Barrage balloon

Barrage balloon

A barrage balloon is a large balloon tethered with metal cables, used to defend against low-level attack by aircraft by damaging the aircraft on collision with the cables, or at least making the attacker's approach more difficult. Some versions carried small explosive charges that would be pulled up against the aircraft to ensure its destruction. Barrage balloons were only regularly employed against low-flying aircraft, the weight of a longer cable making them impractical for higher altitudes.

World War II

In 1938 the British Balloon Command was established to protect cities and key targets such as industrial areas, ports and harbours. Balloons were intended to defend against dive bombers flying at heights up to 5,000 feet (1500 m), forcing them to fly higher and into the range of concentrated anti-aircraft fire—anti-aircraft guns could not traverse fast enough to attack aircraft flying at low altitude and high speed. By the middle of 1940 there were 1,400 balloons, a third of them over the London area.

While dive-bombers were devastatingly effective against undefended targets, such as Guernica and Rotterdam, they were very vulnerable to attack by fighter aircraft, and their use by Germany against Britain with its effective Royal Air Force was rapidly discontinued. Balloons proved to be of little use against the German high-level bombers with which the dive-bombers were replaced, but continued to be manufactured nonetheless, until there were almost 3,000 in 1944. They proved to be mildly effective against the V-1 flying bomb, which usually flew at 2,000 feet (600 m) or lower but had wire-cutters on its wings to counter balloons. Two hundred and thirty-one V-1s are officially claimed to have been destroyed by balloons [cite web
url =
title = Barrage Balloons for Low-Level Air Defense
work = Air & Space Power Journal
accessdate = 2007-04-16
date = Summer 1989
] .

Many bombers were equipped with devices to cut barrage balloon cables. Britain used large numbers of balloons, so Germany developed the most capable cable-cutters. Their systems consisted of small C-shaped devices attached to the leading edge of the wing. When a cable entered the device after sliding down the wing, it triggered a small explosive charge that drove a blade through the cable. British bombers were also equipped with cable-cutters although the Germans used few barrage balloons.

The British added two refinements to their balloons, "Double Parachute Link" (DPL) and "Double Parachute/Ripping" (DP/R). The former was triggered by the shock of an enemy bomber snagging the cable, causing that section of cable to be explosively released complete with parachutes at either end; the combined weight and drag bringing down the aircraft. The latter was intended to render the balloon safe if it broke free accidentally. The heavy mooring cable would separate at the balloon and fall to the ground under a parachute; at the same time a panel would be ripped away from the balloon causing it to deflate and fall independently to the ground. [ [] RAF Museum online exhibition "Air Diagrams"]


Balloons were sometimes more trouble than they were worth. In 1942 Canadian and American forces began joint operations to protect the sensitive locks and shipping channel at Sault Ste. Marie along their common border among the Great Lakes against possible air attack. ["Protecting Steel Lifeline / Barrage balloon goes aloft at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to protect Soo canal against possible air raids..." [photo caption] , "The Lima News" [Lima, OH] , 9 Apr. 1942, p. 3.] During severe storms in August and October of 1942 some barrage balloons broke 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.

In the media

Barrage balloons played a minor but important part in the "Doctor Who" episodes "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances". There is also reference to these items in an episode of the popular British sitcom "Dad's Army", as well as the detective series "Foyle's War" (The Funk Hole). 'The Day the Balloon Went Up' shows, rather humorously, the importance of proper anchorage. Barrage balloons also play a significant role in the motion picture "Hope and Glory".


ee also

*Moored balloon
*Kite types
*Domina Jalbert

External links

* [ Barrage Balloons during WWII]

* [ Barrage Balloon Reunion Club]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • barrage balloon — barrage′ balloon n. mil one of a series of anchored balloons from which cables or nets are suspended as a defense against air attacks …   From formal English to slang

  • barrage balloon — [bə räzh′, bəräj′] n. any of a number of anchored balloons with cables or nets attached for entangling low flying attacking airplanes …   English World dictionary

  • barrage balloon — noun an elongated tethered balloon or blimp with cables or net suspended from it to deter enemy planes that are flying low • Hypernyms: ↑airship, ↑dirigible • Hyponyms: ↑kite balloon * * * ˈbarrage balloon 7 [barrage balloon] …   Useful english dictionary

  • barrage balloon — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms barrage balloon : singular barrage balloon plural barrage balloons one of several large balloons that float in the air over a town to prevent enemy aircraft from attacking …   English dictionary

  • barrage balloon — barrage balloons N COUNT Barrage balloons are large balloons which are fixed to the ground by strong steel cables. They are used in wartime, when the cables are intended to destroy low flying enemy aircraft …   English dictionary

  • barrage balloon — barrage bal.loon [ US .ˈ. .ˌ.] n a large bag that floats in the air to prevent enemy planes from flying near the ground …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • barrage balloon — /ˈbæraʒ bəlun/ (say barahzh buhloohn) noun a balloon used in a balloon barrage …  

  • barrage-balloon — barrˈage balloon noun • • • Main Entry: ↑barrage …   Useful english dictionary

  • barrage balloon — noun Date: circa 1920 a small captive balloon used to support wires or nets as protection against air attacks …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • barrage balloon — a balloon or blimp, usually one of several anchored around a military area, city, etc., from which wires or nets are hung as a protection against attacks from low flying aircraft. [1920 25] * * * …   Universalium

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