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Basil Embry
GCB KBE DSO*** DFC AFC RAF
C. 1944: Air Vice-Marshal B. E. Embry, Air Officer Commanding No, 2 Group RAF, and his staff, study a scale model of a prospective target at Group Headquarters in Brussels. They are (left to right): Air Commodore David Atcherley, Senior Air Staff Officer; Group Captain Peter Wykeham-Barnes, Group Captain Operations; Wing Commander H. P. Shallard, Group Intelligence Officer, and AVM Embry.
Born 28 February 1902 (1902-02-28)
Died 7 December 1977 (1977-12-08) (aged 75)
Place of birth Gloucestershire, England
Place of death Boyup Brook, Western Australia
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1921-1956
Rank Air Chief Marshal
Commands held Fighter Command
No 2 Group
No 107 Squadron
Battles/wars 1935 Mohmand Campaign
World War II
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Three Bars
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Force Cross
Mention in Despatches (4)
Other work Sheep farmer

Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Edward Embry GCB KBE DSO*** DFC AFC RAF, (28 February 1902 – 7 December 1977) was a senior Royal Air Force commander. He was Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command from 1949 to 1953.

Early life and career

Basil Embry was born in Gloucestershire, England, in 1902 and as a young boy at Bromsgrove School he developed an avid interest in aviation. In 1921 he joined the Royal Air Force with a short service commission as an Acting Pilot Officer.[1] In 1922 he was sent into Iraq, serving under future Air Marshals Arthur Harris and Robert Saundby. By 1926 Embry's enthusiasm, professional application, boundless energy and flair for the unconventional had put him on the fast track for promotion within the RAF, and he was rewarded with the Air Force Cross in that year's New Year Honours,[2] and appointment to a permanent commission.[3]

Promoted to Flight Lieutenant,[4] Embry returned to Britain in 1927 as an instructor at the Central Flying School, Uxbridge.[5]

In 1934 he was posted to India to serve in the Indian Wing on the North West Frontier.[5] He was promoted Squadron Leader in 1935,[6] and served in the Second Mohmand Campaign of 1935. He was awarded his first DSO for operations in Waziristan in 1938.[7] He was further promoted in 1938 to Wing Commander.[8] After five years' service he returned to Britain in 1939. On the outbreak of the Second World War Embry was Commanding Officer of No 107 Squadron flying the Bristol Blenheim bomber.[5]

Second World War

The energetic Embry led his squadron from the front, and he saw extensive action during the campaigns in Norway and France, often in the face of heavy losses and overwhelming opposition. On 25 September 1939 Embry led a 3-plane formation on a reconnaissance sortie into Germany. Intercepted by German fighters, Embry’s aircraft suffered serious damage to wings and fuselage and he carried out a one-wheel force-landing landing on returning to RAF Wattisham. Throughout the remainder of 1939 and into early 1940 the unit made numerous attacks by day and night on a variety of targets, including U-Boats. On 6 April 1940 RAF photo reconnaissance revealed that a German Naval force including battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst was at anchor off Wilhelmshaven. Embry and his 107 Squadron crews were soon involved in a series of attacks on this German force. With the German invasion of Norway, 107 Squadron were detached to Scotland, and there carried out ten raids in just eight days on Stavanger and airfields in the area, often in treacherous weather conditions. Embry suffered with frostbite during this time. In April May 1940 Embry was awarded a second DSO[9] and a third award was announced in August 1940.[10] The German invasion of France and the Low Countries began on 10 May 1940 and Embry's Squadron flew intensively against the German advance, each crew flying two or three sorties daily across the Channel to France. His leadership and personal gallantry resulted in the award of a second bar to his DSO On 12 May he led No. 107 Squadron and No. 110 Squadron in an attack on two bridges across the Albert Canal at Maastricht. Heavily defended, the formation was savaged by ground fire and intercepted by numerous Messerschmitt fighters, losing 7 Blenheims from the original force of 24. Two No. 107 Squadron aircraft also crash-landed at Wattisham, and every surviving Blenheim had suffered some damage.

Due to the tremendous pressure of his operational flying in recent months Embry was then ordered to take an operational 'rest' and was given command of R.A.F. West Raynham, with a promotion to Group Captain. He was to fly one more sortie before relinquishing command. On 26 May 1940, Wing Commander Embry was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Saint-Omer from 6,000 feet (1,800 m) during a low level bombing mission against advancing German Army columns. His aircraft crashed at Eperlecques. Of his crew, observer P/O T.A.Whiting was made prisoner while Air Gunner Crpl. G.E.Lang was killed. Captured by the German Army, he was being marched away in column of Allied prisoners when he saw a road sign Embry, 3 km. Taking this as a good omen, he rolled down a bank unnoticed by the column's guards and made his escape. He successfully evaded recapture for two months in occupied France before eventually getting back to England via Spain and Gibraltar. His adventures while on the run are detailed in the book Wingless Victory by Anthony Richardson and originally published in 1950.[11]

After two months sick leave Embry was posted to No. 6 Group as Senior Air Staff Officer in the rank of Group Captain.[5] After only three weeks he was offered command of a night-fighter wing in RAF Fighter Command,[5] which was accepted, although he reverted to the rank of Wing Commander. The wing disbanded in December 1940 and Embry became AOC RAF Wittering[5] returning to the rank of Group Captain in March 1941.[12] Embry kept his hand in operationally by flying radar equipped night-fighters with No. 25 squadron. In July 1941 Embry was given the ceremonial title of an Air Aide-de-Camp to the King.[13] and was Mentioned in Despatches in September.[14]

In October 1941 he was seconded to the Desert Air Force as an adviser and saw action in the Desert War.[5] Embry returned to Britain in March 1942 and served as AOC Wittering again and as AOC 10 Group, Fighter Command.[5] In June he was again Mentioned in Despatches[15] but he was passed over as the prime candidate for leading RAF Bomber Command's newly formed Pathfinder Force in July 1942 before being given command of No 2 Group Bomber Command, which was about to join the 2nd Tactical Air Force, in June 1943.[5] Although he was now an Air Vice Marshal, Embry continued to fly on operations where possible, piloting each type of light bomber in his command to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the tools available to his aircrews. He usually flew as a 'wingman' in a formation, flying under the name of "Wing Commander Smith". This hands-on approach ensured Embry was worshipped by the men under his command, although his frank utterly honest criticisms made few friends within the Air Ministry.

