56(R) Squadron

56(R) Squadron

56(R) Sqn Crest


A phoenix - approved by King Edward VIII in July 1936. The phoenix was chosen to underline the Squadron's ability to reappear intact regardless of the odds.


Quid si coelum ruat - 'What if the heavens fall?'

Key Dates:

  • 1916 - Formed at Gosport.
  • 1917-18 - First Squadron to fly Royal Aircraft Factory S.E. 5a; several World War 1 'aces' flew with the squadron including Captain Albert Ball, VC, DSO & Two Bars, MC, and Captain James McCudden, VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar, MM.
  • 1940 - One of the highest-scoring Battle of Britain squadrons.
  • 1941 - First squadron to fly Hawker Typhoon.
  • 1954 - First, and only, unit to fly the Supermarine Swift Mk.1 and Mk.2.
  • 1963 - Fighter Command's official demonstration team, flying aerobatics with Lightning Mk.1A interceptors.
  • 1976 – Adopted Air Defence role with the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR 2.
  • 1992 – Became 56(Reserve) Squadron, the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the Tornado F3.
  • 2008 - Squadron hangs up its fighter boots, taking on the role of Air C2ISR Test and Evaluation Squadron.

Current Aircraft and Location:

Aircraft/Systems (supported): E-3D Sentry; UK Rivet Joint; Sentinel R Mk1; ground-based command and control systems, ground based radars (static and deployable); tactical data links; and, UK intelligence exploitation systems.

Current Location: RAF Waddington

Battle Honours:

Western Front 1917-1918*, Arras 1917, Ypres 1917*, Cambrai 1917, (Second Battle of) Somme 1918*, Amiens 1918, Hindenburg Line 1918, France and Low Countries 1940, Dunkirk 1940*, Battle of Britain 1940*, Fortress Europe 1942-1944, Dieppe 1942, France and Germany 1944-1945*, Normandy 1944*, Home defence 1942-1945, Arnhem 1944*.

(Honours marked with an asterisk, are emblazoned on the Squadron Standard)

History of 56(R) Squadron:

One of the most famous fighter squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps and early RAF, Number 56 Squadron was formed at Gosport on 8 June 1916. In March 1917, the Squadron was the first unit to receive the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a fighter/scout into service. Under the Command of Major Richard Graham Blomfield, the Squadron set about quickly getting this new aircraft operationally ready. On 7 April 1917, the unit moved from London Colney to St. Omer, France. Several famous Royal Flying Corps pilots served with the Squadron: Captain Albert Ball, a founder member, who was killed in 7 May 1917 and posthumously awarded the VC; Lieutenant Arthur Percival Rhys-Davids, killed in action 27 October 1917; and, Captain James McCudden, the Squadron's top ace with 57 victories (51 whilst on 56 Squadron) and recipient of the VC. By the time the War ended, the Squadron had claimed 427 victories - all with the S.E.5a.

The Squadron's success with the S.E.5a was a testament to both the air skills of the pilots and the engineering skills of the ground crews (and some of the pilots themselves, such as Albert Ball), who worked tirelessly to optimise and maintain the aircraft. One notable example is Sgt William Sanfrid Appleton, who was with the Squadron from its inception in 1916 until days before its return to the UK at the end of the war. Shortly after the Squadron's deployment to France, (then) Cpl Appleton was tasked to solve the problem of a less than ideal Costantinesco Interrupter Gear, responsible for timing the firing of the Vickers gun such that it missed the S.E.5a rotating blades. His success was exemplified by the fact that for the week ending 16 October 1918, 13 Wing, of which 56 Squadron was a part, achieved twice as many firings per propeller lost as 12 Wing. In recognition of his tireless efforts, Sgt Appleton was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

The post-war cutbacks saw the Squadron disband 22 January 1920; however, eight days later it was reformed at Aboukir, Egypt, this time equipped with Sopwith Snipes. The unit was officially disbanded, again, 23 September 1922. Again, days later, elements were hastily formed into a Flight and moved to Turkey during the Chanak crisis, remaining in-theatre until August 1923 under the control of No 208 Squadron at Constantinople. Somewhat confusingly, other elements of No 56 Squadron also reformed at RAF Hawkinge in November 1922! The Squadron became whole again with three Flights, in the same place, September 1923, with a move to RAF Biggin Hill. After all this movement and turmoil, the Squadron finally settled at RAF North Weald in October 1927, where it would remain until October 1939 and the start of the Second World War.

