Balloon buster

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Balloon busters were military pilots known for destroying enemy observation balloons. These pilots were noted for their fearlessness.[1] Seventy-seven flying aces in World War I were each credited with destroying five or more balloons, and thus were balloon aces.

The crucial role of observation balloons[edit]

This British balloon of the German Parseval-Siegsfeld type, 1916, was typical of observation balloons in the first half of World War I.

An observation balloon was both a vulnerable and a valuable target: the balloon was moored in a stationary position and was lifted by flammable hydrogen gas, whose use was necessitated by the scarcity of helium reserves among European powers. The observer, suspended in the wicker basket beneath, typically had a wireless transmitter, binoculars and/or a long-range camera. His job was to observe actions on the front-line and behind it, to spot enemy troop movements or unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthwhile targets. Balloon observers were consequently targets of great importance to both sides, especially before any sort of infantry action or offensive, so individual pilots, flights or whole squadrons were frequently ordered to attack balloons, either in an attempt to destroy them or at least disrupt their observation activities.[1] Pilots on both sides tried to attack from a height that could enable them to fire without getting too close to the hydrogen and pull away fast. They were also cautioned not to go below 1000 feet in order to avoid machine gun and AA fire.

Due to their importance, balloons were usually given heavy defenses in the form of machine gun positions on the ground, anti-aircraft artillery, and standing fighter patrols stationed overhead. Other defenses included surrounding the main balloon with barrage balloons; stringing cables in the air in the vicinity of the balloons; putting machine guns in gondolas for observers to use; and flying balloons booby-trapped with explosives that could be remotely detonated from the ground. These measures made balloons very dangerous targets to approach.[1]

Although balloons were occasionally shot down by small-arms fire, generally it was difficult to shoot down a balloon with solid bullets, particularly at the distances and altitude involved. Ordinary bullets would pass relatively harmlessly through the hydrogen gas bag, merely holing the fabric. Hits on the wicker car could however kill the observer.[1]

One method employed was the solid-fuel Le Prieur rocket invented by Frenchman Lt. Yves Le Prieur and first used in April 1916. Rockets were attached to each outboard strut of a biplane fighter aircraft and fired through steel tubes using an electrical trigger. The rockets' inaccuracy was such that pilots had to fly very close to their target before firing.[1]

It was not until special Pomeroy incendiary bullets and Buckingham flat-nosed incendiary bullets became available on the Western Front in 1917 that any consistent degree of success was achieved. Le Prieur rockets were withdrawn from service in 1918 once incendiary bullets had become available.[1]

Balloon busting aces[edit]

