|Ship Class||K-class Destroyer|
|Builder||Hawthorn Leslie & Co., Hebburn, England, United Kingdom|
|Laid Down||26 Aug 1937|
|Launched||25 Oct 1938|
|Commissioned||23 Aug 1939|
|Sunk||23 May 1941|
|Displacement||1760 tons standard; 2330 tons full|
|Machinery||2 Admiralty 3-drum water-tube boilers driving Parsons geared steam turbines with 2 shafts|
|Power Output||40000 SHP|
|Range||1,050nm at 32 knots|
|Armament||3x2x4.7in Mk XII QF guns, 1x4x40mm AA pom-pom, 2x4x0.50in AA machine guns, 10x21in Mk IX torpedo tubes, 20 depth charges|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseCaptained by Lord Louis Mountbatten (qv), HMS Kelly was the name ship of the British "K" Class of destroyers. Laid down in 1937 and commissioned just prior to the outbreak of war, she was 356 feet long and displaced 2,330 tons. Steam turbines drove her at 36 knots and she carried a full crew of 183 men (216 as a Flotilla leader). The main armament consisted of six 4.7-in guns and ten 21-in torpedo tubes.
ww2dbaseEven before her luck ran out off the coast of Crete, Greece on 23 May 1941, Mountbatten and the Kelly had led an exciting career. Kelly entered World War II in home waters on routine patrols in the North Sea and convoy escort duties. On 14 December 1939, misfortune occurred when the Kelly struck a mine while escorting rescue tugs going to the aid of two tankers reported to be in trouble off the Tyne. Unable to move, HMS Mohawk took the crippled Kelly in tow until a tug arrived to tow her back to Hawthorn Leslie's yard for repairs. She would be out of service for three months. With repairs completed Kelly returned to her duties but, on a snowy 9 March 1940, while escorting a northbound Norwegian convoy she was in collision with HMS Gurkha (Commander A. W. Buzzard RN) escorting a southbound convoy. Immediately Kelly's signalman made: "Have been hit by mine or torpedo. Am uncertain which." Gurkha's signal came in clearly "That was me, not mine." The damage, however, was sufficient to put the Kelly back in dry dock for a further period.
ww2dbaseOn 1 May 1940, HMS Kelly was part of the destroyer force escorting the transports sent to evacuate Allied troops from Namsos, Norway. As the naval force approached the Norwegian coast during the afternoon a thick fog came down forcing Vice-Admiral John Cunningham (qv) to order a turn to seawards. One of his destroyer screen, HMS Maori (Commander G. N. Brewer RN), failing to take in the signal, continued on and was able to establish her position off the Kya Light. Thereupon Captain Mountbatten, proposed that he should take two other destroyers, join the Maori and try to make their way into Namsos where they might be able to take off at least some of the scheduled first night load.
ww2dbaseThe proposal was approved. The Kelly duly made contact with the Maori and the four ships groped their way up the Namsen Fjord to break out into clear weather off Namsos. By then it was broad daylight, and already the first Stuka dive bombers of I Gruppe Stukageschwader I were circling above and seeking more worthwhile targets than the shattered town. As there was no possibility of embarking troops under their threat, Mountbatten led the ships back into the fog. It was none too soon, for before Maori was able to get into complete cover, and while her masts were still showing above the low-lying fog bank, a Stuka placed a bomb so close to her that she suffered twenty-three casualties from splinters. That night Captain Philip Vian in HMS Afridi followed by the cruiser HMS York, the Destroyer HMS Nubian and three transports came up the fjord where they were joined by Mountbatten's four destroyers. The Kelly was the first to get alongside the stone pier where 270 French soldiers quickly boarded. At 1:00 am, in company with the transport El Kantara containing 1700 troops, Kelly sailed back down the fjord followed by the York and the Nubian. Finally at 3:15 am the last troops of the rear guard – the Colonel and thirty-three men of the York and Lancaster Regiment boarded the Afridi bringing the campaign in Central Norway to an end.
ww2dbaseKelly's next encounter with the enemy came on 10 May when she was attacked and torpedoed amidships by German E-boat S 31 (Oberleutnant zur See Hermann Opdenhoff). Taken under tow by the tug Great Emperor, for four days she was attacked constantly by E-boats and bombers as, at three knots, she struggled to get back to port safely. After undergoing extensive repairs, Kelly rejoined the Fifth Flotilla later in the year and, after some sea trials, sailed for the Mediterranean, arriving at Malta in April 1941.
