1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
25 June 1900 – 27 August 1979
Mountbatten Death of a Royal
Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC, FRS (born Prince Louis of Battenberg; 25 June 1900 – 27 August 1979) – known informally as Lord Mountbatten – was a British statesman and naval officer, an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed to Elizabeth II.
During the Second World War, he was Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command (1943–46). He was the last Viceroy of India (1947) and the first Governor-General of the independent Dominion of India (1947–48), from which the modern Republic of India was to emerge in 1950. From 1954 until 1959 he was First Sea Lord, a position that had been held by his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, some forty years earlier. Thereafter he served as Chief of the Defence Staff until 1965, making him the longest serving professional head of the British Armed Forces to date.
During this period Mountbatten also served as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee for a year.
In 1979, Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, and two others were murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had placed a bomb in his fishing boat, the Shadow V, at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, in Ireland.
From the time of his birth until 1917, when he and several other British royals dropped their German styles and titles, Lord Mountbatten was known as His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg. He was the youngest child and the second son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and his wife Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. His maternal grandparents were Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, who was a daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
His paternal grandparents were Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine (1823–1888) and Princess Julia of Battenberg. His paternal grandparents’ marriage was morganatic because his grandmother was not of royal lineage; as a result, he and his father were styled “Serene Highness” rather than “Grand Ducal Highness”, were not eligible to be titled Princes of Hesse and were given the less exalted Battenberg title.
Young Mountbatten’s nickname among family and friends was “Dickie”, although “Richard” was not among his given names. This was because his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, had suggested the nickname of “Nicky”, but to avoid confusion with the many Nickys of the Russian Imperial Family (“Nicky” was particularly used to refer to Nicholas II, the last Tsar), “Nicky” was changed to “Dickie”.
In childhood he visited the Imperial Court of Russia at St Petersburg and became intimate with the doomed Russian Imperial Family, harbouring romantic feelings towards Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, whose photograph he kept at his bedside for the rest of his life.
Lord Mountbatten interview – Today Thames Television 1969
Mountbatten was posted as midshipman to the battlecruiser HMS Lion in July 1916 and, after seeing action in August 1916, transferred to the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth during the closing phases of the First World War.
In June 1917, when the Royal Family stopped using their German names and titles and adopted the more British-sounding “Windsor”: Prince Louis of Battenberg became Louis Mountbatten, and was created Marquess of Milford Haven. His second son acquired the courtesy title Lord Louis Mountbatten and was known as Lord Louis until he was created a peer in 1946.
After his war service, and having been promoted sub-lieutenant on 15 January 1919, Mountbatten attended Christ’s College, Cambridge for two terms where he studied engineering in a programme that was specially designed for ex-servicemen.
He was posted to the battlecruiser HMS Renown in March 1920 and accompanied Edward, Prince of Wales, on a royal tour of Australia in her. Promoted lieutenant on 15 April 1920, he transferred to the battlecruiser HMS Repulse in March 1921 and accompanied Edward on a Royal tour of India and Japan. Edward and Mountbatten formed a close friendship during the trip. He was posted to the battleship HMS Revenge in the Mediterranean Fleet in January 1923.
Pursuing his interests in technological development and gadgetry, Mountbatten joined the Portsmouth Signals School in August 1924 and then went on briefly to study electronics at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Mountbatten became a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), now the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), which annually awards the Mountbatten Medal for an outstanding contribution, or contributions over a period, to the promotion of electronics or information technology and their application.
He was posted to the battleship HMS Centurion in the Reserve Fleet in 1926 and became Assistant Fleet Wireless and Signals Officer of the Mediterranean Fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes in January 1927. Promoted lieutenant-commander on 15 April 1928, he returned to the Signals School in July 1929 as Senior Wireless Instructor. He was appointed Fleet Wireless Officer to the Mediterranean Fleet in August 1931, and having been promoted commander on 31 December 1932, was posted to the battleship HMS Resolution.
