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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

William Birchall Q ship painting


Waddell

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This one is for all the artists and navy experts.

This is a watercolour painting that my uncle brought at auction earlier in the year. It is a really nice watercolour showing a Q ship firing on what looks to be a U-boat with another Q ship in the background. It is titled an "unrecorded fight" and is dated 1917. There are no markings on the ship to identify it, only an ensign flying from the mast.

Can anyone tell me a little more about the painting? Does it represent a known action? Can the ship be identified?

There is a label attached to the rear of the painting with some brief information about Birchall. Does anyone know more about him?

It is a really nice painting with lots of detail that keeps drawing you back to it. Are there more about?

post-28049-1213528172.jpg

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Hi,

What a wonderful painting. The two vessels engaging the U-boat are armed trawlers, rather than Q-ships. Although some were used in the decoy role.

Hope this helps,

David.

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What a superb painting, I cannot put it down to any specific action but it is two Steam Trawlers taking on a submarine. The nearest trawler is rigged for sweeping the 'Gallows' are in front of the foremast. Have you a reason for thinking they are Q ships, my own thought this is a far braver act of poorly armed trawlers taking on a submarine.

Regards Charles

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Thanks David.

Were Q-ships larger merchant ships?

Regards,

Scott.

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Scott,

To quote "British Warships 1914-1919" by Dittmar & Colledge:-

"Older vessels, colliers, small coasters, sailing vessels, and various fishing craft [including sailing smacks] were converted into decoys". So there was quite a wide variety.

As Charles says, it is far more likely that it portrays minesweeping armed trawlers taking on the U-boat. Q-ships usually operated alone to make themselves look an easy target, & so tempt U-boats to attack them.

Regards,

David.

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Thanks David and Charles for explaining the action. I don't know much about the Navy in the First World War.

Charles,

Can you explain the sweeping and the "gallows" a little more? Was the gun hidden until the U-boat was close?

Regards,

Scott.

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  • 1 month later...

William Birchall is in all the major British marine artist dictionaries by the way (eg. Archibald...). He was a very accomplished water-colourist and draftsman who started out initially I believe as a special war artist. He covered the Russo-Japanese War (the Royal Ontario Musuem in Toronto has some of his sketchbooks from this war).

His works sold fairly well in his lifetime (unlike er....some artists!) and he was able to live and work as an artist for decades.

John

Toronto

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Thanks for that information on Birchall John.

Regards,

Scott.

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Thanks for all the links Angela,

An interesting man and there are certainly a few of his works about. All seem to have a lot of detail which would tie in with John's information that he was also a draftsman.

Thanks for your help.

Scott.

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Lovely painting and one well worth bidding for. The vessels appear to me to be Armed Trawlers NOT Q Ships. Perhaps this picture relates to the DOVER PATROL where armed mercant vessels and trawlers were very widely used in PACKS. The fact there are two similar merchant ships indicates that this picture may in fact be an action in the English Channel where small trawlers were used to patrol cordoned off areas.

My involvement with Q ships concerns Captain Ronald Neil STUART VC,DSO,RD,RNR who won the Victoria Cross on HMS Pargust (a Q Ship) in 1917. http://www.kentfallen.com/PDF%20REPORTS/STUART%20VC.pdf

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Neil,

I read up a little on the Dover Patrol, certainly dangerous but exciting work they were involved in. I'll tell my uncle about their operations too. He is pretty happy with the painting.

Your link to Ronald Neil Stuart VC and your work with his grave is also interesting. Although I can't understand why you didn't receive more assistance in maintaining his grave and raising the new headstone. It seems very small minded for a small village to take that approach, when you consider what Stuart achieved. Even worse that his VC is not shown by the National Maritime museum.

Regards,

Scott.

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  • 2 months later...

Viewing this fanciful watercolour shows a fair degree of accuracy for the main foreground primary object of interest: the drifter or trawler. However would such a drifter armed with say a 12 pounder gun really take on in 1917 or later a German uboat armed with probably at the very minimum a 4.5 inch caliber gun? Look at the distance between drifter and uboat. Not likely. In Canada in August / September 1918 a couple of drifter captains refused to go to sea because of just such overwhelming UNDERARMAMENT of their vessels.

John

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John,

They did on many occasions, not only did the submarines have better armament but a greater speed so it was fight or surrender. A well aimed 3inch shell wouldn't do a submarine much good. The ships in the picture are trawlers equiped as minesweepers.

Regards Charles

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