Tag Archives: Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Battenberg and Mountbatten

The House of Windsor was created on 17 July 1917 when King George V decided that the name of the royal house should be anglicised in response to anti-German sentiment resulting from the First World War. The name Windsor was adopted, replacing Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. At a meeting of the Privy Council on 17 July 1917, George V declared that “all descendants in the male line of Queen Victoria, who are subjects of these realms, other than female descendants who marry or who have married, shall bear the name of Windsor”. It was also decided that the various Tecks, Holsteins and Battenbergs who were British citizens should do the same. Among those affected were the family of Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg.

Letterpress halftone portrait photograph of Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg when First Sea Lord, 1914 [MB2/A12/61]

Letterpress halftone portrait photograph of Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg when First Sea Lord, 1914 [MB2/A12/61]

Born at Graz, Austria, in 1854, Prince Louis was the eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and his morganatic wife, Countess Julia Theresa von Haucke. Family connections with Princess Alice and Prince Albert (both children of Queen Victoria) led to Prince Louis settling in England and becoming naturalized as a British subject. He entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1868, at the age of fourteen. In 1884 he married his cousin Princess Victoria, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Together they had two daughters, Alice (b. 1885) and Louise (b. 1889), and two sons, George (b. 1892) and Louis Francis (b. 1900).

Following a long and successful naval career lasting more than forty years, Prince Louis was appointed First Sea Lord in 1912 by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. In July 1914, with the First World War looming, Prince Louis took the initiative to ensure the British fleet was ready for combat. However, this did not shield him from attack on account of his German background and over the subsequent months his position became increasingly untenable. On 29 October he resigned from his position as First Sea Lord – a blow from which he is said to have never recovered. In his letter of resignation to Churchill he writes:

I have lately been driven to the painful conclusion that at this juncture my birth and parentage have the effect of impairing in some respects my usefulness on the Board of the Admiralty. In these circumstances I feel it to be my duty, as a loyal subject of His Majesty, to resign the office of First Sea Lord, hoping thereby to facilitate the task of the administration of the great Service to which I have devoted my life, and to ease the burden laid on HM’s Ministers. [MS 62 MB1/T48]

At the behest of the King he agreed to change his name and relinquished his German titles (of Serene Highness and Prince) in 1917. The family adopted the name Mountbatten, an Anglicisation of the German Battenberg (rejecting the alternative translation of Battenhill). Having renounced their German titles, they were compensated with British peerages of marquess of Milford Haven, earl of Medina, and Viscount Alderney. As a result, Prince Louis became Louis Alexander Mountbatten, first Marquess of Milford Haven; his eldest son George became Earl of Medina (succeeding to his father’s peerage on his death); while his second son acquired the courtesy title Lord Louis Mountbatten (remaining Lord Louis until he was created a peer in 1946).

Black and white photograph of Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg and his sons, Louis (on the left) and George (on the right), 1914 [MB2/A12/34]

Black and white photograph of Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg and his sons, Louis (on the left) and George (on the right), 1914 [MB2/A12/34]

Lord Louis Mountbatten (nicknamed “Dickie” by his family and friends) was serving on board the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth when he acquired his courtesy title. He had begun his naval career four years earlier, in 1913, when he entered the Royal Naval College at Osbourne on the Isle of Wight. In so doing he was following in the footsteps of his father and older brother George, both of whom he idolised. He progressed to the fledgling Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in 1915. By the time he completed his training at the Royal Naval College at Keyham the following year he was eager to see action.

He was posted as midshipman to the battlecruiser HMS Lion on 19 July 1916. A month later, on 19 August, his wish to see action was granted when the Lion was involved in a brief encounter with the German fleet. Not long after he was transferred to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the flagship of the Grand Fleet, while his brother George was transferred to the Lion – the Admiralty not allowing two brothers to serve on the same ship. Having visiting the front in July 1918, he joined HMS P31 in October of the same year where he was involved in escort and anti-submarine work.

Black and white photograph of the officers and midshipmen of HMS Lion including Prince Louis Francis of Battenberg (later Lord Mountbatten), 1916 [MB2/A12/65]. He can be seen in the uniform of a midshipman, seated cross-legged in the middle of the front row, tenth from the left. He is holding a small dog, probably the ship's mascot.

Black and white photograph of the officers and midshipmen of HMS Lion including Prince Louis Francis of Battenberg (later Lord Mountbatten), 1916 [MB2/A12/65]. He can be seen in the uniform of a midshipman, seated cross-legged in the middle of the front row, tenth from the left. He is holding a small dog, probably the ship’s mascot.

Following the end of the war, Mountbatten interrupted his naval career to study at the University of Cambridge in 1919. He then joined the Prince of Wale on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, and India, in 1920 and 1921. On 22 August 1921, his father was made an admiral of the fleet on the retired list. However, his health was in decline and he died of heart failure following influenza on 11 September.

