Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Two Battleship Survivors of Jutland with Notable Service in World War II

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SMS Schleswig-Holstein

The pre-dreadnought German battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein saw action during the engagement, and was hit by one large-caliber shell. After the battle, Schleswig-Holstein was relegated to guard duties in the mouth of the Elbe River before being decommissioned in late 1917. As one of the few battleships permitted for Germany by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Schleswig-Holstein was again pressed into fleet service in the 1920s. In 1935 the old battleship was converted into a training ship for naval cadets.

Another war would bring the ship its greatest historical moment. Schleswig-Holstein fired the first shots of World War II when she fired on the Polish base at Westerplatte in the early morning hours of 1 September 1939. The ship was used as a training vessel for the majority of the war and was sunk by British bombers in December 1944.

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HMS Warspite

HMS Warspite was a Queen Elizabeth-class dreadnought that was part of the battleship contingent assigned to Beatty's group of battlecruisers. In the big battle the ship began its dual reputation as a tough fighter with a lot of bad luck. Warspite suffered a hit on her rudder and spent half an hour circling within easy range and sight of the High Seas Fleet, exposed to their full artillery, but she was still game to continue the battle after her steering was jury-rigged. Despite twenty-nine hits by 11- and 12-inch shells on her, Warspite made it back to base under her own power and lived to fight another day. Later in the war she was damaged again after a nighttime collision with another battleship, suffered from a boiler fire, and was rocked when nearby HMS Vanguard exploded while at anchor. In the interwar period she became the sister ship of USS Arizona and was still in service when the Second World War broke out.

Once again Warspite proved valiant in battle, in actions from Norway to the Indian Ocean. Once again she suffered much damage: a 500-lb bomb damaged her starboard batteries and later an air-launched missile did crippling damage off Salerno. Being the only major ship that was present at the Great War's Battle of Jutland and at the Normandy invasion of World War II was probably Warspite's most memorable distinction.   Sadly, the scrapping of Warspite was beset with misfortune and bungling – a dismal end to the life of a great warship.


  1. According to a Polish source, the first shot fired by the Schleswig-Holstein at the Westerplatte was too high because the ship was too close?

  2. I find it almost unbelievable that the British didn't save any of their most famous warships. The nation that once was the undisputed ruler of the High Seas scrapped the Nelson, the Rodney, Warspite and others and now retains only the Belfast. A solitary light cruiser to represent the most powerful naval legacy in history. What were they thinking?

  3. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  4. SMS/KM S.-H. was sunk by the B-17's of the 305th BG(H) of the USA 8th AF.