He is known for not always choosing his words appropriately – and now Prince Philip has described saving a Navy ship from a German bomber as a “frightfully good wheeze”.
The Duke of Edinburgh made the remark while recalling his role as a first lieutenant during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943; a major Second World War campaign that catalysed the Italian campaign.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Britain at Sea, the 93-year-old described how he prevented the HMS Wallace from being sunk by a passing Luftwaffe bomber.
He said: “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 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.”
However, despite the seeming nonchalance of his account, the Duke conceded: “It was a very unpleasant sensation.”
His actions were first revealed in 2003 by fellow veteran Harry Hargreaves in a project for the BBC called People’s War.
But unlike Prince Philip, he gave a far more terrifying account: "It was obvious that we were the target for tonight and they would not stop until we had suffered a fatal hit.
“There was no doubt in anyone's mind that a direct hit was inevitable.
“I had been through so much that the feeling of anger and frustration was as great as the fear I and everyone else felt.”
Hargreaves later told The Observer: “Prince Philip saved our lives that night. I suppose there might have been a few survivors, but certainly the ship would have been sunk.”
Following the end of the war, Prince Philip returned to the UK in 1946; he married the then-future Queen Elizabeth II in 1947.
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