Monday, 31 August 2015

Mission Completed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Edward Embry GCB, KBE, DSO & Three Bars, DFC, AFC. Read 30 August 2015

This is the autobiography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry, one of the RAF’s outstanding leaders off the 2nd World War. Perhaps his greatest belief was that commanders should lead from the front and throughout the war this is what Embry did. Whilst the war years take up most of the book, the early chapters cover Embry’s early career from joining the infant RAF in 1921, whilst the last couple of chapters take the story from 1945 to his retirement in 1956, via his roles as C in C Fighter Command and NATO.

Embry was one of the pioneers of the early RAF. On completion of flying training he served in Iraq in the air policing role, where he also helped pioneer the first Baghdad to Cairo air route (to say airline would be to overdo it) as well as the Air Ambulance role (for which he received his AFC). On return to the UK he became a senior flying instructor with the CFS and was involved (though he doesn’t take the credit) in the development of Instrument Flying instruction. After this tour he served as a Sqn Ldr on a 5 year posting to India’s NW Frontier where he was to receive the 1st of 4 DSOs.

Starting the war as a Wing Commander in the Air Ministry he quickly set about organising himself a posting to command an operational Bomber Sqn (107) equipped with Blenheims. Throughout the book it is clear that Embry put a premium upon morale which he believed to be always improved by his example of leading from the front. Additionally Embry was a pioneer of operational analysis and a successful innovator, using lessons learned and attempting to perfect performance thinking about how his crews could improve their performance and following through on these ideas, often cutting through bureaucracy to achieve his ends. An early example in the winter of 1939 being the rigging up of a practice Blenheim gun turret from a crashed aircraft and a factory supplied electrical test system that was obtained by Embry’s claiming to be acting on the order of the Air Ministry when in fact he was calling on his own behalf. Later, when AOC 2 group he would analyse the group’s average bombing performance, the result of which was to reduce the margin of error from 1800 yards to 200 yards. Also in 2 Gp he pioneered, against official wishes, the use of models to allow low level Mosquito crews to improve their navigation and target recognition which were crucial in the pinpoint attacks on targets such as Amiens gaol and the Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus and Copenhagen amongst others. Although

Embry flew a number of missions throughout the Battles of Norway, including attacking the German Heavy Cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and France in 1940 and these are well covered in the book, though Embry is laconic with regards to his own participation. 1940 was indeed a busy year for Embry as apart from his leadership of 107 Sqn (for which he received a 2nd DSO). Told on 26 May that he was to be promoted to Group Captain, he took the opportunity to fly one more mission, after having formally handed the Sqn to his successor. It was on this mission that he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. He and his observer Pilot Officer Whiting became POWs but the unfortunate recently married Gunner, Corporal Lang was killed. Embry was quickly captured but whilst being marched to captivity in a column of British prisoners, he and another airman made their escape when they took as a good omen a road sign ‘Embry, 3 km’ at which point they rolled down a bank unnoticed by their captors. Although both men were at once separated they both made it back to the UK. Embry would evade recapture for two months before becoming the 1st evader to return to Britain. Whilst the story is more fully covered elsewhere (‘Wingless Victory’ by Anthony Richardson) the story of the escape is well covered here also. Back in Britain, Embry spent 3 weeks at but when offered command of a night fighter wing he jumped at the chance despite reverting to the rank of wing commander. The wing disbanded in December 1940 and Embry became AOC RAF Wittering returning to the rank of Gp Capt in March 1941. As in the future Embry continued to fly operationally in the radar equipped night-fighters of No. 25 Sqn.

Embry - at right as AOC 2 Gp

In October 1941 he was seconded to the Desert Air Force as an adviser the AVM Coningham in the use of tactical bombers and he saw operation during the relief of Tobruk during operation Crusader. In early 1942 Embry returned to the UK to serve, briefly as AOC Wittering again and then on promotion to AVM as AOC 10 Group Fighter Command before transferring back to Bomber Command and taking up command of 2 Gp just before its transfer to the 2nd TAF in preparation for Overlord. It is well known that Embry’s dynamism and leadership were outstanding this command, though in this book Embry, whilst recalling a number of key developments and operations, including the attacks on V1 and V2 sites and the Overlord invasion, he is certainly not one to blow his own trumpet so one doesn’t realise just how much operational flying he continued to undertake. Even in the rank of Air Vice Marshall, Embry continued to fly on, and often lead, all of the high profile operations carried out by the group although he would fly under the pseudonym of ‘Wing Commander Smith’. It is a shame that Embry did not make more in the book of the operations that he flew during this time as many of them now are regarded as classic attacks , well planned, well led and superbly executed.

This book, which was written in 1956, on Embry’s retirement starts and finishes with discussions around what was then ‘current’ policy. Embry rails against the Treasury’s failure to deliver what operational commanders need and of the division of responsibilities within between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Production - now both long since disappeared. It is interesting to look back at 60 years later and how the world has moved on but many of the points made ore of course no longer relevant, particularly the concerns over operating in the nuclear battlefield (itself a doctrinal casualty of NATOs switch from Tripwire to Flexible Response in the late 1960s). In addition to the issues of the day, time has also affected how one sees the style of the book. In today’s terms it is incredibly formally written. Throughout surnames are used and Embry continually refers to his wife as ‘my wife’ rather than by her name! These are minor niggles, however and this book is well worth reading.



Friday, 21 August 2015

Great News - Hill of Flinder Wind Turbine developer withdraws appeal

Developers have withdrawn their appeal against the decision to refuse the 400ft wind turbine on Hill of Flinder that would have dwarfed the nearby Dunnydeer Hill and its ancient Hillfort and Castle remains (the oldest example of its type in Scotland. I 1st mentioned it here:…/wednesday-18-feb-2015-summe…
And here was my Letter of July this year against the Appeal - feel free to plagiarize:
The Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals
4 The Courtyard
Callendar Business Park
Callendar Road
Falkirk, FK1 1XR
Dear Sir/Madam
Scottish Ministers Reference: PPA-110-227
Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997
Proposal: Erection of Single 900kW Wind Turbine (Hub Height 45m, Total Height 67m), Access Track and Ancillary Infrastructure
Address: Land At, Hill Of Flinder, Insch, AB52 6YY
Grid Reference: 359088.827708
It has come to my notice that, contrary to the advice of the local planning authority the developer of the above proposal has decided to appeal . In addition to my previous comments I would reaffirm my strong opposition to this application. Whilst there are strong ethical grounds to object to the redistribution of taxpayer's and energy consumer's (many of whom are not wealthy) funds via subsidies to landowners there are a number of practical concerns that make this application unacceptable:
1. This application has already been rejected by the appropriate local authority. Surely the Scottish Government should take cognisance of the primacy of LOCAL officials in local matters.
2. Visual Impact – as I have already mentioned, Hill of Flinder is a wholly inappropriate site. The proposed turbine shall be almost 200feet tall (which is HALF the height of Dunnydeer Hill!). It will therefore be visible from a wide area; inevitably it shall dwarf the ancient 12th Century Dunnydeer Castle – the oldest of its type in Scotland and thereby despoil the stunning scenery of the area.
3. Inappropriate siting; impact to health and well-being of residents – this proposal is sited too close to dwelling houses. The construction works will expose residents to considerable noise and disruption and the completed turbine will inevitably have a visual and audible impact, detrimental to health and well-being.
4. Environmental damage - the environmental assessments presented are predictive. If incorrect the damage cannot be undone.
5. Economic argument – without taxpayer funded subsidy this development would not be considered. Furthermore a single turbine cannot possibly have a measurable effect on global climate change, though it will have a serious detrimental effect to my village.
I trust that my points shall be given careful consideration in your decision process.
Yours Faithfully
Alan Callow

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Tour O The Borders 2015

On Sunday 9 August I completed my 1st ever sportive the 2015 ‘Tour o The Borders’ which started and finished in Peebles. The route was a 120km (74.6 miles) with 4722ft of ascent. My Official race time was 6hrs 35 though my moving time for the event was 5hrs 21 the difference being due to an hour and 15 minute delay due to an accident when two of the leading riders crashed within minutes of each other on the descent form Talla. Most riders were then unable to progress and spent a very cold 1 hr 20 on the Talla summit in strongish winds and showers waiting for the road to be re-opened.

Whilst this was an inconvenience the sight of the Air Ambulance collecting one of the injured riders was a sobering one and a reminder that one’s own inconveniencing was nothing compared to those who were injured.

I had journeyed down to Peebles with Alex, who would be starting in the 1st wave, on the Saturday as Registration was open from 10am-8pm on Saturday only on Peebles Tweed Green. Here we collected out race chips and I moved my start wave from 12 to 7 based on the improved time I now expected, having been in training since May. I had booked accommodation in plenty of time at Innerleithen but with just 3 weeks to go this provider cancelled our booking due to a cock up on their booking system so at the last minute we ended up in Hawick at the very friendly North Bridge Street B&B (but 1 hour away) where we were welcome to put our bikes indoors overnight. Sadly we couldn’t wait for breakfast as we needed to be on the road back to Peebles at 0430.

The 1st wave of riders was off at 0645 and I got going at 06:59. After 1:15 hrs my Garmin Edge froze so all other timing was done by Strava on the iPhone which turned out to be lifesaver with its autopause function. The course is an interesting one, pretty hilly all round with the 2nd main hill - Talla - being the Beast of a 1 in 20! It was here that we were all delayed on reaching the top. From Talla to the food stop at the Gordon Arms it was possible to really fly and overtook a large number of riders. There are plenty of food stops though I only stopped twice – when passing the old Gordon Arms Hotel for Jelly Babies and Macaroni pies.

Two big hills come on the 32km loop that the 120km course riders were doing that starts and ends at the Gordon Arms. The first of these was directly into the strong SW wind whilst the second ‘Whichyknowe’ had the timed climb (11min 55.57 secs for me). Just before ‘Whichyknowe’ another rider pointed out that my rear wheel was wobbling badly. I couldn’t see it myself at first but when climbing Paddy Slacks another rider called me to stop the wheel was really wobbly. On inspection almost all the spokes were loose. With no mechanics close by and no phone signal I was now stopping often to tighten spokes with my fingers and going reasonably slow downhills as I didn’t want the wheel to collapse. I reckon this problem probably lost me 10-15 minutes on the final time.

My Final position was 1132 out of 1403 finishers on the 120km course (228th in the M50-59 Category out of 282). Cash raised for the Matt Hampson foundation (so far) £495

Lessons Learned

1 – Get an early start, this will help with parking, preparing the bike and get you into the loo with plenty of time to spare

2 – Try to get accommodation nearer to the race (not always easy given 2000 entries)

3 – Check over the bike again – I reckon my loose spokes cost me around 20 minutes as I nursed the back wheel home for the last 30km or so.

4 – Carry a lightweight poncho or similar, my teeth were chattering on top of Talla when the race was delayed