ww2dbaseThe Fifth flotilla, with Kelly as its flagship, left Malta on the night of 21 May to join Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham's (qv) battle-fleet off Crete, Greece. Soon into the voyage they were diverted to pick up survivors from the Royal Navy Cruisers HMS Fiji and HMS Gloucester which Luftwaffe bombers had sunk earlier that day. But as they approached the area of search, during the evening of 22 May, Admiral Cunningham ordered the destroyers, at the request of General Freyberg, to Canea Bay to bombard Maleme airfield which the Germans had just captured and which the New Zealand Brigade were waiting to counter-attack. Mountbatten's division, less HMS Jersey which had been sunk by a magnetic mine just after passing the breakwaters into Grand Harbour, and Kelvin and Jackal who had been diverted to another search, now consisting of just the Kelly, Kashmir and Kipling) therefore proceeded to steam around the North-Eastern Cape of Crete, but during the night HMS Kipling reported a defective steering gear. Lord Louis not wishing to risk a ship with steering which was not perfect on such a hazardous mission ordered the Kipling to proceed westward to join Rear Admiral Rawlinson. In the light of later developments this was a fortuitous decision.
ww2dbaseAs they entered the Bay at the first streak of dawn, a large caique (a traditional Aegean fishing boat) full of German soldiers was sighted creeping towards the beach. Both destroyers opened fire, and sank it. German soldiers were seen to leap overboard in their full marching order. But Mountbatten opted not to stop to pick them up, deciding that he must press on with his mission. After completing the bombardment the two warships hastened to withdraw at high speed, during which they encountered another caique loaded with ammunition. Shells from Kelly's and Kashmir's 4.7's quickly set her on fire. Box after box of ammunition flared into the sky like a giant Roman candle until she blew up in a most spectacular way. The German paratroopers ashore, eye witnesses to the fate of their much needed supports, despatched impassioned signals for the Luftwaffe to concentrate their efforts on the destroyers responsible. It was not long before it arrived.
ww2dbaseDawn broke on the 23rd found the Kelly and Kashmir rounding the north-eastern cape at thirty knots and steamed down the Kithara Channel intent on re-joining Admiral Rawlinson. The air attacks started at 5:30 am. A Dornier 215 aircraft appeared out of the east dropping five 110-pound bombs which missed Kelly astern. Forty minutes later three more Dornier 215 aircraft made a high-level bombing attack but both ships managed to escape unscathed. Then shortly before 8 am there appeared twenty-four of the dreaded Junkers 87 dive-bombers which split into two groups of about twelve each. These Stukas had a reputation for diving almost vertically on ships and only releasing their bombs when they were so low that they could not miss. The destroyers began zigzagging at maximum speed. Sounding "full action stations" Lord Louis hoisted the signal to Kashmir to "act independently" which unfortunately now became the target of the first group of Stuka dive bombers which started diving in waves of three. With all guns firing the Kashmir fought back desperately to ward off the bombers, but the third wave to attack struck her with a thousand-pound bomb aft of the funnel. The Kashmir broke in two and sank in two minutes.
ww2dbaseThe Kelly's fate was not long in following. As a second wave of dive bombers were half-way down. Lord Louis instinctively shouted down the voice-pipe: "Whatever happens keep the guns firing." As the words tumbled out of his mouth he almost regretted them, for a quick glance down the deck showed that not a man had left his post and that every gun was firing harder than it had ever fired before. Then as the fourth wave of three attacked, one of the Stuka dive bombers suddenly came in lower than the others and placed a thousand-pounder directly on "X" gun-deck which killed the crew of the twin 4.7-inch gun mounting, including the nice young boy Michael Sturdee, who was in command. At that moment, Kelly was steaming at a good 30 knots and heeling over under full starboard rudder. All that could be seen from the bridge was the flying debris from the explosion, the plates of the ship's side as they buckled back and were wrenched open by the force of the water, and the Stuka aircraft diving headlong into the sea. The speed of the ship and the force of the water on the wrenched-out plates in her side were too much. She took up an ever-increasing list to port and, 50 seconds after being hit, turned turtle. As she went, the men were literally swept away from their guns by the weight of water. One lad of seventeen, washed off by the sea as he was loading a belt into his gun, was still clasping the belt in his last desperate efforts to get it in. Below decks the unsung engineers and stokers heroically remained at their posts to a man. In the engine-room they were still working the steam valves as the Kelly capsized, and it was only when the Engineer Commander gave permission to leave that they made their escape through a convenient air lock.
