Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris
Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, who died yesterday aged 86, was an exceptional low-level ship-busting pilot and squadron commander during the Second World War, and later the RAF's commander-in-chief in Germany.
Serving briefly as a Hurricane fighter pilot with No 3 Squadron at the tail end of the Battle of Britain, Foxley-Norris, although subsequently chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Pilots' Association, was unnecessarily modest about his own combat role in that conflict. "My failure to distinguish myself in the Battle," he said, "was by no means as uncommon as many people would imagine. Particularly, one's shooting was haphazard and untutored, most of us having been thrown in quite without adequate training in that highly scientific art.
"We did not often get into an attacking position, and when we did we missed, firing at too long range and without enough deflection. Those who survived eventually learned by experience, but in 1940 the success went to the few old hands, the naturally gifted and the lucky."
Certainly, Foxley-Norris's apprenticeship in 1940 helped to set him up for the rest of the war, though he still considered himself a learner when, after moving on February 26 1941 to No 615 (County of Surrey) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron, stationed at Northolt, he was surprised by Me 109 fighters and shot down in flames. Foxley-Norris baled out of his Hurricane and came down near Ashridge, in Kent. After a heavy parachute landing he was delivered to the local police by a farmer wielding a pitchfork. "Got one of the bastards for you," the triumphant farmer declared, convinced that he had captured an enemy pilot.
Little the worse for this encounter, Foxley-Norris "rested" in Canada as a Commonwealth Air Training Scheme instructor. He also ferried Lockheed Hudsons across the Atlantic until mid-1943, when he returned to operational flying. Posted, as a flight commander, to No 143, a Bristol Beaufighter anti-shipping squadron, Foxley-Norris gained his first experience of the perils of strikes against enemy shipping in the North Sea.
Then, following an unpleasant interlude in which he was court-martialled for an alleged breach of security (of which he was acquitted), in the early autumn of 1943 Foxley-Norris was posted to serve as a flight commander in No 252, a Beaufighter squadron based in the Middle East.
Flying from Cyprus, Foxley-Norris was involved in what he described as "the disastrous and ill-conceived attempt to invade the Aegean islands of Cos and Leros". Characteristically forthright, he noted that the Beaufighter crews, who were operating at maximum range and were facing defenders superior in numbers and performance, "got a bloody nose".
Foxley-Norris and his fellow crews retired to Egypt's Canal Zone, where 252's Beaufighters were fitted with rockets in preparation for the squadron's next operational role - interrupting supplies to German garrisons on the Aegean islands.
On one memorable occasion Foxley-Norris encountered a 16-oared boat, "straight out of Homer", as he put it. Refraining from attacking, he skimmed the wave tops and yelled (not that anyone apart from his navigator could hear him ), "Come on Leander!" and "Give her 10 Argonauts!" (As a classical scholar, Foxley-Norris had been captivated by the Aegean, the start of a lifelong love affair with the islands, where he was later to build a house.)
With a constant flow of enemy supply shipping to intercept and destroy, Foxley-Norris was promoted wing commander and led No 603 (City of Edinburgh) Auxiliary Air Foce Squadron on convoy patrol and sweeps over the enemy-held Greek islands.
Christopher Neil Foxley-Norris was born at Birkenhead, Cheshire, on March 16 1917 and educated as a scholar of Winchester and of Trinity College, Oxford, where he joined the University Air Squadron (OUAS). Destined for a career at the Bar, he won a Harmsworth Scholarship to Middle Temple; but this coincided with the outbreak of war, when, along with the future Group Captain Lord Cheshire VC, a fellow member of OUAS, he was ordered to No 9 Flying Training School at Hullavington, in Wiltshire.
After getting their wings, the two men parted - Cheshire went to Bomber Command, and Foxley-Norris to Army Co-operation Command. Posted to No 13 Squadron at Douai, in France, he flew the slow and vulnerable Westland Lysander on spotting sorties for the British Expeditionary Force.
