Obituary: Captain David Goodwin

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DAVID GOODWIN'S naval career began in 1925 and he retired in 1960. Since he chose to be an aviator with the Fleet Air Arm, he managed only one command at sea, and in all probability this cost him his flag, for he was a valuable officer who held a number of promising appointments.

He is perhaps best remembered as a survivor of the favourite battle honour in the Fleet Air Arm, a night strike on 11 November 1940 against the Italian fleet in its naval base at Taranto, on the heel of Italy. Italian strength was halved with the sinking of three battleships, and the surviving members of Italy's fleet then withdrew from Taranto to less exposed bases. Taranto's impact on the war in the Mediterranean was great, coming so soon after Italy had chosen to enter it, and at a time when the French were ceasing to take part.

The plan to attack Taranto had been conceived by A.B. Cunningham, Commander- in-Chief in those waters. Cunningham had intended to launch the attack from two carriers, the old Eagle, a converted Chilean battleship, and the new Fleet carrier Illustrious, with its armoured flight deck. However, damage to Eagle meant that the new ship had to go alone, reinforced by some of the Eagle's aircraft, including Goodwin's; his pilot was "Olly" Patch, an officer in the Royal Marines.

Twenty-one of the elderly Swordfish biplanes sank the three battleships, and all the British aircraft returned except two; the crew of one of those survived. The Fleet welcomed them back, all ships repeating the Admiral's laconic signal "Illustrious manoeuvre well executed." But there were only six immediate awards, one a DSC for Goodwin, and although 32 more were later announced, it was not until the following May.

Goodwin's naval career coincided with the zenith of the Georgian fleet. His first ship was the coal-fired Emperor of India, a pre-war battleship laid down in the year of his birth, 1912. After six years he volunteered for flying duties and passed out top of the Observers Course in 1936. Thereafter he flew in that classic aircraft the Fairey Swordfish, virtually obsolete by the time war broke out in 1939, and so slow that many survived only because enemy gunners could not believe that they were flying at such a low speed, and aimed off accordingly.

Goodwin flew Swordfish first with 820 Squadron in Courageous, converted from a battlecruiser while he was a cadet at Dartmouth (1925-28), and then from 1939 in 824 in Eagle. After a joyless hunt for the Graf Spee, she went into the Mediterranean and sank two Italian destroyers at Tobruk before Taranto. After Taranto, 824 Squadron flew to Port Sudan and sank two more Italian destroyers, Nazario Sauro and Danieli Manin in the Red Sea in April 1941, precipitating two more into scuttling themselves on the same day.

Goodwin came home that July and brought his operational experience to the Naval Air Division of the Admiralty before being appointed later that year - unusually for an Observer - to command 819 Squadron. In April 1942 he was appointed to Condor, the RN air station at Arbroath, to form the Naval Air Signal School which he commanded until promoted Commander in December 1944. This was just in time to put him into the select minority before the war ended, and he was appointed to the new light fleet carrier Glory as Commander (Flying). She joined the British Pacific Fleet on VJ Day, in time to take the Japanese surrender of several Pacific territories before converting to repatriation work.

Goodwin's next two, peacetime, posts were on the staff of the RN staff college at Greenwich (1946-49), and then on loan service to the Royal Australian Navy (1950-52) as Chief Staff Officer to the Member of the Naval Board responsible for the development of Australia's own Fleet Air Arm. On his return he was promoted to Captain, which was good going for an aviator in those competitive days, and appointed in command of Harrier, the Fleet Aircraft Direction School, at Kete, in Pembrokeshire.

After two idyllic years, he was given his first and only command at sea, in the Daring Class ship Duchess, which he counted as the most exciting and rewarding job he ever did. That he had no more sea time may have cost him a flag but it helped him to become Chief of Staff to the legendary Caspar John, then Flag Officer Air, Home and later the First Sea Lord, in the rank of Commodore.

In 1959 Goodwin was made an ADC to the Queen and appointed CBE in 1960. He was only 48, and went on to organise the Milford Haven Marine Services, based at the old Royal Dockyard, Pembroke Dock, to provide facilities for the increasing numbers of large tankers using what Nelson had called the finest natural harbour in the kingdom.He then turned to chairing Civil Service Selection Boards for Entry of Executive Officers and the employment of Retired Officers from the Services for continued civilian service. Inevitably he was active in the work of the Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association.

In 1937 Goodwin had married Aline Watson; they had two sons, Michael, who followed his father into the Navy, and Peter. Goodwin's wife died in 1991, having been nursed devotedly by him for 15 years. He had always been a caring person, a good listener, with a comforting sense of humour; now he joined the Samaritans, where once more he came into his own.

Last year, he rediscovered the pleasures of long-distance cruising, exploring the Amazon and enjoying life afloat once more; this year he went up the Orinoco in the same ship, and it was on the way home that he died.

A. B. Sainsbury

David Gordon Goodwin, naval officer: born 12 February 1912; DSC 1940; CBE 1960; married 1937 Aline Watson (died 1991; two sons); died at sea off the West Indies 26 February 1999.