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Observation Balloons

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Observation balloons were filled with hydrogen and were attached to a machine to pull them down quickly if threatened by an enemy airplane. The observer in the basket of the balloon had a wireless radio transmitter, binoculars and a long-range camera. His job was to report enemy activity.

Mr. Bourne describes how a German pilot shot down some observation balloons.


I saw a German plane come over, that’s before, they still had the Ridge yet, the Germans had then. They had this ridge. This was before the Battle of Vimy, this was. This plane come over the ridge, a German plane come over and he come down and we had these captive balloons, you know, all along the front line, you know and there was two men in there, two observers. And these balloons, they were captive, you know, they were gas balloons, big sausages we called them. Well that German plane come over and he shot about three or four of them down, a way all along the line. And of course soon as they, a bullet hit them, you know they were all fire and the guys jump out, jump out of the basket that’s dangling, you know the observers, and he fired at them. And then, then he come along and he’s looking for anything he could see. And he just passed where we were, our horse lines and we thought sure as hell he was going to open up on us, but something else attracted him further along and away he went. And it was a machine gun or something further along and away from us. And while he was doing all this, a couple of our planes came in from their side, coming back home over to our side, and they were triplanes. It’s the first time I saw a triplane - with three wings. And they come over, and of course they see this bloody German guy and they shot him down.


Caption: A Kite Balloon over Arras. December, 1917

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003651)

Caption: Overhauling a kite balloon

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000859)

Caption: Pilot and Observer in basket of kite balloon. September, 1916

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000677)

Caption: Signalling with flags from an airship to the leading ship of a convoy

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006291)

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