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1955-1959: First Sea Lord & later Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)

One of Churchill’s last acts as Prime Minister, was to appoint Mountbatten to the post of First Sea Lord & Chief of the Naval Staff on 18th April 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.  Mountbatten 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 able to call itself.

ABOVE: A short film (no audio) by Pathé about

Mountbatten's appointment

as First Sea Lord & Chief of the Naval Staff

RIGHT: Mountbatten - First Sea Lord

& Chief of the Naval Staff

in his office at the Admiralty.  Behind him is the 1914

portrait of his father - Louis,

1st Marquess of Milford Haven (Prince Louis of Battenberg)

by Philip de László



ABOVE: Portsmouth's Navy News newspaper

with an article in May 1955 about Mountbatten being appointed First Sea Lord

RIGHT: Mountbatten, as First Sea Lord,

taking the salute whist on an official visit

at the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS)

Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire

(HMS Daedalus) in 1955

On 13th July 1959, Mountbatten was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) - having been promoted to the 5* rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1956.  He succeeded 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.


Mountbatten was succeeded as First Sea Lord & Chief of the Naval Staff 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 Prince Edward 'David', 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.


The flag of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)


The insignia of an Admiral of the Fleet


Mountbatten in 1959 - Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)

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 scheduled to retire in 1962, however the Prime Minister - The Rt Hon. (Sir) Harold Wilson, later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (1916-1995) asked him to stay and see through the task of defence integration.  Wilson had decided to abolish the three individual Service ministries and create a new 'Ministry for Defence'. 

LEFT: The Rt Hon. (Sir) Harold Wilson,

later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx,

then Prime Minister - in the Cabinet Room

at No. 10 Downing St


BELOW: Mountbatten at the White House, Washington DC, USA in 1963

(left to right) - US General Maxwell D. Taylor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Mountbatten;

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the USA;

The Rt Hon. Sir David Ormsby-Gore, 5th Lord Harlech, the UK Ambassador to USA

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