Friday, 6 June 2014

D-Day anniversary: HMS Warspite homage


As today marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, to liberate Western Europe from Hitler's Germany, I will shamelessly self-indulge on this blog with an homage, and some Class-A history geek ship porn. This beastie is the British battleship HMS Warspite, battle-scarred veteran of both the First and Second World Wars.

Her guns fired the first shots of the amphibious assaults on D-Day, hitting German strongpoints at Sword Beach opposing the British soldiers landing there. Eight days later, Warspite's 15-inch guns targeted the French chateau being used as a command HQ by the elite German "Hitler Youth" Waffen SS division, killing the German general instantly, as well as half his staff officers.

Warspite had earlier fought in the epic WW1 Battle of Jutland in 1916, surviving despite circling out of control under the guns of the German fleet, with only one of her four gun turrets still functioning. In 1940 she was back in action, helping demolish a flotilla of ten German destroyers, trapped inside a Norwegian fjord at the Second Battle of Narvik.

She spent most of the middle part of the war in the Mediterranean, dodging bombs, shells and torpedoes, sending several Italian cruisers to the bottom, at the Battle of Cape Matapan. Her guns later smashed targets ashore to support amphibious landings on Sicily and then at Salerno, where under air attack she survived being hit by a German guided missile.

After D-Day, Warspite spent the last year of the war pulverising German shore defences in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Peace meant death for her, after surviving so many battles. But like many old ships, Warspite didn't want to die, and was shipwrecked in stormy weather off Prussia Cove in 1947, on her way to the scrapyard, refusing to go gracefully to the last, so they had to break her apart where she lay.