Tag Archives: Royal Navy

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).

The Battle of Jutland

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the battle of Jutland, the only major naval battle of the First World War. The engagement took place on 31 May 1916 in the Skagerrak, an arm of the North Sea, near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula, and was fought between the British Grand Fleet, under the command of (Southampton born) Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, and the German High Sea Fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer.

Immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, Britain established a successful naval blockade against Germany in the North Sea, denying German naval vessels access to the Atlantic. As the German naval force was insufficient to openly engage the superior British fleet, a plan was formed to lure out and destroy parts of the British fleet with the ultimate aim of punching a hole in the blockade.

The issue of the Daily Graphic published on 7 July 1916 contains a series of images taken on board the HMS Valiant during the action [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

The issue of the Daily Graphic published on 7 July 1916 contains a series of images taken on board the HMS Valiant during the action [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

On 30 May 1916, British naval intelligence alerted Admiral Jellico that the German High Sea Fleet had left port and was heading north, to the Skagerrak. In response, Jellico ordered his fleet out to meet and engage the Germans at sea.

Fighting began on 31 May when a scouting force of battle cruisers, under Vice Admiral David Beatty, spotted a German squadron of warships under Admiral Franz von Hipper. Both sides opened fire simultaneously with the engagement resulting in the British suffering particularly heavy losses, including the sinking of two battle cruisers, the HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary. Of their destruction Commander Arthur Lionel Forbes-Sempill, executive officer of the battleship HMS Valiant, writes: “This was most demoralising and was due to the Germans making a special point of using very long based range finders, and having got the range of firing off their salvoes as fast as they possibly can.” [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

As the remainder of the German fleet arrived, Beatty turned his ships back towards Jellico’s main British fleet. During this time four ships of the 5th Battle Squadron, included the HMS Valiant, were left to take on the whole of the High Sea Fleet for a period of 35 minutes, with Forbes-Sempill writing: “Shell feel round us like hail stones and I believe all were of the same opinion as myself, and that was that our checks had been passed in, but that we were not going to be sunk for nothing. We could see all the other ships beings badly hit, but we also saw the effect of our 15 inch shell whenever they did hit and it seemed to be pretty frequent.” [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

The two main fleets encountered each other soon after and the full scale battle commenced. It raged on into the late evening with the British eventually gaining the advantage. Scheer then ordered the German fleet to withdraw only to be faced with a line of British ships which had been manoeuvred to cut them off. In the fighting that followed the German flagship Lutzow was sunk as was the British cruiser Invincible. The German fleet finally withdrew under the cover of darkness, bringing the battle to an indecisive end.

Rough Diagrams during the Action on May 31st 1916 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

Rough Diagrams during the Action on May 31st 1916 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

Among the papers of Wilfred William Ashley, first Baron Mount Temple, is the above cited letter to Ashley’s second wife Muriel Emily (or “Molly”) from her first husband Commander Arthur Lionel Forbes-Sempill. The letter, dated 14 June 1916, begins with him recalling a visit from a clairvoyant the previous December who foretells of the battle to come, stating: “I can see this great ship in the very thick of a battle, and I should say between April 26th and June 6th, because I see you surrounded with 6’s. […] You will, and she as well, come out of it untouched.” [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]. Forbes-Sempill then proceeds to provide a first-hand account of the battle.

Of the indecisive conclusion to the battle he writes: “Well, we gave those devils more than they came out for and it was the greatest pity in the world that we did not get at them again the next morning as all hoped we should, so as to have finished them off once and for all. I doubt very much if they will ever show their faces outside Wilhelmshaven again before peace is declared.” [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR80/6]

The letter is accompanied by copies of Admiral Jellicoe’s official despatch published in The Times and the Daily Graphic on 7 July, an account of the battle by an officer in one of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships published in the Daily Express on 19 June, together with Wilfred Ashley’s notes on the battle, including a breakdown of the action and lists of losses.

