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BARRAGE BALLOON VESSELS

 

During the war the military decided that not only was it a good idea to have balloons that were mobile on the land with a mobile winch vehicle but it was well known that waterborne balloons on rafts had been successful in Italy prior to World War one when the Austrians and the Italians were at war. So the concept was created of using various boats that were powered (unlike the rafts / pontoons of WWI days).

The military classed these as auxiliary fighting vessels and were made up of two distinct groups:

1. Sea-going vessels that accompanied convoys usually comprising of small mercantile vessels and tugs

2. Those that tended to fly the balloons in harbours and estuaries and were generally made up of drifters and barges and trawlers. These vessels would then sail to a particular spot in an estuary, anchor and then let the balloon up to deter enemy aircraft from perhaps attacking a docks area. Trawlers and Drifters were often commandeered by the military to be adapted to fly barrage balloons.

All of them needed a flat deck area big enough to bed a balloon down and a winch that could be operated with relative ease for hauling down and letting up the balloon.

The vessels used were manned by a naval crew who dealt with all the nautical aspects and a small group of RAF men who  dealt with the flying and maintenance of the balloon. Some aspects were overlapping and it seems the crews worked very well together as a team. Food was brought out to them by small boats and if the weather was very rough then they might not get fed for many hours.

German aircraft would try and drop sea-mines into the ocean in an attempt to sink shipping. In order for the mines to be most effective it was necessary for the German aircraft to fly very low. Using balloons as a defence was very effective as German aircraft found the targets they wanted to drop the mines in were well protected by balloons and they could not fly low enough to hit the target that they wanted to.

So estuaries and river mouths were often prime locations for the balloon vessels.

This is an interesting scale model of a balloon vessel being serviced by a tug. The tug is named "Cavalier" but I have failed to identify her. The balloon barrage vessel is 

named "BELLA" ?or "ELLA"?. Certainly the writing of the side of the vessel indicates: "BRAITHWAITE   XXX Ltd" and the number 34.

I cannot identify her either. This lovely model was sold at auction some years ago and to date no one knows what happened to it.

If anybody can help with the naming or history please contact me. The detail on the model is very good indeed, the winch for the balloon on the deck looks like it was 

the same as the winches used on the winch lorries. I would love to know more about these ships and the existence of the model.

 

There were four basic naval commands that controlled the ports and harbours around the British coast:
Going clockwise and starting at Hull, the ports and harbours went as follows Grimsby, 
NORE COMMAND:
Hull, Grimsby, Wells next the sea, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Ipswich, Felixstowe, Brightlingsea,Burnham. Southend,, Tilbury. London. Greenhithe, Cliffe, Chatham, Sheerness, Herne Bay.

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: 

DRIFTERS:

 CREAGH MHOR, EBOR JEWEL, GENERA, STUDENT PRINCE, WENGEN, Dutch CLEON, LIBERTY, TALONA, 
THORA.

BELGIAN MOTOR FISHING VESSELS:

ALEX GABRIELLE, JORDEANS.

BRITISH DUMB BARGES:

LEEDS LUMINARY, LEEDS METEOR, LEEDS POLAR, based at Humber.

KITE BALLOON SERVICING VESSEL:

 KILLINGHOLM at Humber.

Kite Balloon Vessels:

JOCKETTE II, PAPAKURA, WANDA, based at Felixstowe.

