A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
The story of HMS Venomous

I would rate this as being up in the same class as ‘The Cruel Sea’ for a picture of small ship life in World War 2.
Cdr Alastair Wilson RN (Ret) writing in the Naval Review


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WHAT'S NEW
If you have photographs, letters home, a diary or a journal of a family member
who served on
HMS Venomous please get in touch.
  Bill Forster, Holywell House Publishing


The Commanding Officers of HMS Venomous

These brief pen portraits of the nine wartime commanding officers of HMS Venomous will link to more detailed descriptions of their lives and wartime service similar to the page about Lt Cdr A.G. Prideaux, the last CO.

A last Hurrah!
Lansky
On the 12 May 1945 HMS Venomous left Rosyth with Lt Cdr A.G. Prideaux RNVR in command and with a young sub lieutenant who could speak both German and Russian aboard. Venomous and its sister ship, HMS Valorous, were being sent to accept the surrender of German naval forces at Kristiansand South in Norway, as part of Operation Apostle.

Miroslav Stanley Lansky was born in London but his parents were from Czechoslovakia and registered as aliens. Their son was a young Midshipman on HMS Cassandra when its bow was blown off by a torpedo near Murmansk in Arctic Russia on the 11 December 1944 and joined HMS Venomous in February 1945. He is the only officer alive today who served on HMS Cassandra when it was torpedoed and on HMS Venomous when it accepted the surrender of German naval forces in Kristiansand. After the war he worked as a translator for the United Nations in New York, Bangkok and Geneva and lives in France. He is convalescing after breaking a leg but his wife and daughter have helped me tell his story.



Operation Pedestal

Operation Pedestal 70th Anniversary stamps from Malta PodstHMS Eagle sinking, August 1942The George Cross island of Malta celebrated the seventieth anniversary of Operation Pedestal (the Santa Marija Convoy) which broke the German blockade of the besieged island by issuing a set of 88 stamps each one bearing the name of one of the allied ships. Malta stood at the cross roads between Alex and Gib and straddling the Axis supply lines to North Africa and the courage the islanders displayed under constant bombing during the siege led to it being awarded the George Cross.

A Hard Fought Ship
describes how HMS Venomous twice escorted the elderly aircraft carrier HMS Furious within flying range of Malta so that its Spitfires could take off and land on the island's airfield. The officers and crew of Venomous saw HMS Eagle torpedoed, its aircraft sliding off the deck and the carrier plunging beneath the waves and took onboard its Commanding Officer, Capt L.D. MacKintosh DSC RN, 48 of its officers and 487 men. The scene was photographed from Venomous by AB Cyril Hely.

HMS Venomous appears on one of the stamps (MT085) issued by the Malta Postal Service in August 2012. Single stamps and sheets of eight are no longer available but the price of a complete set is still quite modest and it includes the other V & W Class destroyers which took part in this operation which saved Malta. For details of all the ships featured on the stamps and availability of presentation packs of mint stamps (PP) and franked first day covers (FDC) with a book about Operation Pedestal visit the online shop of Malta Post.


The Arctic Star awarded to veterans of the Arctic Convoys to northern Russia


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.

Read about their campaign, eligibility for the Arctic Star and how veterans and the families of those who served on the merchant ships and their escorts can apply. The Russian Arctic Convoy Museum's programme for Arctic Convoy Week 2013 at Loch Ewe on the 6 - 11 May can be downloaded as a PDF.

The 70 th Anniversary of the turning of the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic

Homer McPheeSub Lt John Tucker RNROn the 18 December 1940 Venomous joined the First Escort Group at Londonderry escorting the convoys which kept Britain from being starved into submission. Some of the men on Venomous met their wives at Londonderry and their children still live in the town. After refuelling at Iceland Venomous occasionally rejoined the convoys and continued to Halifax in Nova Scotia.

