Jock Stirrup

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Graham Eric Stirrup, Baron Stirrup, KG, GCB, AFC, FRAeS, FCMI (born 4 December 1949), informally known as Jock Stirrup, is a former senior Royal Air Force commander who was the Chief of the Defence Staff from 2006 until his retirement in late 2010. He is now a Crossbench member of the House of Lords. In April 2013, he was appointed a Knight of the Order of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Lord Stirrup
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup c. 2010
Born (1949-12-04) 4 December 1949
Paddington, London
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Air Force
Years of service1968–2011
RankMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Service number8020760D
Commands heldChief of the Defence Staff (2006–10)
Chief of the Air Staff (2003–06)
No. 1 Group (1997–98)
RAF Marham (1990–92)
No. 2 Squadron (1985–87)
Battles/warsDhofar War
Cold War
Operation Telic
War in Afghanistan
AwardsKnight of the Order of the Garter
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Air Force Cross

As a junior RAF officer, Stirrup was a jet pilot, and saw action in the Dhofar War. Later in his career, he commanded No. 2 Squadron and RAF Marham. After several senior air force appointments, Stirrup was made the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command and during this time he served as the first commander of British forces engaged in fighting the Taliban. In 2002, Stirrup was appointed the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff responsible for equipment and capability and was heavily involved in procuring equipment for the invasion of Iraq. Spending a little over a year in that role, he was then appointed the Chief of the Air Staff, in which capacity he served from 2003 to 2006. He became Chief of the Defence Staff in 2006: during his time in office the British Armed Forces faced significant commitments both to Iraq (Operation Telic) and Afghanistan (Operation Herrick). Stirrup retired as Chief of the Defence Staff on 29 October 2010, taking a seat in the House of Lords in 2011.

Early and personal life

Graham Eric Stirrup was born on 4 December 1949, the son of William Hamilton Stirrup and his wife, Jacqueline Brenda Stirrup (née Coulson).[1] He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School in Northwood, Hertfordshire.[1]

Stirrup married Mary Alexandra Elliott in 1976 and they have one son.[2] Stirrup includes golf, music, theatre and history among his interests.[1] He is a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society,[1] a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute[1] and a member of the Society of Knights of the Round Table.[3]

RAF career

Stirrup started his military career at the RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire on 1 April 1968[4] and it was from Cranwell that he received his commission on 31 July 1970.[5] He was promoted to flying officer on 31 July 1971 with seniority backdated to 31 January,[6] and to flight lieutenant from 31 July 1973.[7] From 1973 to 1975, Stirrup was on loan service with the Sultan of Oman's Air Force.[2] While in Oman Stirrup flew BAC Strikemasters during the Dhofar War in the close air support and interdiction roles, giving him valuable battle experience of the use of air power in counter-insurgency operations.[8] After he returned to Great Britain in 1975, Stirrup was posted to No. 41 Squadron where he flew the SEPECAT Jaguar in the fighter reconnaissance role.[2] Stirrup went on to serve in an exchange tour in the United States where he flew the all-weather tactical reconnaissance RF-4C Phantom.[9]

Promoted to squadron leader on 1 January 1980,[10] Stirrup was serving as a flight commander on No. 226 Operational Conversion Unit which was based at RAF Lossiemouth in March 1983: his duties centred around the instruction of trainee pilots on the SEPECAT Jaguar and, on 7 March 1983, Stirrup was carrying out a student progress check from the rear seat of his aircraft when they suffered a serious bird strike.[11] Stirrup was unable to ascertain whether his student was conscious and forward vision through the canopy was obscured: one of his engines caught fire, and although ejecting from the aircraft would have been justified, not knowing whether the student was conscious or not, Stirrup managed to land at RAF Leuchars.[11] Stirrup was later awarded the Air Force Cross in recognition of his handling of the incident.[11][12]

Stirrup was promoted to wing commander on 1 July 1984.[13] In 1985 Stirrup received a command appointment, as the Officer Commanding No. 2 Squadron which at that time was operating the Jaguar from RAF Laarbruch in Germany: along with other NATO air units, his squadron's role was low-level tactical reconnaissance in the face of the Soviet Cold War threat.[9] Stirrup gained first hand experience of the higher-level workings of the RAF when, in 1987, he was appointed Personal Staff Officer to the Chief of the Air Staff.[9]

