HMS Warspite: The First Battleship to Open Fire on D-Day

Click here to view the brand new 80th anniversary of D-Day coin range featured in this video.

As the dawn of June 6, 1944, broke over the Normandy coast, a monumental chapter in world history was being written. D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, was about to commence. Included among the vast Allied fleet assembled for Operation Overlord, the HMS Warspite, an experienced British battleship. It was on this historic day that the Warspite became the first battleship to open fire, marking the beginning of a crucial chapter in the liberation of Europe.

The Pride of the Royal Navy: HMS Warspite

HMS Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship, was launched in 1913, she had already earned her place in naval legend through her service in both World Wars. By the time of D-Day, Warspite had been in service for over three decades, witnessing the evolution of naval warfare from the dreadnought era to the age of aircraft carriers and submarines.

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This design of HMS Warspite features on the brand new D-Day 80th Anniversary coins

Warspite’s Role on D-Day

As part of the bombardment force during the Normandy invasion, Warspite had a crucial role. She was tasked with softening the German defenses along the coast to aid the landing of Allied troops on the beaches. Positioned off Sword Beach, one of the five designated landing areas, Warspite’s guns were ideally situated to provide critical support.

The First Shot

In the early hours of June 6, Warspite made history as the first battleship to open fire against German fortifications. This act signified more than just a military manoeuvre; it was a symbol of the Allied determination to reclaim Europe from the clutches of Nazi occupation.

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HMS Warspite shelling German positions

Precision Bombardment

Equipped with eight 15-inch guns, Warspite was a formidable force. Her firepower was not just about brute force; it was precise. Warspite’s gunnery crew, seasoned by years of conflict, were experts at long-range bombardment. Their accuracy was critical in minimising collateral damage and ensuring the success of the landings. Despite being one of the oldest battleships in service, Warspite proved that she was still a force to be reckoned with.

Click here to view the other key elements featured on the D-Day 80th Anniversary coin design.

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  1. Bernard Hornung on June 3, 2024 at 2:20 pm

    My father, Stephen Peter Hornung, aged 19, was a Midshipman on HMS Warspite. D Day was his first action, after gaining an Emergency Commission in the Royal Navy, at Eaton Hall in February 1944. He served in the Royal Navy until 1948.

  2. Carol Neale on June 3, 2024 at 8:55 am

    My father was serving on the Warspite on D Day he was Verdun John Lewis he was so proud to be a sailor on board this historic day sadly he has passed away 30 years ago he will be with me forever I know God rest all that served in the two wars xx ❤️

  3. Simon Meeke on February 27, 2024 at 10:12 pm

    Thank you for acknowledging the contribution of HMS Warspite in this most important action. My Grandfather, William ‘Jock’ Byers was a gunner on the 15 inch guns and saw action on HMS Warspite throughout the war, including on D-Day. He lived a long life and Warspite held a very special place in his heart. He counted many friends in the Warspite Association, visiting Normandy on several occasions and wore his Free French award, which he received on one occasion, with great pride. He spoke fondly of the warm welcome the Warspite Association always received in France and was particularly pleased that a street had been named after the flagship, ‘Rue de Warspite’, so later generations might remember their contribution.

    • Julie Michaels on June 5, 2024 at 4:51 pm

      Hello Simon
      I’ve only just discovered this website and your comment re your Grandfather William Byers.
      Sadly it sounds as though he is no longer with us but I thought I might just respond to your poignant comment as my dad who will be 100 in September was also aboard HMS Warspite and felt about his time with the ship as your grandfather did.
      My Dad, Albert Thomas, age 19 was there at D-day -your Jock Byers was on the guns and my dad an electrician below deck helping to keep those big guns firing so the small boats could land on the beaches.
      My Dad was also awarded the Legion D’Honneur a few years ago.
      Unfortunately over the years my father has lost touch with others who also served on the Warspite. I’ve tried to find out if any one is out there or knows of my dad without success.
      We are very lucky that dad is amazingly well and still living at home with some support. He has talked more about the war and his part in it over the last few years and our family are just so very proud of his service.
      I don’t think anyone knows about dad or his service so it was great to come across your comment as it makes further sense of the special place HMS Warspite holds in dad’s heart as it did in your grandfather’s.
      I’m sorry you no longer have your grandfather but I will ask dad if he happens to remember a ‘Jock’ Byers (he was good mates with a Jock Clark!) and I will make sure to continue to talk to dad and hear the stories on behalf of all those who served on The Grey Lady. He also has some amazing photographs of the warship in action on D-Day.
      So as you say many thanks to this blog for acknowledging the contribution of HMS Warspite.
      Unfortunately I think I have missed out on being in time to order the coin that depicts HMS Warspite – but what a great memorial to the first warship to open fire on June 6th 1944.
      Best wishes to you Simon and your grandfather’s family.

    • Jeremy Bryant on June 6, 2024 at 7:07 am

      My grandad was on her as well on d-day. Transferred after the Japanese torpedoed his previous shii the Repulse.

    • Jan Baker on June 8, 2024 at 11:03 am

      My Dad was an able seaman on Warspite on D Day, I believe “on the guns”. He had just turned 20 a couple of weeks before! He spoke little about the war but did say they were commended for saving many American troops on the beach by blowing away a cliff manned by German troops who were bombing them. The battleship also received a standing ovation on limping into Rosyth for repairs. I miss him so much and am extremely proud of him.

  4. Roger holden on January 25, 2024 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you for the history lesson very good really enjoyed the information

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