The story of HMS Venomous

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Atlantic Escort

February - November 1941

Venomous rejoined the First Escort Group at Londonderry and escorted Atlantic convoys to the Mid Ocean Meeting Point (MOMP), handed over the convoys to Canadian escorts and dashed into Havelfjord, Iceland, to refuel. The problems faced in keeping the slow moving merchant ships in orderly columns, the loss of ships to U-Boats, the rescue of survivors and the problem of meeting up with the incoming eastbound convoys are described. On 2 July Cdr Henderson was replaced as CO by Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward RN and a week later Venomous broke down with condensor trouble south of Iceland and had to be towed into Havelfjord by HMS Sabre for repair alongside the destroyer depot ship, HMS Hecla. On 11 November 1941 in poor visibility Venomous collided with the escort leader HMS Keppel and had to be towed to Loch Ewe for emergency repairs before continuing under tow to the Clyde. Falcon-Steward was criticised by the Board of Enquiry for his failure to use his Type 286 RDF.


Atlantic theatre of operations with convoy routes designators
Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Gordon Smith www.naval-history.net

A crowded harbour scene at Londonderry
Note the two Flower Class corvettes with depth charge rails, with the sailing barques and Guildhall in the distance
Photographed by Lt Derek Lawson RNVR

Depth charges exploding astern of Venomous as she attacks a U-boat contact
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Escorting Convoys OB032 and HX115

Atlantic convoy OB302 with Flower Class Corvette, March 1941
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Convoy HX115, note aircraft on deck
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

SS Germanic sinking, 29 March 1941
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

SS Hylton stayed afloat after being torpedoed on 29 March 1941 until sunk by Venomous
Courtesy of Fred Thomas

Cdr H.P. Henderson RN and Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward RN and the officers and men on Venomous escorting Atlantic convoys in 1941

Cdr H.P. Henderson RN, CO from December 1940 to June 1941
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Lt Walter R. Wells, “No. 1” in 1941
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Warrant Officer Parkes RN with ship’s crest
Copyright reserved

Surgeon Lt P.B. Woodyatt RNVR
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Sub Lt Tucker seated on depth charges on quarterdeck
Copyright reserved

Lt “Homer” McPhee, a Canadian officer, on bridge
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
AB “Freddo” Thomas, RDF operator (left), on stern
Courtesy of F.N.G. Thomas

Munro, Yeoman of Signals
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Cdr Hugh Falcon-Steward RN was CO from June – November 1941.
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

From left Warrant Engineer Parkes, Cdr H.P. Henderson, Lt. W.R. Wells, Gunner Thomson with Sub Lt Esson in front, 3 May 1941.
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Gunner Thomson and Lt Walter Wells on the bridge firing at a mine (left) and Maylands on signalling lamp (right)
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

HMS Venomous with Atlantic camouflage and minus “Y” Gun at stern
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

The destroyer depot ship HMS Hecla in Hvalfjord, Iceland, with escorts moored alongside, 1941
Including HMCS Collingwood (K180) and HMCS Baddeck (K147), Canadian Navy Flower Class Corvettes
Photographed by George Male

Venomous going alongside HMS Springbank, an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC), to re-fuel on 6 June 1941
Springbank was torpedoed by U-201 on 27 September 1941 and later scuttled by gunfire.
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Venomous refuelling from HMS Springbank
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

The two CAM launched Fulmar aircraft on Springbank.
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

Two pre-war USN DD Type destroyers with USS Vulcan on right, Hvalfjord
Photographed by Eric A. Pountney, Telegraphist

Gunner Thompson, Mid R.J. Knight, Cdr H.P. Henderson and unknown USN officer 
Photographed by Sub Lt J.C.Tucker

Captain Lohmeyer of U651 watches his crew come ashore at Londonderry.
Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR


1. Nelson, at sea, 20 March 1804. From The defeat of the enemy attack on shipping 1939-1945: a study of policy and operations. Volume1a: text and appendices. Admiralty Historical Section, 1957.

2. HMS Keppel, the destroyer leader, was a member of the Campbell Class and was completed in 1925. Her charismatic CO, Cdr John E. (“Jackie”) Broome DSC RN (1901-85), served in submarines between the wars. He was famed as a wit and cartoonist and made his living as a writer and illustrator after the war.

3. The tankers (“oilers”) of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary were ill-equipped for Replenishment at Sea (RAS) and when refuelling of escorts for trade convoys began in 1942 it was almost entirely done by Convoy Escort Oilers chartered by the Director of Trade Division of the Admiralty (DTD) and equipped for RAS.

4. A table listing the Atlantic and Arctic convoys escorted by HMS Venomous from late 1940 to early 1942 can be seen on the publisher’s website: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/AtlanticConvoys_1940-1.html
Lt. Angus Mackenzie RN, “Number One” to McBeath in 1940, Sub Lt John Tucker RNR who joined Venomous in June 1941 and the RDF operator, Fred Thomas, all insisted that Venomous called in on ports in Canada on a few occasions but as yet no documentary evidence has been found to confirm their claims.

