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990 Barrage Balloon Squadron during WWII.
The Squadron was originally based at Cardington on 15th July 1941 in accordance with Establishment
No.WAR/Misc/162 dated 27 June 1941.
There were 9 Officers: 1 Administrative, 1 Medical.
Officers in charge of Balloons: 1 Squadron leader, 3 Flight Lieutenants, 3 Flying Officers or Pilot Officers.
Other ranks were: 1 Warrant Officer, 2 Flight Sergeants, 13 Sergeants, 33 Corporals, 284 Aircraftmen,
making a total of 333.
Balloon Equipment: Initial Establishment of 50 Mark VI Balloons and 100 Initial Reserve Balloons.
This Squadron was formed to operate with the 2nd Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation and from the time of embarkation
was to form a component part of that organisation. The Royal Marine Group 2nd M.N.B.D.O. assumed full operational and
Hydrogen supply was via 3 B2 Type Silicol Plants and the Squadron was the first to get this version of the Plant.
The Squadron was designed to leave the United Kingdom at short notice after 15th August 1941 and was tasked with having 50
balloons flying within 48 hours of arrival at any destination.
As with any attempt to make two different military organisations work together one early falling out was the choice of uniforms for
the Royal Air Force: The Royal Marines expressed a view that Air Force blue was "conspicuous" and wanted all the men to wear khaki.
The Commanding Officer for 990 Squadron, 90926 Squadron Leader Gaudie disagreed and the matter was not easily resolved. There
was some suggestion that he was chosen for 990 Squadron because his service number began with "990"!
The Squadron went to Hayling Island on 5th August 1941 to undertake four weeks of intensive training, which made the squadrons
abilities exceptional compared to other units based in the United Kingdom. On 24th September 1941 an Advance Party from 990 Squadron
was sent to Loch Ewe, a sea loch in Wester Ross in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland.
Meanwhile the Squadron had it first death when 1341055 Aircraftman 2nd Class Alexander William Cooke, died on 26th September 1941
in the Royal Naval hospital Haslar, England.
On the same day the Squadron left Hayling Island by train at 0800 hours. The long journey involved stopping at four stations for tea
and when arriving at Perth, Bag rations were provided by the W.R.V.S. At 1400 hours they arrived at Achnasheen some 41 miles from
Loch Ewe. The Squadron detrained and was taken away by 20 lorries. One half of the convoy arrived at Aultbea the remainder broke
convoy at Poolewe and went to Inverasdale on the West side of the loch. The Advance Party had made a magnificent job of getting the
Barrack equipment set up, at Inversdale and Aultbea with all huts readied with bedding and fires lit. A hot meal was served at 1750 hours.
Even so most of the huts had no doors. Waterproof Protective Clothing was issued to all. The weather was raining and quite a contrast to
the last few weeks spent at Hayling Island! There were no telephones, no water laid on and no toilets or sewage set up. Hurricane lamps
were in use but sadly paraffin was in short supply. On 7th October 1941 the marines won the argument over battledress for the Airmen.
Khaki battledress was to be provided shortly before departure fom the United kingdom. The weather began to deteriorate and in November
gales of 80 m.p.h struck the loch. Balloon losses were encountered and the Squadron had the cheerful news that it was to remain at this site
indefinitely. The weather often meant that no balloon operations could take place.
On 16th 1941 December a message was sent ordering the Squadron to be ready to leave within 48 hours. On 17th December the order to move
was given by the Admiralty, but no date was given and the Squadron waited. Throughout Xmas the Squadron packed and repacked kit, twiddled
it's thumbs and waited for an order to leave.
On 3rd January 1942 Air Ministry instructions were given to move to Glasgow. At 1530 hours the Squadron embarkation via lorries began.
The Squadron arrived at Achnasheen station, the first snow had fallen and it was bitterly cold and no train had arrived. At 2100 hours the train
arrived and all boarded within eight minutes. On 5th January 1942 the Squadron arrived at Glasgow at 1030 hours and men marched to Army
Transit Camp in Hotspur Street where the men were kitted out and issued with a pass until midnight. On 6th January 1942 at 1100 hours the
Squadron embarked on S.S. Strathnaver.
