Commodore Fraser Fraser-Harris
Commodore Fraser Fraser-Harris, who has died aged 86, was an outstanding Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot during the Second World, then transferred to the RCN; but when Canada insisted on unifying her Armed Forces he resigned his commission rather than become a general, with a bottle-green uniform.
At dawn on April 10 1940, shortly after the German invasion of Norway, Fraser-Harris was Blue Three of the first wave of Blackburn Skua dive-bombers from 800 and 803 Naval Air Squadrons which struck at the German cruiser Konigsberg. Flying in poor weather at extreme range from the Orkneys made accurate navigation essential.
Fraser-Harris's aircrewman, Leading Torpedo Air Gunner George Scott Russell, was spot on as they dived at an angle of 60 degrees from 8,000 ft through a thin layer of cloud with the sun behind them. Their 500 lb bomb hit the cruiser's bows, making a large flaming hole while others also struck the ship, which they saw sinking as the Skuas departed through the smoke.
They had achieved complete surprise, with one bullet hole in a wing being the only damage sustained during what was the first sinking of a major warship in wartime by aerial bombing. Fraser-Harris was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the DSC for his daring and resource in the conduct of hazardous and successful operations.
Some days later, however, he flew from the ill-fated carrier Glorious and shot down a Heinkel bomber, then was brought down by ground fire off Trondheim. After ditching in shallow water, Fraser-Harris and Russell were pelted with rocks by villagers, who mistook them for Germans. But when the Norwegians realised that the pair were British, they gave them clothing and food for a trek over the mountains in which the melting snow forced them to alternate between walking and skiing.
Eventually they were smuggled aboard a fishing boat and delivered to the headquarters of the British commander at Namsos, Lt-Gen Carton de Wiart, before being evacuated in the cruiser Cairo. Glorious was sunk by the German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst; years later Fraser-Harris attended a ceremony at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, where the Norwegians returned him the control column of his aircraft, to be used in the reconstruction of a Skua.
For a few months in 1941 he honed his skills flying Sea Hurricanes in 801 Squadron, under the command of the air ace Lt-Cdr Rupert Brabner who, when Under Secretary of State for Air, was later to be lost off the Azores. As the senior pilot of 807 Squadron, Fraser-Harris had taken off from the carrier Ark Royal when she was torpedoed and sunk. He flew on to North Front, Gibraltar, where he formed a scratch squadron of Fulmars and Sea Hurricanes to join the elderly training carrier Argus, which was engaged in the relief of Malta. Subsequently, during Operation Harpoon, Fraser-Harris's squadron shot down four Italian aircraft, and he was awarded a bar to his DSC.
In June 1942 he retrained his pilots to fly Seafires, the naval adaptation of the Spitfire. The Seafire's view for'd when touching down was limited; its landing gear frequently collapsed, and the tailhook would swing back into the fuselage, with the result that more Seafires were lost in hard landings than enemy action. But Fraser-Harris demonstrated the aircraft's effectiveness as a low-level fighter.
During Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa, his squadron shot down three aircraft and destroyed 20 others on the ground. While strafing the airfield at Tararoui, however, Fraser-Harris was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and forced to land in the desert. He was betrayed by tribesmen and taken prisoner by Vichy French for five days until rescued by American troops who had captured Oran. French hospitality was not, Fraser-Harris recalled, as good as in Paris three years before.
In March 1943, after four years of combat operations, which had taken a heavy toll of his friends, Fraser-Harris was rested by being appointed Staff Officer Operations to the Flag Officer, Naval Air Stations, at Lee-on-Solent; and he finished the war as instructor at HMS Afrikander, Cape Town.
Alexander Beaufort Fraser Fraser-Harris was born on November 16 1916 in Nova Scotia, where his father was professor of physiology at Dalhousie University. After Warren Hill School, Eastbourne, Fraser-Harris, aged 13, joined the Exmouth term at Dartmouth under a Commonwealth Scholarship scheme. He became cadet captain and played for the first XV. While the boy was under training in the battlecruiser Repulse, Captain Tom Phillips tried to discourage his ambition to fly by telling him that gunners and navigators had better career prospects; Phillips later paid the price for his attitude while admiral on Prince of Wales when she was sunk by Japanese aircraft.
Fraser-Harris joined the rapidly expanding Fleet Air Arm in 1938 and first learned to fly at a civilian aeroclub at Rochester. He was practising deck-landings in Argus off Hyeres, southern France, when war was declared. On his way home by train, he found himself feted as one of the first British officers in uniform to be seen in Paris.
Fraser-Harris was in South Africa at the end of the war when the Canadian High Commissioner suggested that he transfer to the Royal Canadian Navy, where at 32 he became the youngest captain in any peacetime Commonwealth navy. British officers in the RCN were perceived to be making decisions in favour of British industry, but Fraser-Harris appreciated the need to get better and cheaper ships and aircraft from the United States. When the Korean War interrupted these plans he was sent to command the Tribal class destroyer Nootka.
The Americans made him a legionnaire of the Legion of Merit with combat distinction "for exceptionally meritorious service in the performance of outstanding services, expert seamanship, sound judgment and devotion to the highest traditions of the naval service", while the British mentioned him in dispatches.
In 1954, Fraser-Harris was appointed the first Canadian officer to be director of Naval Aviation and, two years later, he became captain of the Canadian carrier Magnificent. After the Suez debacle, he transported the Canadian contingent of the UN Emergency Force to Egypt, where his vessel became the headquarters ship of the Canadian General "Tommy" Burns, who considered Fraser-Harris a brilliant and resourceful officer.
There was every sign that Fraser-Harris would reach the top in Canada. But he opposed the Liberal government's plans for unification, believing that these would reduce the armed forces to chaos. Although promised promotion in a private meeting with Paul Hellyer, the Minister of National Defence, he resigned rather than become a general in the unified armed forces.
As Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, Fraser-Harris argued instead for multi-role combat vessels, with integral tactical air capabilities ready to support ground force on overseas deployments - an idea now widely adopted by the Canadian and other navies.
In 1964 he became managing director of Grenada Yacht Services and skipper of the 100 ft ketch Ring Anderson on charter in the West Indies, before later skippering private yachts in the Mediterranean. Twelve years later, he retired to the United States where, as a yacht surveyor, he specialised in fibreglass manufacture and forensic work for courts. He also wrote for Nautical Quarterly, and travelled worldwide to review new boats.
In 1985 Fraser-Harris moved to England where he took up drawing, painting and relief carving. When he died on October 29, he had been married four times.
His first marriage was to Monica Brooks in 1938, the second to Joan Smithers Oosthuizen in 1946 and the third to Elizabeth MacDermot in 1956. In 1976 he married Jean Macleod West, who swapped her job as secretary of the Bach Choir in London for life as cook-mate aboard a 40 ft ketch in the Bahamas