RISE OF THE BALLOONS

MILITARIA

They were the surreal-looking, morale-boosting and visible static aerial defence that protected Britain’s Home Front from the Luftwaffe – but who did barrage balloons prove most lethal to?

Though mostly associated with World War Two, Britain first employed barrage balloons during the final year of the previous conflict. From 1917, a 50-mile balloon ‘apron’, supporting a hanging hazard of thick cables, aimed to protect East London against the increasing terror of German Gotha G.V and R.VI ‘Giant’ bombers.

Though this barrier saw little service, the military viewed barrage balloons as a viable defence and with the next war looming their production was greatly expanded. From 1936, barrage balloons began to be constructed at RAF Cardington, in Bedfordshire, which became home to No.1 RAF Balloon Training Unit, instructing new balloon crews. Less than a year from war, RAF Balloon Command was formed on November 1, 1938, under Air Vice-Marshall Owen Tudor Boyd and based at RAF Stanmore, Middlesex.

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