The Royal Navy has lost one of its biggest characters, champions and tireless workers with the sudden death of Commander Robert ‘Bob’ Hawkins.
In a career spanning six decades Bob, who died suddenly at the weekend, served in a slew of ships, held posts around the world, and experienced the technical and social changes which transformed the Navy from the one he joined at the age of 17 in 1978 to the one he continued to serve devotedly today.Small ships or large – from P2000s and Hunt-class mine-hunters, destroyers and frigates, through to helping to bring carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth into service as her First Lieutenant – Bob tackled every posting and assignment with passion, commitment and forthright opinions.
The bulk of his career was spent in the mine warfare community. He qualified as a mine warfare/clearance diving officer in 1982 and much of the next quarter of a century would revolve around serving in, directing the actions of or training mine-hunters.
He later imparted much of his knowledge and expertise in mine warfare both with the arm of the then Flag Officer Sea Training organisation dedicated to preparing small ships, including minehunters, for front-line duties (once in the 90s, again a decade later), and spent four years assisting the Royal Saudi Navy with its Sandown-class mine-hunter programme.
His commitment to the subject – and the wider Royal Navy – earned him a date with Her Majesty in 2007 to receive the MBE.
After qualifying as a principal warfare officer, Bob was assigned to frigate HMS Brilliant in 1993 and served in the Balkan crisis – as featured by documentary maker Chris Terrill in the namesake TV series.
A generation later, Chris would feature Bob once again in his series on bringing HMS Queen Elizabeth into service.
In between, Bob served as HMS Iron Duke’s Executive Officer, shared his mine warfare expertise with a NATO staff in Brussels… and again with the US Navy, in particular the use of autonomous systems and clearing mines in very shallow waters.
He served on the staff of UKMCC, helping to oversee the RN’s most important mine-hunting mission beyond home waters, joined allies in Penang in planning a series of exercises in the region involving Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK (Five Power Defence Arrangement).
And he commanded the Faslane Patrol Boat Squadron, charged with protecting the nation’s most important military assets, Vanguard-class nuclear submarines, and other RN and allied warships operating around HM Naval Base Clyde.
His most recent posting was as Commanding Officer of HMS Caledonia in Rosyth and chief-of-staff to the Royal Navy Regional Commander for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This is barely a precis of a 46-year career – or touches on the man himself. Away from the RN, Bob was involved with the leadership of the Scout Association at home and abroad, and volunteered in Youth Justice in Scotland.
He loved rugby (especially revelling in the RN’s infrequent victories over the Army), took mine-hunter veterans under his wing as chairman of the Ton-Class Association and championed the successful campaign to erect a memorial at HMS Vernon – now the Gunwharf Quays shopping/leisure complex in Portsmouth.
“Bob Hawkins made an immediate impact upon his arrival in HMS Caledonia, much as he has done throughout his long and industrious career,” said Brigadier Andy Muddiman RM, Naval Regional Commander Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“He will be sorely missed by the many whose lives he touched inside the Royal Navy and beyond and not least as a true gentleman and a leader.”
Bob’s friend of more than 40 years and fellow former mine warfare officer Rob Hoole added: “Bob was the personification of a naval officer; an inspiring leader and a true gentleman.
“His integrity was matchless and he could connect with anyone from admirals to the most junior sailor. He also had an innate sense of fun combined with a mischievous sense of humour. He seemed omnipresent too; wherever you went, there was Bob.”e leaves behind his wife Trudy and four grown-up children, two daughters and two sons.