Arguably the greatest warship name in Royal Navy history has been resurrected today as work began on the third next-generation nuclear deterrent submarines: HMS Warspite.
The first steel was cut at BAE Systems works in Barrow-in-Furness – steel which will eventually be shaped into the most advanced and most powerful vessel ever to fly the White Ensign, a Dreadnought-class strategic missile submarine carrying the nation’s ultimate weapon, its nuclear deterrent.
Rear Admiral Donald Doull, in charge of the Dreadnought programme said beginning work on Warspite was “an important step” along the road to replacing Britain’s V-force.
“Successful delivery of the Dreadnought programme is a challenge which will take the determined effort of everybody with a responsibility for supporting it – getting to this milestone is a huge achievement, which reflects the personal and collective commitment of all concerned.”
Defence Minister Alex Chalk joined BAE employees in setting the laser cutters to work on the first steel plates.
In tandem with the Astute-class submarine programme – built in the same BAE yard – the work on Dreadnought will sustain and support around 11,000 jobs in Barrow alone, with 1,500 firms nationwide involved in the supply chain, making this one of the largest defence projects in the UK.
Longer and heavier than the Vanguard class boats they succeed, the Dreadnoughts are at the leading edge of submarine technology, their 153-metre-long hulls crammed with over 215 miles of cabling and enough pipework to cover the distance of a marathon.
Few ships resonate through Royal Navy history more than Warspite, a title His and Her Majesty’s Ships have carried on seven previous vessels dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I.
The name was well established – with ten battle honours – by the time of the advent of the sixth Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth-class super-dreadnought battleship joined the Fleet in early 1915.
She hit – and was hit by – the German Fleet at Jutland, her only major action of the Great War, before adding 14 more honours to her battle board when the world went to war a generation later.
Warspite annihilated German destroyers at Narvik, grappled with the Italian Fleet at Matapan, was mauled by the Luftwaffe off Crete, survived a guided bomb which punched a hole through her hull off Italy, and pounded enemy positions in Sicily, Salerno, Normandy and Walcheren before being paid off in February 1945.
The name reappeared two decades later as one of the first generation of nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, serving until 1991.
The new Warspite will take shape alongside the first two boats – HMS Dreadnought, under construction now for more than six years, and HMS Valiant, laid down in 2019 – and, in time, HMS King George VI which will complete the quartet of new deterrent submarines.
All four will replace the current Vanguard-class flotilla which have been in service since the 1990s and will begin retiring in the early 2030s.
The third generation of deterrent boats continue a mission – Operation Relentless – the Royal Navy has conducted around the clock since 1969.