The shipboard routine was given to the men on board:
0630 Reveilles 0600-0700 Stow Hammocks 0730 Breakfast 0830 Sweepers 0900 All Troops on Deck 1000 General Parade
1030 Ships Inspection 1200 Dinner 1330 Sweepers 1630 Sweepers 1800 Tea and Supper 2100 Draw Hammocks 2200 Lights Out
2230 Senior NCO's in Cabins 2330 Light Out in Saloons.
The ship remained off Grennoch awaiting further orders.
Boat Drill and lifebelt fitting drill carried out. Abandon Ship and Action Stations practice were done as well. It was bitterly cold.
All ranks were told to sleepfully clothed for four nights once the ship had left the Naval Boom. Blackout was enforced and this
meant that no troops could smoke because of this. On 12th January 1942 at 0141 hours the foggy weather that had been delaying
sailing lifted and the ship sailed. They were to rendevous with another convoy with escort from Liverpool. On 15th January 1942
the Squadron suffered with seasickness due to the terrible weather. On 16th January a Focke-Wolfe Condor circled the Convoy
for two hours. On the 17th January 1942 a Battleship joined the convoy. Lectures, practice drill and general training dome while
at sea. The ship arrived at Freetown on 25th January 1942, no leave was granted. H.M.S. Resolution passed down the line of anchored
troopships and the men cheered throughout the Harbour. The ship left Freetown at 1500 hours on 29th January 1942.
Training in unarmed combat and aircraft recognition continued. Arrived at Durban and disembrakation took place over
13th to 15th February 2019. Squadron entrained and arrived at Imperial Forces Transit Camp, Clairwood. Daily passes
issued from 1200 to 2359 hours. The hospitality of the South Africans had to be experienced to be believed.
On 16th February Squadron embraked on S.S. Britannic and sailed for an unknown destination on 17th January 1942.
Training continied to ready Squadron for ship unloading and setting up of camps. Ship swimming pool made available to
small parties of airmen.
On 26th February 1942 the men were entertained with a Sports Day and the Squadron came second in the Tug of War.
Convoy split leaving Brittanic, Stirling Castle, and Straithmore with an Armed Merchant Cruiser heading East. On 28th
February 1942 training continued and the Squadron Orchestra and Concert Party had played regularly to entertain the
On 4th March 1942 the Squadron arrived at Bombay and berthed the following day. Squadron disembarked at 1430 hours
after a 4 hour wait. Marched three miles in the heat to Colaba Transit Camp where airmen were paid, accommodated and
given a pass. On 5th March 1942 the Commanding Officer met Wing Commander W. G. Summers from 274 Balloon Wing and
informed him that 990 Squadron was destined for Trincomalee, Ceylon. It was important that someone be sent out to Ceylon
in advance of the main party and on 6th March 1942, and the Squadron Adjutant, Flight Lieutenant S. V. Perry and Flight
Sergeant J. Theobald, departed Bombay in H.M.T. Dunera for Ceylon.
On the 8th March 1942 the Squadron embarked on S.S. Stirling Castle for Columbo at 1115 hours.
On 10th March 1942 Flight Lieutenant S. V. Perry and Flight Sergeant J. Theobald, landed at Columbo,Ceylon and left for China Bay.
The Squadron arrived outside Columbo on the same day. 990 Squadron would be the first Barrage Balloon Squadron to fly balloons in the East
Preliminary barrage plans for Trincomalee Harbour were arranged. Evacuees
from Far East took up all barrack equipment meant for 990 Squadron, No mosquito nets were to be found.
On 13th March Squadron disembarked at Colombo and moved in Heavy rain to Transit camp at Boosa near Gallle at South end of Island.
