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Introduction to the Aerostation

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      This web site is about the early history of U.S. Army Ballooning; with emphasis on its operations during the Great War: and the period shortly thereafter, and will feature many aspects of the activities and men of the U.S. Army Balloon Corps. Along with an abbreviated introductory history, there will be information on the schools, photos, histories of the Balloon Companies (that published their history), along with related sites.

      My interest in U.S. Army ballooning stems from when I was 8 or 9 years old, and the stories that my grandfather told me. At that age, I listened with interest, but thought of them as: "old war stories". He spoke of his adventures as a teenager and mentioned name and places. He went into the Army in 1913, was with Pershing and Foulois in Mexico and Texas: chasing Pancho Villa. Later, in WWI he was at: Fort Omaha, Camp John Wise, and Camp Morrison, ending up with the 12th Balloon Company in France.

      All of his papers and military things were thrown away in the late 1950's: just "old junk" which was taking up space. That was unfortunate, but those were the attitudes during those times. He passed away in the early 60's and that resource was lost: leaving just the repetitious oral history in my head.

      In 1967, when I was assigned to Lackland AFB, in San Antonio,Texas, is where I ran across a panoramic photo of Camp John Wise, in the base history museum. This spurred my interest: Camp Wise was one of those places he had been. Subsequent visits and inquiries resulted in little information: thus I began to dig into the history of Camp John Wise and the Balloon Corps. My research revealed that my grandfather's anecdotes were real events, there was no way he could have known of some of people and details: unless he had been there doing them. Books and articles about those things were not published until years after his passing. There are many of his tales yet to be told that have not made it to print.

 

     As I did my research, I found that there were bits and pieces of Balloon Corps history scattered about the globe: not one single place to get all the information I wanted. I found that many records were just taken home by the company clerks and were in a drawer, or box in an attic or cellar. Add to that, the shrinking numbers of WWI vets, it became even more difficult. Since the events of 9/11, it became almost impossible to get into the military's bases and posts: to be allowed to search through their archives. Most of those records are not going to become available on-line and a physical search will have to be done. Perhaps time will soften their attitudes, and the public will again be able to get access to those documents.

      In the quest for information, I have gleaned the web for data; dug through library stacks and files; rolled and scanned through miles of microfilm; searched the world's book stores for scarce and rare books; trod the ground that was Camp John Wise; interviewed elderly residents of the area; contacted authors; and connected with collectors and historians from across the globe. In the process, I have met others who had a family member in the Balloon Corps, and we shared our data.

     The history of the Balloon Corp is a big puzzle. Bits and pieces of the puzzle surface from time to time, and will connect the disjointed parts to fill in some of the gaps. The size and shape of the puzzle is indeterminate, and changes often. The data presented here are as accurate as I can determine. If you have other facts, references, or documents, that will clarify or shed new light on the places, people or events, let me know: and I will make the appropriate changes or additions.  More than once have I found out that what was supposed to be a part of this puzzle, was part of another.

Enjoy the information!

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U.S. Army Ballooning: The Early Years

     There were thoughts of using balloons at various times prior to the Civil War. John Wise suggested to the Army that they use balloons to bomb Vera Cruz, Mexico during that campaign; but not given much credence. Another time there was a move to use balloons against the Seminoles in Florida, but was not permitted when higher command found out about it. 

     During the Civil War, the U.S. Army reluctantly used spherical, hydrogen filled, balloons as tethered aerial observation platforms:  President Lincoln insisted upon it. Thaddeus Lowe, John La Mountain, and John Wise provided the technology and their individual expertise to the Army: each with varying degrees of success.

 

    After the Civil War, the Army did not pursue the use of balloons. Over the following years, the technology was developed and advanced by many individuals and foreign armies. From one end of United States, to the other, and all around the world, balloon and airship ascents were spectacles at fairs and other public events. Some Army officers kept their eye on the technology, because of its military potential, but there was little official support from Washington.

    During the Spanish-American War, Major Henry Hersey flew an observation balloon, to espy the route for the famous charge by Teddy Roosevelt. Again, the Army brass saw little advantage in using spherical balloons: the conditions in the field were not well suited for them; and they were excellent targets for the enemy riflemen and artillery. The balloon technology was put into storage once again.

   The Army did establish a balloon facility at Fort Myer, Virginia in 1900, but it was more for experimentation with the technology and learning balloon operations. For the most part, the balloons they had were left over from the early years. Because of poor storage conditions, they were no longer serviceable and they hired civilian experts to do repairs. It was used very little over the next few years: for lack of manpower; funding issues; and lack of compressed hydrogen. The Army built another balloon facility at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, in 1905, but it too was poorly funded.

 

     During the first decade of the new century, many forward looking Army officers took detached service, and flew balloons in events and various races in Europe and the United States. Lt. Frank. P. Lahm and Maj. Henry Hersey won the first  Gordon Bennett Balloon Race, held in Paris, in 1906. For several more years, Army Signal Corps officers would take advantage of detached service to fly balloons and airships: hitching rides whenever the opportunity arose. This gave them the experience and knowledge which they would use in later years.