Forbes-Sempill was recommended for promotion to Captain after the battle, being described as: “A very able executive officer, who had the arrangements for fire, repair and other parties extremely well organised and who was of great help throughout the action.” [ADM 1/8461/154] Given its indecisive conclusion, both sides claimed the battle as a victory. While, the Germans sank more ships and killed more sailors, the British maintained naval superiority and, as predicted by Forbes-Sempill, ensured the German fleet remained in port for the rest of the war. This allowed the blockade to continue – one of the key elements in the eventual Allied victory.

Among the events set to mark the centenary of the battle, the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth is running a blockbuster exhibition titled ‘36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War’. For more information visit http://jutland.org.uk/

Additionally, BBC2 recently aired the documentary ‘Battle of Jutland: The Navy’s Bloodiest day’. The University was heavily referenced and both Professor Philip Wilson and Dr Jon Downes were interviewed as part of the programme, plus the towing tank featured extensively. The programme can be watched on BBC iPlayer. Further information can be found at:

The travels of William Mogg, RN (1796-1875)

This week the public outcomes for students undertaking their second year History Group Projects will go live. They will include exhibitions, articles, presentations, websites and documentaries, with a number of projects drawing on material from Special Collections. Group 7’s project draws on the journals of William Mogg…

Christopher Columbus, Francis Drake, Marco Polo, James Cook, Robert Falcon Scott… These men all have one thing in common. They are famous explorers who made ground-breaking discoveries through their travels across the world. However, what most people don’t know is that we have our very own local traveller from here in Southampton: William Mogg. This figure, forgotten by history, was actually part of some of the most significant and famous voyages of exploration during the nineteenth century.

Photo of William Mogg wearing the medal presented to him ‘for Arctic discoveries, 1818-1855’ [MS 45 A0188]

Photo of William Mogg wearing the medal presented to him ‘for Arctic discoveries, 1818-1855’ [MS 45 A0188]

Born in 1796 in Woolston, Southampton, Mogg joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1811, serving in the continental blockade of the Napoleonic war. From 1821-5 he joined Captain Lyon and Sir William Parry on their Arctic expeditions on HMS Hecla and Fury, which Mogg describes in his second journal. He also travelled around South America from 1827-33 on HMS Beagle, an expedition on which Charles Darwin was also present on.

Although Mogg is not an established figure in the history of exploration, he played an important role aboard ship and his account of everyday life has proven very significant in enhancing our views of 19th century culture and attitudes.  He served as a clerk on Parry’s expeditions where he recorded meteorological material. His journals also include annotated copies of Robert Fitzroy’s Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and the Beagle, which describes the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe.

Throughout Mogg’s six journals he describes his travels to the Arctic, South America, Wales, the West of England, Switzerland and Italy, and within these he also includes a number of drawings, postcards and photographs which he collected during his travels. In his journals, Mogg recorded some incredible stories of his interactions with different native populations such as Arctic Esquimaux, Feugians, and the Patagonians. He immersed himself in the various cultures that he encountered, and has many tales to share of the people he met along the way. He talks of hunting trips he went on, games played with the natives, the languages he learned and even tattoos he was given! Mogg does not only provide interesting and humorous anecdotes, but grants us an insight into another time; a world very different to ours today.

The journals also provide a rare glimpse into the personal thoughts of a man who experienced more in four decades, than most people would in an entire lifetime. His attitudes to different cultures, places and people are fascinating, and his journals are a truly valuable piece of history that should be treasured by Southampton. William Mogg’s journals reveal just how important every member of a crew can be. Although history only notes the leaders of such voyages, Mogg shows that these men would never have been able to achieve the things they did, were it not for the crew which helped them along the way.

A group of second year history students are currently studying journals 2 and 3 from the University’s Special Collections and have created a website to present their fascinating research, aiming to shed light on the life and work of William Mogg, and bring his sadly unknown journeys to life.

Please visit http://www.moggexplored.fallows.org/ to find out more about one of Southampton’s lost historic figures.

Article by Hollie Geraghty


Southampton University Special Collections, <http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/cataloguedatabases/webguidemss45.page>,[Accessed 03/05/16].

Mogg, William, The Papers of William Mogg, 1811-c.1870, Journal 1, 2,3,6, Special Collections Division, Hartley Library, University of Southampton.