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Admiral Hipper's battlecruisers: Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Hipper, Franz von
EventsWorld War I: Battle of Jutland, 1916, World War I, 1914-1918

Object details:

Object ID BHC0661
Description The Battle of Jutland, 31 May–1 June 1916, was the most significant naval engagement of the First World War, pitting the German High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, against the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet under Sir John Jellicoe. In all, some 250 vessels were involved in the engagement, which took place in the North Sea near Jutland, off the Danish coast. The aim of the German fleet was to break the British blockade of the North Sea and enable the resumption of German mercantile shipping: Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s group of five scouting battlecruisers was to engage with Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadrons and lure them into the path of the main German fleet. However, the British, forewarned of the German intentions, sent the Grand Fleet to Beatty’s assistance, resulting in the clash between the two enormous fleets. In the early stages of the battle von Hipper’s five battlecruisers sank two out of the six British battlecruisers without any losses to themselves. To protect the withdrawal of the High Seas Fleet he was ordered by Scheer to lead his battle cruisers in an attack against the whole of the British Grand Fleet. This lasted only four minutes, and became a famous incident, but resulted in the sinking of his flagship 'Lützow' when Hipper transferred himself and his staff to a destroyer and eventually hoisted his flag in the battlecruiser 'Moltke'. Although there was no decisive outcome, with both sides claiming victory, the German plans of destroying Beatty’s squadrons had failed and British naval supremacy thereafter went uncontested, with Germany turning instead to wholesale U-boat warfare. On the other hand, British casualties were significantly higher, with 14 British ships sunk compared to 11 German vessels, and major loss of life. Bergen’s painting, which is signed, is very firmly from the German perspective, showing Hipper’s five scouting battle-cruisers at the commencement of the battle, exchanging fire with distant British ships, only indicated through flashes of their guns. On the left is the 'Von der Tann', in starboard-quarter view, firing to port, black smoke pouring from the funnels. Beside the vessels columns of water spout up from near misses. In front of the 'Von der Tann', in line across the picture surface, are the 'Moltke', 'Seydlit'z and 'Derfflinger'. The leading ship, 'Lützow', is lost in smoke. The foreground shows Bergen’s characteristic assurance in handling the depiction of the undulating surface of the open sea, which occupies two-fifths of the picture surface, with the ships ranged across the horizon in the distance. The artist was an official war artist during both World Wars and during the First World War, he undertook a commission to work aboard U-53 when it made its way across the Atlantic to Newport (see BHC1284). The resulting images were then used to illustrate the book ‘U-Boat Stories’. This painting was transferred to the Museum from the Naval War Trophies Committee in the mid-1940s.
Date made circa 1916

Artist/Maker Bergen, Claus
Place made Germany
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 2270 mm x 3800 mm x 100 mm;Painting: 1790 mm x 3455 mm
  • Admiral Hipper's battlecruisers: Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916 (BHC0661)
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