The story of HMS Venomous

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The Mediterranean Years

1923 - 9

The chapter describes the changing role of the destroyer after the Great War and the cuts imposed by the “Geddes Axe” and international agreements which limit the size of of the world's navies. Despite this the 1920s are “the heydays of the V & W boats”.  The peacetime routine of the Navy was built around Spring and Autumn cruises, regattas and exercises to keep both ships and men in constant readiness. Extracts from the diary of an anonymous stoker and the journal of a young sub lieutenant on Venomous paint a contrasting picture of life for ratings on the lower deck and officers on the quarterdeck of Venomous in the Mediterranean years.


Mehmed VI (1861-1926), the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, arriving at Malta in November 1922
Courtesy of Frank Donald

Sub Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN dozing in a deck chair on the quarterdeck while the ‘Chief’, Lt L. Sims RN, reads
Courtesy of  Frank Donald

A studio photograph of Sub Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN in frock coat with sword
Courtesy of Frank Donald

Eastern Mediterranean theatre of operations, 1923-9.
Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Gordon Smith www.naval-history.net

HMS Venomous moored in Vittoriosa Creek on the opposite side of the Grand Harbour from Valletta
Vittoriosa was the centre of the Admiralty's operations in Malta and the Mediterranean.
Courtesy of Ralph Ayre

In 1924 the Army won the annual polo match against the Navy by 2 goals to 1.
Courtesy of Timothy McQuoid-Mason

The British-born Queen of Romania presented the Cup to the Army.
From left standing: Lt Cdr Donal Scott McGrath RN, Major Burney Gordon Highlanders, Lt Warburton-Lee RN and Major Ryan, RGA
Seated from left: Major Mellard, RAVC, Capt. the Hon. Barry Bingham VC, RN, the Queen of Romania, Col White RE and Lt Thompson RN
Courtesy of Timothy McQuoid-Mason

HMS Venomous in the 1920s
Photographed by Wright and Logan, Portsmouth. Courtesy of former Able Seaman Sydney Compston.

HMS Venomous in dry dock at Valletta in October 1925
Courtesy of Timothy McQuoid-Mason

The Wardroom of HMS Venomous at Chatham after the refit in 1926 wearing the long frock coats and rounded collars typical of the period
From left: Chief (Lt L. Sims RN), Captain (Lt Cdr L.F.N. Ommanney RN), Lt E.P.H. Pinckney RN and Gunner (T) Mr Corby
Courtesy of Frank Donald

HMS Venomous moored in Sliema Creek, Malta, with canvas awnings fore and aft and decked overall in flags
Courtesy of Frank Donald

HMS Venomous with pendant number D75 believed to have been taken in the Mediterranean in the 1920s
From the W.R. Crick Collection at the IWM. IWM Image Reference Q 58556. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

HMS Caledon after her collision with SS Antares with diver going down to inspect the damage
Courtesy of Frank Donald


1. Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) was twice Prime Minister of Britain, once as leader of the first Labour Government in 1924, which lasted less than a year, and again from 1929-35 as head of the National Government formed by a splinter group of the Labour Party with the Conservatives. This quotation is taken from Christopher M. Bell, The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy between the Wars (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2000), p. xv

2. The V & W destroyers were grouped into six flotillas. In addition to the Fourth Flotilla, they were the First, Second, Third and the Fifth, a total of 45 ships in all, with the Ninth Flotilla of ten ships laid up in reserve at Rosyth. V & W Class Destroyers, 1917-1945; by Anthony Preston (London: MacDonald, 1971), p. 36.

3. Capt Wayne Hughes USN (Ret.) Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986) p. 76.

4. The decision to carry the modified British Army 4.7-inch field gun on these ships proved to be the correct one.

5. Preston, V & W Class Destroyers 1917-1945, p. 35.

6. I am obliged to Frank Donald for calculating these figures for me using data from H. M. Le Fleming, published in Warships of World War 1 (Ian Allan) and the German Naval Order of 24 October 1918 for the number of destroyers in the Grand Fleet. See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_order_of_24_October_1918

7. Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes (1875 –1937), a businessman with a background in railways, was brought into government by Lloyd George to increase production of artillery shells, and then reorganised their transport by rail from ports in France to the front, was put in charge of British shipbuilding and narrowed the gap between production of merchant ships and tonnage sunk and in July 1917 was made First Sea Lord. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Campbell_Geddes

8. Stephen W. Roskill, Naval Policy Between the Wars, Vol. 1: The Period of Anglo-American Antagonism, 1919-1929 (New York: Walker, 1968).

9. Christopher M. Bell The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy between the Wars (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000) p. 14.

10. The Washington Naval Treaty prevented an immediate post war naval arms race between the UK and the US. It also placed limits on the number of capital ships and aircraft carriers Japan, France and Italy could build and maintain. One consequence of this treaty was to reduce the number of cruisers and destroyers needed to support the smaller battle fleets. The reduction in the number of cruisers and destroyers would come to haunt the Royal Navy when it went to war in 1939.

11. The five diaries kept by an unknown stoker between 1923 and 1928 are in the collection of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), Portsmouth. Robert Moore died before he could identify the stoker who records the five years he spent in the Mediterranean on Venomous, and her sister ships HMS Wanderer and HMS Woolston, in his diaries (NMRN Portsmouth, Manuscripts 2002.71).
Diary 1: HMS Wanderer (24 Dec 1923 – 31 Dec 1924)
Diary 2: HMS Wanderer and HMS Woolston (1 Jan – 31 Dec 1925)
Diary 3: HMS Venomous (1 May 1926 – 31 Dec 1926)
Diary 4: HMS Venomous (1 Jan – 30 Nov 1927)
Diary 5: HMS Venomous (1 Dec 1927 – 12 July 1928)

The catalogue of the NMRN has not been searchable online for several years and "If you are looking to make a research appointment the Museum requires a minimum of two weeks' notice in advance of an intended visit".

