A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
The story of HMS Venomous

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CHAPTER TWELVE
Saving Malta: Operation Pedestal

June – November 1942


Venomous spent the next month struggling to keep up with the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth and the Lanstephen Castle carrying troops from North America and after a further spell in dockyard hands on the Clyde to repair leaking boiler tubes was prepared for her part in Operation Pedestal.

Venomous was part of the escort for the elderly aircraft carrier HMS Furious carrying Spitfires to reinforce the defence of Malta, Operation Bellows. As
Furious flew off her planes south east of Majorca U-73 fired four torpedoes at HMS Eagle and the huge aircraft carrier with 1,160 men aboard sunk in about six minutes. With 537 survivors aboard Venomous and Wolverine escorted Furious back to Gibraltar. Wolverine rammed and sunk the Italian submarine Cobalto enroute. The convoy battled its way through to Malta and Venomous escorted Furious towards Malta to fly off more Spitfires, Operation Baritone.

Within two weeks of returning to Londonderry Venomous was ordered to Havelfjord to escort Arctic Convoy PQ.18, the first Arctic convoy since the disaster of PQ.17 but was forced to return to Havelfjord by engine trouble. Venomous joined Convoy KX.4A and headed south to Gibraltar as part of Operation Torch, the invasion of Morocco and the Vichy controlled colonies in North Africa.

Illustrations

Robert Trennan Back, Gunner and artist on Venomous
Courtesy of his daughter Alison Travis

A wartime painting by Robert Back of a Captain Class frigate on the Clyde
The Captain Class frigates were built in the USA and came into service in 1943.
Courtesy of his daughter Alison Travis

“Oiling alongside battleship at sea”, Cyril Hely.
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

Flotilla in line ahead with ships offset.
“In fog marker buoys were trailed to further minimise danger of collision” Stephen Barney.
Courtesy of Chris Eaton

HMS Rodney framed by “B” Gun of Venomous with “Hedgehog” spigot  mortar below
Courtesy of F.N.G. Thomas

Taken during Operation Berserk whilst en route from the Clyde to the Straits of Gibraltar.
Nearest the camera is HMS Eagle, then HMS Indomitable and HMS Victorious and in the background are HMS Furious and HMS Argus.
IWM Image Reference A 11155. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

HMS Furious, the elderly aircraft carrier which Venomous escorted taking Spitfires to Malta
The aircraft were stowed below deck during passage
Photographed by Telegraphist Air Gunner Arthur Eric Jones, Fleet Air Arm, whilst serving on HMS Furious.

HMS Eagle sinking, with merchant ship in foreground; photographed by Cyril Hely.
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

HMS Laforey coming alongside during Operation Pedestal to transfer survivors of HMS Eagle.
Courtesy of Chris Eaton

Eagle survivors being transferred from HMS Laforey
Note multiple Bofors, not fitted on Venomous.
Courtesy of Chris Eaton
 
“Eagle survivors on HMS Venomous;” photographed by Cyril Hely from his action station, the port Oerlikon.
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

HMS Wolverine at Gibraltar after ramming Dagabur
Courtesy of Peter Gratton

The crew of "B" gun loading the 4.7 inch gun on the bow of Venomous
Cyril Hely wrote on reverse "Having a skylark, October 42" and gave their names as Ginger Hargrave, Dolly Gray, Tom Davies (Liverpool), me"
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

Cyril Hely (left) in a mock cutlass fight with a shipmate - note the laughing face at the port hole
“A rack of cutlasses hung in a small fo’c’sle cabin, no bigger than a broom cupboard, under the bridge behind “A” gun ready for use should an attempt be made to board an enemy ship"; AB Sydney Compston, 1940.
Courtesy of Dorothy Hely

Notes

1. Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991), p. 491.

2. HMS Delhi had been sent to America to be refitted as an anti-aircraft gun cruiser. She was unique in having an all-American main gun armament and fire control system. Delhi shipped a powerful anti-aircraft armament of five of the very successful 5-inch 38 calibre dual-purpose guns, 8 x 40-mm Bofor guns and 12 x 20-mm Oerlikon guns.

3. The intelligence provided by the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre was based on information obtained from signals intercepted from German U-boat command radio transmissions, intelligence provided by convoy escorts and patrolling aircraft, as well as from the U-boats themselves. As for the former, the British were able to successfully break the German Enigma codes.

