ROAD TO WAR -
|Captain Albert Ball…V.C.
|Albert Ball, born in Nottingham, England, became a
Military pilot on 22nd January, 1916 and joined the Royal Flying
Corps (R.F.C) on 18th February, 1916, he was sent to Marieux, France
where he was assigned to join No 13 squadron R.F.C which was reconnaissance
unit equipped with two-seater aircraft – one for the pilot,
one for the observer.
His aggressive fighting spirit was to soon herald him a legend of
the air during many aerial battles he would fight with the enemy
in WW1. By early May of that year Ball was transferred to No 11
Squadron, which was at last to his pleasure a fighter squadron.
It wasn’t long before Ball showed his prowess as a fighter
pilot when he shot down a German Albatross and the pilot, for which
he was awarded on 27th June, his first decoration was the Military
Captain Albert Ball, with his plane.
|In August 1916, Albert was transferred to No 60 Squadron,
as this outfit was newly equipped with the Nieuport 17. Ball, seemed
to have the opinion by his other pilot comrades, that was determined
to have his “own show”, and soon realized that his…Lone
wolf …tactics attitude towards other pilots would succeed
in giving him many victories over his adversary by his own tenacity
would prevail against the enemy.
He would often dive into the battle at his own pace to deliver a
fatal blow to the nearest German plane in an aerial “Dog-Fight”,
as he disliked being part of the formation of planes, which in many
cases they became easy targets for enemy planes swooping down from
|Both pilots engaged in a two man battle would be ducking,
diving, twisting, looping, with many ingenious manoeuvers taking
place high above, with a ferocious exchange of machine-gun fire
between the two fighters, with the winner shooting down his enemy.
As with all pilots they had to constantly keep on turning their
head and keeping watch looking from side to side, downwards and
behind them, for the enemy could and did close in fast, it would
only take a short burst of fire and that would mean disaster for
each pilot and spiraling out of control to earth and death!
Also a very important point to make is that all planes in the early
days of the war, the pilots were not given any parachutes at all.
The Air Ministry decided “That if a pilot was in a situation
that he would prefer to “bale-out” rather than fight...and
the plane crash, then the money paid to buy the plane by the British
Government...would be lost”...!!!
Many hundreds of pilots were killed due to this ludicrous attitude,
in the consequences to this, they were then obligated whatever damage
to their plane to try under every severe situation, even spinning
out of control to try and land the plane and keep it intact, ready
to fly another day. If the fuel tank was hit, petrol would drain
down over the pilot smothering him in fuel, if it caught fire he
would burn in agony to death while the plane hurtled earthwards,
many times these flimsy planes would either explode in the air or
burn the pilot to death before crashing!
Ball had used his ingenuity and initiative to have a mirror fixed
to the plane just above his head, so that he didn’t have to
keep twisting his head to look behind him, so he could clearly see
if the enemy was coming at him from behind...in which he could then
take evasive action and eventually get behind the following plane
and shoot it down. This marvelous life-saving idea was eventually
used by nearly all, if not all the pilots in the British, French
and German air forces during WW1.
But Albert Ball’s aggressiveness and difference of attitude
to others caused many problems within the squadron’s he joined.
He wanted to be alone and was aloof from others. He lived in his
own hut at the airbase and played the violin, which he preferred
than to mix with his comrades.
Ball returned to England on 1st September 1916, on leave where he
was promoted to - Flight Commander – there he was awarded
the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) as well as the Russian
Saint – George’s medal for service and victories in
battle. He soon returned to the battle front, where his victories
between 15th and 30th September earned him no less than 14 victories
over the enemy.
By mid-October, Ball was again on leave in England where he was
celebrated as a national “Hero”, on November 18th 1916,
he was duly received at Buckingham Palace, where he was awarded
the D.S.O. and “Bar”. One week later, he received as
the very first person in the British army for his distinguished
flying career, a second “bar” to add to his D.S.O. which
is equivalent to receiving this award three times!!!
The Now famous British “Ace” was back at the front taking
command of No 56 Squadron on 7th April 1917’ Although he protested
when assigned a different plane, a new SE5 biplane, and despite
this plane having a better developed engine and two machine guns,
he was not satisfied with this change, but he was well suited to
his old style of plane that had earned him so many victories. Captain
Albert Ball, the “lone wolf” continues to fly alone
and fight as it were his own battles with the enemy, deciding not
to return to base until he was nearly out of fuel or ammunition...a
deadly decision to make!
Between 26th April and 6th May, 1917, ball participated in 26 air
battles, destroying 11 enemy planes and their pilots, he was able
to damage another two severely, that they had to crash land. On
that same day 6th May, still flying his favourite plane the Nieuport,
over Sancourt, he shot down an Albatross D III...This was to be
Captain Albert Balls 44th Victory...!!!
The very next day 7th May 1917, he encountered Lothar Von Richthofen
the brother of the famous “Red Baron”. In the ensuing
combat in the skies, after a ferocious machine gun battle...Albert
Ball’s plane was hit during the attack by the enemy. It finally
crashed at a small village near Annoeullin, Lille, France.
But certain controversy remained of the final demise of this great
The crash site of Captain Albert Ball at Annoeullin, Near Lille.(Copyright
of colour images www.edenbridgetown.com Ian R. Bridle)
France The Grave of Albert Ball
|When the remnants of his plane were found by a local
farming woman, Miss Cecile Deloffre... Captain Albert Ball was still
alive, she caringly held him close until he expired.
To this day the exact circumstances of this crash of “The
British Legend and Hero” are unknown, and still cannot be
established with any authority. The only suggestions and theories
after this tragedy and in later years, is that perhaps he was either
hit by German artillery ground fire, some say his plane was damaged
and broken or because some difficult manoeuvers he made, or the
adverse weather conditions during that day. One theory is that Ball
had a collision with Lothar Von Richthofen?
The Germans after the crash even
had the audacity to suggest that Lothar Von Richthofen shot him
Despite all these theories and suggestions...Captain Albert Ball
D.S.O. and three bars, was only 20 years old when he was killed.
On 8th June, 1917, he was awarded (posthumously) the Victoria
Cross. For Bravery and Heroism, He was a “Hero of the Air”
during his short time fighting for King and Country.
I visited the crash site in 2009, which was difficult to find
in the middle of a field, where on that fateful day the “Hero”
of the air finally crashed and died. The cemetery in which he
is buried only a matter of a few hundred yards away, he is the
only Englishman to be buried there...and strangely surrounded
by all German war dead graves!
Captain Albert Ball, V.C. D.S.O and Bars...Will Always be “The
Hero” despite being buried with those, who surround him
in death… the once enemy...!!!
(Colour Images Sole Copyright of www.edenbridgetown.com )