Warspite at Jutland

Posted on Wednesday 3rd February 2016


The railwaymen lining the Forth Bridge hurled coal to express their disgust at the battleship limping in below them apparently battered, bruised and defeated.

The super Dreadnought’s superstructure was pocked with shell holes, her upper decks a shambles, littered with charred lifebelts and shattered cutters. Benches and tables had been pulled up from the mess decks ready to be thrown overboard for the crew to cling onto if she went down.


The railwaymen shouted abuse at HMS Warspite’s crew. ‘You ran away you bloody cowards,’ shouted one, according to Midshipman Bill Fell.

With the sorely damaged battleship coming alongside at Rosyth Dockyard other workers got their chance to show their anger too. Midshipman Fell recalled

"We were received at Rosyth with very, very great disapproval by the local people. They were all in mourning black hats and black arm bands. They all felt the Grand Fleet had suffered complete defeat and that some ships, like the Warspite, had run away."
image
HMS Warspite
Warspite’s crew were stunned by this reception, for, far from having fled from the enemy, they had fought with great bravery despite being hit time after time by heavy shells. Ordered home to Rosyth, because there was every danger she might sink, the Warspite had shown her defiance by almost ramming a U-boat on the way back. Behind her in the North Sea, the Royal Navy had chased the German fleet back to its bases where it would largely skulk for the rest of the war. But, in those vital first hours after the battle, the British public’s perception of the titanic clash which had just taken place was of an overwhelming victory for the enemy.

Trials
Commissioned in early March 1915, Warspite’s first full crew went aboard a few weeks later. She immediately felt right to her sailors, as one of her 15-inch gunners recalled:


During acceptance trials that August in the Irish Sea, while on the way to Scapa Flow to join the Grand Fleet, Warspite proved herself fast. In a ninety minute sprint the Spite maintained 24.5 knots, showing she would be able to catch up with, or out distance, German battleships only able to do twenty-two knots maximum. In initial trials her guns demonstrated superb hitting power, well capable of inflicting fatal blows on enemy vessels while still beyond the range of their smaller calibre guns. The gunnery trials were successfully completed off Scapa over three days in August 1915, with accuracy superior to the 13.5- inch guns of other British Dreadnoughts emphatically demonstrated.


Weighing 1,950lbs, the velocity of the 15-inch shell was 2,655 feet per second, compared with 2,700 feet per second for the (1,250lbs) 13.5-inch shell. Despite the slightly lower velocity the heavier weight of the 15-inch shell gave it a bigger punch. It was also able to retain its accuracy at ranges over 15,000 yards whereas smaller calibre shells could not. Geoffrey Penn explains that the combined weight of a Queen Elizabeth Class broadside was 15,600lbs whereas the German Kronprinz, completed in February 1915, had ten 12-inch guns which could manage barely more than half that impact. It could be said Winston Churchill’s super Dreadnought gamble showed every sign of paying off. Churchill wrote that the first time he witnessed the new 15-inch fired he felt ‘delivered from a great peril.’

image
HMS Warspite in the dock. Near completion in Devonport early in the First World War, with dockyard workers swarming over her.
In the heat of battle

Like a curtain being torn aside, suddenly there it was – the whole High Sea Fleet. Squadron commander, Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, instantly ordered an about turn. At 4.58p.m. the 5th Battle Squadron swung away from certain destruction but instead of turning one by one where they were, they followed each other around, enabling the Germans to range on the turning point. As the Warspite curved around on her reverse course, all her turrets swung to train on targets on the other beam. Now the full impact of danger facing the British battleships hit home. Commander Walwyn was in awe of the terrible majesty of war:

"Very soon after the turn I suddenly saw on the starboard quarter the whole of the High Sea Fleet; at least I saw masts, funnels, and an endless ripple of orange flashes all down the line, how many I didn't try and count, as we were getting well strafed at this time, but I remember counting up to eight. The noise of their shells over and short were deafening... Felt one or two very heavy shakes but didn't think very much of it at the time and it never occurred to me that we were being hit."
This moment is described graphically in a letter written after the battle by Royal Marine Captain R A Poland who commanded Warspite’s Y gun turret. Captain Poland wrote:

"...as we turned we got our first hit (the only one I actually saw). It got us very low down right aft and threw up a big cloud of grey smoke and shook the ship all over."
image
SMS Kronprinz fired 144 x 12 inch rounds at Jutland and received no damage. It was renamed Kronprinz Wilhelm in 1918, and was scuttled at Scapa Flow at the end of the war.

