Eric Betts

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Eric Bourne Coulter Betts
Born 24 January 1897
Dalkey, Dublin, Ireland
Died 30 October 1971
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service 1915-1946
Rank air vice-marshal
Unit No. 2 Naval Squadron RNAS/No. 202 Squadron RAF
Commands held No. 101 Squadron RAF
Awards Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Mentioned in Despatches, French Croix de Guerre, Greek Order of the Phoenix

Air Vice Marshal Eric Bourne Coulter Betts (1897-1971) began his career in the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He became a flying ace credited with six aerial victories, although acedom was incidental to his more important mission of long range photographic reconnaissance, for which he was decorated.

He remained in military service postwar, rising through the officer's ranks of the Royal Air Force to the rank of group captain just before the Second World War began. As that war started, he was a very influential participant in the United Kingdom's effort to gear up for the conflict; his 16 early forecasts of needed personnel and logistic requirements for the Royal Air Force were accurate within a five percent margin.

Later in the war, having been promoted to air vice-marshal, he was in charge of administration for Middle East Command. He retired in that rank postwar, on 10 March 1946. He died on 30 March 1971.

Early life

Eric Bourne Coulter Betts was born in Dalkey, Dublin, Ireland on 24 January 1897.[1]

First World War service

Betts began his military service as a signalman in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.[2] He was commissioned as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant in the RNVR in January 1915. He was seconded for duty in the Royal Naval Air Service.[3]

Betts was assigned to No. 2 Naval Squadron as an aerial observer on a long range reconnaissance mission when he scored his first confirmed aerial victory on 1 February 1917, he was manning the guns in the rear seat of a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter.[1] He received the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de guerre with Palm for this sortie.[2] On 28 February, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant. By June, he was assigned to Hendon NAS; the Admiralty planned long range photographic reconnaissance of German naval bases to the west of the Kiel Canal, and Betts was selected to fly in the Airco DH.4 modified for this mission. Although the mission was cancelled, and the aircraft and air crews were reassigned to Great Yarmouth in August 1917, Betts' award citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross credited him with more than 20 successful long range photo missions.[4]

Betts was promoted to the rank of temporary captain and remained with 2 Naval when it became No. 202 Squadron of the newly formed Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.[4] Teamed with Noel Keeble, he scored five more aerial victories between 5 June and 16 September 1918.[1]

List of aerial victories

See also Aerial victory standards of World War I

While Betts' DFC citation, as rather an afterthought, noted aerial eight victories, only six accredited victories are known.

No. Date/time Aircraft Foe Result Location Notes
1 1 February 1917 @ 1420 hours Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter serial number 9417 Albatros D.II Driven down out of control Wendyne Pilot: Holden
2 5 June 1918 @ 1200 hours Airco DH.4 s/n A7446 Pfalz D.III Destroyed North of Eassen Pilot: Noel Keeble
3 9 June 1918 Airco DH.4 s/n A7446 Albatros fighter Destroyed Maria-Aalter Pilot: Noel Keeble
4 10 August 1918 @ 1425 hours Airco DH.4 s/n A7446 Fokker D.VII Driven down out of control Bruges, Belgium Pilot: Noel Keeble
5 16 September 1918 @ 1105 hours Airco DH.4 s/n A7446 Pfalz D.XII Destroyed Benkemaere Pilot: Noel Keeble
6 16 September 1918 @ 1125 hours Airco DH.4 s/n A7446 Fokker D.VII Set afire in midair; destroyed Dudzele, Belgium Pilot: Noel Keeble[1]

Between the World Wars

On 5 December 1919 Betts was posted to observer duty on HMS Pegasus. He then became a supernumerary from 28 February 1922 until 3 April, when he began attendance at the RAF Staff College, Andover.[5]

On 4 April 1923, he began pilot's training at No. 1 Flying Training School. On 17 September 1923, he began staff duty at Headquarters, Inland Area. From there, he moved on to become a Qualified Flying Instructor at No. 3 Flying Training School on 20 March 1928. While there, he was promoted to squadron leader on 29 May 1929. [5]

Betts went upon foreign service next, being assigned to the Air Staff at Headquarters, British Forces Aden. He would remain there until being returned to Britain and deemed supernumerary on 5 March 1932.[5]

After a spell on half pay status, he again pulled staff duty, this time in the Wessex Bombing Area, starting on 8 August 1932. After that, he was given command of No. 101 Squadron RAF on 21 December 1933.[5]

On 1 January 1936, he was promoted to wing commander. On 14 January, he returned to staff work, at the RAF's War Organization; in 1939, he rose to become Deputy Director of the organization. [6] On 1 April 1939, Betts was promoted to group captain.[7]

Second World War and beyond

In 1939, as war began, he was one of the committee tasked with planning supplies of British aircraft, including Fairey Battles, Hawker Hurricanes, and Supermarine Spitfires, to beleaguered Poland; however, that nation was conquered by the Germans before the aircraft could be supplied. Beginning in September 1939, and running through May 1940, he was then required to make 16 war planning forecasts for logistics and personnel requirements for the RAF to fight the Second World War. These forecasts were exceptionally accurate, with only two having so much as a five percent error.[6]

On 1 January 1941, Betts was gazetted "for valuable services rendered in connection with the war."[8] A promotion to temporary Air Commodore followed, on 1 April 1941.[6] Later in 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, he was involved in high level negotiations for ferrying Lend Lease aircraft from the U. S. to British control.[9]

He was then assigned to foreign duty with Middle East Command, becoming the Air Officer in Charge of Administration on 26 March 1943. He had been promoted to acting air vice-marshal just 12 days prior.[6]

Betts was retained as an air vice-marshal on 1 December 1944. He was Mentioned in Despatches on 1 January 1945.[10] He retired in that rank postwar, on 10 March 1946,[6] having been awarded the Order of the British Empire.[2] He died on 30 March 1971[6]

Honours and awards

Commander of the Order of the British Empire - 2 June 1943
Distinguished Service Cross - 21 April 1917
Distinguished Flying Cross - 21 September 1918
Mentioned in Despatches – 1 January 1945
Croix de Guerre (France) - 20 July 1917
Croix de Guerre with Palms (France) - 16 December 1919
Grand Commander of the Order of the Phoenix (Greece) - 6 September 1946


  • Naval Aces of World War 1, Part 1: Volume 97 of Osprey Aircraft of the Aces: Volume 97 of Aircraft of the Aces Series. Jon Guttman. Osprey Publishing, 2011. ISBN 1849083452, 9781849083454.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Naval Aces of World War I, p. 10.
  3. Retrieved 5 April 2012. Note 1: Given that the minimum age for commissioning was customarily 18, the final week in January seems most likely. Note 2: This original commissioning was into the Royal Marines.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  7. Flight, 13 April 1939, 376.
  8. Supplement to the London Gazette, 1 January 1941, p. 41.
  9. THE ARMY AIR FORCES IN WORLD WAR II. Plans and Early Operations, p. 322, viewable at Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  10. Supplement to the London Gazette, 1 January 1945, p. 60.