HMS Verity in the Mediiterranean with the Third Destroyer Flotilla between the wars
HMS Verity was built by
John Brown & Co on the Clyde and completed in September 1919. After
service in Home Waters she joined the Third Destroyer Flotilla in the
Mediterranean and in 1926 at the start of the Chinese Civil War between
the KMT led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Communist Party the 3DF was sent to defend British interests on the Yangste, China's longest river. HMS Verity
was sent to Chinkiang at the junction of the Yangste with the Grand
Canal, 500 miles miles upriver from the British Concession at Hankow
(Wuhan), the head of navigation for large ocean going ships.
HMS Verity came out of
Reserve at Portsmouth and joined the 15DF in Western Approaches Command
in 1939. She spent August on "working up trials" at the start of her
new commision before taking part in the Review of the Reserve Fleet in
Weymouth Bay on 14 August. When the war started Verity
was based at Milford Haven "on convoy duties in the North Atlantic",
escorting convoys to about 14 degrees west and collecting incoming
convoys (George Cohen). After escorting Gibraltar bound Convoy GC1 to
NW of the Scillies on 6 September Verity returned to Plymouth and on 9 September sunk the British tanker Kennebec which had broken in half after being torpedoed the previous day.
On 17 April HMS Verity (Lt.Cdr. Arthur Ronald Mawson Black, RN) joined Dover Command and played a significant role in Operations off the Dutch Coast (ADM199/667). On 10 May she took a demolition party of Kent Fortress Royal Engineers
(KFRE) to Flushing to destroy Oil Reserves to prevent
them from falling into German hands (Operation XD, Party B) and on 12 May together with HMS Venomous took a party of Royal Marines to The Hook of Holland to destroy as many
installations as possible, before the arrival of the Germans (Operation Harpoon). They returned later that week with Keith, Wivern and Wolsey to block the harbour at the Hook by firing torpedoes at the North Breakwater. The Dutch surrendered at 2200/14.
Lt. Charles Poynder Adams, DSC, RN (Aug 1942 - 2 Oct 1942)
Lt.Cdr. Richard Horncastle, RN (2 Oct 1942 - mid 1943)
Lt. Charles Poynder Adams, DSC, RN (May 1943 - Aug 1943)
Lt. Charles Grenville Cowley, RN (Aug 1943 - Jun 1945)
A/Cdr. (retired) Lawrence Henry Phillips, RN (Jun 1945 - late 1945)
Former full members of the V & W Destroyer Association who served in HMS Verity
A. Barber (Colyton, Devon), R. Bone (Sidcup, Kent), R. Savage (Leicester).
Please get in touch if you knew these men or had a family member who served in HMS Verity
George Cohen's story From "Peace in our time" to Dunkirk
Cohen's story came to me in a very curious roundabout way which is I
think is worth recording here. On August 14 2020 I received an e-mail
from DaniŽl Brabander in the Netherlands:
"I am sending you this email after buying and reading your marvellous book about HMS Venomous.
We live in Hook of Holland overlooking the quay where this ship amongst
others played a big role in the troublesome days of May 1940. I am very
interested in the history of all the naval operations during the war in
Holland. In those four days I have counted up to 21 ships from the
Royal Navy, almost all destroyers arriving in Hook of Holland. What is
less well known is that, as well as the locals and Guards loosing men
due to the constant German bombing of the harbour and village, on two
occasions the Royal Navy lost a lot of sailors here in Hook (HMS Versatile and HMS Wivern) due to the Luftwaffe."
In a lengthy exchange of e-mails during the Corona Pandemic lockdown
when archives and libraries were closed Daniel told me about his
research in Britain and the Netherlands. He sent me low resolution
scans of photographs taken aboard HMS Verity
at the Hook of Holland in May 1940 which he obtained from NIOD,
Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam,
followed by a letter written by a G Cohen to the Dutch Embassy
in London in 1990 offering to send these photographs to a Dutch Museum
for adding to their collection. This letter enabled me to identify
George Cohen as the photographer and contact his son Roger Cohen via
the RNLI Lifeboat Station at Brighton where he is the volunteer
Roger Cohen sent me a PDF of a document from 2002 combining a personal
first hand account by his father of events at the Hook of Holland with
research by his father's friend Andrew Saunders who lived in Denton,
Newhaven. It includes a quite harrowing description of the Dunkirk
evacuation which exposes the grim reality behind this often
romanticised story which led to George Cohen being hospitalised and leaving HMS Verity.
What follows is a reformatting of George's story told in his own words combined with the
photographs he took plus extracts from his service certificate and additional material.
Cohen was born on 17 December 1917 at Newhaven in Sussex and was living
at home in Newhaven with his Mother Alice Cohen and working as an
apprentice joiner when he enrolled in the Newhaven Branch of the RNVR
on 14 October 1935. His Service Certificate gives his rate as a Boy
Sailor when he joined his first ship, the V & W Class destroyer HMS Walker, on 19 August 1936 for two weeks training.
