Captain Jeffrey Gledhill, who has died aged 90, dive bombed the German battleship Tirpitz and fought hard to preserve the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne and the Navy’s fixed-wing capability.

He was a sub-lieutenant when on 3 April 1944 he took off from the carrier HMS Victorious in his Fairey Barracuda dive-bomber as part of an attack on the Tirpitz. On his final approach to the Norwegian fjords, where the ship was hiding, he climbed over mountains to 2,500ft, then began a 45 degree dive and released his 1,600lb armour piercing bomb (post-war analysis showed that his bomb struck one of Tirpitz’s two 15-inch guns). The battleship was badly crippled by this and other direct hits. After further operations that April, he was awarded a DSC.

Jeffrey Allan Gledhill was born on 11 November 1921 in Wellington, New Zealand, and joined the RNZVR in 1941. Post-war, he returned to New Zealand but after study at university he joined the RAN in 1948 and was almost immediately sent to Britain to form the RAN’s 817 squadron. He became the squadron’s senior pilot and flew from the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in 1951-52 during the Korean War.

In the late 1950s he saw loan service in the Royal Navy and attended the staff course at Greenwich from 1958 to 1960; by 1961, when he was a commander, he was appointed Director of Air Warfare Organisation and Training (DAWOT) in the RAN. His experience of operational flying had convinced him of the value of naval aviation. As DAWOT, he found the future of Australian naval aviation in doubt but he staunchly defended the Service. Working with his supportive minister, John Gorton, Gledhill drew up a plan to fund the refit of the carrier Melbourne and to replace its ageing British aircraft. He was so successful that in 1963 Melbourne marked her 20,000th deck landing, and she remained in service until 1982.

Later, Gledhill became Naval Officer in Charge, Northern Australia, and then commanded the training establishment HMAS Penguin. In 1968 he returned to New Zealand as defence adviser at the Australian High Commission. In retirement he lived at Avalon, northern Sydney, where he enjoyed sailing in the harbour and worked as a consultant to Lamoore Yacht Sales.

He married Third Officer Margaret Armstrong, whom he had met in 1944 when she was Captain’s Secretary at the naval air station at Grimsetter, Orkney; she survives him with their two daughters.