Basil Embry

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Sir Basil Edward Embry
Royal Air Force- 2nd Tactical Air Force, 1943-1945. CL2739.jpg
Embry (far right), Air Officer Commanding No. 2 Group, with his staff
Born(1902-02-28)28 February 1902
Gloucestershire, England
Died7 December 1977(1977-12-07) (aged 75)
Boyup Brook, Western Australia
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Air Force
Years of service1921–56
RankAir Chief Marshal
Commands heldAllied Air Forces Central Europe (1953–56)
Fighter Command (1949–53)
No. 2 Group (1943–45)
RAF Wittering (1940–41, 1942)
No. 107 Squadron (1939–40)
No. 20 Squadron (1937–38)
Battles/warsNorth-West Frontier

Second World War

AwardsKnight 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
Mentioned in Despatches (4)
Commander of the Legion of Honour (France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Commander 1st Class of the Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark)
Grand Officer with Swords of the Order of Orange Nassau (Netherlands)
Spouse(s)Margaret Elliot
Children5, including Paddy
Other workSheep farmer

Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Edward Embry, GCB, KBE, DSO & Three Bars, DFC, AFC (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[edit]

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 the Distinguished Service Order (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[edit]

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 forced landing on returning to RAF Wattisham in Suffolk. 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 these ships.

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 from frostbite during this time. In April 1940 Embry was awarded a Bar to his DSO.[9]

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.[10] On 12 May he led No. 107 Squadron and No. 110 Squadron in an attack on two heavily defended bridges across the Albert Canal at Maastricht; 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 RAF West Raynham, with a promotion to Group Captain. He was to fly one more sortie before relinquishing command. On 27 May 1940, Embry was shot down from 6,000 feet (1,800 m) by anti-aircraft fire over Saint-Omer during a low-level bombing mission against advancing German Army columns. His aircraft crashed at Eperlecques. Of his crew, observer Pilot Officer T.A. Whiting was made prisoner while Air Gunner Corporal G.E. Long was killed.

Captured by the German Army, Embry 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 with 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 No. 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, usually as a 'wingman' in a formation and flying under the name of "Wing Commander Smith". By piloting each type of aircraft in his service, he felt better able to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the tools available to his aircrews. This ensured that the men under Embry's command were aware that he was willing to take the same risks they were taking, and he was well liked by them. However, within the Air Ministry's hierarchy his frank, unguarded criticisms made few friends.[citation needed]

He pushed fervently for 2 Group's re-equipment with the high-speed Mosquito FB VI, which became the highly potent workhorse of the Group by 1944. By October 1943, Embry's efforts had made 2 Group highly effective, with its precision daylight bombing and serviceability rates among the best in the Allied Air Forces.[citation needed] The group's successes, such as the bombing of V-1 launch sites in France and the anti-transportation offensive before D-Day was unarguably effective.[citation needed] In December 1944, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath.[16]

Embry's Mosquitoes undertook further bombing operations such as the attack on Amiens jail in February 1944. On 31 October 1944, Embry took part in a successful low-level attack by Mosquitoes of Nos. 21, 464 and 487 Squadrons on the Aarhus University, Denmark, which housed the Gestapo HQ for the whole of Jutland. In March 1945, Embry's command struck the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, and in April those in Odense.

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 Commander 1st Class of the Order of Dannebrog.[18] On 20 July 1945 he was awarded a third Bar to his DSO.[19] Other nations to honour Embry included the Netherlands (Grand Officer with Swords of the Order of Orange Nassaur[20]) and France (Croix de guerre, Commander of the Legion of Honour).

Post-war career and later life[edit]

Shortly after the end of the war Embry was knighted with his appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[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,[22] and in 1956 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.[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 there 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. Embry died in Boyup Brook, Western Australia in 1977, and was survived by his wife, daughter, and three of his four sons.[24]

"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)

On 19 April 2007 Spink auctioned the medal group of Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry, selling for £155,350 to Michael Naxton, an agent.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Embry married Australian-born Lady Margaret Hope Elliot on 1 August 1928, and went on to have five children with her,[24] including Western Australian politician Paddy Embry.[26]



  1. ^ "No. 32271". The London Gazette. 19 March 1921. p. 2472.
  2. ^ "No. 33119". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1925. p. 10.
  3. ^ "No. 33120". The London Gazette. 1 January 1926. pp. 47–48.
  4. ^ "No. 33290". The London Gazette. 1 July 1927. p. 4240.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry
  6. ^ "No. 34226". The London Gazette. 3 December 1935. p. 7674.
  7. ^ "No. 34551". The London Gazette. 13 September 1938. p. 5834.
  8. ^ "No. 34566". The London Gazette. 1 November 1938. p. 6821.
  9. ^ "No. 34840". The London Gazette. 30 April 1940. p. 2555. Includes wording of official citation
  10. ^ "No. 34927". The London Gazette. 20 August 1940. p. 5091. Includes wording of official citation
  11. ^ See Bibliography
  12. ^ "No. 35102". The London Gazette. 11 March 1941. p. 1448.
  13. ^ "No. 35217". The London Gazette. 11 July 1941. p. 3996.
  14. ^ "No. 35284". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 September 1941. p. 5569.
  15. ^ "No. 35586". The London Gazette. 5 June 1942. p. 2517.
  16. ^ "No. 36866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1944. p. 4.
  17. ^ "No. 37142". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 June 1945. p. 3271. Includes wording of official citation
  18. ^ "No. 37878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 February 1947. p. 702.
  19. ^ "No. 37187". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 July 1945. p. 3781.
  20. ^ "No. 38125". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 November 1947. p. 5423.
  21. ^ "No. 37161". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 July 1945. p. 3489.
  22. ^ "No. 39732". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1952. p. 3.
  23. ^ "No. 40669". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 January 1956. p. 3.
  24. ^ a b Layman, Lenore. "Embry, Sir Basil Edward (1902–1977)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  25. ^ Medals of Unremitting R.A.F. Hero go under the hammer Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia". Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 29 December 2018.


  • 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[edit]

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