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History of No. 924 Balloon Barrage Squadron (East Lancashire) March 1938 to June 1940
This is the story, as much as my research permits, of the formation and exploits of No.924 Barrage Balloon Squadron. It was written by accessing, Squadron Diaries,
Newspaper reports, and a typed-up personal Diary and interview with “DW”, who had been a Balloon Operator in the Squadron during the war. His insight has been
invaluable. It should be born in mind that no account can ever tell us
exactly what happened during the fight against Nazi tyranny.
Early in 1938 the decision was made to form a Manchester Barrage Balloon Squadron. In February 1939 the Air Ministry was negotiating to purchase 100 acres of land
the Middleton area of Manchester. Much of the land was on Manchester Corporation
Water Works Department’s Bowlee Estate.
land was low-lying, level and open. It comprised one large farm and three other
Air Ministry proposal was to be discussed by Manchester’s General and
Parliamentary Committee on the 8th February 1939.
In March 1938 Mr. David Adams M.P., asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether appropriate schemes of balloon barrages are in existence for the
protection of industrial centres and populations on the North-East Coast?
Earl Winterton replied that the provision of balloon units for the protection of areas outside London was to be considered in the light of the experience gained in
the development of the London barrage. Until this stage had been reached it was premature to draw up detailed schemes for the protection of other areas, but the
subject was under active consideration.
Adams also asked if Winterton was aware that several months ago Adams had made an offer to the Air Ministry on behalf of a number of industrialists connected with
the Tyne-side Industrial Board stating that these industrialists were prepared to erect factories on the Tyneside at their own charge for the purpose of producing
balloon barrage plants, and that this offer was turned down on the
ground that it would be redundant?
dodged the question by restating that the matter would be considered in the
light of the experience gained in the development of the London barrage.
Mr. Lyons asked Winterton if any decision has been reached to open general recruiting for the balloon barrage section of the Auxiliary Air Force in all districts of the
Earl Winterton replied that it was hoped that the requisite personnel would be obtained in the localities closely concerned through the appropriate Territorial
Eckersley M.P., asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the House of
Commons whether he proposed to include the balloon barrage in the air defences
Mr. Eckersley M.P., asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the House of Commons whether he proposed to include the balloon barrage in the air defences
of the city of Manchester. Winterton again referred to the outcome of the London
barrage experiences as being the deciding factor at some point in the future.
Winterton told the House that it would interest the House to know that
recruiting of the
personnel for the balloon barrage were expected to start in May 1938 and he
hoped the response will be very considerable.
In June 1938 Mr. Dalton M.P., asked Sir Kingsley Wood whether he has examined the possibility of placing a balloon barrage along the whole length of the East Coast
of the country; and what would such a means of defence cost.
Sir Kingsley Wood stated that the desirability of extending the balloon barrage was receiving close attention in connection with a general review of methods of
defence against air attack. No estimate of the cost of placing a balloon barrage along the whole length of the East Coast of this country was available, and he
somewhat surprisingly added that the siting of a balloon barrage as suggested
would be an effective or economical use of this particular method of defence.
In July 1938 the vote was being taken in the House on approving the finances for military expenditure. Sir Kingsley Wood explained that the strength of the Royal
Air Force Reserve was to be increased from 31,000 to 50,000, and the strength of the Auxiliary Air Force from 9,500 to 11,500. In all, this will mean an increase of
some £430,000 costs to achieve this.
£9,000,000 of the finances was required for aircraft and balloons.
In November 1938 Sir Kingsley Wood told the House that the principle determining the expansion of the balloon defence system was primarily the protection of our
vital defence industries. It was not in the public interest for him to reveal where new balloon defences were to be located. He stated that balloon barrage depots
would probably be formed for the recruitment and training of auxiliary personnel in certain provincial towns, namely, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool,
Sheffield, Derby, Hull, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton, Glasgow and Cardiff. Because of this big expansion of the balloon barrage system, a separate Balloon
Command had been established. He expected a number of these defences in the provinces should be in operation next summer and all of them should be operating
by the end of 1939.
During 1938 newspaper articles stating “Man the Walls of Manchester. Defend your Home Town.” Appeared in the local press. This wetted the appetite of many who
could see that war was a real possibility. Recruitment meetings were held initially in many of the big firms and offices. These were addressed by a range of
well-spoken gentlemen who encouraged men to join up and it was these same
gentlemen who later became officers in the Manchester Balloon Barrage.
The resulting recruitment caused many men to join up and this resulted in an amazing cross-section from the city of Manchester and its suburbs. A few veterans of
the Great War were enrolled. The age range was from about 22 to 55. They were men from a mixture of working backgrounds. Clerks, Bus Drivers, Navvies,
Managers and bowler hatted
and umbrella carrying executives.
Men joined up, some had been in the Great War and had a degree of experience with balloons, others had no previous military experience. The so-called instructors
were men who had qualified as Balloon Operators at Cardington and had been posted down to pass on their experience. They had done little balloon flying and were
more versed in theory than practice. The men attended for lectures and some degree of drill at Chetham’s College one night a week. They did not have a balloon or
any other balloon equipment. Neither did they have any uniforms or weapons. Lectures were all theory. The one practical thing that they could do was to get to
grips with the various knots needed and to learn how to splice rope and wire cable. This was taught to a high standard by ex-Naval men many of whom had served
in the Great War.
Drills were taught by Drill Sergeant Sabin, a veteran who knew his stuff. The men had no uniforms and drilled in civilian clothes, using broom handles as rifles with
a few strutting around with old shotguns that were probably of more danger to the user than the intended target. One character in the squadron would always turn
up with his bowler hat, umbrella and a folded newspaper! He would march in step with his umbrella over his shoulder and somehow managed to keep possession of
his newspaper throughout the drills. He went on much later in the war to
become an Intelligence Officer.
The men were split up into four Flights. A, B,C, and D. Interestingly the men were allowed to form their own Balloon Crews which consisted of 10 men in each
crew. This meant there was a great deal
of camaraderie in each Crew.
On the 8th February it was announced that within a week the Manchester Balloon Barrage was to have a Headquarters at the old Manchester Grammar School in
Decorators and painters were finishing up at the school and telephone lines were being installed. The new Adjutant was Flight-Lieutenant J. M. Pye-Smith R.A.F.,
was already working from there. To date more than a 1,000 men and officers had
applied to join the Auxiliary Air Force’s No. 924 Barrage Balloon Squadron.
Squadron Leader Arthur Pearce Besley was Commanding Officer on 5th February. First to report was Flight-Lieutenant J. M. Pye-Smith who took up the post of
Adjutant on 6th February. He reported to the
Secretary of the East Lancashire Territorial Association.
town Centre were planning a big opening on the 14th March at the
On the 9th February Corporal Ryall (Medical), Leading Aircraftman Webster (Clerk), Aircraftman 2nd Class Rowel and Aircraftman 1st Class Peacock. (Equipment) all
reported for duty.
the 14th February the Lord Mayor of Manchester officially opened the
Headquarters of No.924 Squadron.