4. Michael W. Cashman, from a brief five-page memoir of his time in HMS Venomous, found in the papers of Robert E. Moore, author and publisher of the first edition of A Hard Fought Ship (1990).

5. Signal from C in C WA to NOIC Londonderry sent at 1227B/28/6/42.

6. Signal from Capt D Greenock to C in C WA sent at 1414B/5/7/42.

7. This story is from an interview with Robert Back, by then a highly respected marine artist, published in the arts journal Prints, March/April 1984.
 
8. Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely.

9. Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani, Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943 (Barnsley: Chatham Publishing, 1998), p. 242.

10. Ibid., p. 231.
 
11. Various accounts give the number of Spitfires carried by Furious as being from 36 to 42.
 
12. Operation Pedestal Order of Battle derived from Peter Smith’s book, Pedestal: The convoy that saved Malta, pp. 251-256.
 
13. The case folder, Reports on Planning of Operation Pedestal (ADM 199/1242), at the National Archives includes the Reports of Proceedings written by Cdr Falcon-Steward RN (HMS Venomous), the commanding officers of the aircraft carriers HMS Eagle, Furious, Victorious and Indomitable, the report by the CO of the rescue tug HMS Jaunty and reports on losses of men and ships. The RoP of Capt L.D. Mackintosh RN, CO of HMS Eagle, was written aboard HMS Venomous on 12 August, the day after Eagle  was torpedoed. A later addition on 14 August acknowledged the help received from the ships involved in the rescue.

14. Smith, Pedestal, p. 64.

15. On 13 December 1943, two US Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean near Oran would sink U-73.

16. Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely, p. 518.

17. Bill Loades was mistaken. HMS Eagle sunk on her port side and he must have scrambled down the starboard side of her hull. His description is from his letter to Bob Moore on 9 November 1988. Later, on Arctic convoys, Bill Loades was drafted to a Russian destroyer and “through my own stupidity ended up in one of Stalin’s slave labour camps for six months.”

18. From Convoy Escort Commander by Peter Gretton, the CO of HMS Wolverine (London: Cassell, 1964).

19. Vice Admiral Lachlan D. Mackintosh RN (1896-1957), 29th Chief of the Clan Mackintosh, retired from the Navy in 1950 when he was Chief British Naval Representative of the Control Commission for Germany at the RN base in Hamburg.

20. From the unpublished memoir of Lieutenant Anthony d'Evelyn Trevor Sangster RN (1921-92).

21. Gretton, Convoy Escort Commander, pp. 89-95. John Tucker described his part in the sinking of Dagabur to Bill Forster in 2009.

22. Gretton, Convoy Escort Commander.

23. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series, edited by J. R. M. Butler, War at Sea 1939-1945, Volume II, The Period of Balance, by S.W. Roskill, London 1956, HMSO, p. 305.

24. Ibid., p. 304.

25. Ibid., p. 305.

26. Ibid., pp. 304-5.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid., p. 307.

29. This disastrous decision by Admiral Sir Dudley Pound was taken at a time when naval intelligence had not been able to provide positive information that Tirpitz and her battle group had sailed. All he had to offer was ‘negative intelligence.’ For more on the role of intelligence and Pound’s decision-making process that led to the order to scatter Convoy PQ.17, refer to Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945 by Patrick Beesly, pp. 124-41.

30. Admiral Commanding Iceland Command’s signal sent to C in C HF at 2109A/11/9/42.

31. Signal sent from HMS Blenheim to Rear Admiral CS 18 at 2127/14/9/42.

32. Signal from C in C WA sent to Rear Admiral (D) HF at 1853A/16/9/42.

33. Signal from C in C HF to Rear Admiral (D) HF sent at 1017/17/9/42.

34. The objective of the night raid on St. Nazaire was to destroy the outer gates of the large dry-dock and associated pump works to prevent the Kriegsmarine from using the facility to support its large ships. Royal Marine commandoes disembarked from several motor launches and destroyed the pump works, whilst the former US Navy ‘Four Pipe’ destroyer, HMS Campbeltown, rammed the gates of the dock. When the explosives stored in the bows finally exploded, they destroyed the gates, flooding the dry-dock.

35. Signal from Venomous to C in C WA sent at 2017A/28/10/42.




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