1936 19 August
joined HMS Walker at Devonport. Whilst on her I had to fall in on the
forecastle for duties, which that day was ‘coaling ship’ for the
galley. I was at the end of the line being the shortest. The ‘Buffer’
(Chief Boatswain’s Mate) took one look at my 5ft 1 in. height, and gave
me a broom to sweep in what the others didn’t get in the hole. The bags
of coal were on the dockside.
At sea, on watch, I was the Bridge
Messenger and at 0345 hrs I was told to go down and call the First
Lieutenant for his morning watch, I nearly got put on a charge, as I
went down to his cabin and shook him awake. He shot bolt upright and I
fled out of the cabin back up on watch. About ten minutes later
he came on the bridge and called me over - he told me in no uncertain
terms ‘You never touch a naval officer and you’re lucky not to be on a
1937 10 May
He joined the battleship HMS Revengeas Ordinary Seaman (OD) George Cohen (SD/X 998) for a further ten days
joined her at Southend where she was showing the flag. We set sail the
next morning for the Spithead Review for the Coronation of King George
VI, we were up at 0600 hrs and put to work holystoning and scrubbing
the decks. All the fleet was dressed overall in lines. On our starboard
side was the Russian battleship Marat, and right behind her was the German pocket battleship Graf Spee.
It was a marvellous sightwith warships and other shipping from all over
the world. We manned the side for three hours while the Royal Yacht
Victoria and Albert went round the fleet. As the Royal Yacht went
by us we had to off caps and give three cheers (we had to shout hooRA
not hooray as apparently it sounded better and carried further!)”
A painting of HMS Verity by Richard Grainger Barrett
Comissioned from the artist by George Cohen
1939 31 July With war looming, George was called up and on the 31 July 1939, joined the destroyer HMS Verity (D63) as an Ordinary Seaman.
"We were called
up, but were sent straight back home again when Chamberlain came back
from his famous meeting with Hitler, waving his piece of paper and
declaring ‘Peace in our time’. We were ordered to report again on the
31 July. It seemed as if all the Reservists were being called up.
Fifteen of us from Newhaven went in that first call, at the end of the
war only two of us survived, myself and Bill Wilkes. He was invalided
out of the service with a broken back.
We marched from Portsmouth Station to the Royal Naval Barracks, did the
barrack routines and collected our draft chits. If you had a blue cross
on your draft chit it meant your ship was in the harbour, mine did, and
I arrived on board HMS Verity at about 4 p.m., dead beat from lugging a
kitbag around all day.
Next morning we ammunitioned, unmoored and went to sea on exercise. The
whole of August was spent on ‘working up trials’ as it was a brand new
George Cohen on the left at the door of the wheelhouse below the bridge on Verity
George Cohen at the stern of HMS Verity with his Bosun's Call hanging from his neck
1939 3 September
"When war broke
out we were in Milford Haven. All we had on the forward Mess deck was a
small wireless, unless you were in the first ten around it you couldn’t
hear it. I got it second hand. When I heard the announcement I thoughtm
My God what happens now? We darkened ship at dusk and set sail for
From then until the end of March we were employed on convoy duties in
the North Atlantic, sailing to about 14 degrees West, leaving the
convoy and picking up another coming to the U.K. These we would escort
as far as Plymouth then other escorts took over. The winter of 1939/40
was a very hard one, high gales and bitterly cold, the mess decks were
awash nearly all the time. The worst weather we sailed in was a force
12. We had just left a West bound convoy, when we received an S.O.S., a
large merchant ship had lost its rudder in the gale. HMS Verity and
another destroyer went to her aid, we managed to get a wire to her, but
it snapped like cotton, and they would not try to reconnect. We both
had to carry out an asdic watch for submarines for two days and nights,
until a tug came out from Falmouth. We lost our motor-boat and whaler,
smoke floats, and the bridge was smashed in by the heavy seas. When we
returned to port we had six weeks in dock for repairs, so the crew were
given three weeks leave each.
On another occasion escorting an East bound convoy, we came across a
raft about 12 feet square, two men were lashed on it but had died,
another was still alive but was so weak and frozen that he had to be
lifted aboard as he could not move his arms or legs. We buried the dead
at sea. We heard the other man died in Devonport Hospital. The survivor
did tell someone they were off a Danish cargo boat torpedoed by a
We made quite a few attacks on submarines, but nothing confirmed as a kill. We did get a feed of fish, sometimes."
Lt. Cdr. Arthur Ronald Mawson Black (centre) and First Lt. E.L. Jones (right) who took over as CO of HMS Verity when Black was wounded on 27 May
1940 17 April HMS Verity, under the command of Lt. Cdr A.R.M. Black, was appointed to the Dover Command Flotilla, along with HMS Whitshed and HMS Wild Swan.
"We went out
every day doing exercises. The Admiral said the war came second to him,
until the Patrol was smart and efficient. Then the ‘Phoney War’ was
over and the action started."
