Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry (09252)

Basil Edward                b: 28 Feb 1902                     r: 26 Feb 1956                     d: 8 Dec 1977

GCB - 2 Jan 1956 (KCB - 1 Jan 1953, CB - 1 Jan 1945), KBE - 5 Jul 1945, DSO - 13 Sep 1938, Bar - 30 Apr 1940, 2nd Bar - 20 Aug 1940, 3rd Bar - 20 Jul 1945, DFC - 22 Jun 1945, AFC - 1 Jan 1926, MiD - 8 May 1936, MiD - 24 Sep 1941, MiD - 11 Jun 1942, MiD - 1 Jan 1946, LoH, Cdr - xx xxx 194?, C de G (F) - xx xxx 194?, OD (Cdr1) - 11 Feb 1947, ON(GO)s - 18 Nov 1947.

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Plt Off: 29 Mar 1921, Fg Off: 29 Sep 1922, Flt Lt: 1 Jan 1926?, Sqn Ldr: 1 Dec 1935, Wg Cdr: 1 Nov 1938, (T) Gp Capt: 1 Mar 1941, Act A/Cdre: 22 Aug 1942, Gp Capt (WS): 22 Feb 1943 Act AVM: 1 Jun 1943, (T) A/Cdre: 1 Dec 1943, A/Cdre (WS): 1 Jun 1944, Gp Capt: 23 Jan 1945 [1 Jun 1944], (T) AVM: 1 Jan 1946, A/Cdre: 1 Apr 1946, AVM: 1 Jul 1947, Act AM: 19 Apr 1949, AM: 1 Jan 1951, Act ACM: 16 Jul 1953, ACM: 1 Dec 1953.

29 Mar 1921:         U/T pilot, No 1 FTS.

15 May 1922:           Pilot, No 4 Sqn.

xx xxx xxxx:            En-route to the Middle East

14 Sep 1922:          Pilot, No 45 Sqn

 1 Dec 1925:           Pilot, No 30 Sqn

 1 Jan 1926:            Appointed to a Permanent Commission in the rank of Flying Officer

xx xxx xxxx:            Attended Instructors' Course, CFS.

20 Dec 1927:          QFI, No 1 FTS,

15 May 1929:         'D' Flight Commander, Central Flying School

 1 Jan 1932:            Air Staff, HQ No 23 Group.

23 Jan 1933:           Attended RAF Staff College.

15 Feb 1934:          Staff, No 1 (Indian) Wing - Kohat

 7 Mar 1936:          Air Staff, HQ RAF India

16 Nov 1937:         Officer Commanding, No 20 Sqn

29 Sep 1938:           Supernumerary, HQ RAF India (duties in connection with the training of Indian officers for the IAF)

16 Jan 1939:            Supernumerary, No 1 RAF Depot

  3 Apr 1939:          Air Staff, FO5, Deputy Directorate of Operations (Overseas)

12 Sep 1939:          Attended Blenheim Conversion course, RAF Bassingbourn

13 Sep 1939:          Supernumerary, No 107 Sqn

15 Sep 1939:          Officer Commanding, No 107 Sqn

26 May 1940          Evading  capture

xx Jul 1940:            Sick leave

xx Sep 1940:          SOA, HQ No 6 Group

25 Oct 1940:          Air Staff, HQ Fighter Command.

28 Oct 1940:           Officer Commanding, Night-fighter Wing/RAF Southend

 6 Dec 1940:           Air Staff - Night Ops, HQ No 12 (Fighter) Group

19 Dec 1940:          Supernumerary, RAF Wittering

21 Dec 1940:          Officer Commanding, RAF Wittering

 1 Jun 1941 - xx xxx xxxx        Air ADC to the King.

17 Oct 1941:           Seconded on Special Duty to Middle East

11 Dec 1941:          Senior Air Staff Officer,  HQ Desert Air Force

26 Jan 1942:           Officer Commanding, RAF Wittering & Sector

13 Nov 1942:          Staff Officer - Night Fighter Operations, HQ Fighter Command.

xx xxx 1943:            Senior Air Staff Officer, HQ No 10 Group.

