Arctic Convoys. HMS SHEFFIELD, 1943
Maritime Originals. Oil on board. Signed John Hamilton. Undated.
44.5 x 60.5 cms (17 1/2 x 24 ins) approx
This painting by John Hamilton MC shares a mirror image with one by the same artist that hangs in the cruiser HMS BELFAST of the Imperial War Museum, London (IWM Art LD7427). The museum has identified the cruiser as HMS SHEFFIELD (Captain Charles Addis RN) who was certainly one of the stalwarts of the Arctic convoy rosters of the 1942-44 era; and with the battleship HMS DUKE OF YORK (Captain the Hon Guy Russell RN) (Flag, C-in-C Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser) and cruiser JAMAICA (Captain John Hughes-Hallett DSO RN) on the horizon in their painting, conclude that this is the prelude to the Battle of the North Cape in December 1943. Advance intelligence gave warning of the German battlecruiser SCHARNHORST's intention to attack the northbound convoy to Russia, clever positioning of his units by the C-in-C Home Fleet and brilliant tactical manoeuvring and sheer doggedness by Admiral Fraser's ships led to SCHARNHORST being brought to heel and sunk on Boxing Day 1943.
SHEFFIELD was one of the Southampton Class light cruisers all of which first commissioned a few years before WW2. Heavily worked in every theatre of war there were 3 war losses, SOUTHAMPTON, MANCHESTER and GLOUCESTER. Good looking, well balanced ships with their twin 6 inch triple turrets fore and aft and their graceful raked funnels, the ships were very successful in service, the last, SHEFFIELD, surviving until 1967 and she was very rightly considered worthy of preservation around that time. Her half sister BELFAST, however, was in better material condition and so it was she who ultimately landed up moored in the Thames. It should be noted that she, too, was in at the death of SCHARNHORST, her captain, Freddie Parham, remarking to family afterwards that it was like being shut into a deep freeze with some maniac banging on the top like repeated gun fire - freezing cold, dark and very noisy.
The artist, John Hamilton (1919-1993) had been a soldier in WW2 when he had been decorated with the Military Cross for gallantry. After the war he retired to the Scilly Isles and in the early 1970s he started painting professionally being commissioned by the IWM to paint, of all things for a retired soldier, scenes of the naval war in the Atlantic. He spent, we are told, a great deal of time researching his subjects in Germany, UK and the USA and finally presented his 84 paintings to the museum in 1978. Many of these now hang in the BELFAST, a very fitting home for them. Further commissions for the US Navy followed and 120 of his paintings of the USN's war in the Pacific are now a part of the US Navy's Art Collection. He is an artist of considerable repute and it's lucky that this painting of SHEFFIELD escaped from the IWM!