A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
story of HMS Venomous
CW Candidates in HMS Venomous
(Commission and Warrant) candidates were specially selected men from
the lower deck, serving ratings with a minimum of 3 months' sea
experience assessed as having officer potential. The 'Y' scheme
recruited educationally qualified young men whilst still at school who
showed 'officer potential'. Upon call up they completed basic new
entrant training as naval ratings before joining King Alfred. CW and
'Y' scheme Cadet Ratings comprised the majority of the trainees to pass
through HMS King Alfred; they were not afforded the title 'officers under training' until the final two weeks of the 12 week course." Officer Training at HMS King Alfred
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CW Candidates in Venomous, 1940-1
An undated letter from Lt Michael Cashman RNVR who joined HMS Venomous after her refit at Troon on 5 March 1942 as First Lieutenant gave the names of three CW Candidates on Venomous
when Lt Cdr John McBeath was the CO in 1940-1. Since their names do not
appear on the list of crew members in Venomous on the 31 May 1940 they are thought to have joined after
the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk at Harwich in July 1940 or while under repair at Birkenhead after detonating a mine in Liverpool Bay on 30 December 1940.
Sam Brown - not identified as yet.
Thought to be Lt M.S. Cochrane RNVR (who served on the minesweeper HMS
Byms 2204) whose seniority is given in the Naval List as 10.4.42
Almost certainly Lt Cdr James Frederick Bleasdale RNVR (HMS Goldcrest, RNAS Dale, west of Milford Haven), seniority 2.1.42, who was MID on 1 June 1944.
At present nothing further is known about these officers and I
would like to hear from their families or anybody who knows more about
CW Candidates in Venomous, 1942-3
Lt Michael Cashman would have been responsible for the training of the six young CW Candidates who joined Venomous at Londonderry for their three months sea experience as an Ordinary Seamen (OD) in September 1942. The
links from their names alongside the photograph below are to their
entries on the unithistories.com website, a biographical dictionary of
naval officers. More lengthy descriptions of the lives of two of thee
officers are given below.
Michael G Fenn, Able Seaman, JX171482
Failed to be commissioned; returned to ship?
Alexander McRobie Campbell, Ordinary Seaman, JX363135
Sub Lt A.M. Campbell RNVR
John Dodd, Ordinary Seaman, JX338032
Lt John Dodd RNVR
John Carson, Ordinary Seaman, JX363149
Lt John Carson RNVR
Arthur J.M. Mansell, Ordinary Seaman, JX338485
Lt Arthur James 'Mervyn' Mansell DSC, MBE RNVR
Patrick W 'Dixie' Dean, Signalman LD/X4243
Sub Lt P.W. Dean RNVR
Rear row from left: Mike Fenn, Alex Campbell, John Dodd and John Carson
Front from left: Mervyn Mansell and Dixie Dean
Mike Fenn was not commissioned.
Courtesy of Mervyn Mansell
Alexander McRobie Campbell
Alex Campbell was born in the affluent Murchison district of Edinburgh on 10 March
1923, the son of a grocer. He was conscripted on 28 May 1942 and after twlve weeks initial
training at HMS Raleigh, Plymouth was selected as a
Commissioned and Warrant Candidate (C&W Candidate) and sent to
Londonderry to join HMS Venomous for six month seatime as an OD on the lower deck.
initial selection of CW Candidates was based largely on formal
education which in those days usually meant a middle class background.
This indeed was implicit in the scheme, for the original Admiraltry
Fleet Order of Jan 1940 demanded 'Candidates must be of a superior
standard of education in view of the shortness of the course it is
possible to give in wartime.' " Brian Lavery, Hostilities Only, Training the Wartime Royal Navy
Alex was a bit sceptical about this as he had had to leave Boroughmuir
High School at the beginning of the war and did not get a school
leaving qualification. However he probably had enough schooling to tick
the box and may have demonstrated training potential. In fact in 1942
this concept was challenged when a number of young officers wrote to an
trainee fills out a questionnaire which is examined. Men with suitable
qualifications are noted and watched. The snag is that no one who has
not had at least had a secondary school education is even considered,
no matter what brilliance he may show while at the training
establishment, thus many who might make very brilliant officers are
This led to spreading the net wider to include "intelligent men who can
quickly absorb instruction and have the required charactor and
was to have escorted Arctic Convoy PQ.18 to Murmansk but she was forced
to return from Iceland by a severe attack of "condenseritis" which
required the replacement of boiler tubes at Belfast. He was invited by
by fellow CW Candidate, John Carson, to his home for a hot bath and a
You can hear Alex Campbell describe his service in Venomous
in an interview for the Sound Archive at the Imperial War Museum in
October 2009 which can be heard online and less formally at his home in
Edinburgh by Frank Donald in February 2017:
Alex describes life on the lower deck of HMS Venomous
in Atlantic and Mediterranean, 1942-1943: abortion of Arctic convoy to
Russia due to "condenseritis" and visit to home of fiancee of fellow CW
Candidate, John Carson (for a bath) while under repair at Belfast.
Describes sleeping arrangements ("no hook to hang his hammock");
memories of commanding officer, Lt Cdr Falcon-Steward RN ("stern and
non communicative"); details of duties ("A Gun and depth charges") and
of colleagues (two "three badgers disliked each other and always
arguing"); "canteen catering" and "cook of the Mess"; cutlery; cocoa
("Pusser's kye made from solid cocoa"); washing facilities onboard.
