One reason this kind of fascinates me is that I not long ago finished Bob Massie's Castles of Steel about the naval side of WW1; hell of a good book that gives a good sense of the sort of bizarrely-inverted importance of that part of the Great War.
Massie's bottom line is that the British couldn't win the war at sea but it was very possible for them to lose it there.
Had the commanders of the Hochseeflotte figured out how to make their war plan - lure out, cut off, and destroy parts of the Grand Fleet in detail - work before 1917 they'd have had a hell of a good chance to hammer Britain into submission given the British dependence on their "sea lanes of communication". The German battleships needed to sink Warspite and her sisters in order to sweep the seas of the Royal Navy and British merchant commerce. But to do that they needed to risk themselves, and the British fleet was just strong enough to present what looked like too much of a hazard of decimation of the High Seas Fleet in the process.
(Another bit of historical trivia: the factor that most British and German naval officers and naval policy planners either didn't know or didn't credit sufficiently was the relative quality of the German naval architecture.Conversely, the British didn't need to sink the German fleet; what they needed to do was avoid being sunk by the German fleet whilst presenting sufficient hazard to that fleet that it couldn't risk being decimated attempting to break out of the North Sea.
I'm going to write up the Scarborough Raid in December for the Battles series and in it talk about this but the fact was that German gunnery in 1916 was flat-out better than British and that German capital ships could just flat-out take more punishment and continue to fight than the more numerous but less sturdy British battleships and battlecruisers which had a bad habit of sinking by catastrophic magazine detonation.
Three battlecruisers were lost in that fashion at Jutland, HMS Vanguard at Scapa Flow in 1917 to what was probably a massive sympathetic detonation of her central turret magazines, as well as HMS Hood in 1941. This turns out to be pretty critical because both British and German naval planners based their strategies on the assumption that 1 British battleship = 1 German battleship and that in a fleet engagement the 3:2 British numbers would win out.
Looking back now it seems apparent that between hitting harder and being capable of taking more damage the Hochseeflotte might have been well advised to go ahead and get stuck in. But that's for next month...)
The other aspect of this that kinda fascinates me is the degree to which we have already forgotten how big a role these vessels played in military and through that geopolitical history.
I think that when modern peoples - modern Americans, at least - think of "battleship" they think "outdated and expensive war machine" if they think of anything beyond last year's idiotic Battleship movie.
But the 'Spite's war records - from 1914 to 1945 - go a long way to dispel the notion that the battleship was a floating white elephant.
As Bob Farley points out: "While Americans tend to concentrate on the rarity of surface battleship engagements in the Pacific, most Royal Navy battleships took part in surface combat of some type during the (Second World) war, with Warspite fighting in several battles." and, in fact, HMS Warspite had a hell of a service record: Jutland (where she got pretty well hammered during the Run to the North) in the First World War, then in the Second; Narvik, Calabria, Matapan, the invasion of Crete, and finally naval gunfire support of the landings at Messina and Normandy.
I suspect that she had the reputation as a less-than-lucky ship early on. In the Teens she seemed to collide with everything in sight; her sister Barham in 1915, and the battleship HMS Valiant and a destroyer in 1916. She was even rammed by a Romanian passenger liner off Portugal in 1933. But at the end of the day she came home sound every time, something that more than one British tar couldn't say about their ship over the long course of the 20th Century.
Over at MilPub our resident strategist seydlitz just recently speculated about the possibility of formulating an overall General Theory of Strategy, a sort of Grand Unified Theory of war, to help enable historians, geopolitical, and strategic thinkers, to analyze military events of the past as well as ponder plans for the future.
The old battleship points up both the promise and the difficulty of such a task. By herself, a single machine designed and built a century ago, Warspite spans the Ragtime Era to the Space Age and points out how military fashions, ideas, and even individuals persist through very different periods. And yet the way we think of her now, as a lumbering anachronism, compared to the good service she did during her service life points out how difficult it is to accurately assess even military events, ideas, and individuals that were in concrete existence within our lifetimes, let alone generations ago or yet to come.