Captain John Wells, CBE, DSC, Aviemore pioneer and naval historian; born September 22, 1915, died February 16, 1997

CAPTAIN John Wells, who has died aged 81, was the first general manager of the Highland Tourist Cairngorm Development Limited, a consortium led by Lord Fraser of Allander to establish hotels and tourist facilities at Aviemore.

Wells supervised the construction of the whole #3m project, including the chalets motel, ice-rink, swimming pool, restaurant, bars, shops, cinema, ballroom, and artificial ski slope.

Opened in 1966, the Aviemore Centre was the foundation of the all-year-round Highland tourist industry which operates with such success today.

Wells loved life in Scotland. ''We were very happy at Aviemore,'' he recalled, ''living in a log cabin on the edge of the centre. Skiing, curling, and skating in the winter, while in the summer there was shooting, stalking, fishing, and climbing the many Cairngorm peaks.

''The Highlands are famous for lovely people and throughout the year our house was full of friends and relations. Soon after we arrived I can remember being introduced in a bar to a retired Scottish major who asked: 'Cap'n Wells, wha's your regiment?' I knew then that I could forget the Navy for a while.''

Born in 1915, John Gerard Wells was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of admirals. He joined the Navy as a cadet at Dartmouth in 1929 and went on to serve all over the world - in the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert, at King George VI's Coronation Review at Spithead in 1937, in the destroyers Impulsive in the Spanish Civil War, and Acheron in the Norwegian campaign of 1940.

In May 1940 he took part in the evacuation of the BEF from the beaches at Dunkirk. In June, he took a small Dutch coaster in a convoy to embark troops of the 51st Highland Division who had been fighting a rearguard action and were trapped with their backs to the seas at St Valery, between Dieppe and Fecamp.

The main evacuation failed and some 6000 men of the 51st Highland Division became PoWs, but Wells succeeded in taking off the beach party and about 300 British and French troops whilst under fire from St Valery. He was awarded the DSC.

Wells specialised in gunnery, and was gunnery officer of the light cruiser Phoebe, taking part in some of the most hectic actions in the Mediterranean in 1941 and 1942. In 1944 he was appointed gunnery officer of the cruiser Swiftsure, serving in the British Pacific Fleet. She was the first major warship to enter Hong Kong after the Japanese surrender, and Wells landed with a party of sailors and Marines to restore order in the colony and release Allied PoWs and internees. Wells served in the aircraft carrier Warrior in the Korean War, and commanded the destroyer Dainty in the Cyprus patrol and in the early cod wars off Iceland. In 1961 he was appointed Captain of HMS Excellent, the gunnery school, at Whale Island, Portsmouth. His last command was the guided-missile destroyer Kent.

To the great surprise of his contemporaries, he was not selected for flag rank, and retired as a captain in 1964, being appointed CBE the same year. As the historian of the Navy's gunnery branch, Wells published Whaley: The Story of HMS Excellent in 1980 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the gunnery school.

He was the research historian of the project to restore the hulk of the Victorian ironclad HMS Warrior to her original 1860s condition. He published the full story of her remarkable resurrection, The Immortal Warrior - Britain's first and last battleship, after she was opened to the public at Portsmouth

in 1987.

His final book, published in 1994, was The Royal Navy - An Illustrated Social History, relating the enormous changes in the Navy which occurred between 1870 and 1990.

John Wells was a very fine athlete who boxed and played rugby and hockey for the Navy. He is survived by his wife Diana Schreiber, whom he married in 1947, and two sons.