     In1907, because of constant nagging by civilian and military aeronautic experts, government leaders, and various aero clubs; the Army issued and re-issued specifications for an aeroplane and airship.  During the summer of 1908, the aviation trials were held at Fort Myer, Virginia. The secretive Wright Flyer proved its mettle: making a very public demonstration of its capabilities. However, with its crash; subsequent death of Lt. Selfridge; and serious injury to Orville Wright, the Army backed off from buying that technology: until it could be further proven. The Wright brothers had to wait until the following year to sell their aeroplane to the Army. It was Capt. Thomas Baldwin's hydrogen filled airship (which had flown its trials several days before the Wrights' aeroplane), that met the Army's specifications; and became the first powered aircraft purchased by the Army: the SC-1. (Signal Corps-1)

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The SC-1 Thomas Baldwin Airship. The Army's first motorized aircraft

     After Fort Myer trials, the Baldwin Airship was assigned to the Signal Corps Balloon School at Fort Omaha, which was commanded by Capt. DeForest Chandler. The balloon facility had been used, off and on, since 1905, and was the only place that had a good hydrogen generator, working compressor and a large balloon hanger. The airship was flown to Fort Omaha by Lt. Benjamin Foulois, along with several other officers. Shortly after delivering the airship, he was assigned to duty in Europe, and then to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio: where he had to learn how to fly the Army's new Wright aeroplane; which the Army had just purchased. 

     The airship had a capacity of 20,000 cubic feet of hydrogen, was about 100 feet long, could lift about 450 pounds; and had a diameter of 22 feet. The engine was built by Glenn Curtiss and mounted in a 90' long "car"; suspended below the balloon's envelope; and propelled by a 10' diameter blade. The Balloon School flew the SC-1 until some time in 1911, when it was no longer serviceable. The school continued to train officers and enlisted men in free balloons; along with French and English kite balloons; and  a German "Drachen" balloon: until the school was abandoned in October 1913; and the serviceable  balloon equipment was sent to Fort Leavenworth for storage.  Fort Omaha's Balloon School turned into a government weather station.

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Balloon hanger at Ft. Omaha

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French style balloon at Ft. Omaha

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Drachen style balloon at Ft. Omha

     Again, the Lighter-Than-Air technology languished in the hands of the U.S. Army: they put their limited funding, energies and focus into the technology of the fixed wing aeroplane. During Pershing's "expeditions" into Mexico, the Goodyear Company provided the Army with a balloon: to be used as an observation platform. It was flown by Ralph Upson, a Goodyear employee, attached to the Ohio Field Artillery. It met with about the same success as Foulois' aeroplane squadron: less than optimal.  The heat and rough field conditions made it more of an experiment than a tactical tool.

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Goodyear balloon piloted by Ralph Upson on the border in 1913

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Gasoline powered winch for the balloon cable.

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Balloon up.

The Great War: The Balloon Schools

Ft. Omaha, Nebraska

    It was the outbreak of the Great War, that forced the U.S. Army into full scale observation balloon operations. The English, French and Germans had been using "kite", or captive balloons for battlefield observations for many years. Again, the U.S. Army set up its balloon training operations at Fort Omaha, and had to play "catch-up". The equipment that was sent to Fort Leavenworth, was not worth using: having deteriorated while in storage, and had to be rebuilt. Capt. DeForest Chandler was promoted to Major, and assigned to Washington: to become the chief officer of the Signal Corps' balloon operations. The Fort Omaha Balloon School command was passed on to Capt. H. J. B. McEglin, and then to Major Frank P. Lahm.  Early in June, Major Lahm was seriously injured while playing polo: he fell from his horse; received a concussion; and suffered a crushed leg. The command was passed to Major Henry Hersey. After his recovery, Major Lahm was sent to France to command balloon operations and training there. Ancillary balloon operations were set up at nearby Florence Field and Fort Crook. They also assigned officers for free balloon training to the Missouri Aeronautical Society Schools, in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Antonio, Texas.

    Training was rather difficult at Fort Omaha: the weather was bad much of the time, and it was impossible to keep balloons in the air for long periods. The Army decided they needed Balloon Schools, in warmer, more stable environments, and selected San Antonio, Texas and Arcadia, California.  In January 1918, some officers and enlisted men were sent to San Antonio, and in the summer, Balloon Companies were sent to Arcadia: to start the new Balloon Schools. Keeping balloons in the air was not their only problem. Since this was a relatively new organization within the Army, and growing rapidly; the assignment of Balloon Squadrons, Wings and Companies became confusing: with their original number and letter combinations. Thus the organization and numbering the companies  was changed to numbers only. 

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Ft. Omaha from the air

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Testing early parachute designs.

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Technical drawing of Ft. Omaha and Florence Field.

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The individual wing badges and other Balloon Corps insignia designs are derived from this style the French Balloon Officers wore. The Army only approved one wing badge and HQ staff approved only one patch, and that was never official with the Army.

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Officers from the Balloon Companies at Florence Field, and their mascot.

     In early 1919, the Fort Omaha and Fort Crook balloon operations were abandoned; activities and equipment were moved to Florence Field.  In 1921, Florence Field was also abandoned and the men and equipment were sent to Scott Field, near Bellville, Illinois. Thus closing this chapter in Balloon Corps' history around Fort Omaha.

 

Missouri Aeronautical Society, San Antonio, Texas

     The Missouri Aeronautical Society was a program run by Army Major Albert Bond Lambert. It was located on the west side of San  Antonio, near the gas plant, at Trinity and Durango Sts. There he was buying gas to fill the spherical balloons that Army officers were using for training. He was charging the Army $1000.00 for each officer that became a licensed balloon pilot.

