top of page

HMS Kelly

Mountbatten continued his Naval career against the back-drop of the changing circumstances in Europe and the fear of another World War.  In 1939 (just 10 days before Britain declared War on Germany) Mountbatten was promoted to the rank of Captain and took command of HMS Kelly – a new K-class destroyer, a ship which he would be forever associated with.  One of his first missions was on 12th September 1939 to go and collect his cousin Prince Edward 'David' - The Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and Wallis, The Duchess of Windsor, formerly Mrs Wallis Simpson (née Warfield) (1896-1986) from Le Harve, France and return them to England under the specific personal orders from the new First Lord of the Admiralty - The Rt Hon. (Sir) Winston Churchill (1874-1965).  For this task, Churchill also sent his son - (The Hon.) Randolph Churchill (1911-1968), who had been recommissioned in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars (his father's old regiment) who shocked The Duke of Windsor by wearing his spurs incorrectly - which The Duke (always a stickler for correct attire) insisted on putting the correct way up.  While Mountbatten was at sea in HMS Kelly, Edwina moved into Kensington Palace with his mother (The Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven), and Broadlands was turned over to the authorities to be used as a hospital.   

HMS Kelly 1939 Windsor Duke brought back to Britain.jpg

ABOVE: The Duke & Duchess of Windsor

arriving onboard HMS Kelly

(with Mountbatten in the centre)

RIGHT: HMS Kelly's Badge


Mountbatten’s connections were to single out Mountbatten as far more than a junior Captain in the Royal Navy.  One thing Mountbatten was never shy about was his Royal connections - a trait/flaw that would follow him throughout his life.  However, not only did Mountbatten use his Royal connections, but also his political friendships to further his career - but War was now his focus, and with that came the potential for glory and making a name for himself. Mountbatten's time on board HMS Kelly was often dangerous and eventful.  During one of her earliest wartime missions was to escort rescue tugs from mines off the Tyne estuary, HMS Kelly was herself struck by a mine and she sustained damage to her hull and in the end was towed back to port by one of the very tugs she was employed to escort.  Within days of repair, HMS Kelly collided with HMS Gurkha - which required further repairs.  


A painting of HMS Kelly in 1939 by Montague Dawson

In May 1940 during the Battle of Norway, HMS Kelly was torpedoed and severely damaged and whilst being towed back was attacked by E-boats and bombers.  The Navy Controller stated in his report that she survived "not only by the good seamanship of the officers and men but also on account of the excellent workmanship which ensured the water tightness of the other compartments.  A single defective rivet might have finished her."   HMS Kelly was repaired and was not fit again for active service until December 1940 and during this time Mountbatten led his flotilla in other ships including HMS Javelin – until she too succumbed to damage.  Mountbatten had been mentioned in dispatches in August 1940 and was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by King George VI (1895(1936-1952) in the New Year's Honour's List of 1941.  HMS Kelly soon re-joined the flotilla and sailed for the Mediterranean with Mountbatten in command, arriving in Malta in April 1941.     


'The Captain' - Mountbatten on the bridge of HMS Kelly

During the evacuation of Crete, HMS Kelly was bombed by Junkers Ju 87 or 'Stuka' dive-bomber aeroplanes from the Nazi Luftwaffe and was sunk on 23rd May 1941, with half her crew killed.  Mountbatten was picked up in the sea by HMS Kipling and returned to land at Alexandria - meanwhile Edwina waited 'patiently' at Claridges' Hotel, London for news of her husband.  It was said by many of Mountbatten's critics that his lack of judgement was the cause of HMS Kelly's demise.  The survivors were deeply affected by the loss of their ship. Their Captain - Mountbatten, shared their loss and tried to console the ship's company by reminding them that "we didn't leave the Kelly, the Kelly left us!".

Among the graves in Hebburn Cemetery, Tyne & Wear, is the collective grave of twenty members of HMS Kelly's crew, who were killed on 9th May 1940 when she was torpedoed whilst in action against German E-boats in the North Sea.  Mountbatten wrote - "none of us will forget how members of the Yard contributed to the Memorial which was put up in the Hebburn Cemetery, or the kindness and sympathy of those who tended the grave.  There is a strong mutual bond between the men who build our ships and the men who sail in them and fight in them; and this has perhaps never been more clearly shown than it was between us in the Kelly and you in the Yard".     

The HMS Kelly Memorial

at Hebburn Cemetery


A short film by British Movietone News

about HMS Kelly being torpedoed in 1940

during the Battle of Norway in WWII



A photo taken at the Hawthorn Leslie Yard,

Hebburn in 1940 showing the torpedo damage

sustained by HMS Kelly



Mountbatten's concern for his crew was legendary and it profoundly affected them for the rest of their lives, long after leaving the Royal Navy.  As President of the HMS Kelly Reunion Association, he actively encouraged his former crew members to reminisce and liked to hear of their stories from yester-year.  He was their Captain, and even after Mountbatten's death in 1979, former members of the ship's company would still refer to Mountbatten as 'The Captain'.  It was often said that he "made an Ordinary Seaman feel like an Admiral", his men mattered to him and he made them feel that they mattered.  A crew member once said - "we would have followed him to Hell if he had asked us."

At the first HMS Kelly Reunion Association dinner following the 1979 murder of its President, the incoming President - Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales (b.1948) said in May 1980 - "Now your Captain is dead.  And we have all lost a very dear friend.  I at any rate have lost someone who was like a second father to me...  He has, I think, left behind such a great example for all of us to follow.  And I know this has been one of the things that I found about his death which has been enormously helpful, that, although one does miss him terribly, instead of thinking about it all the time, I found that I thought to myself of all the things HE did...  The marvellous things he thought about.  The people he cared for.  His intense thoughtfulness; again treating people as individuals.  And his moral courage, which is a great example for us all to try and follow if we can."  The Prince said that he knew that Mountbatten would not want the dinner to be a sorrowful event, and said even joked whilst looking around at the elderly veterans noticing that he was the youngest person present - "it looks as though I shall be the last member of this Association."


Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales

(later King Charles III)

& Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma

with former members of the crew of HMS Kelly

at the tree planting ceremony in May 2002

at the National Memorial Arboretum

In May 2002, Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, later King Charles III (1948(2022-    ) planted an English oak tree at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire, in memory of all those who served on HMS Kelly.  He was joined by his god-mother and Mountbatten's eldest daughter - Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1924-2017) and six former members of the Kelly's crew, one of who said of Mountbatten - "he was a great mixer.  He didn't cut himself off from the ship's company, he was the only captain she [HMS Kelly] ever had and he was a great man."  Another said that Mountbatten had only demanded two things from his crew - "a happy ship and an efficient ship."

bottom of page