No. 56 Squadron RAF: Wikis


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No. 56 Squadron RAF
Active 1916 (RFC)
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
Role Operational Evaluation unit
Base RAF Waddington
Motto Latin: Quid si coelum ruat
("What if heaven falls?")
post 1950 aircraft insignia RAF 56 Sqn.svg
Equipment Nimrod R1/MR2/MRA4, Sentinel R1 and Sentry AEW Mk1
Battle honours Western Front 1917-1918*; Arras; Ypres 1917*; Cambrai 1917; Somme 1918*; Amiens; Hindenburg Line; France & Low Countries 1940; Dunkirk*: Battle of Britain, 1940*; Fortress Europe, 1942-1944; Dieppe; France & Germany, 1944-1945*; Normandy, 1944*; Home Defence, 1942-1945; Arnhem*.
Honours marked with an asterix* are those emblazoned on the Squadron Standard
Squadron Badge Crest A phoenix appearing from flames
Squadron Codes LR (Sep 1939)
US (Sep 1939 - Apr 1946 and 1947 - Dec 1950)
ON (Apr 1946 - 1947)
(Codes taken over from No 124 Sqn)
B (Carried on Phantoms)
A (Carried on Tornados)

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 War I and World War II. As 56 (Reserve) Squadron it is now an operational evaluation 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 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, Barlow, Hoidge, Maybery, Rhys Davids and McCudden. Forty pilots were killed in action, twenty wounded and thirty-one taken prisoner.

Between Wars

56 Sqn. Armstrong Whitworth Siskin, RAF North Weald.
56 Sqn. Bristol Bulldog, RAF Mildenhall, July 1935.

The squadron disbanded and was reformed several times between the wars. Equipment included:

Second World War

No 56 Squadron's introduction to the war came on 6 September 1939. The squadron, then based at RAF North Weald, became the unwitting victims of a friendly fire incident now known as the Battle of Barking Creek.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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 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[5], 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.[4]

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:[6]

EK183 US-A Sqn Ldr T.H.V Pheloung (Oamaru, New Zealand).[7].
US-A. Special 18 inch wide identification stripes were painted on the upper wings
Flt Lt Erik Haabjoern Norway holds the unit scoreboard, his right hand obscures the squadron number.
Two flights in formation. Sqn Ldr Pheloung leads in US-A. By 1943 these "vics" of three were only used to impress photographers. This photo appeared in 'Flight', 6 January 1944.

Cold War

The squadron converted to the RAF's first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F. Mark III, in April 1946 at RAF Bentwaters where they also flew the Gloster Meteor F. Mk 8 and the unsuccessful Supermarine Swift. In September 1957 the squadron moved to RAF Wattisham with the Hawker Hunter F5/F6 where they would spend most of the next 35 years defending Britain's airspace largely from Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear aircraft. They converted to the English Electric Lightning F1A in 1960 and showed the aircraft in a display team called The Firebirds. The squadron left Wattisham for 8 years in 1967 deploying to the RAF base in Cyprus before returning in 1975 with the Lightning F6.

In 1976 56 Squadron exchanged their Lightnings for McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2s and shared their base of RAF Wattisham initially with 23 Squadron and subsequently, on their departure to the Falkland Islands in 1982, with 74 Squadron. Both 56 and 23 Squadron operated the Phantom FGR.2, which used British Rolls Royce Spey engines, UK MOD Radar systems, and other modifications. 74 Squadron was equipped with ex-US Navy/Marine F-4Js (designated as the F-4J(UK) in RAF service). 56 Squadron operated the Phantom FGR.2 for 17 years at Wattisham until finally retiring the last of these in 1992. 56 Squadron bade an emotional farewell to their long-term home and moved to RAF Coningsby and the following year RAF Wattisham, which had been one of Britain's most major fighter bases during the Cold War, was closed and handed over to the British Army.[8]

Modern day

At Coningsby the squadron adopted the title of 56(Reserve) Squadron. It became the RAF's Operational Conversion Unit (229 OCU) conducting training of ab initio crew and aircrew converting from other aircraft types to the Tornado F3. Following the announcement that the RAF's new fighter aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon would be stationed at Coningsby, it was decided that 56(R) Sqn would relocate to RAF Leuchars in Fife, home to 43(F) Squadron and 111 Squadron (with whom 56 Sqn had previously shared their Wattisham home), both flying the Tornado F3. The Squadron moved north in March 2003, initially moving into the 'Ark Royal' hangar before moving into their new building on the northern side of the airfield.[9] 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 have a Tornado F3 display .

On 5 February 2008, it was reported that 56(R) squadron at RAF Leuchars would disappear after being merged with 43(F) Squadron on 22 April as the Tornado fleet was phased out to be replaced with the Eurofighter Typhoon. The 56 Squadron nameplate was transferred to the Air Command and Control Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operational Evaluation Unit (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.

See also


  1. ^ RAF Battle of Britain squadrons Note:80 Squadron renumbered. Squadron disbanded September 1922; Reformed November 1922.
  2. ^ Ramsay, 1987. Pages 26-33.
  3. ^ First casualties of the RAF were crews from Bomber Command.
  4. ^ a b Thomas and Shores 1988
  5. ^ 3 Sqn., 56 Sqn., 80 Sqn., 274 Sqn. (to March 1945), and 486(NZ) Sqn.
  6. ^ Flight Global archive, listed below.
  7. ^ Thomas and Shores 1988. Note: On 20 June 1943, Sqn Ldr Pheloung flying EK184, US-C, was hit by flak and crashed into the sea while attacking shipping.
  8. ^ A history of RAF Wattisham
  9. ^ [1] RAF Leuchars website
  • 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.

External links


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