In May 1938, the Hawker Hurricane arrived. It was with this aircraft that the Squadron fought the Battle of France, provided air cover for the Dunkirk evacuation and flew for the entire period of the Battle of Britain, flying again out of RAF North Weald (after a short stint at RAF Martlesham Heath) until 2 September 1940, when it moved to RAF Boscombe Down for the final stages of the Battle of Britain. Throughout the War, the Squadron called numerous RAF stations home, with extended stays at Duxford, Martlesham Heath, Matlask, Newchurch and Snailwell.

In September 1941, 56 Squadron was the first unit to receive the Hawker Typhoon. It took several months for this new airframe to overcome its 'teething' problems and its full potential was not realised until fighter-bomber operations started in November 1943. Given the effort the Squadron put into the Typhoon, it is perhaps not unsurprising that the Squadron pilots were less than enthused that they were to temporarily switch to the Supermarine Spitfire IX for a short period in 1944, whilst they awaited the arrival of the Hawker Tempest V in June. Their reticence was short lived, as noted in the Squadron Operations Record: "Many people have now flown the Spitfire, and almost to a man declare their firm and immediate allegiance to that aeroplane. How fickle is man!" That summer saw the unit concentrate on anti-V1 ('flying bomb') patrols with both the Spitfire and the Tempest. In September, the Squadron moved to Grimbergen, Belgium, followed by a succession of locations in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. On 31 March 1946, the Squadron disbanded on paper and took over the numberplate of No. 16 Squadron.

True to its tradition, No. 56 reformed the next day at RAF Bentwaters with the renumbering of No 124 Squadron, which had just converted to the Gloster Meteor Mk.3 jet fighter. The following nine years were spent operationally flying a variety of Meteor jet fighters; the Meteor Mk.7 trainer saw service until 1960. Following a number of moves after the War, the Squadron finally began to settle down, being stationed for nine years at RAF Waterbeach (1950-59) and eight years at RAF Wattisham (1959-67).

In 1954, the Squadron was once again chosen to introduce a new aircraft, the ill-fated Supermarine Swift Mk.1 and Mk.2. The Squadron only flew these aircraft for one year, in conjunction with the proven Meteor Mk.8. In 1955, the Hawker Hunter arrived to replace both the Meteor and the Swift. The Hunters were operationally replaced in 1961, when the Squadron converted to the English Electric Lightning Mk.1A, a twin-engined interceptor. As with the Meteor Mk.7, use of the Hunter T.7 persisted until 1966, at testament to the success of both these airframes. In 1963, the Squadron was Fighter Command's official demonstration team, and nine Lightning aircraft were often seen around the country performing at airshows and deafening the crowd! In 1967, the Squadron moved to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, where they would remain for over seven years. In 1975, the Squadron returned to RAF Wattisham.

On 29 June 1976, the Squadron standard was handed over to 56(Designate) Squadron, which had been formed 22 March of that year at RAF Coningsby and trained on the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR 2 in the Air Defence role. The new 56(F) Squadron quickly relocated back to RAF Wattisham in July, where they flew the Phantom until July 1992, when the Squadron number was assigned as the Reserve Squadron for the Tornado F3 Operational Conversion Unit at Coningsby. At the end of March 2003, No 56 moved to RAF Leuchars to allow the airfield to be readied for Eurofighter Typhoon operations. On 18 April 2008 No 56(R) Sqn disbanded as the F3 Operational Conversion Unit, and the number plate was passed to the Air Command and Control, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) Test and Evaluation Squadron, based at RAF Waddington. Though a move from fighters to C2ISR, this role is not a wholly new one given the Squadron's test and evaluation history with the S.E.5a, the Hawker Typhoon, and the Swift. The Phoenix rises again!

56(R) Squadron Today:

An integral part of the Air Warfare Centre, 56(R) Squadron contributes to the operational development and optimisation of the RAF's command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (Air C2ISR) capabilities. This is primarily achieved through the management, conduct and independent oversight of through-life flight and ground trials. Comprised of experienced operators and operational analysts, with experience from a variety of Air C2ISR systems, the Squadron is also an invaluable source of specialist expert advice in airborne command and control, airborne electronic sensors, airborne ground surveillance, aerospace battle management and intelligence exploitation.

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