Captain Robert ‘Bob’ McQueen, CBE, RN, died on June 27. He was 78. He had met his future wife, Nadya Kissaun, a concert pianist, in Malta, and they married in August 1962; they had a daughter and a son. Nadya Kissaun is the daughter of one-time Manoel Theatre manager and retired police superintendent Michael Kissaun (1898-1972) and his wife Syra.
Captain McQueen had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, seeing service in two particularly demanding operations. He was captain of HMS Diomede in the 1976 Cod War, during which he displayed a cool head under pressure and remarkable seamanship.
In 1982, he was appointed officer in charge of Ascension Island, which was the vital staging post for troops and supplies during the Falklands conflict.
Captain McQueen ensured the island was a fully working strategic base and his outstanding direction of the island undoubtedly contributed to the success of the campaign. For his services during the Falklands War, he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Born in 1934 and educated at Crawfordton House and Trinity College at Glenalmond in Scotland, McQueen intended to read History at St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, at the end of his National Service.
However, he joined the Royal Navy as a National Service ordinary seaman in August 1952, was selected for officer training in HMS Implacable and promoted to midshipman. Service in motor torpedo boats followed, with time on HMS Defiance and six months in the Mediterranean in HMS Whirlwind. He was then selected for training as an aircraft direction officer and appointed to HMS Illustrious.
After sub-lieutenant’s courses he was appointed First Lieutenant of HMS Inglesham. Six months later he was appointed to the Royal Yacht, Britannia.
He was selected for flying training at RNAS Lossiemouth that preceded all-weather fighter training at RNAS Yeovilton.
Captain McQueen flew a great number of aircraft during his naval career. Promotion to commander led to an appointment in charge of pilot training on the staff of Flag Officer Naval Flying Training.
From 1972 to 1974 he was in charge of aircrew officers’ appointments at the Ministry of Defence after which, at the age of 39, he was promoted to captain and appointed naval assistant to the Second Sea Lord.
From 1979 to 1982 he was Flag Captain to the Flag Officer Sea Training, HMS Osprey.
On his return from Commander British Forces Ascension Island, he was appointed ADC to the Queen. His final appointment on the active list was as commanding officer of the Type 22 Frigate HMS Broadsword and of the 2nd Frigate Squadron.
After retiring from the Royal Navy, Captain McQueen held various executive directorships and for eight years from 1995, he was general secretary of the Royal Naval Association. He retired in 2003.
Captain Robert McQueen
Naval officer who displayed calm authority in command of Ascension Island during the Falklands conflict
Bob McQueen was Commander British Forces Ascension Island during the Falkiands conflict in 1982, a task that demanded enormous military, organisational and diplomatic skills.
At a Ministry of Defence meeting McQueen was assured that tn-service numbers on the island would not be more than 200 and that he would have the power of veto on anyone sent there. "Both these resolutions were broken within a fortnight," he wrote later. Personnel reached a peak of 1,400; £16 million of freight and 6,000 passengers arrived by air to the Wideawake airfield which on one day became the busiest airport in the world. Including huge numbers of helicopter lifts, it logged more movements than Chicago O’Hare. As professional aviators, McQueen, with Lieutenant- Colonel William Bryden USAF, would not compromise flight safety and, remarkably, only one "reportable incident" of a minor nature occurred.
The Task Force had sailed in a hurry and it soon became apparent that a forward logistics base, halfway but still 3,300 miles from the Falklands, would be vital to success. Huge quantities of stores, extra ammunition, more helicopters, spares and last-minute operational modifications to equipment all had to be catered for. Assault ships had to be re-stowed and "combat loaded". Some ships had arrived overloaded, some empty. Many merchant ships taken up from trade required modifications and logistic support.
The Task Force’s strategy was to recapture South Georgia, to defeat or neutralise the Argentine Navy and to reduce the threat from the Argentine Air Force before a landing could take place. This meant that Ascension was also host to large numbers of soldiers who needed practice in disembarking in the dark, fully loaded, from unfamiliar ships as well as fitness exercise and weapon practice ashore.
The legal situation was often misunderstood. The United States had acquired the use of Ascension and other islands — under Second World War lease-lend arrangements. A series of agreements from 1956 were governed by a "note" of 1962 which obliged the Americans to grant "such logistic, administrative or operating facilities at the Airfield . . . as necessary for use by UK military aircraft", which in the light of what happened was a prudent piece of drafting.
