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:

      Number 56 Squadron was one of the most famous fighter squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps and early RAF. As directed in a letter from the Deputy Director of Military Aeronautics, the Squadron was to form under the parentage of No 28 Squadron, Fort R owner, Gosport. (The letter directed the formation of Squadrons 55-59; and, a subsequent letter from the Director of Air Organisation confirmed that No 53 (2nd and 3rd flights) and Nos. 55-58 were formed 8 June1916). The first Commanding Officer was Major Ernest Leslie Gossage, MC. In March 1917, after training on a variety of other aircraft, the Squadron was the first unit to receive the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5 fighter/scout aircraft into service. Under the command of Major Richard Graham Blomfield, the Squadron set about getting this new aircraft operationally ready. On 7 April 1917, the unit moved from London Colney to St. Omer, France, and thence to Vert Galant. It flew its first mission on 22 April, and achieved its first aerial victory the next day by none other than the renowned Captain Albert Ball, DSO, MC. Captain Ball would go on to achieve another12 victories with the Squadron before being killed on 7 May 1917 and posthumously awarded the VC. The Squadron’s top-scoring ace and its other VC winner was Captain James McCudden with 51 victories whilst on No 56 Squadron. By the time the war ended, the Squadron had claimed 427 victories - all with the SE5/5a.

      During the conflict, the Squadron saw action in the Battle of Messines, the Third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Cambrai and the Battle of Amiens. In addition to their successes in the air, the Squadron also contributed to the ground battles by conducting aerial attacks against enemy troops and bombing infrastructure such as rail yards and aerodromes. The biggest such action for the Squadron came on 1 August 1918, when 3 and 56 Squadrons attacked Epiney aerodrome, dropping one hundred and four 25-pound bombs and expending over ten thousand bullets.

      The Squadron also made one brief return to England following a daring aerial attack against London by German Gotha G.IV bombers. There, No 56 Squadron’s mission was to augment the home defence while UK-based Squadrons were readied and trained for the purpose. However, after 10 days of no further bombing raids, the Squadron returned to Estrée-Blanche.

      The Squadron's success with the SE5a 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 Sergeant William Sanfrid Appleton, who was with the Squadron from its inception until its disbandment 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 SE5a 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 contribution of the many 56 Squadron personnel from outside the UK should also be noted. Six Canadians achieved ace status with the Squadron: RTC Hoidge, HJ Burden, WR Irwin, KW Junor, WO Boger and HAS Molyneux. One commanding officer, Major RG Blomfield, hailed from Australia, whilst his successor, Major R Balcombe-Brown hailed from New Zealand. Captain H Meintjes of South Africa was a member of the advance party to St Omer, France, on 3 April 1917.Towards the end of the war, several pilots for the United States Army Air Service were attached to No 56 Squadron; one of these was First Lieutenant JJ Offutt, who was killed on August 13, 1918. Offutt Air Force Base is named in his honour; exemplifying the strong historical links between the Squadron and United States Air Force. These close ties with our allies continue to the current day in the form of RCAF and USAF exchange officer posts, and a RAAF liaison officer post.

      The post-war cutbacks saw the Squadron disband 22 January 1920; however, eight days later it was reformed at Aboukir Egypt with the renumbering of No 80 Squadron, which was equipped with the Sopwith Snipe. The unit was officially disbanded again on 23 September 1922. Days later, elements were hastily formed into a flight and moved to Constantinople Turkey in support of the Chanak crisis, remaining in-theatre until August 1923 under the control of No 208 Squadron whilst maintaining the No 56 Squadron identity. There, Flying Officer GHD Gossip, a WW1Sopwith Camel ace born in Australia, was killed on 24 April 1923. Also in this group was Flying Officer CL (Lea-) Cox, who served with the Squadron for a combined total of 11 years and eventually became one of its Commanding Officers.

      Not long after the one flight had left for Turkey, two other flights were be reformed at RAF Hawkinge in November 1922. The Squadron became whole again in August 1923, with three flights in the same location, as the flight that had been positioned in Turkey returned to join the Squadron at 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.

      The inter-war period was also the time when the Squadron’s emblems came into being. In 1924, squadron livery of white and red checks was adopted. On 14 November 1928, the Squadron took on the phoenix as its crest with the motto "Quid Si Caelum Ruat" (What if the heavens fall?). This was officially awarded to the Squadron by King Edward VIII in July 1936, and presented to the Squadron on 13 October by Air Marshal Sir HCT Dowding, KCB, CMG. The phoenix was chosen to commemorate the ability of the Squadron to keep coming back.

      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 as hort stint at RAF Martlesham Heath) until 2 September 1940, when it moved toRAF 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 Super marine Spitfire IX for a short period in 1944, whilst the 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 number plate of No 16 Squadron.

      True to its tradition, No 56 Squadron 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 Super marine Swift Mk.1 andMk.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 LightningMk.1A, a twin-engined interceptor. As with the Meteor Mk.7, use of the Hunter T7 persisted until 1966, a testament to the success of both these airframes. In 1963, the Squadron was the Fighter Command's official demonstration team, and nine Lightning aircraft were often seen around the country performing at air shows deafening the crowds. In 1967, the Squadron moved to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, where they would remain for over seven years. In 1975, the Squadron returned 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 Squadron moved to RAF Leuchars to allow the airfield to be readied for Eurofighter Typhoon operations.

      On 18 April 2008 No 56(R) Squadron 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, part of the Air Warfare Centre based at RAF Waddington. This new role for the squadron keeps it at the fore front of operations, contributing to the operational development and optimization of the UK’s joint Air C2ISR capabilities through robust test and evaluation. Furthermore, the job of test and evaluation is not a wholly new one, given the Squadron's history with the SE5a, the Hawker Typhoon, and the Swift. The Phoenix rises once 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. and intelligence exploitation.

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