Present at the ceremony were Sir William Coates, Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes, Air Vice-Marshall Boyd, Brigadier Sutton, Group Captain Cook, Colonel Blatherwick,
Lord Colwyn and Mr Coles, Secretary
of the East Lancashire Territorial Association.
An inspection took place along with a luncheon.
February Sergeant Sabin reported for duty. He was a military veteran.
Secretary of the Ex-Airman’s Association inquired if ex-airmen could be used
as civilian clerks.
The first Officers Conference was held on 16th February. Squadron-Leader Besley, Flight-Lieutenant Pyne -Smith and seven Acting Pilot Officers, S.J. Palmer, W.
Gresty, M.C., C. Arnold, F.B. Holy, W.E. Ballard, R.C. Hawkins all
attended. These were to be the mainstay of the squadron.
of Chetham’s College
of the early meetings and training initially took place at Chetham’s College.
the 20th February recruiting had meant that 106 men were enrolled.
21st February a preliminary training syllabus was prepared, and 63 recruits were enrolled and a further 19 were enrolled two days later. They had no balloons or
winches, but the decision was made to deploy the crews to various sites around Manchester. Initially they were deployed to the Trafford Park area which included
the Manchester Docks. All most of them had was civilian clothes adorned
with the proverbial tin hat!
The crews were then given billets near each of these proposed sites. The billets chosen included schools, works canteens, and private houses. The Headquarters for
each Flight were in many cases a local pub!
February an instructional Balloon and technical kit arrived for air inflation
Sergeant Sabin went to Uxbridge on disciplinary course.
Squadron Leader Besley returned after a week’s course at Cardington. “A”
Flight began training.
men enrolled and training for the three flights “B”, “C”, “D” went
ahead and finished on the 9th..
The Air Ministry confirmed that a demonstration balloon would arrive on 19th
March. 22 men enrolled.
Pilot Officer Mason was approved. A recruiting meeting was held with the Lord
Mayor speaking at the Gaumont Theatre.
15th Squadron Leader Besley and Flight Lieutenant Pye-Smith inspected the site chose for the balloon demonstration at Hough End Field. A recruiting meeting was
with the Squadron Leader Besley speaking
at the Gaumont Theatre.
37 more men attested.
Flight Lieutenant Pye-Smith arranged a police presence at the demonstration
field for crowd control.
19th The demonstration balloon arrived and was taken to the field. It was flown on the 20th for 4 hours, but the demonstration was halted due to bad weather and
the balloon bedded down. It seemed to spur on men to join up.
27 men attested.
28 men attested. More training took place.
37 men attested.
March 1939 it was announced that No.924 Balloon Barrage Squadron had completed
its establishment of 328 men.
Equipment had begun arriving in dribs and drabs, large ground sheets, rolls of wire cable, 40lb sandbags, screw pickets, spades. eventually a mobile winch arrived in
the form of a six wheeled Fordson Sussex chassis with winch attached. At this stage, the lack of practical experience meant their teamwork was somewhat
it took the crew a full day to rig and inflate a balloon. By the time war was
declared they could achieve this in less than two hours even in the dark.
Balloon crew work was hard. The Balloon Crew was ten men and a Corporal but there was the impact of leave, sickness, courses, and duties at Headquarters that
affected the manning. Often there were less than ten men available to maintain the site, balloon, winch and other ancillary equipment. Twenty-four-hour Guard
impacted manning. Initially there were two on guard at nights, but this was not
sustainable as the crew began suffering with lack of sleep.
Sunday training took place all day and 349 were present for a parade.
A full day of training took place.
April Acting Pilot Officers Palmer, Dehn, Grest, Arnold, Hawkins, Balllard and
Holt were at Cardington for a one-week course.
At this time there was no such thing as a permanent circular balloon bed with a centre block upon which you could turn a balloon bow to the wind. The initial beds
were based on the shape of the balloon and the balloon was bedded using rows of screw pickets and lots of sandbags containing 40 lbs of sand which could be
wetted to add some weight. The balloon was drawn down from its position at the “coffee pot” using manual labour and a block and tackle to give the crew the
If the wind changed it was all hands out even those crew asleep were roused! The balloon had to be turned bow into the wind and the screw pickets and sandbags
repositioned. In high winds the balloon might be out of control and could sometimes lift the back wheels of the Sussex winch off the ground and drag it some
distance across the site. A somewhat unnerving experience for the poor winch driver inside the cage! The Star balloon bed was the next development which
April a Church Parade was held at Manchester cathedral. The squadron marched to
Albert Square and the Lord Mayor addressed them.
April Squadron Leader A.P. Besley
and Flight Lieutenant J. M. Pye-Smith inspected Bowlee. A full day of training
was carried out for “A” Flight.
majority of the squadron had never been to Bowlee and it was referred to as
“Wimpey Town”, after the contractors who won the contract to build it.
Corporal Allmark and A.C.1 Atkinson went to Cardington to collect the first
winch and arrived back at Manchester on the 3rd May.
A further full day of training “B” Flight.
Squadron Leader William Theodore Barnes took over command of No. 924 Squadron
Empire Air Day was to be held at Ringway on 20th May 1939 and a
balloon crew, winch, balloon and valise from No. 924 Squadron was authorised to
A full day of training for “C” Flight.
All officers to have a weekly lunch and discussion at the Mitre Hotel.
Winch and balloon crew at Ringway for Empire Air Day under Flight Lieutenant
Full day training for “D”
May to 5th June Training Area closed.
the ground was marked out an inspection and march past.
11th Inspection by Sir William Coates, Air Commodore Morton, and Squadron Leader Collins. 342 airmen paraded and marched past after inspection. A balloon was
inflated and squadron photographs taken.
Squadron Leader Barnes attended Cardington for a week’s course.
Gas lectures at Police Headquarters, Manchester for officers.
Acting Pilot Officers A.C. Neil and J.H.D. Marshal inspected Dunlop’s Balloon
Full Squadron training.
Squadron Leader Barnes inspected Dunlop’s Balloon Factory.
Squadron Leader Besley inspected Dunlop’s Balloon Factory. Squadron training
inspected by Air Commodore Morton and Squadron Leader Collins.
Leader Barnes showed a coloured cinefilm of the inspection and march-past held
on 11th June 1939.
The war sites for balloons were beginning to be decided on.
the rest of July all four Flights were paraded and trained.
to 17th all four Flights were paraded and trained.