Flushing and the Hook of Holland
1940 10 May At 0355 on Friday 10 May Germany invaded the Netherlands. HMS Verity left
1200 carrying demolition party XD.C (Cdr P.
G. L. Cazalet) to Flushing (Vliessengen) on Walcharen Island at the
mouth of the River Scheldt to destroy oil reserves to prevent them
falling into German hands. Lt.Cdr. Arthur Ronald Mawson Black's Report of Proceedings (ADM 199/667) is in The National Archives but can be read as a PDF by clicking on the link. HMS Verity departed Flushing at 0545 and arrived back at Dover at
At the same time HMS Brilliant
took XD.D (Cdr A. C.
Stanford) up the Scheldt to Antwerp, Belgium and HMS Wild Swantook
XD.B (Cdr J. A. C. Hill) for the Hook of Holland to destroy oil plant
and stocks at Rotterdam and retrieve Dutch gold from the Rotterdam
branch of the National Bank. HMS Wild Swan and Brilliant remained at their ports
to support the evacuations. In the North of the Netherlands HMS Whitshed
took Cdr Goodenough's naval demolition team of eighty plus a
sixteen strong Royal Enginers "demo team" from the KFRE led by Capt
Peter Keeble to Ijmuiden to destroy the fuel reserves at Amsterdam and
block the harbour at Ijmuiden, Operation XD(A). They left on a harbour tug Atjeh and were picked up in the English Channel by HMS Venomous on 15 May and landed at Dover.
Operations XD to destroye fuel reserves in the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France are described by Clifford Brazier, in
overall charge of the KFRE "demo teams", in XD Operations - Secret British missions denying oil to the Nazi's (Pen and Sword, 2005). 1940 12 May HMS Verity in company with HMS Venomous,
took a party of Royal Marines to the Hook of Holland to destroy as many
installations as possible, before the arrival of the Germans (Operation Harpoon).
"We were in port
when we received 250 marines on board and set sail at 0600 hrs for the
Hook of Holland. They had to go ashore to blow up dykes and bridges to
try and stem the German advance. We returned to Dover, then with three
other destroyers we returned to Holland in line ahead. We fired all our
torpedoes at a line of dykes. We were bombed by Stuka dive bombers and
shelled from the shore. We sailed for Holland again, four destroyers,
each ship landed a watch. I was in the port watch, and we were the ones
that landed and took up positions in the docks. We were issued with a
rifle and bayonet, and 150 rounds of ammunition. I think it lasted
about one and a half hours, and then back to our ships and sailed. I
was thankful to get on board again. It was when we got back to Dover we
found out we had been supporting the Dutch Royal Family being brought
back to England."
AB Sydney Compston, a gunner on Venomous, recalled in Chapter Five of A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous (2017)
that the troops were reservists, wearing the old-fashioned uniform that
was standard issue in the Great War. A large quantity of demolitions
and stores was also hurriedly embarked, and Venomous, together with Verity and her consignment of Marines and demolitions, left harbour just before midnight on the 11th. They were met off the Hook by HMS Wild Swan which had landed Cdr H.A.C. Hill and the XD-B Demolition Party on 10 May.
HMS Venomous (D75) on Hook Raid her decks crowded with troops
HMS Verity taking the "Guards" to the Hook of Holland
HMS Verity berthed alongside at Hook of Holland
HMS Venomous berthed alongside Verity at the Hook of Holland while troops disembark Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
HMS Verity berthed alongside at the Hook of Holland with troops disembarked on the quayside Taken from between a Carley float and one of the ship's two whalers
The Dutch Crown Princess and her family were embarked at Ijmuiden on the 12 May in HMS Codrington. Queen Wilhelmina embarked at Hook of Holland in HMS Hereward on the 13 May and the Dutch Government, foreign legations, industrialists embarked in HMS Windsor and HMS Vivien (?).
1940 16 May HMS Verity relieved HMS Whitshed on the North Goodwin Patrol.
Boulogne, Calais and - Dunkirk!
1940 23 May
The Welsh and Irish Guards had disembarked at Boulogne on 22 May to
defend the harbour city blocking the advance of German forces eastward
towards Calais and Dunkirk.
HMS Verity was the guardship at Boulogne on the night of 22-23 May. She
embarked General Brownrigg, the Adjutant General for the BEF with his
staff, who had lost all radio communication with London and returned to
Dover on Verity at 0450 to give his report. It became clear that Boulogne was indefensible and the Welsh and Irish Guardss were evacuated from Boulogne on the 23 May by the seven V & W Class destroyers of the 19DF and HMS Venomous of the 16DF. HMS Verity left Dover for Calais
the same day with General MacNaughton (Commanding Officer of the
Canadian Division); the last reserves
were to be thrown into the battle to defend Calais which Churchill decided must be held at all costs.
the next few days we were taking and bringing high ranking Army
officers to Calais and Boulogne, running the gauntlet of bombs and
shelling.” George Cohen
1940 24 May
HMS Verity and the tug Lady Brassey were despatched from Dover to assist HMS Burza, which had been hit by two bombs forward, off Calais, but she made it back under her own power.
