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15 October 2014
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Barrage Balloons

by A7431347

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Dorothy Brannan
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People,s War site by Wendy Young and has been added on behalf of Dorothy Brannan with her permission she fully understands the site,s terms and conditions At the beginning of 1942 London was being heavily bombed and dive bombers were hitting their target. The Germans aim was to flatten London, and they might of succeeded had it not been for the barrage balloons.
A barrage balloon was three times the size of a cricket pitch. They were made in Cadington. The balloons consisted of several panels of very tight fabric, at the back were three fins. The top of the balloon was filled with hydrogen, the bottom half was left empty, so when it was put up at a certain height it filled with natural air. If there wasn't enough windd, the tail fins looked floppy but in time they filled with air. Balloons lost a certain amount of hydrogen when flying so they had to be topped up every day at the sites.
Balloons were held by cables which were fixed to winches on lorries. Cables were more important than the balloons as an aircraft had only to touch a cable and it would be destroyed straight away. If the balloon was shot it exploded, taking the aircraft with it.
The bombers had to fly over the balloons, so they couldn't get any accuracy with their bombing, and they couldn't dive bomd. It was dangerous to be near a cable is a balloon was shot down as the falling cable could kill a person. The winch has an altimeter which told you how high to fly the balloon, as they were flown at different heights. It was a hazardous job when you were winching up in a confined space, in wind and rain. If there was a strong wind the balloon would take itself off. It had to be handled with care because of the hydrogen.
The rope attachments consisted of metal rings which secured the balloon when it was down. Because of wear and tear the ropes were becoming dangerous so they were replaced with wire, and the metal rings were put on the wire.
Headquarters knew where the balloon sites were, usually they flew over important builsings like docks and shipping, and you were told how high the balloons should go and the plotters would tell us where the planes were. As soon as we received the information that aircraft were approaching, up would go the balloon; sometimes they would go up when a raid was anticipated. I was one of a crew of twenty so day and night were covered. We were housed in sport centres, schools and around cricket pitches.
The repair centre was near Portsmouth, when I first volunteered to help with the balloons I had to go on a course there.
A few elderly men were employed to pick up the balloon when it fell and take it to be repaired.
The bottom half of the balloon was deflated and the hydrogen was removed.
We used a large hoover like machine to keep it inflated whicle we were inside repairing the hole, and also outside. The paint and glue around the hole had to be removed and then large sticky glue patches were put over the hole. Three coats of silver dope was painted over the patch so that the hydrogen couldn't escape.
Weather often deteriorated the paint so we often had to repaint the balloon with three coats of silver paint. It was very toxic and we didn't wear goggles or masks or special clothing. As we were in a hanger we'd work for half an hour, then spend tewnty minutes in the fresh air.
The Germans lost so many men and planes that they left us alone, then we started bombing Germany and that was one of the turning points of the war.

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