The story of HMS Venomous

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Hold the Narrow Sea
June - September 1940

While HMS Venomous was under repair at her home port of Devonport a 3-inch HA, dual purpose (DP) gun replaced her second set of torpedo tubes giving her some protection against aircraft. Venomous joined the 18th Destroyer Flotilla and was posted to Nore Command at Harwich on the 20 June to "Hold the Narrow Sea" against the expected German invasion.

The Flotilla went on regular night patrols to guard against an attempted invasion and assisted east coast convoys between Rosyth and Southend on Sea within the Nore Command area, the main threat being surprise attacks by fast German e-boats, bombing and mines - dropped by Heinkel He 115 seaplanes. Venomous  took part in Operation Lucid, a plan to destroy the invasion barges being assembled in the Channel ports with "fireships" or, as Churchill put it,  to "singe Mr Hitler's moustache" just as Drake had "singed the King of Spain's beard" in 1588.


HMS Venomous in the Thames estuary on 2 July 1940
The new 12 pounder HA gun which replaced the rear torpedo tubes is clearly visible
 IWM Image Reference HU 67084. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

East Coast Convoy routes in mid 1940
Map graphic Karen Erlinger. Map source Battle of the East Coast (1939-1945) by Julian P Foynes

Venomous with 3-inch HA anti-aircraft gun moored alongside a sister ship in the 18DF at Harwich.
And "liberty men" taking the boat to the Shotley side
Courtesy of Erica Pountney

HMS Worcester, a sister ship of Venomous in the 18th Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich in 1940
Courtesy of Erica Pountney

Heinkel He 115 seaplane
Photograph: Archive Rune Rautio


1. This famous quotation by Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis was made in a letter to the Board of the Admiralty in 1801. He was made the first Earl  St Vincent for his morale boosting victory over the Spanish fleet at the Battle of St Vincent in 1797. See Iron Admirals: Naval Leadership in the Twentieth Century; by Ronald Andidora (Greenwood Press, 2000).

2.  See http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNBR_2pounder_m8.htm. The Gunnery pocket book available online at http://www.hnsa.org/doc/br224/index.htm on the same web site is a valuable resource.

3.  The key texts on the adoption and use of RDF in the Royal Navy are: Radar - the Development of Equipments for the Royal Navy 1935 - 45; edited by F.A. Kingsley (Basingstoke: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1995). ISBN: 0-333-61210-8. The Applications of Radar and Other Electronic Systems in the Royal Navy in World War 2; by F.A. Kingsley (Basingstoke: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1995). ISBN 0-333-62748-2. Radar at Sea - The Royal Navy in World War 2; by Derek Howse (Basingstoke: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1993). ISBN 0-333-58449-X

4. Lt Michael Cashman RNVR mentioned these CW Candidates in a letter to Bob Moore and stated that they joined Venomous while Lt Cdr John McBeath was CO. Jim Bleasdale is probably Lt Cdr J.F. Bleasdale RNVR and Malcom Cochrane may be Lt M.S. Cochrane RNVR but this provisional identification needs confirmation.

5.  Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), p. 163.

6.  Ibid, p. 163.

7.  Ibid, p. 187.

8. See Convoy is to Scatter by Captain Jack Broome (William Kimber, 1972).

9. The light cruiser HMS Cardiff belonged to the Ceres Class. Completed in 1917, Cardiff led the entire German High Seas Fleet in to surrender and internment at Scapa Flow on 21 November 1918. She survived the war and was sold for scrap in 1946. Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906 – 1921, p. 61.

10.  The Bristol Arms was the only pub at Shotley Gate in 1940 and it is still there.

11.  During the war years HMS Ganges trained Hostilities Only (HO) ratings. The buildings formerly occupied by HMS Ganges at Shotley are derelict and although the mast is still standing it is in very bad condition. The HMS Ganges Association keeps the former boy sailors in touch with each other – http://www.hmsgangesassoc.org/cmspage/5/the-association – and there is a Ganges Museum near the Marina staffed by volunteer enthusiasts, http://www.hmsgangesmuseum.org.uk/

12.  The popular holiday island of Sylt had naval bases at Hornum in the south, List in the north and at Rantum, a small village in the middle of the island and was known as Festung Sylt (Fortress Sylt). The main landowner in Rantum became wealthy by selling his sandy infertile land to the military for building huge barrack blocks to accommodate the military. A large artificial lake created by building a dam was found to be too small for seaplanes to take off and land and the main seaplane base was established at Hornum in the south of Sylt. The planes were Heinkel 115 and they were mainly used for aerial mining, parachuting magnetic mines into the Thames estuary and off the east coast.

13.  The first reference to the English Channel as the “narrow sea” was by  Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice but it has been widely used since and Hold the Narrow Sea was the title of a book by naval historian, Peter Smith, on Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945.

14.  C in C Nore signal sent at 12/1755/9/40.

15.  C in C Nore signal sent at 23/2013/9/40.

16.  Operation Lucid is described by Cdr Augustus W.S. Agar VC, DSO, RN in his memoir Footprints in the Sea (1959) and by Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan C. Morgan-Giles DSO (1914-2013) in The Unforgiving Minute (2002). The Admiralty papers on Operation Lucid (including the report to Churchill) are contained in Operations off the Dutch, Belgium and French Coasts in the National Archives (NA ADM 199/ 667).

17.  A cable length varies from country to country but in the Royal Navy equals 200 yards. Degaussing reduces the magnetic signature of a ship so that it can not be detected by a magnetic mine.

Continue to Notes for Chapter Eight
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