Mountbatten spent the inter-war period pursuing his naval career, where he specialised in communications. In 1934, he received his first command on the destroyer, HMS Daring.  In 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, he became commander of the HMS Kelly – the exploits of which were made famous by the Noël Coward film In Which We Serve. The Kelly was sunk by German dive bombers off the coast of Crete in May 1941 with the loss of more than half its crew.

Following his role as Chief of Combined Operations – with the responsibility of preparing for the eventual invasion of occupied Europe – he was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (SEAC), in 1943. Working with General William Slim, he achieved the defeat of the Japanese offensive towards India and the reconquest of Burma. In March 1947, he became viceroy of India, overseeing the transfer of power to India and Pakistan on 14 August 1947. For his services during the war and in India he was created viscount in 1946 and Earl Mountbatten of Burma the following year.

Mountbatten returned to the Royal Navy in 1953, becoming commander of a new NATO Mediterranean command. In 1954 he was appointed First Sea Lord, fulfilling his ambition to succeed to the post that his father had held more than 40 years earlier. Finally, he became Chief of the Defence Staff in 1959, a position he held until 1965 when he retired to civilian life.

The papers of the late Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, form part of University of Southampton Library MS62, the Broadlands archives. The collection includes personal and naval papers of Prince Louis of Battenberg, first Marquis of Milford Haven, 1886-1911 (MB1/T1-10).

Victoria, first Marchioness of Milford Haven (1863-1950)

One of the key collections in the Archives at the University of Southampton is that of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. His official papers are well known, covering his long naval career, his role as last Viceroy of India, and later, at the Admiralty and Ministry of Defence – but the archive also includes personal papers relating to his early life; a remarkable and extensive collection of family photographs; and archives of the German branch of the Battenberg family.

Photographs of Mountbatten’s parents on their wedding day, 30 April 1884, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/4-5]

Photographs of Mountbatten’s parents on their wedding day, 30 April 1884, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/4-5]

Mountbatten’s mother was Princess Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Mathilde Marie of Hesse, the eldest daughter of Ludwig IV, grand duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and his first wife Princess Alice – second daughter of Queen Victoria. His father was Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg, the son of Prince Alexander of Hesse.  Victoria and Louis were first cousins in a large and close family – Victoria tells many anecdotes of her childhood in her recollections, and she describes a happy and affectionate home-life in the ‘New Palace’ at Darmstadt.  There were frequent trips to relatives in Germany, Prussia, and England: often there was sea-bathing at Osborne in the summer. During a long stay in England in 1871/2:

“We were all at Balmoral first, while Uncle Bertie* and his family were at Abergeldie and we children saw a great deal of each other. Unfortunately all the children of both families contracted whooping cough there and I remember a dismal November at the top of Buckingham Palace shut away, coughing my head off.” [*Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII]

When they were over the worst of the illness there was plenty of fun to be had:

“We found in the former nurseries strange sorts of bicycles with saddles, and adorned with horses’ heads and tails, which had belonged to our uncles and on which we careered down the corridor…”

All the young cousins then moved to Windsor: “and we were a very merry party of children. Our wild romps in the great corridor… were often interrupted by one of the pages bringing a message from the Queen that she would not have so much noise…”

“There were lovely corners and curtains behind which one could hide and leap out in the dark. Outside the Queen’s room there was always a table with lemonade and water and a side dish of biscuits which we used to pilfer secretly.”

These were happy years for Victoria. Tragedy struck the family at the end of 1878, when both her mother and youngest sister Marie died from diphtheria – Victoria was just 15. She wrote:

“My mother’s death was an irreparable loss to us all and left a great gap in our lives… My childhood ended with her death, for I became the eldest and most responsible of her orphaned children.”

The early loss of their mother caused Queen Victoria to take a special interest in the children – and the Queen was to become very fond of Prince Louis too – although:

“Grandmama was at first not very pleased at our engagement as she wished me, as the eldest, to continue looking after the younger ones and keeping my father company… However she consented to the engagement on condition we did not marry until the following year.”

They married at the palace in Darmstadt on 30 April 1884.

Photo of the Princesses of Hesse in 1885, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/6]

Photo of the Princesses of Hesse in 1885, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/6]

This photograph shows Victoria with her sisters in 1885: from left to right: ‘Ella’ (Elisabeth), the wife of Grand Duke Serge of Russia; Victoria; Irene, who married Prince Henry of Prussia in 1888; and Alix, who became the Tsarina, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, in 1889.

Victoria made many summer visits to her sisters in Russia. When Serge was assassinated in Moscow in 1905 by an anarchist’s bomb – thrown at close quarters into his carriage – Victoria went to Ella immediately to offer support. In the summer of 1914, as the political situation deteriorated, she set off on her usual trip to Moscow, travelling first to Perm and from there on a tour of the Ural Mountains, stopping off twice at Ekaterinburg; but this trip was destined to be cut short.  Alix called them back to St Petersburg as the outbreak of war threatened. They arrived on the evening of 4th August, the day that England declared war.  Alix helped them to make hurried preparations and they took a special train to the Russian frontier at Tornio, making their escape via Finland, Sweden and Norway.  From Bergen they sailed on “the last ship” back to England.  Victoria writes:

“I little dreamt that it was the last time I should ever see my sisters again.”