ww2dbaseA total of 130 officers and men were lost but the survivors, including Mountbatten, clung to the few Carley rafts that the Kashmir had been able to release before going down. A Petty Officer, seeing his Captain rise to the surface from the sinking ship, quipped "Extraordinary how the scum always came to the top, isn't it, Sir?" But as the survivors struggled in the water, their eyes clogged up with oil fuel from the sunken warships, the German pilots, in a cowardly act, flew up and down close to the surface while their rear gunners riddled the helpless British sailors with machine-gun bullets. Some three and a half hours later a miracle happened. HMS Kipling appeared from below the horizon at full speed coming to the rescue. As Kipling approached she unfortunately grazed the sharp bow of the Kelly under the water and was holed (luckily in the reserve feed tank, which meant that no water actually got into the ship). Though repeatedly bombed by twin-engine bombers which made the rescue task difficult, Kipling managed to pick up from the water 279 officers and men and miraculously survived eighty-three bombs.
ww2dbaseAdmiral Cunningham prompted by a mistaken message that the battleship had run out of anti-aircraft ammunition, but also reassured by signals intelligence that there would be no further German attempt to transport troops by sea, ordered the recall of all warships to Alexandria. The damage to the Kipling prevented her from doing more than half speed with the upper decks crowded with survivors, many of them wounded and in poor shape, Lord Louis went round with a notebook to record which of the men wanted messages sent to their families. With more air attacks developing (Mountbatten counted over eighty near misses) some of the abler survivors assisted the Kipling's gun crews to fight off the bombers, who eventually gave up the attempt as the gallant Kipling sailed into the night. Fifty miles short of Alexandria, Kipling ran out of fuel and to be refuelled by HMS Protector which had been sent out to meet them. In Alexandria, Those crewmen who were not wounded were drafted to other ships to continue the battle. Sadly, Mountbatten went round to shake hands with each man before they departed. The story of the Kelly would ultimately inspire the 1942 film "In Which We Serve" starring (and co-directed with David Lean) the actor No?l Coward.
Anthony Beevor, Crete – The Battle and the Resistance, (John Murray Publishers, 1991) pp 170-171
Martin H. Brice, The Tribals – Biography of a Destroyer Class (Ian Allan, 1971)
Nicolas Bevan (Editor), Images of War 1939-45 Issue 6 (Marshall Cavendish Part works, 1988)
Walter Hutchinson (Editor), Crete: The Navy's Part (BBC broadcast by Commander Anthony Kimmins as reproduced in The Listener / Pictorial History of the War Vol. 12 pp.218, unknown date)
Donald Macintyre, Narvik, (Pan Books, 1962) pp 171-173
John Winton, The War at Sea (Book Club Associates, 1974) – contains an account of the sinking of HMS Kelly given by Lord Louis Mountbatten, later Admiral of the Fleet Mountbatten of Burma, to his sister Louise, Queen of Sweden.
Last Major Revision: Jan 2017
Destroyer HMS Kelly (F01) Interactive Map
HMS Kelly Operational Timeline
|26 Aug 1937||The keel of destroyer Kelly was laid down by Hawthorn Leslie and Company in Hebburn, England, United Kingdom.|
|25 Oct 1938||Destroyer Kelly was launched in Hebburn, England, United Kingdom.|
|23 Aug 1939||HMS Kelly was commissioned into service.|
|29 Apr 1940||British destroyers HMS Kelly, HMS Maori, and HMS Imperial and French destroyer Bison departed Scapa Flow, Scotland, United Kingdom to evacuate British troops at Namsos, Norway; they were escorted by cruisers and other destroyers.|
|9 May 1940||British destroyer HMS Kelly with Lord Louis Mountbatten aboard went on patrol in the Skagerrak between Sweden and Germany, escorted by cruiser HMS Birmingham and destroyers HMS Kandahar, HMS Bulldog, HMS Kimberley, and HMS Hasty. Five German torpedo boats attacked this fleet in the evening. Torpedo boat S-31 damaged HMS Kelly with one torpedo, killing 27; she would require HMS Bulldog to tow her back to port.|
|10 May 1941||British destroyers HMS Kelly, HMS Kipling, HMS Jackal, HMS Kashmir, and HMS Kelvin from Malta bombarded Benghazi, Libya at 1700 hours; German dive bombers fought back but caused no damage. After nightfall, also in Libya, British gunboat HMS Ladybird shelled Gazala 30 miles west of Tobruk.|
|23 May 1941||HMS Kelly commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, great grandson of Queen Victoria, was sunk 35 miles south Crete, Greece at 0800 hours, shortly a bombardment mission; 181 were killed, 297 survived. On the island itself, bitter fighting continued. During the day, German reinforcements arrived at Maleme airfield, but the attempts to land troops by sea were rebuffed. The Germans now controlled the west end of the island. On the same day, German bombing of Suda Bay sank 5 British motor torpedo boats.|
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