The protection of these convoys by Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy escorts created a link between Canada and Northern Ireland which is still maintained today. Members of the Naval Officers Association of Canada are amongst the Canadian naval veterans who are on a pilgrimage to Londonderry on the 8 - 13  May 2013 to celebrate the the 70th anniversary of the turning of the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic. They will attend the unveiling of the Sailors' Monument, a replica of the statue on the water front at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the convoys assembled.  HMCS Sackville, the last of the 120 Canadian built corvettes which escorted convoys to Londonderry, is preserved in Halifax as Canada's Naval Memorial.

Lt Homer McPhee RN (1919-2006), a popular Canadian officer on HMS Venomous in 1941, transferred to the RCN after the war and retired as its longest serving officer. He shared a cabin with Sub Lt John Tucker RNR (1920-2011) on the right who described the convoy system in A Hard Fought Ship. The daughter of Lt Cdr Angus Mackenzie RNR ("Bloodie Mackenzie", see below) lives in Halifax where her father's ashes were scattered in Bedford Basin, where the convoys assembled for the Atlantic crossing.

HMS Venomous remained an Atlantic escort until April 1942 interrupted by major repairs after detonating a mine in Liverpool bay on New Year's Eve 1940 and repairs and refit after a collision with the flotilla leader, HMS Keppel, in November 1941.

Wireless Telegraphy on Wartime Destroyers

Eric Arnold Poultney joined HMS Venomous as a Wireless Telegraphy Operator at Rosyth on on the 31 July 1939, the same day as Lt Cdr Donald G.F.W. McIntyre RN took command, and left at Falmouth in October 1943. He was a keen photographer and his pictures provide a vivid idea of what it was like to serve as a rating on Venomous. The copies of the signals he received and sent while Venomous was evacuating the troops from Boulogne and Dunkirk in May 1940 record events as they happened. The use of Wireless Telegraphy and visual signaling is described and illustrated with his photographs.

In memory of the men who died 70 years ago when HMS Hecla sank on Armistice Day 1942
HMS Marne torpedoed
There were 799 ratings and 39 officers aboard the destroyer depot ship, HMS Hecla, when it was torpedoed off the coast of Morocco on 11 November 1942, Armistice Day.

556 were rescued, twelve  killed and 273 reported "missing presumed killed". HMS Marne rescued 64 before a torpedo blew off its stern (left) but the vast majority, 493, were saved by HMS Venomous despite having to break off its rescue to attack the German U-boat.

The description of that long night in A Hard Fought Ship is the most detailed yet written and will probably never be superseded. The photographs of Lt Leslie Eaton and AB Cyril Hely on Venomous and the paintings of Herbert McWilliams, done within a week of his rescue, are combined with memories of the officers and men on Venomous and the stories told by the survivors of HMS Hecla. These include Herbert McWilliams, Fred Lemberg, Norman Johns, George Male, Edward Coleman, Les Rowles, Fred Woods and Greg Clarke.

You can find out more about the loss of HMS Hecla by clicking on the link above but for the full story of events leading up to the disaster and the battle by Venomous to save the survivors struggling in the water while fighting the attacking U-boat you will have to read A Hard Fought Ship. Author signed copies can be bought online post free from the publisher.


Lt Herbert Hastings McWilliams SANF, 1944War at Sea - in words and pictures


Herbert Hastings McWilliams, a South African architect, talented artist and passionate sailor, enlisted as an ordinary seaman in 1941 and served on HMS Shropshire. After being commissioned he served on motor launches and MTB with Coastal Command at Lowestoft before joining HMS Hecla at Simon's Town on the 4 September 1942, two short months before it was torpedoed off the coast of north Africa.

His wonderfully realistic paintings of Hecla sinking, based on sketches made within hours of his rescue by HMS Venomous with a throat brush and a mixture of iodine and rum from the sick bay, are now in the Imperial War Museum, London. The life and work of this talented man whose life was saved by HMS Venomous when the destroyer depot ship HMS Hecla was torpedoed is told on this web site. His wartime letters to his Mother include a description of the loss of Hecla. In later life he competed for South Africa in sailing at the 1948 Olympics and designed racing dinghies with his career as an architect in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.


When the balloon went up ...

As Venomous left Cherbourg at dawn on the 10 May she received the all-Fleet broadcast that Germany had invaded France and the low countries.  The dramatic events of the next  four weeks make this one of the most exciting chapters in A Hard Fought Ship.

