No. 56 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.56 Squadron spent all but two months of the Second World War operating Hawker fighters, using Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain before becoming the first squadron to convert to the troublesome Hawker Typhoon, and by the end of the war the squadron was using the high-speed Hawker Tempest on armed reconnaissance missions behind German lines.

No.56 Squadron had originally been one of the most famous British fighter squadrons of the First World War, but like many Great Was squadrons was disbanded in the post-war period. The squadron was reformed in 1923 as a fighter squadron. After operating a series of biplanes it converted to the Hawker Hurricane in May 1938, and so was one of the more experienced monoplane squadrons at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Unlike most Hurricane squadrons No.56 remained in Britain during the Battle of France, although as the situation deteriorated the squadron sent a number of flights to France for for short periods. The squadron also took part in the air battles over and around the Dunkirk beaches.

The squadron was involved in the fighting on 10 July, the official start of the Battle of Britain according to the RAF, when it took part in one of the larger convoy battles in the channel. The squadron was one of the few to remain in the south throughout the battle, across the winter of 1940-41 and the summer of 1941.

In September 1941 No.56 Squadron became the first to receive the new Hawker Typhoon, well before that aircraft was really ready to enter combat. A number of aircraft were lost when their tail unit fell off, and the Typhoon didn't really settle down until 1943. The entire project was probably only saved from cancellation by the appearance of the Fw 190, which was much faster than the Spitfire at low level. No.56 Squadron thus spent much of its time flying standing patrols along the southern coast to guard against high speed low level fighter bomber attacks.

The Typhoon would soon become an excellent ground attack aircraft. No.56 Squadron took part in anti-shipping strikes and low level attacks on German targets in occupied France. Their Typhoons began to carry bombs in November 1943 and rockets in February 1944.

In April 1944 the squadron converted to the Supermarine Spitfire, but this was short lived, and in June it received the fast new Hawker Tempest, an aircraft that finally lived up to the Typhoon's early promise as a fighter. In the same month the V-1 offensive began, and for the next four months the squadron was involved in the campaign against the flying bombs.

In September No.56 Squadron was finally free to move to the Low Countries to take a direct part in the last stage of the ground war. From then until the end of the war the squadron used its Tempests on armed reconnaissance sweeps, which gave its pilots the freedom to range around behind German lines attacking any suitable targets that they located. After the war the squadron remained on the continent, where on 31 March 1946 it was renumbered as No.16 Squadron.

Aircraft
May 1938-February 1941: Hawker Hurricane I
February 1941-January 1942: Hawker Hurricane IIB
September 1941-December 1942: Hawker Typhoon IA
March 1942-May 1944: Hawker Typhoon IB
April-June 1944: Supermarine Spitfire IX
June 1944-March 1946: Hawker Tempest V

Location
October 1927-October 1939: North Weald
October 1939-February 1940: Martlesham Heath
February-May 1940: North Weald
May 1940: Gravesend
May 1940: North Weald
May-June 1940: Digby
June 1940: Wittering
June-September 1940: North Weald
September-November 1940: Boscombe Down
November-December 1940: Middle Wallop
December 1940-June 1941: North Weald
June 1941: Martlesham Heath
June 1941-March 1942: Duxford
March-August 1942: Snailwell
August 1942-July 1943: Matlask
July-August 1943: Manston
August 1943: Martlesham Heath
August 1943: Manston
August-October 1943: Bradwell Bay
October 1943-February 1944: Martlesham Heath
February 1944: Scorton
February-March 1944: Acklington
March-April 1944: Scorton
April 1944: Ayr
April-September 1944: Newchurch
September 1944: Matlask
September-October 1944: B.60 Grimbergen
October 1944-April 1945: B.80 Volkel
April 1945: B.112 Rheine-Hopsten
April-May 1945: B.152 Fassberg
May 1945: Warmwell
May-June 1945: B.152 Fassberg

Squadron Codes: LR, US

Duty
Fighter Command: 1939-1944
Second Tactical Air Force: 1944-1945

Books

Hurricane Aces, 1939-40, Tony Holmes. A look at the men who flew the Hawker Hurricane during the first two years of the Second World War, when it was arguably the most important front line fighter in RAF service. This book covers the Phoney War Period, the German invasion of the West, the Battle of Britain and the early use of the Hurricane in North Africa and from Malta. [see more]
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Typhoon and Tempest Aces of World War War 2, Chris Thomas. This book tells the tale of the troubled Hawker Typhoon, concentrating on its use as a fighter rather than its more successful career as a ground attack aircraft, and its transformation into the excellent Tempest, one of the best fighters of the later years of the Second World War [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 June 2009), No. 56 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/56_wwII.html

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