- 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)
‘I NAME THIS SHIP KELLY. May God guide her and guard her and keep all who sail in her’. These words, spoken by Miss Antonia Kelly, were to become so true for this ship during her short but active life.
On October 25 1938, Job 615 became a name, HMS Kelly, a sleek and efficient fighting ship constructed under the 1937 Naval Construction Program. She was a new design of destroyer, designed to work with the fleet. She was armed with six 4.7 inch guns, instead of the eight guns of the Tribals, but she had two quintuple 21 inch torpedo tube mountings. Instead of the normal transverse system of framing she had a longitudinal system, adding strength to her hull.
In this Foreword to Kenneth Poolman’s book Kelly, Lord Mountbatten wrote: ‘In 1936 I had just come back after commanding a destroyer in the Mediterranean and was serving at the Admiralty where a friend of mine, a well-known naval constructor called Cole, was designing a new class of destroyers. As we were friends, I used to spend much of my spare time at the Admiralty going through the designs with him and making practical suggestions from my recent experience at sea’.
Cole’s design was revolutionary and he realised he would have trouble in obtaining approval for his design. The most controversial part of the design involved having only one funnel in consequence of the number of boilers being reduced from the normal three to two. There was very strong objection to this from the engineers, and unless the Controller of the Navy overruled the engineers the destroyers would have had the usual three boilers and two funnels. Although not involved in the design officially, Lord Louis Mountbatten decided on his own to see the Controller. Mountbatten was able to convince the Controller that Cole’s idea was a revolutionary step forward and as a result all war time destroyers had one funnel and a lower silhouette. Mountbatten also made a number of suggestions for improving the design, and in particular was responsible for a greatly improved type of bridge.
HMS Kelly was commissioned on the 23rd August 1939 under the command of Captain Lord Louis Moutbatten, who was also Captain (D) of the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla. It was a pure coincidence that Mountbatten had been appointed in command, as his work on the design was completely unofficial and known to very few people.
Mountbatten had just finished a lecture to his officers on his new station-keeping invention when he was handed a signal. ‘From Admiralty to all concerned at home and abroad. Most immediate. Commence hostilities at once with Germany.’ Mountbatten’s voice broke the silence over the ship’s broadcast system, ‘Whenever we leave harbour we shall be right in the face of the enemy, who will be out to destroy us. We must find him and destroy him first.’ These words were all too true for the crew of the Kelly.
On the morning after the Declaration of War, Kelly put to sea with HMS Acheron and a motorboat for an anti-submarine exercise. The morning was calm, the sea swell small and only tiny wavelets to announce the presence of a light breeze. But small as they were, the wavelets hid the eye of a periscope from detection and suddenly the morning stillness was shattered by a report of torpedoes heading for the Kelly. She put on speed and turned stern-on to avoid the torpedoes. Safe from that attack Kelly and Acheron made depth charge attacks on the asdic ‘ping’ and shortly the blue-grey of the sea was spotted with large patches of black fuel oil. This was their first taste of war, and even though they had a ‘probable kill’ the enemy had fired first. Mountbatten’s words had come true.
A fortnight later Kelly received an SOS from HMS Couragous, the aircraft carrier patrolling the approaches of the Western Approaches with a destroyer escort. The carrier received two torpedoes from a lurking U-boat and she was sinking fast. When Kelly arrived on the scene the Couragous was gone and a merchant ship was picking up the survivors. The sea was extremely rough and when Kelly was finally able to receive the survivors the full impact of a dirty, dangerous war was brought home fully to the raw crew of this destroyer. The survivors were wounded and choked with fuel oil, and gasping life away in the crashing seas as the Kelly’s motor cutter risked itself to complete the transfer.
Kelly, along with many other destroyers, accumulated about 90% sea time in these first few months of the war, and many dashes around the coast dropping depth charges on asdic contacts was the daily routine. The men were tired, the ship straining and the U-boat victims increasing.
After the sinking of the Royal Oak by U- 47 in Scapa Flow, Kelly was sent north to endure the hazardous and rough stormy seas on the patrols in the North Sea and along the coast of Norway. After many boring and uneventful patrols she encountered a German prize ship captured by the Deutschland returning to Germany. From a continuous pursuit by British ships the prize was forced to enter Bergen in Norway and was interned. Kelly closed inside territorial waters and was immediately confronted by a small Norwegian patrol boat and ordered to withdraw. Mountbatten, displaying his grace as a Lord, agreed to pull out and said to the patrol boat, ‘Please give my complements to my cousin, Crown Prince Olaf, and tell him I hope he is keeping well.’ Kelly had had the last word.
This patrol was not all laughs and sunshine; the North Sea swell and winds had left their calling card on Kelly. Her starboard side boats, davits and guardrails were swept away and part of her superstructure was damaged. Repairs were called for and so Kelly headed for the Tyne.
Within a month she was ready to sail again, this time in company with the destroyer Mohawk. However, Germany knew of her movements and the infamous Lord Haw-Haw envisioned the destruction of Kelly before she left the Tyne.
On the following day Kelly and Mohawk sailed from port. Just as they approached the river mouth they received a message that two tankers had either been torpedoed or mined in the channel. In the smooth waters the two ships made quick time in approaching the two sinking tankers, but as Kelly began to manoeuvre alongside one, a loud bump was heard under the keel and bounced down to the stern. The feeling of luck was just beginning to be felt throughout the ship when an explosion tore through the stern of the ship.
The rudders and propellers had disappeared, the shafts were twisted, an engine was thrown off alignment and a great part of the stern section was blown into Neptune’s Kingdom. Kelly was dead in the water. Within minutes help was on the way. Two tugs steamed out from the Tyne and took her in tow back to the dockyard. The dockyard hands began to know her well. During the period of this refit Lady Mountbatten paid the fares for all the crew, so they could enjoy a second leave for Christmas with their families.
On 28th February 1940, having completed all repairs, Kelly then headed for northern waters again, this time on convoy escort. A regular feature of the northern convoys was the tremendous seas, cold winds and blinding snowstorms. It was on just such a day that Kelly was playing sheepdog to another north-bound convoy when another incident of fate crossed her bows again. Enclosed in the shrouds of the snow storm, Gurkha was herding her convoy south. Suddenly a dark shape appeared out of the gloom about twenty yards off Kelly’s port bow. Action was taken to avert collision but to no avail. As Gurkha turned to starboard her propeller guard ripped into Kelly’s bow, gashing her for more than twenty five feet. The deadly seas poured into her wound and left her limping as rush repairs were made to stop the inflow of sea. With temporary repairs completed within the cover of the snowstorm, concealed from the view of any lurking U-boats, Kelly once again limped back to Lerwick in the Shetlands. She then sailed to Scapa Flow where steel plates were welded over the hole. Departing Scapa Flow she headed south for dry dock, but as the Tyne yards were all full she went further south to the shipyards on the Thames.