The story of HMS Venomous

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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 new 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.


Landing Craft, Tanks (LCT) in Falmouth Harbour
Courtesy of Peter Gilson

HMS Venomous after conversion to an Air Target Ship
The upper works were painted white to make her more easily identifiable as an Air Target Ship
Photographed by Lt Cdr Derek Lawson RNVR

The officers for Venomous’ last commission, August 1944.
From left: Lt(E) W.R. Forster RNR, Sub. Lt. T.V. Thorp RNVR, Sub. Lt. Martin RNVR, Sub. Lt. D.W. Caudle RNVR, Lt. Cdr. D. Lawson RNVR, Lt. F.S.H. Greenaway RNR, Mid. W. Beckerman RNVR
The Skipper, Lt. Cdr Derek Lawson RNVR, and his most junior officer, Midshipman Wilfred Beckerman RNVR
Courtesy of Professor Wilfred Beckerman

The Officers on the Bridge at the start of her new Commission
Photographed by the Skipper, Lt Cdr Derek Lawson RNVR

Sub Lt Derek Westworth Caudle RNVR, the Navigating Officer (“Pilot”)

Sub Lt Martin RNVR

Sub Lt Thorp RNVR, the Gunnery Officer (“Guns”)

The “Pilot” and “Mid” - the Gyro Compass (and speaking tubes) are on the left and the magnetic compass on right

Douglas harbour with Venomous berthed alongside bottom right
Trustees of the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Barracuda aircraft being loaded with practice torpedoes by women ground screw at RNAS Ronaldsway
Note the Observer’s “bubble” window beneath the wing
Trustees of the National Museum of the Royal Navy

HMS Venomous as an Air Target Ship in the Irish Sea in 1944
Probably photographed from a Barracuda Torpedo Bomber
Courtesy of Caroline Turner

Barracuda Mk 2 carrying a torpedo with lifting lug in the nose to aid recovery from the sea
Note the bubble windows in the fuselage for the Observer
Photographed from the observer's cockpit of a Barracuda with the port 'Youngman' flap and wing tip visible in foreground
David Hobbs Collection

This cartoon in the style of Jack Broome brightened the pages of the Air Crew Torpedo Manual (1943)
National Archives AIR 10/4680

Venomous in home waters – but still with a job to do

Lt Cdr Derek Lawson RNVR, CO from August 1944 – January 1945
Courtesy of Professor Emeritus Wilfred Beckerman

Lt Cdr A. Guyon Prideaux RNVR, CO from February – May 1945
Copyright reserved

Lt F.N.G. (‘Raffles’) Greenaway RNVR
Courtesy of Jeremy Greenaway

Lt ‘Jimmy’ Blair RNVR replaced “Raffles” as “No 1” in February 1945.
Courtesy of Jimmy Blair

Lt(E) W. R. Forster RNR
Photographed by Percy G Beer, Southport 1943

Lt D. Caudle RNVR
Copyright reserved
Sub Lt Martin RNVR
Courtesy of Emeritus Professor Wilfred Beckerman

CPO William L. Collister   
Served in Venomous from 1940-5
Courtesy of John Collister

Chief ERA Arthur M.R. ‘Wiggy’ Bennett
Courtesy of Leon Bennett

Thomas ‘Yorkie’ Russell, 1st Class Stoker
As a ‘sprog’ at HMS Drake, 1939

The war ended on the 8 May 1945
Courtesy of Caroline Turner

The CO in front of the mast which snapped off and a press cuttings about the near disaster
From the private papers of Lt Cdr Derek Lawson RNVR
Courtesy of Caroline Turner


1. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).

2. Port of Enterprise: the story of Falmouth written and illustrated by E.R. Forestier-Walker (Falmouth: Silley, Cox & Co Ltd, 1947). The superstructure of the Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MACs) was refitted to convert them back to tankers after the war.

3. Lt Frank “Raffles” Greenaway RNVR in a letter to Robert Moore dated 8 February 1990. Warrant Engineer Charles G. Lapthorne RN (1899-1979), commended for the repair of the extractor pump in July 1943 during Operation Husky, remained aboard until replaced by Lt(E) William R. Forster RNR on 16 March 1944.

4. “Taken in Hand (TIH) for defects only”, Flag Officer in Command (FOC) Falmouth to the Admiralty, 23/1104/10/43. Modern usage in the RN, USN and other members of NATO give the day of the month before the time (using the 24 hour clock) followed by month and year.

