The story of HMS Venomous

OfficersRatingsV & W Class destroyersWhat's NewBuy the BookLinksHome

What happened to the  Zeemanshoop?

After the passengers and crew of the Zeemanshoop had transferred to HMS Venomous it was photographed being towed by the Amsterdam harbour tug Atjeh towards the English coast.
AB Harold Knapton was given the  job of taking the Zeemanshoop to Ramsgate:

"I was put in charge of the lifeboat and another AB and Stoker were sent to join me in the boat. The Captain called me from the bridge and asked me if I knew where Ramsgate was. I pointed in the general direction of England and said “Yes Sir”. The Captain then said “take her there and rejoin the ship at Dover the following day”.

We arrived at Margate where we had a bit of trouble with identification as we were still flying the Dutch flag. We were then re-directed down the coast to Ramsgate. Again, we took a little time convincing the shore personnel that we were English – not German. As they had us covered with Lewis guns and rifles we were uncomfortable for a while and if our answers to their challenge had not carried credibility we were convinced they would open fire. However, we were well looked after and rejoined our ship the following day.”

Atjeh towing Zeemanshoop to Ramsgate
Their  passengers have been transferred to HMS Venomous and the tug Atjeh is towing the Zeemanshoop with its temporary crew to Ramsgate
Photographed from the paddle steamer mine sweeper, HMS Sandown, a former Southern Railway's ferry on the Portsmouth to Ryde service

From: De Nederland in de Tweede Wereldoorlog; by J.W. de Roever (1951)

The  lifeboat crew at Scheveningen did not know whether the Zeemanshoop had reached England or been lost at sea, sunk by a German warship or aircraft.

The first indication that it had reached England safely was the receipt by the Royal Dutch Lifeboat Association,
the KNRM (Koninklijke Nederlandse Redding Maatschappij) of a donation of 25 guilders from the father of one of the passengers for the aid given to his son.  Confirmation came when H. Th. de Booy, the Secretary of the KNRM received a telegram via the Red Cross from his brother, First Lt A. de Booy, the Dutch Liaison Officer at the Admiralty in London that "Brother of Dorus, Arthur and Hilda is here and making himself useful". Dorus, Arthur and Hilda were the names of Dutch lifeboats so the meaning was perfectly clear. What de Booy could not have known was that one of the student crew members, Sub Lt Karel Kahmen, by now an officer in the Royal Dutch Navy, was working for his brother at the Admiralty.

A voyage from Ramsgate to Falmouth - and Dunkirk?

AB Harold Knapton and his crew left the Zeemanshoop at Ramsgate on the 16 May to rejoin HMS Venomous at Dover.
By the 23 May German forces had reached the coast at the mouth of the Somme, encircling the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and cutting them off from French forces. The only way the BEF could escape was by sea. The evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk began on the 26 May and continued until the early hours of the 4 June. It was directed by Vice-Admiral Ramsey from his headquarters in Dover Castle and the lifeboats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) played a significant part.

The Royal Netherlands Navy had succeeded in bringing most of their ships to England and laid claim to the Dutch lifeboat.
On the 25 May Ltz. I Dirk van Beusekom KMR OV on SS Westernland at Falmouth was ordered to take three young midshipmen to Ramsgate and bring the Zeemanshoop to Falmouth. He welcomed this break in routine and described the voyage in his journal. They travelled overnight by train to London and arrived at Ramsgate on the 27 May and reported to the NOIC (Naval Officer in Command) before spending the night at the Castle Hotel. The problem with the diesel engine's ignition system was repaired on the 28th and at 4 am the following morning, Wednesday the 29 May, they left Ramsgate for Newhaven, 75 miles to the south west.

Ltz. 1 Dirk van Beusekom made only one passing reference to Dunkirk in the 4,500 word account of of the eight day voyage along the coast from Ramsgate to Falmouth but must have known that the largest evacuation in history of troops from an enemy shore was taking place. Vice Admiral Ramsey was  directing Operation Dynamo from Dover Castle and as they passed through the swept channel at
Dover, fifteen miles along the coast from Ramsgate, he noted the large number of ships and British aircraft flying overhead. They reached Newhaven at 16.00 but were refused permission to enter the harbour and spent a sleepless night in bad weather. They finally entered the harbour the following afternoon and Ltz Beusekom went ashore to complain indignantly to the senior officer at the treatment they had received.

