Albert Ball was probably the Royal Flying Corp’s most famous ‘ace’ in World War One – though other aces shot down more German aeroplanes by the time war ended. Ball seemed to represent all that a fighter ace should be – young, handsome, modest and brave. His death in combat at an early age did have an impact on the RFC at the time causing much despondency – such was his status among other pilots.
Albert Ball was born on August 14th 1896 to the son of a successful Nottinghamshire businessman. He had an average education in terms of success and joined the Sherwood Foresters Regiment when World War One broke out. After taking private flying lessons in England, Ball joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915. He was awarded his wings in January 1916. In February Ball was sent to France. Here he found that he had a natural ability for flying single-seat fighter aeroplanes. Combined with a natural aggression, he became a formidable opponent. Ball was seen as being a ‘lone wolf’ pilot in that he tended to attack German aeroplanes by himself rather than as a team. He epitomised all that Hugh Trenchard wanted for the RFC – a move away from reconnaissance missions to one of open and aggressive combat with the Germans.
Ball’s success was such that on June 27th 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross. By the end of October he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and two bars – the first person in the British Army to be so awarded. He became a national hero though this was something he was far from comfortable with.
In April 1917, Ball returned to France at the head of his own squadron – No 56.
Albert Ball was killed in combat on May 7th 1917. There is a degree of doubt as to why Ball crashed behind German lines but Lothar von Richthofen claimed the kill. He was buried with full military honours.
Albert Ball was credited with 1 balloon shot down, 28 aircraft including one shared, 6 ‘out of control’ and 9 ‘forced to land’. On June 8th 1917, Ball was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his deeds. The citation for his Victoria Cross read:
“Lt. (temp. Capt.) Albert Ball, D.S.O., M.C., late Notts. and Derby R., and R.F.C.
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.”