Dutch lifeboat crammed with Jewish refugees
Venomous
spent the first week off the Dutch coast. On the 15 May Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR photographed an overcrowded lifeboat, the Zeemanshoop, full of refugees (left) many of them Jewish, and the Dutch tug Atjeh carrying Cdr Goodenough's demolition team.

On the 21 May Venomous saved vital equipment from Calais and brought back nurses and employees of Courtauld's factory including 16 year old John Esslemont and his father.

On the 22 May she escorted the cross channel ferries taking the Welsh and Irish Guards to defend Boulogne and left the harbour with its decks crowded with children and nuns.  Peter Kershaw photographed the extraordinary scene.

Venomous returned to Boulogne the following day with six other V & Ws to bring the troops back while fighting off air attacks and German tanks. Lt Cdr Colin G.W. Donald RN, a young officer on Venomous in 1926-8, commanded HMS Vimy. This was his first and last command.

There was no respite, between the 31 May and the 4 June Venomous made five trips to the beaches and North Mole of  Dunkirk and brought 4,410 troops. The names of all its officers and men when it made the first of five trips to bring back the troops of the BEF from Dunkirk on the 31 May 1940 can be viewed as a PDF.

The detailed description of these events are told first hand by the men aboard
Venomous and illustrated with their photographs in A Hard Fought Ship which can be bought on this web site post free.

Escape to England

This web site has brought to light some extraordinary stories but non so surprising and moving as the story of Liselotte Drukker and her love for two men, her husband Victor Mayer and Dr Simon Weyl (Weijl), a psychiatrist and neurologist, who escaped with her to England aboard a Dutch lifeboat, the Zeemanshoop, on the 14 May 1940, the day the Netherlands surrendered.

I received an e-mail from Victor Mayer's son in law in Seattle followed by a phone call from the daughter of Liselotte and Dr Simon Weijl in New York. Neither knew the other until they made the connection by seeing their family names on the list of passengers who left the small fishing harbour at Scheveningen for England aboard  the Zeemanshoop.

Liselotte was Dutch but her husband was German and ran the family steel business in the Netherlands with his brother, Walter Meyer. They were Jewish. When Victor Mayer visited his brother's family to persuade them to escape to England he found them dead, they had taken poison. Victor and Liselotte drove to Scheveningen with Dr Weijl and boarded the Zeemanshoop. Simon Weijl was nearly left behind but as the Zeemanshoop pulled away he tried to leap aboard, fell in the water and was dragged onto the lifeboat soaking wet, the last passenger.

The crew of four university students and 44 mostly Jewish passengers on the Zeemanshoop were picked up by HMS Venomous near the Goodwin Sands the following afternoon and landed at Dover that evening. The story of Liselotte, Victor Mayer and Dr Simon Weijl is deeply personal and involves two families who have yet to meet but you can read their story on the web pages about the Zeemanshoop and its passengers.


The Early Years: HMS Venomous in the Mediterranean, 1923-9

Venomous was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in October 1923  and Valletta became its home port for the next six years. On the 2 November 1924 as Venomous entered the Grand Harbour after a cruise in the Western Mediterranean “she rammed and sank a motorboat from the Caledon Class light cruiser, HMS Calypso. Fortunately, all hands were saved from the warm waters” (A Hard Fought Ship, page 50). The unexpected outcome of this narrowly averted tragedy are still felt today. Read the full story.

Since publication of A Hard Fought Ship we have been contacted by the son of Lt Cdr Colin G.W. Donald RN who as a young officer on HMS Venomous in 1926-8 kept a Diary which together with his photographs sheds fresh light on what it was like to be an officer aboard a V&W Class destroyer in peacetime. His son, Frank Donald, tells his father's story.


THE OFFICERS AND MEN WHO SERVED ON HMS VENOMOUS

Their names of all the officers and most of the ratings who served on HMS Venomous between 1919 and 1946 are recorded on this web site. They tell the story of the ship on which they served in the pages of A Hard Fought Ship but since its publication in in 2010 the families of many more have contributed stories and photographs to this web site about HMS Venomous.

