News Item

Obituary for an observer

Lt Cdr Don Ridgway was a Fleet Air Arm observer who covered Arctic convoys and survived the sinking of HMS DASHER.

Ridgway, who has died aged 92, flew with 816 Naval Air Squadron, whose Swordfish aircraft operated from small escort craft known as 'Woolworth' carriers.

In 1942, his squadron undertook night operations in the English Channel, laying mines in the harbours of Cherbourg and Le Havre and attacking enemy shipping. The toll was heavy - within a few weeks the squadron had lost half its aircrew - but one early success came after Ridgway identified a German convoy which was then attacked and sunk by surface forces.

In February 1943 the squadron embarked in HMS DASHER but, while an aircraft was being refuelled, DASHER blew up and sank within a few minutes - Ridgway and 6 other 816 NAS aircrew were among only the 149 (of 538) who survived.

The squadron re-formed at Machrihanish, searching for and attacking German E-boats in the English Channel and then embarked in the escort carrier HMS TRACKER, with 6 Swordfish and 6 Seafires, for anti-submarine operations in the North-West Approaches.

The aircraft kept the U-boats below the surface so that they could only move at slow, submerged speed, making them easier targets for escorts - and no merchant ships were sunk in the gap between August and December 1943.

By January 1944 Ridgway was the senior observer on 816 NAS when it embarked in the escort carrier HMS CHASER to cover the Arctic convoys. Again, by driving off shadowing aircraft and keeping U-boats submerged, they saw a 42-ship convoy reach Murmansk without loss. And, on return, the squadron sank 3 U-boats and damaged several others.

By August 1944, 816 NAS - having lost more than 4-in-5 of its aircrew in 2 years, was disbanded. Ridgway had been promoted to Lt Cdr and flew briefly from merchant aircraft carriers - oil tankers with minimal aircraft-handling facilities - and became an air navigation instructor.

After the war, Don Ridgway was instrumental in forming the Asda chain of stores; by the time he retired in 1984, he had opened 69 large outlets.

Lt Cdr Don Ridgway was born on 29 April 1921 and died on 22 October 2013. A full obituary is at The Telegraph link below . .

  • 27 January 2014
  • RIN

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