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Pennant Number: 03
Notes: Under the 1912 Programme, three battleships and a battlecruiser were planned. Intended to be improved IRON DUKEs, growing unease about rumors that Germany was planning an increase in caliber, plus the certainty that American and Japanese capital ships were being armed with 14" guns, suggested that these new ships should be up-gunned. The gunmakers, the Elswick Ordinance Company, assured the Admiralty that a 15" gun, firing a 1,920-lb. shell, was feasible. Because no 15" gun had yet been made, it would be necessary to start the ships with no certainty that the new gun would be successful -- but the Director of Naval Ordinance had no doubts at all. It turned out the DNO's confidence was justified, as the new Mark I 15" / 42-cal. gun proved even more accurate than the IRON DUKE's 13.5" guns, with the same long barrel life and even greater hitting power. New designs were hurriedly prepared, initially for a five-turret, 21-knot battleship, similar to the IRON DUKE class in layout. It was soon realized that a reduction of one turret (mounting the new 15" guns) would still give a broadside of 15,000 lbs., compared to the 14,000 lbs. in the IRON DUKEs. The space thus saved could be used for additional boilers to give a speed of 24-25 knots. War College studies had shown that a fast wing to the battlefleet would be far more effective than a force of a battlecruisers. To achieve 25 knots on 27,000 tons would be impossible if the ship were coal-fired, but the greater thermal efficiency of oil would solve the problem, and at the same time, reduce weight. The only practical objection was that oil fuel was imported from the Middle East. After considerable thought, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, made the decision to buy shares in the Iranian oil companies, and thus secure access to the oil fields. Now that a fast wing to the battlefleet was possible, there was little point in keeping with the battlecruiser in the 1912 Programme, and a fourth fast battleship was ordered to create a complete fast division. Then, the Federated Malay States offered to pay for a fifth unit. To commemorate the gift, she was named MALAYA. A sixth unit, AGINCOURT, was ordered under the 1914 Programme, but she was cancelled soon after the outbreak of World War I.
Although a great step forward, the QUEEN ELIZABETH class design attempted too much on too small a displacement; they were seriously overweight when built (nearly 34,000 tons), and the refusal once again to sanction small-tube boilers made 25 knots impossible to achieve. That speed was only intended to be reached at the overload rating of 72,000shp. In practice, they were good for nearly 24 knots. And they still "revolutionized" naval warfare by the creation of the "fast battleship", combining battlecruiser speed with battleship armor and armament.
WARSPITE was commissioned at Devonport in March, 1915, and joined the 5th Battle Squadron at Scapa Flow in April. She ran aground on 16 September 1915; repairs at Rosyth took slightly over two months. Then on 3 December 1915 WARSPITE collided with BARHAM; repairs took ten days at Devonport. WARSPITE took part in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916; during the battle, she fired 259 rounds from her 15" guns. Early in the battle, she engaged both the battlecruiser VON DER TANN and the light cruiser PILLAU without obtaining a hit. Later, during the phase of the battle known as "The Run to the North", the 5th BS (commanded by Rear Admiral Evan-Thomas aboard the BARHAM) heavily engaged the German 1st Scouting Group (Vice Admiral Hipper's battlecruisers), and then the 1st and 5th Divisions. She took two 11" hits from the SEYDLITZ; the first caused "localized damage" and caused some slight leakage, but did not affect her fighting efficiency; the second pierced the forefunnel near the top. During this phase of the battle, five 15" were obtained on three German battleships, but it is unclear which ship scored any particular hit, as both WARSPITE and MALAYA were firing on the 5th Division. At 1819, WARSPITE's steering gear jammed, and she sailed one-and-a-half complete circles under heavy fire from at least six battleships of the High Seas Fleet. During this time, WARSPITE took thirteen 12" hits which caused considerable damage. A 12" hit from KAISERIN damaged her steering gear; that hit was not the cause of the original steering problem, but later on prevented WARSPITE from being steered properly and caused her to be withdrawn from the battle. In addition, WARSPITE was struck by five 5.9" shells, one of which directly hit the left 15" gun in the "Y" turret and put it out of action. These hits killed 14 of her crew, while another 32 were wounded. Her top speed was reduced to 16 knots. While returning to port at 0935 on 1 June, WARSPITE was sighted by the German submarine U-51. The submarine attempted to fire two torpedoes at WARSPITE, but only one left its tube. That torpedo missed; WARSPITE noted that she had been missed by two torpedoes (one on each side), but U-51's log notes that only one left its tube. Two hours later, WARSPITE came upon another submarine (the U-63) and attempted to ram her. U-63 immediately crash dived to avoid WARSPITE; U-63 hit the bottom at 160', "bounced" back up to 23', and received fire from WARSPITE and her escorts, but managed to escape. By then, WARSPITE's crew had her speed up to 22 knots, and the rest of the return trip was without incident. (Campbell's JUTLAND; see Bibliography)
Repairs took slightly less than two months, and WARSPITE rejoined the 5th BS. Slightly over a month later (on 24 August), WARSPITE was once again involved in a collision -- this time with the VALIANT; repairs from this collision took slight over two months. WARSPITE was made Flagship of the 5th BS in February, 1918. She was taken in for refit at Rosyth in March, 1918, and returned to service in May. Following World War I, WARSPITE was transferred to the 1st Battle Squadron, Atlantic Fleet in 1919.
