Lord Louis Mountbatten

CO of Wishart on the China Station and in the Med


Louis 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.

Edwina and Louis Mountbatten
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."

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 Nationalist KMT.

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 (later Rear Admiral Ralph Lindsay) described his time on anti-piracy patrol in his memoir, "Salt horse: a naval life'". 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 Mediterranean.

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.


1st Destroyer Flotilla, 1934-6The King as Prince of WalesI 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 is a copy in the Imperial War Museum.

HMS Daring 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.

The 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 Mediterranean.

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.

The 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 guests 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, their 66 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 professionalism and 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.

1st DF, the COs, Algeciras, April 1935
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)
Officers in HMS Wishart
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

"On 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 Harbour.

"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.

Mountbatten 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

Lord Louis Mountbatten and Wallis Simpson on HMS Wishart in 1936Mountbatten 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 dashed when
"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".

Water Polo team, 1935
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 Fleet. "With 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 them."

On 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 ashore off Tigre Point
HMS Wren aground off Tigne Point Malta
Photographed by Norman Hollis of HMS Veteran

Music played by the Ship's Band on 26 April 1936
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 relinquishing 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.

Mountbatten 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 the 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 Collingwood earned 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.


The main sources for this brief account of the early part of Mountbatten's life is Mountbatten: Apprentice War Lord 1900-1943; by Adrian Smith (New York: I.B.Tauris, 2010). Most of the quotations by Mountbatten are from The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten, by John Terraine based on the Rediffusion and Thames Television programme.
 All uncredited quotations are from The Souvenir Book of the 1934 - 1936 Commission of HMS Ships Daring & Wishart in the First Destroyer Flotilla.
For a chronology of the life and service career of Cdr "Louis" F.A.V. Mountbatten RN, later 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, based on naval records see

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)
HMS St Vincent - the Mast
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

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