     Once Camp Wise was in operation, the school was closed and the men and equipment were moved to the new camp. Maj. Lambert was assigned as the temporary commander of Camp Wise when Col. Prentice became ill. Two weeks later he was replaced by Col. Bower from Ft. Omaha. 

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Technical drawing of the Missouri Aeronautical Society site.

Camp John Wise, San Antonio, Texas

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     Camp John Wise was situated just north of  San Antonio, on a bluff overlooking the Olmos Basin: across from Alamo Heights. When construction began in January 1918, the officers and enlisted men from Fort Omaha were housed in tents at Fort Sam Houston: about one mile away. This site was selected because of the number of recruits and supplies in close proximity at: Camp Travis, Camp Wilson, Fort Sam Houston, and the Missouri Aeronautical Society's Balloon School two miles away. Plus, the Army had already had plenty of experience with flying aeroplanes at Fort Sam Houston, and the Kelly Fields. The Signal Corps had determined that this part of Texas provided some of the best flying conditions in the country: some 270 days a year, of clear flying weather. 

 

     The camp was named after one of America's most noted early aeronauts: John Wise; an intrepid balloonist and scientist. He launched his final balloon from St. Louis, Missouri on September 29, 1879, and was last seen soaring over Lake Michigan; where he and his balloon were presumed to have crashed.

    Lt. Col. James Prentice was the first commander of Camp John Wise, along with a few officers and enlisted men, set up a course of instruction; and had a balloon in the air by the middle of February. In April, Col. Prentice became ill with  appendicitis and was taken to the hospital at Fort Sam Houston for surgery. When Lt. Col. Prentice had recovered, he was assigned to Balloon Corps staff duty in Washington. Col. Bower from Ft. Omaha replaced him.

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    Technical drawing of Camp John Wise, with an inset of a portion of a 1906 USGS map of San Antonio: that had an overprint of the locations of government posts. This was done by the Missouri Aeronautical Society, and provided to the student balloon pilots. This was so when they landed their spherical balloons, they would try to land on government property. If they landed on private property, the balloon pilot would have to pay the owner of the property damages, and pay to have the balloon carted back to the school.  

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     Panoramic view of Camp John Wise, taken from a balloon, in December 1918. The view is looking toward the East, with McCullough Avenue in the foreground. The City of Olmos Park covers the post today. However there are still traces of the camp: if you explore the area. The San Antonio Gun Club, just off Basse Road, is the site of the rifle and machine gun range shared with the West Texas Military Academy. Just outside the range is a granite marker placed by the Balloon Corps Veterans' Association commemorating the camp, and the men of the Balloon Corps.

Camp Operations

 

     The facilities were completed very quickly and recruits were arriving at a steady rate. A full course of balloon instruction was established for enlisted men and officers: which together, totaled almost 2600. In early June, two Balloon Companies left for Arcadia, California, to  establish the west coast's Army Balloon School. The influenza epidemic which hit all the Army camps in the San Antonio area, took its toll on Camp Wise: more than 1000 men were taken ill, of which 23 died. With quarantines in place, those men that were not down with the flu, were shuffled through several Balloon Companies to complete their training; then deployed to France. 

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View of Camp Wise from a balloon basket at 2000 feet, looking to the west. McCullough Avenue is the road in front of the camp's main entrance. 

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Canvas hangar for an observation balloon in its bed: protected from the elements.

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     The winch truck had two V-8 engines: one to power the truck and the other one would power the winch. The winch held a 6000' spool of 5/8 inch woven steel cable that had a telephone line in its core. It was made by the Robelings Company, the people who made the cable for the Brooklyn Bridge. The winch could spool out, or back, at a rate of 25' per second. 

     If a balloon was being attacked, the crew could pull the balloon down, out of harm's way. Or if the balloon was on fire, pull it away from the balloon pilot and observer who had jumped with their parachutes from the basket.

     The second equipment truck that many of the balloon companies had was the hydrogen generator, used to make the hydrogen that filled the observation balloons. They would also have a compressor that filled the steel tanks they would haul into the field. 

    The hydrogen was extremely flammable and there were accidents: where a balloon on the ground caught fire from static electricity.

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      The basket that hung below the observation balloon was the "office". It was, and still is made of wicker, which "gives" a little upon landing. The basket could generally accommodate two officers, a pilot and an observer, but the pilot was also an observer. The weight limit was generally about 450 pounds: the basket; two men, their gear, food and water. They could be up to an altitude of 1 mile, for up to 5 or 6 hours, observing the battle taking place below them and reporting by phone to the ground station. They were generally right over the front. Which makes them the forward air controllers of the day, directing shell fire, spotting targets and reporting enemy movements. They were targets for the enemy, if shot down, a balloon counted as one and a half "kills".

     The conical bag hanging off the side of the basket is the parachute container. The rope from the bottom is tethered to the harness the pilot and observer are wearing. Jumps were generally made when being attacked by an aeroplane, which often had incendiary bullets that set the hydrogen on fire. The balloon did not explode, so there was usually enough time to jump over the side. Balloon pilots and observers were the only aviators that were allowed parachutes. One reason was that they were not armed, and another was the thought at the time, by the generals, that an aeroplane pilot might jump from a damaged plane and not bring it back to base. There were only a few thousand planes and 35,000 pilots. There were only 285 balloon pilots. Balloon pilots could spend a hundred hours in the air during a month, whereas an average aeroplane pilot may have only 50 hours for his entire time in the service: including training.

