Captain Peter Williams

Captain Peter Williams (????-????)
Obituary taken from the Telegraph

Captain Peter Williams, who has died aged 87, was an exceptionally gifted and widely experienced naval aviator.

From 1962 to 1964 Williams was senior pilot of 846 Naval Air Squadron, which deployed in the newly-converted commando carrier Bulwark for the Far East. Most of his pilots were fresh from training and their aircraft were old, underpowered, single piston-engined Whirlwind Mark 7s.

Williams’s task was to show his “rookie” aircrew, flying from makeshift airfields, how to operate safely but effectively over hundreds of miles of dense primary jungle.

Major General Julian Thompson wrote that over the next two years in Borneo and Sarawak at the height of the confrontation with Indonesia, “the key to success was the helicopters of the Fleet Air Arm, and 846 played a major part”.

The naval commando squadrons earned an enviable reputation. When the Royal Marines or the Gurkhas wanted something done, Williams, imbued with the Nelson tradition of rapid adaptation to the tactical situation, would make it happen. When conditions on the ground were different from what his pilots had been led to expect, Williams encouraged them to use their judgment and common sense and adapt to the circumstances.

The squadrons gained the nickname of the “Junglies”, and a reputation for their can-do approach which continued in the Navy through to the Falklands War. Williams and his squadrons in the Far East were the epitome of this spirit – hard-working, adaptable, carefree, but always totally professional.

In April 1964, 846 NAS was awarded the Boyd Trophy for its outstanding contribution to naval aviation, the citation recording that: “In atrocious conditions of tropical rains, high temperatures and in spite of an almost total lack of normal servicing facilities, the Squadron flew over 2,000 operational sorties over primary dense jungle.” Williams was awarded the Sultan’s Star of Brunei, the Setia Negara Brunei.

Peter John Williams was born at Upminster in Essex on August 27 1932 and educated at Bancroft’s School in Woodford, before joining the Merchant Navy training school HMS Worcester at Greenhithe in Kent, where Cutty Sark lay alongside and was used for training.

From 1949 to 1952 he served an apprenticeship in the New Zealand Shipping Company, gaining his second mate’s certificate before being accepted in 1953 by the Royal Navy for an eight-year short service commission as a flier.

From 1953 to 1955 Williams learnt to fly in the US, qualifying in deck-landing in a Harvard on to a straight-deck aircraft carrier with a barrier, and subsequently qualifying as a jet pilot.

On returning to Britain he converted to fly the Hawker Sea Hawk, before joining 897 Naval Air Squadron in the carrier Eagle, which deployed to the Mediterranean. During the Suez Crisis the Sea Hawks, escorted by naval Sea Venom fighters, provided a ground-attack capability, often in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire.

After Suez, Williams requalified as a helicopter pilot and spent a year flying from Protector, the Royal Navy’s Antarctica patrol ship.

After his service in Borneo and Sarawak, Williams fulfilled more flying and staff jobs in Britain before returning to the Far East to command, with great distinction, 848 and 847 Naval Air Squadrons, at sea in Albion and ashore in Singapore, where in the period preceding the island’s independence he covered the withdrawal from Aden. Promoted to commander, he was appointed OBE in 1970.

Williams was naval and air attaché in Athens from 1977 to 1980 and a student of above average intelligence at the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1981. During the Falklands War he commanded the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, overseeing the formation of several new squadrons in days rather than months, and the dispatch of some 1,400 personnel, nine squadrons and 120 aircraft to the conflict zone – a Herculean effort. Despite the hectic atmosphere, however, Williams always remembered to support the families left behind.

In 1984-85 he was chief of staff, in the rank of commodore, to the Flag Officer Naval Air Command. On leaving the Navy he joined the Royal Ordnance and served as president of Royal Ordnance in the US until 1992.

Conscientious, sociable and meticulous, Williams was a naval officer of the highest calibre and a dedicated family man. In 1957, in Chichester Cathedral, he married Betty Robbins, who survives him with their three children.

Captain Peter Williams, born August 27 1932, died September 18 2019.