In 1934, Mountbatten was appointed to his first command – the destroyer HMS Daring. His ship was a new destroyer which he was to sail to Singapore and exchange for an older ship, HMS Wishart. He successfully brought Wishart back to port in Malta and then attended the funeral of King George V in January 1936. Mountbatten was appointed a Personal Naval Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VIII on 23 June 1936, and, having joined the Naval Air Division of the Admiralty in July 1936, he attended the coronation of King George VI in May 1937. He was promoted Captain on 30 June 1937 and was then given command of the destroyer HMS Kelly in June 1939.
In July 1939 Mountbatten was granted a patent (UK Number 508,956) for a system for maintaining a warship in a fixed position relative to another ship.
Second World War
When war broke out in September 1939, Mountbatten became commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla aboard his ship Kelly, which became famous for its exploits. In late 1939 he brought the Duke of Windsor back from exile in France and in early May 1940, Mountbatten led a British convoy in through the fog to evacuate the Allied forces participating in the Namsos Campaign during the Norwegian Campaign.
On the night 9 May/10 May 1940, Kelly was torpedoed amidships by a German E-boat S 31 off the Dutch coast, and Mountbatten thereafter commanded the 5th Destroyer Flotilla from the destroyer HMS Javelin. He rejoined Kelly in December 1940, by which time the torpedo damage had been repaired.
Kelly was sunk by German dive bombers on 23 May 1941 during the Battle of Crete; the incident serving as the basis for Noël Coward‘s film In Which We Serve. Coward was a personal friend of Mountbatten, and copied some of his speeches into the film.
In August 1941, Mountbatten was appointed captain of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious which lay in Norfolk, Virginia, for repairs following action at Malta in the Mediterranean in January. During this period of relative inactivity he paid a flying visit to Pearl Harbor, where he was not impressed with the state of readiness of that U.S. base.
Mountbatten was a favourite of Winston Churchill (although Churchill was furious at Mountbatten’s later role in the partition and independence of India and Pakistan, he later invited him to dinner and “forgave” him in September 1952). On 27 October 1941 Mountbatten replaced Roger Keyes as Chief of Combined Operations and promoted commodore.
His duties in this role included inventing new technical aids to assist with opposed landings. Noteworthy technical achievements of Mountbatten and his staff include the construction of “PLUTO”, an underwater oil pipeline from the English coast to Normandy, an artificial harbour constructed of concrete caissons and sunken ships, and the development of amphibious tank-landing ships.
Another project that Mountbatten proposed to Churchill was Project Habakkuk. It was to be a massive and impregnable 600-metre aircraft carrier made from reinforced ice (“Pykrete“): Habakkuk was never carried out due to its enormous cost.
In his role with Combined Operations, Mountbatten also planned commando raids across the English Channel. As acting vice-admiral in March 1942, he was in large part responsible for the planning and organisation of The Raid at St. Nazaire in mid-1942, an operation which put out of action one of the most heavily defended docks in Nazi-occupied France until well after war’s end, the ramifications of which contributed to allied supremacy in the Battle of the Atlantic.
He personally pushed through the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942, (which some among the Allied forces, notably Field Marshal Montgomery, later claimed was ill-conceived from the start). The raid on Dieppe was a disaster, with casualties (including those wounded or taken prisoner) numbering in the thousands, the great majority of them Canadians.
Historian Brian Loring Villa concluded that Mountbatten conducted the raid without authority, but that his intention to do so was known to several of his superiors, who took no action to stop him. As a result of the Dieppe raid, Mountbatten became a controversial figure in Canada, with the Royal Canadian Legion distancing itself from him during his visits there during his later career; his relations with Canadian veterans “remained frosty”.
Mountbatten claimed that the lessons learned from the Dieppe Raid were necessary for planning the Normandy invasion on D-Day nearly two years later. However, military historians such as former Royal Marine Julian Thompson have written that these lessons should not have needed a debacle such as Dieppe to be recognised.
Nevertheless, as a direct result of the failings of the Dieppe raid, the British made several innovations – most notably Hobart’s Funnies – specialized armoured vehicles which, in the course of the Normandy Landings, undoubtedly saved many lives on those three beachheads upon which Commonwealth soldiers were landing (Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach).
