Nigel Skene had the reputation of being a natural pilot with a real zest for flying. He obtained a "Distinguished" on his flying training courses, the only one noted among the records of 80 RM pilots which have been checked. He also appears to have been the first RM Officer to command a Fleet Air Arm Squadron. He completed his first tour in the FAA in 1937 having served in Glorious, Furious and Courageous and in the Eastern Mediterranean at RAF Depot Aboukir, and RAF Station Heliopolis.
He then served as OCRM HMS Terror at Singapore until October 1938 and on 5 December 1938 he returned to the FAA and was then appointed to command 810 TSR Squadron in Ark Royal on 9 December 1938. After the outbreak of war the squadron was continuously employed on Anti-Submarine patrols and was very active during the Norwegian campaign. In particular they carried out strikes on the Trondheim area 25th and 28th April 1940 destroying all three hangars at Vaernes airfield, and causing heavy damage to moored floatplanes and damaging the seaplane slipway at Trondheim.
For these operations Nigel Skene was awarded the DSC. Later, on 9th May the squadron made another attack on the railway east of Narvik. The section led by Skene obtained two direct bomb hits on the middle of the track on a large bridge near the Swedish border and Skene placed his bombs right into a large bridge nearby railway tunnel. In the meantime, the other section led by Captain W H N Martin, also a RM pilot in the squadron, attacked the railway station at Hunddallen where a train was conveniently standing in the station. Martin hit the train with a 250lb bomb and it caught fire and the front end overturned. Two aircraft were hit by flak but none of the aircrews were hurt.
On 15 June 1940 Skene handed over the Squadron to Captain A C Newson who was then in 820 Squadron, and took command of the Torpedo Training Unit at RNAS Crail. He remained here until 3 November 1941 when he was appointed as Commander (F) of HMS Avenger, the first RM Pilot to be made Senior Air Officer of an aircraft carrier. The ship was commissioned on 2 March 1942 and finally left the US on 30 April after engine breakdowns had been rectified. On the voyage to UK she lost two Swordfish of 816 Squadron in thick weather and arrived in the middle of May.
After modifications and fitting of new equipment the Avenger sailed on 3 September 1942 for Iceland to join Convoy PQ18 to Archangel and the return Convoy QPI4. Action was continuous until the 20 September, when it left the convoy to return to Scapa. The story of these two convoys is very well described in Chapter 5 of Kenneth Pool man's book "Escort Carrier" and would be too long to include here.
The next operation in which Avenger took part was Operation "TORCH", the invasion of North Africa. Her task was to give cover for the landings at Algiers in conjunction with Argus. Her two squadrons were 802 and 803 Sqadrons equipped with Hurricane IIBs. Between 8 and 10 November she flew off 60 fighter sorties. On 9th she was near-missed by Heinkel torpedo bombers whilst on 10th her engines gave trouble and she was moored in Algiers harbour until 12th when she sailed for Gibraltar. Whilst escorting convoy MKFI from Gibraltar, Avenger was torpedoed by U155 just west of the Straits of Gibraltar. The torpedo struck amidships and the ship blew up, jack-knifed amidships and sank in a few minutes leaving only seventeen survivors. The Avenger did not have the modifications to her aviation fuel system incorporated in later escort carriers the petrol being stored in crude, unprotected tanks in her bottom. The ship sank so quickly that the only ones to escape were in a rest room just below the flight deck and this was already flooded before they all got out. For 802 Squadron this was the third carrier to be sunk under them Glorious, Audacity and Avenger. Major Skeene was lost with the remainder.