1955 - 1959
ABOVE: Mountbatten, First Sea Lord in his office at the Admiralty.
Behind him is the de László portrait of his father -
Louis, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven
RIGHT: A closer view of the de László portrait
of Louis, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven
(Prince Louis of Battenberg)
In July 1959, Mountbatten was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff (having been promoted to the 5* rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1956) in succession to Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson (1898-1987), the very first Chief of the Defence Staff. This new post was created in 1959 for the professional head of the Armed Forces and now Mountbatten was given the task of reorganising Britain’s defence organisation. Following his appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff, one senior officer regarded his appointment as “the greatest disaster which had befallen the British Defence Services within his memory.” The Rt Hon. Julian Amery, later Lord Amery of Lustleigh (1919-1996), Under-Secretary of State for War in 1957 said of Mountbatten - “he was grand in his position, and grand in his conceit of himself.”
Mountbatten was succeeded as First Sea Lord by Admiral (later Admiral of the Fleet) Sir Charles Lambe (1900-1960). Lambe and Mountbatten had much in common - Lambe had joined the Navy in 1914 and had been an equerry to Mountbatten's cousin 'David' - Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor and shared many interests including polo. The two men worked well together, with Lambe often acting a restraining influence over some of Mountbatten's more flamboyant ideas - it was said that he was the one person who could tell Mountbatten what he thought without any arguments. The maritime historian Captain Stephen Roskill (1903-1982) said of Mountbatten and Lambe - "they shook the Navy out of the first half of the Twentieth Century and propelled it into the Nuclear Age." Sadly due to ill-health, Lambe was forced to retire early in May 1960, and died just 2 months later. Lambe's sudden death hit Mountbatten hard as he was the first of his closet friends of his generation to die.
One of Churchill’s last acts as Prime Minister, was to appoint Mountbatten to the post of First Sea Lord in 1955, making him the only person to have appointed both father and son to the post of First Sea Lord. A truly remarkable feat and Mountbatten’s life ambition was fulfilled. He was now the professional head of the Royal Navy, the very post his father had been humiliated out of office in 1914 due to anti-German hysteria at the start of World War I. Family honour had now been upheld. Mountbatten set about reform of the Royal Navy, reducing the amount of shore establishments and updating the Fleet with modern technology and weapons. Mountbatten was a successful First Sea Lord and did much to raise the morale of the Royal Navy whose supremacy at sea had long been overtaken by the world superpowers, which Britain was no longer.