In August 1943, Churchill appointed Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command (SEAC) with promotion to acting full admiral. His less practical ideas were sidelined by an experienced planning staff led by Lt-Col. James Allason, though some, such as a proposal to launch an amphibious assault near Rangoon, got as far as Churchill before being quashed.
British interpreter Hugh Lunghi recounted an embarrassing episode which occurred during the Potsdam Conference, when Mountbatten, desiring to receive an invitation to visit the Soviet Union, repeatedly attempted to impress Stalin with his former connections to the Russian imperial family. The attempt fell predictably flat, with Stalin dryly inquiring whether “it was some time ago that he had been there.” Says Lunghi,
“The meeting was embarrassing because Stalin was so unimpressed. He offered no invitation. Mountbatten left with his tail between his legs.”
During his time as Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre, his command oversaw the recapture of Burma from the Japanese by General William Slim. A personal high point was the reception of the Japanese surrender in Singapore when British troops returned to the island to receive the formal surrender of Japanese forces in the region led by General Itagaki Seishiro on 12 September 1945, codenamed Operation Tiderace.
South East Asia Command was disbanded in May 1946 and Mountbatten returned home with the substantive rank of rear-admiral.
Last viceroy and first Governor-General
His experience in the region and in particular his perceived Labour sympathies at that time led to Clement Attlee appointing him Viceroy of India on 20 February 1947 charged with overseeing the transition of British India to independence no later than 1948. Mountbatten’s instructions emphasised a united India as a result of the transference of power but authorised him to adapt to a changing situation in order to get Britain out promptly with minimal reputational damage. Soon after he arrived, Mountbatten concluded that the situation was too volatile for even that short a wait.
Although his advisers favoured a gradual transfer of independence, Mountbatten decided the only way forward was a quick and orderly transfer of independence before 1947 was out. In his view, any longer would mean civil war. The Viceroy also hurried so he could return to his senior technical Navy courses.
“If it could be said that any single man held the future of India in the palm of his hand in 1947, that man was Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”
During his meeting with Jinnah on 5 April 1947, Mountbatten tried to persuade Jinnah of a united India, citing the difficult task of dividing the mixed states of Punjab and Bengal, but the Muslim leader was unyielding in his goal of establishing a separate Muslim state called Pakistan.
Given the British government’s recommendations to grant independence quickly, Mountbatten concluded that a united India was an unachievable goal and resigned himself to a plan for partition, creating the independent nations of India and Pakistan.
Mountbatten set a date for the transfer of power from the British to the Indians, arguing that a fixed timeline would convince Indians of his and the British government’s sincerity in working towards a swift and efficient independence, excluding all possibilities of stalling the process.
Among the Indian leaders, Mahatma Gandhi emphatically insisted on maintaining a united India and for a while successfully rallied people to this goal. During his meeting with Mountbatten, Gandhi asked Mountbatten to invite Jinnah to form a new Central government, but Mountbatten never uttered a word of Gandhi’s ideas to Jinnah. And when Mountbatten’s timeline offered the prospect of attaining independence soon, sentiments took a different turn. Given Mountbatten’s determination, Nehru and Patel’s inability to deal with the Muslim League and lastly Jinnah’s obstinacy, all Indian party leaders (except Gandhi) acquiesced to Jinnah’s plan to divide India, which in turn eased Mountbatten’s task.
Mountbatten also developed a strong relationship with the Indian princes, who ruled those portions of India not directly under British rule. His intervention was decisive in persuading the vast majority of them to see advantages in opting to join the Indian Union. On one hand, the integration of the princely states can be viewed as one of the positive aspects of his legacy. But on the other, the refusal of Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Junagadh to join one of the dominions led to future tension between Pakistan and India
Mountbatten brought forward the date of the partition from August 1948 to 15 August 1947 . The uncertainty of the borders caused Muslims and Hindus to move into the direction where they felt they would get the majority. Hindus and Muslims were thoroughly terrified, and the Muslim movements from the East was balanced by the similar movement of Hindus from the West.