The leading balloon buster, Willy Coppens, is personally decorated by his monarch, King Albert I.
Name Nationality Balloon victories Aircraft victories Total Reference
Willy Coppens Belgian 35 2 37 [2]
Léon Bourjade French 27 1 28 [3]
Michel Coiffard French 24 10 34 [4]
Maurice Boyau French 21 14 35 [5]
Friedrich Ritter von Röth German 20 8 28 [6]
Jacques Ehrlich French 18 1 19 [7]
Heinrich Gontermann German 18 21 39 [8]
Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor South African 16 38 54 [9]
Frank Luke American 14 4 18 [10]
Karl Schlegel German 14 8 22 [11]
Oskar Hennrich German 13 7 20 [12]
Marcel Haegelen French 12 11 23 [13]
Marius Ambrogi French 11 3 14 [14]
Friedrich Friedrichs German 11 10 21 [15]
Henry Woollett British 11 24 35 [16]
Tom F. Hazell British 10 33 43 [17]
Fritz Höhn German 10 11 21 [18]
Max Näther Germany 10 16 26 [19]
Erich Thomas Germany 10 0 10 [20]
William George Barker Canadian 9 50 59 [21]
Louis Bennett American 9 3 12 [22]
Théophile Henri Condemine French 9 0 9 [23]
Hans von Freden German 9 10 19 [24]
Sidney Highwood British 9 7 16 [25]
Erich Löwenhardt German 9 45 54 [26]
Jean Andre Pezon French 9 1 10 [27]
Armand Pinsard French 9 18 27 [28]
Erich Thomas German 9 1 10 [20]
Paul Barbreau French 8 0 8 [29]
Josef Jacobs German 8 40 48 [30]
Max Kuhn German 8 4 12 [31]
Charles J. V. Macé French 8 4 12 [32]
Ernest Maunoury French 8 3 11 [33]
Friedrich T. Noltenius German 8 13 21 [34]
Fritz Pütter German 8 17 25 [35]
Otto Schmidt German 8 12 20 [36]
Maurice Bizot French 7 3 10 [37]
Oskar Freiherr von Boenigk German 7 19 26 [38]
Julius Buckler German 7 29 36 [39]
Siegfried Büttner German 7 6 13 [40]
Harry King Goode British 7 8 15 [41]
Harold B. Hudson Canadian 7 6 13 [42]
Hans Nülle Germany 7 4 11 [43]
Charles Nungesser French 7 36 43 [44]
Hans Martin Pippart German 7 15 22 [45]
Paul Santelli French 7 0 7 [46]
Eugen Bönsch Austro-Hungarian 6 10 16 [47]
Hans Klein German 6 16 22 [48]
Antoine Laplasse French 6 2 8 [49]
Donald Roderick MacLaren Canadian 6 48 54 [50]
Georg Meyer German 6 18 24 [51]
Marcel Bloch French 5 0 5 [52]
Heinrich Bongartz German 5 28 33 [53]
Fernand Bonneton French 5 4 9 [54]
Godwin Brumowski Austro-Hungarian 5 30 35 [55]
William Charles Campbell British 5 18 23 [56]
Pierre Cardon French 5 0 5 [57]
Sydney Carlin British 5 5 10 [58]
Arthur Cobby Australian 5 24 29 [59]
Martin Dehmisch German 5 5 10 [60]
Pierre Ducornet French 5 2 7 [61]
Wilhelm Frickart German 5 7 12 [62]
Louis Prosper Gros French 5 4 9 [63]
Francis Guerrier French 5 0 5 [64]
Heinrich Haase German 5 1 6 [65]
Lansing Holden American 5 2 7 [66]
Adrien L. J. Leps French 5 7 12 [67]
Richard Burnard Munday British 5 4 9 [68]
Marcel Nogues French 5 8 13 [69]
Eddie Rickenbacker American 5 21 26 [70]
George R. Riley British 5 8 13 [71]
Gilbert Sardier French 5 10 15 [72]
William Ernest Shields Canadian 5 19 24 [73]
Walter Southey South African 5 15 20 [74]
Paul Y. R. Waddington French 5 7 12 [75]
Joseph Wehner American 5 1 6 [76]
Hans Weiss German 5 11 16 [77]

Aviators with victories over four observation balloons[edit]

Name Origin Balloon victories Aircraft victories Total
Heinrich Arntzen German 4 7 11[78]
Otto Brauneck German 4 6 10[79]
Harvey Weir Cook American 4 3 7[80]
Gustave Daladier French 4 8 12[81]
Benno Fiala Ritter von Fernbrugg Austro-Hungarian 4[note 1] 24 28[82]
Elwyn King Australian 4 22 26[83]
Wilhelm Kühne German 4 3 7[84]
Georges Lachmann French 4 5 9[85]
Auguste Lahoulle French 4 6 10[86]
Edgar McCloughry Australian 4 17 21[87]
Paul Petit French 4 3 7[88]
Maurice Rousselle French 4 1 5[89]
Karl Schattauer German 4 5 9[90]
Leonard Taplin Australian 4 8 12[91]
Edgar Taylor American 4 1 5[92]
Guy Wareing English 4 5 9[93]

World War I aviators who shot down three observation balloons[edit]

