Hard Fought Ship, A

The story of HMS Venomous

Author(s): MOORE, R J and RODGAARD, J A
ISBN13/Barcode: 9780955938245

HMS Venomous was a destroyer of the V & W Class, the most advanced in the world when built at the end of World War I and arguably the most successful ever. By the end of World War II they had all been sunk or scrapped but during those thirty years thousands of men served on them as convoy escorts on the East Coast, during the Battle of the Atlantic, on arctic convoys to Russia and in the Mediteranean.

A Hard Fought Ship is the most detailed study yet of the contribution made by a typical “old warrior” of this class to winning World War II. HMS Venomous brought back the troops from Boulogne and Dunkirk, fought off the U-boat that sank HMS Hecla while rescuing 500 survivors and escorted the invasion fleet to Sicily as well as escorting convoys to Nova Scotia, Russia and in the Mediterranean.

The story of HMS Venomous is told by its officers and crew and illustrated with 258 of their unique photographs taken in the heat of the action plus paintings, drawings and maps.

The previous edition was praised by Navy News as "an exemplary ship biography where a detailed narrative of the destroyer's exploits are brought to life by a wealth of first hand accounts" and described by the Naval Review "as being up in the same class as  'The Cruel Sea' for a picture  of small ship life in World War 2." 

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Rear Admiral John Kingwell RN

Foreword to the first edition
Admiral Sir Frank R. Twiss KCB DSC RN

Introduction by the authors
Capt John Rodgaard USN (Ret)
Robert J Moore

A word from the publisher
William A. Forster


Chapter One: 
, 1893 - 1919

Describes how the invention of the torpedo led to the Torpedo Boat and the development of the Torpedo Boat Destroyer (TBD) to protect the capital ships of the world’s navies from this formidable new weapon. Rodgaard compares the evolution of the TBD and the MTBD by the great powers and compares the V & W Class of destroyers with the destroyers of the US Navy, the French Navy, the Italian and the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Chapter Two: 

HMS Venomous was built at John Brown's shipyard on the Clyde and at the start of her first Commission 
on the 17 June 1919 steamed south to take part in the Fleet Review at Southend to celebrate the end of the Great War and was then sent to Scapa Flow to help salvage the scuttled German High Sea Fleet. During her first Commission Venomous helped the Baltic States defend themselves against Russian Bolshevik forces and a renegade German general and quelled social unrest in Britain and political unrest in Ireland.

Chapter Three: 

The chapter describes the changing role of the destroyer after the Great War and the cuts imposed by the “Geddes Axe” and international agreements which limit the size of of the world's navies. Despite this the 1920s are “the heydays of the V & W boats”.  The peacetime routine of the Navy was built around Spring and Autumn cruises, regattas and exercises to keep both ships and men in constant readiness. Extracts from the diary of an anonymous stoker and the journal of a young sub lieutenant on Venomous paint a contrasting picture of life for ratings on the lower deck and officers on the quarterdeck of Venomous in the Mediterranean years.

Chapter Four: 
OFF TO WAR, 26 SEPTEMBER 1938 – 2 MAY 1940

HMS Venomous was laid up at Chatham and Rosyth from 1929 but brought back to operational condition in September 1938 when the Reserve Fleet was mobilised during the Munich crisis. After the declaration of war on the 3 September 1939 Venomous and her sister ships escorted the requisitioned ferries taking the troops of the BEF to France.  In January 1940 Lt Cdr John McBeath succeeded Lt Cdr Donald McLean RN as CO. A collision with a tug in Portsmouth harbour on 5 March led to her spending two months under repair in the dockyard and missing the Norwegian campaign.

Chapter Five: 

The German blitzkrieg of the Low Countries and France began on the 10 May bringing an end to the phoney war. Venomous took part in operations off the Dutch coast, rescuing Jewish men an women escaping from the Netherlands on a Dutch lifeboat and a joint naval and trerritorial army demolition team from Ijmuiden. On the 21 May she evacuated the British community from Calais and the following day she and her sister V & Ws took the Welsh and Irish Guards to defend Boulogne only to evacuate them the next day while being dive bombed by Stuka and under fire from German tanks in the harbour. 