     Only one balloon pilot was killed in combat, Lt. Cleo J. Ross. He and his observer Lt. Hudnut had been attacked and the balloon was set on fire. Lt. Hudnut went over the side of the basket first, and Lt. Ross did not leave until a few seconds later. His parachute opened, but parts of the burning balloon fell on it, setting it on fire. Lt. Ross fell to his death from about 1200 feet. This spectacle was seen across the entire front and reported by all armies. He was buried where he fell.

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     Getting the information from the front line to command headquarters was imperative. Radio had yet to be invented, so telephone lines were strung all across the battlefield, but were often cut. The motorcycle was the next means of getting the messages out. Each balloon company would have had one motorcycle.  However, they were not really effective in the muddy conditions of the Front.

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     This is the "Type-M" Caquot balloon being readied for ascent at one of the fields at Camp Wise. The balloon was about 100 feet long and 30' in diameter. It held 40,000 cubic feet of hydrogen in a ballonette inside. When pointed into the wind, the stabilizing tail fins would fill out, as well as the expansion chamber at the nose. The integral expansion chamber compensated for the expansion of the hydrogen, and did not stress the balloon fabric. The balloon was made from up to 190 sections of two layers, of 600 count, cotton fabric; glued on the bias with rubber cement; then also sewn on the bias, so as to relieve any stress between sections of fabric. The outside was covered with a rubberized paint. Hydrogen was always leaking somewhere and the balloon would be topped off before ascension. Hydrogen would react with the rubber and glue and the fabric would become brittle if it got too hot and damp in storage.

    It took 60 to 70 men to handle the mile of ropes and keep it on the ground while being readied, or moved across the battlefield to a new location. Picture in your mind, the Macy's Parade balloons being walked, not in the street, but in mud, muck, and the grime of the enemy's dead. It was not a pleasant task. As the front moved forward, they would move to a new position overlooking the front.

     As big as they were they were not easy to shoot out of the air. Aeroplanes could be heard or seen from a distance and the winch crew could pull it down before it could be attacked. Bullets would not always set it on fire, and a slow leak of hydrogen was not a critical danger, and could be easily repaired once back on the ground.

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The balloon pilots and observers of Camp John Wise.

      Camp John Wise functioned vigorously through the end of the war, and into the early months of 1919. At war's end, most men were mustered out of the Army, and sent home. In early 1919, the Army made a decision to close Camp John Wise, and assign the remaining Balloon Companies to a new school to be set up south of town at Brooks Field. When Camp Wise was abandoned, the serviceable equipment and remaining 15 Balloon Companies were moved to Brooks Field. The buildings and excess materials were later auctioned at a public sale; and the property sold to land developers. The high ground overlooking the Olmos Basin, where the balloons flew, became the City of Olmos Park.

Ross Field: Arcadia, California

    In the early part of June 1918, the Army established an airfield at Arcadia, on the site of the Santa Anita Race track: it was commanded by Col. W. M. Hensley. Within days, two Balloon Companies from Camp John Wise; three Balloon Companies from Fort Omaha; and the men of two Balloon Companies from Kelly Field arrived and erected a tent camp. Training began quickly and balloons were in the air by the end the month. The hydrogen plant was on line by the end of July: which would allow them to get more balloons up each day. By the end of summer most of the building construction had been completed.

    In the rush to get an Army Balloon School on the west coast, the Signal Corps did not consider the Santa Ana winds: which blew in from the desert. These winds created much havoc with the aerial observation, ground training, and balloon handling. Companies were limited as to how high the balloons could be flown on those windy days. In order to simulate high altitude observations, they would truck the officers to a camp site at the top of Mt. Wilson: to observe live artillery fire from the field below the mountain. The altitude of Mt. Wilson was similar to that of being in a balloon basket: but without the handling issues caused by high winds.

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View of Ross Field taken from a balloon at 1000'

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     A rare event at Ross Field, all Balloon Companies with a balloon in the air. Photo was taken from another balloon at 3000 feet. In the foreground the Santa Anita race track is visible. There are citrus groves just above the camp, below, Mt. Wilson. Rows of eucalyptus trees surround the camp. 

      While the Balloon School at Ross Field was in operation, it trained about 200 officers as observers. In the early part of 1919, the field was abandoned, and most of the men were released from Army service. None of the Balloon Companies saw overseas service. Those that stayed in went to Ft. Omaha and Scott Field: the remaining equipment and some men went to Brooks Field. Subsequently the buildings and land were transferred back to the previous owner: Anita Baldwin.

Here is a link to the California Aviation History page on Ross Fieldhttp://www.militarymuseum.org/BalloonSch.html

The Balloon Companies

      Although the numbering of Balloon Companies goes to 102, not all of them were organized, and some that were, were not fully manned. The Army was planning for two more hard years of war in France and Germany. When the Armistice was signed, it left the majority of the Balloon Companies in training, or at the port: waiting to embark to France. Even within the AEF there were a handful of companies that never saw combat. Another thing that has to be taken into account is how they kept up the company manning to combat strength with the "Spanish Flu" epidemic. Men would go to the hospital and when they got out, were assigned to another company, and their slot was taken by someone from another company or from the hospital. It is not unusual to see one person's name in several companies.

