Tag Archives: 56 Squadron RFC

17 July 1917 – 70 Squadron mauled

The weather was poor for much of the day on the Western Front, but in the evening some patrols were able to get up. German aircraft were also out in Force.

The biggest fight of the day came about when a patrol of five Sopwith Camels from 70 Squadron encountered an enemy scout which they drove down. They then engaged a formation of six 2-seaters with Captain Noel William Ward Webb, Lieutenant Joseph Cecil Smith and Lieutenant Edward Gribbin each claiming to have sent one down.

They were then attacked by Albatros scouts from above and  a 5 strong patrol from B flight 56 Squadron led by Captain Ian Henry David Henderson came to their aid. They were then joined  by 8 FE’s from 20 Squadron (led by Captain Frank Douglas Stevens) along with DH5’s from 32 Squadron. Further German scouts joined in until there were around 30 enemy aircraft (from Jastas 6, 8, 11 and 36).

Despite the number of aircraft involved the fighting was relatively indecisive. A large number of claims by the British side actually resulted in only three German pilots being wounded.

70 Squadron lost two of their new Camels. Lieutenant William Edington Grossett was shot down and taken prisoner in Camel N6332. Lieutenant Charles Service Workman MC was shot down and severely wounded in Camel B3779. He later died of his wounds.


21 June 1917 – 56 Sent home

Such is the furore surrounding the recent German air raids that the public have been demanding action. Today the Government bowed to public pressure. Against the wishes of the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir Douglas Haig, and the Commander of the RFC Hugh Trenchard, 56 Squadron RFC have been recalled to the United Kingdom to carry out Home Defence Work.

At the time this was a very big deal. Despite it being against the RFC’s policy to publicise individual aces or to group ace pilots together in elite squadrons, 56 Squadron was as considered one of the elite units in the RFC.

The Squadron moved to Bekesbourne today. After 10 days of no further raids by the enemy, the Squadron returned to its base at Estrée-Blanche. Two days after their departure, the German raids recommenced.

2 May 1917 – Easing off

After the frantic action of April, things have begun to calm down a little on the Western Front. On the one hand, the new German combat group has taken the pressure off those sectors where it is not operating. On the other Manfred von Richthofen has gone back to Germany on leave and this seems to have lessened the intensity of the group, though perhaps this was inevitable given the pressure of the last two months.


Kenneth John Knaggs

The main event of the day was a mass scrap involving 40 aircraft in the evening.  Eight Albatros scouts from Jasta 11 attempted to attack some 25 Squadron FE’s over Vitry. Flight Lieutenant Robert Alexander Little from 8 Naval Squadron then attacked and claimed to have driven one out of control. Little was then attacked by 4 new Albatros scouts from Jasta 10. Little fled for the lines by putting his aircraft into a spin. Albert Ball and Kenneth John Knaggs from 56 Squadron then arrived and shot up some of the the enemy.

Claims were made by both sides, but in the end neither suffered any losses other than minor damage and injuries.


30 April 1917 – “Richthofen’s Circus”

Today saw a change in tactics by the German High Command. The fighter units attached to the Arras Corps at Douai were combined to form one group which could operate as a massed fighting formation. This group was immediately dubbed ‘Richthofen’s Circus’ by RFC pilots. This was a loose arrangement and the formal combination into a single unit did not in fact take place until June 1917.

The new group set off for the first time this morning. Their first encounter was with seven FE2d’s of a line patrol of 57 Squadron and three Sopwith triplanes of 8 Naval Squadron. Two of the FEs were shot down in the German lines and the crews taken prisoner.

  • Lieutenant Percy Thomas Bowers and 2nd Lieutenant Samuel Torton Wills in FE2d A6402 – shot down by Lothar von Richthofen from Jasta 11
  • 2nd Lieutenant Edward Dudley Jennings and 2nd Lieutenant John Robinson Lingard – shot down by Adolf Ritter von Tutschek from Jasta 12

John Henry Ryan

A third FE2d (A6380) with Lieutenant John Henry Ryan and 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Graham Soutten was shot up and crashed behind the British lines. Both were wounded but Ryan later died of his wounds. A fourth, with Lieutenant Charles Stewart Morice and Lieutenant Forde Leathey in FE2d A1966  was also shot up and crashed near Roclincourt. The crew were ok though. The triplanes succeeded after a bitter fight, during which several German fighters were driven down, in extricating the there remaining FEs.

The German group then turned away, joined a number of two seaters, and came across a formation of six Bristol Fighters on their way, escorted by five Sopwith triplanes, to reconnoitre a reported trench system east of Douai. There followed a continuous fight for twenty minutes in which three SE5s of 56 Squadron joined (Captain Cyril Marconi Crowe, Lieutenant John Owen Leach, and 2nd Lieutenant Maurice Alfred Kay). Two of the enemy aeroplanes were shot down and seen to crash and one SE5 – Kay in A4866 – was brought down in flames – killing Kay – by Edmund Nathanael from Jasta 5. This was the first SE5 lost in combat. In the end, the Bristol Fighters had to abandon their reconnaissance attempt and, with their Sopwith escort, fight their way home.

The enemy group, now numbering fifteen, turned south, followed by two of the Sopwith triplanes, and found a photographic formation of eight FE2b’s from 18 Squadron. The enemy fighters attacked and the two Sopwiths joined in the fighting which lasted half an hour. Two of the FEs were shot down:

  • Sergeant Thomas Whiteman and 2nd Class Air Mechanic James H Wynn in FE2b 6998 – by Leutnant Hans Klein from  Jasta 4
  • 2nd Lieutenant Stanley Harold Bell and Lieutenant David William McLeod in FE2b A5481

Both managed to make it back over the lines. Whiteman crashed in a forced landing wounding Wynn who later died. Bell also force landed but both crew were unharmed. The remainder, with the help of the Sopwiths, fought their way back home.