Her written reminiscences end in 1914. She explains to the reader:

“I intend to finish these recollections with the outbreak of the Great War as I find it unnecessarily depressing to go through the experiences of that time during the second Great War. Anyhow my children were sufficiently grown up by then to have recollections of their own to take the place of mine.”

So she seems to have written these recollections during WWII, for the benefit of her four children:

Photograph of the Battenberg family c. 1902 from the album of Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, 1901-10 [MS 62 MB2/B2/6]

Photograph of the Battenberg family c.1902 from the album of Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/B2/6]

This photo of the Battenberg family was taken c. 1902. Princess Victoria is seated in the middle, with Prince Louis Francis on her lap.  On her left sits her husband Prince Louis Alexander, and on her right, her eldest daughter, Princess Alice. Prince George (dressed in a white sailor suit) sits in front of his father while Princess Louise sits on the floor. Louis was born on 25th June 1900 at Frogmore House, Windsor – and was christened Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg on 17th July that year.  He was Queen Victoria’s last godson – she held him at the christening – and baby Louis knocked her spectacles off her nose.

Victoria died in 1950 after a long life. By that time she was a grandmother and great grandmother.  Her biographer states: “she remained throughout her life a determined, stalwart figure, given to progressive ideas and with an interest in socialism and philosophy.”  Mountbatten remembers her remarkable intelligence and quickness; that she was talkative and forthright, very well read, and with a phenomenal memory – her family felt her death acutely.

The reminiscences of Victoria, first Marchioness of Milford Haven, form part of the Archive of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, MS 62 MB21.

Unlocking an archival treasure trove

Catalogues are the key to unlocking the treasure trove of archival material. We are therefore delighted to announce that descriptions for archive collections MS 301-400 now are available on the Special Collections website:
http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/cataloguedatabases/webguide1.page

Totalling several thousand boxes of material, the collections MS 301-400 provide an incredibly rich and diverse research resource. A significant proportion of the collections have some Anglo-Jewish focus, complementing the extensive Anglo-Jewish Archives already held at Southampton, but overall they have a broad thematic sweep.

New collections in strongroom

New collections in strongroom

Alongside those of Jewish organisations, such as notable collections for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain (MS 302) or the Leo Baeck College, London (MS 316), are a range of material for individuals and families, such as Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, Sir Robert Waley-Cohen, the Henriques family, Dr Schenier Levenberg and William Frankel, who was editor of the Jewish Chronicle, to name but a few.

It is particularly pleasing to note that there has been a slight increase in the number of collections reflecting the lives and work of Jewish women. These range from the archive of Marianne Ellenbogen (MS 324), a German Jew who escaped incarceration by the Nazis after her family were arrested in Germany in August 1943 and went on the run spending two years travelling across Germany, to Trude Dub, Leicester correspondence of Jewish Chronicle (MS 325), Dr Asenath Petrie, psychologist and poet (MS 349) and papers of Gladys, Lady Swaythling (MS 383).

Photocard of Marianne Ellenbogen

MS 324 A2007/1/9 Photocard of Marianne Ellenbogen

Amongst papers of Lady Swaythling relating to her voluntary and philanthropic work, is material for the Wounded Allied Committee and Belgian refugees at Allington Manor, a home of the Swaythlings that was donated as a military sanitorium during the First World War. The collection also includes much relating to social events, and contains dinner books kept by Lady Swaythling that provide a wonderful insight into the etiquette, diet and arrangement of dinner parties in the interwar years.

Belgian soldiers and staff at Allington Manor

MS 383 A4000/6/1/13 Belgian soldiers and staff at Allington Manor

There are a number of small, but significant, collections that complement the papers of the first Duke of Wellington held by the University. The correspondence of Wellington to Sir John Malcolm (MS 308) was used in the compilation of Wellington’s Dispatches and fits perfectly with a second collection, that of the papers of Lieutenant Colonel John Gurwood (MS 321), who was the editor of the Dispatches.  Gurwood served under Wellington during the Peninsular War and distinguished himself leading the forlorn hopes at the storming at Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo.  His archive includes material on his military service, including letters to his mother, 1810-12, alongside the papers relating to his work for Wellington compiling the Dispatches.  Another interesting Wellington related collection (MS 351/6) contains the scrimshaw nautilus shell, engraved by C.H.Wood, depicting Wellington on one side and St George slaying the dragon on the other, produced in the 1850s, together with a number of Peninsular War and Waterloo related illustrations.