1940 25 May
Admiral Ramsay, expecting to receive orders to evacuate the troops,
sent a force of minesweeping trawlers and drifters, under the
protection of HMS Verity and HMS Windsor, to Calais. Verity entered Calais at 0050
hrs, under heavy fire from 6 inch howitzers, and landed 76 Royal
Marines and stores. The force returned at dawn, in the absence of
orders to evacuate the troops.
1940 26 May
Calais fell to the Germans.
Routes to Dunkirk during the Evacuation
1940 27 May
At 0342 hrs, HMS Verity left Dover to escort the passenger ships Biarritz and Archangel to Dunkirk, but all three were damaged by shore battery fire from the French coast near Calais, when proceeding along Route Z. Biarritz and Verity suffered casualties which included the destroyer’s Captain. The Biarritz turned back for Dover, but HMS Verity and the Archangel intended to try the Route Y, but then the latter reported she had insufficient fuel for the 174 mile round trip.
action station was Director Sight Setter but as every gun was being
fired independently I had nothing to do. In one attack on us the blast
threw up mud and water, and hurled us across the bridge. I looked at
the skipper Lt. Cmdr Black and I could see he had been wounded, blood
was filling his small wellingtons, and the Sub-Lt. had also been hit. I
had to go down aft and get the First Lieutenant.”
Admiral Sir James Somerville:
reached Dover at 6 am and at once took over from Admiral Ramsay in
order that he might have some rest. Found that the German guns on the
coast were in action as far as Gravelines and that Verity
and a transport had been hit and had had to turn back. Thy had been
endeavouring to get to Dunkirk by the Southern channel which passes
within range of the guns in the vicinity of Calais. The officers
from GHQ arrived during the afternoon and reported that the main body
of the BEF were completeely cut off from Dunkirk and that we should be
lucky if we got 25,000 men off altogether. In view of this information
every small boat and craft of every description which had been arriving
at Dover in response to urgent requests for boats were sent over at
once to the beaches to bring off our men.
Heard that there was some trouble in the Verity which
had had an exceedingly trying time for the last three weeks in addition
to some casualties, including her Captain that morning. I went on board
and addressed the men and managed to get them into a fairly cheerful
frame of mind. Captain Tennant had been appointed as SNO Dunkirk and
had sent a signal over to say that that in view of the bombing of the
harbour there most of the evacuation would have to take place from the
The Somerville Papers
The Naval Records Society, Vol 134 (1995)
“Then there was Dunkirk, a sight I have never forgotten. As we
approached the coastline I thought I could see bushes, but as we got
closer, we could see it was soldiers, all moving around. We got as
close as we could, and lowered the motor-boat and whaler, and started
to ferry Army personnel back to Verity.
I had one turn in the whaler towed by the motor-boat. We did about
three trips to the beach, returning to Dover each time, and two
alongside the jetty at Dunkirk, being bombed by Stukas and machine
1940 29 May
HMS Verity entered Dover at 0615 hrs, with 315 troops on board. She landed them and returned to Dunkirk. HMS Verity, now commanded by Lt. E.L. Jones, entered Dunkirk in the afternoon.
Two big steamers, Fenella and Crested Eagle, were on the east side of the mole. Against its inside face were the destroyers HMS Grenade and HMS Jaguar, with six trawlers further inshore. Astern of these was the personnel ship Canterbury and further in were the destroyers HMS Malcolm, HMS Verity and HMS Sabre. The French destroyers Mistral and Siroco were at the guiding jetty and at the Quai Felix Faure was Cyclone.
They made a perfect target and the searching Stukas split up into
sections at once and plummeted down on the mass of shipping and men.
Fenella was loading stretcher
cases from the quay and had almost 700 men on board when she was hit by
a bomb which passed through her deck, killing many soldiers. A second
bomb hit the mole, to blow pieces of concrete through her side below
the waterline and flood her engine room and wreck her pumps. She
transferred her survivors to Crested Eagle. Two of the trawlers were also hit and disintegrated. Canterbury and HMS Jaguar were badly damaged but managed to struggle clear. Mistral
had her superstructure smashed by blast and flying metal which caused
heavy casualties. Completing the embarkation of survivors and crew from
Fenella, Crested Eagle had just slipped her lines when she was also hit. Blazing furiously, she headed for the beach at Malo-les-Bains.
At 1602 hrs
HMS Grenade (Cdr. C.R. Boyle),
which was also alongside, received a direct hit. She was packed with
troops and the carnage was terrible. Raging fires turned her into an
inferno, and she drifted out of control in the harbour. Fortunately, a
line was got aboard and she was towed clear of the harbour just as the
flames reached her magazines, which exploded and she sank with few
survivors. As HMS Verity
cleared the harbour she hit the submerged wreck of a sunken drifter,
but managed to get clear. She arrived at Dover at 0115 hrs on the 30th,
and was ordered to remain there.
