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Albert Ball VC - One of the Finest Pilots Ever To Fly and Fight
Albert Ball, VC, DSO & Two Bars, MC (14 August 1896 – 7 May 1917) was an English fighter pilot during the First World War. At the time of his death he was the United Kingdom's leading flying ace, with 44 victories, and remained its fourth-highest scorer behind Edward Mannock, James McCudden, and George McElroy.
Raised in Nottingham, Ball joined the Sherwood Foresters at the outbreak of the First World War and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in October 1914. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) the following year, and gained his pilot's wings on 26 January 1916. Joining No. 13 Squadron RFC in France, he flew reconnaissance missions before being posted in May to No. 11 Squadron, a fighter unit. From then until his return to England on leave in October, he accrued many aerial victories, earning two Distinguished Service Orders and the Military Cross. He was the first ace to become a British national hero.
After a period on home establishment, Ball was posted to No. 56 Squadron, which deployed to the Western Front in April 1917. He crashed to his death in a field in France on 7 May, sparking a wave of national mourning and posthumous recognition, which included the award of the Victoria Cross for his actions during his final tour of duty. The famous German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, remarked upon hearing of Ball's death that he was 'by far the best English flying man'.
Initial war service
Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Ball enlisted in the British Army, joining the 2/7th (Robin Hood) Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). Soon promoted to sergeant, he gained his commission as a second lieutenant on 29 October. He was assigned to training recruits, but this rear-echelon role irked him. In an attempt to see action, he transferred early the following year to the North Midlands Cyclist Company, Divisional Mounted Troops, but remained confined to a posting in England. On 24 February 1915, he wrote to his parents, "I have just sent five boys to France, and I hear that they will be in the firing line on Monday. It is just my luck to be unable to go."
In March 1915, Ball began a short-lived engagement to Dot Allbourne (or Ellbourne), though he was still interested in other girls such as Thelma Starr. In June, he decided to take private flying lessons at Hendon Aerodrome, which would give him an outlet for his interest in engineering and possibly help him to see action in France sooner. He paid to undertake pilot training in his own time at the Ruffy-Baumann School, which charged £75 to £100 for instruction (£5,580 to £7,440 in 2010 prices).
Ball would wake at 3:00 am to ride his motorcycle to Ruffy-Baumann for flying practice at dawn, before beginning his daily military duty at 6:45 am. His training at Ruffy-Baumann was not unique; Edwin Cole was learning to fly there at the same time. In letters home Ball recorded that he found flying 'great sport', and displayed what Peter de la Billière described as 'almost brutal' detachment regarding accidents suffered by his fellow trainees:
'Yesterday a ripping boy had a smash, and when we got up to him he was nearly dead, he had a two-inch piece of wood right through his head and died this morning. If you would like a flight I should be pleased to take you any time you wish.'
|1||16 May 1916||0845||11||Bristol Scout (5312)||Albatros C (OOC/DD)||Givenchy-Beaumont|
|2||29 May 1916||0800||11||Nieuport 16 (5173)||LVG C (OOC)||Beaumont|
|3||29 May 1916||0830||11||Nieuport 16 (5173)||LVG C (FTL)||Oppy|
|4||01 Jun 1916||1010||11||Nieuport 16 (5173)||Fokker E (FTL)||W of Douai|
|5||25 Jun 1916||1600||11||Nieuport 16 (5173)||Balloon (DES)|| |
|6||02 Jul 1916||1730||11||Nieuport 16 (A134)||Roland C.II (DES)||Mercatel-Arras Road|
|7||02 Jul 1916||1800||11||Nieuport 16 (A134)||Aviatik C (DES)||Near Lens|
|8||16 Aug 1916||0910||11||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (FTL)||SE of St. Leger|
|9||22 Aug 1916||abt 1900||11||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (DES)||W of Bapaume|
|10||22 Aug 1916||abt 1930||11||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (DESF)||Vaux|
|11||22 Aug 1916||abt 1945||11||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (DES)||Vaux-Maurepas|
|12||25 Aug 1916||1100||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (OOC)||S of Arras|
|13||28 Aug 1916||0700||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (FTL)||SE of Bapaume|
|14||28 Aug 1916||abt 1900||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (DES)||E of Ayette|
|15||28 Aug 1916||1900||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||C (FTL)||N of Grevillers|