The international situation had worsened, and it was felt that war was only a few days away. The entire squadron was less than 50% fully trained. On 23rd at 18.30
the entire squadron was called up on embodiment. All Airmen sent call-up notices. Those on leave were contacted by telegram or telephone. Arrangements were
made for arrival of the
airmen on the 24th.
from an establishment of 387, 349 airmen reported to No.10 Balloon Centre for
embodiment. 38 did not report.
25th a further 28 airmen reported for embodiment and 10 did not report. “D” Flight deployed 5 Balloon Crews with full equipment to sites 1-5, including Bulle Hill
Park. Airmen settled in billets.
26th “C” Flight Headquarters were at Buille Hill Park, Eccles Old Road, Pendleton. 5 crews were drawn from “C” Flight and deployed to sites 6,7,8,9,10. Airmen
settled into billets.
27th At 10.30 a church parade was held at Chethams Yard by the Arch Deacon of Manchester. at 15.30 the first balloon L.Z.C. 1941 was inflated by Flight Lieutenant
G.G. Simpson, present was Wing Commander A.P. Besley, Squadron leaders F. Robinson, and W. T. Barnes, Colonel Blatherwick, the Chief Constable of Salford, Major
Godfrey and the officers and men of No.924 Squadron.
28TH Of the 6 airmen still absent following embodiment notices, one airman was in hospital. Balloon Crews were deployed to sites 11 to 16. Balloons were inflated
on sites 2,4,6,8,15.
Squadron Headquarters deployed from Chethams to No.10 Centre Bowlee.
Three balloons were inflated on site 12.
airmen reported for embodiment.
War site 3 was declared unsuitable and all was transferred to site 17. Sites 16
and 17 balloons inflated.
16 balloons were flying. Lightning was seen and a Q.B.I. order (Quite Bloody
Impossible) was sent out all balloons lowered to 100 feet.
All balloons ordered to fly at 800 feet. At 11.00 hours War was declared
14 balloons flying at altitude.
At 20.00 hours Squadron Leader Barnes, W.G. Parker (Civ.Clerk), A.C.2. S.H. Yates, A.C.2. N. Davies, and 11 airmen sent to Salisbury Buildings, Trafford Road,
Salford to form Operational Headquarters.
Experiments were made at Buille Hill Park with screw picketing for close-haul of
12th All balloons flying. It was decided to synchronise all watches at Operational Headquarters and balloon sites. This was to ensure that all balloons sites could let
their balloons up at the same time.
An order was sent out to let balloons up on all sites to ceiling height at 10.00 hours. All Flights except “C” Flight reported balloons let up at the synchronised time
of 10.00 hours, “C” Flight reported their balloons were up
at 10.15 hours. This was done to find a way to get balloon crews to receive
instructions at the same time.
At Whalley Range Pendleton picketing trials continued and Corporal heron
devised a plan for positioning of the bow and stern picket screws.
Throughout September and October there was much routine balloon work with the crews learning about dealing with balloon damage, weather and general
teamwork of the
The Cooking Centres provided the first rations, and no complaints were received.
more practical lessons were learned with more experience in dealing with
potential breakaways and balloon salvage.
“A” Flight Headquarters was moved from Carborundum Works, Trafford Park to
141 Derbyshire Road, Stretford.
The Squadron headquarters deployed from No.10 Balloon Centre, Bowlee to
Salisbury Buildings, Trafford, Salford.
The winter of 1939 was bad, and it affected crews considerably. Trying to sleep in a billet with three blankets on a concrete floor was punishing along with the
two-hour on two-hour off Guard Duty. Winter Guard Duty
was not looked forward to and the crews had no weapons other than pickaxe
handles for defence.
Regular balloon flying was carried out and the Squadron had settled into an efficient routine. The so called “Works and Bricks” Department arrived and began
erecting wooden huts on balloon sites and straw palliasses were supplied for men
to sleep on.
25th At noon representatives from all four Flights and Squadron headquarters paraded at Buille Hill Park, Salford “C” Flight Headquarters to receive Wing
Commander A.P. Besley and presented a 1/10 scale model of a L.Z.C. balloon which had been made in training classes supervised by Corporal Allmark. At 13.00
hours the men received extra Christmas rations, cooking centres, nuts and billets visited by Squadron officers during the mid-day meal. All ranks were pleased with
rations and enjoyed a good Christmas dinner.
routine balloon flying took place with the Squadron getting more efficient by
6th There was a Wing Commander’s Conference held at 15.00 hours to select a Squadron for overseas service. It was decided to seek volunteers for overseas service
and signal the Commanding Officer of No.10 Balloon Centre with the outcome. At 17.00 hours overseas volunteer forms were sent out to each Flight Commander for
20.00 hours that evening the Flight Commanders returned the forms
and the final percentage of men from the Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons
13th Wing Commander A. P. Besley informed all personnel that No.924 Squadron, as a three Flight Squadron was to proceed overseas at an early date. Some men
commented that this news was not what they expected when they signed up to
“Defend the Walls of Manchester”!
It was so cold that all crews were issued with a rum ration.
party of men was sent to Cardington to collect heavy vehicles including Crossley
Six Wheelers. They drove back through heavy snow without too many issues.
Certificates of Service were issued by No. 10 Balloon Centre for airmen
volunteering for overseas service.
Wing Commander A.P. Besley ordered that No.924 Squadron should prepare a three
flight Squadron for overseas service.
23rd Provisional mobilisation orders issued to No.924 Squadron. “C” Flight was taken over by No. 926 Squadron. And “C” Flight returned to No.10 Balloon Centre
for medicals and re-kitting.
“B” Flight was taken over by No. 925 Squadron. And “B” Flight returned
to No.10 Balloon Centre for medicals and re-kitting.
An Advance Party of No.924 Squadron was readied for move off on 2nd
Orders were issued for equipping all personnel for overseas service.
Arrangements made for shipping of the Advance Party.
31st Further Movement Orders were received; the Main Body was ordered to parade at 15.00 hours. Squadron Orders were issued naming those Officers and Airmen
would form the Advance Party.
were given a three-day leave.
15th A Mechanical Transport Convoy left South Cerney and arrived at for Romsey. At Bowlee the Advance Rail Party consisting of one officer and 15 other ranks who
left Bowlee for Manchester London Road Station. At Bowlee a parade was held and at roll call there were five absentees. A rehearsal was held for the entrainment
parade scheduled for the next day.
18th A full Squadron Parade was held with 11 officers, 2 warrant officers, 8 sergeants, 31 corporals and 323 other ranks. All kit was loaded onto tenders. A Church
Parade took place in the N.A.F.F.I. The men were told by the Commanding Officer that their Squadron had the honour of being posted overseas but he did not say
where. Buses could not reach Bowlee due to ice and so men were marched 1 ½ miles to Middleton Road for buses. They were taken to the railway Station and
entrained. The full strength of the establishment was on board.
