The Bombing of HMS Kingston

Visiting a military cemetery always evokes a certain feeling of sadness, even in the absence of any personal connection to those buried there. Despite the uniformity of the gravestones, each one of them represents a different life; a father, husband, son, usually taken far too soon. But at the same time, what makes those gravestones interesting, is that each one of them normally corresponds to a specific episode that can be traced back.

The Imtarfa Military Cemetery

One such gravestone is that of Commander Philip Somerville RN, located at the Imtarfa Military Cemetery, which recalls his death in Malta at the age of 35 on 4th April 1942. Born in Castle Townshend, in County Cork, Ireland, Philip came from a distinguished family with a long record of service in either the British Army or the Royal Navy; his father was Vice-Admiral Hugh Gaultier Coghill Somerville CB, DSO. Philip was commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1927 and had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander when in July 1939 he was given command of HMS Kingston, one of the new K-class destroyers. Over the next few years he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Order twice, and the Distinguished Service Cross also twice.

The gravestone of Cdr. Philip Somerville RN at the Imtarfa Military Cemetery

Shortly after her commissioning in September 1939, HMS Kingston joined the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet, for convoy defence and anti-submarine duties in the North Sea. On 29th November 1939, together with the destroyers HMS Kashmir and HMS Icarus, she attacked the German submarine U-35 with depth charges off the Shetland Islands, forcing it to be scuttled by her crew.

The crest of HMS Kingston

In May 1940, Kingston was transferred to the Red Sea, and the following month was involved in the sinking of the Italian submarine Evangelista Torricelli, which was forced to the surface and sunk off Perim Island by the guns of Kingston and accompanying destroyers. In March 1941, Kingston supported landings at Berbera, the capital of British Somaliland, which was recaptured after a six-month Italian occupation. On 5th April 1941, Kingston found the Italian Leone-class destroyers Pantera and Tigre in the process of being scuttled by their crews, south of Jeddah. Kingston accelerated the process with her guns and torpedoes.

HMS Kingston was a K-class destroyer of the Royal Navy

Later that month, Kingston was deployed to Alexandria to join the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet. She was involved in the evacuation of Allied troops from mainland Greece, and in the subsequent Battle of Crete, where, as part of Force C, she helped intercept a number of troop transports heading to the island. Force C became the target of fierce airstrikes, with Kingston suffering splinter damage from three near misses. On 22nd May, together with HMS Kandahar, she was dispatched to pick up survivors from the destroyer HMS Greyhound, while later that same day the cruisers HMS Gloucester and HMS Fiji were also lost to air attacks. Once again, Kingston and Kandahar returned to pick up 523 survivors between them.