At the end of 1916, Ball easily led the RFC with
31 credited victories, 17 destroyed or captured.
He “specialized” in Roland C.IIs, claiming 15 of
them plus an assortment of other two-seaters and
single-seaters as well as balloons. After his first
success in a Bristol Scout, he became a “Nieuport
merchant,” logging success after success.
As a product of Victorian England, Ball
expressed his feelings in a letter home: “I only
scrap because it is my duty. Nothing makes me
feel more rotten than to see them go down, but
you see it is either them or me, so I must do my
duty best to make it a case of them.”
Ball left No. 60 Squadron in October 1916,
distressed to be assigned training duty. But he
returned to France with No. 56 Squadron’s S.E.5s
in April 1917. There, he ran his tally to 44 when
killed in May, a record surpassed by the contro-
versial Canadian Billy Bishop three months later.
With 10 victories each, Ball’s two closest col-
leagues were Lt. Patrick Langan-Byrne and Lt.
Alan Wilkinson, both DH.2 pilots in Hawker’s
No. 24 Squadron. Langan-Byrne, an Irishman,
became Boelcke’s 34th victim. In 1917, Wilkin-
son returned to combat commanding a Bristol
Fighter squadron with considerable success.
French flier Paul Tarascon combined determination with ability. Although he had lost a foot
in a 1911 civilian flying accident, he applied in
1914 for national service. For once, the authorities relented: Despite his advanced age of 32, he
was accepted, received a military pilot’s brevet,
and became an instructor. Unsatisfied, he agitated for combat and eventually fetched up in
N. 62 and began scoring in the summer of 1916.
At year’s end, he had eight victories, adding four
more through 1918 flying SPADs.
Two other French aces gained wide acclaim
beginning in February 1916. Lt. Jean Navarre, a
fiercely independent spirit, scored his first three
victories in Morane-Saulniers in 1915. The next
year, he flew a gaudy red-white-and-blue Nieuport on the Verdun front en route to 12 victories,
being severely wounded in his last combat.
Lt. Georges Guynemer overcame a sickly childhood to become France’s most beloved airman.
An accomplished tinkerer, he moved, like most
other early aces, from two-seaters to single-seaters
and found his home in N. 3, subsequently SPA. 3,
where, at year’s end, he led the Aviation Militaire
with 25 victories.
Close behind Guynemer was the high-living
Lt. Charles Nungesser, with 21. Whereas Navarre
wore a girlfriend’s silk stocking rather than
a helmet and Nungesser was an enthusiastic
boulevardier, Guynemer appeared more of an
ascetic, though it was said that his 1,000m stare
sometimes reflected more Paris fatigue than it
did combat fatigue. He perished in 1917, internationally mourned at age 22.
Max Immelmann was, with
Oswald Boelcke, the first of
Germany’s great aerial heroes
and provided an example by
which all later Teutonic aces
would be judged. Immelmann
is seen with his mastiff Tyras,
in a photo that was widely
reproduced as a postcard.
(Photo courtesy of Greg van
“Nothing makes me feel
more rotten than to see
them go down, but you see
it is either them or me, so
I must do my duty best to
make it a case of them.”