Year
1979

Mountbatten killed by IRA

On August 27, 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten is killed when Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, was spending the day with his family in Donegal Bay off Ireland’s northwest coast when the bomb exploded. Three others were killed in the attack, including Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas. Later that day, an IRA bombing attack on land killed 18 British paratroopers in County Down, Northern Ireland.

The assassination of Mountbatten was the first blow struck against the British royal family by the IRA during its long terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The attack hardened the hearts of many Brits against the IRA and convinced Margaret Thatcher’s government to take a hard-line stance against the terrorist organization.

Louis Mountbatten, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria I, entered the Royal Navy in 1913, when he was in his early teens. He saw service during World War I and at the outbreak of World War II was commander of the 5th destroyer flotilla. His destroyer, the HMS Kelly, was sunk off Crete early in the war. In 1941, he commanded an aircraft carrier, and in 1942 he was named chief of combined operations. From this position, he was appointed supreme Allied commander for Southeast Asia in 1943 and successfully conducted the campaign against Japan that led to the recapture of Burma.

In 1947, he was appointed the last viceroy of India, and he conducted the negotiations that led to independence for India and Pakistan later that year. He held various high naval posts in the 1950s and served as chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Meanwhile, he was made Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and a first earl. He was the uncle of Philip Mountbatten and introduced Philip to the future Queen Elizabeth. He later encouraged the marriage of the two distant cousins and became godfather and mentor to their first born, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Made governor and then lord lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in his retirement, Lord Mountbatten was a respected and beloved member of the royal family. His assassination on August 27, 1979, was perhaps the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom. In addition to his grandson Nicholas, 15-year-old boat hand Paul Maxwell was killed in the attack; the Dowager Lady Brabourne, Nicholas’ grandmother, was also fatally injured. Mountbatten’s grandson Timothy–Nicholas’ twin–was injured; as was his daughter, Lady Brabourne; and the twins’ father, Lord Brabourne. Lord Mountbatten was 79.

The IRA immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated the bomb by remote control from the coast. It also took responsibility for the same-day bombing attack against British troops in County Down, which claimed 18 lives.

IRA member Thomas McMahon was later arrested and convicted of preparing and planting the bomb that destroyed Mountbatten’s boat. A near-legend in the IRA, he was a leader of the IRA’s notorious South Armagh Brigade, which killed more than 100 British soldiers. He was one of the first IRA members to be sent to Libya to train with detonators and timing devices and was an expert in explosives. Authorities believe the Mountbatten assassination was the work of many people, but McMahon was the only individual convicted. Sentenced to life in prison, he was released in 1998 along with other IRA and Unionist terrorists under a controversial provision of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s peace deal. McMahon claimed he had turned his back on the IRA and was becoming a carpenter.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“The Guinness Book of Records” debuts

On this day in 1955, the first edition of “The Guinness Book of Records” is published in Great Britain; it quickly proves to be a hit. Now known as the “Guinness World Records” book, the annual publication features a wide range of feats related to humans and animals. To date, the ...read more

The Battle of Brooklyn

During the American Revolution, British forces under General William Howe defeat Patriot forces under General George Washington at the Battle of Brooklyn in New York. On August 22, Howe’s large army landed on Long Island, hoping to capture New York City and gain control of the ...read more

Krakatau explodes

The most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history occurs on Krakatau (also called Krakatoa), a small, uninhabited volcanic island located west of Sumatra in Indonesia, on this day in 1883. Heard 3,000 miles away, the explosions threw five cubic miles of earth 50 miles into ...read more

Romania enters World War I

On this day in 1916, after Romania declares war on Austria-Hungary, formally entering World War I, Romanian troops cross the border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into the much-contested province of Transylvania. By the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, Romania had long been at ...read more

Agnew meets with President Thieu in Saigon

Vice President Spiro Agnew meets with South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu in Saigon. In a speech at Ton Son Nhut air base, Agnew praised the South Vietnamese people for suffering “so much in freedom’s cause” and promised that “there will no lessening of U.S. support.” ...read more

Henderson steals his way to a record

Oakland Athletics outfielder Rickey Henderson steals his 119th base of the year, breaking Hall of Famer Lou Brock’s 1979 record for stolen bases in a season. Rickey Henley Henderson was born on Christmas Day, 1958. When he was seven years old, his family moved to Oakland, where ...read more

LBJ is born

On this day in 1908, future President Lyndon Baines Johnson is born on a farm near Stonewall, Texas. The brash, outspoken Johnson grew up in an impoverished rural area and worked his way through a teachers’ training college before entering politics. In 1937, Johnson won a seat in ...read more

Tycoon William Ralston drowns

Hours after being asked to resign as president of the Bank of California, the powerful western capitalist William Ralston is found drowned in San Francisco Bay. One of the first men to build a major financial empire in the Far West, Ralston was born in Ohio in 1826. In 1854, he ...read more

Theodore Dreiser is born

Theodore Dreiser, whose book Sister Carrie helped change the direction of American literature, is born on this day in Terre Haute, Indiana. Dreiser was the 12th of 13 children born to a poor, unhappy family. Except for one brother who became a songwriter, most of the Dreiser ...read more

Beatles manager Brian Epstein dies

On August 27, 1967, Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, was found dead of an accidental drug overdose in his Sussex, England, home. The following day, the headline in the London Daily Mirror read “EPSTEIN (The Beatle-Making Prince of Pop) DIES AT 32.” Brian Epstein was, by all ...read more

Krakatoa erupts

The volcanic island of Krakatoa near Indonesia erupts on this day in 1883, killing thousands in one of the worst geologic disasters of modern times. The beginning of the amazing events at Krakatoa in 1883 date to May 20 when there were initial rumblings and venting from the ...read more

Red Scare dominates American politics

As the presidential election of 1952 begins to heat up, so do accusations and counteraccusations concerning communism in America. The “Red Scare”—the widespread belief that international communism was operating in the United States—came to dominate much of the debate between ...read more

The attack on Cape Hatteras begins

Union ships sail into North Carolina’s Hatteras Inlet, beginning a two-day operation that secures the area for the Federals and denies the Confederates an important outlet to the Atlantic. The Outer Banks is a series of long, narrow islands that separate Pamlico Sound from the ...read more