In this composite image Naval Artist Arthur Beaumont shows us the final moments of the German battleship PRINZ EUGEN, as the ghosts of her former comrades and combatants in the sea and air salute the ship as she slips beneath the waves.
The PRINZ EUGEN was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. Although she was laid down in April of 1936, she only entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940. Her name comes from Prince Eugene of Savoy, an 18th-century general in the service of Austria.
During the war, PRINZ EUGEN famously escorted the battleship BISMARCK in Operation Rheinubung in May of 1941. BISMARCK was a new ship and fast, perfect to send out into the Atlantic to raid shipments of supplies from the United States to Great Britain. Once sighted, the two ships were met with the pride of the British Fleet- WWI Battlecruiser HMS HOOD along with a compliment of other smaller warships. A symbol of British Naval dominance, HMS HOOD had been the largest and heaviest warship in the world for more than 20 years.
In the ensuing Battle of the Denmark Strait BISMARCK's guns hit the HOOD in a stunning blow amidships that sent up a column of fire, splitting her hull and sinking the ship in minutes. It was a stunning defeat for the British, but one that would be answered. Winston Churchill ordered all Royal Naval vessels in range to chase the two German ships.
Unfortunately for the Kriegsmarine, BISMARCK had also sustained damage in the fight and was leaking enough oil to leave a clear trail for allied aircraft to spot the injured vessel. PRINZ EUGEN, undamaged, was ordered away to continue to harass supply lines, while BISMARCK headed for occupied France. In a twist of fate it was PRINZ EUGEN that would be the one to make it to France. Within days BISMARCK was caught- first by British aircraft and then by the Royal Navy. After sustaining heavy damage BISMARCK was scuttled to avoid capture. PRINZ EUGEN, now far enough away to be out of the fight, simply had engine trouble and made for the port of Brest.
After repairs PRINZ EUGEN would take part in another daring action- a fast dash across the English Channel in an attempt to return German Naval forces to Norway against an expected Allied attack. Called "Operation Cerberus", despite being on England's doorstep and making the move in daylight, most of the German vessels made it to their destination, including PRINZ EUGEN. The success was short-lived however, and PRINZ EUGEN was finally caught by a British torpedo not long after arriving in Norwegian waters and the Allied attack never came. After extensive repairs the ship would spend the rest of the war in the Baltic as a training and support vessel.
Interestingly, PRINZ EUGEN not only survived the war, she was only one of two major German Naval ships to do so in serviceable condition. She went to the US as a war prize and was commissioned into the US Navy as the unclassified miscellaneous vessel USS PRINZ EUGEN with a composite American-German crew. She was examined in Boston but eventually her German crew was released and the ship never really worked properly after that. The US Navy decided to send the ship on one final mission- Operation Crossroads, the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll.
Her role in the tests was simple- to determine the impact of nuclear attack on naval ships. Despite being moored only about 1,200 yards from the epicenter of both Test Able, an air burst attack on July 1, 1946 and a submerged detonation in Test Baker on July 25th, the ship survived both blasts with only minor damage. However the ship was so flooded with radiation she was too dangerous to ever board again. PRINZ EUGEN was towed to the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific and decommissioned. By December of 1946 the radiation damage capsized the ship and sank her, her last moments captured here in Arthur Beaumont's stunning depiction.
Dedicated naval officer and marine painter Arthur Beaumont enjoyed an association with the United States Navy that spanned nearly five decades. His classical training as an artist and his fascination for the sea and its vessels gave him the unique opportunity to record history and create fine works of art simultaneously. His experience, access and knowledge allowed him to document moments like this, Naval history that most people didn't get to see. As a result his works are not only important historical documents, they're also incredibly dramatic with a real sense of being there in the moment. Given the importance of not only the ship itself but also the groundbreaking nature of the nuclear tests off Bikini Atoll, this is a truly unique work of art.
Today, sitting in the crystal blue waters, PRINZ EUGEN's wreck is not only visible but her propeller assembly sits above the waterline.
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