By Dick Martin
When I was doing research for a military biography for Dr. Ted Lindeman, my cousin Rick Paulson told me a story that was told to him by Lieutenant JG Lindeman. The two of them were sitting next to each other at a function when Dr. Lindeman told Rick of his near miss while flying over Nagasaki after the atomic bomb had been dropped on the city. Unknown to Lindeman, barrage balloons had been installed over Nagasaki. Dr. Lindeman and his crew decided to fly low over the city to view the devastation and had a near-miss of one of the barrage cables.
A barrage balloon is a large uncrewed tethered kite balloon used to defend ground targets against enemy aircraft attack. By raising aloft steel cables attached to the balloon which pose a severe collision risk to enemy aircraft, making the attacker's approach more difficult. One of the most iconic images of the D-Day invasion was taken shortly after the initial invasion and shows silver oval shaped barrage balloons already installed to protect the invasion force against aerial attack.
The development of barrage balloons began during WWI and was undertaken by many of the European nations in the war. Britain used them as a means of protecting London and other cities from German bombing raids. France used them to protect strategically important areas, such as railroads and aqueducts. Between WWI and WWII, development of barrage balloons was pretty much dormant. However, with the advent of WWII, that changed. On March 14, 1941, both the Air Corps and the Coastal Artillery Service resumed the development of the balloons at Camp Tyson near Paris, Tennessee, the only base set up in the United States solely for that purpose.
Barrage balloons, especially effective at night, worked as both a passive and active means of aerial defense. Floating barrage balloons and their attached cables over a specific area prevent enemy aircraft from flying close enough to target the area from directly overhead with bombs or strafing fire.
The Japanese attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought the barrage balloon program to the forefront. Three barrage balloon battalions were requested to be sent to the West Coast to protect important locations. At Camp Tyson, over thirty Barrage Battalions were created to provide new recruits to implement the balloon program. Each battalion, consisting of 1100 men, would produce 50 barrage balloons.
Training for the new recruits was more involved than one would think. Since the balloons were affected by the weather conditions, the training required the recruits to predict what weather conditions to expect and what effect they would have on the balloons. The barrage balloons played a significant role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, where the balloons were attached to invading ships and then moved onto the beach. On the beach, the barrage balloons were taken down during the day and put back up at night when they were most effective and expected most enemy aerial attacks. The 320th Barrage Battalion served for almost 150 days in France before moving to Hawaii to prepare to support the war in the Pacific.
Taken from an article by Thomas Paone of the Aeronautics Department.