19th Arrived at Southampton and addressed by Air Vice-Marshall Boyd. Squadron boarded the Transport Ulster Princess. Sailed at 13.00 hours but held at Naval Boom
and anchored due to fog. The member of No.924 Squadron who back in the early days was seen with his bowler, umbrella and folded newspaper turned up with a
folding camp bed. He was told numerous times to throw it over the side but simply refused. Eventually the ship sailed in the early hours of the 21st. They arrived at
Le Havre at 09.30 hours. The food on board was awful.
Havre was the main Depot for the British Expeditionary Force and main Transit
Squadron disembarked having left Bowlee in the grip of winter and now marching through France in greatcoats with packs and kit bags in glorious sunshine. They
felt like wet rags as the moved along! They proceeded to billets organised by the Advance Party. “C” Flight was billeted in an office block. Beds were on the
concrete floor, two folded blankets on the floor and one blanket on top. The toilets soon got blocked and began flooding the sleeping area. This did not affect the
man with the camp bed!
Squadron headquarters was in the Place Hotel du Ville. This was fine for the officers with beds, hot and cold water and full service. A few days of drills and
marching about through the town. Equipment began arriving. To begin with ”C” Flight received sectional wooden huts and began erecting them. Next came the
Fordson Sussexes and winch along with balloons and hydrogen trailers. This meant the Squadron was soon operational. Beds were laid in the eight-star style and
central block, a telephone link up to Headquarters.
Renault garage occupied as inflation hangar and the first balloon was air
inflated and inspected. 25th The Squadron was soon operational. Beds
were laid in a modified eight star style and central block, a telephone link up
to Headquarters with a slit-trench and even an air-raid shelter.
The first balloon S.L.Z.C.1483 was
inflated in France.
14.30 hours on 26th February at Le Havre the first British balloon
was inflated and flown.
It is somewhat incredible to realise that the squadron had been sent overseas without the usual issuing of one rifle to each man but that was the case. This was due
to the lack of supplies. The reality was that, apart from Great War veterans, virtually nobody in the squadron had seen, let alone, fired a Lee- Enfield rifle!
Eventually each balloon site was issued with one rifle and ten rounds of ammunition. It was down to the veterans to teach the men how to load, fire, unload and
clean these rifles. They were intended for guard duty and the initial rule was that on changing the picquet the old guard unloaded the rifle and handed it with the
ten rounds to the new guard who then reloaded it. In practice this meant that often the old guard miscounted and left a bullet in the chamber. Some of these ended
up with a negligent discharge with a bullet skidding along the floor or even through the ceiling! To reduce the risk to the Flight the rules were changed, and it
ended up with the guard going around with the ten
rounds in their pocket and the rifle being carried around empty!
On 14th March in the early hours of the morning 90856 Pilot Officer Philip Sydney Pelham Morter fell from a window and was seriously injured. He was admitted to
Naval Hospital, Boulogne. He made a full recovery and went on to become an
were regular overflights by high flying German aircraft carrying out
At the end of March, the squadron had 19 balloons flying. There was even an opportunity to take leave. Names were drawn out of a hat and so a few went home and
then back to Le Havre, others went to Paris and got to see English soldiers play a Rugby match. Throughout April balloon flying took place and there were frequent
warnings of enemy aircraft. All personnel were issued with their own
rifle, bayonet and ammunition. This was reassuring for the morale of the men in
19th No. 1 Wing (Barrage Balloon) had been Headquartered at Amiens and turned up at No.924 Squadron. Enemy action had forced them to leave. At Le Havre the
first large scale enemy air raid took place. We had 22 balloons flying. The town of Le Havre had many incendiary bombs fall on the town. Some landed on balloon
sites and were quickly put out. The raid lasted 6 hours and the enemy failed to get through the balloons barrage aided by good anti-aircraft fire. A number of
balloons had gas purity issues due to poor fabric condition.
21st At 01.08 hours the Squadron received a coded signal dated 19th May ordering the Squadron to proceed immediately to Dunkerque and to be prepared to operate
the barrage there on arrival. Despite being a coded message, it sounded suspicious to the higher-ups and the decision was made to try and communicate with the
Headquarters R.A.F. to verify this order.
was decided to take no action and the message was sent to the Secretary of State
Later that day it was ordered by No.1 (BB) Wing to evacuate the squadron and to destroy all secret and confidential correspondence along with any equipment that
might be of use to the enemy. All balloons were to be secured to the central
anchorage and the cables cut. The winches were to be used for transport.
A conference was held at noon and the Contre-Amiral Commanding the Air Defences at Le Havre was told that only non-essential personnel would be evacuated.
the Squadron had hydrogen they would continue flying the balloons.
At 14.00 hours The Officer Commanding Havre Garrison informed the squadron that the whole of the garrison was evacuating, leaving just the anti-aircraft
No.924 Squadron was told to stand by for final evacuation orders.
14.30 hours No.1 Wing (BB) evacuated Le Havre and moved south of the River
Between 17.30 hours and midnight 200 non-essential personnel of No. 924 squadron under one Flying Officer and five Pilot Officers left Le Havre and crossed the
22nd A British aircraft crashed at Le Havre and six bodies had been found. These were from Wellington R3152 of no. 155 Squadron that crashed near Le Havre,
France, on 21st May 1940. The crew were Sergeant F. Williams, Sergeant F. A. G. Lowe, Aircraftman 2nd Class T. Kennedy, Leading Aircraftman H. G. Griffin,
2nd Class A Robinson and Pilot Officer D. W. W. Morris.
At 10.00 hours The commanders of the Havre Garrison were visited, and it was found that the mobile defences were to be evacuated immediately and any static
It is at this point that much indecision and reversal of strategic decisions was evident by both the French and the British. At 11.00 hours the Squadron had discussed
the situation with the Contre-Amiral Commanding the Le Havre Air Defences and it was decided to request that the evacuation from the Rouen Sud-Area be
cancelled. This was agreed to and the anti-aircraft defences of the town
remained intact. The entire Le Havre Garrison was recalled.
At 13.40 hours orders were received from No.1 (BB) Wing to evacuate 924 Squadron to Nantes. However, this would have been a blow to the morale of the civil
population (many of whom had packed their belongings and left the town). It was decided to countermand the order. This decision was justified because in a short
time everything was
calm in the town.
22.30 hours the first
vehicle from the hydrogen convoy arrived.
23rd The squadron now had plenty of hydrogen and balloons to maintain the barrage and more hydrogen was en-route. The Contre-Amiral promised that they would
supply the squadron with French hydrogen if needed. During an air-raid three balloons were holed by shrapnel and two others became unserviceable. However, a
of 19 balloons was maintained.
