HMS 'Cardiff ' leading the German High Seas Fleet to surrender in the Firth of Forth, 21 November 1918

(Updated May 2013) This large painting shows the light cruiser, HMS 'Cardiff' (1917), flagship of the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron, leading the main body of the German High Seas Fleet to the Firth of Forth, prior to their formal surrender to Admiral Beatty, commanding the Grand Fleet there, and subsequent internment at Scapa Flow. The terms agreed at the Armistice on 11 November were that the German surface fleet be ready to sail, mainly from Kiel, by the 18th, the day that German U-boats began arriving to surrender without possibility of return at Harwich. Under Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter - since the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral von Hipper, refused to participate - the surface ships began sailing on the 19th and made rendezvous with the British Grand Fleet. In two flanking lines to north and south, this escorted them into the Forth, with 'Cardiff' as leader, on the the morning of Thursday 21 November 1918. Astern of the 'Cardiff' here are the German battle-cruisers 'Seydlitz', 'Moltke', 'Hindenburg', 'Derfflinger' and 'Von der Tann'. Beatty then sent them the signal that 'The German flag will be hauled down at sunset today and will not be hoisted again without permission.' On 24-27 November, they were escorted in groups to internment on the western side of Scapa Flow, with eventually 74 anchored there (the last to arrive being the battleship 'Baden' on 9 January 1919). Crews were steadily reduced as men were sent home pending a decision on the fleet's fate, which was due to be announced by the deadline of German agreement of terms for the Treaty of Versailles on 21 June 1919. The Germans feared that they would be distributed among the Allies, which the French and Italians in particular wanted, while the British wanted them destroyed. The deadline was in fact extended to 23 June but, during May, the increasing uncertainty of the outcome led von Reuter to circumvent British precautions and secretly prepare to follow his final orders that the fleet be scuttled rather than absorbed by the Allies. This he effected on the morning of 21 June when the principal British ships at Scapa left for a short exercise, the Navy only realizing that the Germans were sinking as they did so, all rehoisting their colours at noon as they started to go down. British parties managed to save 22 by beaching,18 being destroyers, with the 'Baden' and four cruisers. Most were later salvaged for breaking up (with the refloated 'Baden', cruiser 'Frankfurt' and a few destroyers later sunk as 1920s gunnery targets) but seven were too deep to raise. These are now protected historic wrecks visitable by divers: the 'König', 'Kronprinz Wilhelm',and 'Markgraf' (battleships); and 'Brummer', 'Dresden', 'Cöln' and 'Karlsruhe' (cruisers).

This painting was one of five large canvases sold from the Cardiff Coal Exchange in about 1967-68. The others were a pair of Lundy Island by Dominic Serres which, like the island, had formerly belonged to the wealthy Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren; a large J. W. Carmichael of Portsmouth Harbour and W. L. Wyllie's 'Well done,Condor' (BHC0634). All were bought by a local dealer called Davies who did not have a gallery but managed to get them into his modest back-street house, this one being so big he could only store it upside down on the stairs. He appears to have contacted the Museum about this one and the Wyllie in particular, as less commercially disposable at the time, and which were in any case the ones of interest to the Museum. Teddy Archibald, then NMM Curator of Oil paintings visited him there in 1968 to see them and the Museum paid £500 for the two. The Carmichael is thought to be one now in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth. The pair by Serres have subsequently reappeared at sale in London after spending some time in private American hands.

Object Details

ID: BHC0670
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Dixon, Charles Edward
Events: World War I, 1914-1918; Surrender of The High Seas Fleet, 1918
Vessels: Cardiff (1917)
Date made: 1919
People: Royal Navy; German Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 1575 mm x 3300 mm; Frame size tbc

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