56 Squadron was one of England's top-scoring fighter squadrons of the Great War. The first to take the Scout Experimental 5 biplane fighter into combat, the unit claimed over 400 victories by war's end and earned great renown thanks to luminaries like Albert Ball and James McCudden. WWI aviation authority Alex Revell chronicles the life and times of these 'dogfighting kings' in this 2009 Osprey 'Aviation Elite Units' volume, #33 in the series.
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.