His father was First Sea Lord at the outbreak of the First World War, but the prevailing extreme anti-German feelings obliged him to resign. In 1917, when the Royal Family stopped using their German names and titles, Prince Louis of Battenberg became Louis Mountbatten, and was created Marquess of Milford Haven. His second son acquired the courtesy style Lord Louis Mountbatten and was known as Lord Louis informally until his death notwithstanding his being granted a viscountcy in recognition of his wartime service in the Far East and an earldom for his role in the transition of India from British dependency to sovereign state. In childhood he visited the Imperial Court of Russia at St Petersburg and became intimate with the doomed Imperial Family; in later life he was called upon authoritatively to rebut claims by pretenders to be the supposedly surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia. As a young man he had romantic feelings towards Anastasia's sister, the Grand Duchess Maria, and until the end of his own life he kept her photograph at his bedside.
After his nephew's change of name and engagement to the future Queen, he is alleged to have referred to the United Kingdom's dynasty as the future "House of Mountbatten", whereupon the Dowager Queen Mary reportedly refused to have anything to do with "that Battenberg nonsense", and the name of the Royal house remains Windsor by subsequent Royal decree - this can, however, be changed on the Monarch's wishes. After the marriage of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, it was decreed that their non-royal descendants were to bear the (maiden) surname "Mountbatten-Windsor".
In August 1941 Mountbatten was appointed captain of 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 poor state of readiness and a general lack of co-operation between the US Navy and US Army, including the absence of a joint HQ.
Mountbatten was a favourite of Winston Churchill (although after 1948 Churchill never spoke to him again since he was famously annoyed with Mountbatten's later role in the independence of India and Pakistan), and on 27 October 1941 Mountbatten replaced Roger Keyes as Chief of Combined Operations. He personally pushed through the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942 (which certain elements of the Allied military, notably Field Marshal Montgomery, felt was ill-conceived from the start). The raid on Dieppe was widely considered to be a disaster, with casualties (including those wounded and/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.
Mountbatten claimed that the lessons learned from the Dieppe Raid were necessary for planning the Normandy invasion. 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.
As a result, 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". Nevertheless, a Royal Canadian Sea Cadet corps (RCSCC #134 Admiral Mountbatten in Sudbury, Ontario) was named after him in 1946.
In late 1942, Mountbatten proposed Project Habakkuk to Churchill; the Pykrete supercarrier project was never completed. In October 1943, Churchill appointed Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Theatre. Characteristically he set up an elaborate headquarters in the Royal Palace at Kandy, Sri Lanka, although the American generals proved unimpressed. 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. He would hold the post until the South East Asia Command (SEAC) was disbanded in 1946.
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. Here, he worked closely with esteemed American general Albert Coady Wedemeyer. His diplomatic handling of General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, his deputy—and also the officer commanding the American China Burma India Theatre—and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese Nationalist forces, was as gifted as that of General Eisenhower with General Montgomery and Winston Churchill. 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.
He developed a strong relationship with the Indian princes who were said to have considerable confidence in him, and on the basis of his relationship with the British monarchy persuaded most of them to accede to the new states of India and Pakistan. This was vitally important in the lead-up to Indian independence, though ultimately post-Independence India and Pakistan abolished their prerogatives.
With his strong friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru and amicable relations with Mahatma Gandhi but inability to work his famous charm on Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mountbatten quickly gave up hope of salvaging a unified independent India, becoming resigned to Partition into a post-Independence Pakistan and India. After Independence (midnight of 14 August/15 August 1947, celebrated on the 14th in Pakistan and the 15th in India) he remained in New Delhi for ten months, serving as the first of independent India's two governors general until June 1948 (the monarchy being abolished in 1950 and the office of governor general of India replaced with a non-executive presidency.) Notwithstanding extremely effective self-promotion during his lifetime as to 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 Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins's rather sensationalised Freedom at Midnight (as to which he was the main informant) — his record is seen as mixed; one view is that he hastened the independence process unduly, foreseeing vast disruption and loss of life and not wanting this to occur on the British watch, but thereby actually causing it to occur, especially during the partition of the Punjab but also to a lesser extent, Bengal.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the Canadian-American Harvard economist, who advised governments of India during the 1950s, became an intimate of Nehru and served as the American ambassador from 1961-63, was a particularly harsh critic of Mountbatten in this regard. The horrific casualties of the partition of the Punjab are luridly described in Collins' and LaPierre's Freedom at Midnight and more latterly in Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Ice Candy Man (published in the USA as Cracking India), made into the film Earth. In all renderings of the appalling carnage that followed the Partition, Lady Mountbatten is universally praised for her heroic efforts in relieving the misery and to this day she remains a heroine of the Partition period in India.
