The story of HMS Venomous

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Mediterranean Escort

November 1942 - October 1943

Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward was succeeded by Cdr Maitland-Makgill-Crichhton, 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 Husky. Venomous 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.


Falcon Steward with Max Horton examining evidence of U-boat kill, 10 Feb 1945, at Western Approaches HQ.
Max Horton KCB DSO (centre), Cdr H.W. Falcon-Steward  (left), Captain G.C. Colville OBE, RN (right)
IWM Image Reference A 27253. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Mediterranean operations, 1943
Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Gordon Smith www.naval-history.net

The six CW Candidates left Venomous at Gibraltar to return to Britain for officer training.
Rear row from left: Mike Fenn, Alex Campbell, John Dodd and John Carson
Front from left: Mervyn Mansell and Dixie Dean
Only Mike Fenn failed to be commissioned.
Floating dock at “MEK” naval base just outside Oran

Lt. Tony d’E.T. Sangster RN kept a standing watch with Midshipman Barney
Courtesy of Charles Sangster

Midshipman Stephen Barney takes a swim in the Med
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR

Hot work in the Mediterranean under two Commanding Officers, Cdr David Maitland-Macgill-Crichton RN and Lt Henry D. Durell RN

Cdr David Maitland-Macgill-Crichton RN in dress uniform
Courtesy of Dr Alan Fleischman

Lt H.D. Durell RN
Courtesy of David Durell

Lt Leslie “Slogger” Eaton RNVR on left with Lt Colin Hunter, wearing life jacket.
Note rails round radar dome above left.
Courtesy of Chris Eaton

Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR (left) and “Guns”, WO Arthur N. “Snakehips” Simms RN (right)
Courtesy of Chris Eaton

Midshipman Stephen Barney RNVR
Courtesy of Stephen Barney

A striking double exposure of  Lt. Tony Sangster RN
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR

AB Francis “George” Wilson (JX302272), Asdic operator
Courtesy of Andrew Wilson

Leading Seaman John C Robb JX308182

Announcement of awards for HMS Hecla, signed by Lt. Durrell.   
Posted on ship’s notice board and kept as souvenir by Cyril Hely.

HMS Venomous crossing the stern of HMS Formidable, part of Force H, at high speed.
Photographed from the bridge of Formidable by Lt. P.G. James between 20 – 30 May 1943.
IWM Image Reference A 17080. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

“The entrance to Tripoli harbour blocked by Jerry”, Cyril Hely.
Photographed by Cyril Hely from HMS Venomous

Passing the blockships at the entrance to Tripoli harbour on the 23 May 1943 
Photographed by Lt Christopher R.V. Holt RNVR from HMS Velox

The 8,000 ton Italian liner Tevere was converted to a hospital ship
She was damaged by a mine in February 1941 and scuttled as a blockship at Tripoli in January 1943
Photographed by Lt Leslie Eaton RNVR

HMS Venomous (left) and the Hunt Class destroyer HMS Liddersdale refuelling in Tripoli harbour
Photographed by Lt Christopher R.V. Holt RNVR from HMS Velox

Searchlights directing the fire on German aircraft attacking Bone
Painted by Lt Christopher R.V. Holt RNVR from HMS Velox

Lt Christopher R.V. Holt RNVR
Courtesy of Nicholas Holt

A caricature of HMS “Verminous” presented to its Commanding Officer, Lt H.D.Durell RN
The ‘artist’ was Lt C.R.V. (Christopher Robert Vesey) Holt RNVR (1915-97), who joined HMS Velox on the 20 March 1942.
Courtesy of David Durell

“Ice Cold in Alex”: George Wilson (Asdic operator) on right and his shipmates celebrate their safe arrival in Alexandria
Courtesy of his grandson, Andrew Wilson

AB John Dumville JX324100 joined Venomous at Gib in February and bought this souvenir at Alexandria in June 1943
Courtesy of Richard Dumville

Escorting convoy for landing in Sicily (taken from Venomous), 1943.
Courtesy of F.N.G. Thomas
Gibraltar, October 1943, before Venomous limped home for a refit.
“The battleship, HMS King George V, turned round in Gibraltar Harbour. Submarines Untiring and Unbroken alongside HMS Venomous”, Cyril Hely (the photographer).


1. Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Sailor Boy. To read the entire poem go to: http://home.att.net/~TennysonPoetry/

2. The names of Sergeant L. Knithopper and Marines, E. Buton and K. Finlayson, were added to the Pay and Victualing Ledgers at Gibraltar.

3. Information on Convoy KMS.3G, and the other convoys Venomous escorted, can be found on www.convoyweb.org.uk but the greatly expanded 2015 version of Convoyweb is not available on the Internet and can only be viewed at Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London EC2V 7HH. For details see: https://guildhalllibrarynewsletter.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/convoy-web-an-invaluable-resource-at-guildhall-library/
This honours the memory of one of Britain’s noted experts on the history of the Royal Navy during WW2 – Arnold Hague.  Arnold Hague (1930 - 2006) served in the RN and RNR from 1949 until he retired in 1979 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander but is best known as one of the foremost Naval Historians of the WW2 period.

4. Jimmie Button's widow remarried and moved to Australia. She gave his medal group, service record and other personal papers to a friend with an interest in naval history. The members of the HMS Hecla, HMS Venomous and HMS Marne Association remembered his sacrifice on the 50th anniversary of the sinking of Hecla in 1992 but were unable to trace his family. His story has been uncovered by Bill Forster of Holywell House Publishing and told on the publisher’s website: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/hjmb.html

5. See http://www.mikekemble.com/ww2/walker.html for an account of Walker’s contribution to the defeat of the U-boats in the Atlantic.

6. See http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html#Falcon-Steward

7. David Maitland-Makgill-Crichton (1910-87) spoke twelve languages fluently and could translate forty. He translated during the visit of the Soviet leaders Bulganin and Krushchev, and was an expert witness at the Portland spy case. After resigning from Naval Intelligence in 1964 he made a living as a translator. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph was included in The Daily Telegraph Book of Naval Obituaries edited by David Twiston-Davies (2006).

8. For an insight into the spy capital of Europe see “spies, lies and double agents: Portugal in WW2” http://www.emmashouseinportugal.com/living-in-portugal/spies-lies-and-double-agents-portugal-in-ww2/

9. HMS Argonaut Association Website: www.hmsargonaut.co.uk
Argonaut had been part of a cruiser destroyer group that attempted to intercept an Axis convoy. The group missed the convoy and the Italian submarine Moncenigo torpedoed Argonaut whilst the group was returning to Bone, Algeria. Two torpedoes struck the ship; one blew off part of the ship’s bow, whilst the second blew off the stern. The ship made it to Gibraltar on two of its four propellers.

10. To find out more about the officers who served as CW Candidates in HMS Venomous see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/CW_Candidates.html

11. Refer to Convoy Web at www.convoyweb.org.uk for more information about Convoy TMF.2

12. Admiralty signal 7/1934/2/43 sent to Venomous. Further analysis by the Admiralty reversed the assessment.

13. “Pusser” is a is a corruption of "Purser" (the Supply and Secretariat Branch) and can be applied to more or less anything belonging to the RN, not just consumables such as “Pusser’s rum” (the daily “tot” to which all seamen were entitled) which is blended in exact accordance with Admiralty specification. "The Pusser" is an overarching personification of the Navy's management.

14. Henry Dumaresq Durell (1912-44) joined the Royal Navy in 1937 and served on the battleship HMS Rodney and the destroyer HMS Tartar before being appointed as CO of HMS Venomous. His next appointment was as CO of HMS Isis. He and most of the crew were killed when Isis “dropped its pick [anchor]” (Midshipman Stephen Barney) on a mine off the Normandy beaches on 20 July 1944. There were only twenty survivors out of the ship’s company of 175. There is a memorial to those who died on HMS Isis in Portsmouth cathedral. See Unithistories http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html#Durell

15. Refer to Convoy Web at http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/kmf/index.html for more information about Convoy KMF.13 and the entire KMF series of convoys. These convoys were primarily troop convoys and many of the ships were large passenger liners bound for Algiers with American and British troops.

16. Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991), p. 626.

17. Stephen Roskill, War at Sea, Vol. 2, p. 442.

18. Not to be confused with the far more famous HMS Troutbridge, the setting for the “Navy Lark”, a popular BBC comedy radio series broadcast on the “Light Programme” from 1959-76. See http://navylark.0catch.com/index.html

19. Lt Cdr C.R.V. Holt RNVR (1915-97) was the eldest son of Vice-Admiral Reginald Vesey Holt, and entered the Navy in 1939. He left the Navy as Lt Cdr and returned to his pre-war profession of stockbroker. He was also a talented amateur artist. His diary is in the RN Museum, Portsmouth (Ref. 1991.57/4).

20. According to a long established “custom of the sea” cannibalism was justified to save life but killing the weakest to save life by cannibalism is murder in English Common Law. See the shipwreck of the Mignonette (1884), the case Regina v Dudley (1885) and The Custom of the Sea by Neil Hanson (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999). You can read Jack Bolton’s story of his time in HMS Venomous on the publisher’s website: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Mediterranean_escort.html#Bolton

21. For further details of the “Rome Escape Line” and the manner in which Sub Lt. Roy Elliott RNR met his death see this archived article: http://archive.org/stream/romeescapeline007235mbp/romeescapeline007235mbp_djvu.txt

22. LST and the much smaller Landing Craft, Tank (LCT) and LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) made possible the huge amphibious beach landings which began with Operation Torch and ended with the D-Day landing in Normandy. See http://www.strijdbewijs.nl/landing/landeng1.htm

23. The description of events is based on the ROP of Cdr Scott in HMS Wishart (ADM 199/1035), photographed by the naval researcher Tony Cooper at the National Archives and the first-hand accounts of the officers and men in Venomous. Cdr Scott attached the report of the CO of HMS Beaufort describing the steps taken after the torpedoing of the tanker Oligarch on 1 July.

24. Taken from an undated letter to Bob Moore from Quebec, Canada.

25. For a day by day account of the invasion of Sicily see the account by Peter Chen on his World War II Database: http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=53

26. See http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-MTO-Sicily/USA-MTO-Sicily-9.html

27. Published as a Special Supplement to the London Gazette, 28 April 1950. See http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/LondonGazette/38895.pdf

28. Ibid.

29. From a letter to Bob Moore dated 21 July 1986. For more about HMS Simoom see U-Boat Net and for Frank Hunter’s service record see http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersH7.html#Hunter_TH

30. For an insight into Portugal’s role as an escape route for refugees from France see “safe haven: Portugal in WW2” http://www.emmashouseinportugal.com/living-in-portugal/safe-haven-portugal-in-ww2/

31. C.S. Gibraltar’s signal 15/1422/8/43 sent to C in C Mediterranean Fleet. The Commodore Superintendent, Gibraltar (C.S. Gibraltar) was in charge of the dockyard. Larger yards would have an Admiral Superintendent.

32. C.S. Gibraltar’s signal 10/1225/9/43 sent to C in C Mediterranean Fleet.

33. C.S. Gibraltar’s signal 13/1114/9/43 sent to Admiralty.

34. C.S. Gibraltar’s signal 14/1623/9/43 sent to C in C Mediterranean.

35. C.S. Gibraltar’s signal 01/1134/10/43 sent to F.O.C. Gibraltar.

36. Signal from C in C Mediterranean Fleet to Admiralty sent 11/10/43.

37. The service record of “Digger”, Lt Clarence Askew Byrne DSC, RAN, can be seen here: http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=5399917&S=1&N=4#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=5399917&T=P&S=3

38. Admiralty signal 220341/10/43 sent to F.O.C. Falmouth is further proof Venomous was not converted to a Long Range Escort at Falmouth. Her weapons and sensors had been upgraded at Troon in 1942 but she would soon lose them.

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