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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. D C O Campbell


Donald Cairnie Ogilvie Campbell was born in Cairnie, Banff, Scotland on 23rd September 1918 and educated at Ellesmere College in Shropshire where he was enrolled as a boarder.

His father ran an architectural practice and after Campbell left school he worked there for a year to see if he was attracted to the same profession.

However he went on to take up an engineering apprenticeship, his real interest, at the Alvis Car and Engineering Company in Coventry.

Campbell joined the RAFVR in June 1938 as an Airman u/t Pilot, commencing his training at 9 E&RFTS at Ansty, just outside Coventry.



He was called up on 1st September 1939 and posted to 9 FTS at Hullavington, Wiltshire on 7th October 1939 to complete his training. After a detachment to RAF Porthcawl for gunnery training in April/May 1940 he passed out on 15th May and was posted the same day to 66 Squadron, operating Spitfires at Duxford.

The squadron moved the following day, his logbook shows the subsequent deployments:

Horsham St. Faith 16th to 29th May 1940.
Coltishall              29th May to 3rd September 1940.
Kenley                 3rd September to 10th September 1940.
Gravesend           10th September to 30th October 1940.
West Malling        30th September to 7th November 1940.
Biggin Hill            7th November to 24th February 1941.
Exeter                 24th February to 26th April 1941.
Perranporth         26th April to 10th May 1941.

Campbell flew two operational sorties on 20th September 1940 but was then hospitalised with a recurring throat infection which was suspected to be a symptom of diptheria. He underwent a tonsillectomy, there is a letter from him dated 24th October 1940 written from the RAF Hospital Halton.

When he was discharged from hospital he was stationed at Biggin Hill on non-flying duties, rejoining 66 Squadron on 24th November 1940 once fully fit.

On 10th May 1941 Campbell was posted to 238 Squadron, then being readied at Chilbolton in Hampshire for service in the Western Desert. The intention was to load 238's Hurricanes onto the carrier HMS Victorious, which had only entered service on 15th May, and fly them off when within reach of Malta. However Victorious was assigned to the hastily formed task force sent after the Bismarck and sailed with 238's pilots still aboard, they had to pass the time and presumably keep out of the way while the ship's Swordfish and Fulmars were launched to seek out the enemy.

Thanks to the above interruption Campbell had yet to fly a Hurricane but his logbook shows he flew Hurricane Z7053 for 45 minutes from Abbotsinch on the edge of Glasgow on 31st May.

Victorious sailed from the Clyde later that day with 48 Hurricanes aboard. On arrival in Gibraltar 26 were transferred to the carrier Ark Royal and the two carriers, protected by a destroyer screen, sailed on 13th June for a rendezvous point to the south of the Balearic Islands.

Campbell had been able to make a 1hr 30min flight in Z4532 earlier that day, only his second in a Hurricane. The ships could not be exposed to the superior numbers of German and Italian aircraft based in Sicily so the plan was to fly off the Hurricanes once Malta came within the Hurricane's own range.

The operation commenced on 14th June. Four Hudsons from Gibraltar circled the ships until all Hurricanes were airborne and formed four formations, each led by a Hudson, that headed for Malta.

The official report of the operation records:

43 Hurricane fighters landed in Malta today along with four Hudsons as part of ‘Operation Tracer’, the latest initiative to deliver reinforcements to the Mediterranean. Originally 48 aircraft were loaded aboard the new fleet aircraft carrier HMS Victorious which sailed under escort for Gibraltar on 31st May. On arrival, 26 Hurricanes were transferred to HMS Ark Royal and 22 remained on Victorious.
Both vessels left harbour early yesterday, escorted by the battlecruiser Renown and seven destroyers.

Four Hudsons few out from Gibraltar to meet the carriers at a rendezvous point to the south of the Balearic Islands. 47 of the Hurricanes successfully took off from their carrier in four formations, each led by one of the Hudsons. One was observed turning away from its formation and heading towards North Africa, presumably suffering from engine trouble.

The last formation to take off encountered navigational problems and as a result ran very short of fuel. One crashed in the sea before reaching the Island, with the loss of its pilot. The fuel shortage caused two others difficulties on landing. One managed to alight safely at Luqa, the second crashed in Wied ik Kbir, killing the pilot.


It now seems that the official record is in error, the only fatality that day was Sgt. Robert MacPherson of 260 Squadron who spun in on landing at Luqa.

The pilot who came down in the sea was Sgt. AD Saunders, also from 260 Squadron. He was spotted by F/Lt. TF Neil of 249 Squadron, who along with other 249 aircraft and some Fulmars was out looking for him. A rescue craft picked him up.

This was also recorded in error as '....F/Lt. 'Ginger' Neil found Sgt. Campbell of 238 Squadron in the sea 40 miles from Kalafrana..' which we now know could not be true.

Campbell's Hurricane must have been the one seen to leave its formation and fly south towards the coast of North Africa. Radio silence would have been in force. This is supported by his logbook entry for the day (below).



The exact sequence of events remained unknown until October 2016 when the reports below were retrieved from the Foreign Office files at the National Archives*.




Another part of the report states that he landed at Blida airfield.

Campbell was first sent to an internment camp at Aumale (now Sour El-Ghozlane) south of Algiers, arriving there on 17th June.

An undated letter from his family to his fiancee says 'Just received a cable from Cairnie, this is what it said:  Fit and well. Interned. Inform Betsie. Reply American Consulate Algiers.

This may well be the first indication of Campbell's whereabouts as the family did not receive any official notification until August 1941 (below).



An undated cable to his fiancee says that he had made an unsuccessful escape attempt and it may be because of this that on 20th October 1941 he was transferred to the bigger Laghouat internment camp on the edge of the Sahara. It held about five hundred mostly British internees, the majority from the Royal Navy.



Above: Campbell (foreground) with unidentified colleagues at Laghouat


After the Anglo-American landings (Operation Torch) in November 1942 the camp was liberated and Campbell was returned to the UK, presumably by ship, arriving in London on 24th November 1942.

After convalescence he reported to RAF Uxbridge on 2nd January 1943 and was sent on a refresher flying course at 52 OTU Aston Down.

On completion he joined 277 Air Sea Rescue Squadron based at Martlesham Heath. The squadron used Spitfires and Lysanders to search for downed airmen and Walrus aircraft to pick them up.



Above: 277 Squadron group with Campbell highlighted (below).



Campbell operated from Beccles from February 1945 until he was demobbed at Uxbridge on 5th December 1945. He had participated in a number of rescues of British and American airmen.

He resumed his career with Alvis but now worked for the Aero Engineering Division with emphasis on the development of helicopters. This entailed much time detached to the RAF testing centre at Boscombe Down.

In 1952 he was called to Western Canada to advise on the use of helicopters in the timber industry.

He later moved to Jaguar Motors in Coventry and was still with them when he died suddenly on 15th October 1972.


*Additional research courtesy of NA researcher Paul Baillie ([email protected])

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