Obituary: Air Marshal Sir Christopher Hartley

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHEN THE services competed for defence funds at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s, and admirals and air marshals practically came to blows over rival claims for more aircraft carriers or more V-bombers, Christopher Hartley was at the centre of the arguments; for as Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (ACAS) from 1961, with responsibility for operational requirements, and then as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS) from 1963, he had an overview of future RAF needs for its strategic and tactical capabilities.

His terms of office in these posts covered some major decisions over the V-bomber force (particularly its low-level role after the cancellation of Skybolt missiles) and TSR-2, leading him in the latter case to criticise the competence of the Ministry of Aviation to manage a major project.

After a Labour administration came to power in the autumn of 1964 and signalled their intentions to cancel the supersonic Harrier, the HS681 STOL transport and TSR-2, Hartley led a team to the United States to look at alternative types and report to the Minister of Defence (Denis Healey); and on their recommendations were based the subsequent purchases of Phantoms and C-130s.

With his service experience of planning future equipment, Hartley was a natural choice for the secondment post of Controller of Aircraft at the Ministry of Aviation (which became the Ministry of Technology) from 1966, serving there until his retirement in 1970 and having an overview of both civil and military projects. He was particularly involved in the complex international Concorde programme.

As a consequence of these high-level contacts, appointments at board- room level followed his retirement in 1970 from his service career - with FPT Industries, Saunders-Roe Developments, Westland Engineers, Westland Technologies and Westland Aircraft, and the British Hovercraft Corporation, of which he was chairman from 1974 to 1978.

Born in 1913, Hartley had his first flying experience when he joined Oxford University Air Squadron in 1934, and in those pre-war years he served on three university expeditions, to Sarawak, Spitsbergen and Greenland. He was tall and strong and at his happiest in out- door pursuits like fishing, shooting, mountaineering and sailing.

When war came he was a science master at Eton, where he had been educated as a boy, representing the college at rugby and rowing, and from where he went up to Balliol as an Exhibitioner. After being called up for service he initially flew with No 5, 6 and 7 Bombing and Gunnery Schools, then became an instructor at No 2 SFTS. He then went into night fighter operations: his first squadron was No 604 (County of Middlesex), before becoming a flight commander with No 256.

During 1943, at the Flying Instructor Unit at Ford, he served as fighter controller and then commanding officer. For his part in the operational trials of the first Ju-88 night fighter to fall into RAF hands he was awarded the AFC, then in 1945 won the DFC.

His post-war career was determined when he gained a permanent commission in September 1945, and two attachments to the Staff College at Bracknell - on No 17 (W) Staff Course and in 1949-50 as a member of the Directing Staff - were interspersed with his first tour at the Air Ministry, on intelligence duties.

Hartley achieved his first senior post when appointed to command RAF Wahn in 2nd TAF in 1951. He then became Deputy Director of Operations (Guided Weapons) at No 61 Group, attended the Nato Special Weapons Senior Officers Course and was subsequently appointed Sector Commander, Eastern Sector. He served as Senior Air Staff Officer at No 12 Group, and from there went to his first senior Air Ministry appointment - as ACAS (Operational Requirements) - in June 1961.

Christopher Harold Hartley, air force officer: born Oxford 31 January 1913; AFC 1944; DFC 1945; OBE 1949; Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operational Requirements) 1961; CB 1961, KCB 1963; Deputy Chief of Air Staff 1963- 66; Controller of Aircraft, Ministry of Aviation and Ministry of Technology 1966-70; director, Westland Aircraft Ltd 1971-83; married 1937 Anne Sitwell (marriage dissolved 1943), 1944 Margaret Watson (died 1989; two sons); died Oxford 29 July 1998.

Comments