A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
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
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
A last Hurrah!
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.
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
On 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.
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.
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, i
n 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
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
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
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.
War 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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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
, 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
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,
. 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.
Death 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
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.
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.
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.
David Durell was one year old when his father Lt Cdr Henry Dumaresq
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
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
The man in the green beret
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
TS VENOMOUS, THE SEA CADET CORPS UNIT AT LOUGHBOROUGH
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?