Caspar John (1903 - 1984)

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Birthplace: London, U.K.
Death: Died in Hayle, Cornwall, U.K.
Managed by: Tina
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Caspar John

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John GCB was the British First Sea Lord from 1960 to 1963. He was pioneer in the Fleet Air Arm, and rose to become Vice-Chief of Naval Staff to Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma in 1957 and subsequently First Sea Lord from 1960 to 1963.

He was born on March 22, 1903 at his parents' home, 18 Fitzroy Street, London, on 22 March 1903. He was the second of the five sons of the artist Augustus John (1878–1961) and his first wife, Ida. Caspar John's mother died when he was three. At the age of nine, he went with his brothers to Dane Court preparatory school in Parkstone, Dorset. There he won the prize for the best gentleman in the school and a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships, and it was this, together with a wish to seek a more orderly existence, that inspired him to join the Royal Navy. In 1916 he entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, at the age of thirteen. He transferred to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1917 and passed out eighty-third of a hundred in 1920. John is remembered at BRNC Dartmouth by the naming of the college's theatre and lecture hall, the Caspar John Hall, affectionately known as 'CJH'.

His Midshipman years were spent aboard the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, HMS Iron Duke, against a background of Graeco-Turkish disturbances and the problem of Russian refugees caused by the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was at this time (1922–3) that the future of naval aviation was being debated. The issue caught his imagination and he decided to become involved. He envisaged the role of the aeroplane as broadening the naval horizon, and during his qualifying exams for Lieutenant in 1925 (he gained first class certificates in gunnery and torpedo), he applied to train as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, then under the dual administration of the navy and Royal Air Force. He gained 'his wings' in 1926 and thenceforth devoted his naval career to building up the strength of the Fleet Air Arm, of which he was one of the early members.

In the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, John spent the years 1927 to 1929 in the China station during the conflict between the communists and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist armies. On returning from China he bought his own aeroplane, an open cockpit Avro Avian. He eventually became involved with the design of naval aircraft and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1933, becoming Commander in 1936. During Italy's war with Abyssinia, he spent 1936 based in the western desert outside Alexandria, attached to the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous. In 1937 he was appointed to the Admiralty's naval air division, where he worked ceaselessly to free the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) from what he described as ‘the folly’ of dual control between the navy and Royal Air Force. The air force's hold on the FAA was ended with the Inskip decision in July 1937.

During the Second World War, John spent eighteen months as second in command of the cruiser York, patrolling the North Sea, participating in the Norwegian campaign, and transporting arms around the coast of Africa to Egypt for the campaign in the western desert. Subsequently he had eighteen months at the Ministry of Aircraft Production (he was promoted to captain in 1941), and in 1943–4 he was in the USA as naval air representative in the British Admiralty delegation in Washington D.C., and naval air attaché at the British embassy. He helped procure American naval aircraft for the under-equipped FAA and to set up the organization and training of British pilots in Canada and the USA. His meeting with the Russian aircraft designer Igor Sikorsky was in large part responsible for the introduction of the helicopter into its first practical military use by the Royal Navy after the war.

He spent the last year of the war in home waters in command of two aircraft-carriers, Pretoria Castle, and, until 1946, HMS Ocean, a brand-new light carrier. As captain of HMS Ocean, his main concerns were to boost the morale of his men (with the war ended, many longed to return home), and to maintain strict discipline in all flying activities. In 1944 he married Mary, daughter of Stuart Vanderpump, of New Zealand. They had two daughters and one son.

In 1947 John attended the Imperial Defence College, London, for a course in world affairs and in 1948 he was given the command of the large and complex naval air station, Lossiemouth. He then returned to the Admiralty, first as deputy chief of naval air equipment and then as director of air organization and training. He was promoted to rear-admiral in 1951 and took command of the Heavy Squadron, Home Fleet. He spent two years (1952–4) at the Ministry of Supply as Deputy Controller of Aircraft, updating naval aircraft preceded the important administrative post of flag officer (air) home at Lee-on-Solent. He was promoted Vice Admiral in 1954 and was made Flag Officer, (Air) Home 1955. He was further promoted to full Admiral in 1957, the year he became Vice Chief of the Naval Staff to Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

He became First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Royal Navy in 1960, a position he held until 1963. He was primarily concerned with the cold war and with plans for the building of a new generation of large aircraft-carriers. In 1962 he was promoted Admiral of the Fleet but later declined a peerage offered to him by Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

After 1963 he retired from the Royal Navy and took several civilian positions including member of the Security Commission (1964–73), chairman of the Housing Corporation (1964–6), member of the Plowden committee and of the Templer committee (1965), chairman of the Star and Garter Home for disabled servicemen, chairman of the Back Pain Association, and chairman of the tri-service Milocarian Club (athletics). He was briefly picked by the Industrial Society to be the public figurehead for the "I'm Backing Britain" campaign in 1968.

In 1978 John had both his legs amputated because of vascular trouble. His wife was a great support during this difficult time, and together they made their home in the Cornish village of Mousehole, where John became a much loved and familiar figure on the quayside and in The Ship inn. He died on 11 July 1984 at Hayle, Cornwall.

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Sir Caspar John's Timeline

1903
March 22, 1903
London, U.K.
1984
July 11, 1984
Age 81
Hayle, Cornwall, U.K.
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