Basil Embry

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.

Sir Basil Edward Embry
Royal Air Force- 2nd Tactical Air Force, 1943-1945. CL2739
Embry (far right), Air Officer Commanding No. 2 Group, with his staff
Born28 February 1902
Gloucestershire, England
Died7 December 1977 (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 Embry
Other workSheep farmer

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 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

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.

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. 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. 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

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

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

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
Allied Air Forces Central Europe

Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE) was the NATO command tasked with air and air defense operations in NATOs Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT) area of command.

David Atcherley

Air Vice Marshal David Francis William Atcherley, (12 January 1904 – 8 June 1952) was a senior Royal Air Force officer.

Distinguished Service Order

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat. Since 1993 all ranks have been eligible.

Don Bennett

Air Vice Marshal Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett, (14 September 1910 – 15 September 1986) was an Australian aviation pioneer and bomber pilot who rose to be the youngest air vice marshal in the Royal Air Force. He led the "Pathfinder Force" (No. 8 Group RAF) from 1942 to the end of the Second World War in 1945. He has been described as "one of the most brilliant technical airmen of his generation: an outstanding pilot, a superb navigator who was also capable of stripping a wireless set or overhauling an engine".

George Mills (RAF officer)

Air Chief Marshal Sir George Holroyd Mills, (26 March 1902 – 14 April 1971) was a senior Royal Air Force commander. After his retirement from the RAF, Mills served as Black Rod in the Houses of Parliament until 1970. He was also a trustee of the Imperial War Museum.

John D'Albiac

Air Marshal Sir John Henry D'Albiac, (28 January 1894 – 20 August 1963) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Notably he was the British air commander for the Battle of Greece.

Mohmand campaign of 1935

The Second Mohmand Campaign of 1935 was a British military campaign against the Mohmand tribes in the Northwest Frontier area of British India, now Pakistan. Tanks were used, the first operational use of tanks in India. The First Mohmand Campaign in 1897–98 followed earlier military expeditions in 1851–1852, 1854, 1864, 1879, 1880. After the First Mohmand Campaign, there was an expedition in 1908 and another in 1933, taking about a month in August.

In 1935 the Mohmands, influenced by the Haji of Turangzai and his three sons the Badshah Guls, were marauding in the plains. At the end of July about 2000 tribesmen were disrupting working parties repairing the Mohinand-Gandab Road.The Government decided to send a sizeable punitive force against them, called the Mohmand Force or Mohforce. The force, mobilised by 17 August, included the Nowshera and Peshawar Brigades of the Indian Army, a section of the Royal Tank Corps, the 18th King Edward's Own Cavalry, and the 22nd Derajat Mountain Battery (Frontier Force), with air support from the Indian Wing commanded by Basil Embry. The commanders of the Peshawar and Nowshera Brigades, Claude Auchinleck and Harold Alexander, both rose to high rank in World War II. Auchinleck, the senior Brigadier, commanded Mohforce; as the Peshawar District G.O.C. General Muspratt was on leave in Britain.

Mohforce left near the end of summer, with two tanks in front of the leading troops which could be used to outflank tribesman who pinned down the infantry. The tanks were Vickers Mark IIB, with a single Vickers machine gun. They did not have their radios, which had been withdrawn for their annual overhaul, so one tank had to act as a “runner” between the tanks and the infantry. The Mohmands, having no word for tanks, called them “the snakes that spit”.

The troops advanced into the Kamalai plateau, the tribal heartland west of the Swat River. The road and water supply had to be extended, taking six weeks, before they could advance into the Nahakki Pass. Then the heights around the Nahakki Pass were taken in a night operation, and after dawn the cavalry went through the pass to the plain beyond. The headquarters, now commanded by General Muspratt, was established about 5 miles south of the Nahakki Pass at Kamalai.

In September a reconnaissance in force southwest of Nahakki was ambushed, with 35 deaths in Mohforce: 2 British and 2 Indian officers, and 1 British and 30 Indian Other Ranks; the operation by the Guides or 5th/12th Frontier Force Regiment was described as “sketchily planned and uncoordinated” But the septs and subtribes asked for peace at jirgas, order was restored and the force was withdrawn in early September. Auchinleck’s brigade withdrew with drums and pipes playing.

Captain Godfrey Meynell was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his gallantry on 29 September at the Nahqi Pass.


Mongewell (first syllable rhymes with sponge) is a village in the civil parish of Crowmarsh, about 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Wallingford in Oxfordshire. Mongewell is on the east bank of the Thames, linked with the west bank at Winterbrook by Winterbrook Bridge. The earthwork Grim's Ditch, now part of The Ridgeway long-distance footpath, passes through the northern part of it and is a scheduled ancient monument.

