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Some Obscure Balloon Units
“A” Balloon Unit Norwich
This was formed at 65 Thorpe Road, Norwich on 14th September 1942.
It was taken over from “B” Flight 993 Squadron who vacated all sites on 12th September 1942 and proceeded to Ipswich. The unit was
designed to create the illusion to both German aircrews and the British public that there were many more balloon barrages deployed
than the ones in the area. This was achieved using dummy balloons along with normal balloons Special balloons known as Salaam balloons
were employed by the unit and simply air inflated. The sites selected were those that were easily seen from the air and at the perimeter
of the barrage so that these balloons would show up more easily against the existing fields. A number were placed in busy areas where
they could be seen by the local population. The balloons were left unattended and were serviced by a crew of mobile operators to maintain
them. Each dummy barrage was run by one Flying Officer, two corporals and eleven operators. They used petrol air blowers to inflate the
balloons. Thirty balloons were inflated. Balloon Command installed a “Squeaker” unit on 17th September 1942 to give more credence to the
existence of a real barrage. Several variations to the mooring of balloons out of the wind were implemented. The unit Headquarters were
moved to 59 Bracondale Road on 26th September 1942. On 3rd November 1942 ten LZ balloons were sent to another unusual balloon
unit: “E” Balloon Unit at Ipswich. During their time there several balloons were deliberately damaged, and much police work was carried
out to catch the saboteur(s) with no success. This was mainly in areas where the public could see them and the fact that they were unattended.
It is likely that some damage was caused by children who saw these unattended balloons as a form of plaything and damaged them.
“E” Balloon Unit Ipswich
This was formed on 1st December 1942. Again, there were balloons filled with air placed at various places. On 2nd December 1942, Ipswich police
reported a balloon with a 10-inch tear. It was inconclusive as to how the damage was caused and an initial view was that it had been overinflated,
hindsight suggests it was actually the work of saboteurs. On 6th December 1942 Civil Defence exercises took place over Ipswich. R.A.F. aircraft took
part in the mock attacks over Ipswich “E” Balloon Unit was not involved in the exercises and carried on with their dummy balloon work. One amusing
incident was when Sergeant Lowry, in uniform, driving a official R.A. F. vehicle tried to enter Ipswich docks and was arrested at gunpoint as a suspect
“fifth columnist”, because the work of “E” Balloon Unit was being kept under wraps and those at the gate were not briefed on the work of the Unit.
He was released and allowed to enter the docks after a short while.
On 11th December Ipswich police notified the Unit that the balloon on the site at Westerfield Road was deflating. It was suggested that a co had punctured
the balloon with its horns, but further reflection indicated that it too as sabotage. On 13th December 1942 Ipswich police reported that there as a balloon
at Gippeswyk Park had been deflated. It was found that the inflation sleeve had been untied. It was thought that children caused this.
On 19th December 1942 various tests were carried out on the signal emitted by the Squeaker units all of which were satisfactory.
On Boxing Day 1942 Ipswich police reported that a balloon at Cox Lane was deflated after it had been sabotaged. It was suggested that a group of celebrating
sailors had caused this but there was no proof. All entries for the Unit ceased at midnight 31st December 1942.
It is likely that the damage was in fact caused by saboteurs who were sympathetic with the German cause.
The Dartmouth Balloon Detachment
This was formed at No.13 Balloon Centre on the 14th February 1943. In Command was Flight Lieutenant R. H. Havart. The other ranks were two
N.C.O.’S, four Corporals, and sixteen airmen. They had been trained at Chessington in the use of Mark VI Balloons. The role of the unit was to carry
out experiments to see if:
a) An effective barrage could be deployed with the Mark VI balloons sited within 200 yards of existing Local Anti-aircraft gun sites.
b) Anti-aircraft personnel could be trained to handle only, or to handle and maintain the balloons.
On deployment at Dartmouth the barrage would be run by the R.A.F. crew and at some point, begin training the Anti-aircraft personnel. The balloons
would be flown at 1000 feet in daylight only. The scheme was approved by Major-General Reynolds in charge of the Anti-aircraft Battery. In addition,
the Naval Officer at Dartmouth was informed of the plan and the possibility of flying Mark VI balloons from naval vessels and their being maintained by
the navy. The balloons and hydrogen on February 18th, 1943 were deployed on the West side of the river Dart by Flight Lieutenant LeMarchant. On the
East side of the river the hydrogen and balloons were deployed by Flight Lieutenant Kellock. The crews were given tented accommodation.
A headquarters was set up at 58th Battery, Ridgeway, Ridge Hill, Dartmouth. Telephone connections were set up to No.13 Balloon Centre and the Naval
Plotting Room. The so called “Bobbie Barrage” was operational on 20th February 1943.
The initial 12 balloons were unmanned on hand winches and the crew was a mobile one and went around the sites by Military Transport.
On February 26th, 1943, 58th Anti-aircraft Battery was replaced by 200th Anti-aircraft Battery. Huts arrived to replace tents on 28th February 1943.
Throughout early March many balloons were lost in gales. In April the weather worsened, and the gales caused the loss of many balloons along with the
uprooting of eight hand winches. On April 7th a Wickham winch arrived enabling balloons to be powered winched rather than hand winched. On 9th April
the hand winches were re-picketed on fresh patches of ground. A second Wickham winch was delivered on 11th April. The Unit took over a petrol pump at
the garage of Couch and Stoneman, Dartmouth. A third Wickham winch arrived on the 20th April. Two Caravans were delivered for airmen to sleep in. In
early May many balloons were lost, and many were bedded down.
On May 17th, 1943 the barrage ceased to be experimental, and the Anti-aircraft had no further control over the balloon detachment. From June to October
routine flying took place and despite many balloon losses and severe weather the Detachment provided good protection on both sides of the river.
On November 1st, 1943 the Detachment was amalgamated with Dartmouth Shore Servicing Station to form “D” Flight 934 Squadron. For the men in the
Dartmouth Balloon Detachment the experience on the windswept areas of Dartmouth was one in which they persevered day after day with balloon losses
being a regular event. After November the detachment was part of 934 Squadron.
Peter Garwood April 2019
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