Balloon buster

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Observation balloon being shot down by a German biplane Angriff auf feindlichen Fesselballon 1918.jpg
Observation balloon being shot down by a German biplane

Balloon busters were military pilots known for destroying enemy observation balloons. These pilots were noted for their fearlessness, as balloons were stationary targets able to receive heavy defenses, from the ground and the air. [1] Seventy-seven flying aces in World War I were each credited with destroying five or more balloons, and thus were balloon aces.

Contents

The crucial role of observation balloons

British balloon of the German Parseval-Siegsfeld type, 1916, typical of observation balloons in the first half of World War I ObservationBalloonPozieresJuly1916.jpeg
British balloon of the German Parseval-Siegsfeld type, 1916, typical of observation balloons in the first half of World War I
A Nieuport 11 armed with Le Prieur rockets and an overwing Lewis gun Nieuport 11 armed with Le Prieur rockets and an overwing Lewis gun.jpg
A Nieuport 11 armed with Le Prieur rockets and an overwing Lewis gun

An observation balloon was both a vulnerable and a valuable target: the balloon was moored in a stationary position and was lifted by flammable hydrogen gas, whose use was necessitated by the scarcity of helium reserves among European powers. The artillery observer, suspended in the wicker basket beneath, typically had a wireless transmitter, binoculars and/or a long-range camera. His job was to observe actions on the front-line and behind it, to spot enemy troop movements or unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthwhile targets.

Balloon observers were consequently targets of great importance to both sides, especially before any sort of infantry action or offensive, so individual pilots, flights or whole squadrons were frequently ordered to attack balloons, to destroy them or at least disrupt their observation activities. [1] Pilots on both sides tried to attack from a height that could enable them to fire without getting too close to the hydrogen and pull away fast. They were also cautioned not to go below 1,000 feet (300 m) in order to avoid machine gun and AA fire.

Due to their importance, balloons were usually given heavy defenses in the form of machine gun positions on the ground, anti-aircraft artillery, and standing fighter patrols stationed overhead. Other defenses included surrounding the main balloon with barrage balloons; stringing cables in the air in the vicinity of the balloons; equipping observers with machine guns; and flying balloons booby-trapped with explosives that could be remotely detonated from the ground. These measures made balloons very dangerous targets to approach. [1]

Although balloons were occasionally shot down by small-arms fire, generally it was difficult to shoot down a balloon with solid bullets, particularly at the distances and altitude involved. Ordinary bullets would pass relatively harmlessly through the hydrogen gas bag, merely holing the fabric. Hits on the wicker car could however kill the observer. [1]

One method employed was the solid-fuel Le Prieur rocket invented by Frenchman Lt. Yves Le Prieur and first used in April 1916. Rockets were attached to each outboard strut of a biplane fighter aircraft and fired through steel tubes using an electrical trigger. The rockets' inaccuracy was such that pilots had to fly very close to their target before firing. [1]

It was not until special Pomeroy incendiary bullets and Buckingham flat-nosed incendiary bullets became available on the Western Front in 1917 that any consistent degree of success was achieved. Le Prieur rockets were withdrawn from service in 1918 once incendiary bullets had become available. [1]

