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Dennis Royle Cambell




Obituaries­ Rear-Admiral Dennis Royle Cambell CB, DSC 1907­2000

Dennis Cambell an experienced naval aviator and test pilot conceived an idea that was to change the face of naval aviation: the angled flight deck. Like most great inventions, this was one of breathtaking simplicity. It meant that naval aircraft could land on aircraft carriers by approaching at a slight angle, from starboard quarter to port bow, and so rendered obsolete the signals officer waving "bats" to guide aircraft straight up the wake of the carrier onto the flight deck to land and be caught by an arrester wire. His idea meant that aircraft, which failed to catch an arrester wire, could "bolt" under reapplied throttle over the port bow. The US Navy immediately adopted the idea and made the necessary structural alterations to the carrier Antietam, which was then sent to the English Channel for demonstrations. The Admiralty was persuaded and followed suit and, appropriately, appointed Cambell Captain of the new large carrier Ark Royal (the fourth of that name) after she had been converted. Angled decks are now a common feature of all large carriers. In 1925 Dennis Cambell joined the Royal Navy from Westminster School (Rigaud's 1925) and served as a midshipman in the battlecruiser Repulse before training as fighter pilot. Cambell flew in fighter squadrons aboard three different aircraft carriers, from 1931 to 1936, and he was given command of 803 Squadron in 1938.Thiswas the first to be equipped with the monoplane Blackburn Skua, and the outbreak of war saw him aboard the third Ark Royal. The squadron was credited with shooting down the first German aircraft of the war, one of three Dornier Do18 flying boats which, on September 261939, appeared over the horizon and began shadow-ing a North Sea naval force including the battleships Rodney and Nelson and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Later, Cambell set up the fighter defences of the main fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow using the early radar unit at Orkney. He was awarded the DSC for his gallantry in these operations. Afflicted with a form of feverish arthritis in 1940, he served as a test pilot at Boscombe Down until an emergency appendectomy cured the trouble. In 1942 he was also appointed as senior airman to the carrier Argus and took part in operations with Force "H" in the Mediterranean, reinforcing Malta with fresh aircraft. Cambell's war ended in command of a Firebrand squadron which did not manage to get to the Pacific theatre in time to take part. His postwar appointments included the post of senior airman in the carrier Glory in the Far East and command of the frigate Tintagel  Castle. He regarded his 18 months in command of the fourth Ark Royal between 1955 and 1956, as the highpoint of his life in the Navy. Promoted Rear-Admiral in 1957, he was the Flag Officer Flying Training until retirement in 1960 when he was appointed CB.


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