Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 91.djvu/66

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Fighting the Big Guns from Balloons

���The sausage balloon is provided with a wind bag which keeps the balloon nose to the breeze. Steadying cones are also fastened to the rope, kite-tail fashion

THERE never was a time in the history of fighting when a general did not envy the birds. If he could only hover over his enemy and see for himself what was going on! Since he could not do that, he used such makeshifts as he could devise. But the first real spy- ing on the enemy came when the balloon was invented.

Someone asked Benjamin Franklin what he thought of it. "It is a newly born child," he replied. That was non-committal; also prophetic. At all events, the French revolutionists, daring adventurers in war as well as in politics, adopted the balloon at once as a superior substitute for the old watch tower. They held it captive by a rope, quite in the best Twentieth Century way, and used it very effectively in battles to drive home revolutionary truths. Their "aerostiers" even dropped their messages on long streamers of paper weighted with lead.

When the dirigible and the.airplane came, it was popularly assumed that the observa- tion balloon was to become as extinct as the dodo. Indeed, in the early days of the present war, observation balloons were never mentioned in the despatches as were the dirigibles and the airplanes. But as the war developed, as weapons changed their character and became even medieval, as all Europe was converted into one huge fortress, as warfare changed into a con- tinuous siege, as guns of unprecedented size and power were brought into action, lo and behold, the old captive balloon came into its own again with a vengeance! It came back with other discarded and ancient weapons — with steel helmets, and with

��Why the observation balloon still plays a part in war despite the airplane and the dirigible

By Carl Dienstbach

��hand grenades thrown from trenches. Battles of to-day are won by the most terrible of systematic artillery bombardments. The captive bal- loon, connected as it is with a bat- tery by a telephone wire running through the holding cable, renders it pos- sible to correct the range instantly, and therein lies its advantage over a constantly moving airplane. The balloon is at a disadvantage because of its distance from the enemy — a distance dictated by con- siderations of safety. But that disadvan- tage is compensated for by supplementary information gathered by .the airplane. An active enemy rarely permits an ob- servation balloon to stay aloft for even an hour. But as a rule the balloons are so far behind their own lines that they may stay up for a whole day. During the re- cent engagements around Arras, Sir Doug- las Haig reported that he had shot down every German balloon over a front of per- haps twenty-five miles. Such wholesale destruction of observation balloons is pos- ble only under exceptional circumstances. Ordinarily the ranges are too great. But artillery is not the only dread of the bal- loon. Small, wasp-like airplanes darting in and out with bewildering rapidity, throw firebrands on the thin bladder filled with gas, which explodes even more easily than •dynamite. Threatened either by bursting shells, or by these firebrands, the obser- vation officers in the baskets of the bal- loons, must jump for their lives.

The peculiar sausage-like captive bal- loons which are now used by all armies, were invented in 1894 by two German army officers. In Germany they are known as "kite balloons." A kite balloon consists of an elongated gas bag with an arrangement by which the wind, caught in internal air compartments by check-valves, distends and stiffens the balloon against itself. A regulation kite bridle is used. The balloon is provided with a fin, consisting of an appended air bag, like a modern kite, and even with a regular wire-tail consisting of a rope having a series of steadying cones.

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