Malaya, having seen her sisters straddled by very accurate fire at the turning point, cut the corner, curving inside the others and escaping any hits. But the Warspite wasn’t taking punishment without giving something back, for she and Malaya were hitting the leading German battleships hard. Commander Walwyn was delighted to see one of the enemy enveloped in flame and thought the vessel was surely doomed. He said:

"I distinctly saw two of our salvos hit the leading German battleship. Sheets of yellow flame went right over her mastheads and she looked red fore and aft like a burning haystack; I know we hit her hard."
image
HMS Malaya fired 215 x 15in rounds. It received 7 x 12in hits, with 63 killed and 68 injured.
During the run north, while Warspite and Malaya fired on the leading battleships, Barham and Valiant continued to engage the German battlecruisers.

Under the fire of the 5th Battle Squadron, the Seydlitz had her starboard waist turret wrecked while the aft waist turret was turned into an inferno. Half her guns were put out of action. The Von der Tann also shuddered to more 15-inch hits, scaring the wits out of her crew. Lützow and Derfflinger also felt the devastating weight of the 15-inch guns, the former soon unable to act as flagship for Hipper as all her wireless communication gear was shot away. The dreadful battering was so severe it seemed to make Hipper himself punch drunk and incapable of giving decisive orders.


maximum peril
From his well protected position behind inches of thick armour inside Warspite’s B turret, Commander Walwyn had so far been able to witness the most spectacular clash of battle fleets in history in comparative safety. However, damage to the battleship’s stern was now causing Captain Phillpotts some concern. He knew that if his ship faltered in the middle of this running battle she would be ripped apart by the pack of German wolves snapping at her heels.

He therefore decided he had no option but to extract Commander Walwyn from his position and send him aft to investigate the damage and oversee emergency repairs.

From this moment on Commander Walwyn would be exposed to considerable personal danger, involved in a desperate fight to keep the Warspite fighting and floating despite an increasing amount of heavy damage. For a few seconds after receiving the Captain’s message, Commander Walwyn contemplated whether he should exit via the hatch in the top of the turret or go down through the shell room. Personal safety recommended the latter, but ‘...I realized I ought to get there quickly and decided to go over the top of the turret.’ The hatch was opened by one of the gunners who melodramatically bowed. Commander Walwyn nervously clambered out and found himself the lone star of this theatre of war.


"...directly I was on top they banged the hatch to. I didn't waste much time on the roof as the noise was awful and they were coming over pretty thick."
The shock of Warspite’s own 15- inch guns going off a few feet away, while German heavy shells roared in overhead, their impact spraying tons of shrapnel-laced water, cannot be downplayed. Commander Walwyn later did his best to shrug it off in his action report:

"As I got down the starboard ladder of B, both A and B fired and made me skip a bit quicker..."
He found no way in. All the doors were securely shut as he had ordered:

"Ran down the port superstructure ladder and tried to get into the port superstructure. All clips were on, so I climbed up over 2nd cutter. Just as I got up one came through the after funnel with an awful screech and spattered about everywhere. I put my coat collar up and ran like a stag, feeling in a hell of a funk."
Commander Walwyn’s nerve nearly went. A German 12-inch shell had hit a fresh meat store, propelling a sheep carcass into some grating where it became wedged, giving the appearance of a badly mangled human corpse. Luckily Commander Walwyn found a door slightly ajar because some marines were watching the action. Once inside he ordered them to slam it tight shut. Inside the huge hull Commander Walwyn found himself cut off from the bedlam of battle.


"Went right down to the mess deck and all along the port side; all was quiet and could see nothing wrong at all."
Meeting a grinning sailor who seemed to have nothing better to do, Commander Walwyn sent him to the Captain with a message that nothing was wrong aft.


However, Warspite had been hit under the waterline – the shell impact Captain Poland had seen from Y turret. This would later send her on a suicide run straight at the German battle fleet.

