- Kelly, Michael J
- Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1978 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
When the action had died, the two continued in a Westerly direction at about 6 knots. Kandahar rejoined at 0310 hours and it was decided that the wounded would be transferred to her. An hour later the ships were dead in the water and Kandahar positioned her starboard quarter against that of the Kelly and the transfer commenced. All hands that were not needed to man the ship were also transferred as there was a great shortage of supplies.
Whist this transfer was in progress a German plane paid a visit. With the two ships still coupled, the transfer continued as all guns on both ships began firing to hold off the attacker. Assistance was not long in coming for three Hudson aircraft of the RAF arrived to handle the Luftwaffe. After a short period Birmingham and her destroyer escort arrived to give added protection against air attack, but after two hours Birmingham had to again depart, leaving the destroyers Kandahar, Bulldog, Fury and Gallant as escort for the crippled Kelly.
With Kelly so low in the water she was very unmanageable in tow, and so the tow was shortened to stop the yawing effect. However, this proved to be too short and tore loose Kelly’s bullring. The tow was again lengthened but with a heavier wire. The changing of the tow was hampered by the arrival of five enemy aircraft doing low strafing attacks. The A/A guns on the four escort ships and those on Kelly all open fired, driving off the attackers.
At 1400 hours on the 10th, the cruisers Manchester and Sheffield arrived to aid in the escort and added their firepower to drive off the German bombers which attacked for over an hour. At night the cruisers advanced to a forward position leaving the destroyers to form a screen around Kelly. The tow finally parted and due to a shortage of heavy cable and no power, the tow was abandoned whilst awaiting two tugs to join from the Tyne.
The Admiral commanding the 18th Cruiser Squadron considered that Kelly should be abandoned and sunk, but Mountbatten disagreed and suggested, if necessary, the escorts could be dispensed with as Kelly’s guns could still operate manually.
The sea increased and winds began to blow in strong gusts causing Kelly to take on an increased list of 16 degrees. Mountbatten transferred all personnel except six officers and twelve men to the escort ships. At the moment of the transfer the heaviest attack by the Luftwaffe began. All guns were closed up to drive off the bombers. The exploding bombs were of some distance from Kelly and all the near misses failed to explode. Kelly was saved again.
During the evening two U-boats were reported eight miles to the west. Kelly was a stationary target as the tugs had not yet appeared, and so the remaining eighteen men were taken off so as not to cause any unnecessary injury.
At 0500 hours on the morning of May 12, the tug Watermeyer arrived along with the Kandahar. The volunteer party again boarded the Kelly and took in the tow from the tug. An hour and a half later the tug Brahman appeared and also secured her tow. Kelly was underway again.
The seas and wind began to rise again and Kelly was now shipping waves over the bow and shaking the whole ship throughout. Further bombing attacks were made on the Kelly and her escorts for the remainder of the day but caused no damage. A U-boat was picked up on the hydrophones and a depth charge attack was made by the escorts. It was at this time, 0100 hours on May 13, that the tow to Watermayer parted. The darkness of the northern night and the nearness of a Uboat hindered the men as they hastily renewed the towline. Thankfully, they remained intact and the tow resumed. After 91 hours of towing and engaging enemy aircraft and escaping lurking U-boats the Kelly arrived at the shipyards on the River Tyne.
The dead which were still on board were buried at the Hebburn Cemetery, the whole town attending the funeral. Over the grave of the 27 Kelly men was erected a monument reading:
In memory of the 27 men killed in action with E-boats off the German minefields on the night of May 9th, 1940.
This memorial was erected by officers and men of the ship and workmen of Hebburn Shipbuilding Yard.’
Her repairs this time were very extensive and totalled seven months of constant work. On completion on the 18th December she sailed for Scapa for working up trials and also participated in numerous anti-submarine chases. She had numerous patrols in the Arctic, and Mountbatten had another one of his favourite turns; a full helm turn at speed and loss of another set of guard-rails, davits and boats all down one side. Repairs were called for again, this time at Plymouth.
