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Barrage Balloons

Carol Zarudenec Smith for local2 sault ste. marie
October 20th, 2012 at 1:47pm | Last Updated at 2:02pm

balloon 1

1943 U.S. Barrage Balloon in Agricultural Grounds, Soo, ON
Credit: Gene Motluk

Their purpose was to impede enemy aircraft from low level attacks.

They were a great asset to the war effort or were they?

WAFFs Sewing barrage balloon fabric together. Tedious work!

WAFFs Sewing barrage balloon fabric together. Tedious work!
Credit: Archives

Most barrage balloons were sausage-shaped with fins and tethered with metal cables. These cables could damage a plane if it came in contact with them. This forced enemy pilots to fly higher than these balloons to avoid such contact. Hitting their designated targets would be much more difficult at higher altitudes. Once at these higher altitude ranges, they were targets for the anti-aircraft guns. By the middle of 1940 about 1400 balloons were in the air with the major concentration (a third of them) over London, England.

Barrage balloons were made in huge buildings as the workers needed plenty of room to move around, both inside and outside these giants.
They were constructed of a series of panels of rubberized Egyptian cotton. The outside was covered with aluminum powder. In some balloons, there were 24 panels from bow to stern. Top to bottom panels were called Gores. They were named A-F inclusive. Workers sewed and glued the seams together to make the balloon. During this process, workers inhaled considerable fumes from the benzene solvents used then. They were given extra milk as it was thought at that time that milk would absorb the fumes.

When inflated with hydrogen, these giant balloons could be 70,000 cubic feet. They were used to defend key bombing sites like major industrial cities, ports, harbours and in the Soo.

Canadian and American forces joined together to protect our locks and shipping channel from possible air attack. They were anchored to huge blocks to keep them in place with heavy mooring cables. Fortunately, the Soo didnít become a target in the war. However, barrage balloons were anchored down on Cathcart Street manned by U. S. Troops and also at the Agricultural Grounds.

WAFFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force)    Working inside barrage balloon.

WAFFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) Working inside barrage balloon.
Credit: Archives

During The Blitz in London, Britain used many barrage balloons. Germany devised cable cutters on their bombers to escape contact with those cables. Germany didnít use a lot of barrage balloons but Britain also employed cable cutters on their aircraft.

balloon 2

1944 U.S. Troops with barrage balloon on Cathcart St., Soo, ON
Credit: Gene Motluk

There were disadvantages to these balloons. If they broke loose from their anchors in severe storms, trailing cables could short-circuit power lines. This could cause a major disruption in the manufacture of metal products vital to the war effort.

So whether they were thought of as an asset to the war or caused more difficulties than they were worth, they did assist in keeping enemy planes flying higher and that was exactly why the barrage balloons were invented.


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