In 1918 Fergusson was called up for military service but gained an exemption from military service and was instead given a six-week commission from the Ministry of Information's Propaganda and Record Department. He was given access to Portsmouth Docks to make sketches and gather ideas and embraced the task with great enthusiasm, producing many drawings which were later worked into studio-based paintings. These drawings with their strong blocks of colour in combinations of cool blues, grass greens and purple pinks transform the solid hulks of the moored warships into images of monumentality and dignity, far removed from the carnage and destruction of the war. (see K. Simister, Living Paint J.D. Fergusson 1874-1961, Edinburgh, 2001, pp. 75-76).
The two submarines in the present work can be identified as H.M. Submarines L.5 and L.6 and the cruiser in the background, with dazzle painting, is one of several four-funnelled ships in service during the First World War.