Mountbatten’s HMS Kelly sunk

As we entered Canea Bay a large caique was sighted loaded with German troops steering towards Crete. Both ships opened fire and sank her very quickly, the wretched Germans jumping into the water in full marching order. In any other circumstances we would have stopped to pick them up, but even at 30 knots it was doubtful if I could get into position to carry out the bombardment in time, so I had to push on.

After their losses in Greece the RAF were unable to maintain a presence on Crete. The Germans had total air superiority and inflicted much damage on the Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy suffered significant losses in the battle for Crete but also managed to sink large numbers of German troop ships bringing re-inforcements to the airborne invaders. The destroyers HMS Kelly, HMS Kipling and HMS Kashmir were under the command of Lord Louis Mountbatten. He had [permalink id=5369 text=”saved HMS Kelly from near certain sinking”] during the invasion of Norway just a year earlier.

On 23rd May Mountbatten was directed to Crete where they were to bombard Maleme airfield, which had just been captured by German airborne troops, in support of a counter-attack by British forces. HMS Kipling developed steering problems and was detached. Mountbatten’s account comes from a letter to his sister Louise, Queen of Sweden:

As we entered Canea Bay a large caique was sighted loaded with German troops steering towards Crete. Both ships opened fire and sank her very quickly, the wretched Germans jumping into the water in full marching order. In any other circumstances we would have stopped to pick them up, but even at 30 knots it was doubtful if I could get into position to carry out the bombardment in time, so I had to push on.

We hadn’t got the exact position of the aerodrome, but worked out from a contour map where the airstrip must be. After having completed our bombardment we withdrew at high speed and came across another caique carrying ammunition. Shortly after we started firing at her she blew up in a very spectacular way.

Dawn broke as we rounded the North-Eastern Cape and we steamed at 30 knots down the Kithera Channel to rejoin Rawlings’ force. As the sun rose a German Dornier 215 appeared out of the east and was engaged before she dropped five bombs which missed Kelly astern; forty minutes later three more Do. 215s made a high-level bombing attack on Kelly and Kashmir in the face of good 4.7-inch controlled fire. Both ships avoided the bombs. I sent for my breakfast on the bridge and I continued reading C. S. Forester’s book about my favourite hero Hornblower called Ship of the Line.

Just before 8 am we sighted a mast above the horizon and I hoped it belonged to the Kipling though I couldn’t think why she had waited for us.

By now the sun was well up, the sea was calm and it was a lovely Mediterranean day. Just about 8 a.m. we suddenly saw 24 ominous black objects. Their distinctive shape soon revealed them as the dreaded Stukas, the Ju. 87s. They had a reputation for diving almost vertically on ships and only releasing their bombs when they were so low that they couldn’t miss. They were hard to distinguish against the rising sun, but presently we could see that they broke up into two parties of about 12 in each.

I pressed the alarm rattlers, for this required full action stations, and I hoisted the signal to the Kashmir to ‘act independently’.The first party made for the Kashmir and they started diving in waves of three. I could see the bombs dropping round her and all her guns were firing. Then a wave of three peeled off from our lot and started to dive. I put the telegraphs at ‘full ahead’. I gave the order ‘hard-a-starboard’ to bring the ship under the dive bomber to force it to dive ever steeper in the hopes they would finally be pushed beyond the vertical and lose control. This happened and the bomber hit the sea close by sending up an enormous splash.

I reversed the wheel ‘hard-a-port’. The next dive bomber was also forced to dive steeper and this one we actually shot down, into the sea. The next one also missed.

But now to my horror I saw that the third or fourth wave had hit the Kashmir somewhere amidships and she was finished. I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, even if we are not hit now we shall have to stay and pick up the survivors and they will get us then!’

I think it was about the fourth wave of the three, where one of the Stukas suddenly came lower than the others and although I had the wheel over to ‘hard-a-starboard’ and we were turning at over 30 knots under full helm the bomb was released so close to the ship that it couldn’t miss. It hit square on X gun-deck and killed the crew of the twin 4.7-inch gun mounting, including that nice young boy Michael Sturdee, who was in command.

The next wave were coming and I gave the order to the navigator ‘midships’ and then ‘hard-a-port’, but we only listed over more heavily to port. All ships list outwards under full helm at full speed, but this list was getting worse. I gave the order ’stop engines’ and then heard the coxswain shout up the voice-pipe, ‘Ship won’t answer the helm. No reply to the engine-room telegraphs!’ Then I realised we were for it. The next wave of Stukas had started their dive towards us and I remember shouting out, ‘Keep all guns firing’, an unnecessary order, for all guns continued to fire until the guns’ crews were actually washed away from their guns. I realised the bomb must have torn a gaping hole down near X magazine, as we had lost our stability and were rolling right over. I suddenly saw the water rise on our port side in a raging torrent of over 30 knots and thinking, ‘Whatever happens I must stay with the ship as long as I can. I must be the last to leave her alive.’

