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HMS Keith

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Dd hms keith prewar.jpg
Keith at anchor
United Kingdom
NamesakeLord Keith
Ordered22 March 1929
BuilderVickers-Armstrongs, Barrow
Yard number656
Laid down1 October 1929
Launched10 July 1930
Completed20 March 1931
IdentificationPennant number: D06[1]
FateSunk by German aircraft, 1 June 1940
General characteristics
Class and typeB-class destroyer
  • 1,400 long tons (1,400 t) (standard)
  • 1,821 long tons (1,850 t) (deep load)
Length323 ft (98.5 m) o/a
Beam32 ft 3 in (9.8 m)
Draught12 ft 3 in (3.7 m)
Installed power
Propulsion2 × shafts; 2 × Parsons geared steam turbines
Speed35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range4,800 nmi (8,900 km; 5,500 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Sensors and
processing systems
Type 119 ASDIC

HMS Keith was a B-class destroyer flotilla leader built for the Royal Navy around 1930. Initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet, she was placed in reserve in 1937, after repairs from a collision were completed. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, the ship was reactivated and spent some time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Keith escorted convoys and conducted anti-submarine patrols early in World War II before being sunk at Dunkirk by German aircraft.


Keith displaced 1,400 long tons (1,400 t) at standard load and 1,821 long tons (1,850 t) at deep load. The ship had an overall length of 323 feet (98.5 m), a beam of 32 feet 3 inches (9.8 m) and a draught of 12 feet 3 inches (3.7 m). She was powered by Parsons geared steam turbines, driving two shafts, which developed a total of 34,000 shaft horsepower (25,000 kW) and gave a maximum speed of 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph). Steam for the turbines was provided by three Admiralty 3-drum boilers. Keith carried a maximum of 390 long tons (400 t) of fuel oil that gave her a range of 4,800 nautical miles (8,900 km; 5,500 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph). The ship's complement was 175 officers and men.[1]

The ship mounted four 45-calibre QF 4.7-inch Mk IX guns in single mounts. For anti-aircraft (AA) defence, Keith had two 40-millimetre (1.6 in) QF 2-pounder Mk II AA guns mounted on a platform between her funnels. She was fitted with two above-water quadruple torpedo tube mounts for 21-inch (533 mm) torpedoes.[2] One depth charge rail and two throwers were fitted; 20 depth charges were originally carried, but this increased to 35 shortly after the war began.[3]


The ship was ordered, the first ship of her name in the Royal Navy,[4] on 22 March 1929 from Vickers-Armstrongs at Barrow, under the 1928 Naval Programme. She was laid down on 1 October 1929 and launched on 10 July 1930. Keith was completed on 20 March 1931 at a cost of £219,800, excluding items supplied by the Admiralty such as guns, ammunition and communications equipment. After her commissioning, she was assigned to the 4th Destroyer Flotilla as its flotilla leader. Aside from a refit at Chatham Dockyard between 4 September and 18 October 1933, the ship remained with the Mediterranean Fleet until 1936. Keith collided with the Greek steamship, Atonis G. Lemos, in thick fog in the English Channel on 24 August 1936 whilst en route from Gibraltar to Portsmouth for another refit. The refit was not completed until 13 February 1937 and she then spent six months in reserve at Sheerness. The ship was recommissioned on 14 August 1937 to replace the flotilla leader of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Faulknor, whilst the latter ship was being repaired after a collision. Keith spent several months deployed off the Spanish Biscay coast during the Spanish Civil War and was later based in Gibraltar. The ship returned to Sheerness on 4 November and was reduced to reserve again. She received a brief refit at Chatham from 9 May to 16 June 1938. Upon its completion, Keith rejoined the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was now assigned to Home Fleet. She was transferred, taking on the crew of Electra, to the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Gibraltar on 17 January 1939. The ship remained with the 5th Flotilla until April and then she returned home. Keith was refitted at Chatham between 11 May and 15 July and placed in reserve again on 31 July.[5]

Shortly before the war began in September, the ship was recommissioned and assigned to the 17th Destroyer Flotilla of Home Fleet. On 3 September, she was transferred to Western Approaches Command for anti-submarine patrols, based at Milford Haven.[6] On 10 September, Keith escorted a convoy carrying the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France.[7] On 29 October she was transferred to the 22nd Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich and became its flotilla leader five days later. In December, Keith had repairs made to her propellers at HM Dockyard Devonport that lasted until 10 January 1940. She was transferred to the 19th Destroyer Flotilla in February and Keith escorted her sister Boadicea on 5 March as she towed the damaged oil tanker John F. Meyer to Southampton. The ship resumed her escort and patrol duties until May when the Germans attacked.[6]

Battle of France[edit]

On 10 May 1940, the Germans launched their invasion of France and the Low Countries. That day Keith and her sister Boreas escorted the light cruisers Arethusa and Galatea as they carried bullion from the Dutch port of IJmuiden to the United Kingdom for safe-keeping. On 12 May, she returned to the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands to evacuate Allied troops.[6] After the destroyer Whitley had to be run aground on 19 May after she was damaged by German aircraft, she was scuttled by Keith.[8] On 21 May, Keith was one of three destroyers that evacuated 468 civilians from France. Two days later the ship was in Boulogne-sur-Mer, loading British troops to be evacuated, when she was attacked by German troops. She was hit by a mortar bomb and machine gun fire that killed her captain and wounded many others. Keith sailed for the UK immediately afterwards.[9]

On the night of 30/31 May, the ship joined Operation Dynamo when she helped to evacuate 992 Allied troops to Dover.[10] She returned later that morning to De Panne and became flagship of Rear-Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker, commander of the evacuation.[11] The ship was attacked by aircraft later that morning; the first attack damaged her steering gear and, in a later attack, a bomb which went down the aft funnel exploded in the No. 2 boiler room, killing everyone inside and starting a fire. With no power available, she anchored and the abandon ship command was ordered. Keith sank from her damage at 0945 in position 51°04′46″N 02°26′47″E / 51.07944°N 2.44639°E / 51.07944; 2.44639. Three officers and 33 enlisted men were killed during the attacks, but eight officers and 123 crewmen were saved.[6]


  1. ^ a b Whitley, p. 99
  2. ^ Friedman, p. 298
  3. ^ English, p. 141
  4. ^ Colledge, p. 183
  5. ^ English, pp. 29–31
  6. ^ a b c d English, p. 31
  7. ^ Winser, p. 6
  8. ^ Rohwer, p. 23
  9. ^ Winser, pp. 11–12
  10. ^ Winser, p. 89
  11. ^ Gardner, p. 67


  • Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) [1969]. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8.
  • English, John (1993). Amazon to Ivanhoe: British Standard Destroyers of the 1930s. Kendal, England: World Ship Society. ISBN 0-905617-64-9.
  • Friedman, Norman (2009). British Destroyers From Earliest Days to the Second World War. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-081-8.
  • Gardner, W. J. R. (2000). The Evacuation from Dunkirk: Operation Dynamo, 26 May-4 June 1940. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-5120-6.
  • Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two (Third Revised ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-119-2.
  • Whitley, M. J. (1988). Destroyers of World War 2. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-326-1.
  • Winser, John de D. (1999). B.E.F. Ships Before, At and After Dunkirk. Gravesend, Kent: World Ship Society. ISBN 0-905617-91-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lenton, H. T. (1998). British & Empire Warships of the Second World War. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-048-7.
  • March, Edgar J. (1966). British Destroyers: A History of Development, 1892–1953; Drawn by Admiralty Permission From Official Records & Returns, Ships' Covers & Building Plans. London: Seeley Service. OCLC 164893555.