One of the more interesting technologies found at Normandy were barrage balloons. These defensive measures are rarely featured in movies and books and I can understand why. “Daddy, what did you do in the war?” “Well son I flew balloons.” It lacks the punch of flying fighter aircraft or just being a grunt.
But the fact is barrage balloons were effective sometimes. In the last months of the first world war, Britain defended London from German Botha bombers with barrage balloons.
Barrage balloons were helium or hydrogen or hot air balloons that hoisted cables connected to the ground. The cables were thick enough so that if an aircraft hit one, the damage would be significant. Barrage balloons which float typically 2 to 3,000 feet made accurate low level point blank bombing nearly impossible. Germans employed countermeasures such as wing mounted wire cutters to defeat the balloons.
Thousands of US Barrage Balloon personnel deployed to Normandy to send balloons up to defend secured staging areas. Note the dozens of balloons in the photo above.
Some barrage balloons were designed to attach to the wing, trail behind it and drag the plane down. Most balloons were around 60 feet long and 24 feet around.
When Germany decided to launch an air offensive against Dover, barrage balloons complicated attack plans and German fighters shot down 50 some odd balloons one day. The very next day dozens more balloons were floated and the Germans lost 6 aircraft.
The Germans bombed and rocketed London mercilessly during WWII and 1,750 balloons from all over Great Britain were arrayed around London during the Blitz. Barrage balloons brought down 231 V-1 rockets. 66 German aircraft crashed at the height of the blitz but 166 hit the cables, many sustaining damage.
The United States, worried that Japan would attack again, defended the western coastal regions by Oregon Washington and California with 430 balloons.They also severely curtailed German aerial mine sewing operations in English harbors.
Sources and citations.