When India and Pakistan attained independence at midnight on the night of 14–15 August 1947, Mountbatten remained in New Delhi for 10 months, serving as India’s first governor general until June 1948.
Notwithstanding the self-promotion of his own part in Indian independence — notably in the television series The Life and Times of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma, produced by his son-in-law Lord Brabourne, and Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins (of which he was the main quoted source) — his record is seen as very mixed; one common view is that he hastened the independence process unduly and recklessly, foreseeing vast disruption and loss of life and not wanting this to occur on the British watch, but thereby actually helping it to occur, especially in Punjab and Bengal.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the Canadian-American Harvard University economist, who advised governments of India during the 1950s, an intimate of Nehru who served as the American ambassador from 1961 to 1963, was a particularly harsh critic of Mountbatten in this regard.
Career after India and Pakistan
After India, Mountbatten served as commander of the 1st cruiser squadron in the Mediterranean Fleet and, having been granted the substantive rank of vice admiral on 22 June 1949, he became Second-in-Command of the Mediterranean Fleet in April 1950.
He became Fourth Sea Lord at the Admiralty in June 1950 and attended the funeral of King George VI in February 1952. He then returned to the Mediterranean to serve as Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet and NATO Commander Allied Forces Mediterranean from June 1952. Promoted to the substantive rank of full admiral on 27 February 1953, he attended the coronation of the Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953.
Mountbatten served his final posting at the Admiralty as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from April 1955 to July 1959, the position which his father had held some forty years prior. This was the first time in Royal Naval history that a father and son had both attained such high rank.
He was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet on 22 October 1956.
While serving as First Sea Lord, his primary concerns dealt with devising plans on how the Royal Navy would keep shipping lanes open if Britain fell victim to a nuclear attack. Today, this seems of minor importance but at the time few people comprehended the potentially limitless destruction nuclear weapons possess and the ongoing dangers posed by the fallout. Military commanders did not understand the physics involved in a nuclear explosion.
This became evident when Mountbatten had to be reassured that the fission reactions from the Bikini Atoll tests would not spread through the oceans and blow up the planet. As Mountbatten became more familiar with this new form of weaponry, he increasingly grew opposed to its use in combat yet at the same time he realised the potential nuclear energy had, especially with regards to submarines. Mountbatten expressed his feelings towards the use of nuclear weapons in combat in his article “A Military Commander Surveys The Nuclear Arms Race,” which was published shortly after his death in International Security in the winter of 1979–80.
After leaving the Admiralty, Lord Mountbatten took the position of Chief of the Defence Staff. He served in this post for six years during which he was able to consolidate the three service departments of the military branch into a single Ministry of Defence.
In 1969, Mountbatten tried unsuccessfully to persuade his cousin, the Spanish pretender Don Juan, to ease the eventual accession of his son, Juan Carlos, to the Spanish throne by signing a declaration of abdication while in exile.
The next year Mountbatten attended an official White House dinner during which he took the opportunity to have a 20-minute conversation with Richard Nixon and Secretary of State William P. Rogers, about which he later wrote,
In January 1971, Nixon hosted Juan Carlos and his wife Sofia (ex-King Constantine’s sister) during a visit to Washington and later that year the Washington Post published an article alleging that Nixon’s administration was seeking to get Franco to retire in favour of the young Bourbon prince.
From 1967 until 1978, Mountbatten was president of the United World Colleges Organisation, then represented by a single college: that of Atlantic College in South Wales. Mountbatten supported the United World Colleges and encouraged heads of state, politicians and personalities throughout the world to share his interest. Under Mountbatten’s presidency and personal involvement, the United World College of South East Asia was established in Singapore in 1971, followed by the United World College of the Pacific (now known as the Lester B Pearson United World College of the Pacific) in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1974.
In 1978, Mountbatten passed the presidency of the college to his great-nephew, the Prince of Wales.
