Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

that in which Squadron-Commander Richard Bell Davies, D.S.O., R.N., and Flight Sub-Lieutenant
Gilbert Formby Smylie, R.N., found themselves while carrying out an air attack upon Ferrijik junction.

Smylie's machine was subjected to such heavy fire that it was disabled, and the airman was compelled to

plane down after releasing all his bombs but one, which failed to explode. The moment he alighted he set

fire to his machine. Presently Smylie saw his companion about to descend quite close to the burning

machine. There was infinite danger from the bomb. It was a question of seconds merely before it must

explode. So Smylie rushed over to the machine, took hasty aim with his revolver, and exploded the

bomb, just before the Commander came within the danger zone. Meanwhile the enemy had commenced

to gather round the two airmen, whereupon Squadron-Commander Davies coolly took up the Lieutenant

on his machine and flew away with him in safety back to their lines. Davies, who had already won the

D.S.O., was given the V.C., while his companion in this amazing adventure was granted the

Distinguished Service Cross.

The unexpectedness, to use no stronger term, of life in the R.F.C. in war-time is well exemplified by the
adventure which befell Major Rees. The pilot of a "fighter", he saw what he took to be a party of air

machines returning from a bombing expedition. Proceeding to join them in the character of escort, Major

Rees made the unpleasant discovery that he was just about to join a little party of ten enemy machines.

But so far from being dismayed, the plucky airman actually gave battle to the whole ten. One he quickly

drove "down and out", as the soldiers say. Attacked by five others, he damaged two of them and

dispersed the remainder. Not content with this, he gave chase to two more, and only broke off the

engagement when he had received a wound in the thigh. Then he flew home to make the usual laconic


No record of heroism in the air could be complete without mention of Captain Ball, who has already
figured in these pages. When awarded the V.C. Captain Ball was already the holder of the following

honours: D.S.0., M.C., Cross of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, and the Russian order of St.

George. This heroic boy of twenty was a giant among a company of giants. Here follows the official

account which accompanied his award: -

"Lieutenant (temporary Captain) ALBERT BALL, D.S.O., M.C., late Notts and Derby Regiment, and

"For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from April 25 to May 6, 1917, during which period
Captain Ball took part in twenty-six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove

down two out of control, and formed several others to land.

"In these combats Captain Ball, flying alone, on one occasion fought six hostile machines, twice he
fought five, and once four.

"While 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 severely 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 Captain Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always
displayed most exceptional courage, determination, and skill."


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