The story of HMS Venomous

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Arctic Convoy to Russia
April - May 1942

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 a German aircraft and the stories of survivors of the SS Cape Corso.

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


HMS Venomous with zig-zag camouflage at Seidisfjord, Iceland, prior to start of Convoy PQ.15
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR

Drawing of HMS Ulster Queen by Leonard Thomas, a greaser in the engine room
Courtesy of Leona H. Thomas

HMS Ulster Queen in dazzle camouflage and her outspoken CO, Capt Donal S. McGrath RN, with his Van Dyke beard
Courtesy of Leona H. Thomas (left) and Cathie Clark, daughter of Alex Gray, the photographer (right)

The heavy cruiser USS Wichita, one of the USN warships which provided distant support for Convoy PQ.15
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Arctic Convoy routes (1941-4) with probable route of Convoy PQ.15
Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Gordon Smith www.naval-history.net

With Cdr H.W. Falcon-Steward to Arctic Russia

Cdr Falcon-Steward on bridge
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR

Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR
Courtesy of Chris Eaton

A young Sub Lt RNVR with Cdr H.W. Falcon-Steward RN on left
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR

Able Seaman Cyril Hely, who took many of the photographs in this book, on deck in Iceland
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

Shipmates: Able Seamen Shepherd, Cyril Hely, Hayes (Hargreaves ?) and Hopwood, all of 3 Mess
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

Ratings normally wore dungarees aboard ship.
From left: Yelland, Orwell, Shepherd and Hely, in September 1942
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

Convoy plan showing the position of the escorts in relation to the five columns of five merchant ships 

“A Tribal up North”
Courtesy of Capt Dennis Wyndham Foster RN

The Cape Corso in earlier days
Copyright reserved

SS Cape Corso was torpedoed by a Heinkel He 111 from 1 Sqn 26th Bomber Wing (1/KG 26)
Oblt. Ernst Holtschmit, a pilot with 1/KG 30, supplied the photographs and identified the convoy and target.
Photograph: Archive Rune Rautio

He 111 of I/KG 26 (1st Group, Staff-Sqn) being armed with torpedo on Banak airfield
Photograph: Archive Rune Rautio

HMS Trinidad at the Russian naval base of Polyarny
IWM Image Reference HU 43945. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

HMS Trinidad “dead in the water” after being bombed in the Barents Sea on 15 May 1942
Courtesy of Capt Dennis Wyndham Foster RN

Polyarny, the Russian naval base where Venomous berthed, 1942
Photographed by FNG Thomas

Flying Officer John B. Kendal and the rocket-assisted launch of a Hurricat from a CAM ship at dusk
Copyright reserved
Three photographs taken from the bridge of HMS Venomous while alongside HMS Sandhurst at Londonderry
View of the destroyer depot ship HMS Maidstone with Venomous and two Hunt Class destroyers
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR


1. A signal sent from C in C W.A. to Venomous at 24/0100/4/42. Vice Admiral John C. Tovey RN (1885-1971) known as Jack Tovey was appointed CIC of the Home Fleet in December 1940. For his service career see: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersT2.html

2. Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), p. 693.

3. From the Admiralty foreword to Convoys to North Russia, 1942, extracts from the Despatches of Admiral Sir John C. Tovey RN, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet. Published in the Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, 13 October, 1950.

4. Convoys bound for the Soviet Union in 1942 were designated ‘PQ’ and those returning ‘QP’. (The officer monitoring convoys in the Admiralty was Cdr Philip Quellyn Edwards RN: his initials ‘PQ’ were used for outward convoys and QP - homeward).