Name Origin Balloon victories Aircraft victories Total
Giovanni Ancillotto Italian 3 8 11[94]
Yves F. Barbaza French 3 2 5[95]
Hans Böhning German 3 14 17[96]
Karl Bohny German 3 5 8[97]
Walter von Bülow-Bothkamp German 3 25 28[98]
Hamilton Coolidge American 3 5 8[99]
Pierre Delage French 3 4 7[100]
Rudolf von Eschwege German 3 17 20[101]
Henri Hay De Slade French 3 16 19[102]
Francis W. Gillet American 3 17 20[103]
Max Gossner German 3 5 8[104]
Justus Grassmann German 3 7 10[105]
Robert Hall South African 3 2 5[106]
Ludwig Hanstein German 3 13 16[107]
William Frederick James Harvey English 3 23 26[108]
Albert Haussmann German 3 12 15[109]
Heinrich Henkel German 3 5 8[110]
Adolf Heyrowsky Austro-Hungarian 3[note 1] 9 12[111]
Camille Lagesse Canadian 3 17 20[112]
Friedrich Manschott German 3 9 12[113]
George McElroy Irish 3 44 47[114]
Maurice Newnham English 3 15 18[115]
John Steele Ralston Scots 3 9 12[116]
Paul Rothe German 3 2 5[117]
Franz Rudorfer German 3 8 11[118]
Cecil Thompson South African 3 3 6[119]
Remington Vernam American 3 3 6[120]
Hans Waldhausen German 3 3 6[121]
Herbert Gilles Watson New Zealander 3 11 14[122]

World War I aviators who shot down two observation balloons[edit]

Name Origin Balloon
victories
Aircraft
victories
Total
Edgar O. Amm South African 2 5 7[123]
Maurice Arnoux French 2 3 5[124]
Horace Barton South African 2 17 19[125]
John Courade Bateman English 2 5 7[125]
Douglas John Bell South African 2 17 19[126]
Armond J. Berthelot French 2 9 11[127]
William Avery Bishop Canadian 2 70 72[128]
Konrad Brendle German 2 7 9[79]
Jean Casale French 2 11 13[129]
William Gordon Claxton Canadian 2 35 37[130]
Edwin Cole English 2 6 8[131]
James Connelly American 2 5 7[132]
Charles Cudemore English 2 13 15[133]
Gilbert de Guingand French 2 6 8[134]
Armand de Turenne French 2 13 15[135]
Pierre Dufaur de Gavardie French 2 4 6[136]
Eduard Ritter von Dostler German 2 24 26[137]
Otto Fitzner German 2 7 9[138]
Willi Gabriel German 2 9 11[139]
Karl Gallwitz German 2 8 10[140]
George Gates English 2 7 9[141]
Frederick Stanley Gordon New Zealander 2 7 9[142]
Franz Gräser Austro-Hungarian 2 16 18[143]
Fernand Guyou French 2 10 12[144]
Erich Hahn German 2 4 6[145]
Georges Halberger French 2 3 5[146]
Lloyd Hamilton American 2 8 10[147]
Thomas Sinclair Harrison South African 2 20 22[148]
Robert Heibert German 2 11 13[109]
Albert Hets German 2 4 6[149]
Ernest Charles Hoy Canadian 2 11 13[150]
Frederick Hunt English 2 7 9[151]
Albert Leslie Jones English 2 5 7[152]
Erich Just German 2 4 6[153]
Arthur Korff German 2 6 8[154]
James Latta English 2 3 5[155]
Pierre Leroy de Boiseaumarie French 2 3 5[156]
Frederick Luff American 2 3 5[157]
John Mackereth English 2 5 7[158]
Malcolm Plaw MacLeod Canadian 2 5 7[159]
Rudolf Matthaei German 2 8 10[160]
Maurice Mealing English 2 12 14[161]
Zenos Miller American 2 3 5[162]
Hans Karl Müller German 2 7 9[163]
Edmund Nathanael German 2 13 15[164]
Otto Parschau German 2 6 8[165]
Andre Petit-Delchet French 2 3 5[166]
Croye Pithey South African 2 8 10[167]
Arthur Rahn German 2 4 6[168]
Hervey Rhodes English 2 8 10[167]
Cyril Ridley English 2 9 11[169]
Charles G. Ross South African 2 18 20[170]
Hugh Saunders South African 2 13 15[171]
Gustav Schneidewind German 2 5 7[172]
Wilhelm Schwartz German 2 6 8[173]
Kurt Schönfelder German 2 11 13[174]
Sumner Sewall American 2 5 7[175]
Langley Smith Canadian 2 6 8[176]
Werner Steinhauser German 2 8 10[177]
Francis S. Symondson English 2 11 13[178]
Mathieu Tenant de la Tour French 2 7 9[179]
Renatus Theiller German 2 10 12[180]
Bernhard Ultsch German 2 10 12[181]
Gilbert J. Uteau French 2 3 5[182]
Clive W. Warman American 2 10 12[183]
Paul Wenzl Germany 2 8 10[184]

