Mountbatten was born in 1900 at Frogmore House in the grounds of the
Home Park Windsor, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg. His great
grandmother, Queen Victoria, was present at his christening. His father
was born in Austria and brought up in Italy and Germany but joined the
Royal Navy as a cadet at 14 and was First Sea Lord in 1912. Anti-German
feeling forced him to resign at the outbreak of war and the family
changed their name to Mountbatten in 1917.
“Dickie” Mountbatten was 13 when he went to Dartmouth and served as Midshipman in the battleships HMS Lion and Queen Elizabeth in the war. In 1920 he was a Lt in HMS Renown
during the Prince of Wales tour of Australia and New Zealand, formed a
close personal relationship with the future King and accompanied him on
the Royal Tour to India, Japan and the Far East in 1921. He married
Edwina Ashley the following year. She was already wealthy and was to
inherit the immense fortune (valued today at £49m) of her maternal
grandfather. Dickie Mountbatten was earning £600, the equivalent of
£20,000 today. Despite her many affairs the marriage was a success.
Louis Mountbatten's "private life": the 16 year old Midshipman in HMS Lion, marriage to the wealthy socialite Edwina Ashley, the young couple The Prince of Wales was best man at his wedding at St Margarets Church Westminster on 18 July 1922
He did not
allow his friendship with the Prince of Wales or his marriage to distract him from pursuing his career in the
Navy which he took very seriously. He had a special interest in
wireless telegraphy, attended the Signal School at Portsmouth and by
1931 was Wireless Officer for the Mediterranean Fleet. He was regarded
with suspicion by some fellow officers because of his privileged family
background and his unfashionable interest in wireless but was always
popular on the lower deck. In 1934 he was given his first command and
found himself "a bit dazed but feeling rather grand" on the bridge of
HMS Daring, a modern D Class destroyer which had just entered service.
HMS Daring was completed at
Woolston, Southampton, in November 1932 and assigned to the First
Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean. Cdr Louis F.A.V.N. Mountbatten
RN took command when she was recommissioned at Chatham on 25 October
1934 and on Saturday 27 October he drove to Rochester airport to meet
the Prince of Wales who had flown from Windsor to inspect his friend's
new ship; "His Majesty remained on board for his usual light luncheon,
and returned by air in the early afternoon."
Daring returned with her sister ships in the 1st DF to the Mediterranean. She left Sheerness for Gibraltar with Diana and Duchess on 31 October and on 1 November was joined by Duncan, Delight and Dainty from Portsmouth and by Decoy, Defender and Diamond
from Devonport. Immediately on arrival in the Mediterranean the 1st DF
left for Singapore via the Suez Canal, Aden and Colombo to relieve the
ships of the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the China Station.
Britain was not the only foreign power to take advantage
of Chinese weakness to secure rights to trade and settle in treaty ports, concessions and enclaves
along the coast of China and major rivers. The process began with the
Treaty of Nanking at the end of the First Opium War (1841-2) and the
ceding of Hong Kong to Britain and accelerated with the fall of the
Quing dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912.
Russia, France, Germany and Japan acquired treaty ports from the weak
government. By 1920 there were 60,000 foreigners living in the
International Settlement at Shanghai, China's largest city on the delta
of the Yangste, China's longest river. All these powers had warships on
the China coast to protect their ports and citizens. The situation
became even more volatile when Sun Yat Sen's Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Party lost control in Peking and regional war lords seized control of much of the country. The KMT split with the Communists. In
1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria from Korea and by 1934 Mao was
leading the Communist Party on the Long March North to escape the
The Royal Navy had a strong presence on the China Station throughout the interwar year. HMS Wishart
may have been on the China Station with her sister V & Ws in the
3rd Destroyer Flotilla from 1926-8 and we know she was there from 1929
to 1932 as her First Lt Ralph Lindsay described his time on anti-piracy
patrol in his memoir. The V & Ws returned to the China Station as
the 8th Destroyer Flotilla from February 1932 to December 1934 and left
when when they swopped ships' companies with the D Class destroyers at
Singapore and took over the duties of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in the
HMS Daring remained on the China Station with the former ship's company of HMS Wishart
until 1939. She was torpedoed off the coast of Norway on 18 February
1940 by U-23 commanded by Otto Kretschmer. There were five survivors
out of the crew of 157.
was lent a copy of the "Souvenir Book of the 1934 - 1936 Commission of
HMS Ships Daring & Wishart in the First Destroyer Flotilla" by Lt Cdr John
Whittleton RN (Ret). The inscribed portrait of the Prince of Wales, soon to be King Edward VIII, appears at the front. There were 160
numbered subscription copies of the leather bound edition printed by
the Times of Malta at the end of the Commission. There isa copy in the Imperial War Museum.
arrived at Singapore at 0930 on the 11 December to find "8th Destroyer
Flotilla, with whom ships were to be exchanged, already there".