     Most Balloon Corps members Stateside were mustered out of the service within a month or two. Meanwhile, in Europe, the men were languishing, getting those rumors that they will be leaving any day. For most of them, they spent more time in training and waiting to come home than in combat. By September 1919, all the Balloon Corps men were back in the States.

 

    There were many Balloon Companies formed at various Army posts around the country, most of them were for the basic military training, and some fundamentals of ballooning. Not many of them got to handle balloons. A few Army posts had some advance training, like live fire artillery spotting. But the formal schools for balloon pilot training were: Ft. Omaha, Camp John Wise and Ross Field: all of which were abandoned in 1919. However, there were some Balloon Companies being kept for strategic reasons while the technology of the kite balloon was being abandoned. Some posts were to be used as bases for the motorized airships for border and coastal patrol. Others were to be used for testing and evaluation of the developing technologies of airships and the use of helium: which had just become economical.

     

First Balloon Company

    The First Balloon Company was organized at Ft. Omaha on October 1, 1917. Initially it was Company A of the Second Squadron. Some of their staff went to Camp Wise and Ft. Sill. The company departed for France on December 8, 1917 and arrived back to the States on June 5, 1919. They saw action in all the major campaigns. They demobilized shortly after arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Men and equipment of the First Balloon Company in front of the Balloon Hanger at Ft. Omaha before departure to France.

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First Balloon Company at Ft. Omaha, prior to departure to France 1917

Second Balloon Company

     The Second Balloon Company was organized on September 17, 1917, at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company B of the Second Balloon Squadron. They departed for France on December 8, 1917, and returned June 22, 1919. They served in all of the major campaigns. They were one of the few Balloon Companies that survived after the war and were assigned to Scott Field, Illinois.

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Second Balloon Company insignia. It was fashioned after the "official" yet unapproved design. It is sewn on blanket wool, and the hand-embroidered balloon and stars are in silk thread on a wool felt circle. The stars are to represent the major battles that they were in.  

Officer Second Balloon Company insignia. Hand stitched in silk thread on wool serge. All Balloon Corps insignia were made after hostilities ended, and there are dozens of different styles.

 

 

Balloon Pilot's observation log book. The Army did not have a standard log book so they borrowed them from the French. This particular one was from Lt. Leo Murphy. He and Lt. Malcolm Sedgewick were the first Americans to parachute from a burning balloon, July 6, 1918, near Vaux.

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Sketch from which the unaproved designs were made.

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Officers of the Second Balloon Company at Scott Field Airship School. Note all the variations in the styles of uniforms. Also note the different wing badges some of them are wearing. Col. Pagelow was the Commander.

Third Balloon Company

      The Third Balloon Company was organized on September 13, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company C, Second Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on December 8, 1918 and returned from France on June 26, 1919. They were in all major battles, and demobilized shortly after arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Third Balloon Company, France 1919

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Officers of the Third Balloon Company, left to right: 1st Lt R. S. O' Hara, 2nd Lt. H. E. Snow, 1st Lt. W. M. White, 2nd Lt. B. Tidball, and 2nd Lt. S. White. Note the variations in the boots and tailoring of the uniforms.

Fourth Balloon Company

      The Fourth Balloon Company was organized on September 25, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company D, Second Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on December 8, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in all major battles. Shortly after their arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia, they were assigned to Ft. Leavenworth, and in early 1921, assigned to Ft. Kamehameha, Hawaii, and were demobilized after storms destroyed their balloons in 1922.

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Fourth Balloon Company, somewhere in France 1919

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Gen. Pershing, in review and making awards.

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Lt. Oatman's Balloon Pilot License

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View  of Ft. Kamehameha, Hawaii June 1921, from 5000'

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Lt. Oatman getting ready to ascend in Hawaii.

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Silk flag Lt. Oatman carried every time he flew.

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Fourth Balloon Company staff and French liaison officer, France 1919

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Original approved design Balloon Pilot wing badge, sewn in silk on black wool.

Lt. Oatman & mascot

Fifth Baloon Company

      The Fifth Balloon Company was organized on November 4, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company A, Third Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on January 31, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in several major battles, and upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, were assigned to the new Balloon School at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas and demobilized on May 5, 1919. Brooks Field Balloon School became an Airship School, as the kite balloon technology was being abandoned.

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View from 2000' of Brooks Field with its new airship hanger.

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The Balloon School entry for the Battle of Flowers Parade, in San Antonio for Fiesta.

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Unauthorized shoulder insignia, hand sewn with wool felt on puttee wool with silk embroidery thread.

 Recruiting poster for the Balloon Division 

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Major Strauss, balloon pilot and now airship pilot, April 1919

Sixth Balloon Company

      The Sixth Balloon Company was organized on November 4, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company B, Third Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on January 31, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in several major battles, and upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, were assigned to the new Balloon School at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas and were demobilized on May 5, 1919. Brooks Field Balloon School became an Airship School, as the technology of the kite balloon was being abandoned.

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Battlefield map, France, showing Balloon Company positions September  26/27 and October 4 to November 5.

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Balloon in its bed being camouflaged with limbs and branches. 

Seventh Balloon Company

      The Seventh Balloon Company was organized on November 4, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company C, Third Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on January 31, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in several major battles. On one particular day Lts. Higgs and Burt parachuted from two different balloons. The Company is also noted for Sgt. Harold Nichols for his actions in the field. He was awarded the DSC. Upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, they were assigned to the new Balloon School at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas and were demobilized on May 5, 1919. Brooks Field Balloon School became an Airship School, as the technology of the kite balloon was being abandoned.

