A CHAMPION AERIAL FIGHTER
 FOUR months at the front, and a hundred fights in the air! Such is the bald statement of facts regarding
the record of Captain and Flight-Commander Ball, D.S.O., M.C. Add to this the fact that by the time
he had completed those first four months on active service Captain Ball was only nineteen years of
age, and one has some idea of the kind of men comprising Britain's aerial fighting force.
It is impossible here to relate even a tithe of his many fights, and we must content ourselves with
telling one or two of the exploits of this stern-jawed, keen-eyed king of the air.
He was a Second-Lieutenant (Temporary Lieutenant) when, on a day in the autumn of 1915, he destroyed
an enemy kite-balloon. Now, in order to bring down a kite-balloon one has to be over the enemy's
lines and well
 within range of artillery; and although the weird-looking sausage is a fairly large target,
compared, say, with a Fokker, it is no easy task to drop bombs with any degree of accuracy: the bomb
has to hit fairly and squarely. When Lieutenant Ball spotted the kite-balloon he instantly made for
it, swooping down upon it as an eagle swoops on its prey. When immediately over it, he loosed his
first bomb, which went hurtling down to explode harmlessly on the ground. From below, the
anti-aircraft guns began to pepper him; but Ball stuck to his task and bombarded that balloon until
he had exhausted his bombs, though, to his chagrin, without having done any damage to his objective.
Driving his machine out of the danger zone, the pilot swept back to his aerodrome behind our lines,
loaded up with further bombs, and without wasting a moment of time, took the air again and hied him
out across country to the far side of the German lines. There was the kite-balloon, still tugging at
its ground lines as though taunting him for his failure.
 Lieutenant Ball repeated his previous tactics, but with this difference: one of the bombs struck
home. Immediately the balloon burst into flames, and with a tail of fire roaring behind it, the
basket fell rapidly to earth.
The official announcement of the award of the M.C., for conspicuous skill and gallantry on many
occasions, contained, after a brief account of this exploit, the following cold statement: "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."
How one wishes for an amplification of that little paragraph, with all its details filled in! But
the lack in this instance is somewhat atoned for in the official accounts of how Lieutenant Ball
earned his D.S.O., and the two bars thereto.
The day on which he won the D.S.O. was a very eventful one for Lieutenant Ball. First he espied
seven enemy machines in attacking
 formation, and made a dive for them, separating one from the others and driving toward it at a
terrific rate until he was within some fifteen yards. At such short distance there is little chance
of manoeuvring for position, and it is a case of fighting right away. The Britisher set his
machine-gun ta-tat-tatting, and from the German machine came an answering song of hate. Bullets from
the guns plunked into the machines, flipped through planes, snipped wires which twanged to the rush
of air; but, although Ball had many a mark to show subsequently, none of the enemy's shots got home
vitally, or caused sufficient damage to put his machine out of control. On the other hand, the
German got it hot—the spraying bullets from Ball's gun dealt severe punishment to the Teuton
and his aeroplane. The Hun machine was suddenly seen to shiver; do what the pilot would he could not
get back control of it; and presently it slithered through the air and crashed to earth.
This was quite sufficient for the other half-dozen Germans, who promptly made off!
The air was full of hostile machines that day,
 and scarcely had the gallant Ball finished the fight just described when five fresh antagonists
appeared in sight. Having still a fair supply of ammunition, Ball went gallantly to the attack,
adopting similar tactics and concentrating upon the machine nearest him, which he approached at
rapid speed until he was within ten yards of it. For a second time that day he was successful;
well-aimed shots hit the German's petrol tank and played havoc with the engine, so that the machine
went nose-diving to earth with flames issuing forth from its fuselage.
There was little time to exult over his victory, for Lieutenant Ball during his attack on this
machine had been subjected to a rapid fire from another enemy, to whom he now turned his undivided
attention. Quick as lightning he swung round to the attack, firing his bullets into the German, and
giving his foe neither rest nor respite until he had afforded him the full benefit of every
cartridge in his possession. Once again, the enemy machine, badly holed and quite out of control,
crashed down on the top of a house in a village
 over which the latter part of the fight had taken place.