Cdr DAR Duff RNDeath of a centenarian, Cdr D.A.R. Duff RN, "No 1" to Lt Cdr D.G.F.W. Macintyre RN in 1940

At the outbreak of war HMS Venomous was commanded by Lt Cdr Donald G.F.W. Macintyre RN and his "No 1" was Lt D.A.R. Duff RN "a tall man with a quiet assured air" who was called Dan by his friends and fellow officers. Lt Duff did not serve on Venomous for long but he went on to have a long and distinguished naval career and retired as Cdr Daniel Alexander [Wyatt] Rawson Duff RN. He served in HMS Manchester, was torpedoed twice and when she sank he was imprisoned by the Vichy French in North Africa. He was in the POW camp until the Allied landings in North Africa when he was released.  He died on the 19 August less than two weeks after celebrating his hundredth birthday on the 3 August 2012.  A short outline of his life and naval career of Cdr Duff can be seen on this web site.

Cdr Duff is not the only centenarian to have served on HMS Venomous. Lt  Stanley B. de Courcy-Ireland RN was born in 1900, served on Venomous for six months in 1920-1 and died in 2001. He commanded HMS Ajax (1946-8) and retired as a Captain in 1951. His memoirs, A Naval Life was published in 1990.



"Bloodie" Mackenzie
Angus Mackenzie and John McBeath
Lt Angus A Mackenzie RNR was “No. 1” on HMS Venomous  to Lt Cdr John McBeath RN in May 1940 (Mackenzie is on the left with McBeath on the right in Lt Peter Kershaw's photograph). He was an outspoken officer known by his fellow officers as “Bloodie” Mackenzie but John McBeath recognised his seamanship and powers of leadership.

Venomous evacuated the Welsh and Irish Guards from Boulogne and helped bring back the BEF from Dunkirk and Mackenzie was twice Mentioned in Dispatches (MID) and promoted to Lt Cdr before leaving Venomous to take command of HMS Vimiera in February 1941.

 A Hard Fought Ship covers the ten months he served on Venomous but his daughter, Sheena Mackenzie, has helped me give on this web site a more rounded picture of the wartime service and post-war business career of an extraordinary man.


HMS "Verminous"
Lt C.R.V. Holt RNVRLt H.D. Durell RNR David Durell was one year old when his father Lt Cdr Henry Dumaresq Durell RN was killed along with most of the ship's company when HMS Isis hit a mine off the Normandy beaches on the 20 July1944.

As Lt Henry D. Durell (left) he was CO of HMS Venomous from February to October 1943 but we had no photographs of him in the book which was already with the designer. The memorial to HMS Isis in Portsmouth cathedral led to the HMS Isis Survivors Association and via a member to David Durell and his wife Penny in a remote part of South West Ireland without broadband.

The amusing light hearted sketch of HMS "Verminous" was presented to his father in June 1943 and Penny arranged for a photographer friend, Sue Money, to take a brilliant high resolution colour photograph and e-mail it to me over her broadband connection. Penny identified the artist (right) and traced his family. See the painting and read the story behind it.


The man in the green beret
Sydney Compston (1939)Sydney Compston (2010)Sydney Compston volunteered for the Royal Navy in November 1939 and was accepted just before he received his call-up papers for the local infantry regiment. After initial training at HMS Drake in Devonport, Plymouth, he was posted to HMS Venomous and remained aboard until its refit at Troon following the collision with HMS Keppel in December 1941. He was aboard during the action at Boulogne when Venomous evacuated the Welsh and Irish Guards on the 23 May 1940 and on the five trips Venomous made to the north Mole and beaches at Dunkirk where from his post at B Gun he saw General Alexander, the commanding officer of the BEF, on the open bridge.

Sydney's memory of his time on Venomous was exceptionally good and he made a very significant contribution to the new edition of A Hard Fought Ship. He described the fitting of ASDIC during the refit at Portsmouth in 1940 and contrasted this modern technology to detect U-boats with the cutlasses which in the tradition of Nelson's navy were stored ready for use. His name crops up repeatedly in the index and he recalled many incidents for the book and the names of shipmates for adding to the list of ratings.

