The Daily Telegraph

Rear-admiral Tony Whetstone

Submariner who as a senior officer prepared ships and men to join the fleet for the Falklands War

- Tony Whetstone, born June 12 1927, died December 19 2022

REAR-ADMIRAL TONY “SCRAN” WHETSTONE, who has died aged 95, helped to prepare the fleet for war as Flag Officer Sea Training (1978-80), and in 1982 was Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Operations) in the Ministry of Defence.

As a newly promoted rearadmira­l at Portland he prepared ships and men to join the fleet. Concerned about the poor air defence in Navy ships, he shifted the emphasis in training away from anti-submarine warfare towards anti-air warfare, and arranged for ships to be “bounced” daily by low-flying aircraft. This was a both a test of alertness and a preparatio­n for the sort of tactics the Argentine air force would adopt during the 1982 Falklands War.

Whetstone also placed great emphasis on damage control in ships and disaster relief ashore.

Unusually for a submariner, he qualified for membership of the Goldfish Club, for those whose aircraft have ditched into the sea. On May 22 1980 he was in a Wessex helicopter when it suffered an engine failure off Portland Bill. The cabin crew and passengers abandoned the aircraft from a low hover before it hit the water and rolled over to port.

Seeking to reassure those around him in the water, Whetstone was heard to say: “Well, I don’t suppose it will be long before the emergency helicopter arrives to pick us up,” only to be told: “Sir, we are the emergency helicopter.” Leading aircrewman Andy Vanes noted: “The admiral took it all in his stride, did as he was told, and followed his drills without any short-cuts” as he was lifted from a life-raft by a relief helicopter.

In 1981 the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Henry Leach chose Whetstone to be Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Operations) in the Ministry of Defence at the time of the Nott Review. The Navy was heavily committed overseas, in the Gulf, the West Indies, and to exercises and training with the US Navy and in Nato, and the implicatio­ns of the proposed cutbacks in the review were serious.

However, in mid-march 1982 the Commander-in-chief, Fleet, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, rang Whetstone at home to inform him of reports from Captain Nick Barker, in the survey ship Endurance in the South Atlantic, of increased activity of Argentine forces and the potential for an invasion of the Falkland Islands. The British ambassador in Buenos Aires attempted to play down the threat, but Barker was vindicated when the Argentines landed illicitly on South Georgia and raised their national flag.

Fieldhouse and Whetstone instigated unilateral deterrent action by the Navy and sent British nuclear submarines southwards. Then in early April, after Argentina had invaded and occupied the Falklands, Whetstone was involved in the dispatch of the fleet and the Royal Marines, and later in the changes to the rules of engagement. At the end of the conflict, he was appointed CB.

Anthony John Whetstone was born on June 12 1927 in Coventry, where his father was a journalist, and educated at King Henry VIII Grammar School. He entered the Royal Naval College at its wartime home at Eaton Hall in Cheshire, and he was in the training cruiser Frobisher on VE-DAY.

Taking passage to the Far East to join the battleship Duke of York, flagship of the British Pacific Fleet, he visited Nagasaki; the horror of the destructio­n remained a vivid memory throughout his career. While still a midshipman, he spent a day at sea in a submarine and decided to join the service. After courses at Greenwich and schools in Portsmouth (his training officer at the gunnery school was the then Lieutenant Henry Leach, who became a lifelong friend), Whetstone volunteere­d for “the Trade” and began submarine training in the same class as the then Sub-lieutenant John Fieldhouse: they cemented their friendship as junior officers in the submarine Thule.

After further service in the submarines Ambush, Turpin and Thermopyla­e, he passed the “Perisher” course in 1955 and his first command was Sea Scout.

He commanded Artful (1959-61), before becoming a staff officer at the attack-teacher (a training school equipped with simulators) at its then home on the Isle of Bute. This gave him the opportunit­y to meet most submariner­s as they passed through, and he helped to develop tactics and doctrine and paid a familiaris­ation visit to a US nuclear submarine.

In 1966-67 Whetstone reverted to general service as second-incommand of the guided missile destroyer Kent as it visited South Africa and South America.

From 1968 to 1970 he commanded the starboard crew of the nuclear-powered ballisticm­issile-firing submarine Repulse,

alongside the port crew commanded by Commander JR “Phil” Wadman, building at Barrow-in-furness. The friendship between the two men helped to meld the crews, making Repulse

one of the most efficient of submarines. On the boat’s first missile-firing trials, off Cape Canaveral, Whetstone relieved the tense atmosphere during the final stages of the countdown in the control room – “overloaded with serious-minded USN and RN admirals” – by fumbling with his hire-car keys when he was supposed to insert the firing key. The “permission to fire key” was hung on a lanyard round his neck, and Whetstone quickly grabbed the right key.

In 1970 he took his experience to the Directorat­e of Naval Warfare in London, where he found the staff working on the highly secret and costly Chevaline programme, intended to use decoy warheads to defeat Soviet developmen­ts in anti-ballistic missile defences.

In 1972-73 he commanded the 4th Frigate Squadron from the frigate Juno during the Second Cod War, before becoming chief of staff to the Flag Officer Submarines, based at Fort Blockhouse, Gosport. There, he advocated the retention of smaller, convention­ally dieseldriv­en boats for minor operations and training. Later on he was disappoint­ed when the Upholder class (as they were known) were cancelled in the 1990s.

After a year as a student at the Royal College of Defence Studies, in 1978 he briefly commanded the guided-missile destroyer Norfolk, when he was promoted to rearadmira­l. As a leader he was much-loved for his sense of humour and for his willingnes­s to give everyone some of his time no matter how casual the encounter.

In retirement he worked for the Cable TV Associatio­n (1983–86) and the National Television Rental Associatio­n (1983–87), before becoming deputy secretary of the D-notice Committee (1987–92).

He married, in 1951, Betty Georgeson. She died in 2016 and he is survived by a son and two daughters.

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 ?? ?? ‘Scran’ Whetstone in the conning tower of one of his submarines and, below, lifting a hatch
‘Scran’ Whetstone in the conning tower of one of his submarines and, below, lifting a hatch

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