Prince Philip
(Picture: PA).
Prince Philip

Prince Philip: Why was the Navy veteran mentioned in dispatches?

Prince Philip
(Picture: PA).

As the UK Armed Forces mourn the death of Prince Philip, they are also reflecting on a life strongly linked to the military.

These close ties were demonstrated at the Duke's funeral ceremony in Windsor on 17 April 2021.

During his distinguished active service career with the Royal Navy, one of his most notable feats was a previous mention in dispatches during the Second World War.

Following Italy's invasion of Greece, Philip was transferred to HMS Valiant, a battleship equipped with radar and anti-aircraft guns, in the Mediterranean in January 1941.

His service on HMS Valiant earned him a mention in dispatches – particularly his role in the Battle of Cape Matapan, in March 1941.

Philip had transferred to the ship on his own, which came as a surprise to certain military officials.

Lord Lewin, a First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff, admitted in Tim Heald's 'A Portrait of Prince Philip' that he had wrongly assumed Philip would be "favoured" due to his royal status.

"He could more than hold his own, gave as good as he got, and had no airs and graces," added Lord Lewin.

HMS Valiant had been through a major refit just before the war, having been used during the First World War, with turrets acting as anti-aircraft towers.

"Within two or three days of joining, we went out and there was a great bombardment of the Italian-held port of Bardia, in north Africa," Prince Philip recalled in a 1995 interview with Richard Astbury.

"A lot of 15-inch guns going off, which I hadn't heard before and it made even big ships like that rock about a bit.

"Then the Italians had the effrontery to shoot back – it was quite interesting to hear these things whistling over and landing in the water with a great splash beside you.

"You suddenly realised that life was for real.

WATCH: Prince Philip recalled his experiences of the Second World War in a 1995 interview.

"Very soon after that, we were taking a convoy to Malta and there was a tremendous attack on the whole fleet by German dive bombers," he added.

During the battle, HMS Valiant was among the battleships being led by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, towards a group of Italian cruisers and destroyers after receiving intelligence that British convoys would be attacked.

Philip's role was to operate a searchlight to find enemy targets while in considerable darkness.

"One of the Italian [vessels] was damaged and stopped and two other cruisers came back to her assistance during the night.

"Unfortunately for them they were detected, so... we ploughed on to where we thought these cruisers were going to be.

"Valiant actually had a rather rudimentary radar and picked up these echoes which were stationary, so we assumed that's who they were.

"I got an indication what direction to point the searchlights and they said 'Well, illuminate', so I switched the things on and, by I suppose, sheer good chance, I found a cruiser.

"It picked up, we were so close, can't have been more than 2,000 yards, the beam wasn't big enough to cover the whole cruiser.

"Somebody said 'Train right' or something, because there was another cruiser and with that, everybody started shooting.

"They didn't really need much illumination after that."

The Duke was mentioned in dispatches for his efforts.

"There was so much going on... it wasn't a question of fright, it was just amazement that anything like this could actually happen."

The Duke of Edinburgh passed away on 9 April at Windsor Castle, at the age of 99.

Cover image: Prince Philip in Royal Navy uniform in 1946 (Picture: PA).

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