BARRAGE BALLOONS

On the morning of D-Day, thousands of barrage balloons were tethered to ships and smaller craft for the cross-Channel journey to France. Floating in the sky, the bags formed a miles-wide aerial curtain, protecting the fleet, and later the men and matériel on the beaches, from enemy planes. With small bombs anchored to their cables, triggered by a plane strike, the balloons were a lethal weapon that German pilots assiduously attempted to avoid. The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion served 140 days in France, protecting the beaches and the ports. Barrage balloons also landed with American troops in Italy in the fall of 1943. They were deemed a success protecting beaches, and they were adapted for the Normandy invasion.

 When a plane strikes the cable, a bomb is released via a parachute system. A well-placed hit could explode a wing or the gas tank. The steel cable alone was enough to cause a plane to stall and crash.  Graphic: Heather Eatman

When a plane strikes the cable, a bomb is released via a parachute system. A well-placed hit could explode a wing or the gas tank. The steel cable alone was enough to cause a plane to stall and crash. Graphic: Heather Eatman

Four men from a black barrage balloon unit hoist aloft a balloon during a 1942 demonstration in Washington, D.C. Elasticized ropes allowed the envelope to expand as the balloon went up and the gas inside expanded.
Photographer: Roger Smith; Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

This is the only known image of the 320th on Omaha Beach.
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Barrage balloons flying at Utah Beach on June 9, 1944.
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

← Back to the Men of the 320th Gallery