Welcome to Knights of the Air, a weekly series on Dieselpunks spotlighting the aces and pioneering aerial technology of World War I.
Stationary balloons, anchored by steel cables to the ground, were less glamorous than planes, but their contribution to air observation was just as important. Used by both sides, the gas-filled “sausages” hovered near the lines to direct artillery fire and monitor enemy movements.
Each balloon was manned by an observer and his assistant, who telephoned reports to the ground. Barely maneuverable and unarmed, balloons were inviting targets. But they were resolutely defended by antiaircraft guns, and the balloonists usually wore parachutes.
Its basket a tiny speck in the distance, a British balloon hovers over the shell-smashed battlefield at Ypres. Balloons generally were tethered two-to-five miles inside friendly lines and reached heights of up to 5,000 feet.
The simultaneous demise of two German balloons shot down near Boyelles, France is captured in this remarkable photograph. Attacking airplanes fired incendiary bullets to ignite the highly flammable gasbags, which would commonly disintegrate in 20 seconds or less.