As a portent of the moment of maximum peril about to hit their battleship, some of Warspite’s sailors were to look on in horror as the Germans obliterated a trio of foolhardy British armoured cruisers. The British ships – HMS Defence, HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince – decided they would descend upon the gravely injured German cruiser Wiesbaden, which lay dead in the water after a mauling from passing British battlecruisers. Unfortunately, as the three British cruisers set about the Wiesbaden, the German battle fleet plunged out of the haze, its leading elements pouring a withering fire on the Royal Navy squadron.

The Warspite skirted this calamity, Sub Lieutenant Vaux watching the destruction of the Defence from Warspite’s foretop:

The Warrior and Black Prince were left in a sad state, but continued to float and fight. However, unless the Warrior was blessed with a miracle the German battle fleet would pass so close she would surely be next to explode.

The strange tranquillity inside Warspite's heavily armoured hull was rudely interrupted by a German 12-inch shell ripping through the side armour of the boy sailors' mess deck. Commander Walwyn saw a ‘terrific sheet of golden flame’ followed by ‘stink, impenetrable dust, and everything seemed to fall everywhere with an appalling noise.’ Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis, in the forward aid distributing station, was directly below the impact point: ‘There was a loud crash as it exploded and mess tables and stools seemed to be being thrown about all over the place judging from the noise and clatter.’ Senses reeling, Commander Walwyn called a nearby battle damage team into action. They played their water hoses onto a fire which went out easily but the dreadful stink remained.

"Several of the fire crew were sick due to the sweet sickly stench, but there was no sign of poison gas. The shall hole was clean and about the size of a scuttle; big flakes of armour had been flung across the mess deck wrecking everything."
Smoke poured through holes in the deck and Commander Walwyn suddenly realized the ammunition magazine for the anti-aircraft guns was nearby and might explode. He immediately gave orders to stand by to flood the middle deck position. But before this was necessary, water from severed fire mains pouring through holes in the deck doused the fire. While a damage control team struggled with closing off the damaged water mains other sailors scramble about in the wreckage retrieving souvenir bits of shrapnel. Commander Walwyn told the fire hose teams to turn their jets of water on them ‘to make them take cover below again’.

Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis was meanwhile attending to his first casualty – the only wound victim of the shell in the boy sailors’ mess – a stoker hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel. He stopped the bleeding by packing the wound with strips of gauze.

Going aft again, Commander Walwyn discovered serious damage to the Captain’s and Admiral’s accommodation. Commander Walwyn was surveying other areas of damage and ordering sailors evacuated from compartments that seemed in danger of flooding, when a shell burst in the Captain’s lobby. On arriving at the latest scene of carnage he found his own day cabin had been ‘completely removed overboard.’

Next Commander Walwyn saw his first casualties of war.

"Three stokers were dead in voice pipe flat, one having his head blown off and another badly smashed to pieces, rather a horrible sight..."
Then he came across a damage control team that had suffered dead and wounded.

"A shell had come in further forward and hit X turret barbette armour, killing several of No 5 fire brigade in engineers' workshop and wounding a lot more."
The Wireless Transmitting room had also had its door blown off and the young sub lieutenant working inside had been killed. Another shell-hit momentarily put out all internal lights but candles proved adequate in the circumstances. As he made his way forward again, the broken glass of lightbulbs crunched under Commander Walwyn’s feet and jagged shards of armour plating also made walking difficult.


Commander Walwyn now came across two stokers involved in an act of sheer stupidity:

"The body of a 12-inch shell was found above the engineers' workshop, unexploded. The filling was sticking out like a chock of wood and a couple of stokers were trying to chip the fuze out. I luckily stopped this little effort."
The shell the stokers were meddling with had knocked a door down on top of a chief stoker and killed him, wrecked the bandmaster’s cabin before embedding itself at the top of the ladder leading down to the engineering workshop. But, despite all the damage he had encountered, and the shock to his own frail human senses, Commander Walwyn reckoned the tough battleship was still in good enough shape to carry on fighting. He sent someone to telephone Captain Phillpotts with the message that things were under control

The Paymaster, who was wandering about ‘using appalling language as to when the Grand Fleet was going to turn up’, stopped by to have a good humoured chat. As the two officers enjoyed a grim chuckle at their potentially serious predicament, a 12-inch shell destroyed the Warrant Officer’s galley. A Warrant Officer stoker standing beside the Commander remarked: ‘There goes my **!!**! dinner!’