Balloon busting aces

The leading balloon buster, Willy Coppens, is personally decorated by his monarch, King Albert I. AdM Roi decore coppens 2 klein.jpg
The leading balloon buster, Willy Coppens, is personally decorated by his monarch, King Albert I.
NameNationalityBalloon victoriesAircraft victoriesTotalReference
Willy Coppens [2] Belgian35237
Léon Bourjade [3] French27128
Michel Coiffard [4] French241034
Maurice Boyau French211435 [5]
Friedrich Ritter von Röth German20828 [6]
Jacques Ehrlich French18119 [7]
Heinrich Gontermann German182139 [8]
Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor South African163854 [9]
Frank Luke American14418 [10]
Karl Schlegel German14822 [11]
Oskar Hennrich German13720 [12]
Marcel Haegelen French121123 [13]
Marius Ambrogi French11314 [14]
Friedrich Friedrichs German111021 [15]
Henry Woollett British112435 [16]
Tom F. Hazell British103343 [17]
Fritz Höhn German101121 [18]
Max Näther German101626 [19]
Erich Thomas German10010 [20]
William George Barker Canadian95059 [21]
Louis Bennett Jr. American9312 [22]
Théophile Henri Condemine French909 [23]
Hans von Freden German91120 [24]
Sidney Highwood British9716 [25]
Erich Löwenhardt German94554 [26]
Jean Andre Pezon French9110 [27]
Armand Pinsard French91827 [28]
Erich Thomas German9110 [20]
Paul Barbreau French808 [29]
Josef Jacobs German84048 [30]
Max KuhnGerman8412 [31]
Charles J. V. Macé French8412 [32]
Ernest Maunoury French8311 [33]
Friedrich T. Noltenius German81321 [34]
Fritz Pütter German81725 [35]
Otto Schmidt German81220 [36]
Maurice Bizot French7310 [37]
Oskar Freiherr von Boenigk German71926 [38]
Julius Buckler German72936 [39]
Siegfried BüttnerGerman7613 [40]
Harry King Goode British7815 [41]
Harold B. Hudson Canadian7613 [42]
Hans NülleGerman7411 [43]
Charles Nungesser French73643 [44]
Hans Martin Pippart German71522 [45]
Paul Santelli [46] French707
Eugen Bönsch [47] Austro-Hungarian61016
Hans Klein [48] German61622
Antoine Laplasse [49] French628
Donald Roderick MacLaren [50] Canadian64854
Georg Meyer [51] German61824
Marcel Bloch [52] French505
Heinrich Bongartz [53] German52833
Fernand Bonneton [54] French549
Godwin Brumowski [55] Austro-Hungarian53035
William Charles Campbell [56] British51823
Pierre Cardon [57] French505
Sydney Carlin [58] British5510
Arthur Cobby [59] Australian52429
Martin Dehmisch [60] German5510
Pierre Ducornet [61] French527
Wilhelm Frickart [62] German5712
Louis Prosper Gros [63] French549
Francis Guerrier [64] French505
Heinrich Haase [65] German516
Lansing Holden [66] American527
Adrien L. J. Leps [67] French5712
Richard Burnard Munday [68] British549
Marcel Nogues [69] French5813
Eddie Rickenbacker [70] American52126
George R. Riley [71] British5813
Gilbert Sardier [72] French51015
William Ernest Shields [73] Canadian51924
Walter Southey [74] South African51520
Paul Y. R. Waddington [75] French5712
Joseph Wehner [76] American516
Hans Weiss [77] German51116

Aces with four balloon victories

NameOriginBalloon victoriesAircraft victoriesTotal
Heinrich Arntzen German4711 [78]
Otto Brauneck German4610 [79]
Harvey Weir Cook American437 [80]
Gustave Daladier French4812 [81]
Benno Fiala Ritter von Fernbrugg Austro-Hungarian4 [note 1] 2428 [82]
Elwyn King Australian42226 [83]
Wilhelm Kühne German437 [84]
Georges Lachmann French459 [85]
Auguste Lahoulle French4610 [86]
Edgar McCloughry Australian41721 [87]
Paul Petit French437 [88]
Maurice Rousselle French415 [89]
Karl SchattauerGerman459 [90]
Leonard Taplin Australian4812 [91]
Edgar TaylorAmerican415 [92]
Guy Wareing English459 [93]

Aces with three balloon victories

NameOriginBalloon victoriesAircraft victoriesTotal
Giovanni Ancillotto Italian3811 [94]
Yves F. Barbaza French325 [95]
Hans Böhning German31417 [96]
Karl BohnyGerman358 [97]
Walter von Bülow-Bothkamp German32528 [98]
Hamilton Coolidge American358 [99]
Pierre Delage French347 [100]
Rudolf von Eschwege German31720 [101]
Henri Hay De Slade French31619 [102]
Francis W. Gillet American31720 [103]
Max GossnerGerman358 [104]
Justus Grassmann German3710 [105]
Robert Hall South African325 [106]
Ludwig Hanstein German31316 [107]
William Frederick James Harvey English32326 [108]
Albert HaussmannGerman31215 [109]
Heinrich Henkel German358 [110]
Adolf Heyrowsky Austro-Hungarian3 [note 1] 912 [111]
Camille Lagesse Canadian31720 [112]
Friedrich Manschott German3912 [113]
George McElroy Irish34447 [114]
Maurice Newnham English31518 [115]
John Steele Ralston Scottish3912 [116]
Paul Rothe German325 [117]
Franz Rudorfer German3811 [118]
Cecil Thompson South African336 [119]
Remington Vernam American336 [120]
Hans Waldhausen German336 [121]
Herbert Gilles Watson New Zealander31114 [122]