5. From the unpublished memoir of Lieutenant Anthony d'Evelyn Trevor Sangster RN (1921-92). For more about this officer see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Lt_Tony_Sangster_RN.html

6. From Capt Donal McGrath’s report to FOIC Belfast on “Experiences with North Russian Convoys” (ADM 199/721). While CO of the escort carrier HMS Tracker in 1943 he was known as “Dangerous Dan” from his habit of entering harbour at full speed. For more about the life of Capt Donal S. McGrath RN (1891-1978) see http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersM3.html#McGrath_DS

7. Dennis Wyndham Foster was born in 1924 and kept a journal from 1939-45 in which he recorded his wartime service in the Royal Navy. The first volume of his unpublished family memoir is based on this Journal. He retired as Captain Dennis W. Foster RN in 1972. To find out more about his life see http://www.vandwdestroyerassociation.org.uk/HMS_Wanderer/index.html

8. From a brief account by Cashman of his time as First Lt in Venomous from March 1942 to October 1943 found amongst Bob Moore’s papers after his death. For more about Cashman see http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersC.html#Cashman_M

9. The Krassin was built at Newcastle in 1917, survived the war and is a museum ship in Saint Petersburg, the only icebreaker maritime museum commemorating the Arctic

10. For a complete list of the merchant ships in Arctic Convoy PQ.15 see http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/pq/index.html?pq.php?convoy=15!~pqmain

11. For more about CAM ships and their pilots see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAM_ship

12. The USN task group would continue to operate with the Home Fleet through August 1942. United States Department of the Navy’s Navy History and Heritage Command website http://www.history.navy.mil

13. For more about these warships which threatened the Arctic convoys from their fortified bases in Norwegian fjords see:
Tirpitz www.kbismarck.com/tirpitz.html
Admiral Hipper www.kbismarck.com/admiral-hipper.html
and Admiral Scheer www.kbismarck.com/admiral-scheer.html

14. Arctic Convoy PQ.15, Report of Proceedings from 26 April 1942, Convoy Commanders’ Reports (ADM 199/721) contains the Reports of Proceedings (RoP) for most of the senior officers including that of Lt Cdr Roger Hill (HMS Ledbury) but not for HMS Venomous and RFA Gray Ranger. It appears that the RoP of Venomous was extracted and filed with that of RFA Gray Ranger and since no reports of any RFA oilers have been traced they are now assumed to have been destroyed.

15. Op. cit, Dennis Foster.

16. Paul Kemp, The Russian Convoys 1941-1945, Arms and Armour Press Ltd., Link House, West River, Poole, Dorset BH15 1LL, 1987, p. 25

17. Lt Derek Lawson RNVR (HMS Beverley) was awarded the DSC for his part in this action. In August 1944 he became the first RNVR Officer to command HMS Venomous. See http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Lawson.html

18. Capt Harry Crombie RN, the Senior Officer of the First Minesweeping Flotilla, Report of Proceedings of Convoy PQ.15 (ADM 199/721).

19. From Poles Apart - Polish Naval Memories of World War by Martin Hazell (South West Maritime History Society, 2012).

20. The reports of Lt Cd C.H Pollock, CO of HMS Seagull, and Cdr S.V. Storheill, CO of HNoMS St Albans on The Sinking of the Polish submarine P551 (ADM 199/721).

21. Op. cit Sangster.

22. CPO William Leslie Collister joined HMS Venomous at Plymouth in June 1940 immediately after the evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk and remained aboard until she was decommissioned in June 1945. He wrote an account of his years on Venomous from which this quotation is taken. Icebergs less than fifteen feet across, known as “bergy bits” and “growlers”, are especially dangerous for ships because they are harder to spot.

23. Robert Trenaman Back (1922-2004) had a distinguished career as a marine artist. His paintings hang in galleries and private collections in the US and in Britain. Unfortunately, no sketches or paintings of HMS Venomous have been traced.You can read about his life and art on the publisher’s website: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/RTBack.html

24. Op. cit Capt Donal Scott McGrath RN

25. Op. cit Capt Harry Crombie RN. It is often claimed that the SS Jutland was still afloat and was sunk later by U-251 (Heinrich Timm) but Harry Crombie (HMS Bramble) states in his report that “it sank very quickly”.