Chaos ensued - water supplies for hydrogen production were very problematic. The Navy had no inkling of plans for a barrage over the
harbour and were somewhat non-commital about it. The Camp was just a clearing in the jungle and insufficient Squadron
accommodation was the rule at China bay. Squadron equipment was on board a ship in the middle of Trincomalee harbour.
There was no local labour and unloading the equipment ship was a major issue. Men could have been summoned from Boosa but this
was not possible without tents and mosquito nets.
On 16th March 1942 it was decided to establish two Camp sites. One was to be on original site and a second was to built at Orrs Hill,
Plantain Point. These would be:
Welcombe Camp- for Squadron Headquarters and "A" Flight consisting of 7 Officers, 16 Senior N.C.O.'s, 150 Corporals and Airmen.
China Bay Camp - for "B" and "C" Flight.
All buildings were made from Cadjan and Jungle Poles, latrines and ablutions were to be erected in both Camps. Water needed to be
carried from wells to the Camp and all needed boiling before drinking. Unloading and distribution, unpacking and assembling of
Squadron equipment was taking place everywhere.
Balloon sites had been selected and the barrage was to protect the Inner Harbour, Trincomalee, to stop low-level attacks by
"A" Flight was to control all balloons sited on South side of Harbour, Trincomalee, and the inner ring of the inner
Harbour. This included the Naval Yard and Inner Harbour Road from China Bay to Trincomalee.
"B" Flight was to control the outer ring of sites ranging from China Bay to Trincomalee Road on North side of the Inner
Harbour and on the Coastal side or East side.
"C" Flight was to be responsible for all waterborne balloon sites which will be uncontrolled. Hydrogen Plants were to be sited
on the irrigation tank at Andan Kulan. The Balloon repair site was to be sited alongside.
It was noted that the terrain was a difficult one because:
All around the Inner Harbour, except for the Inner Harbour road and in the Naval Yard, jungle ran down to the sea.
After the Hydrogen cylinders were used to inflate the balloons all the replacement balloons had to be inflated at Andan Kulan.
The road round the Harbour was narrow and overhung in many places by trees and the danger of ripping balloons in transit was high.
It was felt that gas conveyance by Motor Transport was going to be a problem.
Description of Balloon Sites as of 28th March 1942:
Site 12. Flat land at sea-level. Turf. At site of Welcombe Camp. Situated in a re-entrant and the surrounding land was heavily wooded.
The site was liable to flood in heavy rain. Water and rations were delivered from China Bay.
Site 14. Flat land in coconut grove. Trees removed to assist flying, 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were delivered
from China Bay.
Site 15. On sandy beach, 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Army Gun Crew.
Site 17. On cliff top (50 feet), 4 in Crew resided in Residency Hall. Water and rations were via Army Gun Crew.
Site 18. On Sports Field in Naval Yard. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Army Gun Crew.
Site 19. On Hilltop approx 100 feet, in jungle clearing, 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via China Bay.
Site 20. Similar to Site 19.
Site 21. On Hilltop above Naval Yard in old Asiatic Hospital.4 in Crew accommodated with Naval Personnel in hospital building.
Site 26. On top of Naval Water Reservoir- approx 100 foot- 5 in Crew accommodated in Cadjan Hut. Water and rations were via China Bay.
Site 2. On flat space adjoining the railway line. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via China Bay.
Site 5. In jungle clearing adjoining Andan Kulam road. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via China Bay.
Site 6. In jungle clearing adjoining Salt Marshes on Yard Cove. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Army gun crew.
Site 7. On open beach. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via China Bay.
Site 8. On beach in palm grove. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Army Battery Camp adjoining.
Site 9. On open land adjoining sandy beach. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Army gun crew.
Site 10. On beach. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Army gun crew.
Site 11. Flat land in coconut palm grove. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via China Bay.
Site 16. On top of Hill in Fort Frederick approx 50 feet. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via Marine gun crew.
Site 29. In jungle clearing near main road China Bay -Trincomalee. 4 in Crew accommodated in tent. Water and rations were via China Bay.
All these were unoccupied sites and thus uncontrolled.