Having been promoted to group captain on 1 January 1990,[14] from 1990 to 1992, Stirrup served as Station Commander of RAF Marham[15] and during his time in command, RAF Marham's strike aircraft were dispatched to the Middle East, seeing action in the Gulf War air campaign.[9] In 1993 Stirrup attended the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS).[9] Stirrup was promoted to air commodore on 1 January 1994,[16] and appointed Director of Air Force Plans and Programmes that year.[9] Promoted to air vice-marshal on 1 July 1997,[17] he became Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group in April 1997, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff in August 1998 and, having been promoted to air marshal on 6 November 2000,[18] he was made Deputy Commander-in-Chief RAF Strike Command that year.[9] His appointment at Strike Command also entailed taking on the additional roles of being the Commander of NATO's Combined Air Operations Centre 9 (based at High Wycombe) and serving as the Director of the European Air Group.[9]

From September 2001 to January 2002, Stirrup was UK National Contingent Commander for Operation Veritas (British operations against the Taliban) in Afghanistan, his first direct experience of front-line operations overseas since 1987.[9] In this role Stirrup directed the British contribution to the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom and he was the Senior British Military Advisor to General Tommy Franks, the Commander-in-Chief of United States Central Command.[19] At MacDill Air Force Base, Stirrup headed the 60 strong British team who were contributing to the US-led operational planning.[20] Stirrup was replaced by Lieutenant General Cedric Delves.[19]

In April 2002 Stirrup was appointed Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Equipment Capability), a post he held until May 2003.[2] His main task was production of equipment plans for the Army, Air Force and Navy while ensuring that the plans could be afforded over the coming years. The planning for the invasion of Iraq required new equipment and Stirrup became increasingly involved in planning for urgent operational requirements. A particular difficulty faced by Stirrup was the need to place equipment orders with industry before the Government was prepared to publicly commit to the action. Stirrup briefed ministers on this point but was prevented from placing the orders according to his desired timescale. In the end some critical items such as body armour, boots and desert clothing were not available to all the personnel who needed them when they deployed.[21][22]

Stirrup was promoted to air chief marshal[23] and appointed Chief of the Air Staff on 1 August 2003.[9] In July 2004 Stirrup set out his strategic direction for the RAF which was based upon working to achieve an increasingly modern and multi-role aircraft fleet, reducing the number of RAF stations by creating fewer but larger and better-equipped bases and reducing the number of personnel while maintaining or improving their training.[24]

Chief of the Defence Staff

Stirrup was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff – just when the British Armed Forces were facing significant commitments both to Iraq (Operation Telic) and Afghanistan (Operation Herrick) – on 28 April 2006.[9]

Operations in Iraq

In May 2006, shortly after becoming CDS, Stirrup visited Iraq to assess the situation first hand. The British responsibility was in the south of Iraq and on his return Stirrup reported to the Defence Secretary that Basra was the key to success in southern Iraq. Stirrup identified two obstacles to success, the first being the militias and the second being the need for an acceptable level of Iraqi governance. In addition, he took the view that Iranian interference was a significant exacerbating factor. Noting that neither of two obstacles could be fully dealt with by the British Armed Forces, Stirrup viewed the solution as being essentially political.[21]

In order to take action against the militias, the local British commander in South East Iraq developed a plan to conduct aggressive operations against them. At the same time Stirrup became increasingly concerned that strong political leadership from the Iraqis was lacking and that without this any gains made by the military actions against the militias would be to no avail. In July 2006, Stirrup overturned the previous military advice to the Defence Secretary by stating that force levels in South East Iraq would need to be maintained. Previously it had been thought that they could be reduced from over 7,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000. In September 2006, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, blocked the British plan to act against the militias which Stirrup believed was because of Maliki's dependence on Sadrist support at that stage.[21]

The original British plan was replaced by Operation Sinbad which was acceptable to the Iraqis and was executed from September 2006 to February 2007. Along with other Coalition commanders, Stirrup viewed Sinbad as insufficient because it did not involve directly attacking the militias. Believing that it would not deliver the level of improvements in security that the British wanted, Stirrup began looking at the high risk strategy of withdrawing British troops from inside Basra which would have left the Iraqis in the position of either having to deal with the security problems themselves or losing control of Iraq's second city.[21]

Following the end of Operation Sinbad, the military situation for the British in Basra worsened and the British base at Basra Palace was repeatedly attacked. However, by summer 2007, Maliki's political position no longer depended on Sadrist support and Muqtada al-Sadr had publicly criticized Maliki. In July 2007 Maliki replaced his Basra security co-ordinator and during one of his visits to Iraq, Stirrup met the new Basra security coordinator, General Mohan. Mohan wanted the British forces to withdraw from Basra and Stirrup stressed that once British forces had departed, Mohan's Iraqi forces would have to deal with security. Both Mohan and Stirrup were clear that retaining British forces outside Basra would be an insurance policy against a deteriorating situation within Basra as well as give Mohan something additional with which he could threaten the militias. Stirrup was concerned that a redeployment would look as though the British had been "bombed out of Basra" but judged that this was preferable to the significant damage to British military reputation were security in Basra to completely break down.[21] Much of the British redeployment took place in August and despite Stirrup making public statements to the effect that the withdrawal was part of the overall plan, some commentators judged that the British had been defeated in southern Iraq.[25] By early September all British troops had been withdrawn from Basra city to the airport to perform what was dubbed an "overwatch" role.[26]