World War I aviators who shot down one observation balloon[edit]

Name Origin Balloon
victories
Aircraft
victories
Total
Paul Achilles German 1 7 8[185]
Hans Ritter von Adam German 1 20 21[185]
Edgar O. Amm South African 1 9 10[186]
Leopold Anslinger German 1 9 10[187]
Edward Dawson Atkinson Irish 1 9 10[188]
Paul Aue German 1 9 10[189]
Dietrich Averes German 1 9 10[190]
Thomas Baker Australian 1 11 12[191]
Albert Ball English 1 43 44[191]
Ronald Bannerman New Zealander 1 16 17[192]
Flavio Baracchini Italian 1 20 21[193]
Andre Barcat French 1 4 5[194]
John Lancashire Barlow English 1 5 6[195]
Bernard Barny de Romanet French 1 17 18[196]
Alan Duncan Bell-Irving Canadian 1 6 7[197]
Arno Benzler German 1 8 9[198]
Hans Berr German 1 9 10[199]
Clement G. Boothroyd English 1 11 12[200]
Geoffrey Hilton Bowman English 1 31 32[201]
Christopher J. Q. Brand South African 1 11 12[202]
Franz Brandt German 1 9 10[203]
Frederick Britnell English 1 8 9[204]
Sydney Brown American 1 4 5[205]
Raymond Brownell Australian 1 11 12[206]
Archibald Buchanan American 1 6 7[205]
Harold Buckley American 1 4 5[207]
George William Bulmer American/Canadian 1 8 9[208]
Friedrich-Karl Burckhardt German 1 4 5[209]
Ernesto Cabruna Italian 1 7 8[210]
Walter M. Carlaw Scottish 1 11 12[211]
Alfred Williams Carter Canadian 1 16 17[212]
Lucien Cayol French 1 4 5[213]
Andre J. Chainat French 1 10 11[214]
Reed Chambers American 1 6 7[215]
Jean Chaput French 1 15 16[216]
Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts English 1 9 10[217]
Cecil Christian Clark English 1 9 10[218]
Percy Jack Clayson English 1 28 29[219]
Thomas Colvill-Jones Anglo-Argentinian 1 10 11[220]
Antoine Cordonnier French 1 4 5[221]
Alec Cunningham-Reid English 1 6 7[222]
Hermann Dahlmann German 1 6 7[223]
John Daley English 1 5 6[224]
Xavier Dannhuber German 1 10 11[225]
Edgar G. Davies English 1 9 10[226]
Francis James Davies English 1 11 12[226]
Pierre De Cazenove De Pradines French 1 6 7[227]
François Delzenne French 1 6 7[228]
Andre de Meulemeester Belgian 1 10 11[229]
Noel de Rochefort French 1 6 7[230]
Albert Deullin French 1 19 20[231]
Marcel Marc Dhome French 1 8 9[232]
Albert Dietlen German 1 8 9[233]
Helmut Dilthey German 1 6 7[233]
George Clapham Dixon Canadian 1 8 9[234]
Gustave Douchy French 1 8 9[235]
Christopher Draper English 1 8 9[236]
Jean Dubois de Gennes French 1 4 5[237]
André Dubonnet French 1 5 6[238]
William Duncan Canadian 1 10 11[239]
Raoul Echard French 1 6 7[240]
Carl Frederick Falkenberg Canadian 1 16 17[241]
Stefan Fejes Austro-Hungarian 1 15 16[242]
George Buchanan Foster Canadian 1 6 7[243]
Hans-Eberhardt Gandert German 1 7 8[244]
Lucien Gasser French 1 9 10[245]
John Inglis Gilmour English 1 38 39[246]
Walter Göttsch German 1 19 20[247]
Charles Gossage Grey American 1 4 5[248]
Duncan Grinnell-Milne English 1 5 6[249]
Kurt Gruber Austro-Hungarian 1 10 11[250]
Gabriel Guerin French 1 22 23[251]
Julien Guertiau French 1 7 8[252]
Joseph-Henri Guiguet French 1 4 5[253]
Hermann Habich German 1 6 7[254]
Herbert Hamilton English 1 6 7[255]
D'Arcy Fowlis Hilton American 1 7 8[256]
George Stacey Hodson English 1 9 10[257]
Frank Hudson English 1 5 6[258]
Marcel A. Hugues French 1 11 12[259]
David Ingalls American 1 5 6[260]
Kurt Jacob German 1 6 7[261]
Fritz John Jacobsen German 1 7 8[262]
Lucien J. Jailler French 1 11 12[263]
Arthur Gordon Jarvis English 1 4 5[264]
Johannes Jensen German 1 5 6[265]
Alan Jerrard English 1 6 7[266]
Otto Jindra Austro-Hungarian 1 8 9[267]
