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Capt Charles Nixon-Eckersall

From the Daily Telegraph

Captain Charles Nixon-Eckersall, who has died aged 81, was one of the most experienced and charismatic submariners of the post-war era and commanded three generations of boats. In 1968 Nixon-Eckersall was promoted lieutenant-commander and passed his "perisher", the fierce, make-or-break course for would-be submarine commanders, under Commander Sandy Woodward, before taking command of the submarine Alliance.


He proved a knowledgeable and inspirational captain with a special skill in leadership and the ability to energise his people. A normal tour would have included operations in British waters and in the Mediterranean, but his command was foreshortened when, in November that year, while diving at 450ft off Gibraltar, Alliance suffered an explosion and fire in the motor-room which destroyed the boat's electrical switchboards and propulsion.

All Nixon-Eckersall's qualities were brought into play as he calmly ordered air to be blown into all buoyancy tanks and brought the submarine to the surface. After making first-aid repairs, he returned to harbour on the surface using one shaft and one diesel engine. At Gibraltar more work was done, and Alliance was able to make a slow return to Chatham for further repairs.

In March the following year, Nixon-Eckersall took commanded of the Royal Australian Navy submarine Onslow, which was then building at the scotts yard on the Clyde. Onslow, the fourth of six boats ordered by Australia, was a diesel-powered boat encompassing the latest technologies.

After finishing work-up at Faslane, Onslow visited Plymouth, London and Portsmouth before commencing a 92-day voyage to Australia via the Panama Canal and across the Pacific. She spent two weeks in Pearl Harbor, exercising at sea with the US Navy, before arriving at Brisbane. There, Vice-Admiral Sir Victor Smith, Chief of Naval Staff, joined Onslow for a two-day voyage to Sydney.

Nixon-Eckersall made a dramatic submerged entry into the harbour, passing through the Heads at periscope depth early on the morning of 4th July 1970. Smith was surprised at how many small boats and ferries were already enjoying the day as Onslow surfaced just inside South Head without incident and, to the crew's disappointment, without creating a fuss.

Promoted to commander in 1975, Nixon-Eckersall commanded the nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine Courageous in 1977 to 1979, deploying to the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, including major fleet exercises and trials of the Tigerfish torpedo. Every boat Nixon-Eckersall commanded was well reported upon and, uniquely, all three can be visited as museum ships, in Gosport, Devonport and Sydney.


Charles Andrew Barkly Nixon-Eckersall was born on 19th December 1937 at Datchet in Berkshire. His mother taught at a private school, Commonweal Lodge in Surrey, and he boarded there from the age of three, firstly at its wartime home at Lewdown in Devon, and then at Hydneye House in Hastings; his father, a Royal Marine, was taken prisoner at Tobruk.

Young Charles attended Westerleigh School at St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex, from where he won a scholarship to Kelly College at Tavistock in Devon, and, in 1954, a place at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Aged 16 Nixon-Eckersall flew solo in one of the naval college's Tiger Moths, but after academic and professional training, and sea time in the cruiser Birmingham, then flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, he opted for submarine service.

In 1957 he joined the submarine Seascout as sixth hand: many of the diesel-powered boats which he served in the 1950s and early 1960s, including Sentinel, Scorcher, Tactician, Anchorite, Ambush and Artemis, were little changed from their wartime configuration. He also stood by the more modern submarine, Osiris while she was building at vickers, and in 1967 he became First Lieutenant of Oberon.

Nixon-Eckersall was also second-in-command of the anti-submarine frigates Niaid and Euryalus in 1971 to 1973, and a successful staff operations officer in the 1st Submarine Squadron at Gosport, and, after Courageous, on the Defence Policy Staff in Whitehall.

Promoted to Captain in 1981, Nixon-Eckersall was a student at the Royal College of Defence Studies, where time spent with him was always a delightful mix of challenge, stimulation and fun. He relished debate, but there was always an inner core of empathy.

In 1985 to 1986 he commanded the frigate Boxer before holding senior NATO staff appointments at Norfolk, Virginia (1987-89), and at Northwood in Middlesex in 1989-90. Although regarded as one of the outstanding officers of his generation, Nixon-Eckersall was not selected for flag rank, and retired in the 1990s to Hanwell in Oxfordshire.

There he took up charity work, including for the RNLI, the Sea Cadets, Banbury Community Transport and St Peter's church, and served on the parish council.

When his elderly mother did not want to attend his second wedding because she could not manage to climb over two other submarines to attend the reception held in Courageous, Nixon-Eckersall arranged a crane to lift her over and down a hatch to the reception. When it returned her to shore later that afternoon in a merry mood, his sailors were ordered to avert their gaze with an "Eyes in the boat!"

In 1959 Charles Nixon-Eckersall married Sally Evans. They divorced in 1977 and in 1978, he married a South African, Susie Syfret, who survives him with a daughter and a son from the first marriage.

Captain Charles Nixon-Eckersall, who was born on 19th December 1937, died on 11th November 2019

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