Site 1. Situated in Cod Bay. Flying from a concrete block on seashore. Approachable by water only.
Site 3. Situated in Cod Bay. Flying from a concrete block in reef. Approachable by water only.
Site 4. Situated on point between Cod Bay and Yard Cove. Flying from a concrete block.
Site 13. Not allotted initially.
Site 22. Concrete block set in seashore on South-west side of Entrance Boom.
Site 23. Flying from Buoy marking reef in middle of harbour.
Site 24. Flying point is on a concrete block on Powder Rocks Reef.
Site 25. Flying from H.M.S. Erebus at Mooring before Naval Yard.
Site 27. Flying from a mooring Buoy in Yard Grove.
Site 28 Flying from R.F.A. Pearleaf at mooring in vicinity of Round Point.
On 29th March 1942, Sites 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 19 and 20 were occupied and balloons inflated.
Sites 9, 15, 16, 17, 18 occupied but no balloons inflated. 300 gas cylinders had been unloaded
The unloading of stores and equipment was a nightmare since there appeared to be no manifest enabling
the men unloading to identify what was in the various bags and crates without opening them. Lessons were learnt
for the movement of future Squadrons to an active war footing abroad.
On 4th April 1942 all personnel were warned about the high risk of a Japanese invasion and arms and ammunition were issued.
This was because the cypher breaking team had decoded messages from the Japanese forces that gave them a date of 4th April
for an attack but they got the date wrongly decoded and the Japanese attacked Colombo on 5th April 1942.
Between the 1st and 8th of April 1942 the balloon crews struggled with the regular tropical storms that caused
numerous lightning strikes and loss of balloons. It was fortunate that no loss of life occurred with Squadron personnel due to lightning.
The reality of war was to come to 990 Squadron with a frightening suddenness.
On 9th April 1942 the Air Raid Alert was sounded at 0515 hours and the All Clear was given at 0600 hours. The Air Raid Alert was sounded
at 0700 hours The Harbour and Aerodrome at Trincomalee was attacked by 66 Japanese bombers and these were escorted by 40 Japanese
fighters. The Japanese began high level bombing from 15,000 feet. The Japanese fighters strafed the aerodrome with cannon and machine
gun fire. Balloons were flying at operating height throughout the raid and one Japanese plane flying low may well have hit a balloon cable
causing the balloon to break away. There was no low level attack over the Naval yard which was well protected with balloons. There were
a number of fires at the aerodrome and the All Clear was given at 0900 hours. The only hit at the Naval Yard was outside the balloon barrage
area. Apart from the men on the balloon sites the majority of men were on the aerodrome. Men sheltered by laying in the water runaways
and drains using any cover that they could find. The armoury was set on fire but many men were able to salvage arms and ammunition from
the fire. As a direct result of the attack 990 Squadron, sadly, suffered a number of deaths:
1008286 Leading Aircraftman Charles Eric Arnold, age 26, a Squadron Motor Transport Mechanic, son of Thomas
Frederick and Ellen Arnold, 124 Fitzwilliam Street, Yorkshire; husband of Ethel Leonie Arnold (Nee Wood), of 13
Bradley Road, Bradley, Huddersfield. He was married in the second quarter of 1940. At probate he left £162-15s-8d.
1008286 Leading Aircraftman Charles Eric Arnold (Courtesy Arnold family)
Also killed was 919955 Leading Aircraftman Ronald Alfred Taylor, age 22, he was a Squadron Motor Cyclist son of Alfred and Lillie Ellen Taylor, of 50 Albany Road
Airmen Arnold and Taylor were both sheltering near the Transport Yard when it was demolished due to receiving a direct hit from a Japanese bomb.
A further casualty was 1261437 Aircraftman 1st Class John Asbridge Gibson, age 36, Squadron Balloon Operator, son of Harry and Ellen Mary Gibson;
husband of Ethel Leah Gibson, of Bedford (Married 1935). He received a severe head wound from a bomb burst and died shortly afterwards.
