PORTLAND, Dorset: ATLANTIC FLEET CAPITAL SHIPS, 1921
Frank Watson Wood (1862-1953). Watercolour signed and dated 1921 and inscribed with ships names.
5.7 x 26 inches (14.5 x 66 cms) approx
Price is available upon request
Prints of this may be available on: Maritime Prints.
The protected anchorage at Portland formed by Chesil Beach and the south Dorset coast mainland to the west and north, and the Isle of Portland to the south has been a spacious base for ships of the Royal Navy for generations. King Henry VIII built Portland Castle and Sandsfoot Castle to defend the anchorage but the navy was keen to enclose it further by providing protection from the south and east; and so construction of the south breakwater arm was started in 1849, finally completing some 25 years later. The early years of the 20th century saw the rising threat of war against Germany dominate naval strategic thinking and as the Royal Navy developed the dreadnought battleship and then raced to outbuild the German fleet, Portland anchorage, strategically well placed and therefore undoubtedly useful was, however, considered too vulnerable to attack from the east. Two further breakwater arms were accordingly constructed together with more forts and batteries ashore, and two small forts were also built on the seaward ends of the breakwater arms. With the scuttling of the old battleship HMS HOOD in the southern entrance in 1914 to reduce the risk of submarine penetration, the anchorage had now become a huge and secure harbour and indeed remains one of the largest man made harbours in the world. The Royal Navy continued to make good use of it for the following 70 years or so and remained there until 1995 when defence cuts forced its closure as a naval base. And in 2012 the former naval base and adjacent Weymouth Bay - from where the Grand Fleet’s dreadnoughts and escorting flotillas sailed just hours before war was declared in 1914 - became the venue for the sailing events of the 2012 Olympics: a fitting use indeed.
Whilst the harbour was not deep there was certainly water enough even for the deep draught capital ships of the first half of the 20th century and with its quick access to the Channel it was used very extensively by the fleet. In this 1921 painting Frank Watson Wood shows heavy units of the Atlantic Fleet at their overnight anchorage in the great harbour. To the left Wood has painted HMS RAMILLIES (Captain Cecil D S Raikes RN), HMS REVENGE (Captain H J S Brownrigg DSO RN) wearing the flag of Rear Admiral Sir Rudolph Bentinck KCMG CB, Rear Admiral 1st Battle Squadron; and HMS ROYAL OAK (Captain Percival Hall-Thompson CMG RN). In the foreground to the right lie HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH (Captain Geoffrey Blake RN) wearing the flag of the Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Sir Charles Madden Bt GCB GCVO KCMG; HMS BARHAM (Captain R C Dalglish RN), flagship of Vice Admiral Commanding 1st Battle Squadron, Vice Admiral Sir William Nicholson KCB; HMS VALIANT (Captain Cecil Staveley CMG RN); and HMS WARSPITE (Captain F Clifton-Brown CB CMG RN). The fifth ship of the class, HMS MALAYA (Captain Percy Royds CMG RN) was absent in the Far East, on a courtesy visit to her donors in Malaya and carrying HRH The Duke of Connaught to India enroute.
This watercolour appears to have been commissioned by Surgeon Commander Hugh Burniston MB RN who served in the Atlantic Fleet flagship, QUEEN ELIZABETH, from 7th April 1919 to late 1921. The artist, Frank Wood, originally a school master from the Borders, had moved down south in the early 1900s and painted many such commissions for serving officers of the time. Such was his reputation that he was commissioned by HM King George VI in 1937 to paint the senior flagship (QUEEN ELIZABETH again) at the Coronation Review of May that year to give as a present to the battleship’s wardroom; and two years later he was Travelling Artist with the Royal party when the King and Queen visited Canada and America in summer 1939. He died in 1953.