WW II, a British focus  


Leading Seaman William Davidson
Leading Seaman William Davidson P/SSX28679

HMS KINGSTON in all her glory

HMS KINGSTON was commissioned at Cowes Isle of White. Initially it was resplendent all white and we were ready for a trip with the fleet visiting the cities and towns the ships were named after.

Due to the imminent outbreak of war the vessels were painted battleship grey and we were transferred to Portland for working up.

With 5th DF- Home Fleet was sent to Scapa Flow on blockage duty between Shetlands and Iceland.

With sister ships KASHMIR and ICARIS we sank the submarine U35 east of the Shetlands. Lieutenant Commander Somerville received the DSO for this action.

The KASHMIR and KINGSTON rescued the submarine crew and the KINGSTON had part of the crew on board for several weeks until we reached Gourock where the POWs where handed over.

We went to Falmouth for a boiler clean and small refit, which lasted about 6 weeks.

From Falmouth we were sent to Harwich where it was thought we were getting ready for the evacuation from France, we were only there for a few days, then sent to Plymouth.

We were issued with white uniforms and knew that we were going foreign.

By May 1940 we had joined the 14th Destroyer Flotilla - Red Sea and on 22 June 1940 with the Kandahar and the sloop Shoreham sunk the Italian Submarine Evangelista Torricella and picked up most of the crew.

The Italians left Sudan and two Italian destroyers the Pantera and Tigre were beached at Jeddah. "We had a lot of target practice".

During this period we escorted a lot of convoys up and down the Red Sea.

One trip I remember we went to French Somaliland where we picked up women and children from the beach, I cannot remember where we landed them.

Along with the Glasgow, Calendon and Kandahar the KINGSTON took part in the capture of Berbera and the landing of troops at Mersa Kuba for the recapture of British Somaliland.

It was when we joined the 14thDestroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean that the fun started.

As part of Operation Demon starting on 26th April KINGSTON, Kimberley, Carlisle and Havock evacuated Australians and New Zealanders from Raftis Greece to Crete. This was done under the cover of dark.

Battle of Crete May 1941 - the German invasion of Crete took place, "we got bombed stupid I always remember the diner was prepared in the galley and three days later it was still there" KINGSTON was damages by three near misses.

It was while rescuing survivors from the Greyhound Gloucester and Fiji that the following incident occurred - Two JU88s flew over us and at a fair distance they dropped their bombs in the sea, dipped their wings and flew off.

We then joined up with the fleet and fuelled from a battleship, we didn't have enough fuel to reach Alexandria "When we arrived at Alexandria I slept around the clock".

We had quite a few "to-do's" after that. We were based at Haifa in Palestine. With the Hasty we went off the coast of Syria.

Our task was to stop anything that moved on the road out of Beirut, which we done with ease.

Whilst there shells continually bursted into the sea, after a period of time it was found that the shells were being fired from a building on top of a hill above Beirut which had a large red cross on it.

Within the hour the Hasty had soon silenced it. With the Kandahar and Jarvis we were taking supplies and ammunition to Tobruk and at the same time we were taking potatoes from Cyprus to Alexandria they said it was 170 tonnes per trip," I think we did three or four trips.

On the last trip all the destroyers flew the pendants from their mastheads with the name of removal companies - the Admiral wasn't very pleased and sent us out on exercise right away".

During the exercise 4 beufighters made a low attack, we didn't know they were ours and of course we opened fire with everything.

I know one of them hit the range finder on the top of the mast and spun into the sea.

I heard all the planes were lost -"The beufighters looked like J88s when head on".

In the following months along with the other destroyers we had a busy time running stores to Tobruk, we had to get unloaded before daylight as we could see the German lights from convoys passed overhead.

We evacuated a considerable number of Australian troops from Tobruk and got two bottle of beer each for our troubles.

Sent with the Mediterranean Fleet from Alexandria to cover sorties by Malta and Alexandria based cruiser forces against Italian convoys heading for Libya.

We were on convoy with three battleships Queen Elizabeth, Barham and Valiant when we were north of Sidi Barrini we got orders to turn back. The destroyers turned first our lead destroyer Jervis had an Asdic echo but ignored it.

As the battleships were turning the Barham was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine U.331 it blew up.

Three of the KINGSTON crew had brothers on the BARHAM but because we were sent to Malta we could not find out wither our brothers were safe. We were in Malta for some considerable time and it was only when we returned to Alexandria with the Cleopatra we discovered our brothers fate.

Our Captain on arriving immediately ordered the lowering of the skiff and we were sent ashore. All three lost our brothers that day the 25th November 1941.

Battle of Sirte 22nd March 42 - we were sent to attack the battleship Littorio but were hit by a shell which went through the whaler under the searchlight platform and exploded above the torpedo tubes making a big hole in the deck.

I was a gun layer gun and shrapnel ender under my legs killing two of my crew and injured the other two, I was the only gun crewmember unharmed.

All our engines were stopped; the cruisers went between us and the battleship laying a thick smoke screen. We managed to get one engine going and managed to crawl into Malta under our own steam.

Damaged KINGSTON in Malta harbour
The Damaged KINGSTON in Malta harbour

We were tied up and the dockyard maties put a big plate over the hole.