Wellington at Waterloo

MS 351/6 A4170/2 Lithograph of Wellington at Waterloo

The papers of Alan Campbell-Johnson, a public relations specialist, who in February 1947 became the first and only press attaché to a Viceroy of India, represent a significant addition to the material held within the Broadands Archives (MS 62). Campbell-Johnson accompanied Lord Mountbatten for the transfer of power to the newly independent India and Pakistan and remained with Lord Mountbatten, while Mountbatten was the first Governor General of India. Campbell-Johnson sustained a connection with Mountbatten for the remainder of his life and his archive provides an insight into the management of the presentation of partition to the media and, in the long term, in the managing of historical reputation.

Frank Prince

MS 328 A834/1/11//10 Frank Prince

Frank Templeton Prince was at one time a professor of English at the University of Southampton and his archive (MS 328) is just one of a number of collections with connections to the University. Prince was a poet of some renown, probably best remembered for his collection Soldiers Bathing (1954), the title poem of which is one of the most anthologised poems of the Second World War. He was admired by and influenced the New York school, a group of writers that flourished in the 1960s. His work has been somewhat overlooked more recently, however, and the archive has been a major resource in a reassessment of Prince’s poetry and legacy.

Finally, we turn to the Montse Stanley Knitting Collection. Montserrat Bayés Sopena was committed to bringing to a wider audience both creative knitting and the history of knitting. The Montse Stanley Knitting Collection at the Hartley Library comprises her working papers, photographs, postcards and illustrations (MS 331) together with a wide range of over 800 knitted objects and garments and small tools and sample yarns (MS 332): an invaluable resource for all aspects of knitting as well as for social history.

Silk purse shaped as a pineapple

MS 332/50/10/3 Silk purse shaped as a pineapple

Printed material from the Montse Stanley collection now forms part of the Knitting Reference Library at the Winchester School of Art Library.

We hope that you enjoy looking through the catalogue descriptions and perhaps find that serendipity moment when you make a delightful discovery of something unexpected.

The Suez Crisis of 1956

The Suez Crisis began on 29 October 1956 when Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. The invasion took place in response to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s announcement in July 1956 of the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company and the closure of the canal to all Israeli shipping.

The Suez Canal Company was a joint British-French enterprise which had owned and operated the canal since its construction in 1869. The canal, an important maritime route connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, represented the main source of supply of oil for Britain and France. During the post-war period there had been an upsurge of nationalism in Egypt and, in the lead up to the crisis, there was mounting opposition to the political influence of European powers in the region.

On 30 October, the day after the initial invasion by Israeli forces, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum for an end to hostilities. The ultimatum was rejected by Nassar and a week later, on the night of 5-6 November, British and French troops joined the Israeli invasion and quickly succeeded in taking control of the area around the canal.

However, while the invasion was a military success, it was a political disaster. Not only was there widespread outrage in Britain, the invasion was condemned internationally. Opposition was particularly strong in the United States which saw the action as opening the possibility of Russian intervention in the Middle East. In response to mounting international pressure, British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, was forced into calling a ceasefire on 7 November. A United Nations peacekeeping force was then sent in to supervise the ceasefire and to restore order following the withdrawal of British, French and Israeli troops.

Special Collections holds material relating to both the canal and the crisis. Prior to 1869, the construction of the canal had been long under consideration. Proposals can be found discussed among the papers of Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston. In a letter from Lord Ponsonby, dated 26 March 1841, a scheme for cutting a canal across the Suez is outlined, as are the many serious political evils which may be a consequence of its execution. [MS 62 PP/ GC/PO/508] One of the key objections was the fear that the canal might interfere with Britain’s India trade. In the end, the British decided on an alternative railway connection linking Alexandria and Suez, via Cairo. The Suez Canal Company was later formed by French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1858.

Memorandum from Sir G.C.Lewis, J.Campbell, Lord Argyll and Lord Granville, concerning the plans for a Suez canal, 23 January [1860] [MS 62 PP/GC/LE/124]

Memorandum from Sir G.C.Lewis, J.Campbell, Lord Argyll and Lord Granville, concerning the plans for a Suez canal, 23 January [1860] [MS 62 PP/GC/LE/124]

Lord Mountbatten was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet during the crisis. While he co-operated with preparations to send a naval force to the area, he protested against British military intervention, favouring psychological warfare and pressure from the United Nations. In a draft of a letter to Anthony Eden, dated 1 August 1956, Mountbatten strongly advises against the immediate use of force against Egypt, stressing that “the absolutely paramount consideration is the marshalling of world opinion on our side.” [MS 62 MB1/N106] The letter was vetoed by the First Lord and never sent.

The crisis had a fundamental impact on British politics: Britain’s prestige as a world power was dealt a severe blow, with Eden resigning from office on 9 January 1957.

