Calais and Boulogne
2 - 26 May 1940
Captions for illustrations followed by end notes with live links to documents cited
HMS Venomous completed repairs at Portsmouth just one week before the German blitzkrieg of the Low Countries and France began on the 10
May.Instead of escorting troop carriers to France she took part
in operations off the Dutch coast during the invasion of the
Netherlands. On the 15 May she picked up 46 Jewish refugees on a Dutch
lifeboat, the Zeemanshoop (Seaman's Hope) and a combined naval and territorial army demolition team returning from Ijmuiden on the Dutch harbour tug, Atjeh.
May she was sent to Calais to bring back secret anti-submarine warfare
equipment from Sangatte but also returned with platinum from
Courtauld's rayon factory valued at a million pounds and half the
British community. The next day she and her sister V & Ws took the
Welsh and Irish Guards to
Boulogne only to evacuate them on the 23 May. They were dive
bombed by Stuka and fought German tanks with her 4.7-inch guns in the
narrow inner harbour. Venomous ends the chapter under repair at Devonport.
Disembarking Royal Marines and their stores, Hook of Holland, 12 May 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
The Dutch lifeboat, Zeemanshoop, crowded with refugees and flying the Dutch flag Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
The harbour tug, Atjeh, from Ijmuiden Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
The Dutch refugees on the deck of Venomous Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Cdr M.G. Goodenough RN (with binoculars), the demolition party (with helmets) and Dutch naval officers Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Looking towards the stern on the starboard sideasVenomous speeds to Dover Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Albert Ratcliffe with his young wife Renée and his son, Pierre, and daughter, Gisèle, before the war Courtesy of Pierre Ratcliffe
The entrance to Calais harbour showing the Gare Maritime and the Hangar Paul Courtesy of the University of Texas
Refugees boarding Venomous at Calais, 21 May 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Portrait page of officers and crew Desperate times aboard Venomous under Lt Cdr Cdr J.E.H. McBeath DSO RN
“No 1”, Act Lt Cdr Angus “Bloody” MacKenzie and his CO, Lieut. Cdr John McBeath Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Sub Lt A.F. Esson RNR. In background ‘Guns’, Gunner (T) R.K. Thompson RN
Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR, Gunnery Officer, 1940-1
‘Chief’, Warrant Engineer A.E. Parkes RN, 1940
Able Seaman Roy Stallard received the DSM for the Boulogne action.
Able Seaman Sydney Compston
CPO Hugh McGeeney, aboard HMS Devonshire, 1943
Venomous escorting Mona’s Queen to Boulogne, 22 May 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR View from Venomous of troops disembarking from Mona’s Queen at Boulogne, 22 May 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Troops on the Quai Chanzy by the Gare Maritime after disembarking at Boulogne, 22 May 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Embarking refugees, including nuns and orphans with their teachers at Boulogne, 22 May 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
HMS Venomous leaving Boulogne with the sisters and orphan children aboard The swing bridge, the Pont Marguet, is visible in the distance. Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Refugees from Boulogne on the voyage back to Dover Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
The port of Boulogne in 1944 United States, Office of Strategic Services, Research and Analysis Branch Courtesy of the Lewis Map Library, University of Princeton. Reference MAX G5834.01.001.032.
Plan showing the position of Wild Swan, Venomous and Venetia on 23 May 1940 Drawn by Hugh McGeeney. Courtesy of Monica Budden.
The bend in the narrow harbour entrance with the Gare Maritime on the Quai Chanzy opposite Photographed by Bill Forster in February 2012
Eric Pountney, the Telegraphist in Venomous, from 1939 until October 1943, kept copies of naval signals received at Boulogne and Dunkirk. Courtesy Erica and Angie Pountney
Vice Admiral Ramsay orders the evacuation of the troops, Operation Buttercup. The signal was sent at 1723/23 but received at 1747 by Eric Pountney in Venomous. Courtesy Erica and Angie Pountney
HMS Venetia on fire leaving harbour stern first The Britannia Monument can just been at the entrance to the harbour on the far left. Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
HMS Venomous is firing her guns in the background of this painting commissioned by the Welsh Guards. Courtesy of Welsh Guards Regiment
Burning truck on the quayside photographed from Venomous as she leaves Boulogne Courtesy of Sir Beville Stanier
Boulogne photographed from Venomous as she leaves the harbour Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
The site of the Guards last stand at the Gare Maritime Copyright Reserved
2. Enemy air attacks. From The Commanding Officer HMS Venomous to Captain (D) 16th Destroyer Flotilla; dated 21 May 1940. In: 1940-42 Enemy air attacks on RN and Merchant shipping (NA Ref: ADM 199/100).
