CRETE
On their arrival, Kipling was ordered to bombard the aerodrome in Crete whilst the two destroyers which accompanied her were sent to intercept a small convoy coming from the Dalmatian coast. This part went off all right; Kipling shot up the aerodrome and the other two sank most of the Dalmatian convoy and the three met again at about daybreak the following morning.

Almost simultaneously with their meeting, there appeared literally a cloud of German Stukas, single engined machines which were the horror of our ships at that time. They waded right into us. Kelly was hit near the engine room and went down in a very short time, and in a few minutes Kashmir suffered the same fate, so you will see that it was up to Kipling to do something.

First of all she got alongside Kelly and picked up quite two-thirds of her ship's company including the captain and nearly all the staff. Every time she stopped to rescue survivors, a new wave of Stukas would attack her en masse. This forced her to get on the move again whilst the close range guns fought the Stukas off and when they made off, back she would go to pick up more survivors.

Having got the Kelly men on board, she went over to where Kashmir sank and picked up as many there as she could. She had to lower her boats because it would have been hopeless to expect everybody to scramble up the side of the ship. And in this way, occurred a great tragedy.



One of the boats was in the water and still hooked on to the falls, when in came another German attack. Of course to remain stationary during a mass air attack would be sheer suicide, so as usual we had to go ahead at once. Unfortunately in letting go, they only managed to cut the forward fall with the result that the boat capsized knocking our First Lieutenant and another officer overboard and they were never seen again. When getting under way finally, after having accomplished their last rescue, Kipling bumped into the submerged wreck of the destroyer and ripped away 16 to 20 feet of our ship's side so that she had to stop immediately, and then in came the Stukas. This time they had to stick it out and by amazing good luck the ship was not hit. Having got the last survivor on board, Kipling set forth for Alexandria. She was attacked by Stukas over and over again on the way back but was never hit. She had sent out a wireless reporting the sinking of the two destroyers and the rescue of the survivors. Meanwhile the Mediterranean Fleet had had a tremendous basting from German bombers all day and there was hardly a ship which had not been hit and eventually the battle for Crete was abandoned and the Fleet returned to Alexandria.

In port, the last message the Commander-in-Chief received from Kipling was that she was returning under heavy air attack, after which no more was heard from her.



After some time had elapsed since the receipt of this message, the Fleet - with a vivid experience of the efficiency and extent of the Luftwaffe's attacks - gave up hope of ever seeing Kipling again, and it was generally assumed that she had been sunk.

Imagine the delight and astonishment of everybody at Alexandria when next morning Kipling was seen making her way into harbour !

She got a terrific reception. The whole Mediterranean Fleet lined decks and shouted and bellowed themselves hoarse as the hero of the hour, crammed with survivors, nosed her way in. She had brought back a lot of valuable lives, and last, but not least, herself.

After that, she was sent down to the Suez Canal for a complete overhaul and repairs. At the beginning of August she returned to Alexandria where I rejoined her after my spell of dysentery.



THE TOBRUK CONVOYS
At this time the situation in the Mediterranean was very bad indeed ; we were right back to where we had started from on the Egyptian-Libyan frontier. Although the Army had retreated to the frontier, the garrison of Tobruk, which was some 450 miles from Alexandria, had managed to hold out in the town and a small perimeter round it, and constituted a very unpleasant thorn in the flesh of the German-Italian Armies. However the enemy hemmed the garrison in pretty effectively so that they were completely cut off from the outside world. The men got very hungry; supplies of food and ammunition had to be got to them and the formidable problem of getting the wounded and sick out of it for treatment had to he tackled. Up to about the end of July, this problem had been met - or partially met - by a number of small boats of every kind, chiefly sailing boats who sneaked up the coast and dodged the German bombers as best they could. It was an extraordinary set-up; they were manned by all sorts and conditions of amazing people, largely adventurers and characters only seen in the cinema thrillers and amongst them was the chap who dropped a bomb into the funnel of the German Deutchland during the Spanish Civil War. This extraordinary crowd were resourceful and full of pluck and devilment, and did manage by methods peculiar to themselves to keep up some communication with Tobruk with a considerable amount of success.


But eventually the Admiral very reluctantly came to the conclusion that it was not good enough and that the only way to meet the situation with the maximum efficiency was to send destroyers. And so from the end of July it became our job to take up supplies for the beleagured garrison. The spirit of adventure of the Irregulars, our predecessors, remained in the operation. We would get into a certain position by nightfall and from there we would rush for Tobruk at full speed, which was the best way of avoiding the attentions of the Luftwaffe. Within about five miles of the harbour, we had to slow down because of the mines. The essence of our plan was to unload all our food, oranges, lemons, ammunition and supplies piled up on the upper deck, with the utmost possible speed so as to get back before daylight to a point where we could expect air support as soon as it was light enough for the enemy bombers to come in. It must be remembered that at this time the enemy had an overwhelming superiority in the air. Needless to say, on moonlight nights when enemy aircraft could spot us, the journey became an extremely dangerous one and we used to undergo some terrible bombing. Our casualties reached such proportions that the journey was eventually abandoned altogether during the three days on either side of the full moon.