HMS Verity leaving Dunkirk - with HMS Grenade on fire and obscured by smoke - on the evening of 29 May
Fenella on fire alongside the North Mole
collapsed with exhaustion, crying and shaking, and with two other crew
members was sent to Gillingham Hospital, where I was kept in for a
fortnight. For two days and nights I could not sleep, just shaking. I
was never proud of that, but the Medical Officer said after a month of
dive bombing, shelling and hardly any sleep, men were bound to crack.
Ten other members of the crew jumped ship, but were caught by a patrol
off another ship, put in cells for the night, and sent home the next
day on sick leave. When I was fit enough I was sent home for 10 days
Lt. Commander Arthur Ronald Mawson Black R.N., and Midshipman William Campbell Neill R.N.R., both of HMS Verity, were mentioned in dispatches for their part in the Dunkirk operations.
The evacuation of troops of the British Expeditionary Force at the Fall
of France from Dunkirk and other French coastal locations across the
Channel, while under heavy air attack from the Luftwaffe, was effected
at heavy cost to the Navy. In a period of eight days 338,266 men were
lifted in 848 craft of all types, some naval, most non-military. Almost
all equipment and arms were left in France, but the rescued troops
formed the basis of new armies which went back to France during
‘Operation Overlord’ in Normandy 1944.
Naval vessels played a large and vital role in the evacuation. More
than fifty destroyers were engaged in the operation (Operation Dynamo)
and nine of them were sunk and nineteen damaged. Destroyers lifted a
total of 102,843 men.
1940 3 June
George officially left HMS Verity and joined HMS Noneta the next day but actually joined at the end of his period of hospitalisation and sick-leave.
HMS Noneta (N33) was
built as a modern 49 gross ton steel hulled yacht for a private client
in 1935 but was requisitioned by the Government in 1940 and formed part
of the coastal defence force on the South coast, commanded by Sub.
Lieut. A.J. Potter-Irwin. She was dispatched to Dunkirk, arriving on
the first day of the evacuation and has an entry on The Association of Dunkirk Little ships (ADLS) website. After Dunkirk she arried out coastal patrols in the English Channel.
joined her at Hamble and we began by patrolling Southampton Water at
night from dusk to dawn. Later we moved to Littlehampton and, after a
couple of months, round to Newhaven. Whilst at Newhaven we patrolled
the coast three miles off, between Brighton and Eastbourne, carrying
out anti-invasion and mine spotting patrols. We had a very small crew
consisting of Lieutenant Potter-Irwin R.N.V.R., C.P.O. Legg R.N.
as coxswain, C.P.O. Hallett as Engineer, Leading Seaman Charles Brown
R.N., A.Bs. M. Hardy R.N., and myself R.N.V.R.
The ships armament consisted of 2
Lewis guns, 3 mines on the stern, 2 depth charges, 3 rifles, one box of
grenades, two rockets on the wheelhouse and the Lieutenant had a
revolver. As our speed was only nine knots, if we had ever been forced
to use the mines or depth charges we would have more likely sunk
ourselves. The mines were tied together with rope, the idea being that
they were pushed over the stern if we were chased by an E-boat. I
stayed on her for about 18 months and I then applied to do an
Anti-aircraft Gunnery Course.“
In March 1997 George Cohen contacted Tony Cassar, the present owner of HMS Noneta in Malta and was invited to visit his former ship. He presented Tony Cassar with a painting of her as she would have appeared in wartime
Officers in HMS Verity The entries in the Naval Lists for May, June and August 1940
Lt Cdr A.R.M. Black was relieved of command by Lt Cdr R.H. Mills on 29 May but did not join Verity until later
Reports of Proceedings by Lt Eric L Jones
had two Captains during Operation Dynamo. The first was Lt Cdr Arthur
Ronald Mawson Black. After he was seriously wounded First Lt Eric
Lister Jones took over, and Martin Mace provided the "Notes" he made
(not a formal Report of Proceedings) in his edited collection of the
RoPs of ther COs of the warships involved in the evacuation of the BEF
The Royal Navy at Dunkirk, Commanding Officers' Reports of British Warships in action during Operation Dynamo; presented by Martin Mace Frontline Books 2017, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books ISBN 978-1-47388-672-8.
Lt Eric L. Jones was appointed CO of HMS Wrestler on 28 September 1940 and on 25 October was awarded the DSC for his service in HMS Verity during Operation Dynamo.
HMS Verity ROP Monday 27th May 1940
HMS Verity at No 10 Buoy with steam at half an hour’s notice.
0342 Left Dover, escorting Biarritz and Archangel to Dunkirk
Lt Jones spelled her name as Arkangel after the Russian port on the White Sea but the SS Archangel
was a former LNER passenger ferry on the Harwich to Hook of Holland
route which was requisitioned by the Admiralty and used as a troop
carrier. She was bombed on 16 May 1941, beached near Aberdeen and
abandoned as a total loss.
0520 Shore batteries around Oye Church opened fire on Verity and convoy. As convoy proceeded Verity zigzagged laying smoke and being continuously straddled with HE and SAP. Returned fire at 7000 yards.
