Measurements: Overall: 50cm (19.5in) x 39cm (15.5in)
Provenance: James Benson, O.B.E. (1925-2018)
Watercolour on paper of Sir John Mills as Commander Fraser standing on the casing of an X class midget submarine. Signed lower ‘Francis R. Flint’. Framed.
The present watercolour was commissioned by the film producer William MacQuitty during the making of the 1955 classic war movie ‘Above us the Waves’ starring Sir John Mills as Commander Fraser, R.N. The film is based on the book of the same name written by wartime commando frogman C.E.T. Warren and midget submariner James Benson. It tells the story of the Chariot manned torpedoes used in Operation Title in 1942, and then the X craft midget submarine attacks of 1943 against the German battleship Tirpitz in a north Norwegian fjord. Directed by Ralph Thomas, it was filmed at Pinewood Studios, with outdoor scenes in Guernsey, using some original war equipment. MacQuitty for his part was hands on. For the escape from X1 the actors had to learn how to use re-breather equipment and were directed by MacQuitty using the same and signalling direction under water.
The attack on Tirpitz took place in September 1943 at Kaafjord and succeeded in keeping her out of action for at least six months. The X-craft were towed by conventional submarines to within striking distance,. They carried a crew of four and a pair of two-ton mines. Small enough to pass under the defensive nets, two midget submarines, X6 and X7, reached Tirpitz and laid their mines. X5 disappeared with her crew, believed sunk by a direct hit from one of Tirpitz's 105 mm (4.1 in) guns before placing demolition charges. The concept for the attack was developed by Commander Cromwell-Varley, with support of Max Horton, Flag Officer Submarines, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The commanders of X6 and X7 each received the Victoria Cross.
Francis Russell Murray Flint, R.S.W., R.O.I., R.S.M.A. (1915-1977) was the son the Royal Academician Sir William Russell Flint, and nephew of the naval aviation pioneer Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter, C.B., M.P.. He was educated at Cheltenham College and the merchant service cadet training ship H.M.S. Conway. He afterwards studied at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, the Royal Academy Schools and later in Paris. Specializing in in maritime and coastal scenes, his work appeared in the Illustrated London News, The Sketch and Tatler. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1938, and, was later accredited as an official War Artist in Far East. He exhibited at the R.A., the Royal Society of Marine Artists, Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water-Colours, Imperial War Museum and the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, where he was also Vice-President. In the 1950s he was commissioned by the writer, photographer and film producer, William MacQuitty (1905-2004) to produce illustrations of the making of ‘Above Us the Waves’ and the Titanic movie ‘A Night to Remember’.
James Benson, O.B.E. (1925-2018) was the wartime commander of midget submarine X-23 and later XE-8 and in 1953 was the co-author, with fellow submariner C.E.T. Warren, of ‘Above Us the Waves’ which chronicled the attacks undertaken by the chariots (two-man human torpedoes) and midget submarines on the German battle ship, ‘Tirpitz’, in the fjords of Norway. The book proved to be highly successful, as was the eponymous 1955 film starring John Mills and Donald Sinden. Benson was called up in 1943 while studying modern Languages at Cambridge, and joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Midshipman. He volunteered for ‘special services’ in February 1944 and joined the 12th Submarine Flotilla based at Loch Cairnbawn in northern Scotland, where he was trained in underwater photography and diving. He later served in the East Indies Fleet as First Lieutenant of the minesweeper H.M.S. Gozo, which sweeping ahead of the the cruiser Cleopatra was one of the first ships of the Royal Navy to enter Singapore harbour since the its fall to the Japs in 1942. Demobbed in January 1947, Benson returned to Cambridge to complete his degree before embarking on a successful international career in advertising with Mather & Crowther, and later Ogilvy, Benson & Mather of New York with which he was already connected.