Alleged plots against Harold Wilson
Peter Wright, in his book Spycatcher, claimed that in 1967 Mountbatten attended a private meeting with press baron and MI5 agent Cecil King, and the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman. King and Peter Wright were members of a group of 30 MI5 officers who wanted to stage a coup against the then crisis-stricken Labour Government of Harold Wilson, and King allegedly used the meeting to urge Mountbatten to become the leader of a government of national salvation. Solly Zuckerman pointed out that it was treason, and the idea came to nothing because of Mountbatten’s reluctance to act.
In 2006, the BBC documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson alleged that there had been another plot involving Mountbatten to oust Wilson during his second term in office (1974–76). The period was characterised by high inflation, increasing unemployment and widespread industrial unrest. The alleged plot revolved around right-wing former military figures who were supposedly building private armies to counter the perceived threat from trade unions and the Soviet Union.
They believed that the Labour Party, which is partly funded by affiliated trade unions, was unable and unwilling to counter these developments and that Wilson was either a Soviet agent or at the very least a Communist sympathiser – claims Wilson strongly denied. The documentary alleged that a coup was planned to overthrow Wilson and replace him with Mountbatten using the private armies and sympathisers in the military and MI5.
The first official history of MI5, The Defence of the Realm published in 2009, tacitly confirmed that there was a plot against Wilson and that MI5 did have a file on him. Yet it also made clear that the plot was in no way official and that any activity centred on a small group of discontented officers. This much had already been confirmed by former cabinet secretary Lord Hunt, who concluded in a secret inquiry conducted in 1996 that:
“there is absolutely no doubt at all that a few, a very few, malcontents in MI5…a lot of them like Peter Wright who were rightwing, malicious and had serious personal grudges – gave vent to these and spread damaging malicious stories about that Labour government.”
Mountbatten was married on 18 July 1922 to Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley, daughter of Wilfred William Ashley, later 1st Baron Mount Temple, himself a grandson of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. She was the favourite granddaughter of the Edwardian magnate Sir Ernest Cassel and the principal heir to his fortune.
There followed a glamorous honeymoon tour of European courts and America which included a visit to Niagara Falls (because “all honeymooners went there”).
“Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people’s beds.”
He maintained an affair for several years with Frenchwoman Yola Letellier, and a sexual interest in men has also been alleged.
Edwina and Jawaharlal Nehru became intimate friends after Indian Independence. During the summers, she would frequent the prime minister’s house so she could lounge about on his veranda during the hot Delhi days. Personal correspondence between the two reveals a satisfying yet frustrating relationship. Edwina states in one of her letters:
“Nothing that we did or felt would ever be allowed to come between you and your work or me and mine – because that would spoil everything.”
Daughter as heir
Lord and Lady Mountbatten had two daughters: Lady Patricia Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (born 14 February 1924), sometime lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and Lady Pamela Carmen Louise (Hicks) (born 19 April 1929), who accompanied them to India in 1947–48 and was also sometime lady-in-waiting to the Queen.
Since Mountbatten had no sons, when he was created Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, of Romsey in the County of Southampton on 27 August 1946 and then Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Baron Romsey, in the County of Southampton on 28 October 1947, the Letters Patent were drafted such that in the event he left no sons or issue in the male line, the titles could pass to his daughters, in order of seniority of birth, and to their heirs respectively.
Like many members of the royal family, Mountbatten was an aficionado of polo. He received U.S. patent 1,993,334 in 1931 for a polo stick. Mountbatten introduced the sport to the Royal Navy in the 1920s, and wrote a book on the subject. He also served as Commodore of Emsworth Sailing Club in Hampshire from 1931.
Mentorship of Prince of Wales
Mountbatten was a strong influence in the upbringing of his grand-nephew, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and later as a mentor—”Honorary Grandfather” and “Honorary Grandson”, they fondly called each other according to the Jonathan Dimbleby biography of the Prince—though according to both the Ziegler biography of Mountbatten and the Dimbleby biography of the Prince, the results may have been mixed.
