“Marshal of the RAF Sir John Grandy, who died on Friday aged 90, was the only Chief of the Air Staff to have commanded a fighter squadron throughout the Battle of Britain.
But as Chief, he was fated to preside over some of the most difficult transitions of the post-war period for the RAF. These included withdrawal from bases east of Suez; the cancellation of major aircraft projects; and the dismantling of the strategic nuclear bomber force which he had done so much to nurture. (The cut had been made so that the Navy’s Polaris submarines could take over Britain’s nuclear responsibility.)
In May 1940 Grandy formed No 249 Hurricane squadron, which he trained and then led in action from Boscombe Down. One of his pilots, Flying Officer James Nicolson, was awarded Fighter Command’s only Victoria Cross.
In early September 1940 Grandy was wounded in an attack by an Me 109, but managed to bale out, landing in a field near Maidstone. His leg wounds prevented him flying on operations for two months, but he continued to command the squadron, which ended the battle as one of Fighter Command’s most successful units.
After a spell as a staff officer he was appointed to RAF Coltishall, from where he led his Spitfires at low level to challenge German fighters defending the battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which were making their successful Channel Dash; poor visibility, low cloud and rain thwarted his attempts to engage the enemy and made it one of his most dispiriting sorties.
When Grandy received a call that evening telling him to leave for Duxford, he wondered if he was being relieved of his command, and he asked “What to do?” “You are going to command it, you BF, as from tomorrow,” barked Air Vice-Marshal R E Saul.
RAF Duxford had certainly changed since Grandy had piloted a British Movietone News cameraman in a Hart biplane during the 1935 review of the RAF by King George V. Grandy found himself responsible for the introduction of the Typhoon, which had already resulted in the loss of several pilots; but he set about improving morale, not least by inviting the catering officer to provide fare superior to the normal rations. He participated in the test flying himself, and later flew a Typhoon on the Dieppe Raid, an operation which gave him considerable insight into the limitations of the aircraft, which afterwards became a useful fighter bomber.
Grandy was next sent to command No 210 Air Defence Group, charged with the defence of Tripoli, then moved to the Suez Canal Zone to command 73 Fighter Operational Training Unit. He tried to return to fighter operations, but instead was given command of 341 Wing in Burma. This comprised four Dakota transport squadrons which penetrated mountainous areas in monsoon storms to drop supplies to the 14th Army.
On May 4 1945, he flew over Rangoon, where PoWs had painted on the roof of their prison “JAP GONE, RAF HERE, EXTRACT DIGIT”. Grandy dropped some Allied flags before landing at Mingaladon, and evacuating the weakest prisoners.
John Grandy was born on February 8 1913 and educated at University College School, London. He joined the RAF on a short service commission and flew Bulldogs, Harts and Demons with fighter squadrons. In 1936 he completed a flying instructor’s course at the Central Flying School, the prelude to four years of instructor duties. After being awarded a permanent commission, Grandy served as adjutant of the London University Air Squadron, gaining the rarely awarded A1 instructor category.
Shortly after the outbreak of war, he commanded No 219 Squadron, operating the outclassed Blenheim, and was not slow in alerting his AOC to the aircraft’s unsuitability as a fighter. Soon afterwards he was given command of No 249 Squadron.
After the war he was heavily involved in the evacuation of civilians during the bloody fighting in the Dutch East Indies, then attended the Army staff college course. He had a two-year spell as Air Attaché in Brussels before returning to Fighter Command, where he rose to become Commandant of the Central Fighter Establishment. Here he was much concerned with developing the tactics of the new Hunter and Javelin fighters.
Thoughtful, reflective and blessed with an original mind, Grandy was clearly destined for higher rank. He started to attend the Imperial Defence College course in 1957, but was plucked out to take over command of the second phase of Operation Grapple, the hydrogen bomb tests on Christmas Island.
By the end of 1958 he was Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) in the Air Ministry, where he was required to oversee the draconian cuts ordered by the 1957 Sandys Defence Review. As Commander-in-Chief of RAF Germany and Commander of Nato’s 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force, Grandy had to deal with the tensions caused by the building of the Berlin Wall while at the same time reluctantly implementing a contraction of the RAF’s strength in Germany.
When he took charge of Bomber Command in 1963, Grandy found himself involved in the cancellation of the air-launched Skybolt missile, and in changing tactics to low level flying in order to counter his V-Force’s growing vulnerability to the increasingly effective air defence radar system of the Warsaw Pact.
Grandy’s appointment in 1965 as the Commander-in-Chief of Far East Command during the period of confrontation with Indonesia gave him responsibility for the three British services amd several Commonwealth countries. As British military adviser to the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, he enjoyed exposure to joint military operations and high-level politics, which made him an ideal candidate for the post of Chief of the Air Staff.
Grandy took office on April 1 1967, the 49th anniversary of the formation of the RAF. When he had to oversee the transfer of the strategic nuclear role to the Navy, he characteristically paid tribute to the RAF’s long hours of “arduous duty in cockpits, crew rooms, dispersals, hangars and operations rooms”. He was confronted with the Labour government’s cancellation of both the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and the order for the American F-111, the replacement for the already cancelled TSR 2.
But he also had charge of the introduction of the vertical take-off and landing Harrier, together with the decision to collaborate with the Germans and Italians in the development of the multi-role combat aircraft which later became known as the Tornado.
After retiring in 1971 Grandy served, from 1973 to 1978, as the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, the first RAF officer to fill the post; he was then Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle for 10 years. He served as chairman of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum from 1978 to 1989. He was a trustee of St Clement Danes, the RAF church; the Prince Philip Trust Fund; the Burma Star Association; and the Shuttleworth Remembrance Trust. From 1984 to 1987 he was President of the Air League, of which he was made a Companion in 2001. He was also a vice-president of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs, a life vice-president of the RNLI and a patron of the Polish Air Force Association. He was a Freeman of the City of London and an Honorary Liveryman of the Haberdashers’ Company.
John Grandy was a keen golfer, and enjoyed sailing his ketch Astra Volante at Cowes, where he was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.
He was awarded the DSO in 1945 and twice mentioned in dispatches. He was appointed CB in 1956; KBE in 1961; KCB in 1964; GCB in 1967; and GCVO in 1988.
In 1937 John Grandy married Cecile Elisabeth Florence Rankin, younger daughter of Sir Robert Rankin, Bt, with whom he had two sons. She died in 1993.” (Obituary courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)
REEL 1 Aspects of enlistment and training with RAF in GB, 1931-1934: background to enlistment as direct entrant in RAF; pattern of flying training. Aspects of period as station commander at RAF Duxford, 1942-1943: story of first visit to RAF Duxford, 1934; background to posting as station commander; effects of arrival of Women’s Royal Auxiliary Air Force on station; role of station commander; composition of wings on station; problems with Napier engined Hawker Typhoon; proposed role of Hawker Typhoon during Dieppe Raid; background to leading 609 Sqdn, RAF during Dieppe Raid, 8/1942; officers at RAF Duxford; presence of wife on station and mess life.
REEL 2 Continues: question of rising to high rank in RAF. Aspects of period as officer with RAF, 1931-1971: introduction of Avro Vulcan into service; background to posting to command 249 Sqdn at RAF Church Fenton; his wounding and bailing out of aircraft over Maidstone, 6/9/1940; method of obtaining aid from farm worker on parachute landing, 6/9/1940; aftermath of his shooting down; later success of squadron; commanding Task Force Grapple on Christmas Island, 1957-1958; reaction to witnessing nuclear tests.