HMS LION under fire
(MP500). W L Wyllie (1851-1931). Watercolour signed and dated 1917. Provenance: from the collection of Admiral of the Fleet Prince Louis of Battenberg and thence by descent to Lord Ivar Mountbatten.
10 1/4 x 16 3/4 ins (26 x 42.5 cms)
to be decided
This painting together with a further eight WL Wyllie watercolours of World War 1 scenes of affairs at sea was originally purchased in 1917/18 by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven (1854-1922), formerly styled Prince Louis of Battenberg, and Great Britain's First Sea Lord 1912-1914. It is thought likely that they were bought directly from Mr Wyllie, if not commissioned by the old admiral himself, and they have been in the Mountbatten family ever since. They were recently sold by Lord Ivar Mountbatten.
With LION's main armament trained to starboard and other capital ships in loose line astern and also engaged to starboard, could this be the start of the sixteen point turn to starboard which saw Beatty's battle cruisers, supported by Evans Thomas' 5th Battle Squadron, turn away from the advancing German High Seas Fleet as Sir David enticed the enemy up to the north and into the arms of Sir John Jellicoe? We could well be looking at the heavily criticised manoeuvre whereby the ships wheeled to the north in succession thereby giving the Germans a wonderful ranging opportunity as Beatty's ships all pivoted around a static point: had they turned together (and not wheeled in succession) this vulnerability would not have been created. In the painting LION appears to be nearly round to a northerly heading as the remainder of the battle cruisers start, one by one in succession, to put their wheels over to starboard to follow their admiral round on what was to become known as the Run to the North. Was this flawed manoeuvre constructed by Beatty himself or had he, quite reasonably, delegated the precise mechanism of it to his hapless Flag Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Ralph Seymour? Certainly the ship astern of LION appears to be a battle cruiser (it would be PRINCESS ROYAL) and the one astern of her appears to have a foremast only and three funnels which would make her TIGER: astern of her would be NEW ZEALAND. QUEEN MARY and INDEFATIGABLE had by this stage if the afternoon (approx 4.45 pm) now been lost.
Or despite the flattish sea state and amber North Sea sky which we know prevailed on 31st May 1916 are we perhaps looking at entirely different and earlier action? LION had had her torpedo nets removed in 1915-16 (Jutland was May 1916 and Wyllie - famously noted for his accuracy of detail - clearly shows torpedo nets still fitted here). And whilst the ships astern of LION could at a pinch be battleships of the QE class, the overwhelming evidence provided by the unique TIGER with her single mast and three funnels points to the fact that we are looking at the start of the Run to the North. But those torpedo nets coupled with Wyllie's unerring accuracy of detail.......