Captain Albert Ball V.C. – British Ace 1896 /1917 Pt.8
Inaction annoyed Ball and he began pestering for a return to active duty. He finally managed to obtain a posting as a flight commander to No.56 Squadron RFC, considered to be as close to an elite unit as any established by the RFC. Ball was still first among Britain’s aces, and some documents hint that his attachment to No.56 Squadron was planned to be temporary. according to one account he had been slated to serve with the unit for only a month to mentor novice pilots. The latest fighter from the Royal Aircraft Factory, the S.E.5, had been selected to equip the new squadron. This choice was viewed with some trepidation by RFC Higher Command, and Ball himself was far from happy with the S.E.5. After some intense lobbying he was allowed to keep his Nieuport 17 No. B1522 when the unit went to France; the Nieuport was for his solo missions, and he would fly an S.E.5 on patrols with the rest of the squadron. This arrangement had the personal approval of General Hugh Trenchard, who went on to become the first Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force. No.56 Squadron moved to the Western Front on the 7th of April 1917. On arrival Ball wrote to his parents, “Cheerio, am just about to start the great game again”.
S.E.5 No. A 4850, fresh from its packing crate, was extensively modified for Ball: in particular he had the synchronised Vickers gun removed and replaced with a second Lewis gun angled to fire through the floor of the cockpit. He also had a slightly larger fuel tank fitted. on the 9th of April 1917 A 4850 was refitted and the downward firing Lewis gun was removed and replaced by a standard Vickers gun mounting. On the 23rd of April 1917, although under strict orders to stay over British lines, but still managed to engage the Germans five times in his Nieuport. In his first combat of the day, using his preferred belly shot, he sent an Albatros into a spin and followed it down, continuing to fire at it till it struck the ground. It was No.56 Squadron’s first victory. Regaining an altitude of 5,000Ft, he tried to dive underneath an Albatros two-seater and pop up under its belly as usual, but he overshot and the German rear gunner put a burst of 15 bullets through the Nieuport’s wings and spars. Ball coaxed the Nieuport home for repairs, returning to battle in an S.E.5 in his third combat of the day, he fired five rounds before his machine gun jammed. After landing to clear the blockage, he took off once again, surprising five Albatros fighters and sending one down in flames. His fifth combat, shortly thereafter, appeared inconclusive as the plane managed to land safely. However its observer had been mortally wounded.
To Be Continued…………….
(C) Damian Grange 2019
Jack the Ripper – A Love Story ( Excerpt 191 )
A week later, we, that is myself and all of my medical staff were aboard a Royal Navy ship being transported across the channel to France. On arrival there we were met by a fleet of lorries and other vehicles to transport us inland, closer to where the fighting was taking place.
I admit to a twinge of disappointment when we arrived at our designated site. All of the facilities were there, but housed in tents and a cluster of hastily erected huts. To my physician’s mind this was hardly the place to keep our wounded, let alone cure them.
It was early September, but the weather was beginning to change, I was afraid that whether in the tents or huts. The wounded would not survive the winter.
I contacted my superiors and insisted that if they indeed wanted me to save lives, then I needed far better facilities than those on offer. I am not decrying the efforts of the Engineers who built our base, but the fact remains that the facilities are woefully inadequate to fulfil my requirements.
Two days later we received our first batch of wounded. And as I had expected some of the wounds were most severe, and attempting to recover from surgery in a freezing tent was far from an ideal situation.
At least in the huts we could provide a degree of warmth and comfort, but even this was far from ideal. To my mind we would suffer heavy losses.
(C) Damian Grange 2019
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Captain Albert Ball V.C. – British Ace 1896 /1917 Pt. 7
Ball had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order ( D.S.O.) and bar simultaneously on the 26th of September 1916. The bar was for “conspicuous skill and gallantry” when he attacked four enemy aircraft in formation and then on another occasion twelve enemy machines. He was also awarded the Russian Order of Saint George the same month. Now that Ball had returned to England, he was lionised as a national hero with a reputation as a fearless pilot and an expert marksman. A crowd of journalists awaited him on his family’s doorstep. I an interview he mentioned being shot down six times in combat. On the 18th of November 1916, he was invested with his Military Cross and both D.S.O’s by King George V at Buckingham Palace. A second bar to the D.S.O. for taking on three enemy aircraft and downing one of them, making him the first three time recipient of the award. Ball was promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant on the 8th of December 1916.
Instead of returning to combat after his leave, Ball was posted to instructional duties with No. 34 ( Reserve ) Squadron RFC, based at Orford Ness, Suffolk. About this time he was debriefed by Flying instructor Philip Gribble who had been charged with discovering the tactics used by the ace fighter pilots, Gribble came to the conclusion that Ball operated on “paramount courage and a bit of luck”. Ball asked Gribble to let him try a Bristol Scout, which he landed badly, seriously damaging the undercarriage, Ball requested another machine to try again, unfortunately with the same result. Ball consoled himself by eating “seven pounds of chocolate”. It was while serving on the Home Front that he was able to lobby for the building and testing of the Austin – Ball A.F.B.1 fighter aircraft. He had hoped to return to France with one, but the prototype was not completed until his death in action. in November he was invited to test fly the new Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5, single-seat scout, apparently the first serving pilot to do so. He was unimpressed, finding the heavier, more stable fighter less responsive to the controls than the Nieuports he had been flying. His negative assessment of other aspects of the aircrafts performance, on the other hand, contrasted markedly with the reactions of fellow pilots who tested the prototype around this time. Ball was to maintain his opinion that the S.E.5 was a dud, at least until he had scored several victories on the type after his return to France. On the 19th of February 1917, Ball became an Honorary Freeman of Nottingham, his home City. It was around this time that he met James Mc Cudden, also on leave, who later reported his impressions in most favourable terms. In London, Ball also encountered Canadian Billy Bishop, who had not as yet seen combat. Ball took an immediate liking to Bishop and may have helped him to secure a posting to No. 60 Squadron.
To Be Continued…………….
Damian Grange 2019