The accession of King Edward VIII

Eighty years ago this week, the nation mourned the passing of King George V. His death, just before midnight on 20th January 1936, was followed the next day by the proclamation of the accession of King Edward VIII. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born on 23 June 1894, the eldest child of the then Duke and Duchess of York, later George V and Queen Mary. Within the family he was always known as David.

Louis Mountbatten and Edward VIII in the garden at Adsdean, (Mountbatten’s home near Portsmouth) before a royal visit to the city, June 1936 [MB2/L20/1]

Louis Mountbatten and Edward VIII in the garden at Adsdean, (Mountbatten’s home near Portsmouth) before a royal visit to the city, June 1936 [MB2/L20/1]

Edward was a popular Prince of Wales who gained celebrity status in the 1920s. He was charming and colourful – enjoyed nightclubbing, point-to-point racing, and golf – activities which he balanced with many royal and charitable duties. He was highly respected for his work with ex-servicemen’s associations and working men’s clubs in this country. Internationally, he undertook several royal tours which were hugely successful, attracting vast crowds and publicity worldwide. In the spring of 1920 he travelled on HMS Renown to Australia and New Zealand with his young cousin, Louis Mountbatten, who acted as his A.D.C. and companion on the tour.

The scale of the welcome they received on the Prince’s birthday at Sydney was staggering – 8,000 children gathered at the Sydney cricket ground to wish him ‘Many Happy Returns’:

[MB2/N5/104, 23 June 1920]

[MB2/N5/104, 23 June 1920]

The close friendship between the cousins can be traced through many photographs in the Mountbatten collection. Louis accompanied Edward on another royal visit to India and Japan in 1921-2 and shortly after their return, the Prince acted as best man at Mountbatten’s wedding to Edwina Ashley. Naval service and royal duties intervened in the following years but in September 1936, they were relaxing together at Balmoral:

[MB2/L19/p.17 from left to right: Edward VIII; Mountbatten; Esmond Harmsworth; Mrs Rogers; Wallis Simpson; Gladys Buist; and Edwina Mountbatten, in the grounds of Balmoral]

[MB2/L19/p.17 from left to right: Edward VIII; Mountbatten; Esmond Harmsworth; Mrs Rogers; Wallis Simpson; Gladys Buist; and Edwina Mountbatten, in the grounds of Balmoral]

After his abdication in December 1936, Edward took the title HRH the duke of Windsor, and was to spend much of his life abroad; Mountbatten continued to pursue his naval career, acting as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, during WWII, and rising subsequently to be First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff.

Smile for the camera – it’s Christmas!

Sending photographs to loved ones at Christmas time has always been popular and there are some fine early examples in the Special Collections at the University of Southampton:

MS62_MB2_C3_185

MB2/C3/185: (inside) group photo of Prince and Princess Henry of Prussia and their young family, Christmas 1902

This charming family photo show from left to right: Prince Waldemar (seated), Princess Irene (standing), Prince Henry (seated, with little Prince Henry on his lap) and Prince Sigismund (standing, dressed in a sailor suit). The photo is attached to a Christmas card which bears the embossed image of a sailing ship and the words:

“Viel Gluck zum Weinacht und Neujahr!”

The children in the photograph are Lord Mountbatten’s cousins – his mother, Princess Victoria, and Princess Irene, were sisters – daughters of Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and the Rhine and his wife Princess Alice, a daughter of Queen Victoria. Irene has signed the card herself and written “In remembrance of Kiel on these days” – recalling memories of happy holidays in Germany.

There are many photo albums in the Mountbatten collection and there is plenty of evidence for cold snowy winters and holiday fun:

MS62_MB2_C7_4

MB2/C7/4 Princess Louise of Battenberg tobogganing with her brother, Prince George

Here is a photo of Mountbatten’s sister, Princess Louise of Battenberg (nearest the camera) tobogganing with her brother, Prince George, probably in the grounds of Heiligenberg Castle, c.1908-9. The nineteenth-century castle, in Hesse, Germany, was the home of their grandparents and a favourite holiday destination.

This week we wish you all ‘happy holidays’ – a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Battle of Taranto, 11-12th November 1940

The 11th November 2015 is the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Taranto, the most significant Royal Naval air victory of World War II. On that date in November 1940 twenty Swordfish planes made the 170 mile flight across the Mediterranean, at night, from the aircraft carrier Illustrious to Taranto harbour, an important Italian naval base in southern Italy. This courageous attack crippled half the Italian battle-fleet for the loss of two aircraft [MB1/M12]. It was ‘the Fleet Air Arm’s greatest ever triumph’.*

Front cover, and inside view, of the programme for the 12th Anniversary Taranto dinner, 11th November 1952, including a photo of a Swordfish plane [MB1/M12]

Front cover, and inside view, of the programme for the 12th Anniversary Taranto dinner, 11th November 1952, including a photo of a Swordfish plane [MB1/M12]

Earl Mountbatten of Burma took up the post of Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean (CINCMED) in May 1952, in charge of the British fleet in the Mediterranean and based at Malta. At the end of 1952, he was also created Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Mediterranean (CINCAFMED). So it was appropriate that Mountbatten found himself attending the 12th Anniversary Taranto dinner.