Making his way via the 6-inch battery deck on the port side to see what damage the shell had caused, Commander Walwyn was relieved to find very little. The gunners seemed ‘very cheery’. Moving along the starboard side of the mess deck, Commander Walwyn found some of the 6-inch battery support crews bunched up together and ordered them to spread out to reduce casualties.


Needing a breather after these exertions, Commander Walwyn decided to go up to the port side battery deck to see if he could see any of the battle through the 6-inch gun controller’s observation hood. A high explosive shell hit the ship on the port side aft just as the Commander was taking his look and, blinded by a terrific flash, he was knocked over by the shock of the impact, his eyes full of water and dust. A sailor came to his rescue, thinking he was wounded, but Commander Walwyn was only bruised. Picking himself up, he decided to inspect the damage down below as the ship appeared to be receiving more heavy hits.

Crossing to the starboard side of the ship Commander Walwyn heard a shell burst above in the 6-inch gun battery.

"Sheet of flame came through slits of sliding shutters. Told them to open the shutter with a view to going up the escape to see what had happened."
But fires were still burning above so Commander Walwyn ordered the shutter closed again. The disturbing sound of mortally wounded soldiers groaning in agony could be heard.

As Commander Walwyn dashed forward to try and gain access he was told the superstructure of the battleship was ablaze but decided external problems would have to wait until he saw the extent of the damage to the battery.

"A fragment from the shell bursting by a starboard 6-inch gun had come through the roof of the battery deck and actually hit the after 6-inch cordite case containing four full charges."
image
Damage to Warspite's superstructure
When the shell fragment struck, a sailor had been standing by ready to load a gun with a cordite charge half out of the protective case in his arms. In addition to the whole of the No 6 six-inch gun crew being dreadfully burned, together with some members of the neighbouring gun, there was a danger the fire could spread along the whole battery. Luckily a crucial protective door was shut and so the fire was contained while it was brought under control. Despite being badly burned himself, the ship’s fifty-six-year-old Roman Catholic padre, Father Pollen, heroically persisted in pulling casualties away from the flames.

As her crew dealt with the consequences of this latest hit, more shells were slamming into Warspite and the noise of battle was extraordinary.

"At this time I thought our 6-inch were firing but I realized afterwards it was only hits on us. The noise was deafening and rather nerve shattering. You could not hear yourself speak and had to shout in anybody's ear."
Amid this cacophony Commander Walwyn remembered he'd better investigate the burning superstructure.

Climbing out to the upper deck using the six-inch battery deck escape ladder, he found ‘the whole place ablaze’. Worst of all, the firefighting teams couldn’t do anything about it, as the water mains had been cut.

Through the observation slits in the ship’s conning tower Commander Walwyn could see signalmen and messengers who feared they would be roasted alive.


With their mouths agape calling ‘put the fire out!’ Commander Walwyn thought they looked like chicks trapped in a thrushes nest. Somehow Royal Marines and midshipmen managed to get hoses connected to a steam main and pulled up water that way. As a hose spurted into life, Commander Walwyn was accidentally knocked over by the force of its water jet.

Picking himself up, he decided to take a quick survey of the battleship's exterior:

"The upper deck and superstructure looked perfectly awful, holed everywhere. I think at this time the firing had slackened but the noise was still deafening, shells bursting short threw tons of water over the ship."
Treating the burns casualties from the six-inch gun battery was a grisly business. Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis and the Principal Medical Officer with their staff treated eleven cases, including Father Pollen, suffering from:

"...very severe and extensive burns of the face, body and limbs. They were so badly burnt that one could do very little to relieve them or their pain and shock, injections of morphine seeming to have little, if any, effect on them."
Specially treated bandages were tried, but laying them on the burns was so excruciating for the injured men that they tore them off. Instead, an oil was used but still they suffered greatly. Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis:

"It was no easy job either, as they required constant attention and watching to guard them against them hurting themselves through moving about."
The medial staff '...could not keep them still even with repeated hypodermic injections of morphine.

