The story of HMS Venomous

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War in the Baltic and Trouble at Home

HMS Venomous was built at John Brown's shipyard on the Clyde and at the start of her first Commission on the 17 June 1919 steamed south to take part in the Fleet Review at Southend to celebrate the end of the Great War and was then sent to Scapa Flow to help salvage the scuttled German High Sea Fleet. During her first Commission Venomous helped the Baltic States defend themselves against Russian Bolshevik forces and a renegade German general and quelled social unrest in Britain and political unrest in Ireland.


HMS Hood and HMS Venomous in the fitting-out basin at John Brown’s shipyard on the Clyde

Views of the bow and stern of HMS Venomous fitting-out in John Brown’s shipyard on the Clyde in 1919

Courtesy of  Warships on Clydesite, see http://www.clydesite.co.uk/warships/index.asp

Midshipman Renfrew Gotto RN
Courtesy of Brian Gotto

Mid Hugh M.S. Mundy RN (left) and Gunner (T) Alfred E. Perry RN
Courtesy of Brian Gotto

HMS Venomous with crew members on foc’sle taken shortly after its launch in 1919
Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

HMS Venomous in the destroyer pens at Port Edgar

Courtesy of Brian Gotto

The German High Sea Fleet at anchor in Scapa Flow after its internment with Houton Bay Air Station in foreground

Photograph and drawing by Thomas Kent. Reproduced Courtesy of Orkney Library and Archive

Lt S.B. de Courcy-Ireland RN joined HMS Venomous in September 1920
Courtesy of Don Williams

The Baltic theatre of operations, 1919 - 23

Map graphic Kelly Erlinger. Map source Freeing the Baltic by Geoffrey Bennett

Reval (Tallinn, Estonia) photographed from HMS Venomous by Mid Renfrew Gotto

Courtesy of Brian Gotto

HMS Venomous iced up and lying alongside a sister V & W after returning from patrol

Courtesy of Don Williams

In warmer waters: view of A and B Guns from the bow of HMS Venomous
Courtesy of Don Williams

The memorial in Portsmouth cathedral to those who died in the Baltic campaign of 1918-9

Courtesy of Tim Backhouse of History in Portsmouth

A practice torpedo firing during the Spring Cruise with the Atlantic Fleet, January 1921

Courtesy of Don Williams

The officers and ship’s company of HMS Venomous at Hull in April 1921
FCourtesy of Don Williams

Ron Williams’ shipmates on HMS Venomous
Courtesy of Don Williams

The peacetime Navy encouraged the men to stay fit and active through sport.

Courtesy of Don Williams

Studio portrait of AB Reginald W. Williams
Courtesy of Don Williams


1. Geoffrey Bennett, Freeing the Baltic (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2002), p. 4.

2. In his e-mail, on 8 February 2009, Peter C. Smith wrote that the ship’s name was changed from Venom to Venomous was “…because the name Venom was … too much like Vernon, the Royal Navy’s Mine Base at Portsmouth and it was felt it would lead to confusion if that shore establishment was ordered to proceed to sea!”

3. An excellent summary of the class can be found at the Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V_and_W_class_destroyer

4. Afred Edward Perry (1889-1964) served in battleships throughout the 1930s and spent most of the war years at HMS Defiance, the Torpedo School Ship, Devonport. See:  http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersP1a.html#Perry_AE

5. Brian Gotto gave the publisher a copy of “Renfrew”, the life of his father, self published for the family in 2009 and consent for the use of his father’s photographs in this new edition of A Hard Fought Ship. A copy of “Renfrew” is held by the Imperial War Museum, London.