He pushed fervently for 2 Group's re-equipment with the Mosquito FB VI, which became the highly potent workhorse of the Group by 1944. By October 1943 Embry's efforts had made 2 Group a highly effective weapon, with bombing accuracy and serviceability among the best in the Allied Air Forces. The group's contribution to the war effort, such as the bombing of V-1 launch sites in France and the anti-transportation offensive prior to D-Day was arguably decisive. In December 1944 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath.[16]

Embry's Mosquitoes also undertook specialist precision bombing operations such as the attack on Amiens jail, and in 1945 (21 March) on Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen and Odense (April, 17th). On 31 October 1944 Embry took part in a successful low-level attack undertaken by Mosquitoes of Nos. 21, 464 and 487 Squadrons on the Aarhus University, Denmark, which housed the Gestapo HQ for the whole of Jutland.

For "...(pressing) home his attacks with a skill and gallantry in keeping with his outstanding reputation.." in the latter three operations he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[17] He was also honoured after the war by the Danish Government for his part in these operations, being awarded the Order of Dannebrog, Commander 1st Class.[18] On 20 July 1945 he was awarded a third bar to his DSO.[19] Other nations to honour Embry included the Netherlands (Order of Orange Nassau, Grand Officer[20]) and France (Croix de Guerre, Légion d'honneur, Croix de Commandeur)

Post-war career and later life

Shortly after the end of the war Embry was knighted, with his appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).[21] He was later to receive further knighthoods with higher precedence, in 1952 he was promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB)[22] and in 1956 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).[23]

He was Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command from 1949 to 1953.[5] Embry was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Allied Air Forces Central Europe.[5] His outspoken criticism of the NATO chain of command and organisation framework ensured however that he was retired early from the Royal Air Force in 1956.[5] In 1956 Embry briefly relocated to New Zealand where he wrote his autobiography, titled 'Mission Completed'. In March 1956 accompanied by his wife Hope, he emigrated to Western Australia and began a new life as a sheep farmer, purchasing a 1,400-acre (5.7 km2) property at Chowerup. He also acquired land at Cape Riche, east of Albany, and moved here in the late 1960s. Embry became active in the politics of agriculture through the Farmers' Union of Western Australia. He was elected General President in 1971 and held office for two years. In 1972 he led a delegation through South-east Asia and instigated the establishment of the Rural Traders Co-operative (W.A.) Ltd. He was the president of the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society and worked himself at a punishing pace until he became ill in 1975. Basil Embry died in Boyup Brook, Western Australia in 1977.

"He was both charming and rude, prejudiced and broad-minded, pliable and obstinate, dedicated and human." (Group Captain Peter Wykeham, No 2 Group 1944-45)

Honours and awards

On 19 April 2007 Spink auctioned the remarkable and unique medal group of Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry, selling for £155,350 to Michael Naxton, an agent.[24]

References

Notes

  1. "No. 32271". 19 March 1921. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32271/page/ 
  2. "No. 33119". 29 December 1925. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/33119/page/ 
  3. "No. 33120". 1 January 1926. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/33120/page/ 
  4. "No. 33290". 1 July 1927. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/33290/page/ 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry
  6. "No. 34226". 3 December 1935. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34226/page/ 
  7. "No. 34551". 13 September 1938. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34551/page/ 
  8. "No. 34566". 1 November 1938. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34566/page/ 
  9. "No. 34840". 30 April 1940. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34840/page/  Includes wording of official citation
  10. "No. 34927". 20 August 1940. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34927/page/  Includes wording of official citation
  11. See Bibliography
  12. "No. 35102". 11 March 1941. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35102/page/ 
  13. "No. 35217". 11 July 1941. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35217/page/ 
  14. "No. 35284". 24 September 1941. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35284/page/ 
  15. "No. 35586". 5 June 1942. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35586/page/ 
  16. "No. 36866". 29 December 1944. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36866/page/ 
  17. "No. 37142". 19 June 1945. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37142/page/  Includes wording of official citation
  18. "No. 37878". 7 February 1947. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37878/page/ 
  19. "No. 37187". 17 July 1945. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37187/page/ 
  20. "No. 38125". 18 November 1947. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/38125/page/ 
  21. "No. 37161". 5 July 1945. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37161/page/ 
  22. "No. 39732". 30 December 1952. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/39732/page/ 
  23. "No. 40669". 2 January 1956. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/40669/page/ 
  24. Medals of Unremitting R.A.F. Hero go under the hammer

Bibliography

  • Richardson, Anthony; Embry, Sir Basil (1973) [1950]. Wingless victory : the story of Sir Basil Embry's escape from occupied France in the summer of 1940. Aylesbury: Shire Publications. ISBN 0-7057-0008-9. 
  • Embry, Sir Basil (1976) [1957]. Mission Completed. London: White Lion Publications. ISBN 0-7274-0260-9. 

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir William Elliott
Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command
1949 – 1953
Succeeded by
Sir Dermot Boyle
New title
Command established
Commander-in-Chief Allied Air Forces Central Europe
1953 – 1956
Succeeded by
Sir George Mills

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