- Feasey, Geoff
- History - general, Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The difficulties of making decisions to adopt new technologies do not mean that history has nothing to teach us on the relationship between attitude and decision making. The most obvious example is the one of the many lessons resulting from the development of the RAF’s R101 airship so clearly described by Neville Shute in his autobiography “Slide Rule”. We must never be afraid to say “We can’t turn back now. A lot of public money has been spent “. Had that lesson been learned during the development of the RNs “K” Class submarines in the 1920s, lives could have been saved and tragedies avoided below the surface and above France.
Questioning the ‘status quo’
Our attitude to technology is perhaps easier to control than the uncertainties of new technologies. An Admiral appearing before a Parliamentary Accounts Committee enquiry into the failure of one of the RNs sophisticated anti-submarine torpedo projects commented that “They did not have the sceptics in the Management Team who could have thrown out over-confidence”. Perhaps we should contrast that to John Winton’s description of the RN’s officer selection procedure of the late 1 940s and early 1950s, taken from his book “We Joined The Navy”:
“The Admiral had been right. The Navy did not want normal boys but boys who would carry out their duty without questioning the ultimate end, like special tools which, once moulded, would carry the shape of their calling for ever. The Navy required its officers to have a way of thinking and a way of life of its own and though hampered by lack of money and badgered by politicians and the press, it set about getting them at Dartmouth, hiding its true purpose under a camouflage of tiny false purposes like the branches over a hunter’s pit.”
So far as attitudes are concerned we have a choice. We can produce young officers who do not question and there are some obvious short term advantages in doing so. But if we do that, we have to be sure that we know how to convert them later to imaginative, ‘sceptical when necessary’, staff officers and senior decision makers who are not content to accept the obvious without looking for the possibilities beyond. And should we not do all we can at the personal level to, paraphrasing Confucius’s words, “Study the past to divine the future” Yes, warts and all say I.
Canberra, 15 January 1996
Geoff Feasey, a stubborn Yorkshireman, didn’t want to join the Royal Navy as anything other than an engineer. He enjoyed his 31 years in the RN from 1948 to 1979, serving afloat as an Ordnance Engineer, Weapons and Electrical Engineer Officer, and as the Marine Engineer of a submarine. Ashore, he spent several years in underwater weapon “R and D”, the highlight being as a member of the design team for the “front end” of Britain’s first nuclear submarine. With his RN career behind him, he and his wife Lise emigrated to Australia and he spent six years in the RAN as Assistant Naval Scientific Adviser, returning to civilian life in 1985!!