LONDON — Lord Duncan-Sandys, one of the last survivors of Sir Winston Churchill's World War II Cabinet and the statesman who supervised the dismantling of the British Empire, died Thursday after a long illness. He was 79.
Sandys' political career spanned five decades. Elected to Parliament in 1935, he ran Britain's bombing program during World War II. After the war, he founded the European Union, the precursor to the European Economic Community, but rose to greater heights in the 1960s.
Between 1960 and 1964, Sandys was the Conservative government's chief minister in charge of steering 11 colonies and territories to independence. Later, he was appointed to the House of Lords and developed a reputation as a political maverick.
"He was always admired for his fearless integrity in political life and for his immense command of those subjects in which he was dealing," said former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath.
Wed Churchill's Daughter
Sandys (pronounced Sands), whose first wife was Churchill's daughter, Diana, was a dashing, redheaded Tory with a wide streak of arrogance and ruthlessness. Born into a family of landed gentry, Duncan Edwin Sandys was educated at Eton and Oxford and joined the Foreign Office in 1930.
A speaker of French, Russian and German, he was posted to Berlin as Adolf Hitler was coming to power and promptly infuriated his ambassador by getting himself an appointment with the Nazi leader.
Elected to Parliament in 1935, Sandys criticized the appeasement policy of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and, like his father-in-law Churchill, accused the government of neglecting to prepare for the inevitable war.
When the war came in 1939, Sandys was an army officer and was wounded in Norway and sent home. Sandys was put in charge of the defense of London when Hitler unleashed V-1 buzz bombs against the capital. He is credited with one of the most difficult decisions in the war when he left London undefended for 24 hours while anti-aircraft batteries were moved to the coast to shoot down the V-1s.
Ordered Bomb Raid
As head of Britain's nascent rocket program, he won approval for a massive bombing raid on Hitler's rocket sites that set the German war effort back six months. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that without the delay, the Allied invasion of Europe "might have been written off."
Sandys lost his parliamentary seat in the Labor Party landslide of 1945 and devoted himself to uniting Europe, founding the European Union, an early forerunner of the present 12-nation European Economic Community.
When the Tories regained power in 1951 that they held for 13 years, Sandys held a succession of important posts, including the defense portfolio where he backed Britain's independent nuclear arsenal.
As Commonwealth minister, he oversaw Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's "wind of change" policy as country after country left the empire and became independent within the Commonwealth, the association of Britain and its former colonies.
Colonies Gain Freedom
Under his command, 11 colonies gained independence: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cyprus, Malta, Malaysia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Sierra Leone.
He wrote in 1962: "Britain has no desire to hold on to her remaining colonies a day longer than is necessary. Politically they involve us in much unwelcome controversy with the outside world--and economically, we draw no profit from our sovereignty."
Sandys divorced Diana, by whom he had a son and two daughters, in 1960, and married Marie Claire Schmitt, a French divorcee, in 1962. They had one daughter.