evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk began on the 27 May while HMS
Venomous was under repair in her home port of Devonport, Plymouth.
This chapter sets the five trips
made by Venomous to the beaches east of Dunkirk and the East Mole at
the entrance to Dunkirk harbour in context of the plans drawn up by Vice-Admiral Betram Home
Ramsay RN at Dover (VAD) for the evacuation of the BEF and includes the role of
Capt William Tennant RN, the SNO at Dunkirk, and the role of the
naval beach parties and that of Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker RN (Rear
Admiral Dover) directing the evacuation from his flagships offshore.
Within four hours of Venomous
arriving at Dover at
dusk on the 30 May she left for Dunkirk and over the next five days and
nights made five trips and brought back 4,410 troops. It combines first
hand accounts by the men on Venomous
and some of the soldiers who returned to Dover in her with quotations
from the official report written by Lt Cdr McBeath RN and others.
The end notes include links to these reports, online interview in the
IWM sound archive and a recording of a popular song played over the
tannoy whenever Venomous left the harbour at Dover for Dunkirk.
A US Army map of Dunkirk in 1943 showing the east and west moles and the inner harbour Courtesy of the University of Texas Map Library
HMS Malcolm approaching the entrance to Dunkirk with the arm of the eastern Mole on the left Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
HMS Basilisk alongside the Mole at Dunkirk Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Troops boarding HMS Vanquisher, a sister ship of Venomous, at the mole IWM Image Reference HU 1153. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
HMS Venomous lowers its whaler off the beaches at Dunkirk From the collection of Cdr R. Bill RN, the CO of the minesweepers off Dunkirk IWM Image Reference HU 56091. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.
Capt David “Basil” Dykes Courtesy of Nicholas Dykes
Evacuating French troops from Dunkirk on the last night Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Distant view of Dunkirk skyline Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Giant plume of smoke over Dunkirk from exploding oil tanks as Venomous leaves Dunkirk for the last time Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR.
Venomous and sister ships wait to berth at Dover after the last trip to Dunkirk Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR French troops disembarking at Dover from Venomous, 2 June 1940 Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
3. Vice-Admiral Somerville’s account of his meeting with
Nicholson at the Gare Maritime in Calais on the 25 May 1940 is
contained in the Somerville Papers (Ref.
GBR/0014/SMVL) in the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College,
Cambridge, and published by the Navy Records Society, vol. 134 (1995).
4. Events at Calais between 21 – 6 May 1940 are described in a six page report in Narrative of Operations conducted from Dover in the War Diaries for Dover Command for February – December 1940 (NA ADM 199/360). Brigadier Claude Nicholson (1898-1943), the Senior British
Officer (SBO) at Oflag IX A/Z, Rotenburg, took his own life on 26 June 1943, the third anniversary of the
surrender. His private diary is in the National Archives at Kew, WO217/1.
7. On the 1 June there was an eleven foot difference between high
and low tide. The tidal range also presented problems at the East Mole when troops had
to jump or slide down telegraph poles to the decks of destroyers
at low water. For an explanation of the
effect of the tide on the evacuation see the Dunkirk Revisited web
8. Mackenzie was quoted by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR in his
“Remeniscences” sent to Bob Moore with extracts from his private diary,
captions for his photographs and a covering letter on the 22 September
1987 which are in Bob Moore’s private papers.
10. Begin the Beguine (Cole Porter) played by the Joe Loss Orchestra,
sung by Chick Henderson and recorded by Regal Zonophone in 1939 became
the first record to sell over a million copies. It can be heard on
21. Walter Lord The Miracle of Dunkirk (London: Allen Lane, 1982).
22. Brian Gotto described in a privately published memoir how,
close to exhaustion, his father failed to identify himself when
challenged and pretended to draw a gun and would have been
arrested had he not been identified by another naval officer in Capt
Tennant’s team. Renfrew: a short biography of Captain Renfrew
Gotto CBE DSO, Royal Navy; by Brian Gotto. Published privately, 2009.
23. Corporal King fought with the Eighth Army in North Africa and
escaped capture when Tobruk fell. He was commissioned and left the army
after six and a half years as Capt D. King. He had a successful career
in banking and Sergeant Lou Warn was one of his customers.
24. Sergeant L. F. Warn’s account was originally published in
Hard Lying, the magazine of the V&W Association in June 1999, but
an extended version appeared later in Hard Lying: The Story of the V
and W Class Destroyers and the Men Who Sailed in Them by Cliff
Fairweather (Avalon Associates 2005). ISBN 0952944049. Page 77.
25. The figures given by McBeath in his report for the number of troops brought back on the five trips Venomous made to France differ from those recorded as being landed at Dover.
27. On his return from Dunkirk Capt David “Basil” W Dykes
(1911-92) was recruited by MI5 and worked with SOE agents in the UK and
in France in 1944 and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. After the war he
resumed his profession as a solicitor in Ledbury, Worcestershire. The
ms of his
wartime service was found in the loft of the family home by his son and
daughter and published along with Lord John Gort's Reports as Dunkirk: a Memoir(Ledbury: Lathé Biosas Publishing, 2 June 2017).
28. General Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis
(1891-1969), was Commander-in-Chief of Allied Land Forces in Burma and
then CiC of Middle East Command, responsible for overall conduct of the
campaign in the desert of North Africa. After the surrender of Axis
Forces in Tunisia in May 1943 Alexander commanded the 15th Army Group
during the invasions of Sicily and Italy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Alexander,_1st_Earl_Alexander_of_Tunis
Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival (1887-1966) was appointed
General Officer Commanding (GOC) Malaya in April 1941 and was blamed
for the surrender of Singapore in February 1942. He was a PoW in
Manchuria for the remainder of the war. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Percival
29. Lt Christopher W.S. Dreyer, the CO of MTB 102, claimed in an
interview recorded by the IWM in 1985 to have also taken General
Alexander back from Dunkirk but the details given by Lt Cdr John
McBeath RN when interviewed by the BBC 25 years earlier are persuasive
and confirmed by Lt Angus Mackenzie RN.
30. Anthony Preston, V and W Class Destroyers 1917-1945 (London: MacDonald & Co. Ltd., 1971).
33. The names of all the officers and men in HMS Venomous on 31 May 1940 can be seen on the publisher’s website with live links to information elsewhere: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/CrewList-30May1940.html