On a late summer morning in 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten — cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, World War II hero, last viceroy of India — set off on his fishing boat from the coast of Ireland after breakfast in his castle.
He was 79 years old, a doting grandfather, a legend in British history. That day, his identical-twin grandsons and their grandmother, Dowager Lady Brabourne, were also aboard.
Just before 11:30 a.m. — boom.
“I remember a sensation,” one of the grandsons, Timothy Knatchbull, later recalled, “as if I’d been hit with a club, and a tearing sound. I don’t remember my journey through the air or hitting the water.”
A powerful explosion blew the boat to pieces, almost instantaneously killing Knatchbull’s brother and their grandfather and severely injuring several other family members.
It was not an accident. It was an assassination. The target: Lord Mountbatten.
The Irish Republican Army quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which the New York Times called “the boldest and most dramatic act of the long terrorist campaign” by the IRA, which opposed British rule in Northern Ireland.
“By their actions today,” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “the terrorists have added yet another infamous page to their catalogue of atrocity and cowardice.”
Lord Mountbatten’s death stunned the world but especially the royal family — in particular, Prince Charles, who thought of Mountbatten as a grandfather and wept at his funeral. On Friday, Prince Charles’s son, William, and his wife, Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, revealed that their new baby boy has been named after Lord Mountbatten.
Louis Arthur Charles, His Royal Highness Prince Louis of Cambridge.
“A touching nod,” the Daily Mail said.
The naming reminded Britons of a time when they lived in fear of what the IRA would blow up next.
Lord Mountbatten was a compelling target — both as a royal and a symbol of the British Empire. His great-grandmother: Queen Victoria. His second cousin: Queen Elizabeth II. His nephew: Prince Philip, the queen’s husband. (Royal family lines can be a little hazy.)
Known as Uncle Dickie at Buckingham Palace, Lord Mountbatten was celebrated after World War II as a brilliant military commander. In his later years, he served as the last viceroy of India and elder statesman for the royal family. His killing was such an audacious attack that there was, according to The Washington Post, “concern about the safety of Pope John Paul II,” who was about to visit Ireland.
Mountbatten was also an easy target.
As he vacationed at his summer castle without security, the IRA was able to plant a bomb onboard the yacht the night before the attack, blowing it up via remote control.
“One witness,” the New York Times reported, “said that the boat had ‘lifted out of the water’ for an instant before it simply disappeared.”
Like other royals, Mountbatten loved the sea. He served in the navy. Fishing with his grandsons was a point of pride.
“That he should have died at sea is fitting,” the Guardian said in his obituary. “That he should have died at the hands of the assassins who killed him … is an affront to history.”
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