6. For a description and photographs of the development of Port Edgar as a depot for submarines see: http://www.scotlandswar.ed.ac.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_Port_Edgar.pdf

7. HMS Campbell would have an eventful World War II service. One heroic event pitted the old destroyer against the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen when these ships and their destroyer escorts successfully dashed through the English Channel back to Wilhelmshaven on 12 February 1942. For a synopsis on her career visit Service Histories of Royal Navy Warships in World War 2 at http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-10DD-03Scott-Campbell.htm

8. For an overview of Royal Fleet Reviews see: http://www.royalnavalmuseum.org/info_sheets_fleet_reviews.html

9. Capt Stanley Brian de Courcy-Ireland (1900-2001) was the last surviving naval officer present at both the Battle of Jutland and the historic event at Scapa Flow. The private Papers of S B de Courcy-Ireland (Imperial War Museum Catalogue Number 739 92/4/1) were privately published as A Naval Life (Englang Publishing, 1990). A second edition (2002) includes corrections and additions discovered after de Courcy-Ireland’s death. The first edition of A Hard Fought Ship contained quotations from a handwritten copy of the journal sent to the author, Robert J. Moore, by de Courcy-Ireland in the 1980s. An eleven-reel recorded interview with de Courcy-Ireland about his naval service was made by the Imperial War Museum, London, in 1991 and can be listened to online: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011978
See his obituary (Independent 29 November 2001) at

10. Ibid

11. Ibid

12. SMS stands for Seiner Majestät Schiff, the German equivalent of HMS. Destroyers in the German Imperial Navy were not named but numbered (like U-boats) hence SMS V82. The initial letter signifies the place of construction of the class (and most of its members); V was the AG Vulcan Yard at Hamburg.

13. Renfrew Gotto (1900-82) was a Midshipman on Venomous from June – December 1919 and his 96-page Midshipman’s Journal is in the Imperial War Museum, London (IWM 4312) along with a collection of his photographs (IWM 8303-46). He was awarded two DSO, for the Dunkirk operation to evacuate the troops and for Operation Neptune, the Normandy landings, and retired as a Captain. See: See: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersG3.html#Gotto_R

14. Wikipedia: Gustav Adolf Joachim Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz was the commander of the German Baltische Landeswehr, which contributed to the defeat of Russian Bolsheviks and their local allies in Finland (1918) and Latvia (1919).

15. Count von der Goltz claimed in his memoir,  Meine Sendung in Finnland und im Baltikum (Leipzig: K.F. Koehler, 1920) that his goal had been to launch a campaign in co-operation with the White Russian forces to overturn the Bolshevik regime by marching on St. Petersburg and to install a pro-German government in Russia.

16. The force included four Royal Navy H Class submarines and several support ships, such as destroyer and submarine depot ships, colliers, and supply ships. There was also a significant fleet train that supported the Royal Navy’s Baltic force.

17. Rear Admirall Sir Walter Henry Cowan entered the Royal Navy in 1884 and was a classmate and friend of another future admiral, David Beatty. He was a small man – just 5 feet tall – and was known as Tich Cowan. In 1898 he commanded the Royal Navy’s river gunboat flotilla that supported Lord Kitchener’s expeditionary force against the Khedive of the Sudan. At Khartoum, he received the Distinguished Service Order for his heroism. He was aide-de-camp to both Lord Roberts and Kitchener during the Second Boer War. In the years between the Boer War and the Great War, Cowan was the seagoing assistant to Admiral Roger Keyes who commanded the Royal Navy’s fledgling destroyer command. With Keyes, Cowan developed new tactics for destroyers. During the Battle of Jutland he commanded the Lion Class battle-cruiser HMS Princess Royal. At the end of the war, Cowan, now a flag officer, received orders to the Baltic from the Admiralty.

18. Bennett, Freeing the Baltic, pp.70-71.

19. Ibid, p. 70.

20. The strains on the social fabric of the nation were manifested through a succession of economic and political difficulties that came to the fore with the Armistice. The UK had to switch its large industrial base from war production to supporting a peacetime economy. The largest army and navy in its history had to be demobilised and integrated into an economy that was having considerable difficulty regaining its pre-war markets. There were simply not enough jobs for all the returning service men. National strikes by coalminers and railway workers ensued. Those on board Venomous would experience these unsettled times.

