Rear Admiral John Dixon Stevens

Deputy Chief of Navy (1979 - 1981)

Commander Australian Fleet (1981 -1982)

John Dixon Stevens was born in Perth, Western Australia on 27 May 1927 and educated at Kalamunda State School. Of quite humble origins, his father died of heart disease when John was in primary school, and his mother was required to work to support the family. On joining the Navy John Stevens listed his address on entry as C/O the Colombo Café, Marine Parade, North Cottesloe, WA.

He entered the RAN College (HMAS Cerberus) in January 1941 and was made a Cadet Captain. Despite his slight build and average height he was an excellent athlete and gained his colours for cricket, rugby, hockey, tennis and athletics and was the winner of the Governor-General's Cup (best individual sportsman), the Burnett Prize (Best Exponent in rugby) and the Commodore Drew Cup for winning the Flinders Naval Depot cross country race. He was also very good academically and on ‘passing out’ from the College in September 1944 he was promoted to Midshipman and awarded maximum time (advancement of three months) towards promotion to Lieutenant. His classmates nicknamed him ‘Gus’, but because of his sallow complexion this earned him the nickname ‘Darkie’ from his earliest days in the Navy; this was partly done to distinguish him from Cadet Midshipman Errol Stevens who was in the same intake at the College who was known as ‘Whitey’ Stevens.

Midshipman Stevens took passage to Ceylon in the cruiser HMS Suffolk in October 1944 and joined his first ship, the cruiser HMS London, which was based at Trincomalee, Ceylon. London took part in convoy escort duties in the Indian Ocean and actions against the Japanese in the Netherlands East Indies in 1945. He then served in the destroyer HMS Vigilant (1945-46) and the minesweeper HMS Speedy (1946), which included minesweeping operations in the English Channel, before undertaking training courses in England. Stevens was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant in May 1946 and confirmed as a Sub Lieutenant in September of that year. Sub Lieutenant Stevens returned to Australia in mid-1947 and then served as an Officer of the Watch in the sloop HMAS Swan (1947) and corvette HMAS Katoomba (1947-48), conducting mine-sweeping operations off the north coast of Queensland. He then joined the sea going tug HMAS Reserve in which he served during 1948-49. In June 1948 Stevens was promoted to Lieutenant and remained serving in Reserve until posted to the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, now operating as a training cruiser, in April 1949.

Lieutenant Stevens was posted to the RAN's main training depot, HMAS Cerberus, in 1950 to oversee the Petty Officers Management Course. In the latter half of 1952 he served as the 1st Lieutenant in the corvette HMAS Cowra, which operated as a training ship for Recruits and National Servicemen. It was while serving in Cowra that he had to report the ship’s Commanding Officer, for inappropriate conduct, to the Commodore Superintendent of Training at Cerberus. This lead to the rapid removal of that officer from command and was a necessary but daunting task for a very junior officer.

Despite qualifying as a shallow water diver and requesting to train as a pilot, diver or submariner, he proceeded overseas to England in November 1952, for training at HMS Vernon to qualify as a Torpedo and Anti-Submarine (TAS) warfare officer. Once qualified he remained in England on exchange as an instructor with the Royal Navy. Stevens was well known throughout his career as a softly spoken and competent leader who rarely had to raise his voice to be obeyed.

John Stevens married Gloria Mary Virginia Swain, originally from Albany WA, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Kew, Victoria on 24 April 1952. Gloria had served in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) during the latter part of World War II as a Coder, and was commissioned as a Third Officer in 1945 before being demobilised in 1946. Gloria re-entered the WRANS in 1951 but resigned in 1952. They later had two daughters, and a son who unfortunately died as an infant. 

On his return to Australia in late 1955 he served as a TAS instructor, firstly at the training establishment HMAS Rushcutter (1955-56) and then at HMAS Watson (1956-57). In both cases he undertook service at sea in submarines, with the Royal Navy’s 4th Submarine Squadron, based at Balmoral (HMAS Penguin), which assisted training the RAN in Anti-Submarine Warfare. Stevens was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in June 1956.  

