by Jimmy Sperling

1) AZs (balloon carriers and depot ships) pose the same flammability risks as AVs, but regular combatants towing balloons do not.

2) Towed balloons operate at altitude level "L" for aerial combat purposes.

3) Towed balloons require two Game Turns to deploy to their normal altitude. Their first Game Turn they are at altitude level "D".

4) Towed kite balloons are counted as "aerial craft" for purposes of ASW submarine detection.

5) Towed balloons have the same visibility restrictions as aircraft.

6) Towed balloons can be used for gunnery spotting. This can be simulated by subtracting "1" from the towing ships' straddle die roll. Balloons towed by a ship underway can only spot for the ship towing them. Balloons moored ashore or to a stationary ship can spot for any one artillery battery or ship, but take one Game Turn of in-activity to change spotting batteries.

7) Ships towing balloons that enter a squall, gale or storm hex have a chance of having their balloon destroyed. A decimal die is rolled each Map Turn, and if the result is equal to or less than the sea force (6 for squall, 7 for gale, 8 for storm), the balloon is carried away by the storm or struck by lightning.

The operation of shipboard balloons depends on the period chosen for simulation:

1914: Only Italy and Sweden can operate kite balloons at sea. Each has a dedicated balloon vessel.

1915: Britain converts several merchants to AZs. They can each deploy one balloon and can prepare other balloons for duty ashore (and later, for other ships).

1916: Any Allied AV or American CA* fitted for seaplane duties can deploy a kite balloon.

1917-18: Most of the Allied BAs, BBs and BCs in the Grand Fleet are fitted to operate kite balloons for scouting and fire spotting. Additionally, many Allied DDs and DEs assigned to convoy escort or ASW sweeps are fitted with bal-loon winches and other modifications to support balloon operations. Some French B*s are also so fitted, as are US BBs and BAs.


There was an intense flurry of experimentation with and development of military ballooning beginning with the German development of the kite or "sausage" balloon in the early 1890s. This used a series of fins and vents to keep the balloon stable in all but the strongest of winds; it also permitted the balloon to be towed by a vessel under-way. The Royal Swedish Navy was first to build a dedicated aviation vessel (Ballondepotfartyg 1) in 1904. The Russians began an extensive series of experiments before and during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, including converting the first sea-going balloon vessel, Russ.

Nevertheless, except as a sport, ballooning was in decline by the outbreak of the First World War. The aeroplane had arrived and, more importantly in the minds of many, the airship - originally called the "dirigible bal-loon" - had been perfected. The mobility of these craft seemed to offer far more utility to navies than the balloon, forever a captive of its mooring lines.

Despite the fact that the balloon saw only limited use in the early months of the First World War, 1915 saw a dramatic revival in aeronautics. For navies, captive balloons proved to be useful in three main areas:

The shipboard observation balloon saw its greatest use during the First World War, but ironically that same conflict inspired developments that led to the military balloons' eclipse.

The United States Navy persisted with the balloon for several years postwar. In early 1919 six battleships of the Atlantic Fleet operated balloons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the former minelayer Shawmut as their depot ship. It was intended to convert three incomplete merchantmen to balloon ships along the lines of the earlier British vessels. But disillusionment soon set in. In March 1920, balloons trailed by the battleships Nevada and Florida "dished in" and were lost, and two men were killed. Use of balloons by the Atlantic Fleet ended, and their first and only dedicated balloon tender, Wright, was reassigned and eventually rebuilt purely as a seaplane tender. The Pacific Fleet continued to employ balloons for a time, but they, too, shortly went into limbo.

More importantly than the accidents were developments in technology. The long-range flying boat had been perfected, the full-deck aircraft carrier was a reality, helium had made the naval airship a more practical proposition, and compact catapults were being developed to make cruisers and capital ships more capable of operating seaplanes. The development of airborne wireless lessened the communications advantage possessed by the captive balloon. The sum of these led to the retirement of captive balloons by the world's navies.

The balloon lingered somewhat longer in a few other navies. The Japanese battlecruiser Kongo employed a kite balloon during maneuvers in 1924 and the light cruiser Tatsuta was equipped with one as flagship of the First Destroyer Squadron in 1927. A few other Japanese ships may also have used balloons. Probably the last time a shipboard observation balloon was employed during hostilities was in 1925 when the Spanish seaplane/airship/balloon carrier Dedalo supported the Franco-Spanish suppression of the Moroccan rebellion.

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