4. The North Goodwin Sands, a treacherous part of the English
Channel, is the grave of many a sailor and ship. The routine North
Goodwin patrol was described by Sam Lombard-Hobson, First Lieutenant on
HMS Whitshed, in his book, A Sailor’s War (Orbis Publishing, 1983).
5. Loet Velman’s parents took him to the Dutch East Indies to
resume his interrupted high school education. He was enlisted in the
Dutch army, captured by the Japanese and spent three and a half years as a POW
working on the Burma to Siam railway as described in his book Long Way
back to the River Kwai (Arcade Publishing, 2003) and briefly here: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/LoetVelmans.html
9. On the 28 October
1918 a German submarine (UB116) attempting to enter Scapa Flow through
Hoxa Sound in the south was detected by an indicator loop and destroyed
with mines detonated from the shore. This was the first U-boat to be detected and sunk in this way and the last U-boat to be
sunk in World War I.
The patrol system to detect U-boats in the Dover Straits in 1940 is detailed in
A/S Patrol in Dover Straits, a report to Vice Admiral Bertram H. Ramsay RN, Flag Officer Dover (In: Dover Command, War Diaries for Period Feb 1st – Dec 31st 1940, NA ADM 199/360). Dr. Richard Walding, a Research Fellow at the School of
Science, Griffith University, Australia, has reported on his research
into indicator loops at indicatorloops.com
10. Sangatte Loop Station, France. Report on dismantling and embarkation of Stores; O/C, A/S Fixed Defences, Dover. (NA ADM 199/795)
12. The second edition of Frédéric Turner's privately published
biographical dictionary of British subjects interned after the fall of
France contains 604 pages and 2,300 entries (Les Oublies de 39-45: La rafle des Britanniques;
Arras: Editions, JAFT, 2011. ISBN 978-2-9538021-1-5). Some families
were split apart with the men interned at Illag VIIIH at Tost (Toszek)
in Upper Silesia. Bill Forster has told the stories of some of them
14. Courtaulds invented rayon and was the world’s largest
manufacturers of “artificial silk” (rayon). Tommy Davies, a Courtaulds
Director who worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) “…went
over to Calais shortly before the Germans arrived there and removed
several hundred thousand pounds’ worth of platinum from Courtauld’s
factory.” Patrick Howarth, Undercover: The Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1980), p. 10.
15. The signal form was kept as a souvenir by George Speechley, Visual Signalman, who joined HMS Venomous on the 31 July 1939 one month before the outbreak of war.
16. History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military Series; edited by J.R.M. Butler. See the link to The War In France And Flanders 1939-1940; by Major L.F. Ellis C.V.O., C.B.E., DSO, M.C. (London: HMSO, 1954), p153.
17. The problems Lt Col Donald J Dean VC faced in turning the
willing but elderly reservists into an effective labour force to
support the fighting troops are described in Donald Dean VC by
Terry Crowdy and Susan Bavin (London: Pen and Sword Military, 2010). He
found that the smart and energetic young officers of the Great War had
“sometimes turned into a stout middle-aged man with little energy and a
big thirst” and one private “asked me in strict confidence whether he
could continue to draw his old age pension as well as his army pay!”
18. The nuns, teachers and orphans spent five happy years at the
Smyllum Park Orphanage in the small town of Lanark midway between
Glasgow and Edinburgh and an article in the Boulogne edition of La Voix du Nord led to two of them being traced, revisiting Lanark and telling their story on the publisher’s web site, see: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Boulogne.html
20. The territorial soldiers of the KFRE were mainly employees of
the Blue Circle cement works at Gravesend and were led by the works
manager, Cliffiord Brazier, a sapper in the Great War, and author
of XD Operations - Secret British missions denying oil to the Nazi's by C.C.H. Brazier (Pen and Sword, 2005) edited by his son. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_Fortress_Royal_Engineers#XD_operations
21. Operation XD Report on Calais (Party F) by Cdr Casper S.B. Swinley RN can be seen in: Operations off Dutch, Belgian and French coasts: reports, 1940 (NA ADM 199/795).
