Monday, 11 June 2012

Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss KCB KBE 1924-2013

He had flown as a navigator with Bomber Command in the Second World War, flew with the air transport force and later specialised as a night-fighter navigator. He served on a strategic nuclear V-bomber base and later commanded a large RAF air base in Germany at the height of the Cold War. After serving in a senior appointment at No 11 (Fighter) Group, he was appointed as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) No 18 Group where he commanded the RAF’s maritime air assets.
Curtiss had his headquarters at Northwood, west of London, co-located with C-in-C Fleet, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. The two men struck up a strong rapport and friendship, and both knew how to mix humour with determination and attention to detail. As soon as Margaret Thatcher’s government authorised the formation of a naval Task Force to reclaim the Falklands following the Argentine invasion in April 1982, Fieldhouse was appointed Commander Task Force 317 and Curtiss was made his Air Commander.
He commanded a large range of operational aircraft but much of the RAF’s activity was covert. Nimrods carried out maritime surveillance sorties and patrols in support of the Fleet as it sailed south and Hercules transport aircraft began carrying supplies to Ascension Island, the only staging airfield, lying almost exactly halfway along the 8,000 miles that separated Britain from the Falklands. Without the island’s single long runway, the RAF’s capability to support the Task Force would have been minimal.
With such prodigious distances involved, the need for in-flight refuelling became paramount. Nimrods, Hercules and Vulcan bombers, and their crews, were hastily converted to the role, and the large force of Victor tankers at Ascension became pivotal in support of all air operations. This capability allowed Nimrods, and the Victors, to carry out reconnaissance sorties deep into the vast regions of the South Atlantic and Hercules were able to support the Task Force as it approached the area of operations.
Crucially, it allowed Vulcan bombers to attack Port Stanley airfield and its defences. As operations increased, RAF Harrier ground-attack aircraft flew direct from Ascension to reinforce the naval squadrons on the aircraft carriers in the combat area.
The limitations at Ascension made the need to identify priorities essential, and Fieldhouse and Curtiss decided these in consultation with the Task Force Commander. Once the conflict started, it was Curtiss’s task to keep Ascension resupplied, in addition to mounting the long-range missions to support the Task Force in the operational area. He also recognised the possibility of an attack against the island base and deployed Phantoms and Harriers to provide an air defence capability and RAF Regiment squadrons for ground defence.
Once the conflict was over, much remained to be done. Ascension had to be maintained and, within two weeks of the surrender, Curtiss flew to the Falklands, where the runway at Stanley had to be repaired and equipped with landing aids to allow RAF Phantoms to deploy to provide air defence cover. He also identified sites for permanent radar and air defence missile units.
Curtiss recognised that the RAF’s role was largely kept hidden from public gaze because of the need to keep Ascension Island secure, but he considered the campaign to be a fine example of close inter-service cooperation at all levels. He was loud in his praise of the remarkable efforts of the engineers and support staff in the military and in industry. In particular, he singled out the vital importance of in-flight refuelling and commented that “without it, the RAF was impotent at long range”. For his services as Air Commander he was appointed KBE.
John Bagot Curtiss was born on December 6 1924. He was educated at Radley College and Wanganui Collegiate School in New Zealand before attending Worcester College, Oxford. He joined the RAF in 1942 and trained as a navigator.

He flew bombing operations over Germany with Nos 578 and 158 Squadrons, flying the Halifax. He joined the air transport force and in 1949 was promoted to be a flight commander on a York squadron, completing 263 return trips flying supplies into Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the city.

In 1953 Curtiss converted to a night-fighter role and flew in Meteor and Javelin aircraft with Nos 29 and 5 Squadrons, the latter providing a quick reaction alert force in Germany. After commanding the operations wing at RAF Wittering, the home of Victor bomber squadrons equipped with the Blue Steel nuclear missile, he returned to Germany as the station commander at Bruggen, the RAF’s largest operational base. Curtiss managed the introduction of four Phantom strike/attack squadrons to the base where he flew with the units, often electing to fly with a junior pilot. He and his wife were popular with all ranks and, as a “people person”, he was recognised as an excellent station commander who ran a happy and efficient base.

In 1974 he was appointed Senior Air Staff Officer at HQ 11 (Fighter) Group at a time when Britain’s air defence organisation was undergoing a major upgrade. In 1977 he became Commandant of the RAF Staff College at Bracknell, where the RAF’s high-grade junior officers, joined by international air force officers, were trained to fill higher command and staff appointments.

Three years later, in 1980, he was promoted to air marshal and appointed AOC No 18 Group and Nato Commander Maritime Air Forces, Eastern Atlantic and the Channel, not expecting to find himself commanding air operations “out of area” during his final appointment in the RAF. He retired in 1983.

Curtiss’s career was a great inspiration to the navigators of the RAF. During his time, command appointments were dominated by pilots, but the abilities and experience of Curtiss (and one other) could not be ignored and they paved the way for a later generation of navigators to assume higher command.

