For the first time, during an interview with BBC Radio 4, the Duke of Edinburgh has publicly revealed accounts of his personal experiences and involvement in a number of conflicts of the Second World War.
Throughout the interview, which was part of the Britain At Sea series which is currently being played every afternoon on Radio 4, Prince Philip was notably calm and enthusiastic when discussing his experiences of the war.
Prince Philip recalled how he helped to prevent the HMS Wallace from being attacked and sunk by a Luftwaffe bomber. This particular example of his experience relates to the time when the Duke was first lieutenant during the Allied invasion of 1943 in Sicily.
The Prince commented: “We did some patrolling along the coast of Sicily and one night for some reason or another some German bomber decided they could see us, and so they thought they’d have a go. I thought it was a frightfully good wheeze. I got a Carley float, filled it with rubbish and set fire to it and launched it, hoping that the aeroplane would think we were burning or something. And it did! It went and had a go at it; we got away with it”.
In contrast to this account, veteran Harry Hargreaves spoke about how the Duke saved the lives of the men on the ship that night during a BBC project in 2003 called People’s War. Hargreaves said: “Prince Philip saved our lives that night. I suppose there might have been a few survivors, but certainly the ship would have been sunk.”
During the radio interview, the Duke also spoke about his time experiences when he was just aged 19 when he was involved in the Battle of Cape Matapan, which occurred in 1941 just off of the Greek coast. Philip was put in charge of seeking out enemy ships at night when aboard HMS Valiant and his role contributed to the destroying of Italian cruisers.
When discussing the moments before launching the attack on the cruisers, Prince Philip said: “I could see them because Greyhound the destroyer switched on her searchlight before we did, and so I could actually see the outline of these ships before somebody said “Open shutters”. Fortunately it was pointing in the right direction at the time. The interesting thing that struck me was that it was so close. You know those big searchlights, colossal great things, it only lit up half one of the Italian cruisers. They said ‘Train left'”.
The Duke continued by saying: “I found the other one and it lit up the middle part of it, whereupon it practically disappeared instantly under a salvo of 15 inch shells at point blank range”.
Prince Philip was promoted to lieutenant-commander after the end of the Second World War and was put in command of HMS Magpie, where he was given the nickname of ‘Dukey’ by the men aboard the ship.
This radio interview comes just days after the Duke returned from Normandy where he attended the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings with other members of the royal family.