Prince Philip: The Duke of Edinburgh’s love of the sea and distinguished Royal Navy career

Philip Mountbatten’s first encounter with the Royal Navy was as an 18-month-old prince.

When his uncle King Constantine I was overthrown in an anti-royalist coup, Philip was put in a makeshift cot made out of an orange crate, and evacuated from Greece on HMS Calypso.

Sixteen-and-a-half years later, in 1939, he joined the Navy as a cadet just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

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Dartmouth Naval College was the start of a successful naval career and an even more successful marriage: not only did he graduate from Dartmouth as the top cadet, but it was during his time in Devon that he first met his future wife, the then Princess Elizabeth.

He was tasked with entertaining the young princess and her sister when the King toured the college. She was just 13 at the time, while he was 18.

The two would only see each other a handful of times over the next few years as war broke out and Philip went to fight, but they wrote to each other as he sailed around the world climbing the ranks in the Royal Navy.

His first posting was as a Midshipman onboard HMS Ramillies, part of the Mediterranean fleet in 1940.

The following year, serving the battleship HMS Valiant, he took part in the Battle of Crete which he was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour for.

In July 1943, Philip was a first lieutenant, the second-in-command, on board HMS Wallace when the ship came under repeated attack in the dead of night, off the coast of Sicily.

With quick-thinking, Philip threw a wooden raft with smoke floats over-board, giving the impression of burning debris which was enough to throw the Luftwaffe plane off target.

Hundreds of lives, including Philip’s, were probably saved by this act.

One of his colleagues, onboard HMS Wallace that night, was Harry Hargreaves.

"Prince Philip saved our lives that night," he told The Observer newspaper in 2003.

"I suppose there might have been a few survivors, but certainly the ship would have been sunk.

"He was always very courageous and resourceful and thought very quickly.

"You would say to yourself, ‘What the hell are we going to do now?’ and Philip would come up with something.

Philip Mountbatten was mentioned in dispatches and transferred to HMS Whelp which was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed their surrender in the Second World War.

His promising naval career was cut short by the illness of his father-in-law and his wife’s approaching succession to the throne.

In 1952, with the rank of commander, he left the Royal Navy to fulfil his responsibilities as consort, becoming Admiral of the Fleet the next year.

His first love made way for his true love, but the Duke of Edinburgh maintained ties with the Navy throughout his life.

"He was a servicemen at heart, he was good at it and he enjoyed it," former First Sea Lord Sir Jonathon Band remembers.

"There was no ego in the man. I think the Navy provided him with an anchor for life.

"He was always very proud in the uniform and his sense of duty and correctness dovetailed quite well when he married the princess.

"He was always very good company. In formal naval programmes, lunch was scheduled for often as little as 45 minutes with coffee at the end."

Lord Band added: "Poor Philip loved his coffee but that tended to be the slack part of the programme where time could be made up if you were running over.

"I remember at one event, as the coffee was about to be served, the Queen stood up to go. Philip turned to me and said, ‘Told you, she was right, I never get my coffee!’"

On his 90th birthday the Queen made him Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, one of Britain’s great offices, as a sign of respect and acknowledgement for what he had given up for her.

Prince Philip also took on honorary roles in the Army and RAF. A keen aviator, he received his wings in 1953 and clocked up more than 6,000 flying hours.

But his heart always lay at sea and with the Royal Navy.

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