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Captain Albert Ball…V.C.
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THE ROAD TO WAR -
Kent
 
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 Cross!

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 above.
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 British “Ace”!
   

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 down!!!
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 )
   
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