The story of HMS Venomous

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George Wilson
Submarine Detector (ASDIC)  in HMS Venomous (1942-3)

Stephen Barney 1943 Francis George Wilson was 18 when he joined the Royal Navy in September 1941 but already married. He was from St Helens in Lancashire and joined Venomous during her refit at Troon in March 1942 and left at Falmouth in October 1943.

As the ASDIC operator he would have reported to Warrant Officer Herbert J.B. Button DSM RN who was responsible for anti-submarine operations. George Wilson had a crucial role to play on the 11 November 1942 listening for "pings" from the U-boat which sank Hecla but, sadly, left behind no written record of what happened that night. Stephen Barney, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer (ASCO) in Venomous in 1943, spoke at the book launch for the new hardback edition of A Hard Fought Ship in May 2017. Click on the link to find out more about the use of Asdic in Venomous.

These family photographs are the property of George Wilsion's grandson, Andrew Wilson. The photograph of crew members posing in front of B Gun while Venomous lay alongside a destroyer was probably taken at Alex before Operation Husky, the landings in Sicily. I have also been sent a copy of this photograph by the niece of Jimmy Ackerman who is third from left in the photograph. Curiously, Ackerman is a German name meaning ploughman. John Rodgaard has identified the destroyer as a member of the G, H or I classes, fleet destroyers built in the 1930s. A possibler candidate which took part in Operation Husky would be HMS Ilex (I161).

Take a look at George Wilson's photographs and if you can provide further details or identify any of those on them please e-mail me.

HMS Ilex
Shipmates photographed on bow of Venomous beneath "B" Gun while berthed alongside a destroyer
See John Rodgaard's analysis indentifying it as an interwar fllet destroyer, a member of the G, H or I Class, possibly HMS Ilex
James Ackerman has been identified by his niece as third in line from the left, arms crossed and wearing white shorts
His older brother, Robert J. Ackerman, was also in Venomous but was killed when HMS Maharrata was torpedoed and sank on 25 February 1944

  Studio photographs of three of George's shipmates on HMS Venomous
Do you recognise George Wilson's three shipmates?
The young man on the right closely resembles the rating on the right in the photograph below.

Cold beer

George Wilson is seated second from right next to Ken Barlow, the man who sent him the photograph, second left
The beer label was identified by a collector in Australia who specialises in Egyptian beer labels
See: http://www.beerlabels.net/Countries/Mylabels/Egypt.htm

   Repatriation ship, Algiers
"Repatriation ship, Algiers" written on reverse and with distinctive markings on hull
What do the markings on the hull signify?
And who were being repatriated?

Although the facts are still far from clear some progress has been made in identifying the "Repatriation ship" at Algiers. The white cross on a dark background is not as at first suspected either the Red Cross or the Swiss flag both of which might have been thought to have operated repatriation ships after the surrender of Axis forces in North Africa. It has been identified by the Swiss Shipping Foundation as the cross  of Savoy used by Italy under the fascist regime of Mussolini. The ship closely resembles the oil tankers of the Corsino Italiane line and three of these ships, the Arcola, Taigete and Lucania were authorised by the allies in 1942 to bring back oil from Curacao for the repatriation of Italian civilians from Ethiopia and the Italian colony of Tunisia by the Italian hospital ships, Giulio Cesare, Vulcania, Saturnia and Duilio. There were 120,000 Italians living in Tunisia in 1943 and the Italian government asked Switzerland to help reach an agreement with the allies for the repatriation of some of their nationals.

The tankers were required to identify themselves as neutral with the highly distinctive hull markings visible on the ship in this photograph but despite this one of them, the Lucania, was sunk by a British submarine. The tankers in the photograph may be the Arcola which was either confiscated or chartered by the British Government in 1944. The story is further complicated by the coastline more closely resembling Gibraltar than that of Algiers.

This confusing story is told here to illustrate the wealth of historical information which can be gleaned from a single photograph and also the scope for misinterpreting the evidence. The details given here were uncovered by the enthusiastic researchers of the Swiss Shipping Foundation.

Jack Bolton and Bob Hargreaves served with George Wilson in the Mediterranean

The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship
  Buy the new hardback edition online for 35 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations

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