On 18 February 1916 he was posted to Number 13 Squadron at Marieux, France, flying BE2c's. Albert saw much action in these slow reconnaissance aircraft. He really wanted to fly fighters. On 7 May 1916 his wish was granted. Now in his chosen element, Albert began to display the hallmark of the finest fighting men: the urge to get at the enemy. He built a small wooden hut next to the aircraft hangar, in which he lived, ate and slept 'over the shop' so that he could be airbourne almost immediately and into combat.
On 16 May 1916 - flying Bristol Scout 5512 - he opened his score, shooting down an Albatros C-type over Beaumont at 08.45 hours. On 29 May 1916 he shot down two LVG C-types, whilst flying his Nieuport 5173.
Albert's desire to be at the enemy's throat was shown when he took off in Nieuport 5173 on 1 June 1916 and deliberately circled over the German airfield at Douai, challenging and inviting combat. Two German pilots
took up the challenge but were driven down by Albert who claimed one - a Fokker E-type - as his fourth victory.
On 26 June Albert attacked and destroyed, with phosphor bombs, a kite observation balloon, next day he was gazetted to receive the Military Cross and cited for his continuous determination to be at the
enemy. His next victories were over a Roland CII and an Aviatik C on 2 July 1916,
both shot down within the space of half an hour. On 29 July, Albert was posted
to Number 8 Squadron, once again flying lumbering BE2c aircraft. This
reconnaissance and artillery spotting role did not suit his desire to be in combat,
and on 14 August 1916 he was posted back to Number 11 Squadron, flying
Albert was allocated a brand-new Nieuport A201, and during the last two weeks
of August he gained ten victories, all but one being Roland CII's. On 22 August he
scored a hat-trick - the first in the Royal Flying Corps - when he downed three
Roland CII's within threequarters of an hour. His total now stood at seventeen.
The next day - 23 August - Albert was moved to 'A Flight' of Number 60 Squadron
with a 'roving seek and destroy the enemy' role. This pleased him, as he preferred
to fight alone.
On 1 September 1916 Albert went on leave for two weeks, and honours
began to be heaped on him. He received the Distinguished Service Order,
promotion to Flight Commander and the Russian award of the Order of St George,
Returning from leave, Albert was immediately in combat. Between 15-30
September he scored fourteen victories, including three hat-tricks! The first of these was on 21 September when three Roland CII aircraft went down in the space of two hours. The next trio - three Albatros C-types - went down within the space of an hour and threequarters on 28 September. The final three - An Albatros C-type and two Roland CII's - went down at 10.55 hours, 18.30 hours and 18.45 hours on 30 September 1916: Albert's score was now 31.
Albert was sent back to Britain for rest and recuperation and was feted as a national hero. On 18 November 1916 he went to Buckingham Palace to be invested with the DSO and Bar, and MC. A week later he was gazetted with another Bar to his DSO, making him the first triple DSO.
Albert hated his lack of combat and managed to get a posting to Number 56 Squadron; on 7 April 1917 he was back in France at Vert Galand. On 23 April he was back in aerial combat, flying Nieuport B1522 as Flight Commander, and shot down an Albatros C-type at 06.45 hours. Four more victories followed during April, when Albert was flying SE5 A4850, and then he had three 'pairs', on 1, 2 and 5 May, making his total 43. He had his final combat victory on 6 May 1917 when - flying Nieuport B1522 over Sancourt - he destroyed an Albatros DIII at 19.30 hours, taking his total to 44 victories.
Captain Albert Ball made his final flight on 7 May 1917 when he flew SE5 A4850 as part of an eleven-strong hunting patrol into action against Jagdstaffel 11, on this occasion led by Lothar Von Richthofen as his brother Manfred (aka Red Baron) was on leave. It was a very cloudy day. Albert was pursuing Lothar's Albatros Scout who crash-landed, wounded. Then Albert was seen by many observers to dive out of a cloud and crash. He died minutes later in the arms of a French girl, Madame Cecille Deloffre. The cause of the crash has never been adequately accounted for as Albert only had a minor bruise on his face no bullet wounds anywhere else to be found, in fact no combat damage whatsoever.
So how was Albert killed? The Germans credited the victory to Lothar who claimed that he shot Albert down at
8.30 pm. In his report he gives the place as Annoeullin, and the victim simply as "Captain Ball, dead." He supplies the SE5's engines number - 10046 Hispano-Suiza - but could not give the plane's number as it was destroyed.
This is his combat report, and there is one very serious discrepancy in it.
"On May 7th I had a combat with many triplanes one of them attacked me in a very determined manner. We fired a great deal at each other, and during the combat he came very close. He came down under my fire. My machine was damaged, and I landed with a dead prop., near the hostile machine."
(Richthofen's petrol tank was smashed by bullets)
In order to receive credit for a victory a German pilot had to produce three witnesses. They were:
1. Lieutenant Hepner. Kite-baloon Abteilung Nr 1 - He saw a triplane fall out of control.
2. Leutenant Hailer. Flieger-Abteilung A292
3. Anti-aircraft Group, 22 (Flakgrupper) - Saw a triplane shot down.
He also produced a fourth witness.
4. Kite-balloon Section 22 - Saw an English machine crash near Faschoda, and saw the German machine land near Bauvin.
(Faschoda was a farm near Annoeullin, and Bauvin is about a mile and a half away)
The weak point in the claim is that the SE5 was a biplane. The difference between that and a triplane is obvious enough even to an ordinary person; it could hardly be mistaken in air combat even by a flustered novice, and Lothar Von Richthofen was a very experienced airman. The first things he would notice would be the technical points of his adversary, especially as he reports that Albert approached closely to him. If he had judged the British machine to be a triplane from its remains on the ground it could be understood, for the SE5 was a new type to the Germans, and Albert's was a complete wreck.
The German documentation of the affair is very meagre. There are those who are adamant that Albert Ball was brought down by Anti-aircraft fire. All records in the Reichsarchiv have been examined thoroughly by a leading British historian. His conclusion was that it was possible that Albert was hit by gunfire from the ground.
In May of 1917 a Royal Flying Corps officer, who was in captivity at Douai, was visited by a German Intelligence officer. He was asked if he could identify the body of a Captain Ball who had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The prisoner had known Captain Albert Ball and was able to identify him.
Whether Albert was responsible for shooting down Lothar Von Richthofen's aircraft is impossible to establish although it seems very likely that it was him which should bring his total to 45 victories. Apart from Albert, Cyril Crowe had also attacked Lothar just before Albert and he disappeared into a cloudbank. What is beyond doubt is that Albert was piloting the SE5 which harangued the younger Richthofen during the final minutes before he was forced to crash-land. Theory has it that after seeing Lothar Von Richthofen's Albatros go to ground, Albert became disorientated, and only realised that he was not flying straight and level when he finally came out of the cloud, upside down and shallow-diving towards the ground. If this was the scenario, that he faced, then he would have only had a remote chance of regaining control of his aircraft at such a low altitude. Captain Albert Ball and Lothar Von Richthofen's supposed dogfight click here.
Captain Ball was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on 8 June 1917 and France
admitted him as a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur.
His father and mother received his Victoria Cross from King George V on 22 July 1917.