5. Admiralty signal sent to F.O.C. Falmouth at 16/2115/11/43.

6. F.O.C. Falmouth signal sent to Admiralty at 19/1025/11/43.

7. Admiralty signal sent to F.O.C. Falmouth at 28/1542/10/43.

8. Aircraft torpedo target training, ADM 1/18120.

9. Admiralty signal sent to F.O.C. Plymouth at 30/1831/11/43.

10. F.O.C. Falmouth signal sent to Admiralty at 04/1410/12/43.

11. A four-minute film of the fight to control the fuel depot fire can be seen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IChL89tweM4

12. See the brief account of his life on the publisher’s website, http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html#Durell

13. The detailed account of his life on the publisher’s website is illustrated with his photographs: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Lawson.html

14. Frank Greenaway’s reminiscences were contained in a private letter to Robert Moore on 8 February 1990 after the publication of the first edition.

15. Beckerman’s account is taken from an e-mail to Bill Forster forwarded to Robert Moore in 2005.

16. Frank Greenaway’s letter to Robert Moore dated 8 February 1990. Admiral Sir George F.B. Edward-Collins entered the Navy in 1898 and was 61 when appointed FOIC Falmouth (HMS Forte) in 1944. See http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersE.html#Edward-Collins_GFB

17. The Captain Class frigates were two classes of American design classified as destroyer escorts, leased under the Lend Lease Programme. With war’s end, the surviving members of the 78 frigates were returned to the US Navy.

18. Frank Greenaway’s letter to Robert Moore dated 8 February 1990.

19. Russell’s account of his wartime service in the Nany as a stoker  for the BBC’s WW2 People’s War website has been deleted but the description of his time as a stoker in HMS Venomous can be seen on the publisher's website.

20. For a comprehensive bibliography of the internment camps, visit the Isle of Man Government’s Manx National Heritage website at http://www.gov.im/mnh/heritage/library/bibliographies/internment.xml

21. For further details of the constant fight by FONAS to get more target ships for training the pilots of torpedo bomber aircraft see Torpedo Target Ships (ADM 1/18120).

22. Ivor Ramsden, Director of the Manx Aviation and Military Museum at Ronaldsway Airport, is the best source of information about the wartime history of HMS Urley. See: http://www.maps.org.im/manx-aviation-and-military-museum

23. Robert McCandless describes the strengths and weaknesses of the Barracuda TBR and the training of pilots at RNAS Crail to attack air target ships with practice torpedoes on Reel 7 of a recorded interview at the Imperial War Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80024840

24. Analysis of Aircraft Torpedo Practice (Admiralty Film Unit, June 1944) can be seen at the Imperial War Museum by prior arrangement. The publisher is indebted to Peter Kirk for sharing his knowledge of air target ships and the training of FAA pilots to attack target ships with torpedoes. He is researching this subject for a forthcoming book on Bombing and Gunnery Ranges in the UK, 1925-1955.

25. Professor Beckerman’s account sent by e-mail to Bill Forster and forwarded to Robert Moore.

26. Letter from NAS Donbristle to Flag Officer Naval Air Stations (FONAS) dated 26 February 1945. In: Target vessels for Fleet Air Arm (National Archives, ADM ADM 1/18120).

27. Op. cit. McCandless, 23.

28. The details of the gale are from the Monthly Weather Report of the Meteorological Office 1945 62(1), see http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/k/h/Jan1945.pdf

29. Collister’s account was written in December 2006 not long before his death in August 2007.

30. Ibid.

31. Cocoa was spelled "Ki" and was supplied in blocks which had to be shaved off and put into hot water.

32. Possibly, Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Lumley St George Lyster, Flag Officer Carrier Training at East Haven RNAS, Arbroath. HMS Rockingham had to be abandoned after detonating a mine in the East Coast Barrage 30 miles southeast of Aberdeen on 27 September 1944.

33. Frank Greenaway’s letter to Robert Moore dated 8 February 1990.

34. From the 200 page unpublished memoir of his wartime service in the Royal Navy in the Royal Navy Museum, Portsmouth (Ref. 1997.55
). For more about his life and wartime service see the account on the publisher’s website, http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Prideaux.html

35. I am told by David Hobbs, the naval historian and author who lives in Crail, that there are still people living in Crail who remember the practice torpedoes being brought back to the small fishing harbour. The names of the Torpedo Recovery Vessels (TRV) are listed in Part Six, Trawlers, Whalers and Drifters, of Warships of World War II by H.T. Lenton and J.J. Colledge (Ian Allan, 1973).

36. After a term at Trinity College, Oxford, Miroslav Stanley Lansky enlisted in the Navy, trained at HMS Ganges and was an OD on HMS Norfolk at the Battle of the North Cape when the Scharnhorst was sunk on 26 December 1943. After officer training he joined HMS Cassandra and was torpedoed on 11 December 1944. His story is told on the publisher’s website at http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/MiroslavLansky.html

37. John Pelling, Stoker 1c, D/KX 561726, a cockney from Canning Town on the north bank of the Thames in London’s East End. The 20-year-old son of John and Florence Pelling, he died on Friday 9 March 1945 and is buried at Plaistow in the East London Cemetery.

Continue to Notes for Chapter Sixteen
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