George Owen Johnson Canadian 1 10 11[268]
James Ira Thomas Jones Welsh 1 36 37[269]
Solomon Clifford Joseph English 1 12 13[270]
Andrew Kiddie South African 1 14 15[271]
Fritz Kieckhäfer German 1 7 8[272]
Field Kindley American 1 11 12[273]
Stefan Kirmaier German 1 10 11[274]
Otto Kissenberth German 1 19 20[275]
Herbert Knappe German 1 8 9[276]
Alfred Koch Canadian 1 9 10[277]
Harold Albert Kullberg American 1 18 19[278]
Hans Kummetz German 1 6 7[279]
William C. Lambert American 1 17 18[280]
Reed G. Landis American 1 11 12[281]
Maxime Lenoir French 1 10 11[282]
André Robert Lévy French 1 5 6[283]
Georges Lienhart French 1 4 5[284]
George Lloyd South African 1 7 8[285]
Walter H. Longton English 1 10 11[286]
Frederic Ives Lord American 1 11 12[287]
Ludwig Luer German 1 5 6[288]
Malcolm MacLeod Canadian 1 6 7[159]
Georges Madon French 1 40 41[289]
Herbert Mahn German 1 8 9[288]
Garnet Malley Australian 1 5 6[290]
Mick Mannock British 1 60 61[290]
Roy Manzer Canadian 1 10 11[291]
Jean Matton French 1 8 9[292]
Hugh Maund English 1 7 8[293]
Ian Donald Roy McDonald English 1 19 20[294]
Malcolm McGregor New Zealander 1 10 11[295]
James Meissner American 1 7 8[296]
Christian Mesch German 1 12 13[297]
Karl Meyer German 1 (Airship C17) 7 8[298]
Xavier Moissinac French 1 6 7[299]
William Molesworth Irish 1 17 18[300]
Paul Montange French 1 4 5[301]
René Montrion French 1 10 11[302]
Thomas Nash English 1 7 8[303]
Ernest Norton Welsh 1 8 9[304]
Charles Nuville French 1 11 12[305]
Charles Walter Odell English 1 6 7[306]
Augustus Paget English 1 5 6[307]
Herbert A. Patey English 1 10 11[308]
Charles Pelissier French 1 4 5[309]
Edward Pennell English 1 4 5[310]
Pier Piccio Italian 1 23 24[311]
Franz Piechulek German 1 13 14[312]
Constant Plessis French 1 5 6[313]
François Portron French 1 4 5[314]
Roger Poupon French 1 7 8[315]
Stanley Asa Puffer Canadian 1 6 7[316]
David Putnam American 1 12 13[317]
Frank Granger Quigley Canadian 1 32 33[318]
Lewis Hector Ray Canadian 1 6 7[319]
Harold Redler South African 1 9 10[320]
Victor Regnier French 1 4 5[321]
Karl Ritscherle German 1 7 8[322]
Paul Rodde French 1 4 5[323]
Jean C. Romatet French 1 6 7[324]
Otto Rosenfeld German 1 12 13[325]
Herbert Rowley English 1 8 9[326]
Theodor Rumpl German 1 4 5[327]
Eduard Ritter von Schleich German 1 34 35[328]
Karl Schmückle German 1 5 6[329]
Wilhelm Schulz German 1 4 5[330]
Maurice D. G. Scott English 1 11 12[331]
Kenneth Seth-Smith English 1 4 5[332]
Frank Sharpe English 1 4 5[332]
Charles Sims English 1 8 9[333]
Harry Coleman Smith English 1 4 5[334]
John Henry Smith Canadian 1 7 8[334]
Frank Ormond Soden Canadian 1 26 27[335]
Constant Soulier French 1 5 6[336]
Gilbert John Strange English 1 6 7[337]
John Stevenson Stubbs English 1 10 11[338]
Frank Harold Taylor Canadian 1 9 10[339]
William Thaw American 1 4 5[340]
Emil Thuy German 1 34 35[341]
William Tipton American 1 4 5[342]
Robert Miles Todd American 1 4 5[343]
Reinhard Treptow German 1 5 6[344]
John Lightfoot Trollope English 1 17 18[345]
Paul Turck German 1 9 10[177]
Kenneth R. Unger American 1 13 14[346]
Kurt Ungewitter German 1 6 7[347]
Jerry Vasconcells American 1 5 6[348]
George Augustus Vaughn, Jr. American 1 12 13[334]
Werner Wagener German 1 4 5[349]
Hazel Wallace English 1 13 14[350]
Pierre Wertheim French 1 4 5[351]
Richard Wenzl German 1 11 12[352]
Wilbert White American 1 7 8[353]
Claude Melnot Wilson Canadian 1 7 8[354]
Percy Wilson English 1 6 7[355]
Franz Wognar Austro-Hungarian 1 4 5[356]
Chester Wright American 1 8 9[357]