 1 Jun 1943:            AOC, No 2 Group

31 Oct 1945:          Director-General of Training.

 1 Jan 1947:            ACAS (Training).

19 Apr 1949:          AOC in C, Fighter Command

16 Jul 1953:            C in C, Allied Air Forces Central Europe

From the age of ten, Basil Embry harboured a single ambition - to be a pilot.  Born in Gloucestershire and educated at Bromsgrove school, he joined the RAF in 1921 on a short service commission, training at Netheravon.  Not content the sedentary life on a home based squadron, he immediately applied for an overseass posting and was duly sent to Iraq.  However, his troopship was diverted to Turkey, were the Chanak Crisis had flared up and for a while he acted as a newspaper censor in the Turkish Post Office.  When he eventually arrived in Iraq, he joined No 45 Squadron where he flew both DH9A's and Vernons.  After his transfer to No 30 Sqn he received  the AFC for work undertaken whilst with 45, particularly for his work involved with developing an air ambulance.  However, he did not go directly to Iraq, owing to the start of the Chanak Crisis in Turkey.  His troop ship was diverted and for a time he found himself Act a censor in the Turkish Post Office.  Also awarded a permanent commission at this time, his return to the UK brought with it a lengthy period as a flying instructor, initially at his old school at Netheravon.  It was here in 1928 that he had to show MRAF Trenchard around his flight's hanger during an tour of inspection.  When Trenchard noticed that the bracing wires of Embry's aircraft had been painted with anti-rust paint he pointed out to the young Flight Lt that he disapproved of this and that he should "Go and see how they maintain their aircraft at Digby".  Embry characteristically replied:-

"Sir, do you see that circle?.  Well, there are 51 such circles drawn on this floor and each one marks a leak in the roof.  And that door can't be opened because it's propping up the roof...  If you give me a hanger that will keep out the rain I will remove the rustless paint and maintain my aircraft better than Digby!".   

From Netheravon he moved to the CFS where he commanded the school's 'D' Flight, which was responsible for a multitude of duties.  These included refresher flying, ab initio training for senior naval officers, conversion courses on various types as well as operating an air taxi service for V.I.P.'s.  Whilst at the CFS he also led the CFS Display Team of five Genet Moths.

With over 10 years flying experience, he completed the RAF Staff College course and was posted to India as a staff officer.  Always preferring the active role he couldn't have been happier when promotion to Squadron Leader brought with it a return to operational flying, as CO of No 20 Squadron, then based on the North West Frontier Province of India. During his command of No 20 he was awarded the first of his FOUR DSO's for his leadership.  Early in 1939 with promotion to Wing Commander, he returned to England and the Air Ministry, but he found that he was now completely out of touch with the latest aircraft types then in service.  Once again his determination to stay ahead came to the fore when he undertook conversions onto 12 new types of aircraft in 3 weeks.  On the outbreak of war he pleaded for a return to operations which was met with his appointment as CO of No 21 Squadron, although this was almost immediately changed to No 107 at Wattisham.   As CO he led 107, as he did all things, from the front.  This included operations against Stavanger in Norway whilst operating from Lossiemouth in Scotland as well as sorties in support of the BEF following the German attacks on the Low Countries and France.  However by late May 1940, even he was reaching the stage of exhaustion and he was informed that he was to move to RAF West Raynham as Station Commander in the rank of Group Capt.  On his last day as CO, he led 107 in an attack against German troops advancing on Dunkirk.  He was hit by ground fire which resulted in him having to bail out of his burning Blenheim behind enemy lines.   Captured by the Germans he was being marched away to a POW camp with other captives when he saw a sign "Embry ... 3 km",  taking this as an omen he rolled down a bank and made his escape.  Evading the Germans for two months, making his way towards Spain, he was captured by the Vichy French, escaped again and eventually arrived in Gibraltar after almost ten weeks on the run.

