Air Aces of World War One

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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

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