5. See http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/extras/index.html?code.php~exmain (on Convoy Web) and Convoy System 1939-45: its organization, defence and operation by Andrew Haigh (Vanwell Publishing, 2000).

6. John Cameron Tucker (1920-2011) trained at HMS Worcester and was a cadet apprentice with the White Star Line when war broke out. After service on HMS Escort he joined the Ocean Boarding Vessel (OBV) HMS Camita, a former banana boat, blockading ports on the Atlantic coast of France. She was torpedoed by U-97 on 6 May 1941 and the crew took to the boats. Tucker was the Gunnery Officer on HMS Venomous. For details of his subsequent service see: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RNR_officersT.html#Tucker_JC

7. Described by Vice Admiral Peter Gretton in Convoy Escort Commander (London: Cassell, 1964).

8. Ibid.

9. David K. Brown, Atlantic Escorts: Ships, Weapons & Tactics in World War II (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2007), p. 67.

10. Roskill, War at Sea, Vol. 1, p. 452.

11. NOIC L/derry 2050/2/3.41

12. C in C W.A. to NOIC L/derry

13. Lt Peter M. Scott RNVR, the son of the polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, based his scheme on the ideas of Thayer from the First World War. Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and camouflage by Peter Forbes (Yale University Press, 2009). In later years Peter Scott was famous as an ornithogist, author and broadcaster.

14. A detailed account of its capture is given in the obituary for Lt Cdr David Balme (1920-2016) in the Independent on 22 March 2016. See also: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersB.html

15. For more information about HMS Hecla at Hvalfjord see the website of Holywell House Publishing: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/hecla.html

16. During the Second World War KMS (Kriegsmarine Schiff) replaced the SMS (Seiner Majestaet Schiff) used in the German Imperial Navy as the standard designation for surface warships.

17. The drawings by Rear Admiral Hugh Hext Rogers are in the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool. They are not on display but can be seen on their website: https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/rear-admiral-hugh-hext-rogers-convoy-drawings

18. There were five Fighter Catapult Ship:  HMS Springbank, HMS Patia, HMS Ariguani, HMS Maplin and HMS Pegasus. Their planes were flown by Fleet Air Arm pilots. In addition 35 merchant ships were converted to CAM ships (Catapult Armed Merchant) with pilots supplied by the RAF. HMS Springbank was torpedoed and sunk by U-201 on 27 Sep 1941 while escorting Convoy HG.73.

19. HMS Repulse and Suffolk had been sent to protect the convoy from a possible attack from Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

20. Hitler’s U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939 - 1942 by Clay Blair (Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2000), pp. 293-95.

21. In 1942 the Canadian Escort Groups moved to Londonderry where support and training facilities were much better and changed from escorting mid Atlantic convoys to Gibraltar convoys. North Atlantic Run: The Royal Canadian Navy and the Battle for the Convoys by Marc Milner (University of Toronto Press, 1985). The Canadians became quite at home in Derry, see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Pilgrimage.html

22. See http://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol12/tnm_12_3_43-50.pdf for a detailed account of the attacks and counter attacks on HX.133 originally published as The battle for Convoy HX.133, 23-9 June 1941 by David Syrett in The Northern Mariner 2002 12(3) 43-50.

23. The report can be seen at http://www.uboatarchive.net/U-651INT.htm In addition to the names of all crew members, technical details of U-651 and its operations it contains details such as the statement “that the prostitutes of Lorient knew more about past and present plans than many German officers.”

24. Gretton, Convoy Escort Commander, p. 5.

25. On 30 July 1941 Fleet Air Arm planes from HMS Victorious and HMS Furious bombed German merchant ships at Kirkenes and Petsamo (Operation EF), the base for a joint German attack with Finnish support on Murmansk in Arctic Russia. The carriers were escorted by six destroyers. See Admiral Jack Tovey’s report in the Supplement to The London Gazette, 25 May 1948.

26. Able Seaman William Elijah Reece Weeks (1902-41), RFR, D/J 91977, was born at Radstock, Somerset, the son of Henry and Elizabeth Weeks and was the husband of Edith Diana Weeks (nee Smith) of Oxford. He joined the Navy as a boy sailor in 1918 and signed on for 12 years in 1920 and had been an AB on HMS Venomous since she came out of reserve in 1939.

27. HMS Venomous, Convoy ON28, Report of Proceedings. In: 1941 – 42 ON, HX, SC Convoy Reports, Case 8078 War History (Admiralty Record Office) NA Ref. ADM 199/1147.

28. Signal sent from Keppel to C in C WA at 0110A/12/11/41.

29. Signal sent from NOIC Greenock to NOIC Stornoway at 0223A/12/11/41.

30. Signal sent by Keppel to C in C WA at 0330A/12/11/41.

31. Signal sent by Keppel to C in C WA at 1047A/12/11/41.

32. Signal sent by NOIC Greenock to Venomous and Keppel at 1230A/13/11/41.

33. Signal sent by NOIC Greenock to NOIC Aultbea at 1314A/16/11/41.

34. Collision between HMS Keppel and HMS Venomous and Findings of the Board of Enquiry. NA Ref. ADM 1/12015(29).

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Gretton, Convoy Escort Commander, p. 6.

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