Before the war his civilian role was a Lithographer.
The Combined Memorial (Courtesy Arnold family)
Two men were injured:
928942 Leading Aircraftman 2nd Class A. Greenfield, Squadron Balloon Operator was buried in one of the water runaways with debris from
Japanese bomb burst. He was transported to No. 54 C.M. Hospital, Trincomalee with serious injuries.
649979 Leading Aircraftman 1st Class J. Pink suffered a shrapnel wound in his left hand and was admitted to No. 54 C.M. Hospital, Trincomalee
for treatment to a slight wound. Both men recovered from their injuries.
Damage was incurred in a number of areas:
Motor Transport losses were:
One Norton motor cycle, two Norton combinations, and three Commer 15 cwt vans- all damaged beyond repair.
The Squadron had been given a temporary building to act as a “lock up” in the Motor Transport Yard. The kitbags of every airman
were lost, along with cooking and reserve rations and some tents. Some personal property of the officers was lost along with
Squadron medical records.
Two water pumps and three damaged barrage balloons were destroyed.
Due to the damage to Squadron accommodation all the Squadron personnel were moved to the China Bay camp site.
Fresh tentage was brought ashore before the attack and was not damaged. The Squadron set up an emergency camp at China Bay
and on the site of the Squadron stores. Balloon sites were provided with additional men. All personnel were accommodated by nightfall.
Water and rations were readied for the men overnight. As a result of the attack all native labour had run away.
On 10th April 1942 the Squadron attended the burial of Squadron members, Taylor, Arnold and Gibson at Trincomalee Cemetery with
full military honours.
Much of the Squadron work after this attack was routine and I have noted those reports that fell outside of routine work below.
On 27th April 1942 there was a bomb explosion at the area known as the "Coolie Lines" near Trimcomalee Station. It transpired that one
of the locals had found a No.4 Air Defence Bomb that had become detached from a balloon that had broken away and fallen into the jungle.
They took the bomb back to their hut and presumably began playing with it. A number of them were killed and a number were injured.
On 5th June 1942 Station Headquarters were at the 1st flooor of the Gaffor Building at the junction of Mains Street and Leydon Bastion Road.
This building permitted a clear view of the barrage.
"A" Flight was on the 1st floor of No.22 Upper Chatam Street. Shoers and latrines were based here. Feeding was a problem but was assisted
by the Y.M.C.A.
"C" Flight Headquartres were siuated in four small bungalows adjoining each other at 96,98 and 100 16th Lane, College Street and No. 21
College Street, near the Graving Dock. This contained accommodation, Sick Quarters, Cookhouse, Dining Room and Sergeants Quarters.
On 6th June 1942, 1116057 Aircraftman 1st Class Tom Dempster, age 34 died at the 35th British General Hospital, Colombo from Typhoid fever.
He was the son of Thomas and Francess Dempster, of 97 Venice Street, Liverpool; husband of Eileen C. Dempster, of Litherland, Liverpool. Before
the war his civilian role was a Factory Hand in a Dog Biscuit factory.
He was buried at 1730 hours on 7th June 1942 in General Cemetery, Kanatte, Columbo.
On 11th June 1942, 1020344 Aircraftman 1st Class Gerald Spray, a Balloon Operator, age 34, died at No.54 Combined General Hospital
Trincomalee from Benign Tertian Malaria. He was buried on 12th June 1942 at Trincomalee Cemetery. he was the second son of Mr Gilbert and Mrs Evelyn Spray,
4 Daisy Avenue, Manchester 13 and of Tip-top Bakeries, Manchester. Before the war he was a motor-driver for a bakery.
On 29th June 1942, 349066 Flight Sergeant Eric Roy JohnsoN, N.C.O., in charge of Military Transport, age 40 died in a motor-cycle
accident on the China Bay-Trincomalee Road. He was the son of Herbert Henry and Lizzie Johnson; husband of Eva Louisa Johnson, of
At probate he left £650.