|16||31 Aug 1916||1830||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (DES)||SE of Bapaume|
|17||31 Aug 1916||1830||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Roland C.II (FTL)||SE of Bapaume|
|18||15 Sep 1916||0955||60||Nieuport 17 (A200)||Fokker D.II (DES)||E of Beugny|
|19||15 Sep 1916||1900||60||Nieuport 17 (A212)||Roland C.II (DES)||NE of Bertincourt|
|20||21 Sep 1916||abt 1600||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Roland D (FTL)||N of Bapaume|
|21||21 Sep 1916||abt 1605||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Roland D (DES)||St. Leger|
|22||21 Sep 1916||abt 1800||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Roland C.II (DES)||Bucquoy|
|23||22 Sep 1916||abt 1700||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Fokker D (DES)||E of Bapaume|
|24||23 Sep 1916||1800||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Roland C.II (DESF)||Mory|
|25||25 Sep 1916||1830||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Albatros C (DESF)||Bapaume-Cambrai|
|26||28 Sep 1916||1745||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Albatros C (DES)||Haplincourt|
|27||28 Sep 1916||abt 1915||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Albatros C (FTL)||Bapaume|
|28||28 Sep 1916||abt 1930||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Albatros C (FTL)||NE of Bapaume|
|29||30 Sep 1916||1055||60||Nieuport 17 (A201)||Albatros C (DESF)||Velu|
|30||30 Sep 1916||1830||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Roland C (OOC)||Graincourt|
|31||30 Sep 1916||1845||60||Nieuport 17 (A213)||Roland C (OOC)||Cambrai|
|32||23 Apr 1917||0645||56||Nieuport 17 (B1522)||Albatros C (DES)||Abancourt-Tilloy Road|
|33||23 Apr 1917||1145||56||SE5 (A4850)||Albatros D.III (DESF)||Cambrai-Selvigny|
|34||26 Apr 1917||1920-2000||56||SE5 (A4850)||Albatros D.III (DES)||NE of Cambrai|
|35||26 Apr 1917||1920-2000||56||SE5 (A4850)||Siemens-Schuckert D.I (DESF)||E of Cambrai|
|36||28 Apr 1917||1650-1745||56||SE5 (A4850)||Albatros C (DES)||Fontaine|
|37||01 May 1917||1700||56||SE5 (A8898)||Albatros C (DES)||Marquoin|
|38||01 May 1917||1950||56||SE5 (A8898)||Albatros C (OOC)||SW of Cambrai|
|39||02 May 1917||0740||56||SE5 (A4855)||Albatros D.III (DES)||Halte-Vitry|
|40||02 May 1917||0810||56||SE5 (A4855)||Albatros C (DES)||Sailly|
|41||04 May 1917||1850-2000||56||SE5 (A8898)||Albatros D.III (DES)||Graincourt|
|42||05 May 1917||1830-1900||56||SE5 (A8898)||Albatros D.III (DES)||Lens-Carvin|
|43||05 May 1917||1830-1900||56||SE5 (A8898)||Albatros D.III (DES)||Lens-Carvin|
|44||06 May 1917||1930||56||Nieuport 17 (B1522)||Albatros D.III (DES)||Sancourt|
Albert Ball was the first British ace idolized by the public. An engineering student when the war began, he joined the 7th (Robin Hood) Battalion of The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) and was promoted to Serjeant on 29 October 1914. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1915.
Described as an 'introspective little chap,' Ball was a loner with strong religious convictions who soon established a reputation as a fearless pilot and excellent marksman. On 22 August 1916, he scored his 11th victory when he shot down Wilhelm Cymera's two-seater. In just three months over the Somme, he scored his first 30 victories.
Right: Albert Ball during training (courtesy F.K. Mason)
With the introduction of the SE5, he reluctantly gave up his Nieuport 17. Flying the new scout, Ball's flight encountered Jasta 11 on the evening of 7 May 1917 and Ball was last seen by Cyril Crowe entering an extremely dark thundercloud. In the confusion that followed, Ball and Lothar von Richthofen both crashed.
Ball was killed but the German ace survived. Officially listed as missing in action, it was several years before the details of Albert Ball's death were known. Although Germany officially credited Lothar von Richthofen with downing Britain's leading ace, there was little or no evidence to substantiate the claim.
Moments before he crashed, Leutnant Hailer, a German officer on the ground, witnessed Ball's undamaged aircraft emerge alone from the clouds, 200 feet above the ground in an inverted position with a dead prop.
Ball's death greatly disheartened the entire Royal Flying Corps.
Today, many of Ball's personal possessions can be viewed at the Albert Ball Memorial on the grounds of the Nottingham Castle Museum in England.
|CAPTAIN BALL REPORTED TO BE SAFE.|
|Airman Who Brought Down 42 German Aeroplanes.|
|From Our Own Correspondent|
| There is just a gleam of hope that Captain Albert Ball, DSO, the brilliant young airman reported missing, may be alive though a prisoner.|
Canon Keymer, of Nottingham, today received a letter from his son, the Rev. Bernard Keymer, a chaplain in the Royal Flying Corps in France. The writer says: "I know you will be sorry to hear about Ball, but glad he is safe."
