04.24.12 9:56 AM ET
Philip: How I Sunk Italian Cruisers
For over 70 years, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh has maintained silence on his role in the sinking of five Italian warships during a night-time naval battle during the second world war.
Philip, 90, was awarded a military honor for his part in the action, but has only now given a first-hand account of his actions in the foreword to a new book, "Dark Seas: The Battle of Cape Matapan".
The Duke was mentioned in dispatches for operating his battleship's search light during the battle and picking out enemy targets.
The Italian fleet was caught unawares by British warships, who sunk three cruisers and two destroyers.
The Duke was a Midshipman serving on the World War One battleship HMS Valiant during the battle, and described his rank as the "lowest form of life in the Navy".
He says: "I seem to remember that I reported that I had a target in sight, and was ordered to 'open shutter'. The beam lit up a stationary cruiser, but we were so close by then that the beam only lit up half the ship. At this point all hell broke loose, as all our eight 15-inch guns started firing at the stationary cruiser, which disappeared in an explosion and a cloud of smoke. I was then ordered to 'train left' and lit up another Italian cruiser, which was given the same treatment."
The Duke added: "The next morning the battle fleet returned to the scene of the battle, while attempts were made to pick up survivors. This was rudely interrupted by an attack by German bombers."
He concluded: "The return to Alexandria was uneventful, and the peace and quiet was much appreciated."
During his naval career Philip rose through the ranks becoming, when 21, one of the youngest officers in the navy to be made First Lieutenant and second-in-command of a ship.
After the war he was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander and was given command of the frigate HMS Magpie and was known as "Dukey" by his men.