For Sydney Venomous was only the prelude to an exciting war and he turned up at the book launch wearing the green beret of the Royal Navy Commandos.


Venomous as a Mediterranean escort 1942-3
Jack Bolton AB/STBob Hargreaves AB
I occasionally receive orders for A Hard Fought Ship from relatives of the men who served on HMS Venomous and this often leads to new information about events described in the book.

Ray Bolton bought a copy for his father, Jack Bolton (on right), who is now 88 but was only 19 when he joined HMS Venomous at Londonderry in June 1942. Linda Atkinson bought the book for her uncle, Chris Hargreaves, the youngest brother of Bob Hargreaves (left) who joined Venomous at Troon in March of 1942. Sadly, Bob died a few months ago but Chris has recalled some of the stories he told during his final illness. George Wilson was the Asdic operator on HMS Venomous when HMS Hecla sank and in the Mediterranean. His grandson, Andrew Wilson, tells his story.

I have drawn on their memories, photographs and service records to give some new details about events described in the book including the rescue of  Hecla survivors, a case of cannibalism and the landings on Sicily.


From the Arctic to Alexandria

David Hoggins, Gunlayer 3rd ClassDavid Hoggins at the Hecla, Marne & Venomous Association fiftieth anniversary reunion in 1992
After the collision with HMS Keppel in November 1941 Venomous was towed to Troon on the west coast of Scotland for repair and a major refit during which most of its officers and crew were replaced. Only Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward RN, its CO, and a few of its senior POs and the RDF operator, Fred Thomas, remained from its first wartime commission. Its second commission which began in April 1942 would take it from Murmansk in Arctic Russia to Alexandria in Egypt and only ended, "its engine shot", at Falmouth in October 1943.

David Hoggins was 19 years old when he joined HMS Venomous at Troon as a gun layer at the start of its second commission in April 1942. An exciting eighteen months lay ahead during which Venomous would rescue several hundred men from the destroyer depot ship, HMS Hecla, when it was torpedoed off the coast of North Africa.

David told the story of his wartime service on Venomous to his son Paul who accompanied him to the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the survivors of the Hecla at Stratford in 1992 (on right). Paul sent me the wartime photographs of his shipmates which accompany his father's memories of his time on Venomous on this web site.


Life on the lower deck of HMS Venomous

Frederick N.G. Thomas, the RDF Operator on HMS Venomous from June 1940 to October 1943, wrote a vivid first hand account of life on the lower deck of a wartime destroyer based on his three years as the RDF Operator on HMS Venomous. The position of the RDF compartment on the highest point of the ship made him well placed to write a vivid description of the torpedoing of HMS Hecla on Armistice Day 1942 and the rescue of five hundred survivors. Both featured prominently in A Hard Fought Ship along with the photographs he took on his Ensign box camera and are now published in full for the first time on this web site along with brief details of his life. "Freddo" died on the 9 May 2012.


Family stories of men who served on  HMS Venomous

The son of AB Harold Knapton who took the Dutch lifeboat Zeemanshoop to Ramsgate after the 46 refugees from the Netherlands transferred to Venomous collected six copies of the book from our "office" in  Holywell Hill, St Albans, and will be sending details of his father's service career for the web site. The daughters of Eric Pountney, the wireless operator on Venomous from 1939 to October 1943, have sent me their father's service record and some wonderful wartime photographs taken aboard the ship. If you have stories to tell - or photographs to scan - do get in touch

Paul Herrington's father served on HMS Witherington, one of the 69 V & W Class destroyers, identical sister ships of Venomous. Paul has the ship's bell and named his house Witherington and received a copy as a Christmas gift from his wife. Some of the photographs taken by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR on Venomous between 1939-41 appear on this web site as well as in the book. After the war he named several of the tied houses owned by the family brewery after the ships on which he served. Sadly - but sensibly - non were named after HMS Venomous.


