Lieutenant-General Sir Steuart Pringle, 10th Bt, who has died aged 84, was appointed Commandant General Royal Marines in 1981, and shortly afterwards was fortunate to escape death in an IRA car bomb attack.
When Pringle took over as Commandant General he immediately faced a crisis: following a defence review, the Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, proposed that Britain should focus on the European front; amphibious operations outside the Nato area were unlikely to be necessary, and the Navy’s amphibious shipping would be run down. The very existence of the Royal Marines was in jeopardy, with one solution proposing the preservation of only the Royal Marines music bands and a few men for ceremonial duties.
After careful soundings, Pringle opposed preserving a token presence of a famous Corps then 317 years old, and was inclined to recommend its total disbandment; but before he could formalise his proposals, he was blown up by an IRA bomb.
On October 17 1981 he got into his car outside his home in Dulwich, south London, and had driven only a few yards when a device — similar to the one which two years earlier had killed Margaret Thatcher’s friend Airey Neave — exploded beneath him.
As he lay trapped and bleeding, Pringle’s first thought was to ask: “How’s my dog?” (Bella the Labrador was unscathed). His next concern was that there might be a secondary device which would explode and injure the people who had rushed to his aid, and he warned them away.
Pringle lost his right leg, amputated below the knee, and sustained considerable damage to the other; but his subsequent triumph over physical adversity was regarded as a satisfactory riposte to his would-be murderers.
By the end of March 1982 Pringle had recovered sufficiently to return to his post (which had been held temporarily by Lt-Gen Jeremy Moore), and only days later Argentina invaded the Falklands. One consequence of the terrorist attack on Pringle was that Moore’s retirement had been delayed so that he could be acting CGRM, and he was thus available to become Commander, Land Forces in the Falklands campaign.
The Task Force which went to the South Atlantic included all Pringle’s available marines, and the conflict effectively saved the Corps: within a few years the bond between the Navy and its Royal Marines had been reaffirmed and the specialist amphibious shipping was being replaced.
The son of Sir Norman Pringle, 9th Bt, Steuart Robert Pringle was born at Dover on July 21 1928 and educated at Sherborne before joining the Royal Marines in 1946. Robin (as he was known to his friends) was awarded the sword of honour on completing his training, then went to sea in the cruiser Mauritius in the Mediterranean Fleet. In the early 1950s he served in Hong Kong and in Malaya during the Emergency before qualifying as a signals officer. During Suez he served in 3 Commando Brigade, landing at Port Said in November 1956. He later served two tours of duty in Cyprus during the Eoka campaign.
Pringle returned to the Far East in 1961 (the year in which he succeeded his father in the baronetcy), seeing service in Brunei after a revolt against the Sultan, and in the Indonesian Confrontation.
Pringle was among the Corps’ most cerebral officers, and in 1964 he won the Director’s Prize for his year at the Royal Naval Staff College before being appointed to the Defence Planning Staff in Whitehall. He was second-in-command of 40 Commando in the Far East (1969-71), leading troops in the assault ship Intrepid when she sailed from Singapore to bring aid after a disastrous flood in what was then East Pakistan.
From 1971 to 1974 Pringle commanded 45 Commando, the Specialist Mountain and Arctic Warfare unit, though this included two tours of duty in Northern Ireland. In 1977 he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies, and the next year was promoted to major-general, as head of Commando Forces. He was appointed chief of staff to the then Commandant General RM in 1979, before succeeding to that post himself two years later.
Pringle was appointed KCB in 1982 and retired from the Royal Marines in 1984. He was chairman and chief executive of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust (1984-91), and an active president of St Loye’s Foundation for the disabled in Exeter.
Pringle’s courageous and single-minded struggle back to health and mobility after the car bomb attack won him high admiration. He was also noted for his intellect, shrewdness and acerbic sense of humour. He was the most steadfast of friends.
Steuart Pringle married, in 1953, Jacqueline Marie Gladwell. She predeceased him, as did one son, and he is survived by a son and two daughters. His son Simon Robert Pringle, born in 1959, succeeds in the baronetcy.
Lt-Gen Sir Steuart Pringle, 10th Bt, born July 21 1928, died April 18 2013
© Daily Telegraph 21st April 2013