Using a ragged shell hole in the hull on the boy sailors’ mess deck as his window, Commander Walwyn tried again to catch sight of some action. Even with a crew of more than 1,000, only around two dozen could actually see what was going on and then the fog of war restricted their clarity of vision to flashes in the smoke.

Unsurprisingly Commander Walwyn was little the wiser after his look at the scene of battle. It ‘...looked red, lurid and beastly, heavy firing all round and splashes everywhere...'

It did, however, appear to him that Warspite had slowed down. Going aft to see how the battle against flooding was progressing, he found the centre engine room deluged with ‘a fair amount of water’ as shell hole plugs were washed away. Any handy items of wooden furniture or fittings were fair game for ongoing attempts to plug these holes, including mess stools, hammock bins and candle boxes which carpenters adapted to the emergency at hand. With very few, if any, of the crew knowing what was happening Commander Walwyn was forever being buttonholed by sailors anxious for news of how the battle was going. He told them he couldn’t really help.


‘Everybody was very cheery, and anxious for news which I couldn’t give as I hadn’t the faintest idea what was happening.’ Such was the feeling of being divorced from events beyond their own compartments, Commander Walwyn saw some members of the crew playing cards, seemingly without a care in the world. On the other hand, he was bothered by a pair of very anxious sailors. ‘Two stokers came to me when I was very busy and begged me to take watches, letters, etc, found on men who had been knocked out.’ The Commander was not pleased at this distraction.

"It struck me as incongruous, as if it mattered a damn as we might all of us go at any minute. I told them so but they were so insistent about it..."
Commander Walwyn passed them on to a senior rate.

Overall the Commander was very impressed with the crew's resilience.


"Men everywhere were simply splendid, and all so cheery and although I confess it was mighty unpleasant and unnerving, I myself had plenty to do, but for those who merely had to wait it must have been a thousand times worse. The noise was so perfectly appalling, and you couldn't hear at all between decks and the worst of it was knowing nothing."
There was always room for humour, particularly when a sailor fell down a shell hole in the main deck and cut himself. According to Commander Walwyn this raised ‘a good laugh’. Later the sailor would claim this injury as a ‘war wound’, displaying the appropriate stripe on his uniform until it was ‘forcibly removed’.

Called to the bridge by the Captain, Commander Walwyn was a frightful sight, wet through from head to foot and covered in dirt.


Captain Phillpotts was direct to the point of rudeness in his interrogation of his second in command. As Commander Walwyn went though his damage report the Captain cut him off mid-sentence

"I don't care a damn about the damage," he snapped. "Can we join the line?"
Unaware of the state of play in the battle, Commander Walwyn felt the Captain must have thought him a bit of an idiot. He later confessed that, had the Captain been killed or badly wounded, and he had been asked to take control, he would not have had a clue what to do. Pressed to give a verdict by Captain Phillpotts, he stated: ‘If she gets another heavy hit the port side I don’t think she will stand it.’



Captain Phillpotts was seething during his interrogation of Commander Walwyn because of another mishap his capricious battleship had inflicted upon him. She had fallen victim to a lethal steering problem at exactly the wrong moment.

As the 5th Battle Squadron joined the Grand Fleet and turned into line, the Warspite narrowly avoided being squashed between the Valiant and Malaya. Turning hard, her steering jammed because it had already been damaged by the shell which hit near the port wing engine room. The after bulkhead of the centre engine room – to which the steering engine was fixed – had buckled. This had created a ‘hot bearing’ so that, when the wheel was rotated too quickly during the turn to avoid Valiant, the steering jammed. Like a car driver missing his turning on a roundabout, Captain Phillpotts decided it was better to go around again and keep moving than stop and reverse course while under fire from the entire German fleet. Control of the guns was immediately devolved down to individual turrets, it being impossible for the control tops function in such wild circumstances. Captain Poland of Y turret later commented:

"My 2nd officer was howling for permission to fire at something, but I refused until there was something visible to fire at."
image
The massive broadside from HMS Agincourt helped to save HMS Warspite from destruction.
It was a frustrating interruption to the rhythm of Warspite’s main guns which had been doing a lot of damage to the enemy. One of the gunners noted:

Suddenly for no reason at all we stopped firing. The trainers and gun layers looked into their telescopes and someone said 'this ship is running around'. Then someone said 'she is still turning around...she is going in circles'. And the word was then passed from the bridge that the rudder was jammed. That was the reason we were turning and the ship had stopped firing."
The silence of temporary inactivity provided the same gunner with an opportunity to listen to the action outside:

"I kept hearing bangs which I thought might be our 6-inch guns firing, and repelling torpedo attacks, but it didn't turn out to be that. It later transpired that the bangs I had been hearing were shells hitting the ship."
While Commander Walwyn may not have noticed the turns, fully absorbed in supervising damage control and firefighting, Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis and the Principal Medical Officer in the forward aid distributing station most certainly had.

"...the ship suddenly took a list to port, and instead of righting herself as she would have done had it been ordinary to turn, kept heeling over indefinitely."
The two men feared the end was nigh:

"...as it persisted we concluded that she had been hit heavily somewhere, by a torpedo possibly, and that it was the beginning of her going right over... but after an appreciable length of time the list stopped, and she gradually got back into an even keel again."
In the centre of Warspite’s crazy circles was the badly damaged HMS Warrior which duly received salvation, German gunners deciding the out of control British super Dreadnought was a much juicier target.


Warrior’s crew believed the Warspite’s actions were a deliberate act to save them from certain death and were, for the rest of their days, grateful to the battleship. An officer in a nearby British cruiser saw the enemy’s barrage switch to Warspite:

"As she continued to plunge forward towards the Germans, the torpedo lifted from Warrior, hovered as it seemed in space and fell with a crash about Warspite."
In the foretop, still recovering from the shock of witnessing the Defence blowing up, Sub Lieutenant Vaux felt as if he would die at any moment. He saw:

"...about four or five German Dreadnoughts firing at us for about twenty minutes and hitting us about once a minute. Why we weren't sunk is a perfect mystery, personally, after seeing the Defence go
The enemy shells thudded into Warspite with such a deafening noise that the Captain’s orders could not be heard on the conning tower. Warspite’s gun flashes had also blinded the Navigating Officer. Captain Phillpotts was forced to scream orders down the voice tubes. He told the engine room to steer with the screws. This they did, and after two circles, the battleship did an ‘S’ which prevented another circuit but threatened to take her back towards the Germans. Captain Phillpotts ordered the engines stopped and the ship was stationary for ten minutes, continuing to weather gunfire. Her steering gear was then repaired well enough for her to get underway again. Lady Luck truly rode with Warspite at Jutland.

Fortunately for the Warspite the German ships broke contact because they were forced to turn away by the Grand Fleet finally bringing its substantial weight of fire into play. The British fleet could focus its full power against the Germans in a vast arc of death while they were in line astern and could only bring a small proportion of their guns to bear. Warspite’s Midshipman Bickmore recalled as each Grand Fleet battleship turned into line, he saw her ‘breaking into a ripple of flame form end-to-end...'

The smaller ships caught between the two battle lines reverberated to schock waves from the bug guns.

Still standing on the bridge, a little dazed from his experiences keeping the Warspite afloat, Commander Walwyn was at last able to absorb something of the bigger picture:

"There was a heavy pall of smoke everywhere, terrific rumbling of heavy fire and the whole horizon lit by orange flashed everywhere, everything blurred and beastly. I saw Agincourt a long way off firing like blazes and remember thinking she was going pretty hard but that's all I ever saw of the Grand Fleet."
Agincourt was instrumental in saving Warspite, which was fitting for a warship which took the name of the cancelled sixth Queen Elizabeth Class battleship.

The Grand Fleet thundering down from the north had regarded the battlecruisers as merely the opening act for their main performance and Beatty’s vessels had proved to be boxers with glass jaws. The demise of yet another battlecruiser – HMS Invincible, the victor of Battle of the Falklands in 1914 – in a horrific explosion, reinforced this harsh truth before the whole Grand Fleet.

The light was fading fast as night came on, and the smoke and haze of battle was obscuring visibility. German telescopic sights – so deadly earlier – were increasingly affected by dampness in the air. Despite their problems, German gunners were lucky to have the British warships silhouetted against the sun setting in the west while the High Sea Fleet was hidden in the gloomy east.