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In France, getting the balloon ready to ascend. 

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Balloon and observers in the air, everyone is looking for enemy planes in the area.

Eighth Balloon Company

      The Eigth Balloon Company was organized on November 4, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company D, Third Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on January 31, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in several major battles in the last month of the war. Upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, they were assigned to the new Balloon School at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas and were demobilized on May 5, 1919. Brooks Field Balloon School became an Airship School, as the technology of the kite balloon was being abandoned.

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Telephone wiring diagram between Balloon Companies, the various commands and artillery positions. There could be a hundred miles of telephone cable strung out on the battlefield. Wiremen were always in peril trying to keep lines open.

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The balloon is up, the ground crew is manning the "spider": ready to move the balloon away from the observers in case it is attacked and they have to jump. Everyone else is watching for German aeroplanes.

Ninth Balloon Company

      The Ninth Balloon Company was organized on November 13, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company A, Fourth Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on June 29, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in several major battles in the last month of the war. It was on November 7th they heard that there was going to be an Armistice, and stopped observations. They were demobilized upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Like a wagon train, with the machine gunner in the lead, followed by the winch truck and the rest of their gear, headed for the Front  to set up their observation and communications position.

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At a new position, and ready to ascend. Machine gunners at the ready.

Tenth Balloon Company

      The Tenth Balloon Company was organized on November 13, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company B, Fourth Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on June 29, 1918 and returned from France on May 25, 1919. They were in several major battles in the last months of the war. They were demobilized upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Tenth Balloon Company somewhere in France waiting to come home.

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Getting the basket ready for the observers to make their ascent.

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Chart Room and telephone center for the  Tenth Balloon Company. 

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Cover of a pamphlet prepared by the Signal Corps in the last months of the war, with a couple dozen photos of the Tenth Balloon Company, and others, on what operating in the field was like. Bound with silk ribbon, and printed in France. 

Eleventh Balloon Company

      The Eleventh Balloon Company was organized on December 13, 1917 at ft. Omaha, and was originally Company A & C, Fifth Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on June 29, 1918 and returned from France on May 3, 1919. They were in several major battles in the last months of the war. On one particular day, October 6, Lt. McDevitt, under attack by German Fokkers, made four jumps from the balloons he was in. For his actions he was awarded the DSC. The Eleventh Balloon Company was demobilized upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Eleventh Balloon Company - April 25, 1918, just before leaving for France, at Camp Morrison, Virginia. 

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A page from the history of the Eleventh Balloon Company in the book edited by Lts. Ovitt and Bowers: 

The Balloon Section of the American Expeditionary Forces.  Officers dining in Paris.

Twelfth Balloon Company

      The Twelfth Balloon Company was organized on December 13, 1917 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally going to be Company B. Fifth Balloon Squadron, but with the changes and manning issues, and disorganization, it never happened. They departed the States on June 29, 1918 and returned from France on March 30, 1919. They were in several major battles in the last months of the war.  Upon return to the States the Twelfth Balloon Company was sent to Scott Field, and later to Langley, where they were demobilized December 1,1919

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Twelfth Balloon Company, just before leaving for France, at Camp Morrison, Virginia. 

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Parachutes were a new technology, and development changed daily. This is one example. Notice that the parachute is attached to the balloon rigging, above the basket. This was an attempt to bring the observers down, in the basket. It worked, to a point. The landing was rough, the men got tossed around, injured, and the basket got damaged. 

When parachutes were introduced at Ft. Omaha, the balloon officers were reluctant to try them. Major Henry B. Hersey, at the age of 47, showed them how it was done.

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Rough landing in the basket: a bit shaken up.

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Another rough landing, single basket, almost into the trees, this was the end of the idea.

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My grandfather, Pvt. John M. DesChenes, 12th Balloon Company. He's what began this journey into the history of the Balloon Corps.

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Balloon Sgt. calling out manouvering commands while training the men handing the balloon, from the "public address system": a 100' tower equiped with a very large megaphone.

      The stories my grandfather told were sometimes just thought of as "war stories". But as I did my research, the places, people and events he spoke about were real. These are just a few anecdotes that I heard, and could verify with some certainty.

     Fiesta in San Antonio is a big deal, and all the military posts would participate. During the 1918 Battle of Flowers Parade, Camp Wise flew a spherical balloon over the parade route, and grandstand in Alamo Plaza. The balloon flew low, and my grandfather released the sand ballast over the grandstand: giving the parade dignitaries a sand shower. The balloon rose very quickly and landed an hour later at Brooks Field. 

     My grandfather spoke fluent French, and used this ability on many occasions in his military career. In 1918, the French sent a delegation of balloon officers to inspect the Army’s Balloon Schools. When they arrived they had a difficult time with the English to French and vice-versa. My grandfather volunteered to translate, but the French officers did not want to speak to a lowly Private. So, the Army made him a brevet 2nd Lieutenant, and translated for them, then escorted them from Ft. Omaha, to Camp Wise, and then to St. Louis, where they met with the Missouri Aeronautical Society. He returned to Camp Wise and later ended up with the 12th Balloon Company, and back to being a Private at Camp Morrison.

     The other times he used his linguistic ability was in France. While in the field, and while waiting to come home, rations would more often than not be delivered in a timely manner. He would go into the nearest towns, and barter for comestibles from the locals. He would bring back enough food, and often wine, for everyone: including the officers. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his actions in the field: after the war.

