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Rydill, Louis Joseph (1922–2009), naval architect, was born on 16 August 1922 in New York, the son of Louis William Rydill (1889–1974), greengrocer and former soldier, and his second wife, Elizabeth Queenie, née Gallagher (1899–1974). His parents had married in Plymouth in 1920 and emigrated to New York the same year, arriving shortly before the birth of Rydill's sister Virginia (1920–2000), but returned, the father in 1926 and the mother with the two young children in 1927, to settle in Plymouth and later Portsmouth. Rydill was apprenticed at the Dockyard School, Devonport, from which he was awarded a Royal Corps of Naval Constructors cadetship in 1942, leading to a degree in engineering at the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keyham, Plymouth, and at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. On 11 April 1949, at Gosport register office, he married Eva (Eve), née Newman, a 27-year-old probation officer, daughter of Emmanuel Newman, master tailor. They had two daughters, Sarah (b. 1950) and Jessica (b. 1959), both novelists.

Rydill was an assistant constructor in the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors from 1946, being promoted to constructor in 1952 and chief constructor in 1962. He was concurrently assistant professor of naval architecture at Greenwich from 1953. He was awarded the prestigious gold medal of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in 1959 for his paper ‘A Linear Theory for the Steered Motion of Ships in Waves’, which described predictive techniques for ship manoeuvrability and which drew on his work in an earlier appointment to the Admiralty Experimental Works at Haslar, Gosport. Upon the closure of Greenwich as a degree-awarding establishment, he found a new home in 1967 for the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors at University College, London, where, as London University's first professor of naval architecture, from 1967 to 1972, he restructured the courses and established the world-renowned MSc in naval architecture.

Although the Admiralty had been dickering with the concept of nuclear propulsion as early as 1946, cost and the availability of suitable fuel were among the factors delaying progress until the arrival of USS Nautilus in 1954, the world's first nuclear submarine, provided the impetus for the Royal Navy also to realize this fundamental increase in military effectiveness. Earl Mountbatten, first sea lord in 1955, used his personality and friendships to enlist American support which, despite setbacks and protracted negotiations about security and copyright, eventually resulted in the sale of their S5W reactor, enabling an earlier launch date for Dreadnought while Britain's own nuclear propulsion systems were being developed.

The Admiralty formed the Dreadnought project team with Rydill as a senior member under Sir Rowland Baker in October 1957. The design challenges were enormous. Although the British were allowed to see the methods used for the US Navy's Skipjack class construction, the Dreadnought's sheer size, speed, diving depth, hydrodynamic characteristics, mechanical complexity, and an overarching need for quietness were unprecedented. An entirely novel British-designed ‘front end’ incorporating a revolutionary large conformal sonar array and a massive water-ram torpedo discharge system had to be married to an American ‘back end’. So complex were the crowded machinery spaces that accurate one-fifth scale wooden mockups were needed to ensure that all fitted together. The Americans subsequently adopted several British nuclear submarine design features. Dreadnought conducted successful sea trials in 1962, the year that the first all-British Valiant class submarine was laid down. Rydill was appointed OBE the same year.

Rydill then started work on the design of a large aircraft carrier of over 50,000 tons. Modest by American standards, CVA-01 was bigger than any previous British carrier and capable of operating the most advanced aircraft. Desired performance required extensive innovative features which Rydill as the project's chief designer considered greatly increased the risks to the project, and it was this and perennial shortages of staff that prompted his remark in 1966 that ‘cancellation was the happiest day of my life’ (The Times, 8 May 2009). But the removal of the navy's fixed wing aviation by the 1966 Defence Review was a profound shock, leaving Britain a second-class naval power.

Returning to the Ministry of Defence as assistant director of submarines, constructive (1972–4), and deputy director submarines (Polaris) (1974–6), Rydill oversaw the development of the Swiftsure and Trafalgar nuclear submarine designs. He was from 1976 to 1981 director of ship design and engineering, having reorganized the ship department and chaired the navy-wide ship and weapons design co-ordination group. Retiring from the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors in 1981, he was then asked to return to University College, London, for a second stint as professor of naval architecture until 1985, when he became an emeritus professor. The research that spun off from his collaboration with the Ministry of Defence as professor from 1967 to 1972 and again from 1981 to 1985 included substantial developments in offshore engineering, trimaran ship design, and advanced ship design methods.

Rydill was a fellow of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and became a fellow of the Academy (subsequently the Royal Academy) of Engineering in 1982 and an honorary fellow of University College, London, in 2008. His expertise in submarine construction found expression in his definitive textbook Concepts in Submarine Design (1994), co-written with Roy Burcher. This remained for many years the basis of the postgraduate design course at University College.

Noted for his high intelligence and analytical clarity of mind, Rydill was also a convivial and cultured man with many interests, among which was an enthusiasm for American music, particularly jazz. He was regarded as a father-figure and mentor by his students. He died on 21 March 2009 of ischaemic heart disease at his home, The Lodge, Entry Hill Drive, Bath, and was survived by his wife Eve and their two daughters. His funeral was at the Haycombe crematorium. The eulogy was delivered by Rabbi Ron Berry of the Bristol and West Progressive Jewish Congregation.

Guy Liardet


Bath Chronicle (16 April 2009) · The Times (8 May 2009) · Daily Telegraph (28 May 2009) · www.mecheng.ucl.ac.uk, accessed on 3 May 2012 · WW (2009) · private information (2013) · m. cert. · d. cert.

Wealth at death  

£47,861: probate, 23 Oct 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales