Vice Admiral Sir Neil Anderson KBE, CB. 1927– 2010
Vice Admiral Sir Neil Anderson died on 5 June, aged 83. His funeral took place on 10 June at St Michaels and All Angels Anglican Church, Waikanae Beach.
Sir Neil was one of the youngest-ever officers to command at frigate ( taking command of HMNZS TARANAKI at age 33 in 1961) and he rose to be Chief of Naval Staff (1977-1980) and then Chief of Defence Force (1980-83).
“A habit of success” – the naval career of Vice Admiral Sir Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson was born in Hastings and educated at Hastings High School. He was Captain of the First XV rugby team and the First XI cricket team. He joined the RNZN in November 1944 as a Special Entry Cadet and was sent to the UK for training. He trained at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and in HMS FROBISHER (an older cruiser used as a cadet training ship). During 1945 He won the King’s Telescope as best all round cadet.
As a Midshipman and then Sub Lieutenant he served in various Royal Navy ships from 1945-49, including time in Asia when serving in HMS DUKE OF YORK (a battleship) during the Occupation of Japan. In other ships, from an aircraft carrier to destroyers and frigates, he served in European waters and the Mediterranean. In 1948 he joined the battleship HMS VANGUARD and on promotion to Sub Lieutenant, became “Sub of the Gun Room” a long-established role for a junior officer, in charge of the Midshipmen he lived with. [The role of Sub of the Gun Room has disappeared after big ships like battleships and cruisers were phased out of naval service.]
He returned to NZ as a Lieutenant and was appointed as Navigator of HMNZS ROTOITI (a Loch-class frigate) from 1949-51, including a Korean War deployment (Oct 1950 – April 51). He was a keen rugby player and was selected for the RNZN First XV in 1950. He returned early from ROTOITI’s Korean deployment, flying home to get married, then he and Barbara went by sea to the UK to attend the ‘Long N’ specialist navigation course.
Neil stayed on exchange with the RN, being appointed Navigator of HMS VANGUARD (the UK’s last battleship) and he was navigator of that ship for the 1953 Coronation Fleet Review. After returning to New Zealand he was navigator of the survey ship HMNZS LACHLAN 1952-54.
In 1956 he was appointed Executive Officer of HMNZS PUKAKI (Loch-class frigate) which then took part in the 1957 Operation GRAPPLE, the first UK H-bomb tests at Christmas Island.
He returned to the UK for an Advanced Navigation course followed by exchange service as Squadron Navigator for the 3rd Destroyer Squadron, serving in HMS SAINTES (a Battle-class destroyer) 1957-59. He was a navigator of wide professional renown and he was widely known as an excellent ship handler.
Commanding HMNZS TARANAKI
In 1960 he was promoted Commander, and attended the Joint Services Staff College at Latimer in England. Commander Anderson was then appointed as the commissioning Commanding Officer of HMNZS TARANAKI (F148), the second of New Zealand’s two newly-built Type 12 frigates. He worked up the frigate in the UK and brought it home to New Plymouth. Aged 33, he was the youngest NZ-born and trained officer to command a frigate since the RNZN was established.
He returned to the UK to the British Ministry of Defence to work in the Chiefs of Staff Secretariat, clearly a post designed to prepare him for higher appointments. On returning to Wellington, NZ, he was appointed as the Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the NZ Defence Council.
His extensive RN experience meant he retained the manners of an English gentleman throughout his life, but there was no doubt that he was always a loyal New Zealander with the RNZN’s and New Zealand’s interests at heart.
In 1966 he was appointed as Director of Plans in Naval HQ, Wellington and in 1967 he was awarded the OBE. In 1968 he took command of the frigate WAIKATO and was promoted Captain that same year.
In 1969 he was appointed as Commanding Officer of HMNZS PHILOMEL [the naval shore base in Auckland] and organised the multi-national naval participation in the Cook Bicentenary Celebrations at Gisborne. HMNZS BLACKPOOL was the RNZN representative, but ships from four other navies took part; it proved to be a great event for the city and for all the visiting sailors.
In 1970-71 he was Chief of Staff to the Commodore Auckland before spending a year, 1972, in London at the Royal College of Defence Studies. On return to NZ he was promoted Commodore and appointed as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff in January 1973.
As DCNS he was involved in overseeing the protest operation against French atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. A frigate was sent to Mururoa and so Commodore Anderson and Rear Admiral Ted Thorne (then Chief of Naval Staff) worked watch-and-watch, sleeping in the office ready to respond to any query from HMNZS OTAGO or, later, HMNZS CANTERBURY, and be a link to the government. The ships maintained a teleprinter radio link direct through to Navy Office, so that CNS or DCNS could step in should the Commanding Officer of the protest frigate need approval for some action.
The 1974 Commonwealth Games involved the Navy as one of the pivotal groups assisting with the Games organisation; Neil went to Christchurch and “saved the day” when the existing defence organisers were about to be overwhelmed. In August 1974 he was appointed as Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Support) then in 1976 was appointed as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff. In 1976 he was appointed as Naval Aide de Camp to the Queen. He was awarded the CBE in the 1977 New Year’s Honours List.
In December 1977 Neil was promoted to Rear Admiral and became Chief of Naval Staff. As CNS he initiated the studies into replacement frigates; the initial outcome was a proposal to purchase Dutch-built frigates which was declined by Sir Robert Muldoon’s government—instead the opportunity arose to purchase two second-hand British frigates which became HMNZ Ships SOUTHLAND and WELLINGTON. Nearly a decade later those same studies he initiated finally bore fruit as the Anzac frigate project.
Even as a senior officer Sir Neil had time for personal courtesies—one officer recalls missing out on a promotion, but as CNS Sir Neil sent for him to explain why his class mate was to be promoted ahead of him, a genuine act of understanding by the CNS. He was awarded the CB in the 1980 New Year Honours.
In April 1980 Admiral Anderson was promoted to Vice Admiral and posted as Chief of Defence Staff. As CDS he was responsible for the command of the NZ Armed Forces through their respective Chiefs of Staff; as well he was the principal military adviser to the NZ Government.
In those years he had to work with the Muldoon administration as a Defence Review was developed. One crisis was the Falklands War (1982) following which NZ sent a frigate to relieve a British ship in the Indian Ocean, thus assisting the Royal Navy to meet its commitments in the South Atlantic.
He was widely admired for being consistently calm and relaxed, but having a rapid grasp of things, whether policy papers or particular events. He is recalled as being willing to sit down with his staff officers and expose his thought to the rigours of the collegial staffing process. He was awarded the KBE in June 1982, becoming Sir Neil. He retired as CDS in April 1983.
His retirement interests were golf, fishing and wood work, but he took great pride in his wife’s success [Barbara Anderson] as a novelist. In fact he was admired for stepping down from the role of CDS and promptly becoming his wife’s secretary!
In 2008 he was asked to give his name to an RNZN Cup awarded to the top student of the Major Fleet Unit Navigating Officers Course and he became patron of the RNZN Navigation School. Former Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral David Ledson recalls “During 2009 we flew him out to one of the frigates in a Seasprite helicopter and he embarked in the ship in the Marlborough Sounds to observe a navigation course. He really enjoyed the day and I recall that he captivated the young officers with tales of his experiences but also with his intense interest in what they were doing.”
Another officer, Captain Tom Riddell, sums him up: “Neil was a very fine officer and gentleman. He had great leadership qualities, was highly respected and generally popular with all ranks. Sailors enjoyed his company. The RNZN was extremely fortunate to have had his service.”