Following the fall of France, Foxley-Norris transferred to Fighter Command. He converted to the Hawker Hurricane and, on September 27 1940, joined No 3 Squadron at Turnhouse in Scotland, taking part in the last few weeks of the Battle of Britain.
After his service over the North Sea and in the Middle East and the Aegean, in early 1945 Foxley-Norris received command of No 143 Squadron's anti-shipping strike wing at Banff, Scotland. Having exchanged its Beaufighters for the faster, more powerful, de Havilland Mosquitoes, the squadron ranged the Skaggerak, Kattegat and Germany's north-western seaboard for naval and other maritime targets.
Foxley-Norris's "Mossies" were described as "pushing and shoving like housewives in a bread queue" to get their unfortunate targets, which were "plunging into the sea in all directions". On one sweep, Foxley-Norris and his fellow pilots shot down 11 out of a force of 18 enemy aircraft. Thus he rounded off an excellent wartime operational record, and accepted a permanent commission.
With the return of peace, Foxley-Norris began to scale the rather more mundane ladder which led to air rank and high command, beginning with a spell at HQ No 2 Group and a course at RAF Staff College which equipped him for increasingly important station commands and staff appointments.
In 1948 there came a pleasant interlude when he was posted to command the Oxford University Air Squadron, where he was able to identify and encourage such potential future leaders as David Craig, who was eventually to outstrip Foxley-Norris as a Marshal of the Royal Air Force. In 1951 Foxley-Norris returned to the Staff College as a member of the directing staff, and then in 1953 went to the Far East, where the Malayan Emergency offered an opportunity to advance his career on the planning staff of HQ Far East, Singapore.
After three years he returned home, taking up planning duties at HQ Fighter Command and then commanding fighter stations at Stradishall, Suffolk, and (from 1958) West Malling in Kent. In 1960 he was called to the Air Ministry as director of organisation and administrative plans, moving up three years later to become Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (General).
The next year Foxley-Norris was promoted air vice-marshal and returned to the Far East as air officer commanding (AOC) No 224 Group, which comprised a force of fighters, bombers, helicopters and flying-boats supporting the Army in the campaign known as the Indonesian Confrontation.
Foxley-Norris returned home again in 1967 as director of RAF organisation for a year until being appointed commander-in-chief Germany and commander of Nato's 2nd TAF. This was a considerable fiefdom, in which the RAF retained a sizeable presence as Nato faced the powerful Warsaw Pact forces.
He encouraged a tactical leadership programme which not only sharpened the RAF's effectiveness, but also later made a important contribution towards educating aircrew in the composite tactics which did so much to shape the air campaign during the Gulf War of 1991. Finally, Foxley-Norris served as chief of personnel and logistics from 1971 to 1974, when he retired.
Since their Oxford days, he had kept in touch with Leonard Cheshire. He had done what he could to support the Cheshire Homes, and was now free to devote more time to them. He was president of the Leonard Cheshire Housing Association from 1978, and chairman of the Cheshire Foundation (1974-82), and later its president.
Equally important to Foxley-Norris was his chairmanship of the Battle of Britain Fighter Pilots' Association. He strove to perpetuate the memory of the Battle and of those who had died in the course of it, and he promoted the welfare of the diminishing number of "the Few" when they needed assistance.
Foxley-Norris was awarded the DSO in 1945. He was appointed OBE in 1956; CB in 1966; KCB in 1969; and GCB in 1973.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2000, Foxley-Norris publicly criticised the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for not replying to, let alone accepting, an invitation to attend a service of commemoration in Westminster Abbey.
Foxley-Norris was a vice-president, from 1979, of the Royal United Services Institute, to whose journal he was a contributor. He was the author of a book, A Lighter Shade of Blue (1978).
He was chairman of the Ex-RAF and Dependants Severely Disabled Holiday Trust from 1984; of Gardens for the Disabled from 1980; and of the Trinity College, Oxford, Society from 1984 to 1986.
A keen pipe-smoker, Foxley-Norris served as chairman of Forest, the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco.
He married, in 1948, Joan Lovell Hughes, who survives him. There were no children