Obituary: Air Chief Marshal Sir Neville Stack
NEVILLE STACK was one of that select band of pre-war Cranwell- trained officers who survived the Second World War and later rose to the highest ranks of the Royal Air Force. Essentially a maritime aviator, he was rarely involved in
policy-making but made his mark in several important operational appointments and subsequently as a key figure in RAF training.
Born at Sidcup, in 1919, 'Jimmy' Stack was the son of an air pioneer who set up several long-distance records. He entered the RAF College Cranwell as a flight cadet in 1937, and on graduating in 1939 was awarded the Sword of Honour. He was immediately selected for Coastal Command where he spent most of the war piloting one of the great instruments of victory in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Sunderland flying boat. Serving with 201 and 204 Squadrons and with 2 School of General Reconnaissance he flew from bases as far apart as the Shetlands and West Africa, yet on his own admission never saw a U- boat. Such unspectacular, tedious but always demanding patrolling was the lot of most Coastal Command crews, and it was essential in combating the U-boat peril, described by Churchill as the only thing that really frightened him during the war.
For several years afterwards, Stack remained in the maritime role, serving on the staff at Headquarters Coastal Command and also as Chief RAF Instructor at the Joint Anti-submarine School, Londonderry. Here, working alongside the Royal Navy and often flying the Lancaster, he helped develop the techniques and tactics so necessary to counter the rapidly developing Soviet submarine threat.
In 1954 came a change of scene when he was appointed to command the Far East Transport Wing, based in Singapore at Changi. Here the main task of his Dakota and Valetta squadrons was to support the army's counter-insurgency operations in Malaya by providing communications, dropping and landing supplies, delivering leaflets and evacuating casualties. The eventual success of the long Malayan campaign owed much to air transport, and for Stack's own part during his two-year stint he was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1957.
This experience was now put to use at Headquarters Transport Command, where he worked with the Parachute Brigade and the Air Transported Brigade on mobile operations. In 1958, following the assassination in Iraq of King Faisal, he commanded the transport forces in Cyprus which delivered the Parachute Brigade to Jordan in order to protect King Hussein.
Three years later, after a spell as Deputy Captain of the Queen's Flight serving under Sir Edward Fielden, he returned to the Far East for his last operational appointment. He served as senior Air Staff Officer at headquarters 224 Group, based at Seletar, for the first two years of the Confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia. His group was responsible for the air support of the British troops seeking to protect the Borneo territories against Indonesian incursions, and air supply - with helicopters of particular importance - was central to their operations. Indonesian Confrontation was a classic example of the careful application of limited force and the subsequent pattern of events in South-East Asia owes much to its success.
Stack was back home by 1965, served a period at Flying Training Command, and in 1967 - to his delight - returned to Cranwell as Commandant, a post for which his relaxed, extrovert personality was especially suited. It was his diplomatic skills that were used next, when he went to Ankara in 1970 as United Kingdom Permanent Military Deputy to the Central Treaty Organisation and had to cope with the politico-military problems of a major international alliance.
There followed three years as Commander-in-Chief of Training Command, where he was responsible for all aspects of RAF training, and from 1976 until his retirement in 1978 he was the last four-star incumbent of the post of Air Secretary, in which he oversaw the careers of all RAF officers. This was a post for which his long and varied RAF experience and his ability to get on with people were eminently suitable.
On retirement he became Director General of the Asbestos International Association but always found time to retain his links with the Service, particularly as an enthusiastic and influential President of the Old Cranwellians' Association.
The RAF will remember him for his dignified bearing; his gentle yet effective style of leadership; his great personal charm; his approachability; his kindness. It was always a pleasure to be in his company.
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