The writer gives no foundation for this statement, and Captain Ball's family have so far no official information as to his fate.
| Captain Ball, who is not yet 21 years of age, has to his credit 42 German aeroplanes shot down in many thrilling battles on the west front. He has thrice been awarded the DSO, and has the Military Cross. His father is an alderman and ex-mayor of Nottingham.|
The young airman's career and many of his daring feats have been described at length in The Weekly Dispatch. He once set out in a hurry to do battle, clad only in his pajamas and overcoat, and on one occasion fought single-handed five enemy airmen, two of whom he accounted for. He was a born flier and as fearless in the air as he was skilful.
It will be remembered that Captain Leefe Robinson, VC, who brought down the Cuffley Zeppelin, was missing a long time before he was reported to be a prisoner at Karlsruhe.
|The Weekly Dispatch - Sunday, May 20, 1917|
2nd Lt. Albert Ball, 7th Bn. Notts. & Derby. R., T.F., and RFC
For conspicuous skill and gallantry on many occasions, notably when, after failing to destroy an enemy kite balloon with bombs, he returned for a fresh supply, went back and brought it down in flames. He has done great execution among enemy aeroplanes. On one occasion he attacked six in one flight, forced down two and drove the others off. This occurred several miles over the enemy's lines. Supplement to the London Gazette, 27 July 1916 (29684/7435)
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
2nd Lt. (temp. Lt.) Albert Ball, M.C., Notts. & Derby. R. and RFC
For conspicuous gallantry and skill. Observing seven enemy machines in formation, he immediately attacked one of them and shot it down at 15 yards range. The remaining machines retired. Immediately afterwards, seeing five more hostile machines, he attacked one at about 10 yards range and shot it down, flames coming out of the fuselage. He then attacked another of the machines, which had been firing at him, and shot it down into a village, when it landed on the top of a house. He then went to the nearest aerodrome for more ammunition, and, returning, attacked three more machines, causing them to dive under control. Being then short of petrol he came home. His own machine was badly shot about in these fights. Supplement to the London Gazette, 26 September 1916 (29765/9419)
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) Bar
Lt. Albert Ball, DSO, Notts. & Derby R. and RFC
For conspicuous skill and gallantry. When on escort duty to a bombing raid he saw four enemy machines in formation. He dived on to them and broke up their formation, and then shot down the nearest one, which fell on its nose. He came down to about 500 feet to make certain it was wrecked. On another occasion, observing 12 enemy machines in formation, he dived in among them, and fired a drum into the nearest machine, which went down out of control. Several more hostile machines then approached, and he fired three more drums at them, driving down another out of control. He then returned, crossing the lines at a low altitude, with his machine very much damaged.
(The award of the Distinguished Service Order is also announced in the Gazette of this date.) Supplement to the London Gazette, 26 September 1916 (29765/9421)
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) Bar
2nd Lt. (temp. Capt.) Albert Ball, DSO, MC, Notts. & Derby. R.
For conspicuous gallantry in action. He attacked three hostile machines and brought one down, displaying great courage and skill. He has brought down eight hostile machines in a short period, and has forced many others to land.
(The Distinguished Service Order was awarded in London Gazette dated 26th Sept. 1916. First Bar was awarded in London Gazette dated 26th Sept. 1916.) Supplement to the London Gazette, 25 November 1916 (29837/11531)
VC London Gazette
Lt. (temp. Capt.) Albert Ball, DSO, MC, late Notts. and Derby. R., and RFC
For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from the 25th of April to the 6th of May, 1917, during which period Capt. Ball took part in twenty-six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove down two out of control, and forced several others to land.
In these combats Capt. Ball, flying alone, on one occasion fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five and once four. When leading two other British aeroplanes he attacked an enemy formation of eight. On each of these occasions he brought down at least one enemy.
Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling his machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged machine he had always to be restrained from immediately going out on another.
In all, Capt. Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional courage, determination and skill. Supplement to the London Gazette, 8 June 1917 (30122/5702)
"The SE5 has turned out a dud... It's a great shame, for everybody expects such a lot from them... it is a rotten machine." Albert Ball
"Won't it be nice when all this beastly killing is over, and we can enjoy ourselves and not hurt anyone? I hate this game . . ." Albert Ball in letters to his father and fiancée, 6 May 1917.