This "first look" style review is of Battlefleet Models accessory kit, "Observation/Barrage Balloon" trio of resin aftermarket additions for your next WWII diorama scene.
The barrage balloon was simply a bag of lighter-than-air gas, attached to a steel cable, anchored to the ground, or other apparatus. The balloon could be raised or lowered to the desired altitude by means of a winch. Its purpose was to deny low-level airspace to enemy aircraft.
This simple mission provided three major benefits:
1.) It forced aircraft to higher altitudes, thereby decreasing surprise and bombing accuracy
2.) It enhanced ground-based air defenses, and the ability of fighters to acquire targets, since intruding aircraft were limited in altitudes and direction
3.) The cable presented a definite mental and material hazard to pilots.
Mindful of these capabilities, the British saw the barrage balloon as a viable means to counter low-level attackers during the world wars.
During the last years of World War I, the British employed the barrage balloon in response to attacks by German Gotha bombers on London. The success of the barrage balloon in the First World War paved the way for its use in the Second. This time, however, instead of a mere handful, thousands of balloons dotted the British skies. Again, the balloons provided a partial solution in countering fast, low-flying German bombers and fighters and in protecting key installations.
The British belief in an integrated air defense system meant using every viable air defense weapon for self-protection - a combination that included the principal means of fighters, antiaircraft artillery, and balloons. The only modification in balloon usage from World War I concerned the apron concept (more than one stuck on balloon). Instead, single balloons were used because they could be sent aloft more quickly and were easier to operate. Thus, in 1936 with war clouds darkening the horizons, the Committee of Imperial Defense authorized an initial barrage of 450 balloons for the protection of London.
With the capital securely covered, barrage balloons also flew at fleet anchorages and harbors in threatened areas. Although airfields also requested them during the early months of the war, the balloons were not available because of slow production and losses due to combat and bad weather. However, thanks to a new balloon plant, the barrage system had 2,368 balloons by the end of August 1940 and would maintain approximately 2,000 operational balloons until the end of the war.
These numbers demonstrate the extent to which the British valued their balloons. They had even formed Balloon Command in 1938, an independent command under the leadership of Air Marshal Sir E. Leslie Gossage, to control the 52 operational barrage balloon squadrons stationed across Great Britain. The Balloon Command was charged with the job of creating a barrage of huge balloons aimed at protecting British towns and cities, as well as key targets such as industrial areas, ports, and harbors. They were intended to protect everything at ground level from the threat of low-flying German dive-bombers.
The barrage balloons, which were set at heights of up to 1,524 meters, would force these aircraft to fly high, making them less accurate, and bring them within range of the antiaircraft guns. Eventually, this command consisted of 33,000 men. The amount of equipment and the number of personnel, however, tell only part of the story. Performance in combat is the principal indicator of a weapon system's success, and the balloons received a thorough test during World War II.
By the middle of 1940, there were 1,400 balloons, a third of them over the London area. By 1944 the number had risen to nearly 3,000. Later in the war, the barrage balloons were moved to combat the V-1 flying bomb.
The balloons were huge (on average, about 18.9 meters long and 7.6 meters in diameter), and were put up from balloon sites or from the back of lorries with a winch. By 1944 the balloons were moved to make up a ring around south London to combat the V-1 menace with a fair degree of success - as many as 100 V-1s snagged themselves on the balloons' cables.
During the Battle of Britain and throughout the war, balloons proved their worth, time and again. Besides protecting strategic cities and ports, barrage balloons mounted in boats defended estuaries against mine-laying aircraft. A declassified wartime report assessed their performance: Following the aerial sowing of mechanical mines, the reallocation of various units of the balloon barrage system to places like the Thames Estuary, and certain other channels, has resulted in effectively reducing the aerial mine sowing operations of the German Air Force. Barrage balloon cables also successfully frustrated German attempts to achieve surprise, low-level penetration at Dover.
After the Battle of Britain, balloons continued to prove their effectiveness in combat. Because of heavy losses during the day, the Germans switched to night attacks. Defensive night fighters were still in their rudimentary stages of development, so guns and balloons had to do most of the work against German bombers. Even after advances in night-fighter technology, it was the opinion of London that balloons and guns were still essential. Two examples illustrate London's sentiments. First, a recently installed aerial barrage at Norwich surprised the Germans and diffused their bombardment by forcing them to attack above 2,400 metres. Second, the barrage balloons at Harwich saved that city from an attack by 17 bombers because the Germans went after their secondary target at Ipswich-Felixstowe, a place not protected by balloons. Overall, balloons lessened the severity of night raids on England by deterring point-blank bombing.
Balloon Command units accompanied troops in North Africa and Italy, where they protected beachheads against low-level attack. Four thousand balloon personnel even took part in the invasion of Normandy, crossing the channel on D-day to protect artificial harbors, captured ports, and ammunition dumps of the Allies. But perhaps the best example of balloons in combat occurred during the V-1 offensive against London in 1944. Once again, balloons were an integral part of the air defense system and, in this case, formed the third and last line of defense against this low-flying weapon. Approximately 1,750 balloons from all over Great Britain were amassed around London, forming what one British officer called the largest balloon curtain in history. Although guns and fighters destroyed most of the V-1 bombs (1,878 and 1,846, respectively), balloons were credited with 231 kills. Basically, that was the last hurrah for British barrage balloons, and as the war gradually wound down in 1945, so too were the balloons of Balloon Command.
Great Britain was not the only country interested in aerial barriers, and many Americans would be surprised to know that the United States had its own extensive barrage balloon defense during the early part of World War II. In fact, many areas of the West Coast had balloon curtains protecting cities, factories, and harbors. By August 1942 approximately 430 balloons defended important areas in California, Oregon, and Washington against low-level attack. Several balloon units were also sent overseas into combat. In late 1943, for example, Army balloon batteries deployed to the fighting in the Mediterranean.
Maximum Altitude-1.524 m
UK ship modeler Peter Fulgoney is to be thanked for providing the basis for this addition to Battlefleet Models catalog, as his C2 Transport build contained a bright addition of a little milliput balloon, floating high above the scene...immediately recognizing a "good thing", Harry Abbott, owner/operator of Battlefleet Models asked Peter if he could provide a master sculpture of the balloon for mold casting, in which Peter agreed...and this agreement has thus inspired a new offering for us shipwrights, and a very cool addition to highlight the dio scene!
Quite simply, yet respectively, this resin after-market kit consists of one casting lug, holding a trio of the barrage baloons, ala' Fulgoney, and a general resin handling/construction sheet. The kit comes packaged in a sealed plastic bag, wrapped in bubble-wrap, and shipped to your bench in a sturdy mailing box...I have yet to receive a damaged kit from BFM.
The balloons are cast nose up, out of BFM's quality resin, very clean, clear of bubbles, pits, or defects, complete with the baloon fin detail. Compare the kit with the original photos, and you will realize how a simple design can really produce a fine addition.
Removal of the balloons from the lug is a snap (because of both quality resin AND casting technique), as all that is required is a gentle nudge of the thumb and fore-finger to seperate the castings from the lug itself...as far as cleanup, there is a tiny nub of resin that held the balloon onto the casting lug that is easily removed with a tip of the x-acto blade. All that is left is a quick polish with some ultra-fine abrasive and she's ready to go!
Further reading and related links
Balloon Barrage Reunion Club Website
C2 Transporter Ship, Peter Fulgoney
Barrage Balloons in WWII