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Warspite: The Hard Knocks of War (1950 Footage)

Photo: HMS Warspite firing in support of the landings on Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.


This fascinating newsreel from British Pathé shows workers on the iconic British battleship HMS Warspite. The ship, beached near Marazion, Cornwall – near
St Michael’s Mount – was being scrapped in situ.

Warspite had very much lived up to her motto, Belli dura despicio (I despise the hard knocks of war), acquiring 14 battle honours during the Second World War – more than any other Royal Navy ship – and seeing action in most of the major naval campaigns of the Mediterranean and European theatres.

Among other operations, the ‘Grand Old Lady’ participated in the battles at Calabria, Cape Matapan and off Crete, supported the invasions of Sicily, mainland Italy and of occupied-France. She duelled German destroyers at point-blank
range in Norway, and sortied into the Indian Ocean to take the fight to the Japanese Navy.

However the much-loved battleship was, by the end of the Second World War, tired and worn. Despite two major modernisations, she was – having been launched in 1912 – an ageing ship, and the effects of damage meant Warspite was no longer an effective warship.

  One bomb struck near her funnel, penetrating through six decks before exploding against her double hull, blowing a hole in the bottom

On 16 September 1943, Warspite had been bombarding positions off Salerno.
She was attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft of KG 100, which used the Fritz X guided bomb. One bomb struck near her funnel, penetrating through six decks before exploding against her double hull, blowing a hole in the bottom of the ship and crippling many systems. The other two bombs damaged the side compartments, destroying one boiler room and flooding five of the other six. Her ‘X’ turret was
also disabled.

Warspite had no steam and had taken on more than 5,000 tons of water. She was towed to Malta for emergency repairs and more substantial works took place in Rosyth, but much of the damage was not economically repairable. Warspite sailed for Normandy able to lend just six of her eight 15in guns to the 77-day campaign.

A remarkable photograph taken from one of the Dorniers of KG 100, showing the flares of two Fritz X bombs just as they impacted Warspite. (Courtesy of G Massimello)

The ‘X’ turret was never repaired and further damage sustained in June 1944
when she struck a mine while sailing to have her 15in guns fitted with new barrels. The battleship fired her main guns for the final time in support of operations to clear the Scheldt in late 1944.

The decision to scrap the Warspite was made in July 1946, and she departed Portsmouth for scrapping on 19 April 1947. However, defiant to the last, she slipped her tow in a severe storm and ran aground in Mount’s Bay, eventually ending up in Prussia Cove. Three years later, the ship was re-floated but the salvage failed, and in gale-force winds, the battleship drifted a few miles to Long Rock.

In the end, she was beached near Marazion and a final attempt to re-float her
in November 1950 (likely the subject of the above footage) successfully moved Warspite‘s battered hulk closer to shore. It took until summer 1955 to complete
her scrapping.

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