We were over beyond ninety degrees now and I climbed up on to the distance correction indicator of my station-keeping gear, which I had invented and was fitted in the flotilla. With my arms I clung round the gyro compass pedestal. And then the sea came in a roaring maelstrom. I saw officers and men struggling to get out of the bridge and then I took an enormously deep breath as the water closed over my head. The awful part was that even after we were upside down we continued to race through the water, though, of course, at a rapidly decreasing rate. Somehow I managed to flounder and work my way across the upside-down bridge until I got to the bullet-proof bridge screens. Here I had to pull myself under them and up to this moment it was horribly dark.

A faint glimmer of daylight appeared on the other side of the bridge screens, but the water was churning round and I could distinguish nothing.

I suddenly felt my lungs were going to burst and that I would have to open my mouth unless I could somehow keep it shut. With my right hand I gripped my mouth in a vice-like grip and with my left hand I held my nostrils shut. It was a fight of willpower. Would my hands obey me and keep my mouth and nose shut longer than the reflex action which would force me to open them and swallow a lot of seawater?

I had my Gieve waistcoat on, but had not blown up the rubber ring which is fitted in the waistcoat. This was lucky because it had made it easier to get out from under the bridge, but now I had to kick hard to fight my way to the surface. Slowly, infinitely slowly, the water got brighter and lighter and then suddenly with lungs bursting I broke surface. I gasped for breath, but the next moment I saw the stern of the ship approaching us with both our great propellers still revolving in the air. They looked as though they were going to come right over us and hit us. I saw the navigator, Lieutenant Maurice Butler-Bowden, with his back to the ship. I yelled to him to ’swim like hell’ because I was afraid that the propellers would hit him. We both managed to get clear, but only by a matter of six or seven yards.

At this moment up bobbed one of our stoker petty officers, a great character and a bit of a humorist. He looked at the ‘pilot’ and then at me and then produced a typically cheery crack. ‘Extraordinary how the scum always comes to the top, isn’t it, sir?’ I looked round, I could only see one Carley raft, which someone must have had time to release before the ship turned over. I saw men all round me in the water and yelled out, ‘Everybody swim to the raft.’

I suddenly noticed I still had my steel helmet on, and this seemed ridiculous in the water, so I took it off and threw it away. I pulled the mouthpiece and tube out of my waistcoat and blew up the rubber ring. That made it easier to stay afloat. Then at that moment, suddenly and unexpectedly, a row of splashes appeared between us and the Carley raft, then with a roar one of the Stukas shot overhead with her machine-guns firing at us. I bitterly regretted throwing away my tin hat; you have no idea how naked one feels in the water without one when one is being machine-gunned.

For the full account see Naval Historical Society of Australia.

An alternative account of the action above Crete with the pictures and videos of Stuka pilot Heinz Migeod, used to be available at now at (may be slow loading).

30 thoughts on “Mountbatten’s HMS Kelly sunk”

  1. My uncle Able Seaman Sydney George Minter aged 21 was lost when HMS Kelly sank off Crete. His Memorial is at Chatham in Kent as that is where they put sailed from… my nan and grandad never got over their loss as Sydney as he was their youngest…

  2. My friend William mills deceased served on the Kelly at Crete he told me all about the the sinking and of how lord louis Mountbatten was captain he was a lucky survivor he also told me he met lord mountbatten in Glasgow at the opening of the nautical college in th 1970 s I think he spoke to lord Louis and he remembered him willie was a good man any info on would be helpful

  3. My Mother’s (nee Nora Draper) born in Regina, Saskatchewan,Canada (her Dad was from England and immigrated to Canada along with his English Bride (Ada nee Adlam), Mom’s Brother Ray Draper trained under MountBatten (flew I believe in the Royal Airforce in England, but we are all born in Canada). Ray trained directly under MountBatten, and
    I would like to know how to find out stories about Ray. He apparently was quite the character …something about unleashing a train parked somewhere in England during time off from duty & he and his comrad were advised never to return to England due to “the prank”….may be court marshalled….how do I find out more ? Then my other Uncle Robert Draper flew for the Canadian Royal Airforce and was shot down over Holland in WW2 (He flew as a Gunner in the plane) and a lake (Draper Lake) near Urannium City in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. Canada named lakes after fallen service men and women I believe….Anyway I wonder how to find about about the history of Ray Draper and his training directly under MountBatten and the “train unleashing prank -advised never to return to England !. Thank you, Ellen Nora Thomas

  4. My Grandfather was on the Kelly when it went down his name was Alan Andrews.
    Would love to share stories. Never got to meet the man but I feel like we know each other.
    Cheer’s Campbell

  5. My dad was on Hms Kelly when it was sunk. He is still alive at 97yrs but sadly with dementia. He keeps a wooden cross in his room though with R. I. P. Hms Kelly on it even now. I wonder is he the last survivor?

