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