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Auction: 18002 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 439

(x) Five: Able Seaman J. L. H. Middleton, Royal Navy, who, having served in the pre-war Palestine operations and seen action in the destroyer H.M.S. Kipling under Flotilla C.O. Lord Mountbatten, was among those lost in the cruiser Galatea in the Mediterranean in 1941: hit by two torpedoes, she turned over and sank in three minutes

Naval General Service 1915-62, 1 clasp, Palestine 1936-39 (C/JX. 150204 J. L. H. Middleton, A.B., R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; War Medal 1939-45, nearly extremely fine (5)

John Leonard Horace Middleton was born in Enfield, Middlesex, in March 1920 and enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class in August 1936.

In June 1937, he joined the ship’s company of the heavy cruiser H.M.S. Sussex, in which capacity he was actively employed off Palestine until returning to home waters as an Able Seaman in July 1939 (Medal & clasp).

In December 1939, Middleton joined the recently commissioned destroyer Kipling, which ship participated in operations off Norway in April 1940 - on the 17th, she came under heavy and sustained air attack and was badly damaged by two hits.

Service in the 5th Destroyer Flotilla under Mountbatten

In October, repairs completed, Kipling was deployed on convoy escort duty in the English Channel; she was then attached to the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Plymouth. The flotilla was commanded by Captain Lord Mountbatten, who was in Kipling's sister-ship Kelly. Over the following months she continued to escort convoys, minelayers and cruisers on various operations.

In April 1941 the 5th Flotilla was transferred to the Mediterranean. They proceeded to Gibraltar and formed part of the escort of a convoy bound for Malta. It was the first flotilla to reach Malta for some time and as the destroyers steamed into harbour in line ahead, the battlements of the fortress island were crowded with cheering Maltese. Kipling then formed part of ‘Force K’ which carried out attacks on Axis shipping on the supply lines between Italy and North Africa. The force also carried out a bombardment of Benghazi.

Loss of the “Kelly” - “Kipling” to the rescue

On 21 May the flotilla sailed from Malta to take part in the defence of Crete. On the afternoon of the 22nd, Kelly, Kashmir and Kipling carried out a sweep to the north-west of Crete; Kipling had to detach, with steering problems, but later re-joined her two sisters. Soon after dawn on the 23rd the three fleeing ships came under air attack, first from high-level bombers, then from a squadron of Stukas. David Thomas’s history, Crete 1941: The Battle at Sea, takes up the story:

‘The Stukas dived almost vertically, ensuring accuracy of bombing, and offering the nose and leading edge of the wings as minimal targets for the gunners. It became the objective of the commanding officers of the destroyers to steer so as to make the Stukas dive steeper and steeper and thus encourage inaccuracies in their bombing.

Despite these tactics, the Kashmir was struck by a bomb from the third wave of bombers which caused enormous damage. In a moment it was obvious she was doomed. She started to sink as soon as the bomb blew her open to the sea … in two minutes, the Kashmir had gone. The Kelly continued to fight off the aircraft but when she was making 30 knots or more under full starboard rudder, she was hit by a large bomb which exploded aft on X turret. She took on an ever-increasing list to port and finally turned turtle with considerable way on her. She floated upside down for half an hour allowing her survivors to get well clear before she sank. Not content with their victory, many dive bombers then flew low and machine-gunned the survivors struggling helpless in the sea.

Commander A. St. Clair-Ford, commanding the Kipling, went to the rescue as soon as there was a lull in the attacks. The rescue was a skilled and dangerous operation.

The Kipling lowered all her boats and Carley floats and picked up all the Kelly's survivors, including Mountbatten. St. Clair Ford then turned his attention to the Kashmir's men. No less than 152 officers and men were picked up, plus Commander King. As each bombing attack developed the Kipling abandoned the rescue attempt, put on speed and dodged the bomb loads while fighting off the assailants with her guns ... St. Clair-Ford handled his ship with skill and a high degree of seamanship as he nosed his ship from raft to raft for three hours before every survivor had been pulled aboard. Only then was course set for Alexandria at a speed of 17 knots. It is estimated that during the period from 0820 when the Kashmir and the Kelly had gone down and the enemy concentrated their attentions on her, till 1300 when she was left in peace, she was attacked by forty bombers which dropped a total of 83 bombs around her. It is a wonder that she emerged from the ordeal unscathed ...

On the morning of Saturday 24th when fifty miles from Alexandria, the Kipling finally ran out of fuel and came to a halt. She was unable to make port and the net-layer Protector left harbour to fuel her sufficiently for her to make base. When she finally arrived, ships' companies of the Mediterranean Fleet cleared lower deck and cheered her in.’

After being repaired, Kipling transferred to 7th Destroyer Flotilla in June and took part in operations against the Vichy French in Syria. She also escorted convoys in the eastern Mediterranean and supported the garrison at Tobruk.

H.M.S. Galatea - journey’s end

In September 1941, Middleton removed to the light cruiser Galatea.

On the night of 14 December 1941 her squadron was returning to Alexandria after an unsuccessful search for an Italian convoy bound for Benghazi. Throughout the evening Galatea was subjected to attacks from German dive-bombers; the attacks lasted for about seven hours. Just before midnight, Galatea was struck by two torpedoes, fired by U-557 in quick succession. The cruiser turned over and sank in three minutes. Captain Sim, 22 officers and 447 ratings were killed. About 100 survivors were picked up by the destroyers Griffin and Hotspur.

After sinking Galatea, U-557 headed back to the base of the 23rd Flotilla at Salamis. At 21:44 hours on 16 December, whilst to the west of Crete, she was rammed and sunk by the Italian motor torpedo boat Orione. There were no survivors.

Middleton was one of Galatea's casualties. He is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial; sold with a file of copied research.

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