By now the port of Dunkirk was impossible to enter; the troops could only be taken aboard ships moored alongside the North Mole, a wooden breakwater, or by small boats from the beaches to the north. At 1.15pm that Thursday while Zeemanshoop and its crew were at Newhaven the Ministry of Shipping phoned the RNLI and asked them to send as many of its life-boats as possible to Dover:

"As soon as the Institution received that call it telephoned to its eighteen stations from Gorleston in Norfolk, 110 miles north of Dover, to Shoreham Harbour, in Sussex, 80 miles to the west. Each station was asked to send its life-boat to Dover at once for special duty under the Admiralty. She was to take a full crew, full fuel tanks, and a grass warp for towing."

The NOIC Ramsgate had already asked the Ramsgate lifeboat, Prudential (built in 1925, the same year as the Zeemanshoop) to help. She left Ramsgate at 2.20 pm on Thursday - the day after the Zeemanshoop - with Coxswain Howard Primrose Knight in command of a crew of eight. "She took in tow eight boats, most of them wherries, manned by eighteen naval men, and when she reached Dunkirk her part was to tow the wherries between the beaches and the waiting ships." During three sleepless days and nights she brought 2,800 men from the Dunkirk beaches to the ships waiting offshore.

The role of the RNLI lifeboats  in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk is described in Storm on the Waters: The Story of the Life-boat Service in the War of 1939-1945, by Charles Vince (Hodder and Staughton, 1946) but can also be read on the WW2Talk Forum.

The Dover flotilla of minesweepers, the two requisitioned Southern Railways ferries which Venomous was escorting when the Zeemanshoop was spotted on the 15 May, also played their part in the Dunkirk evacuation:

 "The senior ship of the flotilla, the Sandown (Commander K.M. Greig, R.N.) had a dachshund who became known as 'Bombproof Bella'. The ship was bombed repeatedly on every passage, but was never hit, and the ratings ascribed her preservation to their mascot."  His Majesty's Minesweepers (HMSO, 1943).

The crew of the Zeemanshoop booked into a hotel to catch up on their lost sleep and left Newhaven for Portsmouth at 6 am on Friday 31 May. Shortly after midnight that morning HMS Venomous made its first trip to Dunkirk and finding it almost impossible to take men off the beaches (there were too few small boats) was ordered to berth alongside the North Mole.

Zeemanshoop spent two nights at Portsmouth before continuing to Falmouth vis Weymouth and Dartmouth (where Ltz Beusekon was taken round the Naval College by its commanding officer). Venomous returned from its fifth and final trip to Dunkik in the early hours of the 4 June with 1,100 French troops and on the 5 June the Zeemanshoop arrived at Falmouth.

It was disappointing to discover that the Zeemanshoop took no part in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk as claimed by Loet Velmans in his book, Return to the River Kwai. Ltz Derk van Beusekom, a career officer in the RNN, carried out his orders to the letter but whoever gave those orders showed a distinct lack of imagination. Dunkirk was a defeat for Britain but today the story of how the small boats helped the Royal Navy bring the troops back from the beaches is remembered with almost as much pride as the Battle of Britain. Karel Dahmen, the only surviving member of the student crew, commented "I wish our crew had stayed with the Zeemanshoop in Ramsgate. We would have gone to Dunkirk with the Ramsgate lifeboat.”

The Zeemanshoop at Holyhead

Several of the smaller ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine) which escaped to England were based at Holyhead in Anglesey which became the Headquarters of the Militarised  Dutch trawlers, Western Approaches and the training base for the Sailors and Marines serving in the Irish Sea. First to arrive was the Stuyvesant, a liner which served as an accommodation vessel. The minelayer, Medusa, acted as a guardship for the liner and for the depot ship, Oranje Nassau, which replaced it in August 1941.

