Obituary: Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin

Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin was the epitome of the versatile and talented naval officer whose life's work fell into two parts. There was his service in the Royal Navy and, following his retirement, his long effort to make the country aware of the importance of the sea at a time when it had become fashionable to dismiss ships and their associated industries and professions as tired and spent forces.

Born in 1920, Griffin entered the Navy in 1934 through the traditional route of a Dartmouth cadetship. His first ship was the cruiser Gloucester in which he sailed in 1939 as a midshipman. From then on he was regularly promoted and frequently active.

During the Second World War Griffin was on board the SS Britannia, on his way to join the destroyer Hereward, when it was sunk by a German raider off Freetown. His next ship, where he served as navigating officer, was the destroyer Fury, which took him on a convoy to Malta and on several Arctic convoys in 1942.

In 1943, Griffin was appointed First Lieutenant of the destroyer Talybont, after which he specialised in navigation. On the carrier Implacable he saw operations in Norwegian waters, and whilst on the carrier Empress in the Far East he was mentioned in dispatches for successful survey work in Malaya.

After the war he attended the navigation school HMS Dryad, and in 1952 took up a senior position at the Admiralty Signal and Radar Establishment. Two years later he joined the carrier Eagle. His two year service included the Anglo-French expedition to regain the Suez Canal in 1956. Ensuing promotions led to a career at the Admiralty, interspersed with activity at sea.

It was during the succeeding years, as Rear Admiral and Naval Secretary, that Griffin became closely involved with the cancellation of the large aircraft carrier project known as CVA01. The project would have been a logical development for the Navy in so far as it recognised the importance of air power at sea, and was taken to full design stage. Nevertheless, the government of the day cancelled the project in 1966, causing significant discontent in Admiralty circles. Griffin helped deal with the aftermath, where he recognised the usefulness of tact and persuasion.

In 1971 Griffin was appointed Controller of the Navy and Third Sea Lord, a position, which he held for no less than five years. At a time when the shape of the Royal Navy was under intense scrutiny and its role uncertain, Griffin saw into being the style of fleet we still see today, which ranged from the smaller aircraft carriers through anti-submarine and anti-airwar frigates to nuclear submarines. He retired from the Navy in 1975.

In the early Seventies, there was intensive discussion in Parliament about the nationalising of the shipbuilding industry. On his retirement as controller of the Navy, Griffin had been selected as chairman designate of the new national corporation, subsequently known as British Ship Builders, but endured a long period of uncertainty while the political argument raged. When the corporation was eventually inaugurated Griffin was chairman for three years. Whether his gentlemanly approach was a match for the entrenched might of the shipbuilding industrialists was open to question, but the creation of a unified body from such a group of individualists again owed much to his powers of persuasion. Typical of his thorough interest was his requirement that he meet every entrant to the corporation's headquarters staff, however lowly.

Following his retirement from British Shipbuilders in 1981 Griffin conducted a powerful crusade on behalf of British Maritime interests. He saw the sea as an asset, a resource and a defence and was determined to reinstall a pride in all associated activities, whether on land or at sea. During his tenure as President of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA), he became convinced of the desirability of merging the two senior professional bodies, the RINA and the Institute of Marine Engineers, in order to give the maritime engineer a more powerful voice. It was through no fault of his own that the ensuing negotiations failed.

He became chairman of governors of Wellington College and in 1982 was largely instrumental in setting up the British Maritime League. This body, which included a wide selection of naval, political and professional figures, aimed to increase public awareness of the importance of the sea for Britain. It enjoyed strong supporte around the time of the Falklands War but ran up against increasing apathy thereafter.

Anthony Griffin's perseverance was legendary as was his interest in technological developments. From the early 1980s until his death he became convinced of the possibility of propelling ships with hydrogen as fuel. The hydrogen was to be obtained through the hydrolysis of sea water and would indeed have been a major breakthrough in propulsion. Rather more practical was another of his visions, a sea-going vessel constructed of concrete, which would have greatly reduced building costs.

As well as for his dedication to all things maritime, Anthony Griffin will be remembered for his graciousness. He was the essence of consideration for others. At the age of 70 he was awarded a Royal Humane Society Award for Bravery after diving into the Thames in a vain effort to save a young Jamaican.

He married Rosemary Hickling who had been a leading Wren Plotter in Devonport in 1943. One of his sons followed his father into the Royal Navy.

Marshall Meek

Anthony Templer Frederick Griffith Griffin, naval officer: born Peshawar 24 November 1920; CB 1967, KCB 1971, GCB 1975; married 1943 Rosemary Hickling (two sons, one daughter); died 16 October 1996.