After British troops had been withdrawn from Basra city, violence continued and General Mohan took some time to produce a plan for improving security. Notwithstanding the difficulties, the Basra Governorate was handed over to Provincial Iraqi Control in December 2007.[27] By early March 2008, General Mohan had produced a security plan with British support which was presented to General Petraeus and Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad. The plan called for a six-week period of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration starting in June 2008 before forcibly disarming the Mahdi Army and other non-Government/Coalition forces afterwards. Later in March Stirrup was in Baghdad and he met with General Petraeus and General Austin, the commander of the Multi-National Corps – Iraq. Stirrup strongly backed Mohan's plan but noted that Mohan would need to be pressed hard to deliver and also supported with Corps forces. Austin was reluctant to provide support, wishing to focus on Mosul, but Petraeus agreed with Stirrup. However, this plan was overtaken by Maliki's decision to launch Operation Charge of the Knights. Both Stirrup and the American commanders were taken by surprise and were concerned about the lack of planning but Maliki was determined to launch his operation in late March.[21]

Operation Charge of the Knights led to the Battle of Basra which lasted from 25 to 31 March. Although the lack of planning resulted in some confusion, the Coalition did support the Iraqi action with land and air assets. By the end of March the Iraqi Government forces had negotiated a ceasefire with Muqtada al-Sadr. With the militias melting away, Iraqi Government forces were able to claim control of Basra. While recognizing that Operation Charge of the Knights had been far from perfect, Stirrup judged it to be a success as the Iraqis were taking responsibility for their own security.[28]

After the conclusion of Operation Charge of the Knights the British were involved in helping to rebuild those Iraq Army units which had suffered from poor cohesion, or even dissolved. In hindsight, Stirrup took the view that the British forces would have been usefully employed in mentoring the Iraq Army to greater extent earlier in the campaign.[21] In late April 2009, most British military operations in Iraq came to an end; and by 28 July 2009 all British forces had left Iraq and were all redeployed to Kuwait.[29]

Operations in Afghanistan

After his appointment as CDS, Stirrup travelled to Helmand Province in May 2006. At that stage, the British effort consisted of a small tented base at Camp Bastion, an operating base at Lashkar Gah and several isolated platoon houses in the north of Helmand. Much of the rest of the Province was not under British or other ISAF control. At that time the insurgency was starting to gain strength and although by 2009 the British Armed Forces and the United States Marine Corps had greatly expanded their role and were providing security for over 50% of Helmand, speaking in 2009 Stirrup conceded that in some areas security had worsened. While, highlighting the inadequate force levels provided by NATO and the competing demands on Coalition political and military resources that Iraq had posed until 2008, Stirrup believed that by 2009 NATO forces were successfully taking the fight to the insurgents, driving them out of towns and villages and thereby allowing governance to improve which would lead to the defeat of the insurgency.[30]

Speaking generally on operations in Afghanistan, Stirrup has noted that whilst "the military is a key, an essential element in dealing with those problems, but by and large these problems can only be resolved politically" and that he favoured a pragmatic approach to dealing with former members of the Taliban.[31] By December 2009, Stirrup was expressing his concern about falling levels of public support for the war in Afghanistan which he believed risked undermining the British effort. In particular Stirrup called for a spirit of resolution and stated that the mission was achievable, noting that the British Armed Forces had finally now got a properly resourced plan to achieve the strategic aim.[32]

Extended term of office and retirement

In mid 2008, the Labour government of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown extended Stirrup's term of office until 2011, which effectively prevented the three individual Service chiefs of the time from competing for the UK's senior military position.[33] On 14 July 2010, the Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that General Sir David Richards, the then Chief of the General Staff, would succeed Stirrup as Chief of the Defence Staff in October 2010.[34] Richards took over on 29 October 2010 and Stirrup was created a life peer as Baron Stirrup, of Marylebone in the City of Westminster.[35] He was introduced into the House of Lords on 1 February 2011, where he sits as a crossbencher.[36] Stirrup officially retired from the RAF on 4 April 2011.[37] The following month Stirrup gave detailed evidence to the Commons Defence Select Committee on the UK's recent Strategic Defence and Security Review.[38]

