How Lord Mountbatten’s brutal assassination left survivor with stitched-up eyeballs, as The Crown relives IRA bombing

THE water was calm off the Irish coast as a small fishing boat carrying Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten and his family made its way out to sea.

Just seconds later, a deafening explosion and piercing screams rang out across the water as a 50lb remote-controlled bomb – planted the night before by the IRA – was detonated.

It ripped the boat apart and killed Lord Louis Mountbatten, 79; his 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas; elderly Dowager Lady Doreen Bradbourne; and 15-year-old boat boy Paul Maxwell. 

The only survivors onboard were Nicholas’ twin brother Tim, and their parents John and Patricia – with the latter needing more than 120 stitches to her face and eyeballs, which she later dubbed her ‘IRA facelift’.

To add to the horror of that fateful day on August 27, 1979, 18 British soldiers were also killed just hours later in two bomb explosions near the Irish border – the deadliest day for the British Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Shockingly, it wasn’t the first time Prince Charles’ ‘honorary grandfather’ Lord Loius Mountbatten – played by actor Charles Dance in the returning Netflix drama The Crown – had been an assassination target either. 

‘The grandfather I never had’

As is so clear in The Crown’s portrayal of young Prince Charles’ relationship with Lord Mountbatten, it’s important not to underestimate the latter's importance to the royal family, and his influential position within society. 

He was the brother of Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, and the Queen’s second cousin once removed, and Charles – played by Josh O'Connor in the popular Netflix series – described his great uncle as the “grandfather I never had”.

The pair had a strong relationship and Lord Mountbatten coached his great-nephew on his love life, even suggesting Charles marry his granddaughter Amanda – who is said to have turned him down.

‘Who the hell would want to kill an old man anyway?’

Despite his high ranking status within royal circles, Lord Mountbatten perhaps modestly believed he was an unlikely target for a politically motivated killing. 

Every year he took his family on vacation to Sligo, on the west coast of Ireland, to Classiebawn Castle.  

The IRA had threatened to make attempts on his life several times, however, Mountbatten – affectionately known as Dickie – reportedly responded saying: “Who the hell would want to kill an old man anyway?”

In actual fact, Mountbatten had been an IRA target since the early 1960s – and there had been several attempts to kill him already, with an almost obsessive focus on his fishing boat. 

A year earlier, in 1978, a planned attempt to shoot him on the boat, named Shadow V, had been aborted last minute when choppy seas meant it was too difficult for the sniper to get a good aim.

A rising mushroom cloud of smoke 

On this particular day, a bomb had been placed on the 30ft boat in the engine compartment the night before.

The following morning the family set off from Mullaghmore harbour, leaving behind Lord Mountbatten’s 11-year-old granddaughter India Hicks – who was later bridesmaid at Princess Diana and godfather Prince Charles’ wedding – to watch a Laurel and Hardy film at home.

However, unbeknownst to them, the fishing vessel was being watched from the shore by two IRA men – one of them believed to be Thomas McMahon, the only person later convicted of the attack.

He eventually served 18 years in prison before being released in 1998 under the Good Friday peace agreement.

At 11:46am, the bomb was detonated, with witnesses later describing seeing a rising mushroom cloud of smoke over the wreckage. 

What followed were scenes of absolute carnage.

All on board were blown into the water, and when Lord Mountbatten’s body was found face-down, his legs were said to have been badly severed. 

Makeshift stretchers brought the victims to land

Local Peter McHugh was one of the first on the scene, and according to The Herald, described the loud blast at the time in detail. 

“It was quite a significant noise and I thought initially it might have been a gas cylinder exploding but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn't," he said.

"We did what we could at the scene, and came back to the harbour and waited for the boats who had lifted the casualties to come into the jetty and started to take them to shore.

"We made up some crude stretchers to bring the people from the boats and some of the casualties were tended to in the foyer of the hotel here."

Patricia, who required 120 stitches as a result of the attack, later recalled "a vision of a ball exploding upwards and then of coming to in the sea and wondering if I would be able to reach the surface before I passed out".

‘Agony, disbelief and a kind of wretched numbness’ 

The Provisional IRA, admitting responsibility for the attack, released a statement saying: “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 attack was also seen as retaliation for the Bloody Sunday shootings, which saw British forces gun down 13 people during a demonstration.

The fallout was huge for the royals, and Prince Charles was left devastated after hearing the news while in Iceland. 

That evening, he wrote in his journal: “A mixture of desperate emotions swept over me – agony, disbelief, a kind of wretched numbness, closely followed by fierce and violent determination to see that something was done about the IRA.

“Life will never be the same now that he has gone and I fear it will take me a very long time to forgive those people who today achieved something that two World Wars and thousands of Germans and Japanese failed to achieve.

“I only hope I can live up to the expectations he had of me and be able to do something to honour the name of Mountbatten.”

Speaking in 2015, Prince Charles directly addressed the incident again ahead of visiting the scene, saying: “In August 1979, my much-loved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed…

“At the time I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since, for me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had.”

A funeral worthy of a king

Mountbatten’s funeral took place on September 5 at Westminster Abbey, with nearly 2,000 guests, including the Queen, in attendance. He was later buried at Romsey in Hampshire, near his country home in Broadlands.

Bereft Prince Charles made a thirty-minute speech and the event was televised in more than 20 countries.

Prince Charles spoke of Lord Mountbatten as “a constantly active brain which was never allowed a moment’s rest".

He added: “There was always a new challenge to be overcome, fresh projects to be set in motion, more opposition to be defeated – all of which were pursued with a relentless and almost irresistible single-mindedness of purpose.

“Although he could certainly be ruthless with people when the occasion demanded, his infectious enthusiasm, his sheer capacity for hard work, his wit made him an irresistible leader among men.”

While Lord Mountbatten’s death occurred over 40 years ago, it’s obvious the influential figure will not be forgotten – especially as his death, legacy and lasting impact on a young Prince Charles looks set to be portrayed in upcoming episodes of The Crown. 

The Crown season four airs on Netflix from today.

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