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The history of 56(R) Squadron RAF

Number 56 Squadron was one of the most famous fighter squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps and early RAF. 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 Ballwould go on to achieve another 12 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 Mc Cudden 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.

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 defense 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 optimize and maintain the aircraft. 
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, HJBurden, WR Irwin, KW Junor, WO Boger and HAS Molyneux. 

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-theater until August 1923 under the control of No 208 Squadron whilst maintaining the No 56 Squadron identity.

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?). 
In May 1938, the Hawker Hurricane arrived. 

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 realized 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 fora short period in 1944, whilst the awaited the arrival of the Hawker Tempest Vin June.

True to its tradition, No 56 Squadron reformed the next day at RAF Bentwaters with there numbering of No 124 Squadron which had just converted to the Gloster MeteorMk.3 jet fighter. The following nine years were spent operationally flying avariety 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-fatedSuper marine Swift Mk.1 andMk.2. The Squadron only flew these aircraft for oneyear, in conjunction with the proven Meteor Mk.8. In 1955, the Hawker Hunterarrived 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.

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 squadronkeeps it at the fore front of operations, contributing to the operationaldevelopment and optimization of the UK’s joint Air C2ISR capabilities throughrobust test and evaluation. Furthermore, the job of test and evaluation is nota wholly new one, given the Squadron's history with the SE5a, the HawkerTyphoon, and the Swift. The Phoenix rises once again!

56(R) Squadron Today:

Anintegral part of the Air Warfare Centre, 56(R) Squadron contributes to theoperational 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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