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P-47s of VIII Fighter Command performed three types of missions during 1943, all normally in group strength of 40-48 fighters, based on like operations used by the Royal Air Force:
  1. Circus - a heavy escort of a small group of bombers as a diversionary tactic to draw German fighter reaction away from the main strike,
  2. Rodeo - large-scale fighter sweeps through areas of German fighter reaction, to provoke an engagement, and
  3. Ramrod - bomber support (escort) of heavy bomber strikes, either during penetration or withdrawal of the bomber force.

The 56th FG sent its four most experienced pilots[17][18] to Debden in early April 1943 to gain experience before the group's first mission, which occurred April 13, 1943. Its first combat and casualties occurred April 29, when Capt. John E. McClure and 1st Lt. Winston W. "Bill" Garth of the 62nd FS became POW's.[19] The 56th flew 24 missions and 900 sorties (almost entirely Rodeo fighter sweeps and Circus diversions) in April and May, losing a total of 3 aircraft to enemy action. Its first Ramrod bomber escort mission occurred May 13, to Saint Omer, France.

In June the group staged out of a forward base at RAF Manston, Kent, to extend its range and registered its first victories over the Luftwaffe, shooting down four fighters on sweeps along the coast of France and Belgium on the 12th and 13th. On June 26, providing withdrawal support for a late afternoon bomber mission to Vélizy-Villacoublay airfield, it fought a 20-minute battle with veteran Fw 190 pilots of III/JG 26 over Forges-les-Eaux, France. The result was a major setback, with five Thunderbolts destroyed, four pilots killed, and only two German fighters shot down.

In July the 56th FG was moved from its comfortable quarters at Horsham St. Faith to a much-less improved installation at RAF Halesworth, along the coast of Suffolk, both to be nearer to German-occupied territory and to allow Horsham St. Faith to be completed as a heavy bomber base. On August 12 it used partially-filled and unpressurized 200-gallon ferry tanks as jettisonable fuel tanks for the first time in combat, escorting bombers headed for Bonn, Germany. In its first four months of missions, the 56th Group shot down 9 aircraft and lost 10.

The 56th provided penetration support on August 17, 1943, for B-17s of the 4th Bomb Wing headed for Regensburg in the morning, returned to base to re-arm and re-fuel, and flew withdrawal support for the 1st Bomb Wing returning from Schweinfurt in the late afternoon. It scored its first major victory, penetrating fifteen miles into Germany to break up frontal attacks on the bombers. The 56th used tactics it called "dive, fire, and recover", attacking German fighters from a higher altitude, taking advantage of its tremendous diving speed, then zooming back to gain altitude advantage. In a running twenty-minute battle across Belgium, the 56th claimed 17 German fighters shot down ( mainly of JG 3 and JG 26) for a loss of three P-47s and pilots. Three of those kills were made by Capt. Gerald W. Johnson of the 61st FS, who two days later (when the groups shot down 9 more) became the first ace in the group and the second in the ETO.[20]

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