At 16.00 hours the 200 non-essential airmen who had been evacuated two days previously returned to Le Havre. Confusion reigned. A barrage of 19 balloons was
maintained at heights of
2,000 to 4,500 feet. The five remaining balloons were declared useless due to
25th At 10.00 hours the six British airmen from No. 155 Squadron who were killed were buried at the British cemetery Le Havre. The Squadron Chaplain conducted
the service along with the Commanding Officer, the Adjutant and 12 airmen of No.924 Squadron. A trumpeter from the French Marine Maritime sounded the last
29th The barrage had been maintained and at 10.00 hours an officer, Flight-Lieutenant A.J. Phillips, and 28 airmen left to form a Squadron Park south of the Seine.
(Known as No.924 Squadron, South Detachment).
A barrage of 21 balloons was maintained.
is at this stage that the squadron was split into two separate entities of men
from No.924 Barrage Balloon Squadron.
924 Barrage Balloon Squadron, The South Detachment.
Barrage Balloon Squadron.
of No.924 Barrage Balloon Squadron, The South Detachment. 30th May
1940 to 20th June 1940.
On the 30th the South Detachment was at Beuzville. Carte 102 was opened and the keys etc. were collected. The Mayor of Beuzville was told that No.924 Squadron
was taking over buildings and houses to form two camps.
31st May the South Detachment a convoy of stores from Le Havre
arrived and were stored away and tally cards made out.
convoys came on 1st and 2nd of June. Squadron Leader
Barnes agreed these should all go to No.1 Camp.
Pilot Officer de Gruchy and the Chaplain, Squadron Leader The
Rev. John Christopher Edward Reuss
arrived and settled into quarters.
5th Stores arrived from 43 Emile Zola, Le Havre together with surplus stores from each Flight. Surplus men from various Flights arrived bringing the strength up to
198 men. Camp No.2 was opened about 2 kilometers nearer Beuzeville on the
same road. Tents were erected and guards posted.
6th A telephone link with Le Havre was set up. Telephone number Le Havre (Military) 353. Squadron Leader Barnes visited South Detachment Camp. During the
night patrols tried to make contact with 5th columnists who had been shining lights, but no contact was made. Rations were drawn from Honfleur and 3,000 gallons
of petrol was collected as a reserve supply.
Hydrogen was collected from Lysium and was stored at No.1 Camp. A number of
officers from No.924 Squadron visited the camp.
9th At 09.00 hours telephone instructions were received (as well as by Despatch Rider) from Squadron Leader Barnes to inform that if communication was broken
between the Camp and Le Havre our destination was Nantes. On addition if the Squadron decamped to Nantes we were to place everybody under the orders of the
Officer Commanding Base Area at Fort Audenar. The telephone was severed at 10.00 hours and all reported to the Officer Commanding Base Area at Fort Audenar. A
was sent at 19.00 hours explaining that the Squadron had arranged to move on
secondary roads at 21.00 hours.
We off-loaded the empty hydrogen cylinders and placed boards on the gas trailers to make a flat area to carry equipment and airmen. We loaded 22 balloons and
equipment but no hydrogen.
At 20.00 hours Warrant Officers Bayley and Hood arrived at No.1 camp on motorcycles. They reported that Pilot Officer Bradshaw and Pilot Officer Hawkins were
coming to the Camp with
Our convoy was made up of two Crossleys each with two trailers and four winches each with one trailer, one 10 cwt Ford van. We set out on the road and waited
for Pilot Officer Bradshaw and Pilot Officer Hawkins. After we dispatched the two Crossleys and empty Crossley arrived. This was filled up with petrol and sent back
to the ferry to pick up the remaining airmen under the direction of the dispatch rider Aircraftman 1st Class Brayford. He was given our route and was told to rejoin
the convoy as soon as possible. This happened at Nantes, before departing all equipment was destroyed with the exception of anti-gas clothing. We left 300 gallons
of petrol and food for any troop that might need it.
travelled until 02.00 hours and 10 miles from Caen we stopped the convoy and I
went on ahead to Caen.
I was stopped by the Army and instructed to give my transport over to them. I returned to my convoy and turned left for Alencor, reaching there at 12.00 hours. We
had food just outside and made for De Mans. We branched off and headed for Chateau Fopteau reaching a point 7 miles this side of 21.00 hours where we camped
overnight on the roadside.
11th At 07.00 hours I instructed the convoy to make for Angiers and to take the Angiers-Nantes road and halted one kilometer from Nantes where we expected a
guide to meet us. I went ahead to Nantes and reported to No.21 A.D. and to Group Captain Carr, Officer Commanding No. 2 Base Area. We were instructed on how
to dispose of our equipment. All our equipment and transport were to be kept intact but under the care of Wing Commander Stater. The airmen were put into a
transit camp. Her we
met Warrant Officer Hart and thirty men from No. 924 Squadron who had arrived
the day before.
I reported to Group Captain Carr at “Diligence” and was instructed to fly
balloons at Nantes and to demand by telephone any extra equipment.
13th I went with Group Captain Carr to see General Dill Officer Commanding Nantes Area. We discussed the Balloon Barrage, and I was to have contacted the French
anti-aircraft at 14.30 hours later that day. However, at 14.15 hours I was called back to see Group Captain Carr. We were not to fly any barrage, but we were to
hold personnel in readiness for a return to England.
We waited in the transit camp, paraded and divided the squadron into Flights.
Flight under Pilot Officer Bradshaw.
Flight under Pilot Officer Hawkins and
was left of “C” Flight under Squadron Leader Reverend Reuss.
Officer de Gruchy was to look after all equipment, jobs and food.
15th We were instructed at 11.00 hours that we would depart by road for St. Nazaire. Loading began at 15.00 hours, we reached a point three kilometers from St.
Nazaire and camped for the night.
16th We left Camp at 10.10 and marched to the quay and arrived at noon. We embarked on a destroyer and then were transhipped to the Empress of York in
men were fed and settled down.
We left position of St. Nazaire at 01.30 hours
and had an air attack with bombs being dropped around the ship but sustained no
We arrived at Liverpool at 15.30 hours.
can now resume the story of the rest of No.924 Barrage Balloon Squadron
remaining in France.
Twenty-one balloons were
flying at 4,500 feet. A number of High Explosive and incendiary bombs fell on
Trefilleries Works, railway station and docks.
Flight Lieutenant Gresty M.C. of” C” Flight spotted a mine floating
in the sea and the French Naval authorities dealt with it.