With the next attack the Germans managed to drop a bomb right through the plate and out the bottom without exploding. We were put into dry dock but continually bombed, volunteers manned the guns but it was futile. She was badly damaged.

The Penelope was peppered by shrapnel, which was plugged with wood. At night she sailed for Gibraltar and made it.

Along with other three mates we were on a tug pulling barges loaded with recovered booty from sunken ships there were barrels and crates of tinned foodstuff. The tug took the barges to the jetty for unloading. We managed to feast on tinned sausages and bacon heated on a shovel.

During the bombing raids we sheltered in passages cut out of the rock, there was a main tunnel with passages off. It would appear that there were enough metal bunk beds to accommodate all the islands people in these passages. We had been warned not to stay in the main tunnel.

On the 11th of April on what was to be the final sortie on the KINGSTON a stick bomb exploded at the mouth of the main tunnel unfortunately a considerable number of our crew including our Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Somerville DSO, were in the tunnel and lost their lives.

The wreck of the KINGSTON in Malta Harbour

The wreck of the KINGSTON in Malta Harbour

Some of the crew were sent to a farm above Rabat aerodrome, I think it was called Takali. The aerodrome was continually bombed. We were supplied with bikes and had to cycle down the hill and hand fill the craters, an old road roller flatted them down making it flat enough to allow the fighters to land.

I was given a pass and took a passage on the Welshman, a minelayer to Ilfracomb, from there to Pompey and some leave before joining my next ship.

William Davidson joined HMS KINGSTON on August 1939 at the Isle of White and remained with her until she was sunk on June 1942 in Malta harbour, one of the few to see service on her for the duration of her life.

William "Bill" Davidson passed away peacefully on 2nd November 2002.

This recount was compiled with the assistance of "THE KELLY'S" by Christopher Langtree published by CHATAM PUBLISHING. Without it the timeframes would not be accurate.

Anyone interested in naval history of World War II should read this book.
Photographs courtesy of the above publication.

Summary of Service 1939-1942
Supplied by Naval History Branch of Ministry of Defence

HMS KINGSTON was a destroyer of the 'Kelly' Class, completed on 14 September 1939. Her standard displacement was 1,710 tons, length 357 feet, breath 36 feet and mean draught 13 feet. She was built by J Samuel White and Co Limited, East Cowes, Isle of Wight.

On 29 November 1939, while serving with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet, she took part with HMS ships ICARIS and KASHMIR in the attack on a U boat, U.35, off the Shetland Isles, and sank her. All the crew of the U-boat were saved.

For the first four months of 1940 the KINGSTON's duties included the hunting of U-boats, assisting in the recovery of U-boat survivors and escorting to port ships which had been attacked by U-boats. In May she proceeded to Malta., and joined the Red Sea Force, 14th Destroyer Flotilla, under East Indies Command, in June. In company with HM Ships KANDAHAR and SHOREHAM, she sank the Italian U-Boat EVANGELISTA TORRICELLA OFF Perham in the Red Sea, on the 22 June, while on sea patrols. On the 27th HMS KINGSTON attacked another Italian U-boat PERLA, but did not sink her. She acted as escort to convoy bringing supplies from the UK when the Italian invasion of Egypt began in September, escorting them through the Red Sea.

In March 1941 the KINGSTON took part in the capture of Berbera, the capital of British Somaliland, which had been in enemy hands for seven months. She was part of Force G in April, which established an advanced base at Mersa Kuba in the Eritrean campaign. This greatly facilitated the occupation of Massawa, which virtually completed the conquest of Eritrea. Later in April, when British forces had to be evacuated from Greece, the KINGSTON, served with the Mediterranean Fleet, was one of four destroyers which embarked troops from Kalamatra. In the Battle of Crete, she was damaged by three near misses on the 22 May. She proceeded to Alexandria with HMS KANDIHAR, picking up on the way survivors of the cruiser FIJI, which had been bombed and sunk that day. During the invasion of Syria, in June, she took part in the bombardments at El Atiqua and various targets off the Damur coast. In operations to transport troops to relieve the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade at Tobruk in August, the KINGSTON was one of three destroyers with the covering force of cruisers protecting the convoys and in the following month when a large convoy of troops and stores was passed from Gibraltar to Malta, she sailed with the Mediterranean fleet to create a diversion to mislead the enemy. In November, in the newly constituted Force B, The KINGSTON sailed from Alexandria with supplies of ammunition and torpedoes for Malta.

HMS KINGSTON took part in the escort of further convoy to Malta in 1942. In March, when an operation was mounted to pass a supply convoy to Base, the KINGSTON was part of a striking force formed to attack the enemy should they appear. This operation led to the brilliant action known as the Battle of Sirte. HMS KINGSTON was hit by a shell on the 22nd but managed to fire three torpedoes at the enemy. She was able to proceed to Malta but while under repair she was further damaged on 11 April during an air raid and broke in two.

HMS KINGSTON was awarded the following Battle Honours:

Atlantic 1939
North Sea 1939
Greece 1941
Crete 1941
Libya 1941
Malta Convoys 1941-2
Sirte 1942.