Chapter Six: 
DUNKIRK, 27 MAY – 4 JUNE 1940

The 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 the context of 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. 

Chapter Seven: 
HOLD THE NARROW SEA, June – September 1940

While HMS Venomous was under repair at her home port of Devonport a 3-inch HA, dual purpose (DP) gun replaced her second set of torpedo tubes giving her some protection against aircraft. Venomous joined the 18th Destroyer Flotilla and was posted to Nore Command at Harwich on the 20 June. The Flotilla went on regular night patrols to guard against an attempted invasion and assisted east coast convoys between Rosyth and Southend on Sea within the Nore Command area, the main threat being surprise attacks by fast German e-boats, bombing and mines - dropped by Heinkel He 115 seaplanes. Venomous took part in Operation Lucid, a plan to destroy the invasion barges being assembled in the Channel ports with "fireships" or, as Churchill put it,  to "singe Mr Hitler's moustache" just as Drake had "singed the King of Spain's beard" in 1588.

Chapter Eight    
MINED! November 1940 – February 1941

Venomous left Harwich for Greenock on 31 October to escort the aircraft carrier HMS Argus from the Clyde to Gib on the first leg of a mission to reinforce the air defence of Malta. The Med was an Axis lake and after Venomous left HMS Furious she continued under escort to Takoradi on the Gold Coast where her planes took off on the long flight across Africa to Egypt. Venomous was transferred to Western Appproaches Command and joined the First Escort Group at Londonderry led by Cdr "Jack" Broome RN in HMS Keppel. On Christmas Eve John McBeath was succeeded as CO by Cdr H. Pitcairn Henderson RN and on 30 December enroute to Liverpool she detonated a mine near the mouth of the Mersey and was towed into Cammell Laird's shipyard at Birkenhead where she remained under repair for two months during which the Type 286 RDF (Radar) was installed.

Chapter Nine:
ATLANTIC ESCORT, February – November 1941

Venomous rejoined the First Escort Group at Londonderry and escorted Atlantic convoys to the Mid Ocean Meeting Point (MOMP), handed over the convoys to Canadian escorts and dashed into Havelfjord, Iceland, to refuel. The problems faced in keeping the slow moving merchant ships in orderly columns, the loss of ships to U-Boats, the rescue of survivors and the problem of meeting up with the incoming eastbound convoys are described. On 2 July Cdr Henderson was replaced as CO by Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward RN and a week later Venomous broke down with condensor trouble south of Iceland and had to be towed into Havelfjord by HMS Sabre for repair alongside the destroyer depot ship, HMS Hecla. On 11 November 1941 in poor visibility Venomous collided with the escort leader HMS Keppel and had to be towed to Loch Ewe for emergency repairs before continuing under tow to the Clyde. Falcon-Steward was criticised by the Board of Enquiry for his failure to use his Type 286 RDF. 

Chapter Ten:
REFIT AND RECOMMISSIONING, December 1941 – April 1942

Repairs were completed by 29 December but the Admiralty decided Venomous would receive a major refit and she was in dockyard hands at Troon for four months. Her officers were given new apointments and her ship's company returned to barracks leaving only a care and maintenance party aboard. During the refit Falcon-Steward joined the Western Approaches Tactical Unit conducting courses for escort commanders and his place as CO was filled by Lord Teynham, Cdr Christopher J.H. Roper-Curzon RN. It was thought that Venomous was converted to a Long Range Escort (LRE) able to complete an Atlantic crossing without refueling but we now know she remained a Short Range Escort (SRE) but was given the armament of an LRE including the replacement of A-Gun by the Hedgehog Anti-submarine mortar and the fitting of a one ton depth charge known as "the Brute" in one of her torpedo tubes. She was also given the improved Type 271 RDF in addition to her Type 286 RDF. 