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: AT Felixstowe:

ABLETTE, CAROLE, CHARLES HUTSON, COSMIC, EDITH, EILEEN, ELECTION, ELSIE, ESTER, FELIX, HOOK, LESLIE WEST, ORWELL, STOUR , all at Felixstowe

LONDON:
BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS:
TUG GROVE PLACE at Barking Reach, 
DUMB BARGES A.3, A.4, A.5, G.2, G.3, G.4, AT BARKING REACH.
MARJORIE at West India Dock
SHEERNESS:
CHANNEL MOBILE BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS, BASED AT SHEERNESS, CONTROLLLED BY C IN C NORE:
BUNGAY, DEAL, HASLEMERE, ROEBUCK, SAMBUR.
BELGIAN ASTRAL.
FRENCH FRATTON, MAMMOUTH, PINGOUIN, PINTADE, BASED AT SHEERNESS.
BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: 
BOY SCOUT, BYNG, CITRON, COMELY BANK, CONSTANT HOPE, ELSIE AND NELLIE, EX FORTIS, GEORGE AND ALBERT, INVERUGIE, 
J T HENDRY, KIDDAW, MARINUS, OUR KATE, ROSE EMMA, TRIUMPH, YOUNG ALFRED, all at Sheerness,
BALLOON BARRAGE YACHT: MEDEA at Sheerness
 
BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: (Thames Estuary):
BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS:
ARROW, BETTY HUDSON, DOROTHEA, EILEENA, HELEN OF TROY, INNISSHANNON, JAMES M, KATHERINA, MARY III.
DUCH: RIAN, SAXON, SPARTON, BASED AT SHEERNESS, DUMB BARGES: SCOTT, WESTERN, BASED AT SHEERNESS.
SERVICING VESSELS: BRITISH QUEEN, DENTON, SEATOW, THE MILLER, WILFRED, all at Sheerness
 
MARK VI BALLLOON MAINTENANCE VESSELS: “A” Barge, “A2” Barge, both at Sheerness, CRETEACRE at Southend.
 DAPHNE, GOODWIN, HELEN BIRCH, all at Sheerness, PIPER II at Southend, SCROBY, VERA, both at Sheerness
DOVER COMMAND:
 Ramsgate, Dover,Folkestone.

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: 

BARGES ALPHEUS, HALCYON II, DUMB BARGES COUNT, LOODSMAN, MARQUIS, PREMIER.

SERVICING VESSEL: LILLY OF LAGUNA all at Dover

 

PORTSMOUTH COMMAND:
Newhaven, Shoreham, Littlehampton, Portsmouth,  Hamble and Warsash, Southampton, Lymington, Poole, Weymouth, Portland, Bridport.
On the Isle of Wight there was Cowes and Yarmouth, Yarmouth was home to the  Balloon Vessel - OMEGA at 

Yarmouth.

Kite Balloon Vessels :

 ALICE HAWTHORNE, BUCKLER, both at Portsmouth , DIANA at Hamble under repair, HILDEGARDE, KORTANEAR, both at Portsmouth

BELGIAN: ANNA LEOPOLD at Portsmouth

 

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: ANETTE, BASTELLE, COLLETTE, HUNT, KANTARRAH, PAM, SALADIN, YC.4, YC.396, all at Portsmouth .

TENDERS LORETTE, French PETREL IV, OWEN, REDSTART, VERONY II, all at Portsmouth

 

KITE BALLOON VESSELS: ALICE HAWTHORNE, BUCKLER, both at Portsmouth , DIANA at Hamble under repair, HILDEGARDE, KORTANEAR, both at Portsmouth .

BELGIAN} ANNA LEOPOLD at Portsmouth

 

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: ANETTE, BASTELLE, COLLETTE, HUNT, KANTARRAH, PAM, SALADIN, YC.4, YC.396, all at Portsmouth , tenders LORETTE,

 French PETREL IV, OWEN, REDSTART, VERONY II, all at Portsmouth

 

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS:

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS (MOBILE): ALITA, CARMENITA, DORITA, POLITA.

DUMB BARRAGES: ELING, FW.14, FW.15, TOTTON, WEATHERLAND, French HOPPER 26, HOPPER 63, servicing Craft BLACK BESS, GELYCE, 

GONDOLIER PRINCE, SKYLARK, French STIFF, all at Southampton

 Balloon Vessels - MARGO III at Portland , WAYFARER at Weymouth laid up, WEST WIND at Portland.