In January 1957 he joined the destroyer HMAS Tobruk as the TAS Officer, during which time the ship operated in Australian and South East Asian waters as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve; which included service in the Malayan Emergency conducting naval gunfire support missions. In late 1958 he was posted to the TAS School at HMAS Watson before making the move to Navy Office (in Canberra) in March 1959, where he worked in the Directorate of Training and Staff Requirements Division. Lieutenant Commander Stevens joined the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in early 1961 as the ships TAS Officer and also the Fleet TAS Officer. 

At the end of 1961 he was promoted to Commander and remained serving in Melbourne. During his time in the RAN’s flagship the carrier operated in Australian waters, as well as conducting visits to India, Pakistan, Japan, South East Asia and the South West Pacific. Commander Stevens proceeded to the United States in August 1962 to undertake training at the US Armed Forces Staff College in 1963, and remained in the US on the staff of the Australian Joint Services Staff at the Australian Embassy.

He returned to Australia in March 1965 and took command of the frigate HMAS Derwent in May. Derwent was extremely busy during his command, with the frigate serving in South East Asian waters as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve, and escorting the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney to Vietnam. The frigate also saw active service in the Indonesian Confrontation, and on numerous occasions in 1966, Derwent was called upon to provide naval gunfire support for Commonwealth troops operating in northern Borneo. 

Commander Stevens then served briefly as the Executive Officer of the RAN College (HMAS Creswell) from November 1966 until June 1967, when he was promoted to Captain and posted to Navy Office as the Director Tactics & Weapons Policy. Captain Stevens was appointed as the Senior Officer 1st Frigate Squadron and Commanding Officer of the frigate HMAS Yarra in July 1968. During his time in command Yarra was involved in a major refit, but also deployed to South East Asia as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve.

Captain Stevens relinquished command of Yarra in early 1970, and was immediately appointed as the Commanding Officer of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane for 12 monthsThe destroyer was then undergoing a major refit at Garden Island Dockyard which did not finish until August 1970, after which the ship carried out sea trials and exercises off the east and west coast of Australia to test machinery and weapons systems. In 1971-72 he was the Commanding Officer of the RAN College (HMAS Creswell) before another posting to Navy Office as the Director-General Fighting Equipment during 1973-74.    

He took command of the tanker HMAS Supply in December 1974, and during the next 12 months the ship operated in Australian waters and was present at Port Moresby when Papua New Guinea was granted independence on 16 September 1975. Stevens was selected to undertake training at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London in 1976, so departed Supply after only 12 months in command. Selection to attend the college indicated that he had the potential to achieve higher rank and he was indeed promoted to the rank of Commodore on 17 February 1976.

Upon his return to Australia in early 1977 he was appointed as the Chief of Staff to the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet, and held this key position until promoted to Rear Admiral on 24 January 1979. As a newly promoted two-star officer, Stevens was then appointed as the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff for the period 1979-81. His last posting in the Navy was as the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet from June 1981-March 1982. Although offered a follow on two-star posting to the Department of Defence in Canberra in 1982-83, he chose to stay in Sydney for personal reasons.

Rear Admiral Stevens retired from the Navy in March 1982 after 41 years of service. Oddly for this period, Stevens was not awarded an Australian or Imperial honour despite his lengthy and capable service to the RAN. He and his wife Gloria then resided in the north shore suburb of Mosman, although they traveled widely throughout Australia and overseas.

In retirement Rear Admiral Stevens took up golf and managed to gain a respectable handicap. He also undertook part time university study and graduated from the University of Sydney in 1992, having completed an Arts degree in modern history and government. Stevens also worked part time for the Sydney City Mission up until 2000. Rear Admiral Stevens passed away in Sydney on 30 July 2015 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.

Royal Australian Navy officers at a mess dinner in Canberra, ACT on 9 March 1981. L-R: Rear Admiral Stevens, Rear Admiral Lynham, Rear Admiral Rourke, Rear Admiral Swan, Vice Admiral Willis, Rear Admiral Loosli, Rear Admiral Leach, Rear Admiral Doyle and Rear Admiral Robertson.
Royal Australian Navy senior officers at a mess dinner in Canberra, ACT on 9 March 1981. L-R: Rear Admiral Stevens, Rear Admiral Lynam, Rear Admiral Rourke, Rear Admiral Swan, Vice Admiral Willis, Rear Admiral Loosli, Rear Admiral Leach, Rear Admiral Doyle and Rear Admiral Robertson.