The German High Seas Fleet lying at Scapa Flow, December 1918

Frank Watson Wood (1862-1953). Watercolour signed and dated 1924 (LR) and annotated "The Great Surrender Scapa Flow Dec 1918 (LL).

German High Seas Fleet lying at Scapa Flow, December 1918

29 1/2 x 10 inches (74.9 x 25.4 cms) approx

Price on application

This original has been sold and is no longer available.

Prints of this may be available on: Maritime Prints.

This watercolour is one of several similar ones Frank Wood painted of the forlorn scene as ships of the surrendered HSF lay in Scapa Flow over the winter of 1918 and spring and early summer of 1919.  It was quite probably used as the watercolour "dry run" for the great oil painting of 60 x 28 inches (152 x 71 cms) painted by Wood from exactly the same spot and showing the same warships - although at a different state of the tide - which in April 2013 fetched a hammer price of a little short of £20,000 in a well known Edinburgh auction house!  

HMS CARDIFF trailing  a kite balloon for observers and additionally wearing a blue ensign had first met the the 70 German ships at 0930 on 21st November and had guided them to the rendezvous with Admiral Beatty some 40 miles east of May Island east of the Firth of Forth.  The Commander-in-Chief Grand Fleet had a vast allied fleet of some 370 warships under command (British with some American and French too) and this vast armada escorted the German ships into anchorages in the Firth of Forth (Operation ZZ")  where they remained until they were again escorted in smaller groups up to Scapa Flow. They had all arrived here by 27th November with one or two additional ships joining them in the weeks that followed.  The scene painted here by Wood – who it seems had also been present during the pre-surrender signing ceremony in HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH earlier in November – is a baleful one indeed!  The German warships remained at anchor as depicted by Wood until Saturday 21st June in the following year when in a pre-arranged move and following a signal from their  senior officer, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, they all attempted to scuttle themselves – most of them successfully. 

Amongst the German men-of-war painted here are various merchant ships sent over from Germany with supplies for the interned warships and then to embark and repatriate redundant ships’ crews: food on the warships was scarce and living conditions and accommodation very bad.  Many of the men had formed themselves into Sailors' Councils modelled on Soldiers' and Sailors' Soviets set up in Russia in 1917 and were mutinous and difficult for the German officers to control: the fewer sailors aboard the German ships the better and so these merchantmen returning to Germany were a very useful asset.  Wood has captured well the depressing scene of the once proud fleet lying in dejection amidst the bleak wastes of Scapa in December and this painting is something of an historic record of events just under a century ago.