- Wright, Ken
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2006 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Early in May, Kelly led a small force of destroyers into the Norwegian port of Namsos in an attempt to relieve a group of local soldiers resisting the German invasion. Without air protection, the force was bombed incessantly and several of the group were sunk. Kelly was fortunate to escape unscathed.
9 May 1940
Kelly was leading a destroyer flotilla to assist the cruiser HMS Birmingham and her escorts to hunt and hopefully destroy a flotilla of E-Boats (or Schnellboot – German motor torpedo boats) which were protecting some minelayers operating in the Skagerrak in the North Sea. At about 2025, a lookout aboard Kelly observed a dark shape about 600 yards on the port bow and saw the wake of a torpedo approaching but it was too late to take any evasive action. The torpedo hit the forward boiler room and exploded with disastrous results. The boiler was ripped from its fixture and tossed to starboard, sending steam spewing everywhere. After the initial shock of the explosion had worn off, the stunned crew swung into action. As the ship began to list badly to starboard, damage control crews went to work removing anything moveable to prevent her possibly capsizing. Torpedoes were ‘set to sink’ then fired, depth charges ‘set to safe’, ‘ready’ ammunition was jettisoned and any portable fixtures were thrown overboard. Life boats were lowered in preparation for abandoning ship. With no power available except for emergency lighting facilities, Kelly seemed lifeless and doomed.
No one had abandoned ship nor was the order given. Captain Mountbatten was going to do his best to try and save his ship and his crew. Fortunately, out of the gloom appeared HMS Bulldog and positioned herself alongside the stricken Kelly. After several attempts to attach a towline in the dark with both ships pitching in the rough seas, Bulldog finally managed to secure the towline and began the difficult job of towing Kelly back to port. After 92 hours in tow, Kelly eventually arrived home at the Hebburn shipyard. It took several months to rebuild the ship.
April 1941 found Kelly in the Mediterranean, based in Malta, and involved in escort duties and shore bombardment along the North African coast.
20 May 1941
The Germans began a massive airborne invasion of Crete. Although suffering horrendous casualties, the invasion succeeded in its goal. The Royal Navy managed to rescue approximately 15,000 allied soldiers, but at a high cost in men and ships.
21 May 1941
It became vital for the navy to prevent a German sea-borne landing on Crete so Kelly and four other destroyers were ordered from Malta to join the rest of the fleet west of Crete.
23 May 1941
It was approximately 0800 when twenty four Stukas screamed out of the sky and attacked the destroyers Kelly and Kashmir.
Kashmir was hit amidships by two bombs, her magazine exploded and she sank within two minutes. One Stuka came in lower than the rest over Kelly and released its bomb, hitting square on X gun-deck, killing the gun crew. Kelly’s gunners kept up a barrage of fire against the attacking aircraft but another bomb exploded right beside the Kelly, tearing a gaping hole in her side near X magazine while she was still steaming at 30 knots. The destroyer lost its stability and began rolling over at speed, eventually capsizing but still continuing its forward momentum. She finally stopped all movement and for a while floated upside down with the length of her keel from stem to stern exposed. The screws were still turning while several of her crew clung precariously to the keel. All around the mortally wounded ship were men struggling to survive in a sea covered in a thick stinking mixture of fuel oil and debris. Some were killed in the initial blast; some drowned when the Kelly capsized or were choked to death, their lungs full of oil. Others were killed when the Stukas returned to machine gun the struggling survivors.
Kelly finally tilted on an angle and sank beneath the surface, her brief but eventful life finally at an end. Perhaps those who watched her go remembered lost shipmates, friends and a ship they had the honour and privilege to serve aboard. Survivors from both the Kelly and the Kashmir were clinging to life amongst the wreckage of war. The situation looked hopeless. A few gave up and quietly slipped under the water, others fought the grim reaper with every ounce of their being. Captain Mountbatten and First Lieutenant Beresford rescued many injured crew, swimming to someone in difficulty and getting him to the safety of a raft or piece of floating debris.