After India, Mountbatten served in the Mediterranean Fleet and as a staff officer in the Admiralty. He took great personal pride and pleasure in serving as First Sea Lord and later as Chief of the Defence Staff for six years (1959–1965), which he also took as reparation for the slur on his father who had been forced to resign as First Sea Lord in 1914 after being falsely accused of pro-German sympathy.
It is 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 wanted to stage a coup against the then crisis-stricken Labour Government of Harold Wilson, and urged Mountbatten to become the leader of a Government of national salvation. Mountbatten apparently considered the idea of heading the coup, but Zuckerman pointed out that it was treason, and the idea came to nothing because of Mountbatten's reluctance to act. Claims of an MI5 plot against Wilson have been investigated a number of times and no credible evidence discovered.
Mountbatten took great pride in enhancing intercultural understanding and in 1984, with his eldest daughter as the patron, the Mountbatten Internship Programme was developed to allow young adults the opportunity to enhance their intercultural appreciation and experience by spending time abroad.
From 1967 until 1978, Mountbatten became 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 UWC of the Pacific in Canada in 1974. In 1978, Lord Mountbatten of Burma passed the Presidency to his great-nephew, HRH The Prince of Wales.
Lady Mountbatten died at age 58 on 21 February 1960, in Jesselton (modern Kota Kinabalu), North Borneo (modern Malaysian state of Sabah); as documented in the official biography by Philip Ziegler, the marriage had been stormy throughout, with adulterous dalliances on both parts. Both husband and wife readily admitted to several affairs, particularly during the 1930s; Lady Mountbatten's intimacy with Nehru has long been well known; and both Mountbatten daughters have candidly acknowledged that their mother had a fiery temperament and was not always supportive of her husband when jealousy of his high profile overbore a sense of their having common cause.
During the Indian viceroyalty, in particular, Mountbatten's evenings were often given over to assuaging his wife's feelings of angry resentment. Latterly, A.N. Wilson in his well-regarded After the Victorians: 1901–1953 has asserted that Mountbatten himself carried on affairs with lovers of both sexes and that he was known to friends as "Mountbottom. A small item in Private Eye magazine regarding drunken naval ratings at Mountbatten's London home, and which alluded to Mountbatten's bisexuality, was widely commented upon. Mountbatten's official biographer wrote that he could find nothing to support the allegation, but several eyewitness accounts supporting Private Eye were later published.
Until his assassination in 1979, Mountbatten kept a photograph of his cousin Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia, beside his bed in memory of the crush he once had upon her.
Mountbatten's qualification for offering advice to this particular heir to the throne was unique; it was he who had arranged the visit of 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 George 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, and he made his own home available for Charles' romantic liaisons, which could be arranged with minimal press knowledge.
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 tragically changed, and she refused him.
Nicholas Knatchbull's mother and father, along with his twin brother Timothy, survived the explosion but were seriously injured.
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 same day Mountbatten was assassinated, the IRA also ambushed and killed eighteen British Army soldiers, sixteen of them from the Parachute Regiment at Warrenpoint, County Down in what became known as the Warrenpoint ambush. After this action, graffiti proclaiming "Bloody Sunday's Not Forgotten, We Got Eighteen And Mountbatten" was seen in some Republican areas in Ireland.
Prince Charles took Mountbatten's death particularly hard, remarking to friends that things were never the same after losing his mentor.
The President of Ireland, Patrick Hillery, and the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, attended a memorial service for Mountbatten in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. Mountbatten was buried in Romsey Abbey after a televised funeral in Westminster Abbey which he himself had comprehensively planned.
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. One of the most poignant of tributes paid to Mountbatten, the 11-minute work was given its first performance on 5 May 1980 by the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, conducted by Leonard Friedman.
In his song Post World War Two Blues, published on the LP Past, Present and Future from 1973, singer and songwriter Al Stewart has a reference to Mountbatten's controversy with Winston Churchill about India.
Mountbatten is due to feature in an upcoming film Indian Summer which covers his time as Viceroy of India, and specifically the affair between his wife and Nehru. It is loosely based on the book Indian Summer: The Secret history of the end of an empire by Alex von Tunzelmann.
Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Theatre
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