0533 CO Lt Cdr Black severely wounded. Lt Jones assumed command. Convoy ordered to proceed to Dover, and VA Dover informed.
0558 Verity ceased fire. Convoy in Channel
0600 Biarritz damaged in Engine Room and had difficulty in keeping steam. VA Dover ordered to returned to Dover. Archangel reported all well. Verity
sustained two direct hits with 4 inch SAP shell which penetrated the
after boiler room causing minor damage. Little damage was caused by HE
0608 VA Dover ordered Verity and Archangel to return to Dunkirk.
0655 Man overboard. Whaler launched.
0700 Man recovered.
0748 Observed Hospital Ship and small
vessels being shelled from French coast. Due to heavy firing and
ammunition exhausted, and slow convoy speed of 15 knots considered it
advisable to use north route to Dunkirk.
0845 Archangel reported she had insufficient fuel for round trip. Verity and Archangel returned to Dover. Verity
had damage to after Boiler Room, fan intake casings port and starboard
and escape hatch torn and holed. Deck between casings holed so unable
to keep up boiler room pressure. Voice pipes to after guns and torpedo
tubes damaged. It was considered that the conduct
of the Ship’s Company had been highly commendable. All guns and
instruments had functioned correctly.
state that Lt Cdr Robert Henry Mills RN assumed
command of HMS Verity on 29 May 1940 but examination of the ship’s
Dunkirk account suggests that the remainder of the text was
also written by Lieutenant E L Jones.
Report of Proceedings of HMS Verity
from 1345 27th May to 0130 30th May
The morale of the Ship’s Company
had been undermined by the shelling from shore batteries and aerial
bombing during the last few days: it is considered that this was
aggravated by long hours and lack of sleep. This situation came to a
climax during the first Dog, when one rating attempted to commit
suicide. This incident caused a marked increase in the men’s
uneasiness. Shortly afterwards a report was made by the Leading Seamen
that the ship’s company were considering breaking out of the ship.
I reported this state of affairs to
VA Dover. Vice Admiral Somerville returned to the ship with me and
addressed the ship’s company.
I was then informed that Verity
would not be required until AM Tuesday 28th, endeavouring to allow the
men a night’s rest. This news when broadcast greatly relieved the
"In the book the narrative
continues without break to the end, I have split it so that each part
relates to the foregoing chronological record;" Frank Donald.
1330 Proceeded to Dunkirk via the northern route at 28 knots. Off Dyke buoy joined Greyhound and Impulsive. Occasional enemy aircraft were fired at during the voyage.
1705 Anchored off Bray. Lowered boats to embark BEF. Occasional bombing raids during the night.
0148 Weighed with about 40 troops including 30 stretcher cases and wounded men, and proceeded to Dover.
0602 Arrived Dover and disembarked troops.
1415 Proceeded to Dunkirk via Route “Y” at 28 knots.
1700 approx Passed Dunkirk Harbour and received orders from SNO Dunkirk to proceed into Dunkirk.
1720 Went alongside East Mole Pier ahead of Grenade and Trawlers.
1725 Heavy Dive Bombing on pier and ships.
1745 One trawler hit, Grenade hit forward and commenced sinking. Verity continuously straddled for 35 minutes.
1800 Slipped and turned ship in the channel. On clearing trawlers and Grenade it was considered that Verity touched forward.
1805 Cleared entrance and proceeded to Bray.
1820 Off Bray in company with Sabre and Saladin, being bombed. Saladin ahead being hit,
1840 A Paddle Trooper was observed on fire, endeavouring to Beach. Instructed Trooper to stop and let Verity get alongside and embark her troops. This was not possible as she could not stop.
1845 Embarked 20 BEF and remained under way in the channel,
1850 Dunkirk and Bray under heavy bombing, during which time Verity especially was under constant bombing and machine gun fire.
1910 Embarked 20 more BEF.
2010 Bombing ceased, and as ammunition was expended, no embarkation boats were available, and the ship’s whaler was holed, Verity proceeded towards Dunkirk. AS Dunkirk was again heavily bombed I followed Sabre out of Dunkirk Roads to Dover.
0130 Secured alongside Express at Admiralty Pier, disembarked troops
During the embarkation of the BEF
troops off Bray the Ship’s Company greatly assisted and worked hard in
comforting the wounded and feeding the troops. Again on 29th May the
men showed determination in repelling the dive-bomb aircraft, and
seemed in good fettle on the return journey.
On Thursday 30th May, when Verity
had secured alongside in the Submarine Basin, members of the ship’s
company broke out of the ship, of these three were detained at the
Dockyard gate and three returned AM Friday 31st. Six men are still
absent. The men who had returned, on being interrogated, stated that
their nerves had given way, and they could not “stand it”. Verity was
then ordered to stay in Harbour.