He from time to time strongly upbraided the Prince for showing tendencies towards the idle pleasure-seeking dilettantism of his predecessor as Prince of Wales, King Edward VIII, whom Mountbatten had known well in their youth. Yet he also encouraged the Prince to enjoy the bachelor life while he could and then to marry a young and inexperienced girl so as to ensure a stable married life.
Mountbatten’s qualification for offering advice to this particular heir to the throne was unique; it was he who had arranged the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Dartmouth Royal Naval College on 22 July 1939, taking care to include the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in the invitation, but assigning his nephew, Cadet Prince Philip of Greece, to keep them amused while their parents toured the facility. This was the first recorded meeting of Charles’s future parents.
But a few months later, Mountbatten’s efforts nearly came to naught when he received a letter from his sister Alice in Athens informing him that Philip was visiting her and had agreed to permanently repatriate to Greece. Within days, Philip received a command from his cousin and sovereign, King Geórgios II of the Hellenes, to resume his naval career in Britain which, though given without explanation, the young prince obeyed.
In 1974, Mountbatten began corresponding with Charles about a potential marriage to his granddaughter, Hon. Amanda Knatchbull. It was about this time he also recommended that the 25-year-old prince get on with “sowing some wild oats”. Charles dutifully wrote to Amanda’s mother (who was also his godmother), Lady Brabourne, about his interest. Her answer was supportive, but advised him that she thought her daughter still rather young to be courted.
Four years later Mountbatten secured an invitation for himself and Amanda to accompany Charles on his planned 1980 tour of India. Their fathers promptly objected. Prince Philip thought that the Indian public’s reception would more likely reflect response to the uncle than to the nephew. Lord Brabourne counselled that the intense scrutiny of the press would be more likely to drive Mountbatten’s godson and granddaughter apart than together.
Charles was re-scheduled to tour India alone, but Mountbatten did not live to the planned date of departure. When Charles finally did propose marriage to Amanda later in 1979, the circumstances were changed, and she refused him.
In 1969 Earl Mountbatten participated in a 12-part autobiographical television series Lord Mountbatten: A Man for the Century, also known as The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten, produced by Associated-Rediffusion and scripted by historian John Terraine. The episodes were:
|1. The King’s Ships Were at Sea (1900–1917)|
2. The Kings Depart (1917–1922)
3. Azure Main (1922–1936)
4. The Stormy Winds (1936–1941)
|5. United We Conquer (1941–1943)|
6. The Imperial Enemy
7. The March to Victory
8. The Meaning of Victory (1945–1947)
|9. The Last Viceroy|
10. Fresh Fields (1947–1955)
11. Full Circle (1955–1965)
12. A Man of This Century (1900–1968)
On 27 April 1977, shortly before his 77th birthday, Mountbatten became the first member of the Royal Family to appear on the TV guest show This Is Your Life.
The day Mountbatten died and Warrenpoint Bombs
Mountbatten usually holidayed at his summer home, Classiebawn Castle, in Mullaghmore, a small seaside village in County Sligo, Ireland. The village was only 12 miles (19 km) from the border with Northern Ireland and near an area known to be used as a cross-border refuge by IRA members. In 1978, the IRA had allegedly attempted to shoot Mountbatten as he was aboard his boat, but “choppy seas had prevented the sniper lining up his target”.
Despite security advice and warnings from the Garda Síochána, on 27 August 1979, Mountbatten went lobster-potting and tuna fishing in his 30-foot (9.1 m) wooden boat, the Shadow V, which had been moored in the harbour at Mullaghmore. IRA member Thomas McMahon had slipped onto the unguarded boat that night and attached a radio-controlled bomb weighing 50 pounds (23 kg). When Mountbatten was aboard, just a few hundred yards from the shore, the bomb was detonated. The boat was destroyed by the force of the blast, and Mountbatten’s legs were almost blown off. Mountbatten, then aged 79, was pulled alive from the water by nearby fishermen, but died from his injuries before being brought to the shore.