3rd Signal lights at night were thought to be the work of Fifth Columnists. Reported that parachutists may have been dropped during the night to the south of
“C” Flight saw aircraft wreckage floating down the Seine. At 22.00 hours French batteries began firing at enemy aircraft. “C” site 11 reported bombs falling to the
North edge of the site. Three bombs fell into the sea. “B” Flight reported that an oil dump was ablaze on Petrol Island and enemy aircraft had machine gunned the
winch and the hut. An unexploded bomb was on the site. Bombs fell on Petrol Island. Fuel tanks were ablaze on Petrol Island. Telephone contact with “C” 1 site
lost. Two men sent from “C” 2 site to make contact with “C” 1 site. At 22.52 hours Pilot Officer Collins proceeded from “C” Flight Headquarters along the railway
line to C.1 site and repaired the telephone line. They displayed great courage in tracing telephone lines near burning oil tanks and repairing them under intense
enemy activity. At 23.03 hours Flight Lieutenant Gresty M.C., asked for a boat to go to Petrol Island to check on sites’ “C” 1 and 2. Flight Lieutenant Marshall and
the Medical Officer
Hoff went by boat and found all was well. There were several bomb craters and
two tanks ablaze.
hours Three heavy
bombs on Caserne Kleber. One hundred injured and sixty AMP killed.
4TH “C” 1 site was evacuated along with British Anti-aircraft gun position and French listening post. Air raid ended at 02.35 hours. Twenty balloons were flying at
3,000 feet. One balloon deflated for lack
hours Four men serving
detention at Caserne Kleber were released after last night’s bombing.
Lieutenant bringing balloon up from South Detachment.
balloons flying at 4,500 feet.
hours Balloon inflated
on new railway line flown at 4,500 feet.
hours High Explosive
bomb fell near “B” 6 site at aircraft hangar.
hours “D” 10 site
reported Cotton warehouse ablaze.
hours “C” 13 site
had balloon shot down.
Bomb fell one hundred yards from “C” 3 site and cut telephone cable.
hours “D” Flight
reported balloon at “D” 15 site holed by enemy action.
hours Enemy aircraft
hours all balloons to
fly at 3,000 feet.
hours No telephone
contact with “C” 13 site, “C” 3 site and “C” 23 site. D.R. sent to
20 hours balloons
flying at 3,000 feet.
hours Balloons to be
flown in or below the smoke pall not above.
6th 10.40 hours Commanding Officer with Pilot Officer Taylor proceeded to British Air Forces in France (B.A.F.F.) to obtain instructions. Flight Lieutenant Palmer
command. Twenty-one balloons at 3,000 feet.
balloons flying at 4,500 feet.
hours “C” Flight
reported floating mine.
Barrage of 22 balloons at 1500 feet as ordered by Port Admiral.
hours Balloons flown
at 3,000 feet.
hours Large formation of enemy aircraft over Fort St. Adresse Barrage flown at
Messerschmitts over Le Havre
flown at 4,500 feet or below cloud level. Commanding Officer and Pilot Officer
returned from B.A.F.F.
17.20 hours Commanding Officer sent message to all Flights. “Definite instructions will be given to all guards NOT repeat NOT to shoot at suspicious individuals
unless and until
all other methods of questioning or apprehending the suspect person fail.”
crashed two miles north of Bolbec. Informed SquadronLeader Brown. Pilot and crew
hours Gunfire at enemy
aircraft over Le Havre.
office windows blown in by bomb blast. No casulaties.
hours “C” 1 site
reported stick of eight bombs dropped close to site
23.00 hours Three High Explosive bombs dropped on railway line at Petrol Island near “C” Flight Headquarters. Damage to Transport Shed and Officers’ quarters but
hours Rifle fire from
00.45 hours Bomb
dropped near “C” 2 site. The water main to site cut off due to bomb damage.
Officer ordered maximum height of twenty-one balloons to be 3,000 feet.
Officer at Garrison Headquarters conference.
Lieutenant Palmer ordered all balloons to fly at 4,500 feet due to air raid
Officer conference at 79th Anti-aircraft Headquarters.
hours to 17.55 hours
Eighteen balloons flying.
hours Sergeant Sim
reported that a Blenheim had made forced landing at Beauville.
balloons at 4,500 feet
hours Gunfire heard.
“C” Flight reported “C” 1 site, “C” 2 site, and “C” 13 site have
no telephones. Large fire “C” site 11. No casualties.
Cuthbert reported low flying enemy aircraft dropped large salvo of bombs near
“C” 2 site.
9th 03.00 hours “B” Flight reported that sentry had shot a civilian on “B” 5 site. He had challenged him three times. Medical Officer sent for, but civilian died.
Gendarmerie took charge of body. We did not have a name.
hours Balloons at
3,000 feet with heavy smoke pall. Oil refineries set on fire by demolition party
at Port St. Jerome.
instructed to keep balloons below smoke cloud.
hours “B” 7 site
balloon damaged by shell fire and bedded for repairs.
11.30 hours “B” 9 site balloon deflated. Signal received from Eagle instructing squadron not to move from Le Havre until other Anti-aircraft units move. The
alternative location was
Anti-aircraft unit had orders to evacuate all mobile guns and to destroy static
guns during the day.
Officer ordered balloons to be flown just in smoke pall when air raid warnings
balloons flying just in some cloud.
hours Enemy aircraft
still over Le Havre
Officer rang up from 79th Anti-aircraft unit and ordered all balloons
to fly as high as possible under smoke cloud.
hours “B” 7 site balloon deflated at 1600. Much enemy action All oil tanks
on petrol Island on fire. Heavy smoke pall over Le Havre.
“B” 5 site reported balloon hold by enemy action. Bedded down
Officer ordered all balloon hauled down to 3,000 feet and to top up balloons
08.10 hours “C” Flight reported all balloons at 3,000 feet with the exception of “C” 1 site and “C” 2 site balloons which had been tied off at 4,500 feet due to
caused by burning oil tanks.
order to fly all balloons at 4,500 feet.
hours “C” Flight
reported “C” 12 site and “C” 13 site at 4,500 feet. These sights had
lost telephone contact due to enemy action.
hours All Flights
ordered by Commanding Officer to fully equip in billets.
hours “B” Flight
reported that “B” 5 site balloon broken away when being tied off.
hours “C” 23 site
balloon tied off and cable cut from winch.
15.10 hours Operational order No. B.V. 3 received from Commanding Officer at Havre Garrison giving code word “ATTACK” indicating that the town was in
imminent danger of attack by
the enemy land forces.
order No. B.V.3 acknowledged.
hours All watches
16.30 hours Adjutant was ordered to proceed to Quai Floride and take over command of Pilot Officers Carroll, Phillips and Kelly and eighty other ranks in order to
embark on Laird
of the Isles.
17.00 hours Medical Officer Flight Lieutenant Roff proceeded with two Nursing Orderlies to Quai Floride to establish Dressing Station on the East end of the Quai in
a half Nissen hut.
hours “C” sites
11, 1 and 23 reported balloons shot down by enemy aircraft.
Port St. Adresse enquired how many balloons were shot down and were
we able to replace.
answer was negative.
18.30 hours Flight Lieutenant Roff being the only Medical Officer on Quai Floride supervised the embarkation of a number of wounded personnel arriving from the
ambulances to the Quai. Air Force personnel acted as stretcher bearers.
