1 Antique watercolour / submarine warfare / Virtual Print Fair


Title: The sinking of the French cruiser Leon Gambetta
Author: Signed by the German artist Alex Kirchner, Berlin 1857-1945 .
PlaceAndYear: Germany, c. 1915
Description: A dramatic scene depicting the crew of the French cruiser 'Leon Gambetti'., abandoning ship. Probably made for reproduction purpose, possible for 'Büchlein Deutsche U-Boot Taten'.

The incident

The Léon Gambetta was a French Navy armoured cruiser of 12,400 tons, the lead ship of the her class. The Gambettas were larger than previous armoured cruisers of the class, but they lacked the heavier firepower. They also were vulnerable to underwater attacks.

On the night of 27 April 1915, when 15 miles (24 km) south of Santa Maria di Leuca (the south-eastern tip of Italy in the Ionian Sea) in position 39°30'N 18°15'E, she was torpedoed twice by Austro-Hungarian submarine U-5 under the command of Korvettenkapitän Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp, patriarch of the Von Trapp Family Singers.[2]

Léon Gambetta was part of the French fleet based at Malta blockading the Austrian Navy in the Adriatic, usually from a position south of the Strait of Otranto. At this time the blockade line was moved further north because of expected Austrian naval activity – the Allies were negotiating with the Italians which shortly led to them declaring war on Austria-Hungary. In spite of the growing threat from Austrian and now German U-boats in the Mediterranean, the armoured cruiser was patrolling unescorted at a reported 7 knots (13 km/h) on a clear, calm night just to the south of the Otranto Straits when she was torpedoed by the U-5.

Léon Gambetta sank in just 10 minutes. Out of 821 men on board, 684 perished, including Rear Admiral Victor Baptistin Senes, commander of the 2nd Light Division and all of his commissioned officers, staying at their posts. There were 137 survivors. The French cruiser patrol line was moved South to the longitude of Cephalonia, western Greece. Other sources place her loss 20 miles (32 km) off Cape Leuca.
Dimensions: 480 x 700 mm, monochrome watercolour, excellent condition.
Reference: Boye Meyer -Friese. Marinemalerei in Deuschland im 19. Jahrhundert, III: Die Maler Um/Unter Wilhelm II. Die Politische Marinemaler, p. 146.
  • Number: 1010803 (2246)
  • Dealer: Speculum Orbis Nauticum

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