pacific in December 1941. Amongst other topics it covers the Norwegian campaign, the evacuation from Dunkirk and the first two years of the Battle of the Atlantic. The text is meticulously researched, and is rooted in a detailed study of wartime records, both British and German. [see more] cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 November 2007), HMS Warspite , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Warspite.html

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