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Murder of Lord Mountbatten, Colonel Commandant of the Royal Marines

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Unit/ Formation: RM People

Location: Mullaghmore

Period/ Conflict: The Troubles

Year: 1979

Date/s: 27 August 1979

Murder of the Colonel Commandant of the Royal Marines, Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG GCB OM GCSI GCIE GCVO DSO PC by the IRA.

Mountbatten usually holidayed at his summer home, Classiebawn Castle, in Mullaghmore, a small seaside village in County Sligo, Ireland. The village was only 12 miles (19 km) from the border with Northern Ireland and near an area known to be used as a cross-border refuge by IRA members. In 1978, the IRA had allegedly attempted to shoot Mountbatten as he was aboard his boat, but poor weather had prevented the sniper taking his shot.

On 27 August 1979, Mountbatten went lobster-potting and tuna fishing in his 30-foot (9.1 m) wooden boat, Shadow V, which had been moored in the harbour at Mullaghmore.

IRA member Thomas McMahon had slipped onto the unguarded boat that night and attached a radio-controlled bomb weighing 50 pounds (23 kg). When Mountbatten was aboard, just a few hundred yards from the shore, the bomb was detonated. The boat was destroyed by the force of the blast, and Mountbatten's legs were almost blown off. Mountbatten, then aged 79, was pulled alive from the water by nearby fishermen, but died from his injuries before being brought to shore.

Also aboard the boat were his elder daughter Patricia (Lady Brabourne), her husband John (Lord Brabourne), their twin sons Nicholas and Timothy Knatchbull, John's mother Doreen, (dowager) Lady Brabourne, and Paul Maxwell, a young crew member from County Fermanagh.

Nicholas (aged 14) and Paul (aged 15) were killed by the blast and the others were seriously injured.[121] Doreen, Lady Brabourne (aged 83) died from her injuries the following day.

The IRA issued a statement afterward, saying:

The IRA claim responsibility for the execution of Lord Louis Mountbatten. This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country. ... The death of Mountbatten and the tributes paid to him will be seen in sharp contrast to the apathy of the British Government and the English people to the deaths of over three hundred British soldiers, and the deaths of Irish men, women, and children at the hands of their forces

Chief of Combined Operations

In August of 1941, Mountbatten was appointed captain of HMS Illustrious... a command he eagerly anticipated while his ship lay in Norfolk, Virginia for repairs, following action in the Mediterranean in January. During this period of relative inactivity, he paid a flying visit to Pearl Harbour. He was not impressed with the poor state of readiness and a general lack of co-operation between the Navy and Army, including the absence of a joint HQ. These were interesting observations, in view of what was about to happen to Mountbatten himself and later to Pearl Harbour!

An Admiralty signal caught up with him on his return journey to Norfolk, Virginia. It was a personal telegram from Churchill, recalling him by the fastest possible means, to the UK. The order was not to be challenged or queried. Despite an assurance from Churchill, that he was required for "something that you will find of the highest interest," Mountbatten was far from happy to have the command of his dreams snatched away.

His subsequent meeting with Churchill at Chequers was far from harmonious but, in a visionary briefing, Churchill defined the role of Combined Operations Adviser along the following lines;

  • he was to succeed Roger Keyes in charge of Combined Operations,

  • he was to develop a programme of Commando raids along the North Sea and Atlantic coastlines of enemy held territory. These would increase in intensity and design to tie up German resources that might otherwise be used on other fronts,

  • he was to plan and prepare for the re-invasion of Europe. This was to be the overriding priority. In this regard Churchill made the point that all other HQs were on the defensive. Combined Operations had to think and plan for offensive operations.

D-Day was the culmination of Mountbatten's plans and preparations for offensive operations against the German forces. Although he had left for Burma some 8 months prior to D-Day, Churchill wrote to him following his visit, with others, to the Normandy beaches on D Day + 6.

Today we visited the British and American Armies on the soil of France. We sailed through vast fleets of ships with landing-craft of many types pouring more men, vehicles and stores ashore. We saw clearly the manoeuvre in progress of rapid development. We have shared our secrets in common and helped each other all we could. We wish to tell you at this moment in your arduous campaign that we realise how much of this remarkable technique and therefore the success of the venture has its origin in developments effected by you and your staff of Combined Operations.

(Signed) Arnold, Brooke, Churchill, King, Marshall, Smut.

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