On the 15 - 16 December the two Flotillas carried out a joint exercise
"Attack on Singapore". Wishart came alongside Daring at 1200 on the 16th and the following day the officers and crews were transferred. The Flotilla Leader was HMS Keppel with Captain Baillie-Grohman D.S.O., O.B.E as CO and Captain (D). The First Division consisted of Wild Swan, Whitehall, Veteran and Verity. HMS Wishart was in the Second Division with Witch, Whitshed and Wren.
names of all the officers and men who served in Daring and Wishart are
given in the Commissioning Book. Mountbatten, three officers and 106 ratings transferred from HMS
Daring to Wishart. Two officers and 12 men remained in Wishart
on transfer. The 8th Destroyer Flotilla exchanged its elderly V
& Ws for modern D Class destroyers but retained most of the officers
and crew experienced in the conditions on the China Station. Wishart
and the 1st DF got the worst of the exchange but conditions on the
China Station were more challenging and less predictable than in the
Mountbatten restored the morale of the ship's Company by telling
them: "We have just left behind a ship with a great name - the Daring,
a wonderful name. We have come to the only ship in the Navy with a
greater name. For our ship is called after the Almighty Himself, to
whom we pray every day: "Our Father Wishart in Heaven ...'"
The ship's pets have a full page each in the Commissioning Book. Rastus,
a young female "honey-bear" obtained by Lady Louis Mountbatten in Borneo
and Ruff, one of a litter of four
dogs born on HMS Diana, joined the ship at Singapore. They were equally popular on quarterdeck and lower deck. Wishart
and the 1st DF left Singapore for Colombo, Ceylon, on the 18th December
and arrived on the 23rd. The Commissioning Book records that the
officers were at home to the Ship's Company on Christmas Day. The Diary records the arrival of Wishart at Aden on 5 January ("Wishart played Aden W/T Station's crew at football and won by 3 goals to nil"), at Suez on 9 January and Malta on the 17th.
Commissioning Book focuses on the positive achievements of the ship
between her arrival at Malta on the 17 January 1935 with her sister
ships in the 1st Destroyer Flotilla and Mountbatten relinquishing
command on the 28 April 1936. Most of its contents appear trivial but
it accurately reflects life in the Mediterranean Fleet between the wars
when exercises, cruises, sport, the Flotilla Regatta and distinguished
were important. The invasion of
Abyssinia by Italy and the threat this posed to the Navy is almost
ignored though the threat was very real.
"Dickie" Mountbatten and Edwina were at home in Malta. They entertained senior officers at their villa Casa Medina and
aboard the Shrimp,
ton motor yacht, and Mountbatten ran a string of Polo ponies. He had
two cars including a Rolls on the island. "Future generations of
officers had good reason to be grateful to him for having installed a
bathroom aboard Wishart" (J.A. Jolliffe D/MX. 52106). There
were three Destroyer Flotillas in The Mediterranean Fleet, the First,
Second and Third Flotillas. Mountbatten was liked and respected
by Rear Admiral (D), A.B. Cunningham (known as ABC), for his
interest in adopting modern methods.
The arrival of the 1st DF began with ten days of Gunnery and torpedo
firings followed by the C-in-C of
the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir William Fisher, and RA(D),
Rear Admiral A.B. Cunningham, inspecting the Ships' Companies on Manoel
Island, alongside Sliema Creek where the destroyers moored at Valletta.
On the 28 February the Mediterranean Fleet sailed on its
Spring Cruise to Gibraltar and the Canary Islands for Combined fleet
manoeuvres, "Mediterranean Fleet versus the Home Fleet". On 10 March Wishart and Wren, the Fourth Sub-Division of the 1st DF, refueled at sea from RFA Brambleleaf under the lee of Gomera island. In the war to come the ability to "replenish at
sea" (RAS) would be essential for convoy escorts with "short legs" like
Wishart and Wren.