PAINTINGS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

"Paint ship" - artists at sea
Lt Herbert Hastings McWilliams SANF, 1944Robert T. Back
The names of five marine artists are associated with HMS
Venomous. Only one AB Robert T. Back (right) served on the ship and, sadly, non of his paintings of Venomous  have been traced but he is perhaps the best known today - but not for his wartime pictures.

In my view the most talented of the five was the South African
, Lt Herbert H. McWilliams SANF (left) who was on HMS Hecla when it was torpedoed and was rescued by Venomous. His paintings of Hecla sinking done within days of his rescue on the back of old charts are now in the Imperial War Museum, London, and illustrate his wartime letters to be published next year.

LSA Donald Preece was also on
Hecla but died that night. His shipmates commissioned his cartoons of Navy life and sent them home with letters to their families. Lt C.R.V. Holt RNVR was serving on HMS Velox, a sister ship of Venomous, when he drew the amusing but accurate caricature of Venomous in June 1943 and signed it with his initial CRVH. Cdr Eric E.C. Tufnell RN  was commissioned by Lt Cdr Angus A Mackenzie RNR to paint four of the five ship on which he served: HMS Hood, HMS Venomous, HMS Liddesdale and HMS Undaunted. The exception being HMS Vimiera which sank in the Thames estuary
after detonating a mine with heavy loss of life (Mackenzie was one of fourteen survivors).


The photographs in
A Hard Fought Ship

“The book is copiously illustrated, some from the IWM, but the great majority being “snaps” taken by members of her crew – I always thought that such photographs were forbidden (I dare say they were, but . . . ).  And where did the film come from?  No matter, they add immeasurably to the book and with the participants own words bring back the Navy of 70 years ago.  In fact, I would rate this as being up in the same class as ‘The Cruel Sea’ for a picture of small ship life in World War 2.”
From the review of A Hard Fought Ship by Alastair Wilson Commander RN (retired) in the Naval Review

The taking of photographs was indeed strictly forbidden but the rules were not enforced, at least on Venomous, and the officers were generally the worst offenders. We have about 300 photographs taken on the ship and 170  are in the book. They were taken by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR (1939-41), AB “Freddo” Thomas, the RDF operator (1940-3), Lt Leslie Eaton (1942-3), AB Cyril Hely (1942-3) and others.

Frederick Norman Gwyn Thomas, "Freddo", joined Venomous in August 1940 and is now 90. He had an Ensign box camera and  "had a good friend on board who had exactly the same camera as mine. All the snapshots of me were taken by him." He had his film developed and printed ashore. They were told never to photograph the RDF aerial, guns or torpedo launcher and all photographs were to be shown to an officer and stamped on the reverse. Neither rule was strictly enforced. Freddo remember how on one occasion he left an envelope of photographs with an officer and it was returned unopened.

Since publication many more photographs have been lent for scanning including photographs taken by Cyril Hely, whose wife gave him a camera on his 21st birthday shortly before he joined Venomous,  and George  Wilson, the ASDIC operator on Venomous when HMS Hecla was torpedoed..



CrestTS VENOMOUS, THE SEA CADET CORPS UNIT AT LOUGHBOROUGH

HMS Venomous was broken up for scrap at Charlestown on the Firth of Forth in 1948 but its name has been kept alive by the Sea Cadet Unit in Loughborough, TS Venomous, which received its commissioning pennant that year. Bob Moore, co-author of A Hard Fought Ship, was the CO of TS Venomous from 1990 to 2003.

Tragically, TS Venomous was totally destroyed by fire on the 5 February 2012, exactly 70 years after Loughborough raised the money to adopt HMS Venomous during Warship Week. The ship’s crest (see right) and the bronze plaque presented to Venomous to commemorate her adoption were both destroyed. The cost of rebuilding TS Venomous will be 250,000. Can you help?




Read more about the book and reviews of the book
Follow in the wake of HMS Venomous on this web site
If a member of your family served on HMS Venomous check the list of officers and ratings
 
Buy author signed copies online from the publisher - post free for 16.99


Holywell House
Holywell House Publishing
88 Holywell Hill, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 1DH, Britain
http://holywellhousepublishing.co.uk
Telephone: +44 1727 838595
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