The Grand Old Lady – Belli dura despicio – I Despise the Hard Knocks of War : The Death of Warspite

The Grand Old Lady – Belli dura despicio – I Despise the Hard Knocks of War : The Death of Warspite 31st July 1950: Black smoke drifts skyward from a tug off the stern of Warspite as it helps to tow the partially scrapped battleship to Marazion Beach. It is often stated in publications and sites that the gallant HMS Warspite was scrapped in situ at Prussia Cove.

However, though much of her upper works were removed her hull was refloated and she was towed to Marazion beach by St Michael’s Mount in July 1950.

The job of blasting her to pieces continued over the next seven sad years. The saga started when Warspite left Spithead under tow to the Gareloch by the tugs Melinda III and Bustler.

On 20th April 1947 she was off Land’s End. Caught in the full fury of an Atlantic storm, she bucked and struggled so violently the tow line to one of the attendant tugs, Bustler, parted and Melinda III was forced to slip the tow. A Daily Telegraph eyewitness account stated – “I flew over the Warspite and her escort last night as they crept slowly along the Channel through heavy weather within sight of the shore twenty miles west of the Lizard.

The tugs were straining at the tow ropes fore and aft, pulling almost at right angles to starboard, with the ship’s bows to the coast. Their position hardly changed as we circled, and the tugs appeared to be doing little more than hold the great battleship in the heavy seas. Both tugs were pitching so steeply that at times their screws were out of the water.”

Fresh lines from the tugs were made fast and the decision was taken to tow her into the shelter of Mount’s Bay, near Penzance, where she dropped anchor to ride out the storm. On 23rd April the savage power of the continuing storm saw her break free of her anchor.

The defenceless old lady, with but a skeleton crew of eight men aboard, was powerless to resit the rolling waves.

Warspite was swept across the bay to run aground as the storm drove her onto Mount Mopus Ledge near Cudden Point. She refused to go quietly, however, and she refloated herself only to crash into dangerous rocks at Prussia Cove. She went down by her bow on the rocks and stuck fast.

In conclusion, surviving veterans of the Warspite Association make an annual journey to Cornwall to pay homage to their old ship, at a memorial to her on the shore at Marazion. Lastly, the stone was unveiled by Admiral Sir Charles Madden and prayers were read by a former crew member.

Mari Buckley / Warspite Memorial, Prussia Cove / CC BY-SA 2.0
The Grand Old Lady – Belli dura despicio – I Despise the Hard Knocks of War : The Death of Warspite

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