The story of HMS Venomous

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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 Groupo 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 was installed.


Venomous at full speed (30.5 knots) escorting the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable on her trials in the Clyde, December 1940.
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

HMS Formidable on its sea trials in the Clyde estuary with HMS Venomous
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Royal Navy Command Areas, 1939-42
Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Gordon Smith www.naval-history.net

HMS Beverley, an American “four stacker”, at Londonderry
The skyline of Londonderry with the Guildhall on the far right and the city quays in front is easily recognisable.
Photographed by Lt Derek Lawson RNVR while serving in HMS Beverley

Capt P. Ruck-Keene RN and Cdr Howard-Johnson RN visiting Venomous at Londonderry
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Cdr H. Pitcairn Henderson RN with bren gun brought back from Dunkirk
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

The ship’s Christmas card, 1940
Christmas on the lower deck
Potographed by Eric A. Pountney

Venomous “out of control after hitting a mine on 30 December 1940”.
Note the crow’s nest,  a “large bucket” (AB Harry Haddon), the two black balls flying from her port signal halyard signalling she is under tow and the absence of an RDF aerial from the mast head.

Venomous under tow after hitting a mine at the mouth of the Mersey
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR


1. From The Second World War. Volume II: Their Finest Hour, 1949 (London: Cassell, 1949).

2. Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), pp. 163, 211-12.

3. The most comprehensive account of the supply convoys to Malta between 1940-2 is that made by Arnold Hague (1930-2006) in his books and papers which is documented on naval-history.net: http://www.naval-history.net/xAH-MaltaSupply01.htm

4. C in C WA to NOIC Greenock sent at 1651/12/11/40.

5. Only the Luftwaffe’s four-engine Focke-Wulf Kondor reconnaissance bombers, with a range of over two thousand miles, were able to intercept the Argus force and the few U-boats available concentrated their efforts to the north and westward of Ireland (the Western Approaches).

6. See the Somerville Papers (Ref. GBR/0014/SMVL) in the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, published by the Navy Records Society, vol. 134 (1995) ISBN 1 85928 207 5 and available online to members.

7. On 2 August 1917 Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning successfully landed a Sopwith Pup, on Furious, the first person to land an aircraft on a moving ship. On 7 August he made another successful landing but he was killed on his third attempt when the rotary engine choked.

8. Signal from C in C WA to FOIC Liverpool at 1643/11/11/40.

9. The first aircraft arrived at Takoradi in HMS Argus on 5 September 1940 and took off for Egypt on 19 September. HMS Furious arrived at Takoradi with Hurricanes in November. Staging posts along the 4,000 mile route route provided maintenance and wireless communication. For further details see the Hyperwar history of The Royal Air Force 1939-45; Vol 1: The Fight at Odds - https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-RAF-I/UK-RAF-I-9.html

10. Signal from C in C WA sent to Highlander, Venomous and Ambuscade at 0158/12/12/40.

11. Signal from C in C WA sent to Venomous at 1914/12/12/40.

12. Signal from C in C WA sent to Venomous at 0445/14/12/40.

13. For further details of Western Approaches Command and the forces available to Captain (D) at Londonderry see Organisation of the Royal Navy 1939-1945 by Dr Graham Watson on the Naval History website: http://www.naval-history.net/xGW-RNOrganisation1939-45.htm#24

14. Convoy is to Scatter by Captain Jack Broome RN (William Kimber, 1972). Philip Ruck-Keene (1897-1977) was the Commanding Officer HMS Ferrett, December 1940 – March 1942 and retired as Vice Admiral in 1949. To find out more see: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersR4.html#Ruck-Keene_P
He should not be confused with his younger brother, John Henry Ruck-Keene (1902-67), who was Captain (D) of the Rosyth Escort Force, October 1944 – May 1945.

15. HMS Rockingham was one of the US Navy’s Clemson Class destroyers referenced in Chapter 1.

16. AB William Lodwick, ON D/J 17820 (1895-1940), had been awarded the DSM for his part in the Zeebrugge and Ostend raids on 22-3 April 1918.

17. See Henderson’s report in: Director of Naval Construction, Torpedo and Mine (ADM 267/91).

18. Mackenzie had the misfortune to lose his first command when HMS Vimiera struck a mine in the Thames Estuary on his 37th birthday, 9 January 1942. Mackenzie was one of only thirty-eight survivors. See the website of the V & W Destroyers Association for a description of the disaster and the names of survivors and the men who died. He went on to command HMS Liddesdale and HMS Undaunted. Some years after his death his daughter Sheena Mackenzie arranged for his ashes to be scattered in Bedford Basin (where the Atlantic convoys assembled) near her home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She provided the information about his life on the publisher’s website http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Mackenzie.html

Continue to Notes for Chapter Nine
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