Farewell to Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall - Australia’s most senior submariner

This article has photo gallery Published on LCDR Alistair Tomlinson (author)

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History, Chief of Navy

Australia’s most senior submariner and former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall, AC, RAN. (photo: )
Australia’s most senior submariner and former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall, AC, RAN.

Australia’s most senior submariner and former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall, 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 (II).

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 (II) and aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II).

Australia’s most senior submariner and former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall, AC, RAN.

Australia’s most senior submariner and former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall, AC, RAN.

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 a 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 (II), the first Oberon Class Submarine built for the Royal Australian Navy.

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 homegrown 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 Royal Australian Navy 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,” Captain Theobald said.

Chief of Navy Australia Vice Admiral Michael Noonan 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,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.

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