12. This entry from the stoker’s Diary is dated 3 Oct 1926.

13. I am indebted to Frank Donald, the son of Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN, for this description of life aboard Venomous in the 1920s and for the extracts from his father’s journal which follow. Frank Donald also served in the Royal Navy and retired in March 1990 as Lt Cdr Frank Donald RN, the same rank as his father when he was killed on the bridge of HMS Vimy, his first command, at Boulogne on 23 May 1940. For more about the life of Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN see these linked pages on the website of the publisher.

14. The Edsall was comparable to the Wickes Class described in Chapter 1. The Edsall transferred to the US Pacific Fleet and was sunk after a heroic action against superior Japanese naval forces during the Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942.

15. The Swan was Venomous’ sister ship HMS Wild Swan.

16. The Valiant was a Queen Elizabeth Class battleship that fought at Jutland and survived World War Two.

17. Gardner retired at his own request in 1929 but rejoined the service in 1939 and was on the staff of Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay RN during the evacuation from Dunkirk and was MID. See: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersG.html#Gardner_LG

18. Widely known as “Marie of Romania”, Marie Alexandra Victoria (1875-1938) was the popular British-born wife of King Ferdinand and mother of King Carol II (1893-1953), the last King of Romania. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_of_Romania

19. HMS Bryony was completed in 1917. She and her sister ships looked very much like innocent merchant ships but had an array of concealed weapons that could be rapidly brought to bear against any German U-boat that surfaced, thinking it could dispatch such a ship with its gunnery, thus saving its torpedoes.

20. Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty was commander of the Grand Fleet’s Battle Cruiser force during the Battle of Jutland and on 27 September 1916 he assumed command of the Grand Fleet from Admiral Sir John Jellicoe.

21. For a full account of this accident which led to the establishment of the charity Veterans Aid, see: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/malta1924.html

22. “Flimsies” were the carbon copies of reports to the Admiralty on the ability and performance of an officer and were written when an officer left ship to take up another post.

23. Chapter 12. For more about the life of Lt Cdr Donal Scott McGrath RN and his service in World War II see http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html#McGrath

24. Ommanney served throughout the war years and after the war became the King’s Harbour Master at Chatham. http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersO.html#Ommanney_LFN By a curious quirk of fate he passed away on 22 February 1963, the same date as his brother, Cdr P.G.N. Ommanney RN.

25. HMS Cornflower continued her service through the mid-1920s but was then sold off to a commercial enterprise. The sloop was brought back into naval service during the war and was bombed and sunk by Japanese aircraft on 19 December 1941 during the fall of Singapore. Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906-1921, p. 95.

26. Suzanne Miers, Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem (Walnut Creek, Cal.: Alta Mira Press, 2003) p. 93.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. It is important to recognise that at this time the Royal Navy was developing and perfecting the aircraft carrier flight operations at sea that have become standard operational procedures for all of today’s navies. In this context, Venomous’ role as a plane guard does not seem so mundane and could be dangerous as the destroyer had to keep out of the carrier's way at all times.

30. “The 1926 general strike lasted 9 days, from 4 May 1926 to 13 May 1926. It was called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in an unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for 800,000 locked-out coal miners. Some 1.7 million workers went out, especially in transport and heavy industry. The government was prepared and enlisted middle class volunteers to maintain essential services. There was little violence and the TUC gave up in defeat” (Wikipedia).

31. Rushbrooke would go on to command another V & W, HMS Versatile. Rushbrooke would command the aircraft carriers HMS Argus and HMS Eagle during the next war. He obtained flag rank and became Director of Naval Intelligence between 1942 and 1946 and retired as a vice admiral in 1948. For more about Rushbrooke’s career go to http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html#Rushbrooke

32. Henry Roland Sprosson (1902-77), joined the Navy as a boy sailor, signed on for 12 years in 1920. He joined HMS Afridi in April 1938 and survived her sinking by bombing during the evacuation of troops from Namsos, Norway, on 2 May 1940, was posted to HMS Corbrae, a Mine Destructor Vessel (MDV) in June and commissioned as a Warrant Engineer in 1943. See ADM 188/1075/28743 and ADM 188/1075/28743.

33. The life and naval service of this young officer is described in detail by his son, Frank Donald, on three linked pages commencing here: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/CGWDonald.html

34. Chatwin would command another V and W destroyer, HMS Verity, prior to the war. He would go on to command other destroyers. See http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersC1a.html#Chatwin_CAN

35. Viscount Jocelyn commanded HMS Achates, HMS Panther and HMS Quality during World War II and was MID three times. He succeeded to his father’s title as 9th Earl of Roden in 1956 while still serving in the Navy. See: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersJ.html#Jocelyn_RW

36. The only clues to his identity are the date of his marriage recorded in his Diary as 16 December 1919, the address of a Miss Lucy Nichols, a maid in Park House, Barrowby, Lincolnshire who was only 12 in 1919 and the address of a Mrs Clive at the Anchor Inn, Lowestoft. One can assume some relationship with either or both and it is hoped that he will eventually be identified, perhaps by a reader of this book.

Continue to Notes for Chapter Four
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