Captains of the First Destroyer Flotilla at Algeciras, April 1935 Standing from left:Lt Cdr W.G.A. Robson (HMS Wren), Lt Cdr M.S. Thomas (HMS Whitshed),
Lt Cdr Gibbs (HMS Wren), Lt Cdr J.M. Rogers (HMS Whitehall), Lt Cdr R.C. Gordon (HMS Verity) Seated from left: Cdr Lord Louis Mountbatten (HMS Wishart), Cdr B.A. Warburton-Lee (HMS Witch),
Captain (D1) H.T. Bailie-Grohman (HMS Keppel), Cdr Arliss (HMS Wild Swan), Cdr G.N. Oliver (HMS Veteran)
Warburton-Lee won the Victoria Cross in the first Battle of Narvik, 10 April 1940 Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum (Negative Number HU 57465)
HMS Wishart's Officers Rear row from left: Wt Eng S.J.H. Mardon, Lt N.R. Murch RNR, Gnr. (T) R.M. Browne Middle row from left: Lt R.W.F. Northcott, Cdr Lord Louis Mountbatten, Lt E.G. Roper Front Row from left: Sub Lt P.H.J. Southby, Lt W. Whitworth
From the Souvenir Commissioning Book for HMS Daring and HMS Wishart 1934-6 Courtesy of John Whittleton
the 22 April The First Destroyer Flotilla returned to Malta and moored
in Sliema Creek. The destroyers had to enter the creek by going
‘astern’ until they could pick up their moorings. Cdr Louis Mountbatten
in HMS Wishart had a bet with
the other captains and carried out this manoeuvre at Full Speed without
causing any damage to the other ships, cheered on by the other ships in the
Flotilla." From John Lawton's book about HMS Veteran, The Proudest of her Line (2006).
The Silver Jubilee of King George V
On the 7th May, the
Silver Jubilee celebrating the King's 25 years on the throne, was marked by a
combined services parade at Marsa on the Grand Harbour and the final of
the Ships and Regiments Polo Tournament in which the Captains of Wishart and Witch
played for the Destroyers team and won the silver cup. In the evening
the Fleet was illuminated and a water carnival was held in the Grand
"The ship's band was formed in the Spring of 1935 under the guidance
and tuition of Mr Murphy who was living on board as the Captain's guest
at the time". James "Peter" Murphy was widely regarded as a "Communist
and homosexual" but he had been one of Dickie Mountbatten's
closest friends since they met as students at Cambridge in 1919. Another popular innovation was the ship's daily newspaper, the Wishart News, produced by the telegraphists.
was fascinated by films and arranged for the first cinemas projector
designed and built for use in the Royal Navy to be installed in HMS Wishart for the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. After three trial programmes a vote was taken and all except the Flotilla leader HMS Keppel
voted in favour of its retention. Mountbatten was liked by RA(D) but
did not always find favour with Captain (D1) H.T. Bailie-Grohman.
The First Destroyer Flotilla Gunnery Trophy
Mountbatten was determined that Wishart would win The Gunnery Trophy in June and trained hard, placing accuracy before rate of fire.
"We won on hits per minute. It seemed obvious to me that the best thing
for guns to do is to hit their targets. Yet, extraordinary though it
may seem, I came in for a rebuke over this. The fetish in
destroyers at that time was fast shooting
and I was criticised for my slow rate of fire. When I pointed out that
we would probably have sunk any one of our fast-shooting rivals before
they had even hit us, I think this was regarded as being in rather bad
taste!" From The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten; by John Terraine (Hutchinson & Co 1968).
The trophy was awarded every six months and in the second six months of the Commission the system was changed, fewer marks being given for accuracy and HMS Keppell came first with Wishart third.
On the 2nd July the 1st Destroyer Flotilla left on its Summer
Cruise, passing between the toe of Italy and Sicily to Leghorn,
Villefranche-sur-Mer and Cannes and returning between Corsica and
Sardinia to Malta. On the 19th August Wishart and Whitehall
returned to Cannes to represent the Navy at the International Destroyer
Flotilla and the boat races for the Silver Jubilee Trophy.
On 26 August the Prince of Wales came on board "accompanied by the
ladies and gentlemen of his house party to a small cocktail party" and
the showing of a film on the flotilla cinema projector. His guests
included Mrs Wallis Simpson. The Prince was notorious for his affairs
with married women but this relationship would bring about the
constitutional crisis which led to his abdication after only 326 days
as King, the shortest reign since the death of Lady Jane Grey, the last
wife of Henry VIII. "Cock of the Flotilla"
"It is no exaggeration to say that the Regatta occupies the first and
foremost thought of almost every officer and man, in every ship of the
Navy during the Summer months. A ship that 'embarks on the Regatta' with 'the will to win', is a ship
which has a healthy morale bred in her, and one who possesses that 'guts'
which has been found to be so valuable in time of War." Mountbatten, from the Commissioning Book. Wishart won both the Regatta and the Gunnery
Trophy – which was almost unheard of. Mountbatten determined the optimum length of stroke for the pulling contests and built a rowing machine, a "dry-puller", on the foredeck where the crews could practice. “We collected six out of the
eleven available cups – and one of our whalers won by no less than 15
lengths. I was told that I was ruining the style of rowing by adopting
a very fast stroke, I replied ‘I am sorry, I hadn’t realised that
style was the important thing. I had assumed that the thing was to be
first at the winning post.’” From The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten; by John Terraine (Hutchinson & Co 1968).
