Vice Admiral Robert ‘Tubby’ Squires – obituary

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tubbyVice Admiral Robert “Tubby” Squires, who has died aged 89, helped to commission Britain’s first nuclear-powered submarine.

In 1960, when he was appointed first lieutenant of Dreadnought, there were no nuclear-qualified submariners, and Squires, two doctors, a constructor officer and Dreadnought’s future captain, Peter Samborne, began their training in the newly created nuclear physics department of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

There, “Jason”, a small nuclear reactor, was installed in the cellars of the 17th-century former royal palace in south London.

Next, Squires attended the US Navy submarine school. Admiral Hyman G Rickover, the autocrat in charge of the USN’s nuclear programme, had ruled that no British officer was to set foot in one of “his” submarines, but Squires and two chief petty officers briefly joined USS Skate in 1962, shortly after she returned from having surfaced at the North Pole.

Squires moved on to USS Swordfish for a happy and instructive nine months while the submarine deployed from her base in New London, Connecticut, through the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbour. Squires made many friends for life among his American contemporaries.

Returning to Britain, he stood by Dreadnought while she was building at Barrow-on-Furness. She was the seventh ship of her name and was powered by an American S5W reactor, a design made available as a result of a US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement. Her launch by the Queen, symbolically on Trafalgar Day, October 21 1960, owed much to the drive of the First Sea Lord, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and his relationship with the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, who had overruled Rickover.

He was a modest man who eschewed honours, even the knighthood offered him at the end of his career
The successful sea trials of Britain’s first nuclear-powered warship, and its commissioning on April 17 1963, owed much to loyalty, efficiency and reliability of Squires, and to his leadership, tact and cheerfulness.

A soldier’s son, Robert Risley Squires was born at Farnham Royal on February 11 1927, and educated at Summer Fields, Geelong Grammar School and Eton College. He entered the Britannia Royal Naval College, then still at its wartime home of Eaton Hall in Cheshire, in 1944, and was awarded the King’s telescope on passing out.

He underwent training in the destroyers Wizard and St James and battleships Anson and King George V, joining the last of those in Tokyo Bay on the evening of the signing of the Japanese surrender. He saw the Far East, Australia and South Africa, and, while a midshipman, was recognised as an outstanding young officer.

In 1948, attracted by the prospect of early command in a small unit, he volunteered for submarines and was fortunate to be taught his trade over the next two-and-a-half years in the submarine Tabard by several war-experienced and much-decorated submariners. They, in turn, recognised him for his brains, initiative and energy.

He was not so lucky in his next boat, spending what he called “a formative year” with a captain “with whom I could agree almost nothing”.

Squires passed the Submarine Command Course (the “perisher”) in 1955, and his first command was the submarine Aurochs, the mantle of command falling easily on his shoulders. Aurochs was long overdue for refit and dogged with engineering problems, and Squires’s task was to steam his boat to Singapore, where, he recalled, she “sank thankfully on to the blocks of the floating dock”.

From 1965-68 he commanded Warspite, the Navy’s third nuclear submarine, which he steamed to the Far East and back. In 1969 Squires attended the Joint Services Staff College, then spent two years in his only desk job, as Assistant Director of Naval Warfare in Whitehall. But his strong preference was for the sea, and in 1973 he took command of the frigate Hermione, in which, briefly, one of his officers under training was the Prince of Wales.

In one unlucky posting he spent what he called ‘a formative year’ with a captain ‘with whom I could agree almost nothing’
Two years as captain of the Third Submarine Squadron at Faslane was followed by commands of the destroyer Bristol (1975-76), the frigate Ajax (1976-77) and the 8th Frigate Squadron (1976-77). In August 1976, Ajax sailed for Canada, taking part in Nato exercises. The ship visited St John’s, Halifax, Ottawa, and Oshawa on Lake Ontario, some 350 ft above sea level and more than 500 miles from the sea.

Oshawa was the port for the town of Ajax, which had been named after the cruiser of Battle of the River Plate fame. The frigate received the freedom of the city – and two of the ship’s company wooed and won Canadian wives.

Squires was promoted to Rear-Admiral and appointed Flag Officer, First Flotilla, in 1977; from 1978 to 1981 he served as head of his profession as Flag Officer, Submarines.

Promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1982, he became Flag Officer, Scotland and Northern Ireland, before retiring in 1983. He loved Scotland and the Scots and returned to Edinburgh to enjoy the debenture seats at Murrayfield bought by his wife. He was delighted when she was invited to launch Tireless, the third Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine for the Royal Navy.

Squires was not inclined to waste words and at first meeting could seem a little forbidding, but he had a well-tuned sense of humour, was innately kind and interested in others. He was a modest man who eschewed honours, even the knighthood offered him at the end of his career. He retired to the Isle of Wight, where he was a Deputy Lieutenant.

Squires married Sue Hill in 1955. She died in 2008. He is survived by their two daughters.

Vice Admiral Robert “Tubby” Squires, born February 11 1927, died June 30 2016

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