The story of HMS Venomous

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The Arctic Star
Official recognition for the veterans of the Arctic convoys

HMS Venomous left Seidesfjord on the east coast of Iceland at 5 am on the 29 April 1942 as an escort for Arctic Convoy PQ.15 and arrived with its 22 surviving merchant ships at Polyarny, the Russian naval base on the Kola inlet near Murmansk in northern Russia, on 5 May. After sixteen dreary days surviving on black bread and whale meat they joined the escort for the return convoy QP.12 which left Kola Inlet on the 21 May and reached Iceland on the 29 May 1942. The full story of PQ.15 and QP.12 is told in A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous which one reviewer compared to The Cruel Sea for its realistic portrayal of life on a small warship.

The Arctic Convoys carrying vital supplies to Russia to the Arctic ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, ran in two series, normally twice per month. The first from September 1941 to September 1942 assembled in Iceland and ran to Arkhangelsk during the summer months when the ice permitted but as the pack ice increased in the Arctic winters the convoys only went as far as Murmansk. The second series, from September 1942 to the end of the war, assembled at Loch Ewe on the rugged west coast of Scotland which faced north, was sheltered from the prevailing westerlies and was considered safer than the main naval base at Scapa Flow in Orkney.

The veterans on the merchant ships and the convoy escorts and their families can now apply for the award of the Arctic Star.

"It has been announced today, the 26 February 2013, by the Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans Mark Francois that all the details have been confirmed for the Arctic Star and the Bomber Command Clasp and the application process has now opened. This follows Sir John Holmes’ independent medal review and the announcement by the Prime Minister, on 19 December 2012, that these awards should be made in recognition of the great bravery of those who contributed to two very significant campaigns of World War Two.

Eligible veterans and next of kin are now encouraged to apply using the relevant application forms, which can be found on this page, or by telephoning the MOD Medal Office on 08457 800 900 (a local rate number) for further details. An application must be made as it is simply not possible for the MOD to contact veterans or families of all of those who may be eligible going back almost 70 years."

The USSR embarrassed the UK government by awarding the veterans of the Arctic convoys their own commemorative medal on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war but it has taken a long campaign by the veterans to win recognition from their own government. Although long overdue it is very fitting that recognition comes now seventy years after the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943 which is being commemorated in this anniversary year by events in Londonderry, Liverpool and London.

Arctic StarThe men who served on the convoy escorts and the merchant ships formed the North Russia Club (1985) and the Russian Convoy Club (1988) to keep in touch with former shipmates. They went on to campaign for wider recognition of the contribution the Arctic convoys made to winning the war. That was slow in coming. No campaign medal was issued for veterans of the Arctic convoys and they were only eligible for the Atlantic Star if they had served in the western Atlantic for at least six months.

In 1986 the USSR showed its gratitude by awarding the commemorative medal celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the war’s end to veterans of the Arctic convoys and 270 attended an investiture and reception at the Russian Embassy. In 1991 the Russian Federation invited veterans to reunions in Murmansk and Archangel and on the 31 August, the frigate HMS London sailed into the White Sea and up the Dvina River to Archangel to commemorate the arrival fifty years earlier, on that exact day, of the first convoy bringing aid to our new wartime ally. Further reunions were held and medals were awarded on the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries but these can not be worn by the Arctic veterans alongside their British campaign medals.

In June 1995 Fred Thomas, the RDF operator on Venomous was amongst a party of fifty Arctic veterans led by Rear Admiral A.B. Richardson, the Patron of the North Russia Club, who visited St Petersburg and Murmansk on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war.

In 1997 the Queen Mother and the Russia Ambassador attended a memorial service in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral and unveiled a memorial tablet to the three thousand men who lost their lives on the Arctic convoys. In 2005, at a reception for Arctic veterans the Prime Minister announced that an Arctic Emblem (not a medal but could be worn with the Atlantic Star) would be awarded to those who served on the Arctic convoys with no minimum service requirement.

By 2008 both the Russian Convoy Club and the North Russia Club had been dissolved but the Loch Ewe memorial commemorating the sacrifice of those who lost their lives on the convoys stands near Pool House, the former command centre for the convoys, on the shore of Loch Ewe. Jock Dempster (1928-2013), the Russian speaking Chairman of the Arctic Convoy Club Scotland who was sixteen when he went to Murmansk on the tanker, MV San Venancio, and campaigned for the award of the medal, died six weeks after receiving his Arctic Star at 10 Downing Street. Convoys Remembered is an online archive of stories contributed by veterans and plans are being made for a multi-site Russian Arctic Convoy Museum on the shore of Loch Ewe where the convoys assembled in 1943-5.

Eligibility for the Arctic Star

Download the MOD application form for Medals - including the Arctic Star

Read about HMS Venomous as an Atlantic escort at Londonderry and the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic

The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship
  Buy the new hardback edition online for 35 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations

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