H.M.S. Kelly was the nameship of the eight "Kelly" or 'K' class destroyers ordered for the Royal Navy in April 1937. Essentially copies of the preceding "Javelin" or 'J' class boats, the orders were spread amongst several yards with that for Kelly going to Hawthorn Leslie on the Tyne at Newcastle. The first to be laid down and the first to be launched -- on 25th October 1938 -- Kelly was the only vessel of her class to be completed before the outbreak of the Second World War and even though her career was to be a short one, her name has become etched into the public consciousness due to the impact of the cinema.
Designed to displace 1,690 tons (2,330 tons deep loaded), she measured 356½ feet overall with a 35½ foot beam and was powered by oil-fired Parsons I.R. single reduction turbines to give a maximum speed of 32 knots. With a main armament of six 4.7-in. guns, she also carried a variety of smaller weaponry in addition to two sets of 21-in. Pentad torpedo tubes. Completed in July 1939, she achieved 34.265 knots on her trials and, when handed to her commanding officer Lord Louis Mountbatten on 23rd August, less than two weeks before hostilities began, he declared himself well pleased with her in every respect. From the outset, her wartime service was colourful to say the least and prior to being sunk in 1941, she had already been mined in December 1939 and torpedoed in May 1940, the second incident requiring major repairs which took seven months to complete.
The loss of H.M.S. Kelly during the Battle for Crete became and remains one of the Second World War's most enduringly famous incidents thanks to Noël Coward's celebrated cinema film "In Which We Serve". Despite the necessary change of names, the fictional exploits of the destroyer Torrin mirrored those of the Kelly and her commander Lord Louis Mountbatten in such a way as to immortalise both ship and captain as far as the general public was concerned. The facts however were no less heroic and Kelly herself, in company with another 'K' class destroyer H.M.S. Kashmir, was withdrawing to the south of Crete when, at 0755 hours on 23rd May 1941, both ships came under attack from twenty-four Ju.87 dive- bombers. Kashmir was hit first and sank in under two minutes; Kelly was then struck amidships by a single bomb just as she was turning under full helm at 30 knots. She rolled over to port whilst still under way, capsized relatively quickly and eventually sank after floating upside-down for half an hour. The survivors of both destroyers were machine-gunned as they struggled in the water but were fairly soon picked up by H.M.S. Kipling which had returned to the scene to rescue them. Making for Alexandria with the survivors, Kipling was herself attacked repeatedly but managed to evade serious damage and made port safely with 281 survivors aboard (128 from Kelly and 153 from Kashmir).