Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Grandy

Former Chief of the Air Staff and Governor of Gibraltar
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The Independent Online

John Grandy, air-force officer: born Northwood, Middlesex 8 February 1913; DSO 1945; Commander, Central Fighter Establishment 1954-57; CB 1956, KCB 1964, GCB 1967; Commander, Task Force Grapple (British Nuclear Weapon Test Force), Christmas Island 1957-58; Assistant CAS (Ops) 1958-61; Commander-in-Chief, RAF, Germany and Commander, Second Allied TAF 1961-63; KBE 1961; AOC-in-C, Bomber Command 1963-65; C-in-C, British Forces, Far East and UK Military Adviser to Seato 1965-67; Chief of the Air Staff 1967-71; Governor and C-in-C, Gibraltar 1973-78; Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle 1978-88; Chairman of Trustees, Imperial War Museum 1978-79; GCVO 1988; married 1937 Cecile Rankin (died 1993; two sons); died Slough, Berkshire 2 January 2004.

John Grandy was the only officer who fought and commanded a squadron in the Battle of Britain to become Chief of the Air Staff. His period of office marked the closing stages of the transition of the Royal Air Force from its traditional wartime pattern and worldwide roles to the Europe-centred structure we know today.

Having joined the RAF in 1931, from University College School, London, on a Short Service Commission and then flown Bulldog fighters with 54 Squadron, Grandy spent the remaining pre-war years as a flying instructor, some of his time with the Auxiliary Air Force and the London University Air Squadron. In May 1940 he was given command of a Hurricane squadron (No 249), which under his inspired leadership became the highest-scoring squadron in the Battle of Britain - though he himself missed part of the action, having been shot down and wounded on 6 September.

Then in 1942 he took over the first Typhoon wing at Duxford, where he quickly became aware of the aircraft's potential for the low-level strike operations that were to prove so valuable later in the Second World War, especially in the Battle of Normandy.

He himself was serving by then in the Mediterranean theatre, somewhat remote from the action, but by 1945 he was leading a wing of Dakota transport aircraft in the final months of the Burma campaign where he remembered not only the appalling weather through which they had to fly but also the great mutual respect that existed in that remote theatre between the Army and the RAF. He himself piloted the first Dakota to land at Rangoon after its recapture.

Twelve years later, having first attended the Army Staff College and then served in the Air Ministry, as Air Attaché in Brussels, and in Fighter Command, Grandy was selected to command the second phase of Operation Grapple, the United Kingdom hydrogen bomb tests at Christmas Island. He found these both impressive and sobering: the existence of weapons of such power persuaded him that major war was now almost inconceivable, and this conviction underlay much of his thinking in the very senior appointments he held during the 1960s.

The first of these was in Germany, where he was RAF Commander-in-Chief at the time of high tension when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. Despite having to cope with major RAF force reductions he did much to foster co-operation with the Army and to integrate the Belgian, Dutch and West German Air Forces into the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force.

His next post was at Bomber Command, whose V-bomber force was still responsible for maintaining the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent but having to switch to low-level operations owing to its increasing vulnerability at high attitude.

Then in 1965 Grandy returned to the Far East, where as C-in-C of the unified command in Singapore he was responsible for the later stages of the confrontation operations against Indonesia. This post required him both to direct a large tri-service organisation and to undertake much high-level political negotiation - invaluable preparation for the challenge awaiting him on his return to London.

Grandy became Chief of Air Staff on 1 April 1967. Much happened during the next four years, in eluding the closing stages of the main British withdrawals from the Persian Gulf and the Far East, events whose inevitability for reasons of economy he accepted with the greatest reluctance. The cancellations of the proposed Anglo-French Variable Geometry aircraft and of the order for the American F111 long-range strike bomber entailed a major rearrangement of the future aircraft requirement and complex discussions with the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey.

Then in 1969 he sent the signal marking the transfer of the strategic nuclear deterrent role from the V-bombers to the Polaris submarines of the Royal Navy, but, as he observed, "The task has meant maintaining, at all times through seven years, the highest state of readiness which the RAF has known in peacetime."

On the more positive side one of the RAF's great success stories, the vertical take-off Harrier, entered service in 1969, and even more important the decision was made - jointly with West Germany and Italy - to develop the multi-role combat aircraft, eventually to be known as the Tornado. Moreover, his establishment of Strike Command in the face of strong emotional resistance from the traditionalists paved the way for the UK operational command structure that we know today.

After retirement Grandy spent five years as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, the first RAF officer to occupy this post, and a further 10 years as Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle. He was also involved with many charitable committees, both service and civilian, and as Chairman of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum he continued to demonstrate his fundamental belief in the importance of close ties between all three services.

While he was convinced that they must retain their identity as separate professions, all his wartime and later experience told him how dependent they were on each other and that the kind of disputes which so often arose between them were counter-productive.

Henry Probert