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As early as 1929 Air Defence of Great Britain had recommended the creation
of a balloon barrage to form part of the layered defence for Britain's
main centres of population. In 1936 the Air Council
made plans for a balloon barrage for the London
Area, under the operational control of Fighter
Command. As the international
political climate deteriorated this planning was extended to provide
similar barrages across the United Kingdom at areas likely to be within
range and the target set for air attack, i.e. the main cities, ports
Structure of Balloon Command
As with Fighter Command, Balloon Command divided the country into a regional Group or Sector structure. There were five Groups, each responsible for a number of balloon squadrons within their area. At the start of the War approximately 800 balloons were in service, but by 1942 in excess of 2000 were operational across the regional barrages.
Regional Balloon Centres
The establishment of the regional barrages requiremed local bases from which the components of the barrages could be maintained. From 1938 until 1940 this resulted in the construction of eighteen Balloon Centres built to a master plan and designed to support up to four Mobile Balloon Squadrons. The plans were amended to fit within the land available at each location, all of which were near to the centre of the city they were protecting.
17 Balloon Centre, Humber Barrage
The Hull Docks - including those at Immingham in Lincolnshire - were a prime target for enemy bombing raids. The base for the Hull area was designated as RAF Number 17 Balloon Centre, subordinate to 33 Group of Balloon Command. Construction started late in 1938 with RAF Personnel reporting for duty early in January 1939.
Centre and Squadron Composition
By 25th Jan 1939, Numbers 942, 943 and 944 (East Riding) Balloon Squadrons had established their headquarters at Wycliffe Chambers, Campbell Street, Kingston upon Hull. Each Squadron was to consist of 5 Flights with 9 Balloons. In turn each balloon was crewed by a Corporal, 10 Airmen of the Auxiliary Air Force and a Regular RAF Balloon Operator.
On 28 Aug 1939 the Squadron’s Flight HQs were formed. No 942 Sqn had one flt HQ at Hull’s Riverside Quay Railway Station and two others at Grimsby Fish Dock and East Halton (both in Lincolnshire); together they were responsible for North Lincolnshire and the River Humber.
Operation of the BarrageBalloon Barrage was a passive form of defence which forced enemy aircraft to operate at higher altitudes, thereby reducing the accuracy of their bomb aiming. This higher altitude also favoured active defence measures including searchlights, anti-aircraft guns and assigned fighter aircraft. An additional fillip that only became clear once war had begun was that barrage balloons deterred the sowing of sea mines in the defended estuaries.
Barrage balloons were primarily placed on the perimeter of the area to be defended. However if sited equidistantly over a circular area the likelihood of an impact on the barrage cables was doubled.
There were obvious disadvantages to any barrage. Fighter and Coastal Command aircraft occasionally fell victim to these local defences. The balloons also provided an obvious bomb aiming aid to the enemy by highlighting the very areas they were meant to defend.
In Sep 1939 at the outbreak of hostilities balloon manufacturers were unable to meet demand which resulted in only 180 balloons being available to the 14 barrages being created outside London. By 1 Oct 1939, the Hull Barrage consisted of only 19 Balloons, which it will be seen was only about a quarter of those required.
Humber Barrage Command and Control
Direction of the Hull Barrage fell to the local Barrage Control, who acted on orders from RAF Fighter Command in the form of the Sector Operations Room based at RAF Station Kirton Lindsey. It was there that all information of approaching enemy aircraft from RADAR Stations and the Observer Corps was received. Further Details on the 17 Balloon Centre page.
The flying of balloon barrages was finished in the United
Kingdom in Autumn 1944. This led to the disbanding of Balloon Command
1945. In February some 1,000 remaining airmen and airwomen who had
served in that Command was reviewed fittingly at RAF Stanmore Park.
Grimsby - E Flt 942 Sqn
East Halton - D Flt 942 Sqn
Barrage Balloon Depots on Airfield Information Exchange
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