-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
H.M.S. Hood Rolls of Honour
Memorials to Men Lost in the Sinking of Hood, 24th May 1941

We will remember them
Chainbar divider

In Remembrance of
Ralph Kerr, C.B.E.

Photo of
Date of birth: 16th August 1891
Place of birth: Newnham on Severn, Gloucestershire, England
Parents: Sir Russell Kerr, Kt., D.L., J.P., and Lady Kerr
Wife: Margaret Kerr
Service: Royal Navy
Rank: Captain
Joined Hood: 15th February 1941 (Captain)
Left Hood: 24th May 1941 (loss of ship) (Captain)
Click here to print memorial poster





Biographical Information:

Ralph Kerr was born on 16th August, 1891, the youngest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Russell Kerr, Kt., D.L., J.P., and Lady Kerr of Newnham on Severn, Gloucestershire.

He entered the Royal Navy as a Cadet on 15th May 1904. His older brother William chose a commission in the Army. Sadly William was killed whilst on service in 1915. Promotion to the rank of Lieutenant came on 28 February 1914. He spent the majority of the First World War aboard H.M.S. Benbow, flagship of Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee during the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. In 1918 he took command of the destroyer H.M.S. Cossack (fourth of that name). Most of his naval career revolved around destroyers.

Having survived the First World War, he was married to Margaret Augusta Kerr on St. Valentine's Day, 1920. Together they had two children Russell and Jane. The family lived in St. John's Wood, London.

On 30th June 1927 Kerr was promoted to Commander. December of the following year saw him take command of the destroyer H.M.S. Windsor. He retained this command until August 1929, when he took command of the destroyer H.M.S. Thruster. He held this position until February 1931. He returned to sea a year later in February 1932, in command of the destroyer H.M.S. Decoy.

Kerr was promoted to Captain on 30th June 1935. The following month saw him attend a tactical course in Portsmouth. He returned to sea on 6 September 1935 as Flotilla Leader and Captain (D) of the 21st Destroyer Flotilla. A tried and true destroyer man, Kerr immediately made a favourable impression. On leaving this appointment on 22 May 1936, Admiral Thomson commented, "A very capable Captain (D) who has trained his Flotilla well. An officer probably much better suited to the practical side of naval life rather than to Staff duties. A strong personality with definite powers of command and a very good seaman. Most loyal and is very thorough in the carrying out of his duties. Social qualities good. Physically fit and has good powers of endurance."

Two months passed before Kerr took up his next appointment, this time as Senior Officer, Reserve Fleet in the First World War vintage 4,000 ton cruiser H.M.S. Caledon. He remained in Caledon until 3rd November 1936, at which time he transferred to the aging cruiser H.M.S. Colombo. On joining Colombo he took on the additional appointment of Chief Staff Officer to the Rear-Admiral of the 10th Cruiser Squadron. During this period (April to July 1937) Kerr was involved in preparations for the Coronation review. Kerr remained with the 10th Cruiser Squadron for nearly a year. Vice-Admiral Sir Gerald Dickens summarised his work thus: "A very keen zealous officer who has done well as Senior Officer Reserve Fleet. Has plenty of character and drive and is mentally alert. A good seaman and a sound administrator. Very loyal, while ambitious to do well. Good social qualities. Keeps fit."

Kerr was due to be appointed as Commander of the Flotilla Leader H.M.S. Duncan and Captain (D) of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla, but this appointment ended up being cancelled. Instead, Kerr attended a training course, his first since his promotion to Captain. He attended the four month War Course at Greenwich. By this point in time, Kerr appears to have realised that he needed to expand his training and experience beyond destroyers. As a result of this, he put his all into the training course. Vice-Admiral Sir Sydney Bailey commented on him thus: "Capacity: 16/30 Very sound, a limited outlook due to previous lack of staff training. Power of Expression: Vocal 7/10 Speaks clearly and to the point and does not hesitate to express views. Writing 7/10 Good and improving. Ability in supporting opinions in debate: 10/15 Supports his views with good arguments and emphatically. Application: 8/10 Has worked with determination to extract full value from the course and has obviously welcomed the opportunity. Remarks (Soundness 20/25) Appears to have suffered from the cramping effects of continuous specialised service and realises it. Recommended for I.D.C. Total 68/100"

Kerr's potential was recognised and he was recommended for the Imperial Defence College. Clearly, with broadened experience, he would be a high value asset to the Royal Navy. Unfortunately for Kerr, not much would change- he returned to destroyer service following the War Course. He assumed command of the Flotilla Leader H.M.S. Hardy as Captain (D) of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. He served in Hardy until 30th July 1939. During his time in Hardy he worked under the flag of Vice-Admiral John Tovey. Tovey, who would later be Commander, Home Fleet during the Bismarck pursuit, had an excellent opinion on Kerr. In May 1939 Tovey wrote: "An experienced and exceptionally able Destroyer Officer. Possesses a great deal of common sense. A strong personality and a good leader. He has trained his Flotilla to a high degree of efficiency and he and they can always be thoroughly relied on. He is an expert at A/S work. He has a sound knowledge of tactics and strategy. I would always be glad to have him with me in battle. He expresses himself forcibly and clearly both verbally and in writing. Never hesitates to give his own opinion. Keeps himself fit and an excellent Flotilla mate." Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean concurred.