  6. My Uncle, Stoker 2nd class Douglas Stanley Cripps served on the Kelly, he was killed at the sinking. He was 21..

  7. My Uncle, Raymond Arthur Garratt died when HMS Kashmir was sunk off Crete. He was a Stoker First Class and only 21 years old.

  8. 1st Class Stoker William Mitchell was my mothers cousin. I knew the family had moved from Bellshill to Kirkintilloch. I also knew that William was commemorated on the monument at Chatham but I never knew he was also commemorated on the monument at Lenzie Old Parish Church. I think a wee trip to Lenzie is on the cards sooner than later.
    Thank you for sharing that Anne Anderson

  9. 1st Class Stoker William Mitchell, C/KX 85689 (H.M.S. Kelly), son of John and Mary Mitchell, late of Coltness Cottages, Bellshill, Lanarkshire is commemorated on Lenzie Old Parish Church Memorial, Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire.

  10. I had a great friend. we were apprentices in the city, he went down in HMS Kelly.
    His name was George Burgess. May God rest his soul.

  11. My father Tug Wilson was on HMS Kelly when she sunk and one of the leading members of the Kelly reunion assoc which was disbanded the after his death by the countess as there was less than 10 survivors.
    Tim draper I knew your grandfather and grandmother remember them fondly.

  12. my great grandfather served on the HMS.Kelly when it sunk he and a few other survivors survived for nearly a weak and was rescued by and american ship if any body is related or knows the other survivors however I only know his last name Stephenson.

    please contact me,Adam Ames

  13. Hi, my father Edward Williams served on the Kelly. He was a survivor of the sinking. If anyone has any info.

  14. Are there any relatives of Boy 1st Class P E Harman (Philip) who died when the Kelly went down? I have some documents which may be of interest to members of his family.
    Paul Jones

  15. HI…I’m so desperate to find any details at all about Marine Robinson ( not too sure of his christian name) but we know he was a marine and he was aboard the Kelly with Lord Louis Mountbatten. If anybody has any knowledge of him and or his family, please could you leave me a message….thank you for reading…

  16. My dad served on the Kelly his name was Vaughan Eric North. He was a radio NCO. He has since passed. Does anyone have any records or dates or know anyone who does?

  17. Hi, My dad (William Young) served on the Kelly and was wounded when she went down in the battle for Crete. I know its a long shot but I would be very grateful if anyone has any information. I’ve been trying for years but keep hitting dead ends.
    Thanks in advance (hopefully)

  18. Looking for any family of Signalman Leonard Alfred Hoy. Please make contact. Thank you

  19. I left the RN in 2000 and took up work at ATS in Swaffham Norfolk,
    Met a Gentleman to whom I had the pleasure in taking him back to his house in Marham whilst his car was being repaired.
    He told me he had served on H.M.S Kelly. Just wish I knew if he was still alive and wish I could remember where he lived.

  20. My great grandfather died on the HMS Kashmir. His name was Frederick Green. I believe he was in the engine room and on duty when the Kashmir was hit. My grand grandmother received a letter for a survivor called H.R.King, I still have the letter. Any information on this person would be greatly appreciated.

  21. My dad has told me that his uncle was killed on the hms kelly in Crete . His name was Joseph Harrison . Please can anyone with any info let me know

  22. Good Evening

    My father in law was Lord Mountbatten s batman, he was wounded as the ship sank.
    Unable to swim he survived by clinging to flotsam.
    His name was Joseph Demanuele a Maltese national, he stayed with the Lord for many years after completing his service as C.P.O.
    Unfortunately Joseph passed a long while ago.

  23. my father Mr David Stacey was a survivor of the Kashmir

  24. Hi folks I’m looking for any information on survivors from Hms Kelly still with us, as my grandfather ( Ron Hall ) who is one of the last survivors has sadly passed away this week any information much appreciated
    Tim draper

  25. My grandfather Ron hall one of the last survivors of Hms Kelly has passed away this week
    I would like to hear from families if there are any brave Kelly men still alive
    Any information would be appreciated
    Cheers tim draper

  26. My dad was on the Kelly (I believe) and the story I was told that he was in the water with Lord Mountbatten for 22 hours? He didn’t talk much about his experiences, certainly not to me, I was told this by my mum. His name was James or Jimmy Tobin and I think he was a gunner. He may have been a leading seaman at this type, really don’t know but he joined the navy around1933.
    Does anybody have any information on him?

  27. I am looking for information on a person Called PLUMMER who is believed to have been the Navigator on HMS Kelly when she was sunk off Crete.

    Do you have any knowledge of him and what happened to him after the sinking of HMS Kelly.

  28. I found the account very interesting but i really wanted to know more about the Kashmir as my uncle, Victor Adlam served on her[and died]

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