The papers of Earl Mountbatten held in Special Collections at the Hartley Library include a commemorative programme for the dinner, his notes for his speech on that occasion, and related papers. Ten of the forty pilots and navigators who had flown the mission were present at the celebrations. By 1952, sixteen had been killed in action or on active service; nine had retired; but thirteen remained in the Service and details of their subsequent careers survive in the file. Mountbatten used his speech to recall the story of the great battle. He quoted Admiral A. B. Cunningham (CINCMED 1939-42) who had overseen the operation, on its significance:

“Taranto and the night of November 11th/12th 1940 should be remembered forever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has its most devastating weapon.

In a total flying time of about 6 ½ hours – carrier to carrier – 20 aircraft had inflicted more damage upon the Italian fleet than was inflicted upon the German high sea fleet in the daylight action of the Battle of Jutland.”  [MB1/M12]

Looking to the future, Mountbatten exhorted his men to show “Taranto spirit” that “Bold, offensive spirit in planning and execution; [the] same spirit which I as Commander in Chief require today. I want you to fly fearlessly and boldly in all weathers, by day and night – in the hope that by being known to be strong we may avoid a Third World War.” [MB1/M12]

Photo of the Short S.27 biplane in which Mountbatten, his parents and sister took a trip in July 1911. [MB2/C7/142]

Photo of the Short S.27 biplane in which Mountbatten, his parents and sister took a trip in July 1911. [MB2/C7/142]

The annual ‘Taranto Night’ dinner, become an established event in the naval calendar, and Mountbatten attended on several occasions. His papers demonstrate the historic significance of the battle and his affection for the Fleet Air Arm. His interest in flight perhaps sprang from an early personal experience at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey; in July 1911 he had been taken up in a Short S.27 biplane by Lieutenant Longmore, a pioneer of naval aviation (and later, Air Chief Marshal). The plane was a flimsy wooden structure, covered with fabric – not a ride for the faint hearted!

*Michael Simpson, Oxford DNB ‘Cunningham, Andrew Browne, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope 1883-1963’

The end of war with Japan

On 28 July 1945, the Japanese were delivered an ultimatum to surrender. It was not until mid-August, however, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the invasion of Manchuria by Soviet forces, that this was agreed. 15 August was celebrated as victory over Japan day with a two-day holiday declared in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia.

Lord Louis Mountbatten reading his address on the steps of the Municipal Building after the Japanese surrender at Singapore, 12 September 1945

Lord Louis Mountbatten reading his address on the steps of the Municipal Building after the Japanese surrender at Singapore, 12 September 1945

Although pleased at peace after years of warfare, Samuel Rich’s diary for 15 August 1945 also focused on some immediate and practical concerns:

“VJ Day! Announced at midnight on 14/15 August. We didn’t hear first till the morning papers… Today is VJ and tomorrow is VJ + 1 both public holidays. This means bread queues and trouble to get enough victuals….”

[MS 168 AJ217/41]

While 15 August was celebrated as VJ day, it was not until 2 September that the Japanese administration, under General Koiso Kuniaki, signed a formal surrender document. This document was signed in the presence of General MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, on board USS Missouri. Two weeks later, on 12 September, another Japanese surrender ceremony was held at the Municipal Building of Singapore, officially ending the Japanese occupation of South East Asia. This formal surrender was accepted by Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia.

Lord Mountbatten recorded in his diary for 12 September:

“To receive the unconditional surrender of half a million enemy soldiers, sailors and airmen must be an event which happens to few people in the world. I was very conscious that this was the greatest day of my life…”

[Philip Ziegler ed. Personal diary of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia, 1943-1946 (London, 1988) pp. 245-6]

User perspectives: Researching international dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1966

In this week’s post PhD student Rakesh Ankit looks back over his time researching the Mountbatten Papers among “the jewels in the crown of the University of Southampton.”

“When, in the winter of 2010, I was gathering information and collecting material to make a successful application to start a PhD in the United Kingdom, Southampton was among the 3-4 universities I applied to. It quickly emerged as my first choice for three reasons: an opportunity to work under Prof Ian Talbot, the possibility of a fully-funded bursary and archival studentship and the presence of the Mountbatten and related papers at the Hartley Library. I was, therefore, delighted when, in the spring of 2011, I was informed of the successful outcome of my application. Today, in the autumn of 2014 as I await my viva – having submitted my thesis – I look back on three very pleasant and productive academic years.