On 30th July 1939, Kerr assumed command of the 15th Destroyer Flotilla, again as Captain (D). Initially he commanded the Flotilla from H.M.S. Broke, a 1400 ton destroyer of 1920 vintage. He transferred command to the shore establishment H.M.S. Cochrane, Rosyth on 30th August 1939. The Second World War commenced just days later.

On 16th October 1939, Kerr's responsibilities increased as he joined the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Rosyth and transferred command to the Roysyth Destroyer Force. He remained based at H.M.S. Cochrane throughout this timeframe. He made a Commander of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King's birthday Honours of July, 1940. He remained with the Rosyth Destroyer Force until 24th January 1940.

Captain Kerr's service with the Rosyth Destroyer Force lasted until 25th January 1941. His final recorded report for this assignment was written by Vice-Admiral Charles Ramsey who stated: "An outstanding officer in every way. Clear headed, forthright, loyal and in every way an excellent officer to deal with. Fit and good social qualities. Has an excellent manner in dealing with both his seniors and juniors, he has the happy gift of being able to admonish these latter without leaving a sting. To my surprise I found he was good on paper. I have known him before as an excellent destroyer officer and did not suspect this latter accomplishment."

On 15th February 1941, a fortnight after leaving the Rosyth Destroyers he took command of the battle cruiser H.M.S. Hood, then undergoing a refit at Rosyth. He would be her final Captain. We can only speculate how, after such a long period of service in destroyers, Kerr felt as he took command of the Royal Navy's largest warship. Not doubt there was a degree of trepidation, but Kerr had proven time and again that he was more than capable of meeting any new challenge.

His time as Flag Captain in Hood was short (just over three months), but it would prove to be a busy time. Her refit was complete by mid March 1941. From this point onward, life aboard Hood was dominated by gunnery exercises and North Atlantic sea patrols (particularly off Iceland).

He went down with his ship when it was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck on 24th May 1941. He made no attempt to leave the sinking vessel, preferring to remain at his station alongside Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland. Kerr was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches. He was 49 years old at the time of his loss.

Sadly, tragedy would once again strike the Kerr family just under four years later, when his son, Russell, a Captain in the Royal Artillery and a tank commander, was lost in action in Burma.






History of ships served in and ratings held:


Date FromDate toShipRatingSource
15th May 190414th January 1909Training Establishments
Passed out
Naval CadetADM196/53
15th January 190914th May 1910Agamemnon
Home Fleet
MidshipmanADM196/53
15th May 191014th November 1910Invincible
(by CinC)
MidshipmanADM196/53
15th November 191013th January 1911MohawkMidshipmanADM196/53
14th January 19119th January 1912Bacchante
Home
MidshipmanADM196/53
21st February 191229th March 1912Hecla
for TBDs as Acting Sub-Lieutenant
Acting Sub-LieutenantADM196/53
30th March 19129th June 1912Hecla
for TBDs
Sub-LieutenantADM196/53
10th June 19125th February 1913Tyne
for TBDs (by CinC)
Sub-LieutenantADM196/53
2nd July 1912Not recordedTB 15
Manoeuvres
Sub-LieutenantADM196/53
5th February 191312th January 1914Defence
Mediterranean
Sub-LieutenantADM196/53
13th January 191427th February 1914InflexibleSub-LieutenantADM196/53
28th February 191428th August 1914InflexibleLieutenantADM196/53
14th April 191428th August 1914President
for
(N) course
Cancelled
LieutenantADM196/53
29th August 19141st September 1914Excellent
for S.C. of (G)
LieutenantADM196/53
September 1914Not recordedVivid
for Benbow
LieutenantADM196/53
September 191413th February 1918Benbow
on commissioning
LieutenantADM196/53
February 191830th April 1918Victory (P48)
additional for P48 on commissioning
LieutenantADM196/53
30th April 19183rd February 1919Attentive (Cossack)
for Cossack in command
LieutenantADM196/53
29th May 191914th July 1919Actaeon (Lydiard)
for Lydiard in command
LieutenantADM196/53
14th July 19191st October 1919Actaeon (Starfish)
for Starfish in command
LieutenantADM196/53
27th September 19194th October 1919Sandhurst (Valhalla)
for Valhalla on commissioning
To Remain in Springbok
LieutenantADM196/53
1st October 19194th October 1919Actaeon (Springbok)
Springbok in command
LieutenantADM196/53
17th March 1920Not recordedVivid (Eagle)
for Eagle and Eagle on commissioning
LieutenantADM196/53
August 192020th January 1922Vernon (Sable)
for Sable in command on commissioning
LieutenantADM196/53
10th January 1922CancelledGnat
additional and in command on recommissioning
LieutenantADM196/53
20th January 192227th February 1922Columbine (Valkyrie)
additional and for Valkyrie in command
LieutenantADM196/53
28th February 19221st October 1923Columbine (Valkyrie)
[promoted to Lieutenant-Commander]
Lieutenant-CommanderADM196/53
9th October 192329th July 1925Vanity
in command and on recommissioning
Lieutenant-CommanderADM196/53
13th July 192522nd April 1926Witch
additional in command vice Peploe
Lieutenant-CommanderADM196/53
22nd April 192629th June 1927Worcester
in command and on recommissioning
Lieutenant-CommanderADM196/53
30th June 1927August 1927Worcester
promoted to Commander
CommanderADM196/53
22nd July 1927Not recordedVictory
for Unemployed Time
CommanderADM196/53
31st December 1927Not recordedSeawolf
in command
CommanderADM196/53
December 192811th November 1929Windsor
in command on recommissioning
CommanderADM196/53
30th December 192928th February 1930Victory
additional for
Senior Officers Technical Course (Part 2)
CommanderADM196/53
16th April 1930Not recordedHeather (Thruster)
for Thruster in command
CommanderADM196/53
30th June 1931Not recordedOsprey
vice Frewen [illegible]
CommanderADM196/53
2nd September 1932Not recordedVivid (Decoy)
additional for duty with CSCBS
and Vivid additional for Decoy in command on commissioning for trials
and Decoy in command on commissioning for service
CommanderADM196/53
14th January 1935Not recordedVictory
additional
Technical Course
CommanderADM196/53
7th May 1935Not recordedVictory
additional
Tactical Course
CommanderADM196/53
6th September 193525th May 1936Campbell
in command and as
Captain (D) 21st Destroyer Flotilla
on commissioning
CaptainADM196/53
20th July 1936Not recordedCaledon
in command and as
Senior Officer Reserve Fleet, Devonport
vice Powell
CaptainADM196/53
4th November 1936Not recordedColumbo
in command vice Bardwell and as
Senior Officer Reserve Fleet, Devonport
in continuation on transfer
CaptainADM196/53
20th April 193721st July 1937Columbo
in command in continuation and as
Flag Captain and Chief Staff Officer of Rear-Admiral 10th Cruiser Squadron
for [illegible]
CaptainADM196/53
30th July 1937CancelledDuncan
additional and Duncan in command as
Captain (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla
vice Benson
CaptainADM196/53
11th October 1937Not recordedPresident
additional
Senior Officers War Course
CaptainADM196/53
25th February 19381939Hardy
additional and Hardy in command and as
Captain (D) 2nd Destroyer Flotilla
vice Boyd
CaptainADM196/53
31st July 1939Not recordedBroke
in command and as
Captain (D) 15th Destroyer Flotilla
CaptainADM196/53
30th August 193918th January 1941Cochrane
additional and as
Captain (D) 15th Destroyer Flotilla
CaptainADM196/53
16th October 19391st February 1941Cochrane
additional in continuation on staff of CinC Rosyth
Captain (D) Rosyth Escort Force
CaptainADM196/53
6th December 1939CancelledCalliope
additional as
Captain (D) Rosyth Escort Force
in continuation
CaptainADM196/53
15th February 194124th May 1941Hood
in command and as
Flag Captain to Vice-Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Squadron
CaptainADM196/53



Additional Photos


















Captain Kerr's signature from Hood's Log






Hood Chapel, Church of St. John the Baptist, Boldre, Hampshire, England


Photos of the memorial









Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Southsea, Hampshire, England


Photos of the memorial









St. Peter's Church, Newnham on Severn, Gloucestershire, England


Photos of the memorial








Sources
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
'Register of Deaths of Naval Ratings' (data extracted by Director of Naval Personnel (Disclosure Cell), Navy Command HQ, 2009)
His daughter, Jane Hay (photos & information, March 2004)
ADM 196/53/137 (Service Record)
ADM 53/114435 Hood's Log February 1941
Confidential Reports (ADM 196 The National Archives)
Navy Lists (courtesy of J.N. Houterman)
"Flagship Hood" (Coles and Briggs)
Worcester Evening News and Times, May and June, 1941
Godfrey Dykes (information & photo, March 2010)