The Zeemanshoop is thought to have arrived in August 1940 and
was used as a communications launch with Minesweeping Group 67, three minesweeping trawlers. During its service there it was known as the 'T bug' because of the 2 Cylinder sound it made in the inner harbour: 'T bug, T bug, T bug' ... It transported sailors and marines to the various Dutch Naval vessels in the Outer Harbour and was photographed below alongside the Mackenzie Pier embarking marines with LTZ Dirk van Beuskekom at the wheel. In 1944 the Zeemanshoop was moved to Harwich on the east coast, another long coastal voyage for the small Dutch lifeboat.

Zeemanshoop at HolyheadZeemanshoop at Holyhead
Left:  The Zeemanshoop at Mackenzie Pier with Dutch marines boarding
Right: The Mackenzie Pier today and in the background Holyhead Breakwater

Courtesy of Graham van der Weet and Holyhead Maritime Museum

Some of the men who served there married local girls and remained there with their families after the war. One of these, Graham van Weert, is writing a book on the Dutch Navy at Holyhead and has supplied the photographs and most of the information given here. The Holyhead Museum is in one of the oldest lifeboat stations in Wales and has a permanent exhibition about the wartime presence of the Koninklijke Marine in Holyhead in a former air raid shelter near a cafe where the hundred or more Dutch Marines based at Anglesey used to meet.

At the end of July 1945 the Zeemanshoop was towed by a Dutch mine sweeper to Ijmuiden to be used as a communications vessel for the mine sweepers operating off Terschelling. The diesel engine was in such bad condition that the mechanics working on it renamed the Seaman's Hope the "Seaman's Despair". It was was towed to the 'millioenenhoek' of the Rijkswerf at Willemsoord to await scrapping. The Dutch Navy came up trumps and gave instructions that it was to be restored to its original condition and returned to the KNRM.

Where is the Zeemanshoop now?

The Zeemanshoop was built in 1925 and Wybe van der Wal has charted its history on his web site about the lifeboats of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Redding Maatschappij (KNRM) which includes a large number of historic photographs of the Zeemanshoop. It remained in service as a lifeboat until 1976 and then, instead of being scrapped, was converted into a private motor launch. It was bought in 2014 by Jaap Boersma, a lifeboat enthusiast and friend of the previous owner. He lives on the island of Ameland and restored the Zeemanshoop to its condition in 1940 and brought her to Scheveningen on the 14 May 2015, the 75th anniversary of the voyage. The families of the men and women who escaped on the Zeemanshoop on the day the Netherlands surrendered met at Scheveningen on the 14 May 2015 to commemorate the voyage.

Zeemanshoop on its return to Holland in 1945The Dutch lifeboat Zeemanshoop
Zeemanshoop Dutch lifeboat

Top: The Zeemanhoop when it returned to Holland (top left) and back in service (right)
Bottom: The Zeemanshoop before it was restored by Jaap Boersma and the Foundation which now owns it

The new lifeboat named Zeemanshoop at Breskens on the Scheldt

When Wim Belinfante and his sister Ada left Scheveningen aboard the Zeemanshoop on the 14 May 1940 he was 36 and she was was 29. When Wim Belinfante died he left a legacy to pay for a new lifeboat named  Zeemanshoop. It was launched at Breskens in 2000 by his other sister, Dora Belinfante, who was sent to the Thersianstadt concentration camp - but survived. Breskens is in the province of Zeeland in the  south west of the Netherlands opposite the town of Vlissengen (Flushing) at the mouth of the river Scheldt. The new Zeemanshoop is a very different type of lifeboat from the one which took 47 men and women to safety in England in 1940.

Launch of the new Zeemanshoop by the sister of Wim BelinfanteThe new Zeemashoop (Seamans Hope)
The new Zeemanshoop at KNRM Breskens was paid for by a legacy from one of Engelendvaarders who escaped to England on its predecessor
Left: Dora Nellie Belinfante, the 93 year old sister of Wim Belinfante, at the launch of the new lifeboat in 2000
Courtesy of KNRM Breskens

Read about the lives of the Englandvaarders who left the Netherlands on the Zeemanshoop
  If a member of your family was a passenger on the Zeemanshoop get in touch and tell your story now

The fascinating story of the Atjeh and Cdr Goodenough's "demo party"

Read about the book and reviews of the book

Holywell House
Holywell House Publishing
88 Holywell Hill, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 1DH, Britain
Telephone: +44 1727 838595
contact online