This was the cause of some heated exchanges of views between the Army who insisted that they must have regular supplies, moon or no moon, and the Admiralty who stuck to their view that for six days a month the Army must get along as best they could if they didn't want half the Fleet sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean. Anyhow, we carried out that trip many times.



From the sea, Tobruk is extraordinarily difficult to identify at night. We could never be sure of our bearings and nobody dared to show any lights or flash searchlights to help us. All we could do was to go on a dead reckoning as far as possible. The search for the harbour delayed things at times and you will remember the whole business was a fight against time. So eventually we felt we just could not risk the loss of valuable time and the garrison decided that they must show some sort of light to guide us. The light selected was a green oil lamp and the day before the destroyers were due to arrive, the garrison would set this lamp in position and at the approved time, they would light it. This was a great improvement, but eventually the Italians got wind of what was happening and used to sneak out and move the light to another position calculated to suit their ideas as to where the destroyers should go! However, we in our turn soon tumbled to their trick but none the less, the result was that our precious green light could not be trusted and was as much use to us as if it wasn't there at all.

Finally the beleaguered garrison would, at an appointed time, flash a searchlight about twice into the air. We were waiting for it and could take our bearings from it.



Well, round about November the Eighth Army pushed the Germans right back. This enabled the Malta convoys to start again as well as the slow convoys to Tobruk and eventually Tobruk was relieved. But this did not end our troubles. As soon as Tobruk was relieved, the Germans began to plaster the base with U-boats. They led off by sinking a number of ships in these small convoys and soon turned their attention to the destroyers. In one of the convoys we escorted just before Christmas day we lost two ships. The convoys only did about 5 knots while we used to zig-zag about them at 15. We spent our Christmas Day at sea.


OUR FIRST U-BOAT
At 2 a.m. one morning, one of the ships in a convoy we were escorting was sunk and our Asdic operator picked up the echo of a submarine which we at once proceeded to hunt. We steamed to the attack at about 18 knots. Water conditions in the Mediterranean are often strange, but whether they were so on this occasion or not, we lost contact with the U-boat.

However, we thought we would chance it and so let go with our depth charges at the place where we calculated they ought to be. This, to our delight, forced the submarine to surface whereupon we engaged her with all our guns, scoring several hits and causing a large number of casualties amongst her personnel. It was a fantastic sight.

As soon as the Germans saw she was about to sink, they all lined up on the deck and proceeded to Heil Hitler, and having thus satisfied political requirements, they abandoned ship just before she went down. We then picked up the survivors. I don't know what on earth Dr. Goebbels had been telling them about us, but they came aboard as if they expected to be hung up by the heels and skinned alive! However when our sailors patted them on the head and said ‘There, there, mate, nobody's going to hurt you’ their delight and astonishment knew no bounds. They got quite chatty on the way back and gave us a lot of information which was useful and eventually parted from us for their prison camp with tears of gratitude. We got a message from the Commander-in-Chief saying ‘well done’ and a wire from Mr Churchill: ‘Well done, Kipling’.


Our next period was spent with the Malta convoys. Two cruisers and four destroyers used to put out from Malta and we would meet them in mid-Mediterranean. It was really a heart-breaking business on some occasions. We had terrific air attacks on us and no air support as we had no carriers at this end of the Mediterranean. We shot at the attacking planes with everything we had, guns, pom-poms. Two or three convoys unfortunately had all their ships sunk. On the whole, however, we managed to get most of the convoys through, generally sadly battered.

The Italians at this time started to do the obvious thing, namely to attack us with surface ships.

One night we were proceeding towards Malta at about 22 knots. Just before nightfall we saw smoke on the horizon and to our complete horror our binoculars disclosed three battleships and four cruisers. The convoy was diverted to the south and the cruisers and ourselves steamed up and down between them and the enemy, making smoke. We suddenly saw the whole enemy line burst into a mass of flame and a minute later there was a shower of shells all round us. One of them landed alongside Kipling, burst on impact, killed one man and blew a lot of holes in our side. It was extremely accurate shooting. The shelling went on for a bit, but luckily it got dark quickly and the enemy fleet made off.


IN ACTION AGAINST THE ITALIAN FLEET
I come next to the greatest naval battle that I was ever in. We were on one of these Malta convoys passing through the channel where we always used to be very heavily bombed. We had four merchant ships in convoy and Breconshire with Admiral Vian in command. It was a final and great effort to get badly needed stores to Malta which was in a pretty desperate condition for lack of supplies at the time. Well in this usually very hot spot, nothing happened. There was not a bomber to be seen anywhere and the whole thing looked rather sinister and mysterious. There was a very heavy gale blowing and the destroyers especially were being thrown about all over the place when about noon somebody reported smoke in the distance and two Italian cruisers were sighted which presently turned away from us. We fired on them and chased them for a quarter of an hour, when a battle-ship, four more cruisers and about eight or ten destroyers were seen to join them. The ship which we had sent out to reconnoitre came back to tell us this and very soon we ourselves could see the smoke of this Fleet on the horizon, followed shortly after by the enemy Fleet itself.