Following sick leave, he was posted to No 6 Group as SASO, before moving to Fighter Command in command of a night fighter Wing even though it meant a reversion to the rank of Wing Commander.  However, with the disbandment of the Wing, stayed with Fighter Command as Sector and Station Commander at Wittering and immediately began flying operations with the units under his command.  During this period, he was sent to the Desert Air Force as an 'adviser' for five months, including a trip to Malta to carry out an assessment of the air defence requirements of the island on behalf of the AOC-in-C (AM Sir Arthur Tedder), following which he resumed his duties at Wittering.  His next move was to HQ No 10 Group Fighter Command as SASO before moving back to Bomber Command, this time as AOC No 2 Group.  Shortly after his appointment, No 2 Group was transferred to the newly formed 2 Tactical Air Force.  He had been considered as a possible candidate for the command of the Pathfinder Force, but Harris was against the idea as he recognized that Embry's character and personality was to much like his own.  Even as an AVM, there was no stopping Basil Embry flying on operations, which he did regularly under the pseudonym 'Wg Cdr Smith'.  He flew in a number of the missions undertaken by his group against precision targets such as the Gestapo HQ's at Aarhus, Copenhagen and Odense. 

When it was suggested to Portal that a fund be set up to help those people in the occupied countries who had helped British aircrew evade capture and escape back to Britain he jumped at the opportunity.  However, he needed someone to organise and co-ordinate the project and so he asked Basil Embry who immediately took on the chairmanship of what came to be the RAF Escaping Society and within a short period had raised £20,000.   Post-war, Basil Embry undertook a range of duties of both a staff and operational nature including AOC in C, Fighter Command and finally C in C, Allied Air Forces Central Europe, a NATO appointment.  However, his criticisms of the NATO organisation resulted in his premature retirement from the RAF.  He was a representative of the RAF at the funeral of King George VI.  

In retirement he moved with his family to New Zealand but did not remain in the country long before he moved again and took up farming in Western Australia.  He built his own house and established a thriving form from out of the bush, eventually taking Australian citizenship.  Amongst the held various offices he held was General President of the Farmers Union of Western Australia and Chairman of the Rural Traders Co-operative of Western Australia.

Citation for the award of a Bar to the  Distinguished Service Order

Wing Commander Basil Edward EMBRY, D.S.O., A.F.C. (09252).

In April, 1940, Wing Commander Embry led a squadron of twelve aircraft in an attack on Stavanger aerodrome and seaplane base.  He successfully completed his task and returned to his base, with the whole squadron, despite the failure of one of his engines before he reached his objective.  Again, two days later, he led his squadron in another attack on Stavanger, which was also a success, and very valuable photographs were taken.  During this flight he suffered from frostbite. The satisfactory results achieved were due, primarily, to the courage, determination and fine leadership of this officer.

(London Gazette – 30 April 1940)

Citation for the award of the 2nd Bar to the Distinguished Service Order

Wing Commander Basil Edward EMBRY, D.S.O., A.F.C. (09252).

During the operations over the Low Countries and France, Wing Commander Embry continued to display an extremely high standard of leadership and resolution in carrying out all the tasks allotted to his squadron, raising its morale, to a high level and setting an example to the other squadrons in his group. He has shown a high sense of duty and determination.

(London Gazette – 20 Aug 1940)

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“Acting Air Vice-Marshal Basil Edward EMBRY, C.B., D.S.O., A.F.C., R.A.F.

On three occasions within recent months, Air Vice-Marshal Embry took part in air attacks on Gestapo headquarters.  The targets were at Aathus, Copenhagen and Odense respectively.  In the first operation complete surprise was achieved and the attack proved highly successful.  At Copenhagen -the operation was also well executed, and success obtained.  At Odense, the target was cleverly camouflaged; making the task on hand even more difficult.  In spite of this, several runs were made over the target, which was finally attacked with great precision.  In these hazardous missions, Air Vice-Marshal Embry pressed home his attacks with a skill and gallantry in keeping with his outstanding reputation.!

(London Gazette – 22 Jun 1945)


This page was last updated on 13/07/21

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