HMS GALATEA investigates: early pm, 31st May 1916
W L Wyllie (1851-1931). Watercolour signed and dated (LL) 1917.
3½ x 9½ inches (9 x 24 cms) approx
Price on application
This original has been sold and is no longer available.
It was the early afternoon of 31st May 1916 and the light cruiser HMS GALATEA was proceeding east towards the Jutland peninsular, part of the advanced screen of Admiral Beatty's battle cruisers; the formation was about to turn north towards a rendezvous with the Grand Fleet which had been steering south east from Scapa Flow. Commodore Edwin Alexander-Sinclair MVO, in command and Commodore Commanding First Light Cruiser Squadron, had had difficulty in reading Beatty's manouevring signals from some eight miles away and had delayed making the turn until he could be sure of the order. Now, as he was starting his turn to the north to conform with the signal, Chief Yeoman of Signals Wiseman and the starboard lookout both spotted on the eastern horizon a ship stopped and blowing off steam. In the words of Alexander-Sinclair's subsequent Report of Proceedings "The masts and two funnels of a war vessel were made out in her vicinity". GALATEA, deciding to investigate further and ordering HMS PHAETON (Captain John Cameron MVO) from his squadron to join him, closed at high speed and found that two German destroyers had stopped the tramp steamer and a squadron of cruisers and torpedo boat destroyers were lurking close by. Both British cruisers went to action stations and shortly afterwards opened fire on the two destroyers who immediately made off at high speed to the north.
It was the start of the Battle of Jutland.
This little watercolour by Wyllie is stamped on the back "Chief Censor Admiralty 8/9/1917" and in manuscript below is "GALATEA investigates". Now these two notations in themselves are unremarkable but GALATEA's part in spotting the stopped merchantman and her firing the opening salvoes that in effect led to the opening phase of Jutland was a very well known episode: there must be a strong likelihood that Wyllie's little watercolour is commemorating this very event (GALATEA is indeed wearing the broad pennant of a Commodore at her masthead).