28 April 1917 – More of the same

Captain Albert Ball from 56 Squadron was out on a lone wolf patrol in his SE5 (A4850). First he claimed to have driven down a hostile machine near Noyelles. He then destroyed an Albatros two-seater west of Cambrai. Finally he waited above the clouds for any hostile machines to appear and saw a two-seater Albatros which he promptly pursued. The enemy put its nose down and fled.

When at about 500 feet from the ground Captain Ball’s machine was hit by anti-aircraft and most of his controls were shot away and the fuselage was very severely damaged. He got into a spin but righted it and returned to the aerodrome where he made a perfect landing. In the event he was only credited with the Albatross west of Cambrai (for his 36th victory) – though German records do not record any losses that day.

Jasta 11 was also at work again. Early in the moring Manfred von Richthofen brought down 2nd Lieutenant Reginald William Follit and 2nd Lieutenant Frederick James Kirkham from 13 Squadron in BE2e 7221. Both were taken prisoner but Follit died shortly afterwards of his wounds.

Later that morning another group from Jasta 11 clashed with 16 Squadron. Leutnant Kurt Wolff shot down 2nd Lieutenant John Victor Wischer and 2nd Lieutenant Arthur A Baerlein in BE2g A2745. Both were taken prisoner.

16 Squadron suffered further casualties when Captain Augustus Wieland Bird and 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Charles Perryman in BE2e A2896 – had their patrol tank hit. They wrecked the aircraft making a forced landing near Vimy. Perryman was injured in the crash.


Eric Ogilvie McMurtry

Finally, Major Eric Ogilvie McMurtry And Lieutenant Harry Denver Mason were killed when their BE2e A2944 was hit by a British shell destroying the aircraft.

Last of all 2nd Lieutenant Clifford M Reece and 2nd Class Air Mechanic A Moult from 43 Squadron were shot down by Edmund Nathanael from Jasta 5  in their Sopwith Strutter A993.

23 April 1917 – Contrasts

Albert Ball has been away from the front Since October 1916. Since then both the quality and quantity of enemy aircraft has increased considerably, as have the tactics, with formation flying now the norm.

Ball is now with 56 Squadron who flew their first offensive patrols yesterday. Today, they were finally allowed over the lines. Ball has continued where he left off, primarily carrying out lone wolf patrols. He retains his personal Nieuport 17 (B1522) but also has an SE5 (A4850).


Ball in A4850

In his first combat this morning he took off early in his Nieuport and using his preferred belly shot, sent an Albatros into a spin, following it down and continuing to fire at it until it struck the ground. This was 56 Squadron’s first victory.

He then climbed back to 5,000 feet and tried to dive underneath an Albatros two-seater and pop up under its belly as before, but he overshot, and the German rear gunner put a burst of 15 bullets through the Nieuport’s wings and spars. Ball coaxed the Nieuport home for repairs.

He then set off again in his SE5. In his third combat of the day, he fired five rounds before his machine gun jammed. He had to land to clear the gun, He took off once more, surprising five Albatros fighters and sending one down in flames Around 1145. He then attacked a fifth enemy plane, which he forced down killing its observer.

in contrast to Ball’s solo efforts there was a mass dogfight between 3 Naval Squdron who were escorting six 18 Squadron FE’s and were attacked by various enemy aircraft from Jastas 12 and 33. Aircraft from 1 Naval, 48, 60 and 66 Squadrons also joined in. In the fighting the Germans lost two pilots killed but the British only suffered a couple of crew wounded.

Elsewhere the British were not so lucky losing 8 crew including. Lieutenant Eric Arthur Barltrop and 2nd Lieutenant Fergus O’Sullivan from 22 Squadron in FE2b 6929 who collided with 2nd Lieutenant Melville Arthur White from 24 Squadron in DH2 7909. Both aircraft broke into pieces and crashed.

However a total of 15 enemy aircraft were claimed shot down and a further forced down. For a full account of the days fighting go to the Aerodrome,



13 March 1917 – 56 Pixie

56 Squadron was formed back on 8 June 1916, based at London Colney. Today the Squadron took possession of their new aircraft, the first production batch of the new SE5 fighter in preparation for moving to the front – the first Squadron to do so. (In fact they are the only Squadron to do so as later Squadrons were equipped with the Improved SE5a – the main change being a 200hp engine instead of the 150hp in the SE5).

Major Richard Graham Blomfield took command of the Squadron on 6 February 1917, but perhaps their most famous member is Captain Albert Ball who joined as a Flight Commander following a period of home leave and service as a trainer. The other pilots are:

2nd Lieutenant Leonard Monteagle Barlow
2nd Lieutenant Roger Michael Chaworth-Musters
2nd Lieutenant Reginald Theodore Carlos Hoidge
Lieutenant Maurice Alfred Kay
2nd Lieutenant Kenneth John Knaggs
2nd Lieutenant Clarence Raymond Wentworth Knight
2nd Lieutenant John Owen Leach
Lieutenant Henry Maurice Talbot Lehmann, MC
Lieutenant Cecil Arthur Lewis, MC
2nd Lieutenant Thomas Bertrand Marson
2nd Lieutenant Gerald Joseph Constable Maxwell
Captain Henry Meintjes
2nd Lieutenant William Beresford Melville
2nd Lieutenant Lieutenant Arthur Percival Foley Rhys-Davids


56 Squadron SE5s at London Colney

It remains to be seen how Ball will get on. He did not much like the SE5 at testing, preferring the more manoeuvrable Nieuports. Due to this, the Commander of the RFC Sir Hugh Trenchard has given him permission to retain his Nieuport 17 (B1522) for solo missions though he will fly the SE5 on group missions.