Vice Admiral Robert Walls AO RAN
March 15 1941 - August 28 2023
Vice Admiral Rob Walls died at Dalmeny on August 28 after a long illness. A former Vice Chief of Defence Force (VCDF), he was an insightful strategic thinker and he made a significant contribution to the Australian Defence Force.
Robert Andrew Kevin Walls was born at Colac and was one of the last 13-year-old boys to join the Royal Australian Naval College. Known either as Rob or by his initials 'RAK' he survived the harsh discipline of the College, and after further training in the UK joined the Fleet in 1960.
In 1964 Lieutenant Rob Walls went to the US to join the RAN's new guided missile destroyer Hobart. This was a formative experience with exposure to the sophisticated technology, training and operations that had made the US Navy the preeminent naval power. Hobart was commanded by one of the RAN's most outstanding destroyer captains, Captain Guy Griffths. Hobart was the first Australian destroyer to serve in the Vietnam War and Walls served as air-intercept controller, vectoring US fighters against North Vietnamese aircraft. Griffiths organised for Walls to be seconded for a period to the nuclear powered cruiser USS Long Beach. Hobart's outstanding deployment, in which she came under shore-fire on numerous occasions, led to the ship being awarded a US Navy Unit Commendation.
In his later sea service Walls would serve in the frigate Derwent during Confrontation, the British aircraft carrier Hermes, the destroyer Perth and command of the amphibious ship Tobruk which deployed to the Sinai. His last and favourite sea posting was command of the destroyer Brisbane.
In command Walls was a formidable personality, whose war experience drove him to exhort excellence in his ship's company. His time with the Fleet culminated in 1991, when as a Rear Admiral, he became the Maritime Commander. He took the same unremitting drive for excellence to the entire Fleet. This was also in the early days of women going to sea in any numbers and Walls was a strong advocate of this sea change. He would truck no opposition from old salts and had no tolerance for misbehaviour.
Rob Walls' intellect and strong personality proved effective in the corridors of Russell Offices
Ashore Rob Walls' intellect and strong personality proved effective in the corridors of Russell Offices. From his early postings to Navy Office in the aftermath of the loss of the aircraft carrier Melbourne he advocated for a capable blue-water Navy that was able to integrate with other elements of the Australian Defence Force as well as make a meaningful contribution to Allied operations. In 1990 as a commodore he led a team to the Gulf, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to set up arrangements for the successful deployment of RAN ships and clearance divers to the then assembling international force.
In 1994-1995 Rear Admiral Walls was the Assistant Chief of the Defence Force for Capability Development and his outstanding performance led to his promotion in 1995 to Vice Admiral and become VCDF to General John Baker. In both these roles Walls demonstrated he was an incisive thinker and a great networker who enjoyed the confidence of government and the senior Defence leadership. He retired in 1997.
In later life Rob Walls proved himself equally effective in a variety of positions in professional and academic bodies as well as Defence industry. The later included with the Fyshwick-based radar manufacturer CEA Technologies.
Rob Walls' naval funeral at Duntroon on September 11 was one of the largest in recent memory.
He is survived by his wife Susan, daughter Catherine and son Nicholas.