Having used up all his ammunition, Lieutenant Ball winged his way to the nearest aerodrome within
our lines, took in a supply, and with a cheery wave of the hand was off up into the air again,
looking for more enemies—and finding them. What happened later on was a fitting climax to a
brilliant series of encounters; for meeting three enemy machines, he attacked them so vigorously
that the Germans, utterly demoralized, scudded for earth and safety: anywhere, to get out of range
of this fearless fighter!
"Then," says the communiqué laconically, "Lieutenant Ball, being short of petrol, came
home. His own machine was badly shot about in these fights."
On the day that he won the first bar to his D.S.O. Captain Ball was on escort duty to a squadron of
bombing planes, and in the course of the flight he espied four German machines in formation, waiting
to attack the British raiders. Instead of giving them the opening they wanted, the Lieutenant took
 and being at a greater height than the enemy aeroplanes, dived toward them at such a speed that, in
order to avoid collision, the Germans had to break up their formation—which was just what Ball
wanted. Before his foes could recover position, he was upon the nearest one, spraying the machine
with his bullets and causing such havoc that it went tumbling down to bury its nose in the ground, a
Captain Ball seems to have been fond of smashing formations of German aeroplanes, for the
announcement gazetting this first D.S.O. bar contains an account of another exploit, in which he
went boldly to the attack of no fewer than twelve enemy planes! Adopting his usual tactics, he dived
and scattered the enemy forces, firing at the nearest one with such good effect that it was put out
of control and went spinning over and over to destruction. He had little opportunity for observing
his enemy's end, however, for he had scarcely succeeded in sending the first machine to earth before
three others were upon him, attacking from different angles. It was a desperately tight corner, in
which an instant's
 loss of self-control, the slightest negligence, meant disaster! Clear-headed and daring, the pilot
darted into the attack, first at one foe and then at another, driving one away—probably too
scared to come again within range of such a doughty fighter—and putting a second one out of
control so that it went earthward to keep its shattered companion company.
Ball now found himself in anything but a fit condition to continue the fight, for his machine had
been badly handled by the enemy, and he had emptied his gun of its last cartridge, whereas he knew
that the third machine, which was now coming toward him intent on trying conclusions, was probably
well supplied with ammunition The British pilot was under no delusions as to what might be about to
happen, and told himself that his flying days were probably over, for the German was humming toward
him, with his machine-gun fully trained upon the foe. A few more yards and the spraying bullets
would be spattering all about him . . . a few more minutes and his machine would perhaps go spinning
to destruction. . . .
 Ball, with his eyes fixed upon his onrushing foe, did not try to avoid the combat, for—he had
his revolver fully loaded! A revolver against a machine-gun spitting death at the rate of hundreds
of bullets a minute! It makes one hold one's breath even to think of it!
Fortunately, that Teuton did not know the straits his enemy was in, or no doubt he would have acted
far differently from what he did. As he drew near Lieutenant Ball noticed that the German was seized
with a nervous shaking. Probably the fierce onslaughts upon his companions had utterly unnerved him.
As becomes a warrior, whether he fights on land or sea or in the air, Captain Ball was quick to
seize his chance: he opened fire with his revolver and emptied it full in the face of his foe. A
grim dramatic moment! Yet not so dramatic as the moment that followed, for the impetus of his swift
flight carried the German on a little way, and then—his machine turned over, and went down . .
Very cautiously the victor banked and turned; then, flying very low owing to the
 fact that his machine had been badly mauled, Captain Ball returned safely home.
Much more might be told of Captain Ball's achievements, for he had a most remarkable record in the
air. In the course of his many adventures he had accounted for no fewer than forty-two enemy
machines. Then came disaster. Early in May 1917 it was announced that this gallant officer had been
missing since the evening of the 7th of that month. He had gone up with ten other airmen, on a
flight the purpose of which was not revealed, and the last that was seen of him was when he was a
little way over the enemy lines. Then the light failed, and the aviator, hero of so many fights,
took his place upon the tragic list of 'missing,' a list which has contained the names of few men
more entitled to the admiration of their countrymen.
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