It is considered that this
situation was caused by lack of rest, and the fact that our “Chummy
ships” of the Dover Patrol had been damaged by enemy action causing
casualties, and then steadily growing belief that Verity’s
turn was certain to come. The final effect being the attempt of suicide
in the Mess Deck, and later this was increased by one rating developing
I wish to emphasize the devotion to Duty of Chief ERA Hill and S.B Whitter during these operations off Dunkirk.
The rescue of survivors from the British troop transporter
SS Strathallan December 1942
The beautiful 1938-built SS Strathallan
a large twin-screw six-turbine passenger liner owned by the P & O
Company of London, built for the service to Australia via Bombay,
India, was serving as a troopship in 1942.
At 02:23 hours (Central European
Time) on the morning of 21st December 1942, carrying 4,600 troops and
nurses on board, and a crew of 430, the vessel was in a position North
of Oran, off the Algerian Coast of North Africa, when she was attacked
and torpedoed by the German submarine U-562. The torpedo struck the
British vessel at 02:31 hours.
According to the log of the U-Boat Commander, two hits were heard and
it was believed that the vessel may also have been under attack from
enemy aircraft and suffered a hit from an airborne torpedo. Although
badly damaged, the vessel was considered salvageable and taken in tow.
However, the following day, 22nd December 1942, a fire broke out and
she subsequently capsized and sank in position 36’ 52” North, 00’ 34”
The order was given to the 4,408 British and American troops and 248
Queen Alexandra’s nurses to abandon ship in calm seas, which they did
in the four motor boats, 16 lifeboats and rafts. A rescue mission was
launched with soldiers transferred to destroyers, including HMS Verity. Events
are described by one of the troops, Jim Gormley, and by
"Bonehead", S/M Bone from Sidcup, a member of he V & W
Destroyer Association who served in HMS Verity. Further accounts of the loss of SS Strathalanare given on the website of the P & O Company.
SS Strathallan: P & O liner on left and and wartime troop carrier on right
"The Firth of Clyde was packed with dozens
of ships in all shapes and sizes. There were warships, destroyers,
corvettes, minesweepers, cruisers and troopships. Merchantmen included
oil tankers and cargo liners carrying tanks, guns and supplies in
abundance. It was a magnificent sight. My regiment was ordered to
embark on SS Strathallan a former passenger liner of the P&O
Shipping Company that had been converted into a troopship. It was
enormous with "umpteen decks". It appeared to me that every regiment in
the British Army was onboard. I could not say how many soldiers were on
the ship but it ran into thousands".
"We were sent to "G" Deck well below the
water line. There must have been ...A...B...C...D...E...F decks above
us and there was some below us. I slung my hammock next to a watertight
door (WTD), which led to the engine room, which gives an idea how far
we were in the bowels of the ship. We were packed like sardines.
Bulkheads had been removed to make open spaces to get more troops in.
There were rows and rows of tables and benches of the very basic type.
Each table had 24 soldiers. We had to eat, sleep and have recreation in
that area. We had a duty roster to get up on deck for fresh air and
exercise". Continued Jim "It was not unlike HMS Victory now a museum at
Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. On Lord Nelson's Flagship sailors slept and
dined between the cannons on gun decks".
On the 12th December the mighty armada of
ships slipped into the Irish Sea bound for North Africa. SS Strathallan
was the largest ship in the convoy and became the Flagship with the
Commodore of the Fleet onboard in overall command. From the first day, inclement weather set
in with winds reaching gale force. It was a godsend in one way that
submarines could not operate in such weather allowing the convoy to
reach the Straits of Gibraltar without loss. Jim takes up the story of
that unforgettable 11 days until the Mediterranean Sea was reached.
"It was like being at a Rangers and Celtic
match on cup final day. We were shoulder to shoulder above and below
decks. The humidity and smell was appalling. We were ordered to remain
in our uniforms at all times in case of emergency even as we slept but
the heat was such dozens of the troops disobeyed the order. I kept my
uniform on at all times. I was a bit of a rebel and didn't like to
follow the leader". As we will see the order was a very sound one.
"Mealtimes were an ordeal. We had a duty roster of bringing meals in 24
canisters from the galleys to the table. Each man had his 'Dixie' and a
fork knife and spoon. They were like diamonds. Woe betides if they were
lost. The 'Dixie' was a metal container, which had two parts that
closed together. One half was for main course the other soup or desert
when we got it of course. Improvisation was the then buzzword".
"We would queue for an hour at a time
all-staggering against each other as the ship pitched and rolled.
Carrying back the 24 canisters to the table was a nightmare. Most of
the troops were seasick with decks covered in vomit. We were slipping,
sliding, sometimes falling with the canisters going in all directions.
I was never sick and proving that every cloud has a silver lining,
there was always extra food available, as many never ate for days. The
weather never let up until, reaching a crescendo as we crossed the Bay
of Biscay, sometimes the ship going into 45% angled rolls. It was a
nightmare voyage. As we sailed into the Mediterranean Sea at last the
weather abated. We were all delighted but many realised bad weather was
their saviour as events were to prove."