The Battle of keep afloat
Warspite slipped away from an enemy which believed it had dealt her a death blow. But, despite her moment of maximum peril, the battleship had survived. Commander Walwyn went below again and was making another inspection of the damage on the port side when he received a message from the Captain asking: ‘What speed can we go?’ Commander Walwyn replied: ‘Sixteen knots’.

image
ROSYTH WORKERS begin the task of repairing the Warspite after Jutland
This was probably needed for an exchange of signals between Captain Phillpotts, still desperate to get back into the battle, and Rear Admiral Evan-Thomas, aboard Barham. Evan-Thomas decided not to risk Warspite any further and ordered her home to Rosyth. Having been cocooned from the damage caused by German shells to the Spite, the 15-inch gun crews were shocked at what they found on being allowed out of their turrets.

"When the ship got out of range of enemy guns, the order was passed by telephone to us saying crews could stand easy but remain in the vicinity of the turrets. This meant you could come out and walk around the top of the turret. When I got out I was amazed. There were fires under the bridge where lifebelts had caught fire, there were fires in the 6-inch battery where the cordite was alight. The funnels were holed - every boat in the ship had a hole in it. The ship looked really bad."
Ahead of the Spite in the night lay the battle to keep afloat, her engine rooms in danger of flooding. Leading this battle for survival, Commander Walwyn also faced the unpleasant job of clearing corpses from damaged areas. Rounding up a dozen sailors to help him, Commander Walwyn was worried even he might quail in the face of it. But no, he had become hardened. The corpses they retrieved were:

"...badly knocked about but absolutely 'dry' and not bleeding at all. The thing that struck me was they were not nearly as frightening as I thought they would be somehow."
About dusk, having checked his services were not needed for a while, Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis ventured up to the quaterdeck:


"We were moving through the water slowly, as almost six knots, heading back towards Rosyth and there was no other ship in sight, or noise of firing anywhere. There was still a dull red glow from the sun left in the sky, low down, but it was very hazy, and impossible to see any instance. The sea was still calm but there was just enough breeze to make its surface tumbly. As regards the ship it is difficult to say what one's feelings were on looking at her. Only a few hours before she had been one of the cleanest and smartest looking ships in the fleet, her decks spotlessly white, and her light grey paints, freshly put on only recently, gleaming everywhere in the sunshine. Now her decks were filthy, littered with debris and in places torn up by shells, one of the quaterdeck ladders had been blown away, her funnels had ragged holes in them, the small iron ladder on X turret had been bent and twisted and broken away from its lower supports, whilst the side of the turret was covered with marks from glancing hits, and her general appearance was in about as absolute a contrast to what it had been before as well could be."
Overnight a 6-inch gun section and two of the 150-inch gun turrets were kept manned, just in case.

The agony of the burns victims being treated by Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis and the Principal Medical Officer showed no signs of abating, one of the men dying before daylight. At 2.30 am Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis took a break and went to the ward room. He settled himself in an armchair, which had suffered one of its legs blown off when a shell passed through. He lit up a relaxing cigarette. Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis had been sleepy at midnight but this had passed and he was now wide awake. After another spell tending to the casualties, he still found himself unable to sleep and decided to see if some fresh sea air would send him off.

Emerging onto the forecastle deck he found:

"It, like the quaterdeck, was covered with debris of all kinds - bits of broken woodwork from boats, part of a damaged lifesaving raft, half of a lifebuoy with the name of the ship on it and any amount of small odds and ends. The deck was holed by the starboard 6-inch gun, which had been struck by fragments of shell all over it. The spray shield was full of holes, the breech mechanism destroyed, and the barrel pitted along its length, whilst from the muzzle, which was trained starboard, there blew out in the breeze the tattered remains of what had once been its canvas blast screen."
image
In dry dock at Rosyth, a dockyard worker stands by the hole in Warspite's stern, which betrays the entry point of the shell which damaged her steering and caused her to run out of control
At 7.00 am Captain Phillpotts sent for Commander Walwyn and said he was convinced a submarine attack would come very soon and everything possible should be done to prepare for it. Commander Walwyn decided to get the upper deck 6-inch guns at the ready. These weapons had been too exposed to man during the battle but now were an excellent means of attacking any U-boats unwise enough to show themselves.

