The Patriot Files Forums  

Go Back   The Patriot Files Forums > Conflict posts > World War I

Post New Thread  Reply
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 07-22-2009, 03:25 PM
David's Avatar
David David is offline

Join Date: Aug 2001
Posts: 46,792
Special Projects VOM Staff Contributor 
Default Drachen Spotting Balloon

During the second half of the 19th century, most Western countries were using fettered round balloons for observation above the front lines. (The first really successful use of these flying craft for military purposes was during the American Civil War.) The big problem with them was their tendency to go spinning in the wind, making it a rather unstable platform, and the observers airsick. The accuracy of the observers work (reading and marking maps, etc) would be very much diminished by this bouncing about in the basket.
However, in 1896 two German Officers, Parseval and Siegsfeld, designed a new type of balloon: it was not spherical in shape but ellipsoidal, about 20 meters long, a gas volume of some 1200 m3, and with a ballonet curled at one end. This ballonet had a hole at either end to allow wind to go through it, which helped steadying the balloon. These new balloons were called Drachen, after the German word for kite - or dragon. (Due to the fact that they were cylindrical and rounded at both ends British and French troops nick-named them Sausages (Saucisse).
This type of balloon was used by most Armies in WW1, and filled a very important tactical role, especially as spotters for artillery, with specially trained observers suspended in the basket under the Drachen.
When the war started in 1914 in the West, the deployment of eight German Balloon Companies gave the Germans a distinct tactical advantage over the French. The French put up a solitary balloon on 25th August 1914 that was soon followed by several more in September and October 1914. When the British Expeditionary Force arrived in France in mid-August, it had no observation balloons at all. It was not until April 1915 that they got their first balloon company, and that was on loan from the French.
Apart from being a highly dangerous occupation (15 days was considered to be a reasonable expectation of life for a Drachen) the results were dependent on the skill of the observer. The observer suspended in the wicker basket typically had a wireless set, binoculars and one or two long-range cameras with him. His job was to observe actions on the front and behind it, to spot troop movements, unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto worthy targets.
There were many problems with the Drachen, though. Due to the need to keep the balloons out of the range of enemy artillery fire, it was often necessary to locate the balloons rather a long way away from the actual Front Lines. Also, they were also subject to weather conditions, moving them around was a very lengthy process, and it took a lot of time and manpower just to get them up into the air and safely down again. Still, due to the fact that the Drachen offered such a stable platform it was more suitable than aircraft for these types of duties. The advent of Drachen on the sky-line always meant trouble, and they were a hated sight by the P.B.I.
These Drachen would seem to have been easy prey for fighters, except for the fact that they were ringed by anti-aircraft guns with a well adjusted field of fire. Fighter pilots had to come in high and quickly dive toward the target, because the balloon could be quickly hauled down. (It was a rule of thumb with British pilots to never go after balloons below 300 meters, the AA and MG fire was then simply too dangerous.) Therefore, bagging a balloon ranked on a par with shooting down an enemy plane. The balloon observers were the only people routinely outfitted with parachutes, which had been available since 1915. By the war's end some 4000 Drachen had been delivered to the German Army of which 241 had been shot down. By then the Drachen had been made obsolete by a new French design, the so called “Cacqot” after its designer. (The main improvement was the addition of two large lobes to keep the balloon headed into the wind, so in fact it was more stable and could be operated in a higher wind.)
sendpm.gif Reply With Quote
Sponsored Links

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

All times are GMT -7. The time now is 02:34 AM.

Powered by vBulletin, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.