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Naval Signals received and sent by HMS Venomous on the 31 May 1940
during the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk,
Operation Dynamo

For a detailed description of the part played by Venomous see A Hard Fought Ship
for a comprehensive account of Operation Dynamo see
The evacuation from Dunkirk: Operation Dynamo, 26 May-4 June 1940;
W. J. R. Gardner, Great Britain. Admiralty. Historical Section

The evacuation began on the 27 May while HMS Venomous was under repair at Plymouth and by the time Venomous arrived at Dover at sunset on the 30 May the inner and outer harbours were partly blocked by sunken ships and the Mona Queen which Venomous had rescorted to Boulogne on the 22 May had hit a mine and sunk with great loss of life amongst the Isle of Man crew. Between the 31 May and 4 June when the evacuation ended Venomous made five trips to the eastern mole, the breakwater at the entrance to Dunkirk harbour, and the beaches at La Panne and Dune Bray and brought back 4,410 soldiers. The names of all the officers and men on HMS Venomous in May 1940 can be seen as a PDF.

Eric Pountney was a Wireless Telegraphy Operator on HMS Venomous from August 1939 to October 1943. He kept copies of signals received or sent during the evacuation of the Welsh and Irish Guards from Boulogne on the 23 May 1940, one of the most dramatic events described in A Hard Fought Ship, and during the evacuation of the troops from the North Mole and beaches near Dunkirk on the 31 May - see below. They record events as they happened. The time at which signals were sent used the 24 hour clock (without punctuation) followed by the date if this could be in doubt.

Naval Signal from VAD, 1557/31

It is important to note the difference between the time at which a signal was sent and the time it was received. For example, this signal was sent by Vice Admiral Bertram H Ramsay RN (VAD) to Rear Admiral Wake-Walker (RAD), SNO Dunkirk, in HMS Keith at 1522/31. It first went to the Dover WT office and was transmitted in morse code, probably on a broadcast read by all ships. The messages were encrypted before transmission and decrypted on arrival which explains the delay before the signal was received by HMS Venomous at 1559/31. HMS Keith was lost the following day.

Eric Pontney in W/T Office

Naval Signals from Dunkirk
Operation Dynamo, the 31 May 1940

Friday 31 May 1940

From: Ivanhoe    To: VAD
RA Dover from SNO.
Request more ships to load at Dunkirk.

From: RA Dover    To: Keith
Where are you. Have you any troops onboard.
I am in Express off LA PANNE.

From: Shikari    To: VAD
Leaving coast 600 troops onboard.
Proceeding slowly have dangerous wounded cases onboard.

From: Venomous    To: VAD
E.T.A. 0800 with approximately 1000

From: VAD    To: Venomous & Whitchall
From which beaches did you get your troops

 0813 (Sent 0915)
From: Venomous  To: VAD R Whitehall
40 only from La Panne beach remainder from Dunkirk jetty.

0855 (rec. 0942)
From: VA Dover    To: RA Dover Rptd SNO Dunkirk
If conditions require please deflect a proportion of the most easily manoeuvrable shipping to DUNKIRK to keep DUNKIRK working at full capacity

0914 (Rec. 1100)
From: ??    To:
The Policy of HM Govt is that both British and French troops be given equal opportunities for being evacuated in British ships and boats

0957 (Rec 1119)
From: ?    To: ?
LORD GORT has agreed that 5,000 french troops should be embarked this evening after Dark in British vessels request necessary ships may be sent to arrive ???

Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, VC, GCB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, MVO, MC (1886 – 1946), was a British and Anglo-Irish soldier. As a young officer in World War I he won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of the Canal du Nord. During the 1930s he served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (professional head of the Army). He is most famous for commanding the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in the first year of World War II, which was evacuated from Dunkirk. Gort later served as Governor of Gibraltar. Wikipedia.

1419 (Rec 1429)
From: ?    To: Dover W/T

1517 (sent 1525)
From: Venomous    To: R.A.D.
Have approx 200 military onboard
All my 4.7 HE is expended expect 6 m…..
Propose returning to replenish & land Military

1522 (Rec 1559)
From: VAD    To: RA Dover
MTBs 67 and 107 should arrive LA PANNE 1800 MTBs 68 and 102 are already with you and all four boats are to be used if necessary for embarking LORD GORT and staff 67 and 107 are small boats
System: 138    Time of receipt: 1559    Operator: P    Date: 31/5

 Lord Gort boarded HMS Keith in the early hours of Saturday 1 June but transferred to  Motor Ant-Submarine Boat (MA/SB) 6 before dawn and was taken to Dover by her and not on the MTBs dispatched by Ramsay or on the minesweeper, HMS Hebe, as widely believed. Before leaving France Lord Gort handed over command of the BEF to General Alexander who along with General Percival was brought back to England by HMS Venomous on the 2 June.

