Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

80 years since loss of HMS Kelly off Crete inspired legendary war film

Noel Coward as the captain of the fictional HMS Torrin during a scene from the Battle of Crete in In Which We Serve
23 May 2021
On this day in 1941 the ship which inspired one of the greatest naval movies was lost after putting up one hell of a fight in the bitter battle for Crete.

Destroyer HMS Kelly and her skipper Lord Mountbatten became the inspiration for the fictional HMS Torrin and Capt Kinross, portrayed by Noel Coward, in the wartime flagwaver In Which We Serve.

Kelly was lost to German dive-bombers off Crete after being dispatched to intercept Greek fishing vessels (caiques) ferrying German reinforcements from the mainland, and bombarding enemy positions around the airfield at Maleme.

Mid-morning the presence of Kelly and her sister Kashmir drew the attention of the Luftwaffe. Kashmir was lost first – physically torn apart by a 1,000lb bomb. As she sank, gunner Ian Rhodes downed one of the attacking Stuka dive-bombers. He earned the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, second only to the VC; he was the only Australian sailor in either world war to receive it.

With Kashmir gone, the Stukas concentrated on Kelly. One bomb smashed X Turret, continued through the ship and finally detonated just aft of the engine room.

The ship capsized in around a minute, trapping many men below decks. The propellers were still turning as the upturned hull bobbed for upwards of half an hour.

As the survivors awaited HMS Kipling to pick them up, the Germans strafed the life rafts in the otherwise calm Mediterranean.

Eighty men were lost in the Kashmir, 131 with the Kelly. In Which We Serve went on to become the second most popular film at UK cinemas in 1943.

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.