The Battle of Jutland: as HMS QUEEN MARY blows up, the destroyers are unleashed
(MP328). Alma Claude Burlton Cull (1880-1931). Watercolour signed and dated 1926 (lower left).
25 copies worldwide
29.5 x 12 inches (74.9 x 30.48 cms) approx
Between £150-£170 (mounted/matted)
The scene here painted by Cull shows the situation at about 4.15pm on 31st May 1916 some 45 minutes after the Vice Admiral Commanding the Battle Cruiser Fleet (Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty KCB MVO DSO), had charged off eastwards in response to a sighting report from HMS GALATEA (wearing the Broad Pennant of Commodore E S Alexander–Sinclair MVO). What appeared to be about 7 major warships of the German High Seas Fleet together with their escorts had been spotted by GALATEA in the thin white mist and murky conditions of the North Sea west of Jutland and midway between the coasts of Scotland and Denmark.
The story of Jutland is well known: Beatty had promptly formed his battle cruisers into line of battle at 26 knots, the flagship HMS LION (Captain A E M Chatfield CVO) in the van with HMS PRINCESS ROYAL (Captain W H Cowan MVO DSO), HMS QUEEN MARY (Captain C I Prowse), HMS TIGER (Captain H B Pelly MVO), HMS NEW ZEALAND (Captain J F E Green) and HMS INDEFATIGABLE (Captain C F Sowerby) bringing up the rear. The ships were 2.5 cables (or 500 hundred yards) apart and taking with him the 4 ships of the 5th Battle Squadron (Queen Elizabeths) who were initially some 10 miles astern, he had charged off to close with what transpired to be Admiral Franz Hipper’s 5 battle cruisers together with screening squadrons and flotillas.
By 3.45 pm the two opposing battle cruiser squadrons were 8 miles apart and on roughly parallel courses: fire was opened by both sides almost simultaneously. Already closely straddled, at 4.00 pm LION was hit heavily by a shell that all but destroyed Q turret and had it not been for very quick reactions by the turret captain, Major Harvey of the RMLI who ordered magazine doors to be closed and the magazine itself to be flooded, LION could well have succumbed to this near fatal blow as first one and then her other magazines blew up, the very fate which was to strike INDEFATIGABLE astern of her at the rear of the line, about five minutes later. It was at about this time, too, that the Commander-in-Chief Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe GCB KCVO, some 40 miles north of Beatty and alarmed at the latter’s entanglements that were carrying him further and further from any support that the main Battle Fleet could give, signalled the only other big gun squadron with the speed necessary to get to Beatty’s assistance, the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron which was ahead of Jellicoe and the main battle fleet to "proceed immediately to support Battle Cruiser Force”. Rear Admiral Commanding 3rd BCS (Rear Admiral the Hon Horace Hood CB MVO DSO) with his flag in HMS INVINCIBLE (Captain A L Cay) and with HMS INDOMITABLE (Captain F W Kennedy) and HMS INFLEXIBLE (Captain E H F Heaton-Ellis MVO) in company and screened by 2 light cruisers (Captain Robert Lawson’s HMS CHESTER and Captain Percy Royd’s HMS CANTERBURY) and 4 destroyers, thereupon came round to the south west (where Hood judged Beatty to be) and worked up to their maximum of about 24 knots. CHESTER comes again into the story of this watercolour shortly.
But now its just after 4.15 pm and Cull’s watercolour clearly shows us the scene at that time. In the left background is LION, Beatty’s flag clearly visible at the forepeak and with a glow still emanating from the remains of Q turret, steaming hard as she engages the Germans to port, to the east. Astern of her is PRINCESS ROYAL, surrounded by a forest of shell splashes and she is followed now by TIGER (the three evenly sized and spaced funnels), who has just gone hard to starboard to avoid the wreckage of QUEEN MARY who has disappeared in a huge explosion, the pall of black smoke painted here by Cull still evident immediately astern of TIGER. At the rear of the now depleted line - but not quite in the painting - is NEW ZEALAND who similarly had to put her helm hard over to avoid running into what was left of the wreck of QUEEN MARY.
Beatty now called for a distraction to try and take pressure off his surviving battle cruisers and we see destroyers of Commander the Hon E B S Bingham’s 13th Flotilla (plus and minus one or two additions and subtractions from other flotillas) racing out to attack the German battle cruisers with torpedoes, an action which was to see Bingham’s HMS NESTOR sunk and her captain in a prisoner of war camp.
On 15th September 1916, some 14 weeks after this scene, the London Gazette announced “The King is pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officers in recognition of their bravery and devotion to duty as described in the foregoing despatch [The C-in-C’s recommendation of 23 August 1916]: Commander the Hon Edward Barry Stewart Bingham, Royal Navy (prisoner of war in Germany); Major Francis John William Harvey, Royal Marine Light Infantry (killed in action)”. Also in the Gazette was a third award, the second posthumous award for Jutland and to a Boy Seaman who was not yet 16 1/2 years old, that of Boy John Travers Cornwell of HMS CHESTER. Part of the screening force of Hood’s 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron, CHESTER had later become heavily embroiled with a light cruiser force commanded by Rear Admiral Friedrich which was similarly screening the German battle cruisers. Raked by heavy fire at close range CHESTER's upper deck guns’ crews took a real hammering and a young seaman, Boy Cornwell, though fatally wounded, remained at his post in the gun mounting attempting to carry out his orders: he was surrounded by the other members of the mounting, all of whom were dead. His captain was vividly impressed at the bravery and stoicism of one of his young ratings and subsequently mentioned his name in a despatch to his superior, Beatty who, when in possession of all the facts was similarly so taken with the boy’s courage and the exemplary example it set that he, too, forwarded Cornwell’s name up the line with a recommendation for the award of a posthumous VC (for despite being put ashore after the battle into the care of a local hospital, Cornwell had died of his wounds). Jellicoe concurred, very strongly endorsed the recommendation and passed the citation up to their Lordships.
And so it came about that Cull managed to encapsulate in this watercolour of about 4.15 pm, the scene that can claim to be associated with the award of three Victoria Crosses for heroism at sea in the face of the enemy that afternoon, 31st May 1916.
[see also under Maritime Prints (bar at top of homepage) MP177 (a study of Boy Cornwell VC by Frank Salisbury and where the story is explained in more detail) and MP019 (an etching by WL Wyllie of HMS CHESTER in this action]