Farewell to Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall


By LCDR Alistair Tomlinson

Australia’s most senior submariner and former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall AC AFSM RAN, has died at age 82 in Tasmania.

Vice Admiral MacDougall joined the Royal Australian Navy a month before his 16th birthday when he commenced Midshipman training at the Royal Australian Naval College in 1954.

Demonstrating a strong aptitude for leadership and seamanship, Midshipman MacDougall completed his Phase III training in the United Kingdom at the Royal Naval College in August 1957, before returning to Australia and joining the Battle Class Destroyer HMAS Anzac.

Ian’s natural abilities led to a series of rapid promotions over the next several years, as well as highly sought after postings to some of Navy’s most prestigious ships, including HMAS Vampire and aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.

Initially specialising in the Supply Branch, Vice Admiral MacDougall’s naval career took a dramatic turn in 1963 when he volunteered to be part of the first group of Australians to undertake submarine training to support the establishment of an RAN submarine service.

Writing the foreword to Michael White’s Australian Submarines: A History, Vice Admiral MacDougall said that when volunteers were called to join the new submarine arm, “I jumped at the chance. The opportunity to enter a new and challenging area of the Navy was very attractive.”

Following almost three years of arduous but successful training in the United Kingdom on several Oberon Class Submarines, Vice Admiral MacDougall was appointed in January 1966 as Executive Officer of the newly launched HMAS Oxley, the first OberonClass Submarine built for the RAN.

By now, Vice Admiral MacDougall’s exceptional submariner skills had been widely recognised and the newly promoted Lieutenant Commander was sent back to the United Kingdom in December 1968 to attend the Commanding Officers’ Qualification Course. His Teacher was Commander – later Admiral – Sir Sandy Woodward.

After graduating, the Royal Navy, recognising his unique skills, offered a two year exchange which included service in HMS Neptune, becoming a Submarine Attack Teacher at the Faslane submarine base, and assuming command of HMS Otter.

Having learnt a great deal from the Royal Navy, Ian returned to Australia to command the submarine HMAS Onslow. Under his command, Onslow predominantly remained in Australian waters, and also undertook a deployment to South East Asia attached to ANZUK Force in late 1972.

Two years later, it was time for Ian to pass on his skills a new generation of home grown submariners, leading to promotion as Commander and service at HMAS Platypus and HMAS Watson as the Officer-in-Charge of the Submarine Command Team Trainer.

Following attendance at the US Naval War College, he was promoted to Captain and in January 1982 commenced three years as Director of Submarine Policy, before being appointed as the Commander Australian Submarine Squadron, the first Australian born naval officer to do so.

Selected for promotion to flag rank, Rear Admiral MacDougall assumed command of the Fleet in 1989 when he was appointed as Maritime Commander Australia. Shortly after completing this role in October 1990, the Minister for Defence announced that Rear Admiral MacDougall would succeed the long serving Vice Admiral Michael Hudson as Chief of Naval Staff.

Rear Admiral MacDougall was made an Officer in the Military Division of the Order of Australia in the 1991 Australia Day Honours List in recognition of his service as Maritime Commander.

Promoted to Vice Admiral in 1991, Ian served as Chief of Naval Staff for the next three years thereby becoming the first Submariner and the first Supply Officer to command the RAN.

Among many reforms initiated during his leadership, Vice Admiral MacDougall was a strong proponent of women serving at sea, including in submarines and put in place many of the reforms needed to make this workforce change a success.

To Vice Admiral MacDougall, making Navy a diverse, equal and tolerant workplace wasn’t just the right thing to do. It would also make the RAN more innovative and resource efficient.

Vice Admiral MacDougall’s 40 years of service to the RAN was further honoured in 1993, when Ian was appointed as a Companion in the Military Division of the Order of Australia for distinguished service and exceptional performance of duty, particularly as Chief of Naval Staff.

Wanting to maintain his commitment to public service, Vice Admiral MacDougall accepted the role as the Commissioner New South Wales Fire Brigades in 1994, a post Ian retained until 2003, when he was decorated for his services with the Australian Fire Service Medal.

Vice Admiral MacDougall was also the Patron of the Australian Submarine Association and took a great interest in the welfare of former submariners.

Commander Submarine Force Captain Doug Theobald said that Vice Admiral MacDougall’s contribution to the development of Navy’s submarine capability could not be overstated.