Their plan, evidently. was to go to the South-west and get between our convoy and Malta. Admiral Vian thereupon pushed our convoy further still to the S.W. and ordered us to make smoke before the enemy fleet, which we did, formed into two flotillas steaming up and down belching out that thick white smoke which clings to the top of the water covered with thick black smoke on top of that. The gale, I should say, was blowing with tremendous force from the S.E. The Italians obviously could see no sign of the convoy at all, in fact nothing but this white black-topped blanket approaching them. Then it appeared that the entire Luftwaffe had been called out and torpedo bombers started to come over. Then ensued a truly fantastic sight. Here were our ships tearing up and down behind the smoke screen, every now and then rushing through it to the enemy side, firing off a number of rounds and retreating again behind the blanket of smoke. Then we had Luftwaffe planes zooming through the smoke, occasionally seeing a ship but missing it in the fog, and occasionally getting a smack from a ship they themselves couldn't see. Now that circus went on for six solid hours and was a tremendous strain on everybody.


At about 7 pm in the evening, our Admiral decided that he could not hold off the enemy fleet like this, particularly as the Italians were now getting round the end of our smoke screen. So our destroyers formed up for a torpedo attack. Now a torpedo attack on an enemy fleet is the sort of thing that professional sailors dream about all their career and pray for all their lives. Not being a professional sailor myself, I had never dreamed about it, and candidly I had never prayed for it! However, here it was!

So we all plunged into the smoke and after a very short time emerged into the open on the other side. We found ourselves bang in front of the enemy fleet and about 10,000 yards away and I remember noticing that every detail could be seen on the decks of the Italian Battleships. We belted straight at them as hard as we could go reducing the distance between us while the battleships fired all they had at us until it seemed pure suicide.

However, we all turned together in the orthodox manoeuvre which gave a pattern to all our torpedoes in the sea. We all loosed off our torpedoes and turned round back into the smoke followed by 15-inch shells. One of the enemy battleships was hit by a torpedo, but not fatally, but anyway the Italians seemed to agree that it would be as well to "call it a day" and they made off.

All this sounds, perhaps, as if it was the affair of a moment, but the whole operation lasted from about 12.30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Anyhow our convoy was saved and thus we had done our job - which was to protect them - through Admiral Vian's brilliant way of making use of the wind and our smoke. Unfortunately Breconshire was sunk next day, but all the other ships got into Malta safely. We carried out one more operation before we were sunk, but time is getting on and I must come quickly to the final phase.



THE END OF H.M.S. KIPLING
Four of our ships were sent out to intercept a convoy of enemy ships which had been spotted making for Benghazi. We were four destroyers in all, three and ourselves. We had to keep close to Crete and our orders were to set off one night, sail through the whole of the next day and the following night and meet the convoy at dawn and sink it. If we were sighted by enemy aircraft during the first day, our orders were to come back. I don't know whether one gets premonitions but we all somehow felt that this was going to be a sticky business. We duly started off on the night appointed and next day at about 1 p.m. we were sighted by hostile aircraft reconnoitring, and obeying our orders, we turned back. We had been spotted all right, for on our way home eleven German bombers came out from Crete and made a concentrated attack on us. One of our ships was sunk. The bombers went back and then a fresh relay of them came over and did their stuff. We tore on at 30 knots praying for darkness.


Just at sunset, they came at us again. They split up into groups of four planes, each group taking a ship each. We were hit with one bomb in the engine room and two more big ones on either side of the engine-room. The ship heeled over, but it stopped at a certain angle and started to right itself. We saw Jervis surrounded by water spouts and noticed that Jackal had also been hit. We went on firing our guns and kept it up till the Germans returned to Crete. Then Kipling started gently to break in two. We abandoned ship and got into the water from where we saw Kipling go down. We were all in the water for about four hours. Jackal lasted a bit longer; she was still afloat but with a big fire inside .her. We were afraid that Jervis had also been sunk as there was no sign of her. However she had only gone over the horizon and as soon as it got dark, back she came and picked up the Kipling and Jervis survivors. A torpedo was put into Jackal and we were taken back to Alexandria. It was the final tragedy. We lost only 29 out of the ship's company of 250 which was not bad under the circumstances. Well at Alexandria we all said 'good-bye' to each other and all went our several ways to the next job which awaited us.


That is the end of the story of your ship, but I must not conclude it without thanking everybody here present - and those not present as well - for all the marvellous comforts and gifts of every kind which they contributed to the Kipling throughout her life. It all helped to make our life much pleasanter than it would have been without them and I only hope that what I have been able to tell you tonight about our life may be some slight return for the great kindness you have all shown us.


Lieut. N B Robinson, D.S.C., R.N.V.R., Croix de Guerre.
November 1946