18.35 hours Havre garrison instructed that all Flights should return from Quai Floride to Flights. Rhis order was not carried out as the Commanding Officer did not
advisable to leave Quai Floride in view of the difficulty of using the dock
bridges which were being subjected to regular bombing attacks.
hours “D” 14 and
19 site balloons badly holed by enemy action.
hours Fifteen balloons
flying reported to Port St. Adresse.
hours All transport
that had taken the first party to Quai Floride returned safely over the bridges
from Quai Floride.
hours All sites were
to ring the Commanding Officer at 31 Rue Tourneville every ten minutes to ensure
communications were intact.
hours Phone Garrison
Headquarters to ensure communication was intact.
hours Bombs dropped
around Officer’s Mess at Rue Tourneville. Only glass damage.
hours “D” 16 site
balloon shot down. Bombs fell near “D” 20 site but no casualties.
Enemy aircraft were over Le Havre and bombing continuously in waves from 2230 to 0430 on the 11th. Town, Bridges and Quais bombed. Heavy smoke pall and the
town lit up by burning oil on Petrol Island.
23.30 hours Flight Lieutenant Roff attended non-Air Force casualties from enemy attack on Quai Floride and on returning to Dressing Station found it completely
demolished by a
Telephoned Military Exchange to ensure lines were intact.
balloons flying below smoke pall. Informed Port St. Adresse
hours Enemy began
attacking again. No communication with “C” 12, 13 and 23 sites. All these
balloons tied off and winches removed.
hours Last reserve
balloon inflated using the last trailer of hydrogen on “D” 16 site during
enemy attack. Flown at 4,500 feet.
09.10 hours “B” 6 site balloon tied off. “C” 1, 2, 3, 4, 11, 13, and X site balloons tied off. The Dike from which balloon X had been flying from a railway truck was
blown up by two bombs. “D” 15 site balloon tied off. Many bombs falling around “C” Flight headquarters. Much damage but no casualties. Contacted Havre Garrison
Port St. Adresse by telephone to check on communications.
13.15 hours Fourteen balloons flying.
14.40 hours Code “AFRICA” received. Many enemy tanks coming from Pec
towards Le Havre.
14.50. hours Commanding Officer ordered plugin switch board to Military Exchange and then proceed with Headquarter’s personnel to “C” Flight Headquarters on
17.10 hours Squadron Headquarters established at “C” Flight
Headquarters on Mole CentraleCommunication with Garrison and Port St. Adresse
hours Ten balloons
shot down by enemy aircraft.
19.00 hours to 20.00 hours During the late afternoon and evening the crews for sites reported at Quai Floride and embarked on S.S. Vienna joining the party under
J.M. Pye-Smith which had left for Quai Floride on 10th June.
23.00 hours S.S. Vienna sailed from Quai Floride with 17 officers, 207 other ranks. Commanding Officer was Officer Commanding Ship- Flight Lieutenant Pye-Smith
ship’s adjutant. There were 1069 troops on board. Five Bren guns were mounted forward and aft and two Lewis guns provide by the Army. Before sailing we had a
signal at around
“To 924 Squadron R.A.F. from Havre Garrison. Dispatch all personnel not, repeat not, actually required for defence to Quai Escale for embarkation at once. Make
duplicate nominal roll and dispose one to Embarkation Staff Officer (E.S.O.)
here and second to E.S.O. to at Port of disembarkation”.
three enemy aircraft attacked the ship by trying to bomb it and machine gun it.
We replied with machine gun fire.
hours Rained heavily,
and enemy aircraft disappeared.
hours another aircraft
was sighted, and we fired at it but it did not attack.
hours We arrived at
Cherbourg and anchored in the Harbour.
hours After almost
four hours at anchor the ship berthed at Quai.
hours Men and officers
disembarked. Proceed to “D” Transit camp for a meal.
hours Returned to Quai
20.00 hours Squadron marched off by Flights to “D” Transit Camp. “B” Flight was 51 men, “C” Flight was 79 men, “D” Flight was 54 men. Headquarters Flight was
All officers billeted at “B” Transit Camp. Heavy gunfire and explosions
heard on and off during the night.
Remained all day at Cherbourg.
hours Squadron paraded
and marched to Quai Maritime. Kit was sent in lorries provided by Port
Embarked on S.S. St. Seriol.
10.55 hours Left Cherbourg. Commanding Officer and senior Officers lunched with Contre-Amiral Slaton on board ship as he was going to have a conference with
Commander in Chief at
hours Train left for
Cardington. All ranks given tea at Basingstoke
01.15 hours Arrived Cardington Station. Men accommodated for the night in No.1 Hangar. Hot meal ready for men on arrival. During the day all men were re kitted
out and were given five days leave. Men were paid. Handed in all rifles and ammunition. All Officers proceeded on five days leave with the exception of the
Officer and the Adjutant.
16th 08.00 hours Paraded and at 09.00 hours proceeded by bus to Cardington Station. Boarded 09.40 hours train to Manchester which had been given reserve
seen off by Commanding Officer.
Commanding Officer proceeded on leave.
This ended the squadron’s baptism of fire in France. They had carried out the balloon defence of Le Havre with incredible skill despite the constant attacks of the
was back home to friends and family in Manchester and await further orders.
That ends the official story of their origin and of their time in France, but I have a second source, a No.924 Barrage Balloon Squadron Operator under the name
“DW” who wrote a personal memoir of his time with the squadron and their
work in France.
Personal Memoir of “DW”
have drawn on this memoir in the early part of this history of No.924 squadron
and now take up the story in France.
A personal communication from D.W., a balloon operator, from part of “C” Flight, described the next 8 hours from around the 7th June 1940 as “hectic”. Balloons
were left flying at maximum height and were affixed to the central anchorage using a wooden carpenter’s stopper and the cable cut. DW and crew emptied the
winch of balloon equipment, and the lockers were filled
with tins of petrol, water and food rations.
DW and crew left Le Havre, there was very little traffic, just the odd tank dug in and the odd machine gun nest. DW and crew took the main road to Paris and then
at Harfleur made for Tarncarville. It was decided to cross the Seine using the ferry at Quillebeuf. As the DW and crew moved through the streets the French were
furious and spat into the gutter, believing that they were being left to
face the Germans on their own.
In typical French fashion it was lunchtime, and the ferry did not move for two hours. DW and crew were sitting ducks to German air attack, luckily no attacks were
Over the Seine DW and the crew travelled on and stopped overnight in a wood. The night was uneventful. In the morning DW and crew were ordered to retrace
their steps back to Le Havre for some unknown reason. On the return journey DW noted they were met with smiles from the French, with flowers and even a few
DW and crew arrived back at Le Havre he found that in his absence the Navy demolition squads had been busy blowing up Port installations and setting fire to oil
storage tanks. At Le Havre DW recovered their balloon and re-attached it to the winch. It was covered in smoke and tar due to the fires blazing away. It was topped
up and let up to maximum height. DW noted that the smoke made day
seem like night.