Lord Mountbatten being received by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan at Palam airport, Delhi, 22 March 1947

Lord Mountbatten being received by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan at Palam airport, Delhi, 22 March 1947

A key reason for this lies on the shelves of the strong room and the desks of the reading room of the Special Collections on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, where I have probably spent maximum time when in campus. My PhD thesis is on the international dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1966. This was also roughly the period during which Louis Mountbatten (along with his wife Edwina) was at his most involved and most influential, with diminishing returns as the years went, in Indian affairs. To state the obvious, therefore, his papers, those of his wife and his Press Officer, Alan Campbell-Johnson, have been the foundational source for my enquiry. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it was Mountbatten who was responsible for any international dimensions accruing to the Kashmir dispute by his successful suggestion to his close friend and the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to take the matter to the United Nations in December 1947. Otherwise, it might well have remained a subcontinental or a Commonwealth affair.

As befits a rich and enduringly relevant set of papers, MB files have been used by scholars ever since they were first put together in their present form almost two decades ago. Thus far, the chief focus has been Mountbatten’s role in the end of Britain’s India Empire with increasingly a look at his anomalous position as independent India’s first Governor-General from August 1947 to June 1948. Of course, as a contentious historical figure, Mountbatten has been subject to laudatory or condemnatory accounts from as early as early-1950s with the high water marks of biographical history-writing on him being reached in the mid-1980s and subsequently.

From the start, therefore, I was conscious to avoid the trodden tracks and while I sifted through the material for my prime purpose – the international dimensions of the Kashmir dispute that simmered on Mountbatten’s watch as the last Viceory and boiled over during his tenure as Governor-General – I was perhaps keener to move away from the academic battles of 1947-48 involving Mountbatten. In this endeavour, I was encouraged by Prof Chris Woolgar. I can do no more than join the many researchers, who have benefitted from their interactions with the always generous, indeed indulgent, Head of Special Collections (1990-2013), in expressing my gratitude. And so, instead of starting with the MB1/D series as most if not all South Asia students do, I did everything else first: MB1/C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K et al. This research provided the basis for an article I wrote on Mountbatten and India, 1948-1964, which was published in The International History Review earlier this year in April.

When, after this detour, I turned to Mountbatten’s Viceroyalty, my attention was caught by the very first file, a rather thick one, in the MB1/D series, which contained the fortnightly personal letters that each of the last 11 provincial governors in British India wrote to the last Viceroy between March and August 1947. While the months leading up to the partition of British India has been looked at in perhaps every single detail now, at the national, provincial and local levels, one missing link in this story had been the provincial governors. One glance through the file made me embark upon a detailed plumbing of the letters, aimed at bringing these men to light. My supervisor, Prof Ian Talbot, gave me crucial confidence and support for this old-fashioned foray into personality politics of a period rather populated with personalities. It bore fruit recently (issue dated 2 August 2014) as an article in the journal Economic & Political Weekly titled The Last Sahibs: Governors in British India, March-August 1947.

While on the subject of provinces, yet another fruitful avenue of research that the Mountbatten files present is the situation in the non-partitioned seven provinces of British India at the cusp of independence and what that tells us about the continuities and linkages between the colonial and post-colonial state across the divide of 1947. Naturally, the historiography on Mountbatten and India in 1947 has been dominated by the plight of Punjab and Bengal, their partition and its aftermath. By shifting one’s gaze besides them to those other, sometimes bigger in size and population, provinces that escaped territorial division and communal calculations but wrestled with their own problems no less important for their imprint on the new dominions of India and Pakistan, aided by the files on them in the Mountbatten collection, one gets much food for thought.

Apart from the provinces, the other rich subject of enquiry for Mountbatten’s time in India is his treatment of the princely states – a much-written about subject. One princely state among the 550-odd that has escaped attention is the tiny western state of Junagadh, which was the first crisis of accession between India and Pakistan. As I worked on the biggest crisis – Kashmir – my attention came to the smallest – Junagadh. Once again, a set of four files in the MB1/D series made me realise the continuing potential of the Mountbatten collection to throw new light on many episodes of early independent Indian history, where there are still more assumptions than answers. Here, the Alan Campbell-Johnson files too registered a prominent presence.

These last two topics – the non-partitioned provinces and Junagadh – remain works in progress but how can one adequately express gratitude for the congenial research base provided for the PhD as well as the research possibilities pointed for a post-doc by this seemingly inexhaustible collection? Mountbatten was uniquely involved in the war and diplomacy around Kashmir in 1947-48 and then retained his influence to be brought out to India in the summer of 1963 to prevail upon his old friend Nehru to settle the dispute. Naturally, his papers have a range of material – from the official to the strictly personal. Among the galaxy of Britons who chose to stay back in India and Pakistan post-August 1947, none found himself in a more peculiar position than Mountbatten whose reputation as the imperial Crown Representative would give way to charges of partisanship in favour of India, not only in Pakistan but in the establishment circles in London too.