26. Commodore Herbert J. Anchor OBE, RNR (1895-1958) was employed by the Clan Line but served in the Royal Navy in the Great War. He obtained his Master’s ticket in 1920. From March 1942 to April 1945 he was Commodore of Ocean Convoys based at HMS Eaglet, Liverpool. He was Commodore on 14 Ocean convoys and 47 UK and Mediterranean coastal convoys (ADM 199/2103). He was made Commodore of the Clan Line in 1956. CPO John Govey tells his own story at https://www.world-war.co.uk/trinidad_loss2.php

27. Commodore Oliver Lindsay describes his memories of the sinking of SS Botavon in Shipmates, issue 17 of Reardon Smith’s Newsletter, December 2000. See http://reardonsmithships.co.uk/shipmates17.pdf

28. From a letter written in 1993 by Captain K.W. Allen, a seaman on Cape Corso when she sunk to the sister of a crew member who died.

29. For more on Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) and the experience of one of their sailors, refer to www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/90/a2056790.shtml

30. George Waddingham’s letter was downloaded from a thread about the Cape Corso on the 12 O’Clock High Forum. http://forum.12oclockhigh.net/showthread.php?t=6235&highlight=Cape+Corso

31. A typescript copy of Cruickshank’s report can be seen in the Imperial War Museum, Document IWM 5145.

32. Admiral Jack Tovey’s memo to Secretary of the Admiralty on Convoy PQ.15 and the sinking of P551 dated 22 June 1942 (ADM 199/721).

33. Op. cit McGrath. McGrath blamed the loss of these three ships on the decision to position Ulster Queen within the convoy and copied his report to CiC Western Approaches (Admiral Sir Percy Noble) whose letter to CiC Home Fleet (Admiral Sir John Tovey) supporting McGrath's view that A/A ships should be positioned on the flank and and not "boxed in" within the convoy is attached to McGrath's report.

34. See National Archives ADM 199/721 and at http://www.halcyon-class.co.uk/Arctic/pq15.htm

35. His unsigned report is attached to that of Capt H. Crombie RN in ADM 199/721.

36. Op. cit Crombie.

37. The survivors were stranded in Polyarny for some weeks and 39 were killed when the ship taking them home, the minesweeper HMS Niger, strayed into an Allied minefield off Iceland and blew up on 5 July 1942. The gold, payment for allied aid, was salvaged in 1981. The sinking of the Edinburgh, the controversy surrounding the award of the salvage contract and the salvage of the gold is described by Barrie Penrose in Stalin’s Gold, HMS Edinburgh and its treasure (St Albans: Granada, 1982).

38. Sg Lt G. C. Milner RNVR was not the most popular officer in the Wardroom. He was in his early forties and did not take kindly to acting as Cypher Officer and Wardroom Wine Caterer as well as Medical Officer.

39. Through Ice and Fire: a Russian Arctic Convoy Diary 1942 edited by Leona J. Thomas (Fonthill, 2015).

40. From the report of the Master of the Empire Morn, W.L. Cruickshank, in the Imperial War Museum (IWM 1545).

41. See The Forgotten Sacrifice: the Arctic Convoys of World War II by Michael G. Walling (Bloomsbury, 2012), pp. 128-9. See also The Catapult fighters by Alan Payne, Navy Historical Review December, 1975. See http://www.navyhistory.org.au/the-catapult-fighters/

42. The quotation is from a letter written by his CO to his parents. John Bedford Kendal (1920-42) was born in Chepstow, Monmouthshire and attended Ardingly College where he is still remembered. He described his time as a fighter pilot with 66 Squadron in the Battle of Britain in Ten Fighter Boys (1942), reissued by Collins in 2008. For his service in the MSFU see The Hurricats by Ralph Barker (Pelham Books, 1978).
See also http://www.worldnavalships.com/directory/aircrewprofile.php?AircrewID=6899

43. Jack Broome sued David Irving and his publisher for libel for claiming in The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17 (Cassell, 1968) that Broome had deserted the PQ.17 Convoy and was awarded 30,000 in damages (which was never paid). Broome’s own account of the disaster was published as Convoy to Scatter (Kimber, 1972). For further details of his life see http://www.unithistories.com/officers/rn_officersb5.html#Broome_JE

44. See Jock Dempster’s Obituary in The Scotsman on 7 May 2013

45. For the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum and Convoys Remembered see http://www.theracmproject.org/about

Continue to Endnotes for Chapter 12
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