Plymouth Command
Exmouth, Teignmouth, Brixham, Dartmouth, Salcombe, Devonport, PLymouth, Fowey, Falmouth, Penzance, St. Ives, Padstow, Appledore and the Scilly Isles.

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: Trawlers - ALESSIE, BLACK JOKE, FORSETTI, MURIEL STEVENS, PAS DE LOUPE II, REVIVE, SNOWFINCH, VIGILANT, all at Plymouth , French MANOU at Plymouth

 (For more information on A Y Allssie follow the link :

Balloon Barrage Vessel A Y Alessie a short history

 

 

BALLOON BARRAGE TENDERS: J N R, LAZYBONES, both at Plymouth

 

KITE BALLOON VESSELS - EBLANA II, ELRAYDA, MANON II, ONWARD II, all at Plymouth

BALLOON SUPPLY SHIP:YOLANDE at Dartmouth

KITE BALLOON TRAWER: Belgian JEANNE D’ARC at Fowey

BALLOON BARRAGE VESSELS: DONALD & DORIS, EARL O’CAIRNS, EMILY BARRATT, KETCH, M A JAMES, MARGARET HOBLEY, PENRYN, PROGRESS, WELCOME.

BELGIAN: GENERAL LEMAN, all at Falmouth, British tenders BLYTHESWOOD, MABEL, SHEERNESS, TOP GALLANT, VITANAVIUS, WINIFRED, all at Falmouth.

BALLOON TENDER AND EXAMINATION SERVICE: miscellaneous ships CONSTANCE , FAMILY to be released, both at St Ives

 

 

 

This a Balloon Vessel, carefully examination of the picture gives her name as "HELEN BIRCH" based at Sheerness. If you look carefully at the flag, you will see some odd looking dots on the picture. These dots are in fact where the censor has attempted to mask out the superstructure of a large naval ship in the background.!! Presumably a destroyer? The sea-going vessels were formed in July 1940 and were based around the Sheerness area until 1943 until disbanded. You can see the flat area on deck where she would be close-hauled to the deck. From the picture I suspect that the balloon is undergoing gas topping up as the small top up pipe seems to be in use.

When flying, the balloon cable would be connected to an explosive link on the cable at the masthead. 

Balloon Floating over the water on 26th February 1940.

Balloon Floating over the water December 19th 1939.

The following ships were listed as ocean-going balloon vessels: This gives name, tonnage and when built along with fate in 1943 and thereafter.

In the National Archives is a document titled ADM208/3-The Red List (Minor War Vessels in Home Waters as of 4pm 15/09/1940)

This names the following vessels as being part of the barrage balloon vessels compliment at that point in the war..

Balloon Barrage Drifters (Sheerness)
Boy Scout, Carry on, Citron, Comely Bank, Constant Hope, Else and Nellie, Ex Fortis, George and Albert, Inverugie, JT Hendry, Kiddaw, Lavina L, Marinus, Newspray, Our Kate, Rose Emma, Triumph and Young Alfred
Drifter Attending Balloon Barrage
Byng

Balloon Barrage Drifters
Creagh Mhor, Ebor Jewel, Geneva, Wengam, Student Prince, Thora, Laeso, Herdis, Johanne, E.Laudland, Karen Marie and Johanne Margrethe

Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage Vessels:-Under operational orders of C in C Nore and based at Sheerness

Rene de Besnarais, Gatinis, Élan, Astral, Mamouth, Fratton and Pintade. All are French vessels.

                        Royal Navy Armed Boarding Vessel,HMS FRATTON in 1942. She was built by Henderson, Meadowside,as a cross channel steamer for the Southern Railway,completed 28/9/1925.

She was requisitioned by the Admiralty in August 1940 as a sea going Barrage Balloon Vessel, and was based at Sheerness.

Later transferred to the Examination Service as an Armed Boarding Vessel in 1943.

She was lost during the war as she was blown up by a manned torpedo off Normandy 18th August 1944.