Fictional portrayals[edit]

William Sanders' novel The Wild Blue and the Gray was set in a World War I squadron that flew several balloon-busting missions.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Includes the Italian airship M4.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Guttman, Dempsey 2005, pp. 7–9.
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Bibliography
  • Franks, Norman; Bailey, Frank; Guest, Russell. Above the Lines: The Aces and Fighter Units of the German Air Service, Naval Air Service and Flanders Marine Corps 1914–1918. Grub Street, 1993. ISBN 0-948817-73-9, ISBN 978-0-948817-73-1.
  • Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell; Alegi, Gregory. Above the War Fronts: The British Two-seater Bomber Pilot and Observer Aces, the British Two-seater Fighter Observer Aces, and the Belgian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Fighter Aces, 1914–1918. Grub Street, 1997. ISBN 1-898697-56-6, ISBN 978-1-898697-56-5.
  • Franks, Norman; Bailey, Frank. Over the Front: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918. Grub Street, 1992. ISBN 0-948817-54-2, ISBN 978-0-948817-54-0.
  • Guttman, Jon; Dempsey, Harry. Balloon-Busting Aces of World War 1. Osprey Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-84176-877-4, ISBN 978-1-84176-877-9.
  • Shores, Christopher; Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell. Above the Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. Grub Street, 1990. ISBN 0-948817-19-4, ISBN 978-0-948817-19-9.

External links[edit]