On completion of his training in the RM and a commission in HMS Barha (1936-38) "Skeets" Harris volunteered for the F.A.A, together with Guy Griffiths and Dickie Owen of the same batch. He was in fact on the course following the other two and linked up with Alan "Minnie" Marsh of the January 1935 batch, at Sywell, where the first course of the direct entry "A" Branch Pilots assembled 1 June 1938. This was a civilian course in elementary flying run by Brooklands Aviation Ltd., and needless to state they had a most enjoyable three months away from the somewhat unimaginative and rigid discipline of the Corps as it was in those days. Little did they realise that it would be eight years and a World War before they would return to Corps Duty.
Then followed courses at No.1 FTS Netheravon where he graduated as a Fighter Pilot, and Deck Landing training in HMS Furious. So at the outbreak of war he was at Eastleigh as a fully trained fighter pilot waiting for a posting to a first line squadron. He did not have long to wait and on 10 October 1939 he was posted to 803 Sqdn. (Skuas) operating from Wick, Hatston and in April 1940, from Glorious and Ark Royal.
He reports that three times in five days his Squadron trundled across to Bergen from Hatston a distance of three hundred miles each way, a long way on one engine. These raids in March 1940 were very successful, resulting in the sinking of a Koln Class Cruiser, the Konigsberg, and a supply ship in Bergen Fjord, together with several Transports and a Float-plane.
From mid April to mid May 1940 they worked their way up the Norwegian coast, first from Glorious then from Ark Royal. As he describes, they mixed it with some success with Heinkel II's over Aandalsnes, Trondheim, Namsos and Narvik. But low cloud in a Norwegian Fjord is more frightening than any enemy air or ground opposition. So too was the problem of "finding the carrier in bad weather after a long patrol with minimum radio aids". His log book on one occasion shows one such flight of
5 ½ hours and he then had to land on one wheel with undercarriage damage.Losses were quite heavy, including the Squadron CO Lieutenant Lucy and Captain McIver RM. By 12 May Harris was CO of the remains of the Squadron but on 16 May in an air battle near Narvik he writes "a bullet splattered through my windscreen and into my shoulder after several head-on attacks and I parked in a fjord off Narvik. The Skua, sedate to the end, waddled to the sea bed. Luckily the Royal Navy had a ring-side seat and after a remarkably short but very cold bath they picked up my observer and myself. That was that for six months".
In January 1941 he led a unit of 9 Fulmars from Takoradi (from Furious) across Africa to Alexandria where he linked up with 805 Squadron operating in Crete (Malame) and the Western Desert. During this period to August 1941 he also commanded a Fighter School at Dekheila to train new arrivals in first line work in Fulmars, Hurricanes and Martlets.
Then followed a long period from January 1942 until the end of the war as CO of the Naval Night Fighter Interception Unit. Working alongside its RAF equivalent, the unit was responsible for the development of the F.A.A Night Fighters and the setting up of the Naval Night Fighter school at Drem which Harris commanded for its first six months. In this period, "Skeets" and his key staff which included Jack Armour RM, had experience with the RAF including a month with John "Cats eyes" Cunningham in 604 Squadron. The unit shared aircraft with the RAF and consequently had the advantage of flying their more exotic aircraft, including Beaufighters and Mosquitoes, and were able to carry out operational sorties over Germany.
Harris's last apppointment before returning to Corps Duty was as Commander (Flying) at Ford, after which he returned to the Corps in July 1946.
In May 1947 he went to 3 Cdo Bde as Adjutant of 40 Cdo, RM after which he was at JSSC before becoming FRMO Far East. He then served on the staff of MGRM Portsmouth as DAA & QMG (1955-56). At that time the MGRM was J Moulton and his CSO was F.D.G Bird so that there were three experienced pilots together. Prompted by Harris, General Moulton set up a team to investigate the possible role of the Royal Marines in a helicopter force based on a Light Fleet Carrier equipped with S58 helicopters. A paper was presented to the CG and Staff Colleges including the JSSC and this ultimately led to the present organisation.
In October 1956 Skeets Harris took a full Helicopter Pilots course and remained in them to the end of 1957. Although Guy Griffiths had flown Hoverflies unofficially in 1945, Harris was the first RM Pilot to qualify on Helicopters.
He retired in September 1958 and then was emploved in helicopters, serving seven years with Westland and three years with Fairchild Hiller.