21. Ready For Anything: The Royal Fleet Auxiliary 1905-1950; by Geoff Puddefoot (Seaforth Publishing, 2010)

22. Libau is now Liepãja, Latvia. Its old fortress as well as the large former home of the Soviet Red Banner Baltic Fleet Naval Base can be seen on Google Earth.

23. Bennett, Freeing the Baltic, p.189.

24. As with Venomous, Erebus’ career would take her through the Second World War. The monitor played a critical role by providing devastating gunfire support during the Normandy landings.

25. Bennett, Freeing the Baltic, pp.191-192.

26. To protect his new capital of St Petersburg, the Czar, Peter the Great, founded the naval base and fortress of Kronstadt  in 1704. St Petersburg was renamed Petrograd in 1914 at the start of the Great War.

27. As Christopher McKee wrote in his book Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy 1900-1945 (Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 160, “The lower deck (and officers as well) took Christmas seriously. Messes began stocking up on special foods and preparing puddings days in advance… The youngest boy in the ship put on the captain’s uniform. At the conclusion of the Christmas morning church service, during which he had stood alongside the captain, the boy-commander took over and gave the ship’s orders until ten o’clock ‘lights out’ that night.” Christmas was one of those days in which roles were reversed.

28. All ships were assigned to one of the Royal Navy’s three “home ports”, Chatham on the Medway, Portsmouth on the Solent and Devonport near Plymouth. Ratings were posted to their ship from the naval barracks at her homeport and returned to barracks at the end of a Commission. Their families frequently lived nearby and a visit to the homeport was always welcomed. HMS Venomous was a “Chatham ship” from construction in 1919 to being placed in Reserve in 1930.

29. The names on the memorial can be seen at: www.memorialsinportsmouth.co.uk/churches/cathedral/baltic.htm

30. Edward Hurry (1899-1959) left HMS Venomous in October to spend six months at Pembroke College, under a government programme to send young naval officers to Cambridge. He served on a further three V & W Class destroyers, HMS Wessex, Vansittart and Whitshed, before leaving the Royal Navy in 1926 when they transferred him to Gunnery (he wanted to remain a torpedo officer). He was recalled in 1939 and posted to HMS Rodney at Rosyth and took part in Narvik and the sinking of the Bismarck; he was traumatised by what he saw and after service as Assistant King’s Harbourmaster in New Zealand and on HMS Erebus was invalided out, probably due to stress. See:  http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/officers.html

31. HMS St Cyrus was a member of the Saint Class and together with her sister ocean-going tugs performed rescue duties in addition to her role as a tugboat. St Cyrus was completed in 1919 and was mined off the Humber Estuary on 22 January 1941. See http://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/7347.html

32. Midshipman Robert Rodger, was to become one of the Fleet Air Arm’s “Early Birds,” gaining his wings on the second naval pilots training course conducted by the Royal Navy. Rodger would serve in the aircraft carriers HMS Eagle, Courageous and Glorious. He would also hold command of the gunboat HMS Aphis, serving on the Yangtze River patrol. As a commander, Rodger would serve in the Admiralty during the Second World War. A talented singer, Rodger often mimicked Noel Coward amongst his friends. For his war service, he was awarded the OBE in 1946 and retired to Dorset where he died in 1996 at the age of 95.

33. The Commander of a Flotilla of destroyers was commonly referred to by his rank, Captain D (Destroyers).

34. Queenstown (Cobh) in Cork harbour in the south west of Ireland was a major naval base for the Royal Navy.

35. Robertson apparently longed for more excitement, because he served in submarines during the interwar years and commanded the submarine HMS L 69. He survived the war and retired as a Captain.

36. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, by Lawrence James (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), p.375-80. In the spring of 1920, the British Government under Lloyd George passed the Government of Ireland Act that partitioned Ireland, creating two Irish parliaments, one for the Protestant north and the other for the largely Catholic south, which could collect taxes and enact laws, whilst foreign and defence policies remained in the hands of the British Government. Under its provisions, the Irish would hold general elections the following spring. By that time it was hoped that the British Armed Forces and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) would be able to break the back of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Act was rejected by Sinn Fein and the IRA who supported a united Ireland, totally free from British rule, and by the summer of 1920, the pattern of guerrilla warfare became well entrenched.

37. Reginald Walter Williams was born on 1 August 1900 at Leicester and was a fitter’s apprentice when he joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor on 22 January 1916. After training at HMS Ganges he joined HMS Kent as an OD on 11 January 1917 and was rated AB on 20 March 1919. He left HMS Venomous on 5 February 1923 and paid £36 to buy himself out of the RN on 23 March shortly before he got married. I am indebted to his son, Don Williams, for a scan of his service record and his photographs. See http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Reginald_Williams.html

38. Reynold Meynell Alleyne (1892-1978) retired as a Commander in 1935. Through the war years he served ashore in Egypt, the Isle of Man and finally at HMS President (Accounting Section. For more information on this officer, visit: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/officers.html

39. Lt Cdr Young (1902-96) became a prisoner of war when Japanese forces captured Hong Kong. He survived captivity and retired as a Commander. He took up farming in Cumberland and enjoyed a long retirement at Sedbergh. Robert J Moore corresponded with Rex Young and visited him and his wife at their home in Sedbergh. For details of his service career see: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersY.html#Young_RS

40. The war brought higher wages and the nationalisation of the mines but at the war’s end the economic boom ended and the demand for coal dropped. The government announced that the mines would be returned to private ownership at the end of March, and the owners stated they would drastically cut wages. The miners refused to accept these conditions, which led to a lockout of the miners. The miner’s strike lasted eleven weeks until they were forced to accept wage cuts of up to 40 per cent.

41. Cdr Somerville Peregrine Brownlow Russell RN (1883-1946) was forty when he retired on a navy pension, young enough to make a success of a new career ashore, and was a Freeman of London when he died from a perforated gastric ulcer on 9 November 1946. His only son, Lieutenant Edward P. S. Russell RNVR was drowned (body recovered) trying to save a shipmate from HMS Eskimo on 9 May 1942. See: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/commandingofficers.html#Russell

42. Philip Welby-Everard (1902-85) would continue to serve through World War II. He obtained the rank of Captain after the war. He received his DSC as executive officer of HMS Belfast when his cruiser took part in the destruction of the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst. Welby-Everard received his Order of the British Empire in 1980. See: https://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersW3.html#Welby-Everard_PHE

43. Gunner (T), Frank Arthur Dunn, was 36 years old when he was “dismissed the service for theft” and taken to court; his future must have seemed bleak (see his service record at the NA: ADM 196/156/916).

44. The German town of Memel and its surrounding territory was made a protectorate of the Entente States after the First World War but was taken over by Lithuania in 1923 and renamed Klaipëda in 1924.

45. Douglas-Watson (1896-1941) continued his service through the early years of World War II. He was promoted to acting Commander in 1939. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, he received the DSO for his actions as commanding officer of the minesweeper HMS Pangbourne. He was killed in action when a British merchant ship blew up in the harbour of Piraeus, Greece, on 7 April 1941 after being bombed by the Luftwaffe. For more on this officer, see: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersD4.html#Douglas-Watson_F
46. Sub Lt Richard Moore RN (1902-88) served with the Fleet Air Arm from 1940-45 and retired in 1947 as Cdr. See: http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersM5.html#Moore_R

47. The ship is in commission, but it is not available for immediate operations; the time required could be measured in weeks. The USN would use the expression, “reduced status”.

Continue to Notes for Chapter Three
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