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No 56 Sqn RAF/RFC (Aviation Elite Units) Paperback – September 22, 2009
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“While I readily admit to a heavy bias towards WWI aviation, I maintain that this is the best Osprey book on wartime aviation now in print. And, I've bought plenty of them. You should buy this one whether your interest in WWI aviation is slight or intense for this is an important, well researched and written look at one of the most famous and influential air fighting groups in history. I recommend it without reservation.” ―Michael Scott, International Plastic Modellers' Society (January 2010)
“The author does an excellent job of telling the story of 56 squadron in this series' usual diary format. There are highlights of some of the more memorable missions to add spice to the read. All of this is even more enhanced by a superb collection of period photos of the pilots and aircraft . In addition there are 28 full color profiles profiles and upper/lower drawings. Appendices include an aces listing, fatalities in the unit and those Germans who were victorious over 56 squadron aircraft.” ―Scott Van Aken, Modeling Madness (October 2009)
“Even readers familiar with Alex Revell's High in the Empty Blue - The History of No. 56 Squadron 1916-1920, will find this new 128-page book to be a proportionally comprehensive look at the unit's men and missions in World War I.” ―Peter Kilduff, Between the Bookends
“...does a fantastic job ofpresenting a comprehensive sotry of 56 Squadron and is highly recommended for your World Wat I aviation library!” ―Jim McCloskey, Aerodrome (#158)
About the Author
Alex Revell has been interested in World War 1 aviation since the age of six and he began serious aviation research in the early 1960s. Primarily interested in people and their role in the 1914-18 air war, he traced and interviewed many ex-members of the RFC/RAF/RNAS and is particularly proud that many of them became personal family friends. An internationally acknowledged researcher into the history of the RFC/RAF and RNAS during World War 1, Alex Revell has had many articles published in specialist aviation magazines and the journals of Cross and Cockade International and The First World War Aviation Historical Society, of which he is a founder member. His has written a number of aviation-related World War 1 titles over the years. Alex Revell's latest book, British Single-Seater Fighter Squadrons on The Western Front in World War 1, was recently awarded 'Book of the Month' in Aeroplane Monthly. The author lives in Cornwall, England.
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For anyone interested in World War I aviation, this is an excellent book and highly recommended reading.
Given its initial complement of highly experienced pilots (e.g. Albert Ball and Cecil Lewis, later to become one of the founders of the BBC and famous for his wartime memoirs, "Sagittarius Rising"), 56 Squadron within 4 months of frontline service had already been credited with 100 enemy planes shot down, and acquired a reputation among the Germans as a specialist "anti-Richthofen" squadron. (Manfred von Richthofen - the so-called "Red Baron" - was the top German ace and the leader of a squadron and fighter group that was the scourge of the British air services during 1917 and 1918.)
For anyone interested in First World War aviation, this book provides a well-rounded overview of one of the premiere fighter units of the war. Among the top pilots who were affiliated with 56 Squadron: James McCudden (like Ball, a holder of the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for bravery), R.T.C. Hoidge, Arthur Rhys Davids (a participant in one of the epic dogfights in history, credited with shooting down the great German ace --- and rival of von Richthofen --- Werner Voss), and Richard Mayberry.
Formed in 1916, 56 Squadron first saw combat in April 1917 after reworking the recently introduced Se 5 into an effective fighting machine. Richard Blomfield, 56's first CO, had handpicked his pilots, the squadron boasting a larger than normal number of experienced pilots and promising newcomers. Though Ball was the initial star of squadron ops, those other pilots - Geoffrey Bowman, Arthur Rhys Davies, Gerald Maxwell, Reginald Hoidge, etc. - started making a name for themselves. In August 1917 McCudden, another Blomfield pick, arrived, his subsequent achievements eclipsing Ball who had been killed in May. Unlike Ball, McCudden was an exemplary fighter leader, the young Irishman training many of the unit's future aces. McCudden, in his Se 5a, was such an effective air fighter that, during some months, he WAS 56 Squadron, his victory claims outweighing all other squadron claims combined! By war's end, 56 Squadron had 427 confirmed victories to its credit. In return, 40 pilots were KIA; another 31, POW.
Revell does a workmanlike job of relating the unit's history. Because 56 Squadron was so heavily involved in air combat, the book is bursting with accounts of dogfights including personal reminiscences from pilots. Revell does include glimpses of squadron life and the various personalities who made up 56 Squadron. However I suggest NO 56 SQN RAF/RFC is best enjoyed a chapter at a time lest the dogfight accounts blur together.
For that reason and the fact that nowhere does Revell summarize the squadron's war record - victories, losses, etc. - I'd give the book 4 1/2 stars if possible. (The figures above came from Wikipedia).
The book includes dozens of rare and evocative photographs of 56 Squadron pilots, British and German aircraft, squadron life, crash sites, etc. along with 10 pages of wonderful color profiles by Harry Dempsey.
If your interests lie in World War I air combat, NO 56 SQN RAF/RFC will provide you with a comprehensive, well-illustrated and easy-on-the-pocketbook summary of a famous British fighter squadron at war. Recommended.
In 1995, Revell wrote the definitive history of 56 Squadron entitled HIGH IN THE EMPTY BLUE. Published by Flying Machine Press, the 448-page volume merits a six-star rating. Used copies sell for $120.00.