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No warship name in British naval history has more battle honours than Warspite. While this book looks at the lives of all eight vessels to bear the name (between 1596 and the 1990s), it concentrates on the truly epic story of the seventh vessel, a super-dreadnought battleship, conceived as the ultimate answer to German naval power, during the arms race that helped cause WW1. Warspite fought off the entire German fleet at Jutland, survived a mutiny between the wars and then covered herself in glory in action from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean during WW2.
She was the flagship of Admiral Sir John Cunningham when he mastered the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean, her guns inflicting devastating damage on the enemy at Calabria in 1940 and Matapan in 1941. She narrowly avoided destruction by the Japanese carrier force that devastated Pearl Harbor. She provided crucial fire support for Allied landings in Sicily, Italy, Normandy and Walcheren. A lucky ship in battle, she survived dive-bombers off Crete and glider bomb hits off Salerno.
The 'Spite' had a reputation for being obtuse at unexpected moments, running aground and losing her steering several times; she broke free from her towropes on the way to the breakers and ending up beached at St Michael's Mount where it took a decade to dismantle her. She had fought to the end.
But this is not just the story of a warship. Wherever possible the voices of those men who fought aboard her speak directly to the reader about their experiences. The Warspite is also the story of a great naval nation which constructed her as the ultimate symbol of its imperial power and then scrapped her when the sun set on that empire.
Iain Ballantyne is a much published naval author. His books for Pen and Sword include Warspite, London and Victory in the Famous Ships of the British Navy series as well as Strike From the Sea. He is editor of Warships International.
As featured in Warships IFR Magazine.
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