22. See the Report of Proceedings for HMS Verity written by Lt E.L. Jones on the 27 May, the day his CO, Lt. Cdr. Arthur R.M. Black RN, was seriously wounded off Dunkirk. In: Operations off French, Belgian and Dutch coasts (NA ADM 199/667); see also the Report of General Brownrigg, 29 May 1940 (NA CAB 106/243)
23. A detailed account
of the battle for Boulogne by Jon Cooksey was published as a volume in the series on Battleground
Europe: The Channel Ports as Boulogne: 20 Guards Brigades Fighting Defence – May 1940 (Leo Cooper, 2002) ISBN 0 85052 814 3. See http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_boulogne_1940.html
for a brief account of the battle. 24. Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay (1883-1945) is mainly
remembered today for organising the evacuation of the troops from
Dunkirk but also assisted Eisenhower in planning the naval part of the
D-Day landings. He was killed in a plane crash in January 1945 but his
story is told in Full Circle: Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay;
by Rear Admiral W.S. Chalmers. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1959. His
wartime headquarters at Dover are in the care of English Heritage and
contain an exhibition telling the story of Operation Dynamo, the
evacuation of the the troops from Dunkirk. See: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/things-to-see-and-do/operation-dynamo/
25. For a more detailed analysis of the tidal position and
daylight hours at Boulogne on 23 May 1940 and the influence they had on
the evacuation of the troops please see Battle of Boulogne - Tidal and
Astronomical Time Line 23/24 May by Frank Donald. http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/tide.html
27. The description of events is partly based on the well informed but fictional account of HMS Whitshed written by Lt Cdr George Stitt and published as HMS Wideawake: destroyer and preserver (Unwin Hayman, 1943) to conform with wartime censorship rules. Stitt did not serve on Whitshed
but knew her CO, Cdr E.R. Conder RN, and had access to contemporary
records. Cdr Kimmins who wrote the Forward to Wideawake had served with Stitt as a Midshipman in Orion in late 1920, and commisioned the book in 1943 when he was in the Admiralty Press Division. Stitt's account is more precise as to times and dates than A Sailors War (London: Orbis Publishing, 1983) by Sam Lombard-Hobson, the first lieutenant on HMS Whitshed,
which was published forty years later.
But the Reports of Proceedings
written by the commanding officers and the naval signals received and
sent by the destroyers are the most dependable record of events. The RoP are in the National Archives at Kew.
See Operations off French, Belgian and Dutch coasts (ADM 199/667) for
the RoP of HMS Keith, HMS Whitshed, HMS Venomous,HMS Wild Swan, HMS Vimy, HMS Verity, HMS Windsor and HMS Vimiera and in Dover Command: War Diaries, Feb 1st – Dec 31st 1940 (ADM 199/360) for HMS Venetia.
They can also be seen by clicking on the ship
names in this note.
29. Lt Col Donald J Dean VC was very critical of the Welsh Guards
in his description of the part played by the 5th Group AMCP (later
renamed the Pioneers) at Boulogne in Donald Dean VC by Terry Cowdry and Susan Bavin (London: Pen and Sword Military, 2010).
30. The message was released by Vice Admiral Dover at 1723 and
then went to the Dover WT office and was transmitted in morse code,
probably on a broadcast read by all ships. The messages were encypted
before transmission and decrypted on arrival. This could account for
the 25 minutes delay between release and delivery of the message in
clear. For a description of wireless telegraphy aboard destroyers in
the early years of the war see: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/telegraphists.html and for a list of the naval signals received and sent by the wireless telegraphist in Venomous see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/naval_signals.html
31. This description is taken from two letters written by former AB Donald T.W. Harris of HMS Vimy to the author, Richard Hough, on the 5 February 1985 which are in the documents collection of the Imperial War Museum, London: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030000290
32. Harris, ibid 30. The First Lieutenant who took command and wrote the Report of Proceedings
(NA ADM 199/667) on the 24 May was Lt Adrian Paul Northey RN. Lt
Cdr Colin G.W. Donald RN died that night and was buried at
sea off Dover on Monday 27 May. His parents travelled by overnight
sleeper from Edinburgh to be present. His son, Frank Donald, joined the
Royal Navy and held the same rank as his father when he retired. You
can read more about the life of Lt Cdr C.G.W. Donald RN in Chapter Three
and on the publisher’s web site: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/CGWDonald.html
33. Nethercott Op. Cit. 27
34. See Force Buttercup
at Boulogne and follow the link to the report by two of the platoon commanders in December 1940 (the Naval
Company Commander, Lt J.E. James RN, was in hospital recovering from
his wounds) on the Naval Party landed to cover demolitions at Boulogne, May 1940 (National Archives Ref.ADM1/11241).