Chapter Eleven

Her refit completed HMS Venomous returned to Londonderry in April as Leader of the 21st Special Escort Group with Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward RN as Group commander and was ordered to Seidisfjord on the east coast of Iceland to escort Arctic Convoy PQ.15 to Murmansk. The escorts for this large Arctic convoy of 45 merchant ships included the CAM Ship Empire Morn and the "flak ship" HMS Ulster Queen (with Cdr Donal Scott McGrath as CO) but they could not prevent the sinking of three ships by German He 111 torpedo bombers of the 26th Bomber Wing at Banak near North Cape on 2 May. Includes aerial photographs taken from one of the German aircraft and the stories of survivors of the SS Cape Corso which sank withing minutes.

After 16 long dreary days at the Russian naval base of Polyarny on the Kola inlet Venomous escorted return convoy QP.12 and saw the rocket boosted launch of Flying Officer John Kenadal's Hurricat from HMS Empire Morn, his successful attack on a German aircraft and his death when he parachuted out too late after 
his plane nose dived into the seaVenomous returned to Derry on 3 June and three weeks later PQ.17 headed north and most of the merchant ships were lost when the escorts were "ordered to scatter".

Chapter Twelve

Venomous spent the next month struggling to keep up with the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth and the Lanstephen Castle carrying troops from North America and after a further spell in dockyard hands on the Clyde to repair leaking boiler tubes was prepared for Operation Pedestal

Venomous was part of the escort for the elderly aircraft carrier HMS Furious carrying Spitfires to reinforce the defence of Malta, Operation Bellows. As 
Furious flew off her planes south east of Majorca U-73 fired four torpedoes at HMS Eagle and the huge aircraft carrier with 1,160 men aboard sunk in about six minutes. With 537 survivors aboard Venomous and Wolverine escorted Furious back to Gibraltar. Wolverine rammed and sunk the Italian submarine Cobalto enroute. The convoy battled its way through to Malta and Venomous escorted Furious towards Malta to fly off more Spitfires, Operation Baritone

Within two weeks of returning to Londonderry Venomous was ordered to Havelfjord to escort Arctic Convoy PQ.18, the first Arctic convoy since the disaster of PQ.17 when most of the merchant ships were lost, but was forced to return to Havelfjord by engine trouble. Venomous 
headed south to Gib with Convoy KX.4A, part of Operation Torch, the invasion of Morocco and the Vichy controlled colonies in North Africa.

Chapter Thirteen
THE LONGEST NIGHT, 11 – 12 November 1942

After two days in Gibraltar Venomous and HMS Marne were ordered to rendezvous with Convoy CF.7 west of the Canary Islands and escort the destroyer depot ships, HMS Hecla and HMS Vindictive to Gibraltar. Capt Hubert G.D. Acland in Vindictive was the senior officer. The recent discovery of the reports of the COs of all four ships make it possible for the first time to apportion blame for the disaster which followed. Falcon-Steward pursued an RDF bearing and Asdic contact of a stalking U-Boat leaving the starboard side of the convoy unprotected. Werner Henke in U-515 evaded Venomous and took advantage of the gap in the screen to launch a successful attack on Hecla despite being sighted by an alert Gunnery Officer on the bridge of Vindictive, dismissed by Acland as being VenomousThe situation became more desperate when  Marne was hit in the stern and Falcon-Steward had to reconcile the conflicting priorities of fighting the U-boat with saving the survivors struggling in the water. The first hand accounts of survivors, the photographs taken by Cyril Hely and Leslie Eaton and the dramatic paintings of the South African war artist Herbert McWilliams make this one of the most exciting chapters in the book. Venomous reached Casablanca with 500 survivors crowding her deck and her tanks empty of fuel.