WARSPITE was taken in for a major refit at Portsmouth in November, 1924. Torpedo bulges were fitted (improving protection, but reducing her top speed to 23.5 knots), her 3" AA guns were replaced by 4" guns, new rangefinders were fitted, the bridge was modified, and her two funnels were trunked into one. This refit was completed in April, 1926. Following this refit, WARSPITE served in the Mediterranean; in 1930, she was transferred to Home Fleet. In March, 1934, WARSPITE was taken in for a full reconstruction. The 15" turrets were removed from the ship and sent to the Vickers Armstrong ordinance works at Elswick, where they modified to allow an elevation to 30°; this and improvements in both shells and propellants increased their maximum range to over 32,000 yards (compared to their original 23,400 yard range). The foremost and aftmost 6" guns were removed, as were the single 4" AA mounts; the latter were replaced by eight newer 4" AA guns in twin mountings. 16 2-pdr. "pom-poms" were added (in four quadruple mountings). Overall armor protection was improved. The 24 Yarrow large-tube boilers were replaced by six Admiralty three-drum small-tube boilers, increasing power output to 80,000shp. A cross-deck catapult for aircraft was fitted, and hangars were placed abaft the funnel. The bridge was completely rebuilt, following the pattern set in the NELSON and RODNEY. This conversion was completed in March, 1937. From March, 1937 through November, 1939, WARSPITE served in the Mediterranean, and then was transferred back to Home Fleet.
In April, 1940, WARSPITE was deployed to Norway for operations there, and took part in the Battle of Narvik on 13 April. At then end of April, WARSPITE was sent back to the Mediterranean. She took part in the Battle of Punta Stilo on 9 July 1940, and in various bombardments through the end of the year and well into 1941. On 28 March 1941, flying the flag of Admiral A. B. Cunningham, WARSPITE (along with BARHAM and VALIANT) took part in the Battle of Cape Matapan; they sunk the Italian heavy cruiser FIUME by gunfire, and heavily damaged the heavy cruiser ZARA; ZARA and POLA (along with two destroyers) were torpedoed and sunk by British destroyers. On 22 May 1941, WARSPITE received a heavy bomb hit during operations off Crete. She was sent to the United States (via the Suez Canal, Singapore and Pearl Harbor) for repairs, and was repaired at Bremerton. Eleven 20mm Oerlikon AA guns were added in single mounts, and WARSPITE was fitted with radar. Those repairs were completed in February, 1942, and WARSPITE was assigned to the Eastern Fleet. Four more 20mm guns were added during 1942, and sixteen more in a refit in May-June, 1943, bringing her total to 31. In February, 1943, WARSPITE provided cover for a convoy of troop transports sailing from Australia to England; upon arrival, she was reassigned to Home Fleet until June, when she was sent back to the Mediterranean. On 16 September 1943, WARSPITE was damaged by a glider bomb off the coast of Salerno. She had to be towed by U. S. tugs to Malta for temporary repairs; further repairs were carried out at Gibraltar and Rosyth. At Rosyth, the remaining 6" guns were removed, four of the single 20mm guns were replaced by twin 20mm guns, and her radar was upgraded. She took part in the bombardments supporting the Normandy invasion in June, 1944; on 13 June, she struck a mine while returning to Britain for replacement of her main battery gun barrels and was once again heavily damaged, but she made it under her own power to Rosyth for emergency repairs. This damage was never fully repaired; after this mining, WARSPITE was only capable of 15 knots speed, and only six of her 15" guns were functional. Nevertheless, she continued to provide gunfire support for troops ashore, ending operations in November, 1944. WARSPITE was decommissioned in March, 1946 and sold for breaking up. While on the way to the breakers yard on 23 April 1947, WARSPITE parted tow ropes from her tug off Prussia Cove near Lands End and ran aground. She was salvaged in 1950, beached near Marazion, and scrapped there.