There are twelve pages in the souvenir Commissioning Book about the
regatta with photographs of the crews and the names of all the
competitors in the 14 boats which took part in the pulling contests.
Wishart seemed well placed to become "Cock of the Fleet" but hopes were
"Owing to Mussolini's war like attitude ... The Inter flotilla
regatta was canceled and the Fleet Regatta took place at
Alexandria in the absence of the First Flotilla".
The Regatta 1935: The First Destroyer Flotilla Water Polo Team Front row: PO Hutton, Cdr Lord Louis Mountbatten, Captain Baillie-Grohman D.S.O., O.B.E, CO of Flotilla leader HMS Keppell and Captain (D) 1st DF, Lt Cdr Gordon, PO Sturgess
Second row: Ldg. Sea Holden, AB Antliffe, AB King, AB Martin, AB Yates
Back row: Ldg. Sea Bashford, Ord. Wodehouse, AB Barry, Ldg. Sea Waite A
team consisted of six players and one goal keeper in the water at any
one time - the senior officers were not members of the team. Courtesy of Ian Hickman whose Grandfather Eric
Sturgess is in the front row far right
The threat from Italy
A border dispute between Eithipia and Italian Somaliland provided Mussolini with the pretext
to invade the last independent country in Africa. Italian forces
crossed the border from Eritrea on 3 October 1935 and entered Addis
Abba on the 5 May 1936 but fighting continued until 1939. The protests of the League of Nations were ignored and Britain
was more concerned about an attack by the Italian air force on the
Mediterranean Fleet than helping Emperor Haile Selassie, a refugee in
Britain from June 1936.
Rear Admiral Cunningham feared the worst and confided in Mountbatten that: "I would
abandon the Mediterranean and stop the holes at Suez and Gibraltar.
Leave Malta with only the garrison" to avoid an aerial attack on the
all leave canceled and a very real fear of pre-emptive attack, the
bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet was deployed to a safer anchorage in
Alexandria. Wishart and the other creaking ships that made up the First
Destroyer Flotilla were deemed expendable and remained in Valletta to
reassure the local population that Britain had not abandoned
the 21 December 1935 "sailing orders for a special mission were confirmed"
(Commission Book) and at 2100 HMS Wishart
sailed for Bizerta in the
French colony of Tunisia. The French had assured the Admiralty that in
the event of the Fleet having to leave the Grand Harbour they would
provide dockyard faciliies at Bizerta. Mountbatten was sent to Bizerta
to discuss the arrangements should Malta be bombed and was shocked to
find that he was not allowed ashore in naval uniform and that the
Admiral whose English was excellent insisted on speaking in French. "The French authorities were keen
to avoid antagonising a large Italian community but the dockyard
engineers proved far more co-operative and back on Wishart remarkably
detailed charts were drawn up which were widely distributed within the
Admiralty." During the crisis HMS Wessex, Valorous, Mackay and Douglas joined the 1st Destroyer Flotilla as temporary measure. In October these ships together with Venetia, Vega, Wolsey and Viceroy were formed into the 19th Destroyer Flotilla. Death of a King and the end of a Commission
King George V died at Sandringham 20 January and at Marseilles on the 24th the "Capt left the ship to proceed to London to attend the funeral of His late Majesty".
"March was rather an interesting time; HMS Wren went aground off Tigne Point at the entrance to Sliema Creek.
All stores were moved aft, and all crew not needed to assist in the
Refloating, were assembled on the quarterdeck and made to jump up and
down! Wren was eventually refloated, assisted by Veteran, and returned
to her moorings at the buoy, again by Veteran." There is no reference to this embarrassing incident in the Commissioning Book but it is mentioned in The Proudest of her Line; by John Lawton (2006). HMS Wren was sunk by aircraft off Aldeburgh on 27 July 1940.