Normal traffic at Wideawake was two or three aircraft a fortnight, servicing the Nasa and Cable and Wireless staff and the local population. Thus the stress on local facilities was enormous and McQueen was warm in his praise for the support of the Resident Administrator, the people of the island and the communications agencies.
With a mixture of charm and fierceness, he managed many competing interests: "There was only one war but a lot of organisations wanting to get their oar in," he said. One RAF chaplain arrived, assured that a chaplain was needed. "Far from the case," McQueen said, "we already have six and the Bishop of St Helena. But you can hump stores if you like." He became known as Captain One In-One Out in his control of numbers.
Besides submarine satellite communications and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, American support included an aviation fuel ship permanently attached to the offshore buoy and pipeline — British engineers laid more than three miles of pipe from the "tank farm" to the airfield — and a vital reverse-osmosis fresh-water generator as well as many folding huts, known as "Cardboard City".
Other issues that McQueen had to deal with were the threat of an Argentine special forces or submarine attack and, as the campaign progressed, the support and repatriation of wounded survivors and the correct treatment of prisoners of war, including Lieutenant-Commander Alfredo Astiz, wanted by a French court for the murder of two nuns.
A considerable challenge was the RAF’s attack by Vulcan bomber on Port Stanley airfield, an astounding feat of airmanship requiring 11 Victor tanker aircraft and two Vulcans, integrated into a complex refuelling plan. Parking space at Wideawake was just adequate, as was the fuel supply. The bombs dropped on this operation had a deterrent, psychological effect rather than any denial of the airfield’s use.
McQueen made sure that withdrawal from Ascension was made with proper ceremony and gratitude. He was appointed CBE for his service during the conflict.
Robert McQueen was born in 1934 and joined the Navy as a National Service Ordinary Seaman in 1952 with a place to read history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford which he gave up when he was selected for officer training. He initially served in motor torpedo boats and the frigate Whirlwind.
When second in command of the inshore minesweeper Inglesham, he received a phone call telling him that he had been selected for the Royal Yacht Britannia. Suspecting a spoof, he was sharply told that this was his Admiralty appointer speaking and he was needed now. He looked at his uniforms, sullied by minesweeping, and threw them away, visiting Gieves for new ones. Then followed the 1956-57 world cruise and the Melbourne Olympics.
After flying training, he became an all-weather night-fighter pilot, flying Sea Venoms in the carrier Centaur in the Far East and Sea Vixens in Hermes. His qualities were recognised by an appointment on the staff of the nava’ college at Dartmouth in 1962, after which he was senior pilot of 899 S quad- ron in the Eagle before commanding his own squadron, 893, in the Hermes. He was described as the "complete squadron commander in all respects whose skill in flying is matched by his leadership". McQueen flew 24 types of aircraft, making 664 day and 129 night deck landings.
Promoted to commander, he was in charge of Fleet Air Arm pilot training before captaining the frigate Salisbury. Promoted to captain at the early age of 39, he was naval assistant to the Navy’s chief of personnel, commanded the frigate Diomede and served as deputy director of naval administrative planning. In 1979 he commanded the air station at Portland which won the annual Wilkinson Sword of Peace competition.
After Ascension, he commanded the Broadsword and the 2nd Frigate Squadron and was noted for his outstanding ability to get the best out of his captains and their people, having an excellent sense of humour, total honesty and high moral standards — "a gentle mentor and a safe harbour for junior officers".
After the Navy, McQueen held directorships in Flight Refuelling, Alan Cobham (Engineering), British International Helicopters and Serco. For eight years from N95 he was general secretary of the charitable Royal Naval Association and was on the council of King George’s Fund for Sailors. He was a Nautical Assessor to the House of Lords and vice-chairman of the British limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association. When he began to suffer from Parkinson’s, he greatly enjoyed classes for sufferers run by the English National Ballet and joined the Westminster Community Choir.
He is survived by his wife, Nadya Kissaun, and their son and daughter.
Captain Robert McQueen, CBE, Commander British Forces, Ascension Island, 1982, was born on February 8, 1934. He died on June 27, 2012, aged 78.