Also aboard the boat were his eldest daughter Patricia (Lady Brabourne), her husband John (Lord Brabourne), their twin sons Nicholas and Timothy Knatchbull, John’s mother Doreen (Baroness Brabourne), and Paul Maxwell, a young crew member from County Fermanagh. Nicholas (aged 14) and Paul (aged 15) were killed by the blast and the others were seriously injured. Baroness Brabourne (aged 83) died from her injuries the following day.
The IRA issued a statement afterward, saying:
The IRA claim responsibility for the execution of Lord Louis Mountbatten. This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country. […] The death of Mountbatten and the tributes paid to him will be seen in sharp contrast to the apathy of the British government and the English people to the deaths of over three hundred British soldiers, and the deaths of Irish men, women and children at the hands of their forces.
The IRA gave clear reasons for the execution. I think it is unfortunate that anyone has to be killed, but the furor created by Mountbatten’s death showed up the hypocritical attitude of the media establishment. As a member of the House of Lords, Mountbatten was an emotional figure in both British and Irish politics. What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people; and with his war record I don’t think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. He knew the danger involved in coming to this country. In my opinion, the IRA achieved its objective: people started paying attention to what was happening in Ireland.
On the day of the bombing, the IRA also ambushed and killed eighteen British soldiers in Northern Ireland, sixteen of them from the Parachute Regiment, in what became known as the Warrenpoint ambush. It was the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles.
Thomas McMahon, who had been arrested two hours before the bomb detonated at a Garda checkpoint between Longford and Granard on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle, was tried for the assassinations in the Republic of Ireland, and convicted by forensic evidence supplied by James O’Donovan that showed flecks of paint from the boat and traces of nitroglycerine on his clothes.
Lord Mountbatten’s Ceremonial Funeral
On 5 September 1979 Lord Mountbatten received a ceremonial funeral at Westminster Abbey, which was attended by the Queen, the Royal Family and members of the European royal houses. Watched by thousands of people, the funeral procession, which started at Wellington Barracks, included representatives of all three British Armed Services, and military contingents from Burma, India, the United States, France and Canada. His coffin was drawn on a gun carriage by 118 Royal Navy ratings. During the televised service, the Prince of Wales read the lesson from Psalm 107. In an address, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, highlighted his various achievements and his “lifelong devotion to the Royal Navy”. After the public ceremonies, which he had planned himself, Mountbatten was buried in Romsey Abbey. As part of the funeral arrangements, his body had been embalmed by Desmond Henley.
On 23 November 1979 Thomas McMahon was convicted of murder based on forensic evidence collected by James O’Donovan, for his part in the bombing. He was released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
On hearing of Mountbatten’s death the then Master of the Queen’s Music, Malcolm Williamson, was moved to write the Lament in Memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma for violin and string orchestra. The 11-minute work was given its first performance on 5 May 1980 by the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, conducted by Leonard Friedman.
Mountbatten took pride in enhancing intercultural understanding and in 1984, with his elder daughter as the patron, the Mountbatten Institute was developed to allow young adults the opportunity to enhance their intercultural appreciation and experience by spending time abroad.
The city of Ottawa, Ontario, erected Mountbatten Avenue in his memory. The avenue runs from Blossom Drive to Fairbanks Avenue.
Titles and Style
- 25 June 1900 – 14 July 1917: His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg
- 14 July 1917 – 7 November 1917: Mr. Louis Mountbatten
- 7 November 1917 – 27 August 1946: Lord Louis Mountbatten
- 27 August 1946 – 28 October 1947: The Right Honourable The Viscount Mountbatten of Burma
- 12 February – 15 August 1947: His Excellency The Right Honourable The Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, Viceroy and Governor-General of India
- 15 August – 28 October 1947: His Excellency The Right Honourable The Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, Governor-General of India
- 28 October 1947 – 21 June 1948: His Excellency The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Governor-General of India
- 21 June 1948 – 20 July 1965: The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma
- 20 July 1965 – 1 April 1974: His Excellency The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Governor and Captain of the Isle of Wight
- 1 April 1974 – 27 August 1979: The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma
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