35. One man's war at sea: a
memoir of service in HMS Albatross, HMS Keith, HMS Phoebe, HMS
Sheffield and HMS Venerable from 1939 until 1945; by Captain
Graham Lumsden. Copies of this illustrated memoir, spiral bound in
white card are held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy (Ref
1990/222) and the Imperial War Museum, London (Ref IWM Doc 128268).
Lumsden is also quoted by Cooksey, Op. Cit. 18
36. HMS Vimy had been ordered back to Dover by Lt Cdr John L. Younghusband, the CO of Wild Swan, who on arrival off Boulogne at 1920 was under the impression that the CO of Whitshed was killed or wounded and no longer in command and as the next most senior officer he was now Flotilla Leader. See the Report of Proceedings for HMS Wild Swan inOperations off French, Belgian and Dutch coasts (ADM 199/667).
37. Conder became acting Captain (D) on the death of Simson on Keith
and wrote the Flotilla Report covering events from 1749/23 when Simson
received the signal from VAD ordering the evacuation until 0355/24 when
Vimiera berthed at Dover with
1,400 troops. The NA reference is not known but a draft of Conder’s report
(provided by the son of Lt Cdr R.B.N. Hicks RN, the CO of HMS Vimiera) can be seen on the publisher’s web site. For the service career of Conder see: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersC2a.html#Conder_ER
39. The part played by HMS Wild Swan in the evacuation of the troops from Boulogne is described by Peter Smith in HMS Wild Swan: One Destroyer's War 1939-1942 (London: William Kimber & Co, 1985) as well as by her CO in his Report of Proceedings on Operation "XD" One and Evacuation of Boulogne 23 May 1940 at the NA in Operations off French, Belgian and Dutch coasts (ADM 199/667).
40. The account that follows is based on McBeath’s report Action off Boulogne on 23 May 1940 (ADM 199/667) to Captain (D) 16th Destroyer Flotilla (copies to Vice Admiral Dover, CiC Western Approaches and CO HMS Whitshed) and Bob Moore’s interviews with surviving crew members in the 1980s.
42. Sir Alexander Beville
Gibbons Stanier (1899-1995) described the action at Boulogne in a
recorded interview in the Sound Archive of the IMW (Reference 7175)
which can be heard online and in his memoirs privately published after
his death by his son, Sir Beville Stanier, as Sammy’s Wars (1998). Sir
Beville Stanier wrote the introduction to the book by Jon Cooksey, p.
44. According to the combat report of the Welsh Guards three
French tanks had been captured by the Germans and were used against the
Allied forces but Peter Smith in an e-mail to the author on the 8
February 2009 claims they were actually German tanks..
45. Boulogne: Damage reports to Venomous and Venetia
can be found at the National Archives in ADM 267/101 Shell and bomb.
The unemotional factual description contrasts with the devastation
shown in the accompanying photographs of HMS Venetia.
48. Report on near-miss bomb and machine-gun damage to HMS Venomous during attack by sixty Junker 87 bombers before entering Boulogne harbour on 23 May 1940. NA Ref. ADM 267/101 (Shell and Bomb). The Wireless Telegraphy Operator, Eric Arnold Poultney (1918-73), was posted to HMS Venomous
at Rosyth on the 31 July 1939 and remained aboard until October 1943.
He kept copies of many of the signals received and sent by Venomous at Boulogne and Dunkirk and was also a fine photographer whose photographs are included in this new edition of A Hard Fought Ship. See: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Pountney.html