HMS NEW ZEALAND - The Sixteen Point Turn at Jutland

(MP497). 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 (click to enlarge the image).

Jutland - HMS NEW ZEALAND - The Sixteen Point Turn

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15 x 29½ ins (38 x 74.5 cms)

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Its 31 May 1916 and in the North Sea, off Jutland, a huge clash of British and German titans is taking place.  Painted here by Wyllie are, from left to right, the battle cruisers HMS PRINCESS ROYAL (Captain  W H Cowan  MVO DSO RN) wearing the flag of Rear Admiral O de B Brock CB (Rear Admiral Commanding 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron), HMS LION (Captain A E M  Chatfield CVO RN) wearing the flag of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty KCB MVO DSO (Vice Admiral Commanding Battle Cruiser Fleet) and in the van of the battle cruiser line; and HMS NEW ZEALAND (Captain  J F E Green RN) wearing the flag of Rear Admiral W C Pakenham CB MVO (Rear Admiral Commanding 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron). Then to the right in the painting, some way astern of Captain Green and struggling to catch up, are the battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron, tail end Charlie HMS MALAYA (Captain the Hon Algernon Boyle CB MVO RN), HMS WARSPITE (Captain E M Phillpotts RN), HMS VALIANT (Captain M Woollcombe RN);  and leading the 5th BS, HMS BARHAM (Captain A W Craig RN) flying the flag of Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas MVO (Rear Admiral Commanding 5th Battle Squadron). HMS TIGER (Captain H B Pelly MVO RN), the ship immediately ahead of NEW ZEALAND in the line is not shown here by Wyllie as she has already turned 16 compass points (180 degrees) in succession to the new course of north west and so is 'out of frame' to the left though we can glimpse what appears to be her wake very fine on NEW ZEALAND's starboard stem as the latter starts her early turn.  On the bridge of NEW ZEALAND Captain Green, realising that Beatty's "turn in succession" signal condemned each battle cruiser to turn on the same spot of water thus potentially facilitating the Germans' fire control problems, used his initiative and turned his ship early: it may have saved her from shell damage at the turn or possibly worse. Various destroyers of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla (Commander the Hon E B S Bingham RN) and ships temporarily attached to the 13th are also shown here by Wyllie as they rush hither and thither to protect their capital ships. For his brave, outstanding conduct at Jutland Commander Bingham was subsequently to be awarded the Victoria Cross: he heard about this in his German prisoner of war camp.

Although TIGER, who we have seen was ahead of NEW ZEALAND, suffered some 70 casualties in the action that day and INDEFATIGABLE (Captain C F Sowerby RN), next astern of her, was lost entirely with over 1000 men perishing in the explosion, NEW ZEALAND was hit just once during the action, on the quarterdeck by the port side of X turret: it punched a hole about 2 feet in diameter in the deck and went through the tongue of the towing slip which was secured round the turret. Apart from this one hit she suffered no others, nor any casualties although she was certainly bracketed many times by the Germans as Wyllie shows us here.  Her ship's company were not at all surprised at her luck for when she had visited the Dominion before the war she had been presented with one or two items which would "ensure" her safety in action!  A special wheel made of different kinds of wood from New Zealand was fitted in the conning tower in place of the Admiralty pattern one; and the captain would need to wear a greenstone pendant around his neck and a Piu Piu around his waist, a rush matting skirt which Captain Green found a touch uncomfortable on account of his spreading middle!  Nevetheless he kept it close at hand during the action, we are told, and the magic clearly worked!    

This painting together with a further eight WL Wyllie watercolours of World War 1 scenes of “affairs at sea” was originally purchased by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten (1854-1922), 1st Marquess of Milford Haven, formerly styled Prince Louis of Battenberg and Great Britain's First Sea Lord 1912-1914. The discovery of pencilled initials "LAM" on the reverse of the painting perhaps indicates that the watercolour was acquired by the admiral after he had assumed the Mountbatten family name iwhich was 1917?  This would be consistent with the provenance offered when the picture was purchased in April 2018 and it is thought likely that all these Wyllies were bought directly from the artist, if not first commissioned by the old admiral himself. They have been in the Mountbatten family ever since, until recently sold by Lord Ivar Mountbatten and acquired by Maritime Originals.