No. 107 Squadron RAF

No. 107 Squadron RAF was a Royal Flying Corps bomber unit formed during the First World War. It was reformed in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and was operational during the Cold War on Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles.

Operation Jericho

Operation Jericho was a low-level Second World War bombing raid on 18 February 1944, by Allied aircraft on Amiens Prison in German-occupied France.

The objective of the raid was to free French Resistance and political prisoners. The raid is remarkable for the precision and daring of the attack, which was filmed by a camera on one of the aeroplanes. There is debate as to who requested the attack and whether it was necessary.

Mosquito bombers succeeded in breaching the walls and buildings of the prison, as well as destroying guards' barracks. Of the 717 prisoners, 102 were killed, 74 wounded and 258 escaped, including 79 Resistance and political prisoners, although two-thirds of the escapees were recaptured.

Paddy Embry

Patrick Paul Elliot Embry (born 19 October 1942) is a former Australian politician. Born in Oundle in the United Kingdom to Air Chief Marshal Basil Embry and Lady Margaret Elliot, he arrived in Australia in December 1956 and became a farmer. In 2001, he was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Council for South West Region, representing One Nation. On 15 May 2003, he resigned from One Nation to sit as an independent. He co-founded the New Country Party with fellow ex-One Nation independent Frank Hough on 30 November 2004. Embry was defeated in 2005.Embry ran for the Senate at the 2010 federal election as an independent grouped candidate.

RAF Carnaby

RAF Carnaby was a Royal Air Force emergency landing strip that offered crippled bombers a safe place to land near the English coast during the Second World War. It was situated 2.0 miles (3.2 km) south-west of Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire.

RAF Fighter Command

RAF Fighter Command was one of the commands of the Royal Air Force. It was formed in 1936 to allow more specialised control of fighter aircraft. It served throughout the Second World War. It earned great fame during the Battle of Britain in 1940, when the Few held off the Luftwaffe attack on Britain. The Command continued until 17 November 1943, when it was disbanded and the RAF fighter force was split into two categories; defence and attack. The defensive force became Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) and the offensive force became the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. Air Defence of Great Britain was renamed back to Fighter Command in October 1944 and continued to provide defensive patrols around Great Britain. It was disbanded for the second time in 1968, when it was subsumed into the new Strike Command.

Royal Air Forces Escaping Society

The Royal Air Forces Escaping Society, was a UK-based charitable organization formed in 1946 to provide help to those in the former occupied countries in World War II who put their lives at risk to assist and save members of the "Royal Air Forces" (that is, Air Forces of the British Commonwealth) who were attempting to escape and evade capture.

The society was based at the Duke of York's Headquarters, London and had the Latin motto Solvitur ambulando (solved by walking). It helped the widows, dependents and orphans of those who died and those requiring medical treatment or otherwise in need. It also fostered continued friendship between escapers and evaders and their helpers. Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry was the president of the RAFES from its formation until the 1970s.

The society was disbanded with the laying up of its UK standard in Lincoln Cathedral on 17 September 1995 and the last president was Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges. There remains a small Royal Air Forces Escaping Society Museum at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, near Spilsby, Lincolnshire and commemorative plaques sponsored by the RAFES at several locations including; the Royal Air Force Museum London, St Clement Danes Church and the Musée de l'Armée at the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris.

Thurston Dart

Robert Thurston ("Bob") Dart (3 September 1921 – 6 March 1971), was an English musicologist, conductor and keyboard player. From 1964 until his death he was Professor of Music at King's College London.

Vickers Vernon

The Vickers Vernon was a British biplane troop carrier used by the Royal Air Force. It entered service in 1921, and was the first dedicated troop transport of the RAF.

The Vernon was a development of the Vickers Vimy Commercial, a passenger variant of the famous Vickers Vimy bomber, and was powered by twin Napier Lion engines or Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engines. 55 were built.

In February 1923, Vernons of Nos. 45 and 70 Squadrons RAF airlifted nearly 500 troops to Kirkuk, Iraq after the civilian area of that town had been overrun by Kurdish forces. This was the first-ever strategic airlift of troops.

Vernons of No. 45 Squadron had bomb racks and sights fitted. In May 1924 the squadron was officially designated No. 45 (Bombing) Sqdn.Vernons were replaced by Vickers Victorias from 1927.

William Elliot (RAF officer)

Air Chief Marshal Sir William Elliot, (3 June 1896 – 27 June 1971) was a senior Royal Air Force commander.

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