But before partition and charges of partisanship came, Mountbatten had gone to India to head a coalition government of the Congress and the Muslim League in March 1947 and, for the next two months, ran British India as the head of this council whose political and ideological incompatibility has overshadowed the complex collaborational governance exercise it was engaged in. Once again, those files in the Mountbatten collection, which contain the minutes of these Cabinet meetings, flag an interesting research topic, an enquiry into the nature and working of the last central government of British India that existed between September 1946 and August 1947.

There are many merits of the Mountbatten and related papers; first and foremost of which is that here one can find material that is still under lock and key in India (and Pakistan). Equally there are pitfalls in relying exclusively on this collection, like any other but especially so here given the personality and career of Mountbatten himself; the chief being the need to be wary of Mountbatten’s and his staff’s propensity to exaggerate his importance and centrality in the scheme of things as well as their production of contemporary records always keeping an eye on history-writing thereby at times taking liberty with facts and figures and sequences and sentiments.

It would be remiss to conclude without a mention of the very kind and helpful staff in the reading room. I have always felt at home and would rather be there than at any other place when on campus in Southampton. I will also remember fondly the behind-the-scenes view of the strong room that the Senior Archivist, Karen Robson personally handled for me and my parents. I write not only with a sense of attachment and affection, but also in praise of the personal touch and the professionalism with which the Special Collections are handled at the Hartley Library. Add the Wellington, Palmerston and the Anglo-Jewish Archives, and it is no exaggeration to say that the Special Collections are the jewels in the crown of the University of Southampton.”

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 25 (18 – 24 August 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

18 August 1945 The Japanese surrender
Following the devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August respectively, Japan surrendered to the allies on 15 August 1945. The surrender was based on the terms of the declaration to end the war, set out at the Potsdam Conference, 17 July-2 August 1945. Lord Mountbatten, who as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia oversaw the capture of Burma from the Japanese and received the Japanese surrender at Singapore in September 1945, attended the Potsdam Conference. In the press statements below Mountbatten recalls being told about the dropping of the atomic bomb and reflects arrangements for occupation of Japan and of territories formerly occupied by Japan.

“At Potsdam at the end of the first day I was invited by Generals Marshall and Arnold to have dinner with them, but the Prime Minister had nailed me down, so I went along with them for an old fashioned! After General Marshall had got rid of all ADCs, he closed the doors very carefully, looked all around – and then told me about the atomic bomb.”

“The very same evening, while dining with the Prime Minister, with whom I spent some three hours, he waited until the servants had withdrawn, then took me in another room, closed all the doors, looked around – and then told me about the atomic bomb.”

“The next day I visited with President Truman, who took me in a room and closed all the doors. By that time I recognised the routine. Yes he told me about the atomic bomb! He also said that he had told Stalin about it on the previous evening.”

“Our attitude in the reoccupation will be tough; just as tough as we can make it but our manners will be impeccable.”

MS 350 A2096 SACSEA press statements, 18 August 1945


21 August 1808 Battle of Vimeiro
The Battle of Vimeiro took place on 21 August 1808, four days after the Battle of Roliça. After the success at Roliça, the Anglo-Portuguese army faced a much larger French force led by Major General Jean Andoche Junot, near the village of Vimeiro. While the French attempted a series of flanking manoeuvres on the weakest point in the British position, they were badly coordinated and were repulsed by Wellesley’s forces. The battle resulted in a decisive Anglo-Portuguese victory and ended the first French invasion of Portugal.

However, the subsequent agreement made with the French, the Convention of Sintra, allowed their defeated army to return to France complete with their supplies and loot. This caused a massive outcry in Britain and led to Wellesley being recalled from Portugal to face an inquiry, together with Generals Burrard and Dalrymple. While the agreement ended the active military careers of Burrard and Dalrymple, Wellesley returned to command the British army in Portugal in April 1809.

“In this action in which the whole of the French force in Portugal was employed, under the command of the Duke D’Abrantes, in which the enemy was certainly superior in cavalry and artillery, and in which not more than half of the army was actually engaged, he has sustained a signal defeat and has lost 13 pieces of cannon; 23 ammunition waggons; one General Officer (Brenier) has been wounded and taken prisoner, and a great number of officers and soldiers have been killed, wounded and taken.”

MS 61 WP1/211 Letter from Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, Vimiero, to Lieutenant General Sir Harry Burrard, 21 August 1808


23 August 1916 Battle of Delville Wood
The Battle of Delville Wood lasted from 14 July to 3 September 1916. Allied aims were to secure one of the small prominent woods which would provide a strategic gain to direct artillery fire and to launch further attacks. The allies suffered a devastating amount of casualties. In addition, the British advance to the north only achieved negligible gains by the close of the battle.

“We are in for hard training, which is necessary after 3 months of trench work, mostly digging etc. The men did the march wonderfully well, only 4 fell out, chiefly owing to eating green apples I fear. They carry a lot of stuff packs, rifles, ammunition etc.”

MS 336 A2097/7/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and subsequent wife, Dorothy, 23 August 1916