On leaving the RAF, he was appointed chief executive of the Society of British Aerospace Companies. His services were in great demand by charities and associations, with Curtiss, no mere figurehead, taking a lively and direct interest in their aims and work. For 11 years he was a member of the executive committee of the Air League and was President of the Aircrew Association and of the Berlin Airlift Association. He had a great affection for New Zealand where some of his family lived.

Admiral of the Fleet John David Elliott Fieldhouse GCB, GBE 1928-1992

Admiral Fieldhouse was C-in-C and in overall command of the Falklands confict. The Conflict ensured a place for John Fieldhouse in the annals of British military history - since World War II, he as been the only C-in-C to have directed British forces to a unilateral victory against a well-equipped enemy.

John David Elliott Fieldhouse was born on Feb 12 1928, son of Sir Harold Fieldhouse, secretary of the National Assistance Board. He joined the Navy in 1941, going to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and later at Eaton Hall in Cheshire.
In 1948 he joined the Submarine Service. As first lieutenant of Totem, he was nicknamed 'Snorkers' owing to his fondness for sausages - like the Australian first lieutenant in The Cruel Sea. He passed the CO's Qualifiying Course (the 'Perisher') in 1955; his first submarine command was Acheron.
Fieldhouse subsequently commanded the submarines Tiptoe and Walrus; and, in 1964, the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine, Dreadnought. He served almost exclusively in the Submarine Service until 1966 , when he took the Joint Services Staff College Course at Latimer and then joined the aircraft carrier Hermes in 1967 as second-in-command.
Hermes, then the first 'all-missile' ship in the fleet, had a busy and successful commission east and west of Suez which included the preparations for the withdrawal from Aden. Hermes's Sea Vixen and Buccaneer aircraft provided a show of strength in the air.
Her Wessex helicopters carried out sorties against 'dissidents' in Aden and in August the same year, against Communist agitators in Hong Kong.
Fieldhouse took over command of the ship for some weeks when the captain fell ill at the end of the year.
After his own promotion to captain at the end of 1967, Fieldhouse's career began to follow the perfect 'critical path' to the highest ranks. From Hermes he went in 1968 to Faslane in Scotland as captain of the newly-formed 10th Submarine Squadron of Polaris submarines. In 1970 he commanded the frigate Diomede as captain of the 3rd Frigate Squadron; and in 1972 he led Nato's Naval Standing Force Atlantic in the rank of commodore.
In 1973 he went to the Ministry of Defence, first as deputy and then as director of Naval Warfare. Promoted Rear-Admiral, he became Flag Officer 2nd Flotilla in 1975 and then, the next year, Flag Officer Submarines and Nato Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic - in effect the first 'postwar' officer to hold this post, and the first to have had a nuclear command.

He showed his political skills early on by adroitly handling a move from the traditional home at Fort Blockhouse, Gosport, to Northwood. Promoted Vice-Admiral in 1979, he became Controller of the Navy, responsible for the Navy's ships, stores and equipment.
In the time-honoured way of sea-going officers, Fieldhouse always said he disliked Ministry of Defence jobs. 'I joined the Navy to go to sea,' he would say, 'not to drive a desk at the MoD.' In fact, he was an excellent Whitehall warrior, but the most he would admit was that, having had good times at sea, he now had to pay something back.
In 1981 he was made C-in-C Fleet, Nato C-in-C- Eastern Atlantic Area and Allied C-in-C Channel. It was a time when an aggrieved and resentful Navy was trying to recover something from what was left after the swingeing cuts imposed by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr John Nott.
It was a measure of how well Fieldhouse restored both the Navy's materiel and its morale that it was able to undertake Operation Corporate so successfully less than a year later.
In December 1982 Fieldhouse became First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff - only the second submarine officer ever to do so. As First Sea Lord he fought the Navy's corner with great skill and guile, eventually restoring much of the position and proving more than a match for the slyest civil servant.
He defended the choice of Trident to replace Polaris as Britain's independent deterrent, arguing that it was still by far the most cost-effective option. He accused the European nations, including Britain, of what he called 'sea blindness', and urged a much greater political appreciation of the virtues of world wide sea-power, especially for Britain, which was still an island.
In spite of his face and figure (he enjoyed good food and wine) and the benign, avuncular, almost Dickensian aspect of himself which he liked to show to the world in his conversation and his jokes, other naval officers sometimes found John Fieldhouse a difficult personality to read.
There was a story of an officer who had gone to see Fieldhouse about some difficulty and come away convinced he had an ally - 'but it's only when you look round and your head falls off that you realise your throat's just been cut'.
Fieldhouse was promoted Admiral of the Fleet in August 1985 (the first submarine officer to reach that rank) and in November that year he took over as Chief of the Defence Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.