The intermediate product is an alkoxy lithium salt and the final product an alcohol. When R2 is a good leaving group and electron withdrawing functional group such as a cyanide (CN) group,  this group is eliminated and the corresponding ketone is formed.
The alkyl group migrates in the order of thermodynamical stability methyl < primary alkyl < secondary alkyl < tertiary alkyl in this is line with the radical mechanism. The radical-ketyl pair is short lived and due to a solvent cage effect some isomerizations take place with retention of configuration.
With certain allyl aryl ethers a competing reaction mechanism takes place . The reaction of allyl phenyl ether 1 with sec-butyllithium at -78°C gives the lithiated intermediate 2 which on heating to -25°C only shows the rearranged product 5 but not 4 after trapping the lithium alkoxide with trimethylsilyl chloride. This result rules out a radical-ketyl intermediate 3a in favor of the Meisenheimer complex 3b. Additional evidence for this mechanism is provided by the finding that with a para tert-butyl substituent the reaction is retarded.
- G. Wittig, L. Löhmann, Ann. 550, 260 (1942)
- G. Wittig, Experientia 14, 389 (1958).
- Preparation of aryl benzyl ketones by [1,2]-Wittig rearrangement Alan R. Katritzky, Yuming Zhang, Sandeep K. Singh Arkivoc p. 146-150 2002 (vii) link
- Wittig Rearrangement of Lithiated Allyl Aryl Ethers: A Mechanistic Study Sven Strunk, Manfred Schlosser European Journal of Organic Chemistry Volume 2006, Issue 19 , Pages 4393 - 4397 doi:10.1002/ejoc.200600304