When HMS Keith was badly damaged the following day by bombing (and later sank) "Rear Admiral Wake-Walker transferred to MTB 102, using her as his flagship for the last two nights of the operation directing the incoming and outgoing vessels at Dunkirk from the bridge. As she carried no Rear Admirals flag, one was created with an Admiralty dishcloth and some red paint, allowing her to fly the appropriate flag." MTB 102 has been restored to its wartime condition by the MTB 102 Trust and is in regular use around the coast during the summer months.

1600 (Rec 1623)
From: Havant    To: Admiralty & VAD
There is no difficulty in destroyers going alongside in DUNKIRK  harbour. Many troops are waiting there. Embarkation from beach is slow by comparison.
System: 575    Time of receipt: 1623    Operator: OT    Date: 31/5

1716 (Rec 1720)
From: D20    To: Dover W/T
Heavy bombing at La Panne
System: 515    Time of receipt: 1720    Operator: Q    Date: 31/5

1730 (Rec 1751)
From: Malcolm    To: Dover W/T
Shelling Bombing Dunkirk

Naval signal from HMS Venomous to VAD, 2107/31 2000 (sent 2107)
From: Venomous    To: VA Dover
ETA. 2230. with 200 Military and British Airman picked up from sea by tug.
Details HENRY THOMAS FAIRBROTHER L.A.C. from Defiant Aircraft L 7019.
Slight leg and foot injuries. Pilot believed lost.

Leading Aircraftman (Air Gunner) Fairbrother of 264 Squadron RAF Manston, bailed out after plane was damaged in combat.
P/O R.W. Stokes survived and crash landed the aircraft, the  controversial turret-armed Boulton-Paul Defiant, at Manston.
This was reported as being on the 29 May and it is not known why Air Gunner Fairbrother parachuted out over Dunkirk.

Pilots of 264 Squadron Marston
Pilot Officer R.W. Stokes is on right in front row
Defiant pilots and gunners after their day of greatest success over Dunkirk.
Back row : Pilot Officer G.L. Hickman, Flight Lieutenant N.G. Cooke, Squadron Leader P.A. Hunter, Pilot Officer M.H. Young, Pilot Officers G.H. Hackwood, E.G. Barwell, S.R. Thomas & D. Whitley.
Front row : Sergeant E.R. Thorn, Pilot Officer D.H.S. Kay, Sergeant A.J. Lauder, Pilot Officer R.W. Stokes.

Saturday 1st June

Most Immediate
From: Whitehall  To: VAD
Basilisk sunk west deep am picking up survivors

HMS Basalisk was sunk by air attack off La Panne on 1st June, HMS Whitehall attempted tow but after further bombing  Basalisk sank. Wreck destroyed by gunfire from Whitehall.

Naval signal from VAD to all Destroyers
Naval signal from Vice Admiral B.H. Ramsay RN (VAD) to all destroyers received by HMS
Venomous at 1052 on the 3 June 1940
Retained by First Lt Angus A. Mackenzie RN as a souvenir
From the private papers of Lt Cdr Angus  Mackenzie RN

1052/ No date
From: Vice Admiral Destroyers (VAD)

To: Destroyers

I had hoped &  believed that last night would see us through but the French who were covering the retirement of the British rearguard had to repel a strong German attack & so were unable to send their troops to the pier in time to be embarked. We cannot leave our allies in the lurch. I must call on all officers & ...

... men detailed for further evacuation tonight to let the world see that we never let our allies down. Approach will be made later & retirement earlier. The night protection of our fighters which stopped all bombing on the harbour last night will be repeated.

The final evacuation is staged for tonight and the nation looks to the navy to see this through ... I want every ship to report as soon as possible whether she is fit & ready to meet the call which has been made on our courage and endurance. 1052

Eric Pountney, a Wireless Telegraphy Operator on HMS Venomous from August 1939 until October 1943, was a keen photographer.
The pictures he took onboard Venomous illustrate the story of his wartime service
Find out more about the use of Wireless Telegraphy on wartime destroyers

The names of all the officers and men on HMS Venomous in May 1940 can be seen as a PDF

For the full story of  the five trips made by Venomous to evacuate the troops from Dunkirk read
A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous

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