Her bow now turned south towards sunshine and Gibraltar. Kelly joined up with other J and K class ships at Malta and began her numerous patrols and escorts in Mussolini’s ‘Mare Nostrum,’ – the Mediterranean Sea.
One of Kelly’s tasks was the bombardment of the Benghazi docks and shipping in company with her sister-ships. Benghazi was the doorway into Africa for Rommel’s supplies and it had to be closed. Each ship of the Flotilla fired 200 rounds of high explosive shells into the star-shell lit harbour and, on completion, all the Axis transports were blazing wrecks and the wharves were shattered beyond use.
On May 21st 1941 the destroyer flotillas were to distinguish themselves in ‘their finest hour’. They sailed from Malta to halt the German seaborne invasion of Crete. As they approached the darkened coastline of the island, the German Stuka dive-bombers made their attack. Kelly, Kashmir, Kipling, Kelvin, Kandahar, Kingston, Kimberely, Jackal and Juno went into battle, their guns blazing at the German sea transports and at the divebombers all at one go. The surface transports did not stand a chance with the heavy barrage laid on by the destroyers, even though the Luftwaffe had divided their fire. The German ships were sinking and the dead and dying soldiers covered the oil-caked seas around the rugged coast of the island. The fight was not all one-sided, however, as HMS Juno was soon to learn. She received numerous direct hits from the screeching Stuka dive-bombers, bringing her fighting capacity to an end as she rolled over and slid beneath the surface.
Night came, but not the peace and stillness expected of it. Kelly and Kashmir were in company on their way to bombard Maleme airfield which was occupied by the German paratroop forces, when they discovered some caiques laden with German reinforcements. Their 4.7s put a sudden end to the German sortie and soon the surviving soldiers were drowning under the weight of their field packs.
The time came later that night when the ammunition was running low and the destroyers were ordered to Alexandria to replenish their stocks. Kelly and Kashmir headed south at full speed to get clear of the Luftwaffe, but not fast enough. The fast, low-flying planes soon found them and engaged in a heavy bombardment under strong anti-aircraft fire.
Kashmir died instantly, her men fighting their guns until swallowed by the churning seas. The Stukas had caught her with a string of high explosive bombs, breaking her back. Kelly was now their sole target. She zigzagged at full speed, dodging the falling parcels of death and spitting fire from every gun that could bear on the attackers. A Heinkel bomber dropped a stick of bombs at her and she turned hard to port at her best speed. She was in the turn at 30 knots when the bombs caught her in the port side aft of the engine room. She kept turning – all the way over onto her back. Her keel pointed skyward, her propellers still churning in the air, her hull still sliding forward through the water, her men dying.
Within minutes of the explosion, the survivors of Kelly, clinging to the mangled wreckage of a Carley float and rafts, lifted their heads and gave a hearty cheer for a hardy ship as HMS Kelly slid beneath the waves, never to be seen again. With the ship gone the German dive-bombers raked the men in the water with machine-gun fire. All seemed lost for these men when suddenly another sound of gunfire came to their ears. The thundering booms of 4.7s roared across the seas and the fine white curling bow-wave of a destroyer brought relief to the imperilled crew.
Kipling had returned. As she fired at the planes of death, driving them away from the survivors, she lowered her boats to pick up the men. She circled around the scene of disaster, loosing her explosive might at the diving demons, allowing the Kelly men to be rescued. During a lull in the air attack she stopped to pick up the boat-loads of the wounded and half-drowned seamen. Then the planes came again, and again her guns fired and her shafts turned at full speed drawing the planes away from those few left in the water Another lull came and she was back to complete her mission of rescue until all who could be were saved, then turned her bows south once again heading for safety and the port of Alexandria.
Kelly was dead and so were nine officers and 121 men of her crew, but the others had lived and so did Mountbatten. Because of rank he was required elsewhere and so he had to leave his crew after only twenty months together in Kelly.
Job number 615 had lived and died, but some of her men lived to fight on under the banner of the White Ensign and carried on the proud memory of HMS Kelly.