HMS Warspite Association

Warspite on DDay

From the Age of Fighting Sail
to Nuclear Power

The most illustrious warship name in Royal Navy history

The story of warships in the British fleet named Warspite goes back centuries, beginning with a wooden wall man-o-war – a small 36-gun vessel of just 650 tons displacement – that was launched in 1596 at Deptford on the Thames. Her first captain was Sir Walter Raleigh, who commanded the ship during the notorious raid against Cadiz of the same year.

The second Warspite was launched in 1666, a 64-gun vessel of 899 tons in the navy of King Charles II that fought the Dutch. Warspites grew in size and firepower as Britain’s global ambitions expanded, so that by the early 1800s the fourth Warspite was a 1,890 tons 74-gun ship of the line. During the Peninsular War she helped ensure Wellington’s army always had a means of supply and/or evacuation if hemmed in when fighting Napoleon’s armies.

By the 1880s the name Warspite was borne by a steam-powered armoured cruiser of 8,400 tons, the first warship to be lit by electricity and with four 9.2-inch guns and ten 6-inch guns as her secondary battery. She saw no action and was scrapped in the early 1900s as the Royal Navy responded to the growing maritime power of German empire. It was discarding less useful vessels to pour resources and people into a force that aimed to overcome the Kaiser’s growing battle fleet.

The most famous ship to carry the name Warspite – with a fighting record unparalleled in British naval history – was launched at Devonport on a late November day in 1913. It came at a time when dark clouds of war loomed over Europe, with Britain involved in a deadly battleship construction race with Germany. Thirty thousand people, including the most famous and important British statesman of the 20th Century – Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty – witnessed her massive bulk going down the slipway into the Tamar.

This seventh Warspite was a super-dreadnought, with eight 15-inch guns and oil-fired boilers that enabled her to gain a high turn of speed – she was a fast heavy hitter. The long fighting life of Warspite would see her become the most battle-honoured warship in British naval history, safeguarding the nation in two world wars.

Warspite’s amazing story was also that of a navy and a nation, for she was created and launched when Britain was at the zenith of its imperial power. She held the line from Jutland in 1916 – where Warspite at one stage held off the entire enemy fleet – to key actions during the 1940s, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

Her guns destroyed most of the Kriegsmarine’s destroyer force at Narvik in April 1940, made an Italian battle fleet retreat and were the first to bombard German ground troops in Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944.

Starting life as a Devonport Division ship, Warspite would later be based in Portsmouth though she ended her days running aground in Cornwall on the way to the breakers yard in 1947. Due to her amazing fighting record Warspite was a vessel that many felt should actually have been preserved for the nation to remember how crucial the Royal Navy was in Britain’s fight for survival. While this did not happen, the HMS Warspite Association has over the years kept her memory alive.

Continuity at sea was maintained in the fighting fleet until the 1990s, as the eighth and last vessel to carry the name was a hunter-killer submarine during the Cold War. A nuclear-powered capital ship, the last Warspite was a truly remarkable vessel, as revolutionary as the super dreadnought. More about the submarine Warspite here.

With those who served in the WW2 battleship now having nearly all crossed the bar, the Warspite flame is kept burning – and all ships of the name continue to be honoured – by the efforts of submariners who now make up the veterans’ membership of the Association. It also includes among its members the families and loves ones of those who served in both the battleship and the SSN, plus it also embraces others interested in perpetuating the glory of the Warspite.

The Cold War capital ship: Nuclear-powered Fleet submarine HMS Warspite. Photo: Royal Navy.

HMS Warspite crestFor more information on the HMS Warspite Association and To read Warspite’s incredible story in full
Contact usWarspite BookBuy the book

The action-packed story of the British warships named HMS Warspite is told via not only ‘Warspite’ which primarily conveys the story of the WW1 and WW2 battleship, but also in ‘Hunter Killers’ The latter tells the story of Britain’s submariners and submarines during the Cold War, including the nuclear-powered craft that took on the Soviets. For a complementary complete history of submarine warfare, see ‘The Deadly Trade’

The Deadly Trade