Air Chief Marshal Sir
Basil Embry is a pugnacious and uncompromising airman with a fine World War II
battle record and a reputation for talking out of school.
Last week at 53, Britain's most
famous flying brasshat was placed on the retired list. No "appropriate
appointment" available, " said the R.A.F. "I am being . . .
sacked," Sir Basil corrected. "I have strong views." The most
recent Embry views: the R.A.F. is unready for atomic war, dominated by the
civil service, shackled to outdated strategy and outmoded jet types by
pound-pinchers at Her Majesty's Treasury. Like his good friend General Curtis
LeMay, chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command and another battle-tested
brasshat, Embry thinks that the next war will turn on the air forces' capacity
to deliver immediate and lethal retaliation.
The R.A.F., he says,
can never attain A-combat readiness unless men with broad operational flying
experience take over, put the bureaucrats in their place, and restore the
service to its World War II standing as Britain's prime striking force.
Sir Basil, who wears a
D.F.C., A.F.C. and four D.S.O.s, is popular with flyers as a leader who would
fly anything they could. Promoted to a big command early in World War II, he
led his Blenheim bombers on one more mission, was shot down over France. He
slipped away from the Germans three times, once killing three captors with a
knife and the butt of a sentry's rifle, another time impersonating an Irish
Republican Army man (and spouting Urdu when asked to show that he could speak
Gaelic). He slept one night in an absent German general's bed, watched from the
bedroom window the Nazis' parade into Paris, and
cycled across France
to freedom. Back in Britain,
he left his commander's desk and flew repeated fighter missions as "Wing
As postwar chief of
fighter command NATO commander of air forces on the Central European front, he
made professional friends by championing the promotion of more combat veterans
to operational commands. But he also made enemies in the ministries by his
criticism of the R.A.F.'s condition, and this year he was passed over for top
Last week, five years
younger than the retirement age of 58, Sir Basil booked passage for New Zealand, announced that will become a farmer.