"I was in my hammock trying to sleep
against the loud noise of the engines thundering away. It was exactly
1.30 am in the early morning. Lights remained on all the time although
they were dim. A clock was fitted on a bulkhead perhaps electronically
controlled from the engine room. I heard an enormous explosion as a
torpedo hit the ship. As I discovered later two torpedoes were fired
one hitting the other missing. The Strathallan gave an almighty shudder
and all the lights remained out for a considerable period while
soldiers tried to climb the stairs in darkness. Mercifully emergency
lighting came on although it was very dim. It was sheer havoc. Everyone
was pressing forward towards the companionways with an element of
crushing. The ship began to tilt to port, water was coming and
eventually reached my waist. I thought we were going to drown. Water
was coming in and I was in the centre of a mass of bodies finding
difficulty in breathing. To this day I suffer from claustrophobia
because of that experience. I have been on a ship many times since but
never will I go below decks".
"We were just like rats trapped in a sewer unable to move. Slowly but
surely, seemingly like a lifetime, troops managed to get up the
stairwells. They met others from different decks that were trying to
escape. It became a gigantic bottleneck with movement in centimeters to
remaining stationery for long periods of time. The situation was
exacerbated by the shouts and cries of hundreds of panic stricken and
Jim cannot recall exactly the amount of
time it took him to reach the upper deck from the moment of torpedo
impact but it seemed a lifetime. "We have all heard of hell" said Jim
"We can only wonder what it is like, I discovered my private hell as an
anti-tank gunner many times under enemy fire of machine guns, shelling
and especially mortar fire...but none of it compared to being below
decks on the Strathallan. At least on dry land I had the sky above me
and not waiting for a slow death expecting the ship to sink at any
time". (For info) Jim thought the bows were below
water but they weren't. The ship was listing heavily and this probably
gave him that impression.
Finally Jim reached the upper deck where pandemonium existed. Strathallan was listing heavily with the bows below the water, giving the appearance of sinking at any moment.
"It was still early morning but there was
ample light. We don't get completely blackout nights in the
Mediterranean closer to the equator. The decks were at an angle. I was
surrounded by hundreds of soldiers. Dozens upon dozens in front of my
eyes were jumping and diving into the sea. It was like a mass hysteria.
Many were in underwear without lifebelts. I could see hundreds upon
hundreds of heads in the sea. The air was full of cries for help.
People were throwing life rafts into the sea. Some were landing on the
heads of the hapless soldiers in the water. One thing saved my life. I
couldn't swim. I thought the Strathallan was sinking but I had more
fear of the water than remaining on a stricken ship."
Amazingly, SS Strathallan
did not sink. It was at a crazy angle and low in the water but somehow
watertight doors must have prevented the water spreading, allowing
sufficient buoyancy keeping the liner afloat. The countless soldiers
who leapt into the water and drowned as a result would have been saved
if they had stayed put.
Jim remembers a Royal Navy Corvette either named HMS Panther or HMS Tiger coming out of the gloom while hundreds were in the water. An officer on the bridge was shouting through a loud hailer:
away from this ship we cannot pick you up we are searching for the
submarine Keep away from this ship" Jim was eventually rescued by
jumping on a mattress onto a warship alongside from a great height.
The Strathallan was taken in tow by Naval Tug HMS Restive attempting to reach Algiers but she capsized the following day 22nd December 1942.
HMS Verity rescued 1,007 survivors
After about eighteen months of Atlantic convoys, using Halifax, Nova
Scotia, Boston. Massachusetts, St Johns Newfoundland as our bases Verity was ordered to take part in the North African invasion, so that
brought us to the Mediterranean where we did a spell with 'H' Force.
Of course, during this time we were involved with other activities, the
most memorable being when we were part of the escort of a convoy which
included the troopship SS Strathallan.
This ship was making its way to Oran, loaded with supplies and
transporting nurses and their medical equipment together with army and
RAF Personnel. They were destined to join up with the First Army who
were in North Africa.
We were ordered to leave the convoy but why, or where we were heading
for is unknown to me. Some time later we were ordered to return to the
convoy as the SS Strathallen was in trouble.
I had the morning watch and when I went to the mess to grab a cup of
tea, it was piped over the ship "Stand by to pick up survivors". So I
gulped my tea down and hurried to the upper deck.
Arriving on the upper deck there was room for me on the starboard side
scrambling net. Being left handed was an asset as I could hold on with
my right hand and with my left, help the survivors out of the water.
The Captain could not of course, delay the safe passage of the ship, so
we were only able to pick up a few men and women. This procedure went
on all day long during which time we managed to pick up 1,007
survivors. So many in fact that the ship was 'listing' so we had to
move them around to remedy this.
It was getting dusk by the time we reached Oran where we landed these
survivors, who 'fell in' on the jetty in their respective groups.
Amongst these survivors were many nurses as well as Army and RAF
The order came to 'Clean Ship' before we set sail, no one knew where
to. We finally realised when we arrived in Iceland! This was Christmas
Day 1942 as we tied up alongside HMS Renown. We then had 'Big Eats'