Frank Panton Obituary

Publié le par The Telegraph

Frank Panton Obituary

Frank Panton, who has died aged 89, worked as a scientist for Military Intelligence at the height of the Cold War and, as Assistant Chief Scientific Adviser (Nuclear), played a major part in strengthening Britain’s security in the face of the threat from the Soviet Union.

Frank Panton Obituary

In 1969 Panton, as ACSAN at the Ministry of Defence, obtained political and financial approval for the research and development of the multi-nuclear warhead fuzing system known as Chevaline, subsequently used in Polaris submarine nuclear missiles.

Chevaline was developed in response to the deployment of increasingly sophisticated Soviet defences. Its purpose was to improve the penetrability of the warheads and provide a credible deterrent to a first strike. One key feature was the use of multiple decoys offering so many seemingly identical targets that an anti-ballistic missile system would be overwhelmed, thus allowing enough warheads to get through.

Francis Harry Panton was born in Lincoln on May 25 1923 and educated there at the City School. After the outbreak of the Second World War he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. As reconnaissance officer of No 1 Bomb Disposal Company, he was responsible for locating and identifying enemy explosive devices (including the highly sensitive “Butterfly” anti-personnel bombs) throughout Northern Command (the area between The Wash and the border with Scotland). In 1948 his work in hazardous bomb disposal operations was recognised by his appointment as MBE (Military).

After demobilisation he went up to Nottingham University, where he took a BSc in Chemistry and a PhD. He edited the university newspaper, and as vice-president of the National Union of Students he visited the USSR as a guest of the state, writing a report about Russia which was widely read by government officials visiting the country.

After a spell with ICI, he was recruited by Military Intelligence and posted to Berlin. This was in the early stages of the Cold War, and the West needed to discover how much progress the Soviets were making in developing an atomic weapon.

An important source of intelligence was the work being carried out in the East German mines, factories and scientific establishments that the Soviets had taken over. Based at Checkpoint Charlie, the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known crossing point in the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin, he screened refugees for useful information as they crossed the border to the West.

Panton was in the Permanent Under-Secretary’s Department at the Foreign Office from 1953 to 1955 and then in the office of the Political Adviser, Berlin, until 1957.

As deputy head of the Technical Research Unit at the MoD, he was one of a select few who acted as Britain’s point of contact with the United States on nuclear weapons intelligence. Based at the British Embassy in Washington in 1958-59, he was one of the principal channels for nuclear intelligence passing between the two countries.

An appointment as technical adviser to the UK Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Salt) held in Geneva was followed by a move back to the Permanent Under-Secretary’s Department at the FO. Then, in 1963, Panton returned to the British Embassy in Washington as Counsellor (Defence) on nuclear matters.

From 1976 until his retirement from the MoD in 1984, he was director of several research and development establishments . As Director of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead, Kent, from 1980 to 1983, he was closely involved in counter-insurgency operations in support of soldiers in Northern Ireland. A notable success was the upgrading of the remotely controlled Wheelbarrow bomb disposal device now in wide use.

He was a consultant to the MoD from 1984 to 1999 and to the Cabinet Office from 1985 to 1997. In the latter appointment, much of his work involved tracking nuclear material that was being dispersed throughout the world and endeavouring to develop counter measures if it got into the wrong hands. For this he was appointed CBE.

Panton settled in Kent. In 1991, while an underpass was being built in Dover, a wooden seagoing boat dating from the Bronze Age was found beneath the old Roman harbour wall. A trust was formed to preserve and display the boat, and Panton became its chairman. For seven years he took the lead in raising £1 million to put the project on a sound financial footing. The boat is displayed in the Dover Museum.

Frank Panton married first, in 1952, Audrey Lane. She predeceased him, and he married secondly, in 1995, Pauline Dean, who survives him with two sons of his first marriage.

Frank Panton, born May 25 1923, died April 8 2013

Publié dans Avis de décès

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