In the ward room a concerted attempt had been made to get things back to normal. On entering for breakfast, Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis found:

"...the sight of white tablecloths amidst the somehwat dishevelled surroundings, and individuals, did look a little incongruous."
Under his feet he could sense the Warspite had not enjoyed the rough weather:

"One could feel she was sluggish owing to her flooded compartments... any sea was bound to put the strength for her superstructure to a severe test."
At just after 9.30 am, a U-boat fired two torpedoes which passed down either side of the battleship. Commander Walwyn reckoned: ‘...one missed across the bow, the other followed up astern longside the starboard side.'

The Warspite increased her speed to twenty-one knots and zig-zagged away as vigorously as she could. Lookouts had already been doubled and officers not on watch or otherwise engaged were ordered onto the upper deck to watch out for periscopes and torpedo tracks. Below decks Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis heard about the torpedo near miss from a sailor who stuck his head around the curtain of the Principal Medical Officer’s cabin to say it passed ‘only about some ten feet off.’

With evidence the threat was indeed high, Commander Walwyn ordered the wounded were
At 10.00 am a 6-inch gun opened fire at what looked like a U-boat off the port quarter, which had just fired a torpedo. Despite firing eight rounds Warspite’s gun hit nothing. Commander Walwyn observed: ‘McDonald swore he saw a conning tower and so did the gun-layer.’

Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis had followed the German torpedo track:

"It had come from astern, and, as we watched, the periscope and top of the conning tower of the submarine from which it had been despatched emerged above the surface about half a mile distant on the port quarter. The gun's crew of the port 6-inch on the forecastle deck immediately fired in its direction, and the shell pitched sufficiently close for the spray to hide all sight of it. It probably wasn't hit, but at any rate when the spray subsided it was no longer visible..."
By this stage everyone’s nerves were very raw. The thought of being picked off so close to home, was more than some could stomach – they showed their anger by turning on each other, two officers almost coming to blows over a petty matter. Commander Walwyn later reflected that the forenoon was ‘about the worst part of the whole show...’

Not long after, a submarine periscope was seen right under the battleship’s bows. Despite Warspite’s delicate condition, an attempt to ram the U-boat was made – the 6-inch guns opened up too. But it was all in vain, as the target, U-63, disappeared unharmed.

Commander Walwyn later explained:

"About 11.45 am, submarine came up on the port bow; if we had not been steering from the engine room we might have got her, but it took a certain interval for the orders to get through. The foremost 3-pounder could not get sufficient depression on to fire as she passed."
Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis also observed this attack from Warspite’s upper deck: ‘He dived in such a hurry that his tail came up out of the water.’

After the first submarine encounter, Warspite’s speed had been increased to nineteen knots and then to twenty-one knots. Now she put tremendous strain on her battered structure to make twenty-five knots; an enormous boiling of water behind the battleship as her propellers dug in, smoke billowing everywhere from her punctured funnel.

At 8.00 am the Warspite had sent a signal requesting some escort vessels to deter submarines – these duly came after the final submarine attack. They turned out to be torpedo boats from Rosyth and Commander Walwyn was not impressed by their screening attempts: ‘...their speed was not up to it and they dropped astern.’ Surgeon Lieutenant Ellis found their arrival comforting: ‘The chances of us seeing the Forth Bridge had, up to then, been a question of some doubt in my mind.’

As the Warspite finally reached the Firth of Forth, Commander Walwyn could relax and, far from being on the receiving end of insults from railway workers, he was quite touched by the reception his battered warship got. ‘I am bound to say I heaved a sigh of relief as we passed the bridge, and the cheers from the troops made one feel quite gulpy.’

Maybe they were jeers, not cheers, and the Commander misunderstood.

image
King George V inspects the repairs of Warspite's battle damage during a morale boosting visit to the Grand Fleet after the battle
image

CAPTAIN PHILLPOTTS

Warspite's Commanding Officer, photographed aboard the battleship in 1915

image
SURGEON LIEUTENANT Gordon Ellis
image
A VIEW OF HMS Warspite's A and B turrets as the battleship steams ahead

Further Reading


Warspite
(Paperback - 224 pages)
ISBN: 9781848843509

by Iain Ballantyne
Only £14.99

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…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Of further interest...