Number 56 Squadron
is one of the oldest and most successful squadrons
of the Royal Air Force
, with battle honours from many of the significant air campaigns of both world wars
. As 56 (Reserve) Squadron
it is an operation conversion unit.
First World War
The squadron was formed on 8 June 1916
and was posted to France in April 1917 as part of the Royal Flying Corps
. The squadron was equipped with the then brand new SE5
fighter. Its arrival at the front with the latest scout fighter, combined with the unusually high proportion of experienced pilots in its ranks, led to rumours among its German opponents the squadron was specifically the 'Anti-Richthofen Squadron', dedicated to the removal of the Red Baron
. Although there was no truth in these rumours the squadron did shoot down and kill Richthofen's nearest 1917 rival Leutnant Werner Voss
. By the end of the war 56 Squadron had scored 427 'victories' and been home to many famous fighter aces
such as Ball
, Rhys Davids
. Forty pilots were killed in action, twenty wounded and thirty-one taken prisoner.
The squadron disbanded and was reformed several times between the wars.
Second World War
No 56 Squadron's introduction to the war came on 6 September 1939
. 56 Squadron, then based at RAF North Weald
, became the unwitting victims of a friendly fire
incident now known as the Battle of Barking Creek
. Two pilots of the squadron were shot down and one, Montague Hulton-Harrop, was killed, becoming the RAF's first casualty in the defence of the UK
The squadron entered the Second World War equipped with Hawker Hurricanes which they operated first during the Battle of France, and then as part of No. 11 Group RAF from North Weald throughout the Battle of Britain. At the close of the battle they were posted to RAF Boscombe Down to recuperate. During 1940 the squadron claimed just over a hundred aircraft shot down.
A year later, in 1941, as part of the Duxford Wing the squadron was the first to receive the troublesome new Hawker Typhoons which they helped turn into a usable fighter. Throughout most of 1942 and 1943 the unit was based with No. 12 Group RAF at RAF Matlaske in Norfolk. During this time 56 Squadron's role changed from that of low-medium level defence against Fw 190 and Bf 109 fighter-bomber attacks, to becoming fighter bombers themselves, attacking ground and sea targets. 56 Sqn was to score one confirmed victory on Typhoons.
In 1944 the squadron moved to RAF Newchurch and converted to Hawker Tempest Vs. As a unit of No. 150 Wing RAF, under the command of Wing Commander Roland Beamont 56 Squadron was an Air Defence of Great Britain squadron, involved in defending Britain from V1 flying bombs. Between 70 and 77½ of these were shot down before another move, on 28 September of that year, to B.60 Grimbergen Belgium as part of 122 Wing., Second Tactical Air Force. During the tough operations that followed 56 Squadron was to become equal highest scoring Tempest unit, along with 486(NZ) Sqn, with 59 confirmed victories. During the Second World War the squadron claimed a total of 149 aircraft shot down.Hawker Typhoons of 56 Sqn.
In April 1943 Charles E Brown from "Flight" aviation magazine visited 56 Sqn. at Matlaske. This is part of a portfolio of photos:
The squadron converted to Gloster Meteor
F. Mark IIIs in April 1946 at RAF Bentwaters
. Other aircraft types flown were the Gloster Meteor F. Mk 8, the unsuccessful Supermarine Swift
and the Hawker Hunter
Since World War Two the squadron had been the RAF’s display team, The Firebirds
, taken part in the 1974 defence of the British bases in Cyprus and been the RAF’s operational conversion unit flying Tornado F3s
The squadron now flies the Tornado F3 and is based at RAF Leuchars
. The squadron, nicknamed the Firebirds, was until 2005 the display squadron for the F3. It was announced in December 2005 that, as a cost cutting measure, the RAF would no longer do a Tornado F3 display . The squadron will continue to be the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the Tornado F3.
On February 5 2008
, it was reported that 56(R) squadron at RAF Leuchars would disappear after being merged with 43(F) Squadron
on April 22
as the Tornado fleet was phased out to be replaced with the Eurofighter Typhoon
. The 56 Squadron nameplate was transferred to the AIR C2ISR OEU at RAF Waddington on 22 April 2008 as 56(R) Sqn, The ISTAR OEU. The ISTAR OEU is the centre of excellence for the RAF's AWACS, Nimrod R1/MR2 and Sentinel aircraft.
- Beamont, Roland. My Part of the Sky. London, UK: Patrick Stephens, 1989. ISBN 1-85260-079-9.
- Beamont, Roland. Tempest over Europe. London, UK: Airlife, 1994. ISBN 1-85310-452-3.
- Ramsay, Winston G (editor).The Blitz Then and Now; Volume 1. London, UK: Battle of Britain Prints International Limited, 1987. ISBN 0-900913-45-2
- Rawlings, John D. R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. Somerton, UK: Crécy Books, 1993. ISBN 0-947554-24-6.
- Thomas, Chris. Typhoon and Tempest Aces of World War 2. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-85532-779-1.
- Thomas, Chris and Shores, Christopher. The Typhoon and Tempest Story. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1988. ISBN 0-85368-878-6.