DW watched the demolition squads merrily blowing up anything that might be of use to the Germans. Warehouses with the B.E.F. reserve stocks were full. “C”
Flight sent men into the warehouse to take materials and supplies before they were blown up. DW said it was a perverse luxury, large packing cases of cigarettes,
and tinned food were eagerly opened. DW said he could take one cigarette out of a packet and throw 19 away with no remorse, they had so many! There were cases
of crockery and if you drank a cup of tea, DW would throw the cup on the pile of debris building up on the site. Next to the site was a house that was home to the
keeper of the railway crossing. The keeper had supplied the balloon site with eggs and to try and recompense him for this DW left loads of tinned foods from the
BEF warehouses for him.
DW stated that one of the last acts for the demolition crews was to blow up the dock gates and the bridges that lead to the dock area from Le Havre. Once done Le
Havre was somewhat cut off. Just before that was done a detachment of the Highland 51st Infantry Division arrived in bad shape and managed to get across the
bridge to Le Havre.
DW stated that within a week they were told that they would be evacuated by sea, and they had to destroy everything that might be of use to the Germans. The
balloons were once again affixed to the central anchorage with carpenters’ stoppers and the cable to the winch cut. Vehicles were driven into the docks; other
vehicles were drained of oil and set at full throttle with a large stone until they seized up and then set on fire. All huts were set on fire and all the radio sets
smashed with rifle butts.
11th June After dusk DW left Le Havre for the embarkation point and watched the Navy blowing up things not so far away. DW walked past between 200 and 300
Studebaker lorries that had been on the dock for months. They had been intended for Norway but that never went ahead. DW never knew if the lorries were ever
At the embarkation point there was an air raid but luckily, the waiting personnel were relatively unharmed. The Highland 51st Infantry Division got their wounded
on board the S.S. Vienna and “C” Flight embarked onto the ship. The ship was a mixture of personnel, from many diverse units. DW embarked and was given a
lifebelt and was directed below decks there he saw a multitude of dead beat men everywhere. DW had a fear of being trapped below decks in a sinking ship. Not
liking being below decks DW returned to the upper deck via a
They sailed on the 11th June at 23.00 hours and as they got under way there was an air raid and at the bows of the ship DW had a grandstand view of smoke, flares
and tracer fire like shooting stars filled the sky. DW hoped he would wake up at Southampton and when he awoke, they were docking at Cherbourg! DW and crew
were disembarked and marched into the town and the French were delighted. The French thought these were reinforcement from England as they carried full kit
and rifles. DW marched into a transit camp of bell tents with cooking pots full of Maconachie stew which DW and crew devoured with glee. Next day DW saw
remnants of the Highland 51st Infantry Division limping into the transit camp. DW said the sight of the R.A.F. gave a fresh life to the exhausted Highland 51st
Division, sufficient to rattle their rifle bolts and point them at the R.A.F.
asking where the R.A.F. had been over the last two weeks!
DW had been paid on leaving Le Havre and the Highland 51st Infantry Division had not been paid for three weeks so were flat broke. A brisk trade in cap badges,
German helmets etc. took place giving a redistribution of wealth to the Highland 51st Infantry Division. The next day DW and the Highland 51st Infantry Division
marched back to Cherbourg; the French inhabitants gave no cheers to the men only
On 12th June at 12.35 hours, they boarded the S.S. St. Seriol built in 1931 and DW recognized it as a holiday boat he had been on when it had plied in peacetime
between Llandudno and Liverpool as well as the Isle of Man. DW commented that the ship “was a bit bent”. The boat was battered and DW was concerned to see
sailors mixing concrete on deck and taking it down
to repair a crack somewhere down below!
DW was handed a life jacket and told that if he took it off, he was on a charge and that he should undo his shoelaces in case they went into the water. DW was sent
down below but quickly found his way back up.
On the 14th June at 17.45 hours, they disembarked at Southampton and then entrained a special train to Cardington. DW was amazed to see hundreds of British
people cheering them on as if they had won a victory over in France
whereas they had suffered a great defeat.
remembered the terrible smell of body odour that came from the men and the
delicious sandwiches given out at various railway station stops.
Cardington DW and crew were fed and caught up on their sleep. The next day was
hot showers all round, new uniforms and five days leave.
DW was able to add much more detail to the historic moment when for the first time an operational balloon squadron had brought down an enemy bomber and I
added this below.
First German Aircraft Brought Down by a Barrage Balloon Squadron in France.
On 1st June 1940. No. 924 Squadron was under continuous enemy attack at Le Havre. There was regular bombing of the area. Balloons continued to be flown. The
area that was known as the “mole” was joined to the main dock area of Le Havre by a narrow causeway along which ran a single railway line. For some days
members of the squadron had noted that one particular Heinkel bomber would fly a regular path at about 500 feet over the Seine and then over the nearby
causeway and along a stretch of water between what was known as the “mole” and the main docks and then straight out through the mouth of the harbour. He
regularly strafed the area. As it had become a regular route it was
clear that the Pilot had figured out that there were no balloons in that area.
On the 3rd June it was expected that the German would make his fourth sortie along the same exact route, fiendish minds in No.924 Squadron began to formulate a
plan. The Flight Commander commandeered a railway wagon and had it filled with stone ballast. Just before dusk a spare balloon was flown to about 4,500 feet
from the Crossley winch. Next the cable was fastened to the wagon by use of a wooden block known as a carpenters stopper and cut from the winch. Next the
wagon was pushed into the middle of the causeway and the crew simply waited. After midnight on the 4th June they heard the familiar noise of an approaching
Heinkel. True to form the pilot flew straight and true along his familiar “safe” route. He hit the cable. Aircraftmen First Class, 857293 William A. Jackson and
857448 William Leslie Chorlton made a statement on
6th June 1940.
At approximately 00.01 hours on 4th June 1940, we both heard a plane approaching in a power dive towards our site from the direction of Flight Headquarters
which is East of C.5. As it reached us we watched it pass over in a Westerly direction and Aircraftman Class 1 Chorlton explained that we had got the b*s*a*d*. This
exclamation was caused by both of us seeing a cone-shaped flash in the sky and hearing the engines of the plane cut out. The flash became a black streak, which
seemed to vanish into the sea.
We immediately examined the cable and found that it was lying along the site in a Westerly direction over the “mole”, and on further examination arrived at a
point where it entered the sea. We immediately reported this to the Flight
Commander giving him the above
This incident was also witnessed by observers on the Transatlantique Tower who wrote to Squadron Leader W. T. Barnes to confirm that the French observers
Site C.3 had been brought down by the actions of “C” Flight which was
protecting the docks at La Gare Transatlantique.
Copyright Peter Garwood 2023
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