On the 23rd at 0930 hrs, all officers and men were landed, for a parade
to mark the departure of the Commander in Chief Mediterranean, Sir
William Fisher. Veteran, embarked a total of 290 ratings from the First Destroyer Flotilla, and, at 1900 hrs, HMS Queen Elizabeth, sailed with Admiral Fisher aboard, while Veteran, cheered ship.
On the 5 April Wishart and Wren "proceeded to sea to escort P & O liner SS Strathmore (carrying HE The Governor Sir Charles Bonham-Carter) into Grand Harbour".
HMS Wren aground off Tigne Point Malta Photographed by Norman Hollis of HMS Veteran
Mallorca was composed by HM King Edward VIII and Morena , a tango, by Stoker Meeson The Bandmaster, Stoker Meeson, signed the Programme
On the 26th April "the Captain gave a farewell cocktail party,
prior to his return to England, having completed his full time of two
years on the station. Owing to the large number of guests it was
necessary to use the Quarter Deck, and both sides of the waist, as far
"forrard" as the funnel, as well as the Captain's cabin, Ward Room and
"X" gun deck. In all well over two hundred people were entertained on
board, and it was obvious that the party was a great success."
On the 28 April "The Captain addressed the ship's company prior to
command of the ship.
He was then pulled ashore in the whaler manned by officers, while the
entire ship's company "cleared lower deck" of their own accord, and
cheered him as he left". Commander W.G.A. Robson assumed command. On
passing Tigne Point three cheers were given for Commander Lord Louis
Mountbatten who watched the ship leave harbour.
was appointed a Personal Naval Aide-de-Camp to
King Edward VIII on 23 June. Mrs Wallis Simpson was granted a divorce
on 27 October 1936. The King abdicated on 10 December 1936 and
married Wallis Simpson on 3 June 1937. They were given the title of
Duke and Duchess of Windsor and settled in France. In October they
visited Germany and met Hitler at his Obersalzberg retreat and were
seen to exchange full Nazi salutes. When Germany invaded the north of
France the Duke and Duchess fled to Lisbon. Churchill insisted he
returned to British soil or face a court-martial. In September 1939 Mountbatten brought the Duke and Duchess of Windsor back from exile in France in HMS Kelly.
Randolph Churchill was aboard with a welcoming message from Winston.
The Duke and Duchess landed at Portsmouth on 12 September and the Duke
met his brother the King at Buckingham Palace on
afternoon of the 14 September. His presence in Britain was an
embarrassment and he spent most of the war as Governor of the Bahamas.
HMS Kelly was sunk by German dive bombers on 23 May 1941 during the Battle
of Crete, the incident serving as the basis for NoŽl Coward's film
In Which We Serve. Coward wrote the screenplay and starred in the film as the ship's captain. He was a personal friend of Mountbatten and
copied some of his speeches into the film. Some of the ratings undergoing basic training at HMS Collingwoodearned mony as extras during filming. Mountbatten was delighted to be the inspiration for this patriotic war film.
Back on the China Station things were hotting up for the ships of the 8th DF as described by the CO of HMS Defender:
"In 1937 I graduated to my first destroyer, the Defender, on the China station. With her 35,000 HP and 32 knots, she was a very different proposition from my little 785-ton Kingfisher
and her 20 knots. I thanked my stars for my early destroyer training in
the old Mediterranean days as the flotilla streaked about the China
Sea, performing its intricate manoeuvres at 30 knots. But this soon
came to an end with the beginning of the war between Japan and China,
when every ship on the station was required to bring comfort and
confidence to the many foreign communities in the ports up and down the
China coast. Gunboat diplomacy is out of fashion today, but in those
days many a Western trader in China was very glad to see the White
Ensign or the Stars and Stripes flying on a warship in the harbour." U-Boat Killer; by Donald Macintyre (Wiedenfield and Nicolson, 1956)
In the spring of 1939 Donald Macintyre returned home to take command of HMS Venomous.
I am grateful to John Whittleton for trusting me with his copy of the "Commissioning Book" for Daring and Wishart John Whittleton came from a seafaring family and rose from being "Button Boy" at HMS St Vincent (1962) to Lt Cdr in the Royal Navy (1996)
His father, grandfather and two great uncles were skippers of Grimsby
trawlers and his father wrote and published one of the best
descriptions of a trawlerman's life at sea: Wooden Ships and Iron Men: a trawlerman's story; by Arthur Whittleton (1990) ISBN 0 9516324 0 X Copies can be ordered from John Whittleton for £8.50 inc p&p by clicking on the link
Bill Forster V & W Destroyer Association
you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your
family who served on HMS Wishart
you should first obtain a copy of their service record