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Les Harris
1. Name
Leslie Alban HARRIS
2. Date Commissioned
3 September 1934
3. Date retired
September 1958 (Golden Bowler)
4. Rank
Major RM
5. Awarded wings
19 December 1938
6. Flying schools
Brooklands Aviation Ltd. Sywell. June-August 1938
No.1 FTS, (No.1 Course) RAF Netheravon. September 1938 - April 1939
7. Aircraft types flown
D.H. 82 (Moth), Hart Variants, Gladiator, Skua, Shark, Proctor, Fulmar, Buffalo, Wildcat, Anson, Walrus, Spitfire, Blenheim, Beaufighter, Wellington, Botha, Oxford Chesapeake, Mosquito, Havoc, Typhoon, Firefly, Hellcat, Corsair, Beechcraft, Harvard, Tempest, Mustang, Reliant, Welkin, Barracuda, Meteor I & III Messerschmitt 110, Tiger Cat (F7F), Firebrand
Helicopters - Hiller, Dragonfly, Whirland, S58.
8. Squadrons
769 Sqdn Donibristle May 1939 - September 1939, Fighter and D.L.T
758 Sqdn Eastleigh August 1939 - October 1939 - TAG Training
803 Sqdn October 1939 - May 1940 Orkneys, Glorious, Ark Royal
Wounded and convalescing May 1940 - January 1941
805 Sqdn January 1941 - August1941 in Western Desert & Crete
Fighter school Deptember 1940 - October 1941 Dekheila
Night Fighter Training January 1942 - April 1942 RAF Hurn and 54 OTU
604 Sqdn May 1942 - June 1942 RAF Middle Wallop
784 Sqdn (CO) June 1942 - November 1942 Christchurch 746 Sqdn NFIU ( CO) December 1942 - July 1943 RAF Ford
U.S.A. on Night Fighter evaluation August 1943 - October 1943
46 Sqdn NFIU ( CO) November 1943 - July 1945 Ford and Wittering
RNAS Ford as Commander (Flying) August 1945 - April 1946
705 (Helicopter) Sqdn. Lee October 1956 - February 1957 700H Lee March 1957 - December 1957
9. Aircraft Carriers

Furious (DL T) 1939. Glorious - April 1940
Ark Royal- May 1940 (16 May 1940, shot down)
Furious - November 1940 - ferrying to Takoradi

10. Senior Appointments

CO Fighter school, Dekheila 1941
CO 784 Sqdn. June 1942 - November 1942
CO 746 Sqdn. NFIU. December 1942 - June 1943. November 1943 -July 1945
Commander (Flying) RNAS Ford August 1945 - April 1946

11.Decorations

O.B,E. 14 June 1945. "For work in the Night Fighter Development Unit".
D.S.C. 25 June 1940. "For daring and resource in the conduct of hazardous and successful operations by the FAA on the coast of Norway".

12. General

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.