The story of HMS Venomous

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Off to War

26 September 1938 - 2 May 1939

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.


The Farrell Twins: AB John Farrell MDX 2025 and AB Charles Farrell MDX 2026
Courtesy of Alan Farrell

The Telegraphist, Eric Pountney, poses in front of A-Gun.
Courtesy of Erica and Angie Pountney

HMS Venomous on sea trials at Rosyth with the 16th Destroyer Flotilla, August 1939
Courtesy of Erica and Angie Pountney

English Channel theatre of operations, 1939-40
Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Gordon Smith www.naval-history.net

The LNER  passenger ferry SS Archangel at Portsmouth with troops on bow before setting off on a night crossing to France
Courtesy of Erica and Angie Pountney

The LNER  passenger ferry SS Archangel at an unidentified port in northern France after a night crossing from Portsmouth
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Hole in hull following collision with the tug Swarthey on 6 March 1940
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR


  1. “Winston is back” was the signal sent by the Admiralty to its ships and stations in response to the news that Winston Churchill had been selected by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to become the First Lord of the Admiralty on 3 September 1939. HMS Venomous’ return to active service coincided with Churchill’s return.

2. Western served throughout the war as a gunnery officer with several postings at various shore-based facilities. For his service record, refer to http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersW3.html#Western_JGT

3. The Royal Navy had three main manning ports: “Guz” was the Navy's name for Devonport, with “Pompey” for Portsmouth men and “Chats” for Chatham men.

4. Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton (1883-1951) was a British submariner during the First World War and commander-in-chief of the Western Approaches in the latter half of the Second World War, responsible for British participation in the Battle of the Atlantic. See: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersH6.html#Horton_MK

5. Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), p. 592. Horton would command the Western Approaches and Venomous would fall under his exacting leadership.

6. The Historic Naval Ship’s Association website has a copy of the US Navy’s Bureau of Ships Operational Manual for the Main Propulsion Plant for the DD 445 and 692 Classes. In it, there is a concise discussion of the closed feed system. Refer to www.hnsa.org/doc/destroyer/steam/index.htm

7. Capt Donald G.F.W. McIntyre RN (1904-81) wrote the following books on the war at sea: U-boat Killer (London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1956); The Battle of the Atlantic (London: William Clowes and Sons, Ltd., 1961); The Naval War Against Hitler (London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd.,1971). The quotations in this chapter are from his autobiography, U-boat Killer. See also: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html

8. Cdr Daniel Alexander [Wyatt] Rawson Duff RN (1912-2012) was the eldest son of Adm. Sir Arthur Allan Morison Duff (1874-1952) and married Barbara Diana Pound, only daughter of Adm. of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound (1877-1943) in June 1940.

9. Eric Arnold Pountney (1918-73) was the Wireless Telegraphy Operator on HMS Venomous from 1939-43. In addition to his fine photographs he kept copies of many of the signals received during operations at Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk. His daughters, Erica and Angie Pountney, and his son Andrew Pountney helped me tell his story here: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Pountney.html

10. Admiral Darlan commanded all of France’s maritime forces. He was convinced that Nazi Germany would win the war and supported the appointment of Pétain in June 1940 as head of the Vichy government. He was made CiC of French armed forces in North Africa in January 1942 and to the dismay of the Free French made military Chief of French North Africa by Eisenhower after the success of Operation Torch. He was assassinated on 24 December 1942. See: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/military-commanders-of-world-war-two/admiral-darlan/

11. Capt Stephen W. Roskill RN, Naval Policy Between the Wars, Vol. II, The Period of Reluctant Rearmament (Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1976), p. 483.

12. The ship’s Log of HMS Venomous for September 1939 can be seen in the National Archives, ADM 53/110948.

13. Preston, V & W Class Destroyers, p. 59. The appendix contains the organisational breakdown of the destroyer flotillas and individual ships assigned to the Channel Force.

14. The wartime Ship’s Logs of HMS Venomous from August to December 1939 are in the National Archives at Kew (ADM 53/110947, 110949-50 and 110959) but after that date the Ships’ Logs of smaller warships including destroyers were not retained.

15. The Archangel was built in 1910 and had also carried troops to France in World War 1. She was an LNER passenger ferry on the Harwich to Hook of Holland crossing between the wars and in 1939 was requisitioned to take the BEF to France and to bring them back again. She was bombed on 16 May 1941, beached near Aberdeen and abandoned as a total loss. For a general account of the transport of troops to France and their subsequent evacuation see BEF Ships before, at and after Dunkirk by J. de S. Winser (World Ship Society, 1999).

16. After leaving Venomous Duff RN served in HMS Manchester, was torpedoed twice and was imprisoned by the Vichy French in North Africa until the Allied landings. He was Staff Gunnery officer for the naval force at the D Day landings and directed naval gunfire support. He was Gunnery Officer on the carrier HMS Formidable, sent to the Far Eastern theatre to assist the Americans and later carried released POWs back to UK. Cdr Duff was invalided out in the mid-1950s as a result of gunfire-induced deafness. His son, Simon Duff, extracted the details given here from his unpublished memoir: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/DARDuff.html

17. John Edward Home McBeath (1907-82) fell out with his parents whilst in his teens and went to live in Massachusetts, USA, before joining the navy as a 16-year-old cadet in 1923. During his twenty years as Honorary Commodore of the Sea Cadets he gave the McBeath Trophy which is awarded annually to the best Sea Cadet Unit in the country. For further details of his naval career see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html and his obituary in The Times on the 2 April 1982.

18. The photographs taken by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR (1915-2000) on his Leica camera while serving on HMS Venomous from 26 February 1940 to Christmas 1941 make a valuable contribution to this book. His two brothers joined the RAF and were killed. He was an expert player of real tennis and after the war ran the family business, the Manchester brewery Joseph Holt, which is now run by his son, Richard Kershaw who lent his father’s photograph album for scanning. See: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RNVR_officersK.html#Kershaw_P

19. The passengers on MV Domala were mainly lascar seamen who had been serving on German ships before the war. Churchill had to answer a question in the Commons about the failure of the escorting destroyer to provide an adequate defence.

20. For more about this young sailor see: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Compston.html

21. Barnett, Engage the Enemy, p. 103.

22. Ibid, p. 139.

23. For a detailed account of this officer’s life see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Mackenzie.html

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