Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Kite Balloons over Canadians during the First World War

Kite balloon behind Canadian lines at Vimy Ridge, France, Dec 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395330)

Kite Balloons over Canadians during the First World War

Barrage balloons are attached to cables fixed to the ground or vehicles for observation and to provide an obstacle to attacking aircraft.  Kite balloons have a "bomb-like" appearance  that reduces drag and are more stable in high winds.  During the First World War, the armies of England, France, Germany and Italy made extensive use of barrage balloons.  In some cases, such as in the defence of London, steel cables were hung from several balloons connected to form a "barrage net" that could be raised as high as (4.5 km or roughly 15,000 ft), effective against the bombers of the era.  Canadian soldiers would often see Kite balloons in use for observation over their sector of the Western front, and a number of the balloons were photographed for the record, a few of which are presented here from the Library and Archives Canada files.

Kite Balloon over the Western Front, Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395204)

Kite balloon being prepared for launch with a Canadian Kinematographer on board, May 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405554)

Kite balloon with Canadian Kinematographer and Observer, May 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405555)

Kite Balloon operators donning parachutes and checking cameras before ascending, May 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395244)

Kite balloon pilot and observer, Sep 1916.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395176)

Kite balloon observer testing his telephone before ascending, Sep 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395184)

Kite Balloon in operation over the Western Front, France, May 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395241)

Kite balloon pair over Canadian lines, Apr 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3521909)

Kite balloon windlas and crew, fixing the 500' flag to a cable, May 1917.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395253)

Kite balloon view of the windlass and crew at work on ascent, Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404749)

Kite balloon view of the windlass and crew at work on ascent, Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404754)

Kite balloon view of the trench lines around Arras, Nov 1917.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3522065)

Kite Balloon in operation over the Western Front, France, Sep 1916.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395177)

Kite balloon being moved to a launch site, Dec 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395332)

Kite balloon being brought out for launch, Sep 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395174)

Kite balloon gas bag feing filled, May 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395251)

Kite balloon being overhauled on the Western Front, France Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194241)

 

Kite balloon being repaired prior to ascent, Oct 1916.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395194)

Kite balloon being repaired prior to ascent, Oct 1916.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395197)

Kite balloon landing behind Canadian lines, Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395196)

Kite balloon being launched on the Western Front, Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395207)

Kite balloon being lowered as Canadian Artillery moves by, East of Arras, Sep 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404934)

Kite balloon being lowered as Canadian Artillery moves by, East of Arras, Sep 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404935)

Barrage Balloons in service during the Second World War

During the Second World War, Britain established a Balloon Command to protect cities and key targets such as industrial areas, ports and harbours.  The balloons were designed to defend against German Stuka dive bombers operating at altitudes of 1.5 km/5,000 feet with the aim of forcing them to fly higher and into the range of concentrated anti-aircraft fire.  By the summer of 1940 there were 1,400 barrage balloons in service, with a third of them protecting London.  By 1944, there were 3,000 in use in the UK.  They proved to be moderately effective against the V-1 flying bomb, which usually flew at an altitude of 600 metres/2,000 feet or lower, although these early cruise missiles had wire-cutters on their wings to counter balloons. 231 V-1s are officially claimed to have been destroyed by balloons.

In 1942 Canada and the USA conducted joint operations using barrage balloons to protect the sensitive locks and shipping channel at Sault Ste. Marie on the Great Lakes to deter potential air attacks.  Between Aug and Oct 1942, severe storms caused some of the barrage balloons to break loose, and the trailing cables short-circuited power lines causing serious disruption to mining and manufacturing.  In particular, the metals production vital to the war effort was disrupted. Canadian military historical records indicate that the "October incident, the most serious, caused an estimated loss of 400 tons of steel and 10 tons of ferro-alloys.  Following these incidents, new procedures were put in place, which included stowing the balloons during the winter months, with regular deployment exercises and a standby team on alert to deploy the balloons in case of attack. (Wikipedia)

WRNS visiting a barrage balloon site with WAAF operating the balloons, UK, 1944. (MIKAN No. 4950991)

Post War

After the war, some surplus barrage balloons were used as tethered shot balloons for nuclear weapon tests throughout most of the period when nuclear weapons were tested in the atmosphere.  The weapon or shot was carried to the required altitude slung underneath the barrage balloon, allowing test shots in controlled conditions at much higher altitudes than test towers.