In April 2013, Stirrup was appointed Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter by the Queen Elizabeth II.[39][40] He was appointed as an honorary Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the Queen's 2014 Birthday Honours.[41][42]

Activities as a Peer

In 2013 Stirrup, along with Field Marshal Lord Guthrie and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce, called upon the British Government to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of deployed operations. They were concerned that the increased risk of prosecution faced by commanders would lead to a generation of risk-averse military leaders.[43] In August 2014, Stirrup was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[44] In June 2015 Stirrup joined the House of Lords' EU External Affairs Sub-Committee.[45] From October 2015 Stirrup has been the president of the Pilgrims Society.[46]

On Remembrance Sunday 2014, it was announced that Stirrup would lead the efforts to raise one million pounds to enable a national memorial to the British service personnel who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to be erected in central London.[47] By March 2015 Stirrup was confident that the full amount needed could be raised[48] and by July 2016 work had begun on the memorial in the Victoria Embankment Gardens.[49] The Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial was unveiled in March 2017.[50]

In July 2016, Stirrup gave an interview to Sky News in which he accused Russia of running a "gangster regime" and a "gangster foreign policy" in regard to their ongoing Ukrainian intervention. Noting that the Kremlin viewed NATO as weak, Stirrup called for the West to develop a long-term strategy to counter Russia's actions. In particular Stirrup urged that NATO countries spend more on defence.[51]


Stirrup has received the following honours:

Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG)(2013)[54]
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB)(2005)[55]
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB)(2002)[56]
Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)(2000)[57]
Air Force Cross (AFC)(1983)[58]
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal(2002)[59]
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal(2012)[59]
Royal Air Force Long Service and Good Conduct Medal(2017)
Omani General Service Medal (Sultan Qaboos)[59]
Omani As Samood Medal (Endurance Medal)[59]
Commander of the Legion of Merit (United States)


Coat of arms of Jock Stirrup
Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter since 2013.[60]
Coronet of a Baron
A peregrine falcon Or, holding in the dexter claw a winged stirrup Azure.
Mantling Or and Azure.
Azure a bend Or between two stirrups Argent winged Or.
On either side a Peregrine Falcon supporting with the interior foot a Caduceus erect Or.
HONOR PRAEMIUM VIRTUTIS (Honour is the reward of virtue)
The Order of the Garter circlet.
The collar as Grand Cross Knight of the Order of the Bath (Appointed CB 2000, KCB 2002 & GCB 2005)
Air Force Cross
The banner of the Baron's arms used as knight of the Garter depicted at St George's Chapel.


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  32. "Loss Of Support 'More Damaging Than Taliban'". Sky News. 3 December 2009. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  33. Hickley, Matthew (12 July 2008). "Army chief General Dannatt 'to go early after snub over promotion'". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  34. "General Sir David Richards to be Chief of Defence Staff". London: Telegraph. 14 July 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
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  44. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". 7 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
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  46. "The Pilgrims". The Pilgrims of Great Britain. Archived from the original on 31 October 2015. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  47. "Afghan and Iraq war memorial plan announced". 9 November 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  48. "Fundraising Call for Memorial to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans". 24 March 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  49. "Work begins on £1million war memorial funded by Sun on Sunday campaign - THE SUN". 10 July 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  51. "Ex-Army Head: UK Should Consider Arming Ukraine". 4 July 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
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  59. "£750k memorial campaign fund soars after double boost". The Sun. 15 March 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  60. The Companion Magazine. College of St George. No. 19 (Summer-Autumn 2014), p. 12
Military offices
Preceded by
F J Hoare
Officer Commanding No. 2 Squadron
Succeeded by
Philip Sturley
Preceded by
D F A Henderson
Station Commander RAF Marham
Succeeded by
N R Irving
Preceded by
John Day
Director of Air Force Plans and Programmes
Succeeded by
Steven Nicholl
Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group
Succeeded by
J H Thompson
Preceded by
Timothy Jenner
Assistant Chief of the Air Staff
Succeeded by
Philip Sturley
Deputy Commander-in-Chief Strike Command
Succeeded by
Sir Brian Burridge
New title UK National Contingent Commander for Operation Veritas
Also Senior British Military Advisor to US CENTCOM

Succeeded by
Cedric Delves
Preceded by
Sir Jeremy Blackham
Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Equipment Capability)
Succeeded by
Robert Fulton
Preceded by
Sir Peter Squire
Chief of the Air Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Glenn Torpy
Preceded by
Sir Michael Walker
Chief of the Defence Staff
Succeeded by
Sir David Richards
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Richard Johns
Honorary Colonel of 73 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers)
1 April 2002 – 29 July 2008
Succeeded by
Sir Glenn Torpy
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