Chapter Fourteen
MEDITERRANEAN ESCORT, November 1942 – October 1943

Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward was succeeded by Cdr Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, a charismatic multi-lingual officer loved by the men who was soon succeeded by Lt Henry D. Durell, a modest unassuming officer popular in the Wardroom. In May 1943 the Axis forces in north Africa surrendered and Venomous escorted KMS.14X, the first through convoy from Gib to Alex. A case of cannibalism on a German lifesaving raft and their entry to the recently liberated blockaded port of Tripoli in Italian colony of Libya made a deep impression on the ships company. They enjoyed cold beers and bought souvenirs in Alex before escorting the second wave of troops to the landings in Sicily, Operation HuskyVenomous was bombed after the troops landed at Syracuse and many of the gliders carrying parachutists to attack the aifield at Catania north of Augusta were shot down by the merchant ships when they overflew the convoy. Plagued by continuing engine problems Venomous was ordered home and arrived at Falmouth in October.

Chapter Fifteen

ON OTHER DUTIES ASSIGNED, November 1943 – May 1945

The ships Company returned to barracks at Devonport and Venomous was left in the docks of Silley Cox & Partners at Falmouth with a small "care and maintenance party" aboard. Venomous was to be converted into an Air Target Ship for Barracuda torpedo bombers (TBR) based at Douglas in the Isle of Man but priority was given to preparing for the landings on the Normandy beaches and she was on a mud berth for several months. She was still in the front line as Falmouth was subjected to heavy bombing in the run up to D Day. It was not until August that Venomous left Falmouth at the start of her new Commission with a new CO, Lt Cdr Derek Law RNVR and a new Wardroom and ship's company. This chapter describing her humble new role is illustrated with striking new photographs of the ship and the Baraccuda aircraft. In December Venomous was transferred to Rosyth on the FIrth of Forth as a target ship for TBR based at Crail and in January was nearly lost with the entire ship's company when her anchor failed to hold on a lee shore in a hurricane but was saved by the alertness of a young Midshipman and the skill of her CO. Derek Lawson left to take up a legal appointment at the Admiralty in January 1945 and was succeeded as CO by another peacetime lawyer, Lt Cdr A. Guyon Prideaux RNVR.

Chapter Sixteen

The war ended on the 8th May but there were nearly 400,000 troops in "Festung Norwegen" and German naval ships refused to surrender to Norwegian forces.  Venomous was one of eight V & W Class destroyers at Rosyth selected to "liberate" four "ports of entry" on the west coast of Norway (Operation Conan). HMS Valorous and HMS Venomous were sent to Kristiansand South on a fjord off the Skagerrak, the strait between Norway and Denmark. Lt Cdr J.A.J. Dennis in Valorous was the senior officer and Lord Teynham the designated NOIC at Kristiansand. The ships left on 12 May and arrived on the 14th. This chapter describes the warm welcome the ships received on arrival,  the surrender ceremony aboard Valorous on the day they arrived and the surrender of the German U-Boats by their Admiral aboard Venomous the following day. Lt Cdr Dennis described the U-Boats and the high morale of their crews despite heavy losses. Venomous was ordered back to Rosyth on the 17 May as the band was striking up for the procession through the town on Norway's National Day.

Chapter Seventeen

Soon afterwards Venomous made "her last passage to Grangemouth to destore and be finally paid off". Most of the officers transferred to HMS Haverlock to carry on the duties of an air target ship leaving Lt(E) William R. Forster RNR in command of Venomous with a small care and maintenance party. On 9 Jauary 1946 she was paid off for disposal and passed to the BISCO on 4 March 1947 but was not until November 1948 that she was broken up for scrap at Charleston and the name of Venomous became history.


1 Specification and battle honours
Commanding Officers
Crew lists and Service Records
5 Shipboard organisation
6 Life aboard ship
TS Venomous
The V & W Class Destroyers
9 Abbreviations


Primary sources
Secondary sources


Ship index
General index

Additional Information

ISBN13/Barcode 9780955938245
ISBN10 0955938244
Binding Hardback
Date Published 9 May 2017
Frequency No
Report Date N/A
Pages 458
Publisher Holywell House Publishing

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