On 6th October 1942 experimentation was made with a new form of dope provided by Mr Roberts, a Rubber Plantation owner. The porosity
of balloons in the climate was a problem and the experiment involved painting the dope on the internal balloon fabric. The balloon was flown
at altitude to see how it performed. It was never finally decided to be of use.
On the 22nd of October 1942 the question of "Indianisation" of the balloon Squadrons was discussed and 7 Officers and 103 men
were to be sent to Ceylon for training from India. Ellie House Park on the North side of the harbour was to be requisitioned for a temporary canvas camp.
On 1st November 1942, 924944 Aircraftman 1st Class John Charles Hobbs, died at 1220 hours on 1st November 1942 after being knocked down by a taxi on
Norris Road. Leading Aircraftman Lazenby was also slightly injured by the taxi.
Airman Hobbs was buried at 17.30 on 1st November 1942 at Kanattle Cemetery Colombo. The Squadron provided Military Honours.
` "C" Flight Headquarters moved to Lower McCallum Road, Columbo on 26th November 1943.
Things moved slowly in the Squadron when it came to mentioning the activities of individual Airmen. On 11 th November 1943
a Command Mention was made about 1218151 Aircraftman 1st Class R. Richardson.
A balloon had broken away from Site 14 on 30th July 1943. The Mk IV Bomb fell into some trees and hung there suspended by
a parachute. It was obvious that the bomb was live as the arming pin was withdrawn. This was very close to the Naval Oil
Installation at Chinanvadi, China Bay. The bomb was in close proximity to an oil tank and because of this could not be
detonated by the use of a rifle shot. 1218151 Aircraftman 1st Class R. Richardson volunteered to climb the tree and make the bomb safe. He did this by
dismantling the bomb in situ, removing the explosive charge, taking great care not to move the striker ring. Despite this bravery
he was not mentioned in dispatches.
6337470 Leading Aircraftman Joseph Walmsley, died on 2nd May 1944, age 24, he drowned while swimming. He was the son of John
and Ellen Walmsley, of 31 Back Hume Street, Spennymoor, Co. Durham. He was buried at 1230 hours at Levarmentu Cemetery, Colombo.
It was attended by the Commanding Officer, Adjutant and three other officers attended. Father E. Prime Roman Catholic Chaplain
performed the service.
On 23rd June 1944 1170669 Leading Aircraftman Lintott, 990 Squadron was mentioned in Dispatches in the Kings Birthday Honours List.
The reason for this does not seem obvious from Squadron reports.
The Squadron became non-operational from 1st August 1944 and barrage balloon sites began to be vacated, equipment packed up and men
and officers posted to other Squadrons. .
984 Squadron had arrived at China Bay from Madura , India on 4th August 1943 and began taking over defence of the Island.
On 14th November 1944, 749032 Sergeant L. Emmington died at the Royal Naval Hospital, Diyatalawa. His death was due to Cardiac Failure
coupled with Toxic Hepatitis. He was buried at Old Boer Military Cemetery, Diyatalawa on 15th September 1944. Flight Lieutenant J. Hooper
of 48 Squadron attended the funeral.
Throughout their time on the Island the Squadron had issues maintaining a continuous balloon barrage mainly because of the weather, the
monsoons, static and lightning all caused balloons to be bedded down for prolonged periods but such weather also reduced the likelihood of enemy
aircraft being used to attack the Island.
The Japanese failed to attack Ceylon after 9th April 1942 and much of this was due to the well distributed balloon and gun defences, along
with the excellent work of the reconnaissance and fighter aircraft that provided well co-ordinated defences of the Island. This convinced the
Japanese it was not worth the candle but had Japan gained possession of the island the the war would be very different and this was expressed quite
firmly by Winston Churchill:
"The most dangerous moment of the War, and the one which caused me the greatest alarm, was when the Japanese Fleet was heading
for Ceylon and the naval base there. The capture of Ceylon, the consequent control of the Indian Ocean, and the possibility at the same
time of a German conquest of Egypt would have closed the ring and the future would have been black."
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