We present numerical simulations of two horizontal axis wind turbines, one operating under the wake of the other, under an incoming sheared velocity profile. We use a moving mesh technique to represent the rotation of the turbine blades and solve the unsteady Reynolds averaged Navier–Stokes equations with a shear stress transport k − ω turbulence model. Temporal evolution of the lift and drag coefficients of the front turbine show a phase shift in the periodic cycle due to the non-uniform incoming free stream velocity. Comparisons of the lift and drag coefficients for the back turbine with the unperturbed behaviour of the front demonstrate the complex non-linear interactions of the blades with the wake, with a significant decrease in overall performance and two peaks at specific points in the cycle associated with local angle of attack modification in the wake. The vorticity field in the near wake shows tilting of the vortex lines in the wake due to the shear and a faster diffusion of the tip vortical signature compared with the uniform free stream velocity case. Observations of the wake–wake interaction show good agreement with recent studies that use different methodologies. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.