     

     He talked about a couple of battles where their balloon had been shot down, and the observers making their jumps. But it was during bad weather in late September they had to move from the St. Mihel sector. With no good roads, they had to march the balloon across the battlefield, it took them 5 days. The mud was deep, and there were some enemy dead, from earlier battles, still in the field: being eaten by crows and wild dogs. He said the smell of war was terrible, and he learned to hate crows. Subsequent moves from town to town were also difficult: balloons were burned and the kitchen got bombed at one place. By November 7 they were in their final location when the war ended.

      My grandfather had other stories, and told them often, some of which were with Pershing's Army in Mexico. When he ran away from home in 1912, we don't know what name he used to enlist in the Army that year. He had two birth certificates from 2 different years. One of them had: John Joseph Michael Pierre Marie Meville-DesChenes. He shortened it when he went into the Army in 1918. It makes it difficult to trace his early adventures. But I do know that the stories were real, because of letters he had from different people, and many of the details about  events, those people, and the places did not make it to print until many years after his passing.

Thirteenth Balloon Company

      The Thirteenth Balloon Company was organized on January 18, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company C, Fourth Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on June 10, 1919 and returned from France on June 18, 1919. They were in several major battles in the last months of the war. The Thirteenth Balloon Company was demobilized upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Thirteenth Balloon Company, November 30, 1918, Bois de Pannes, France

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Capt. Charles L. Hayward commander of the Thirteenth Balloon Company. Capt. Hayward was the last member of the U. S.  Army Balloon Corps, passing away at the age of 103.

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Balloon Pilot's wing badge in gold bullion thread, on black wool, sewn over a brass plate with a pin back.

Roster of the officers and NCOs numbered in the photo

Fourteenth Balloon Company

      The Fourteenth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and was originally Company D, Fourth Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on June 17, 1918 and returned from France on August 4, 1919. The Fourteenth Balloon Company was one of the late arrivals. Their officers got to the Front, but the men did not. They were the last  company to come home, and demobilized upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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Somewhere in France, the Fourteenth Balloon Company waiting to come home.

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Well dressed balloon observer, with parachute harness and parachute.

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Officers at the areial circus in Germany, note the 14th Balloon insignia on the side of the tent. 

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Fourteenth Balloon  Company insignia: a photo taken by Pvt. Harold Hallenbeck. It was never authorized and not approved, but worn to show their unit among the other groups at the aerial circuses held in Germany after the Armistice.

Fragment of the balloon that burned on May 2, 1918 at Ft. Omaha's Florence Field, that killed 2 men. Salvaged by Pvt. Harold Hallenbeck.

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Officers of the Fourteenth Balloon Company

Fifteenth Balloon Company

      The Fifteenth Balloon Company was organized on February 15, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and  departed the States on June 17, 1918, and returned from France on July 26, 1919. Although late entering the war, they made it into battle during October and saw action up to the Armistice, and  was demobilized upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia.

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German balloon in its bed, discovered as the Front moved during the last month of the war.

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War is over, riding into a German town

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Ready for inspection, by Gen. Pershing

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Unpacking balloon, for demonstration at the aerial circus.

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Balloon is ready to be opened for inflation.

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Balloon is being slowly unfolded and being inspected for damages before the rigging is attached and the inflation can proceed.

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Balloon pilot's shoulder insignia; the roundel is sewn in silk thread on wool felt, the balloon is sewn in silver and gold bullion thread. 

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Fifteenth Balloon Company, Somewhere in Europe, 1919

Sixteenth Balloon Company

      The Sixteenth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, as Company D, Fifth Balloon Squadron. They departed the States on July 26, 1918, and returned from France on July 26, 1919. Although late entering the war, they made it into battle during September and saw action up to the Armistice, upon arrival in the States at Camp Morrison, Virginia were demobilized.

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Sixteenth Balloon Company, France June 27, 1919

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Back end of the balloon, in its bed, and men relaxing.

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Winch crew on a break from more training.

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The "spider" from the basket. The spider maneuver was used to tow the balloon cable away from an attacking aeroplane so that  if and when the  observers jumped, they would not be under the balloon and its burning debris.

 Seventeenth Balloon Company

     The Seventeenth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and after basic training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies, were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 21, 1918 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 6 months in training and drill. They arrived back at Camp Morrison on May 3, 1919. Then they were redeployed to Ft. Mills in the Philippines, and were demobilized in May, 1922, after storms destroyed their hanger and balloons.

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Seventeenth Balloon Company, May 5, 1919 Camp Morrison, Virgina

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On the road in France, waiting to go home.

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Menu for Christmas dinner, on Corregidor (The Rock)

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On the road in France, field kitchen in tow.

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On the road in France, to a new camp.

Eighteenth Balloon Company

     The Eighteenth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918  at Ft. Omaha, and after training were sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 12, 1918 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 6 months in training and drill. They arrived back at Camp Morrison on May 3. 1919 and were redeployed to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where they stayed until demobilization on December 1, 1921

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Eighteenth Balloon Company, April 17, 1919  Camp Morrison , Virgina

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Eighteenth Balloon Company,  at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, 1919

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Sample bombs they were test dropping from a balloon.

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250 pounds of bombs from a balloon basket.

