Lord Mountbatten

The future Earl Mountbatten of Burma had the navy in his blood. Born in 1900, he was the second son of Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg, First Sea Lord 1912-14, who himself was forced by public opinion to resign after the outbreak of war with Germany, though he had become a British citizen in 1869.

The future Earl Mountbatten of Burma, as a younger son, was always intended for the navy. What he saw as the injustice of his father’s forced resignation, combined with a strong sense of his royal heritage, made him strive to excel and to restore the family honour as he saw it.

Lord Mountbatten was educated at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and entered the Royal Navy in 1916 being posted as a midshipman to the battlecruiser HMS Lion and then transferred to the battleship HMS Elizabeth.  He became second in command of the small warship HMS P.31 on 13 October 1918.

After the war, he briefly pursued a naval engineering course at Cambridge.  In 1920 he was promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to the battlecruiser HMS Renown on which he accompanied Edward, Prince of Wales, on a Royal Tour of Australia.  In 1921 he joined the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and accompanied the Prince on a Royal Tour to India and Japan.  He attended the Portsmouth Signals School in 1924 and also briefly studied electronics, becoming a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (which today presents the Mountbatten Medal for outstanding contributions to electronics and I.T.).  He returned to the Signals School in 1929-32 as a senior instructor.

HMS Kelly 1939 by Montague Dawson, courtesy of The Broadlands Trust

He was given his first command in 1934 and took the newly-launched destroyer HMS Daring to Singapore. He was promoted Captain on 30 June 1937 at the time he was given command of the destroyer HMS Kelly, a ship which was to gain legendary fame for its exploits. When war broke out in September 1939 Mountbatten became commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. In the course of evacuating British forces from the Norwegian Campaign in 1940, HMS Kelly was torpedoed by a German E-boat in the North Sea and had to be repaired at Newcastle. He re-joined HMS Kelly in the Mediterranean as soon as she was sea-worthy. At the Battle of Crete she was sunk by German dive-bombers, an incident immortalised in Noel Coward’s film In Which We Serve.

In October 1941 he replaced Roger Keyes as Chief of Combined Operations. In this role he oversaw various inventions including amphibious tank-landing ships and artificial harbours; and planned several Commando raids, including St. Nazaire in 1942 which put the Nazi controlled docks out of action, contributing to Allied supremacy in the Atlantic. Winston Churchill, a personal friend, appointed Mountbatten Supreme Commander South East Asia Command (SEAC) in 1943 based in Kandy, Ceylon; he was assisted there by an experienced planning staff. His command oversaw the re-conquest of Burma from the Japanese by Viscount Slim, and receiving the surrender of Japan from General Itagaki Seishiro at Singapore on 12 September 1945.

On the dissolution of SEAC in May 1946, Mountbatten ended the war as a Rear Admiral. He was created Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and a Knight of the Garter by King George VI.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma by Oswald BirleyLord Mountbatten

After World War II, Mountbatten had a prominent role in public life, combined with his continuing naval career, not least as Viceroy of India in 1947 where he oversaw Partition and Independence, not without controversy.

After India he returned to the navy and became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. He served his final naval posting as First Sea Lord, from 1955 to 1959 and retired as a full Admiral. As First Sea Lord he occupied the official residence at the northern end of Admiralty Arch – the first time in history that a father and son had served as First Sea Lord. Subsequent to the Admiralty he became Chief of the Defence Staff. His final ceremonial position was as Colonel of the Life Guards and Gold Stick in waiting to the Queen from 1965.

Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the I.R.A. on holiday in Ireland on 27 August 1979. A life-long sailor, he was in a boat lobster-potting. His ceremonial funeral took place in Westminster Abbey, and he was buried in Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, close to Broadlands, the house inherited by his wife Edwina.

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