“Vice Admiral MacDougall will be greatly missed by the Navy community, especially by submariners past and present.”

“We will never forget the essential role he played in the development of our submarine fleet and Australia’s reputation for having one of the world’s most formidable underwater naval capabilities,” said CAPT Theobald.

Chief of Navy Australia Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, AO, RAN also paid tribute to Vice Admiral MacDougall.

“He was a modern naval officer, with the imagination to see things afresh and the courage to make changes. Australia’s Navy and its people are better and stronger for his service,” said Vice Admiral Noonan.

Vice Admiral MacDougall is survived by sons Hamish and Fergus and step sons Gideon and Daniel.

The Chief of Navy’s message is below.



  1. It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of former Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ian Macdougall.
  2. He joined the Royal Australian Naval College as a 15-year old Cadet Midshipman in January 1954 and graduated the following year. During 1956-57 he trained at sea and at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth UK where he was awarded the Queen’s telescope for leadership.
  3. From 1958-1963 he served as a supply officer in several ships and establishments including HMA ships Anzac, Albatross, SwanVampire and Melbourne.
  4. In 1960 he was promoted to Lieutenant and obtained his bridge watch keeping certificate (in HMAS Vampire‘s first commission) and subsequently, in 1963, transferred to the new submarine arm of the RAN as a seaman officer.
  5. Lieutenant Ian Macdougall’s initial submarine experience was in the RN serving in HMS Alaric and HMS Otus. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1968 and appointed as Executive Officer of HMAS Oxley then under construction in Scotland.
  6. From 1969-71 he commanded HMS Otter before returning to Australia and commanding HMAS Onslow from 1971-73. The submarine conducted an Asian deployment during this time as part of the ANZUK force based in Singapore.
  7. He was promoted to Commander in 1973 and the following year was appointed officer in charge of the submarine command team trainer, based at HMAS Watson until 1976. During this period the trainer was accepted into service.
  8. From 1977-78 he served in Canberra as Deputy Director of Naval Officers’ Postings. During the period 1978-79 he was Executive Officer and briefly commanded the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart. The ship participated in Exercise RIMPAC and rescued an injured scientist from Macquarie Island. This entailed the construction, while on passage, of a temporary helicopter platform on the ship’s stern.
  9. He was promoted to Captain in 1979 and during 1980-82 commanded the fleet replenishment ship HMAS Supply. A major activity for the ship was an Indian Ocean deployment in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
  10. From 1982-84 he served in Canberra as Director of Submarine Policy, during which time he was involved with the initial policy development for the Collins class submarine project. During 1985 he commanded the Australian Submarine Squadron based in HMAS Platypus at Neutral Bay, Sydney.
  11. In 1986 Commodore Macdougall was appointed Director General Joint Operations and Plans for the ADF. In early 1988 he conducted a review of the roles and functions of the naval support command as part of the RAN’s devolution program.
  12. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in January 1989 and appointed as Maritime Commander Australia. One of the highlights of his time in command of the fleet was attendance at Gallipoli during the 75th anniversary of the Anzac landings in 1915. Another key event was Exercise Kangaroo 89, at that time Australia’s largest ever peace time operation exercise.
  13. In July 1990 he became Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. Vice Admiral Macdougall was appointed Chief of Naval Staff on 8 March 1991. \He was the first submariner to hold that office.
  14. During his three year tenure as CNS he consolidated and expanded the role and numbers of women at sea, introduced Navy Quality Management and fostered a diverse and equal navy based on clear values.
  15. He was appointed an officer in the military division of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Australia Day honours list in 1991. Vice Admiral Macdougall was made a companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the 1993 Queen’s Birthday honours list, before retiring from the Royal Australian Navy in March 1994.
  16. Vice Admiral Macdougall went on to become the Commissioner of the New South Wales fire brigade where he introduced wide ranging cultural change and in 2000 he was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal.
  17. On behalf of serving members I extend the condolences of the Royal Australian Navy to Vice Admiral Macdougall’s family and friends.
  18. A private funeral service will be held in Tasmania followed by a memorial service at a time and place to be decided when Covid 19 circumstances permit.
  19. Rest in peace sir, yours aye, Vice Admiral Mike Noonan, AO, RAN


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