Aces with two balloon victories

NameOriginBalloon
victories
Aircraft
victories
Total
Edgar O. Amm South African257 [123]
Maurice Arnoux French235 [124]
Horace Barton South African21719 [125]
John Courade BatemanEnglish257 [125]
Douglas John Bell South African21719 [126]
Armond J. Berthelot French2911 [127]
Billy Bishop Canadian27072 [128]
Konrad BrendleGerman279 [79]
Jean Casale French21113 [129]
William Gordon Claxton Canadian23537 [130]
Edwin Cole English268 [131]
James Connelly American257 [132]
Charles Cudemore English21315 [133]
Gilbert de Guingand French268 [134]
Armand de Turenne French21315 [135]
Pierre Dufaur de Gavardie French246 [136]
Eduard Ritter von Dostler German22426 [137]
Otto FitznerGerman279 [138]
Willi Gabriel German2911 [139]
Karl Gallwitz German2810 [140]
George Gates English279 [141]
Frederick Stanley Gordon New Zealander279 [142]
Franz Gräser Austro-Hungarian21618 [143]
Fernand Guyou French21012 [144]
Erich Hahn German246 [145]
Georges Halberger French235 [146]
Lloyd Hamilton American2810 [147]
Thomas Sinclair Harrison South African22022 [148]
Robert HeibertGerman21113 [109]
Albert HetsGerman246 [149]
Ernest Charles Hoy Canadian21113 [150]
Frederick Hunt English279 [151]
Albert Leslie JonesEnglish257 [152]
Erich JustGerman246 [153]
Arthur KorffGerman268 [154]
James Latta English235 [155]
Pierre Leroy de Boiseaumarie French235 [156]
Frederick Luff American235 [157]
John MackerethEnglish257 [158]
Malcolm Plaw MacLeod Canadian257 [159]
Rudolf Matthaei German2810 [160]
Maurice Mealing English21214 [161]
Zenos MillerAmerican235 [162]
Hans Karl Müller German279 [163]
Edmund Nathanael German21315 [164]
Otto Parschau German268 [165]
Andre Petit-Delchet French235 [166]
Croye Pithey South African2810 [167]
Arthur Rahn German246 [168]
Hervey Rhodes English2810 [167]
Cyril Ridley English2911 [169]
Charles G. Ross South African21820 [170]
Hugh Saunders South African21315 [171]
Gustav Schneidewind German257 [172]
Wilhelm SchwartzGerman268 [173]
Kurt SchönfelderGerman21113 [174]
Sumner Sewall American257 [175]
Langley SmithCanadian268 [176]
Werner SteinhauserGerman2810 [177]
Francis S. Symondson English21113 [178]
Mathieu Tenant de la Tour French279 [179]
Renatus TheillerGerman21012 [180]
Bernhard Ultsch German21012 [181]
Gilbert J. Uteau French235 [182]
Clive W. Warman American21012 [183]
Paul WenzlGerman2810 [184]

In literature

On the afternoon of September 14, 1918, while the Doughboys of the 33rd U.S. Infantry Division were stationed at Fromereville near Verdun, American war poet Lt. John Allan Wyeth was taking a shower with a group of bickering Doughboys when he heard the cry, "Air Raid!" Like every other bather, Wyeth ran, naked and covered with soap, into the village square. There, he watched as a Fokker D VII, flown by Unteroffizier Hans Heinrich Marwede from Jasta 67's aerodrome at Marville, attacked and set on fire three French observation balloons. [185] Lieut. Wyeth later described Marwede's victory in his sonnet Fromereville: War in Heaven. [186]

William Sanders' novel The Wild Blue and the Gray was set in a World War I squadron that flew several balloon-busting missions.

In Wilbur Smith's The Burning Shore the lead character carries out balloon-busting missions during World War I.

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 Includes the Italian airship M4.

Related Research Articles

No. 40 Squadron RAF Defunct flying squadron of the Royal Air Force

No. 40 Squadron of the Royal Air Force was formed in 1916 at Gosport as No. 40 Squadron Royal Flying Corps and was disbanded for the last time in 1957. The squadron also included many non-British members, including volunteers from the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force.

No. 48 Squadron was a Royal Air Force squadron that saw service in both the First and Second World Wars.

Lists of World War I flying aces Wikipedia list article

The following are lists of World War I flying aces. Historically, a flying ace was defined as a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The term was first used by French newspapers, describing Adolphe Pégoud as l'as, after he downed seven German aircraft.

Ronald Malcolm Fletcher was an English World War I observer/gunner ace in two-seater fighters who, in conjunction with his pilot, Lt. Samuel F.H. Thompson, gained 26 confirmed victories. He was notable for the fact that all but one of these victories were over enemy fighter aircraft.

Hans Imelmann

Leutnant Hans Imelmann was a World War I flying ace credited with six aerial victories. As a founding member of one of Germany's original fighter squadrons, he was shot down and killed before he reached his twentieth birthday.

Oberleutnant Hans Schilling was an early World War I German observer flying ace. He scored his eight confirmed aerial victories teamed with Albert Dossenbach. The pair of them were shot down on 3 November 1916. Dossenbach was wounded; Schilling was burnt. As a result, Schilling was teamed with another pilot, and killed in action on 4 December 1916 by Charles Nungesser.

Leutnant Walter Göttsch HoH, IC was a German World War I flying ace credited with 20 aerial victories. His final combat assignment was commanding Jagdstaffel 19 in Jagdgeschwader II.

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Bibliography