Boom Defence Vessels
Buckingham, Caliban, Sarba, Thomas Connolly, Bownet

Other vessels have been named as time has gone on:
NAME                               Tonnage       Date Built         Fate after 1943

ASTRAL  (Ex-pilote 14)     451 tons and built 1930           1943 she was returned as a wreck locating vessel

BOREALIS (Ex-pilote 15)   451 tons and built 1930            Lost 10th August 1940

BUNGAY (Ex- Maidstone)  688 tons and built 1926            Returned 1943

DEAL                                691tons and built 1928            Returned 1943      

ELAN II                              Tug                                        Target service 1941

B16. FRATTON                 757 tons and built 1925            Examination service (1943) lost 18th August 1944

HASLEMERE                      756 tons and built 1925            Laid up 1943 returned 1945

MAMMOUTH                     954 tons and built 1918             Rescue Tug (1943)

PINGOUIN                         700 tons and built 1917             Tug - Target service 1943

PINTARD                          700 tons and built 1917             Tug - Target service 1943

RAMIER                           685 tons and built 1917              Tug - Salvage vessel 1943

RENE LE BESNERAIS         246 tons and built 1931              Tug - fate not known

ROEBUCK                        769 tons and built 1925              ROEBUCK II (1943)

SAMBUR                          769 tons and built 1925              TOREADOR (1942)

 

Other vessels would have been trawlers and drifters.

In June 1940 there were a vast number of ships in the various naval commands that were involved in Barrage Balloon work, below are a number of listings from Don Kindel and his Royal Naval Ships site.

http://www.naval-history.net/xDKWW2-4006-15RNHome3.htm#wac

Home Fleet - Northern Patrol - Orkneys & Shetland Command -  Rosyth Command

Barrage balloon trawlers - ten at Scapa Flow

Barrage balloon drifters - two at Rosyth

Balloon barrage drifters - five at Loch Alsh, three at Buckie fitting out, two at Peterhead fitting out, two at Fraserburgh fitting out

Barrage balloon drifters - three at Tyne

Nore Command

Grimsby and Humber area

Balloon barrage drifters - eleven at Grimsby, one at Humber

Thames and Medway

Balloon barrage drifters - 18 at Sheerness, one under repair 

Nore Command

- Dover Command - Portsmouth Command - Plymouth Command

Balloon Barrage Vessels - drifters CREAGH MHOR, EBOR JEWEL, GENERA, STUDENT PRINCE, WENGEN, Dutch CLEON, LIBERTY, TALONA, THORA,

Belgian motor fishing vessels ALEX GABRIELLE, JORDEANS, British dumb barges LEEDS LUMINARY, LEEDS METEOR, LEEDS POLAR, all at Humber

Kite Balloon Servicing Vessel - KILLINGHOLM at Humber 

Balloon Vessel - OMEGA at Yarmouth

Kite Balloon Vessels - JOCKETTE II, PAPAKURA, WANDA, all at Felixstowe

Based at Ipswich

Balloon Barrage Vessels - ABLETTE, CAROLE, CHARLES HUTSON, COSMIC, EDITH, EILEEN, ELECTION, ELSIE, ESTER, FELIX, HOOK, LESLIE WEST, ORWELL, STOUR, all at Felixstowe.

It should remembered that on D- Day 6th June 1944 vast numbers of vessels were equipped with balloons to reduce any threat of an air attack. They were sent on the channel crossing and had to wait offshore getting ready to unload their precious cargo on the Normandy shore still flying the balloon for protection. However a number of stories have surfaced where the captains decide to discard the balloon. This was because although it might have detered the Luftwaffe from bombing the ship, the balloon may have been a great target for the German rangefinders to locate and shell with accuracy. A number of ships were hit in this way. The captains obviously decided that they might fare better with no balloon and use every weapon they had to give the ship alternate air defence in the event of a Luftwaffe attack.