REEL 2 Continues: knowledge of
next posting; escort of convoy from Freetown to Gibraltar including
rescue of survivors from HMS Hecla
torpedoed off coast of North Africa, burial of casualties at sea and
dropping of depth charges; air raids during escort duties on North
African coast and at Algiers on Christmas Day, 1942, and anti-aircraft fire;
seasickness. Return of CW Candidates to Britain for officer training.
He was born in Edinburgh, enlisted on 26 May 1942 and joined Venomous as a CW candidate in September after 12 weeks training at HMS Raleigh at Torpoint, Plymouth. After commissioning he mainly served in minesweepers. He was a Sub Lt on the Catherine Class minesweeper HMS Magic
(Lt.Cdr. John Percy Davies, RNR) when she was sunk off Normandy, France
on 6 July 1944 by a German human torpedo (Neger). You can see a short
video on you tube about the use of the Neger human torpedoes to attack allied warships off Normandy in July 1944. Three officers and 43 men were killed when HMS Magic was sunk and a second minesweeper HMS Cato was lost while rescuing survivors. He joined HMS Coquette,
an Algerine class minesweeper, in October 1944 and was promoted to
Lleutenant in November. He served in her until April 1946. He died in
Edinburgh, where his son was a member of the Scottish Parliament,
on 30 December 2020, three months before his 98th birthday. The family are hoping to have a
Celebration of his life on the 6th July – the day he was sunk on HMS Magic - Covid Permitting.
"I joined HMS Venomous in
Londonderry at the beginning of September 1942. Ordinary Seaman.
1120 tons and crew of 180. On 5th September we sailed to join
convoy PQ.18 as an escort bound for Russia. Heavy weather, most of
crew, including me, seasick. This convoy was heavily attacked after it
Venomous developed boiler
trouble which could not be corrected in Iceland, so we returned to
Northern Ireland, Belfast, where the problem was solved. Whilst
repairs were being carried out we re-painted the ship as we were going
to the Mediterranean.
We sailed on 21st October, to the Clyde where we joined Convoy KX.4A,
the ships were carrying U.S. soldiers who were going to invade North
As we approached Gibraltar we were told to go there, refuel and then
meet a convoy coming from Freetown. This consisted of two
ex-cruisers, now depot ships, HMS Hecla and HMS Vindictive. HMS Marne,
a destroyer, joined the convoy on 9th or 10th November. U-boat
action started soon after 22.15 on 11th November. (You will do
doubt have detail of the action and the sinking of Hecla
at 0116 on 12th November, and damage to “Marne’s” stern, so I will not
repeat that). For Action Stations I was in the depth charge
party. We saw a U-boat on surface, so close we could not train
big guns on to it, could only use Oerliken anti aircraft guns and saw
tracer bullets richochet off conning tower as U-boat submerged. Venomous
completed rescue work (17 officers and 476 ratings) at 12.50 p.m. on
12th November and then sailed for Casablanca as we were very low on
fuel. As we were about to enter Casablanca we had a signal not to
go there. Too late, we were so short of fuel. Fortunately U.S. troops
had taken port and town that day. We docked and all the survivors
went aboard US Cruiser Augusta
where they were given U.S. naval rating clothes. They spent the
night on an American Aircraft Carrier. In the meantime, we
cleaned up our ship after all the survivors.
We sailed for Gibraltar with all the survivors aboard – a few were buried at sea.
We eventually reached Gibraltar (Gib) which the sailors liked because
drinks were cheap. We played football on a hard ground on the
Based in Gib, we escorted convoys along the North African coast from Algiers.
The Captain of Venomous
Commodore Falcon-Steward left the ship and was succeeded by Maitland
Makgill-Crighton, DSO, DSC (Champagne Charlie) who was very good at
manoeuvreing the ship, especially when docking.
We escorted convoy KM.55 to Phillipville on 23rd December, spending
Christmas Day at sea, arriving at Phillipville on 27th December.
Returned via Algiers.
Escorted convoys to Mers-El-Kabir, Bone and Phillipville. Escorted damaged HMS Arganout to Gib.
Escorted Rodney, Nelson and Formidable on 12th January 1943, Gib to Mers-El-Kabir returning on 17th February.
Early in February 1943 half a dozen Commission Warrant (CW) Candidates left Gib in minelayer HMS Manxman which took us to Milford Haven, from where we travelled to Portsmouth.
We went to a school (Mowden) in Sussex, which was being used as a
training camp for would be Officers. I was there from 17 - 30
March, 1943. Petty Officers put us through our training. We went
before an Admiralty Selection Board, three of us were selected to go to
Lancing College to undertake Officer training. We were there from
31st March to 12th May, 1943, then went to HMS King Alfred in Hove where we were Commissioned, and were there from 12th to 26th May.
I decided to specialise in Navigation and took several courses
including one at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, in June
1943. Alex Campbell went to Minesweepers but I don’t remember
which branch of the Navy the others went.
As I mentioned to you over the ‘phone, I was in HMS Riou when we escorted Rodney and Sirius
from Gourock to Normandy to arrive on D-Day. Years later I
learned that Alex Campbell, in command of a Minesweeper, swept the
channel through which we travelled to Normandy.
From the time I joined Riou in
December 1943 until I left the ship in August 1945, to be demobbed, I
was Navigating Officer, promoted to Lieutenant and was awarded DSC."
The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship
The third edition was published on 9 May 2017
Holywell House Publishing
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