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Cap or collar insignia, made in France. Worn by enlisted men and officers, never authorized.

Inflating the balloon, note the hydrogen cylinders and manifold on the right

Nineteenth Balloon Company

     The Nineteenth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and after training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 12, 1918 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 6 months in training and drill as part of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment. They arrived back to the States at Hoboken New Jersey, went to Camp Mills on April 18, 1919, were redeployed to Langley Field and were demobilized on December 1, 1919.

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Nineteenth Balloon Company, Langley Field 1919

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Balloon  Company practice

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Lee Hall at Camp Morrison, Virginia

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Motorcycle dispatch riders

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Spherical balloon for an aerial circus.

Twentieth Balloon Company

     The Twentieth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and after training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 21, 1919 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 6 months in training and drill as part of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment. The arrived in the States at Hoboken, New Jersey, went to Camp Mills on April 19, 1919, to be demobilized.

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Twentieth Balloon Company at Camp De Souge, France, 1919

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20th Balloon Company insignia, embroidered with silk thread on blanket or puttee wool.

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History of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment A.E.F, published for reunion.

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20th Balloon Company History published after arrival in 1919.

Twenty-first Balloon Company

     The Twenty-first Balloon Company was organized on February 2, 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. There they learned basic military training and drill with several other Balloon Companies, none of which had balloons to practice with. They went to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies, were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. From there they were assigned with the 4th Balloon Company to Hawaii’s Fort Kamehameha, and were demobilized with the 4th Balloon Company in 1922.

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Pilot training crash, no balloons, but lots of aeroplanes.

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At the company mess Pvt. William Moran (front)

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Helping the fly-boys clean up thier wreck

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Flying field where we drilled and aeroplanes crashed.

Photos are from a letter from Pvt. Moran to his mother

Twenty-second Balloon Company

     The Twenty-second Balloon Company was organized on February 2, 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. There they learned basic military training and drill with several other Balloon Companies. They went to Lee Hall, at Camp Morrison, where they and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. From there they were assigned to Ft. Hancock, near Sandy Hook, New Jersey, for coastal watch, and were demobilized in early 1919.

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Menu for the 1918  Thanksgiving Dinner

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Recovering hydrogen gas from a nurse balloon by piling on and squeezing it out into the main balloon. 

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Twenty-second Balloon Company  insignia, sewn in silk thread on black wool.

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Putting the balloon into its bed for the night.

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Manifold for the hydrogen used to fill the balloons. They always leaked a little.

Twenty-third Balloon Company

     The Twenty-third Balloon Company was organized on February 2, 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. There they learned basic military training and drill with several other Balloon Companies. They went to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They embarked to France on October 21, 1918, and arrived just in time for the Armistice. They were assigned to the 3rd Provisional Aero Regiment, which never came to be, and returned to the States in January, 1919, then they were assigned to Fort Sill until some time in 1922 when they demobilized.

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Twenty -third Balloon Company, Rich Field, Waco, Texas         

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Twenty-fourth Balloon Company

     The Twenty-fourth Balloon Company was organized on  January 8, 1918 at Ft. Omaha. They left for France from Camp Morrison on June 29, 1918. The Twenty-fourth was in several actions at the Front and returned to the States on August 1, 1919, one of the last companies to come home, and demobilized soon after.

Twenty-fourth Balloon Company in France

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Stenciled metal sign from one of the barracks or offices.

From a balloon, a simulated poison gas dispersal.

Twenty-fifth Balloon Company

     The Twenty-Fifth Balloon Company was organized at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma on February 16, 1918, with a core contingent of officers and men from the First Balloon Company from Ft. Omaha. Ft. Sill was the primary school for spotting live artillery. They departed for France on June 29, 1918, and were in several actions on the Front. They returned to the States on June 18, 1919, and returned to Ft, Sill. They demobilized in 1921.

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Twenty-fifth Balloon Company in France

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View from a balloon of another dozen balloons getting ready to launch over Ft. Sill.

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Getting ready to ascend,

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Waiting for the ground crew to make final adjustments on the basket.

Twenty-sixth Balloon Company

     The Twenty-sixth Balloon Company was organized at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma on April 2, 1918, with a core contingent of officer and men from the First Balloon Company from Ft. Omaha. Ft. Sill was the primary school for observing live artillery fire.They departed for France on July 10, 1918, and were in several actions on the Front. They returned to the States on June 26, 1919, and demobilized soon after.

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Twenty-sixth Balloon Company in France

     On April 2, 1918, a spark of static electricity caused a balloon to explode into flames while the ground crew was still holding onto the guide ropes. Even a good balloon, with all fittings tight on the hydrogen manifold, there was still some leakage. This series of photos, taken minutes apart, shows the devastation. The soldiers running away from the explosion were then ordered to go back and keep the balloon from drifting and igniting nearby wooden structures. Six soldiers were killed and another 30 injured in that incident. More soldiers in the Balloon Corps were killed in training accidents than in combat.

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Balloon being inflated and rigged for its basket.

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Acrid smoke from the burning fabric and rubber is thick.

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A spark of static elecltricity sets off the hydrogen, men are running for their lives.

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In a few minutes it's all over.

Twenty-seventh Balloon Company

     The Twenty-seventh Balloon Company was organized on February 2, 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. There they learned basic military training and drill with several other Balloon Companies. Early in 1919, they were assigned to Kindley Field, at Fort Mills on Corregidor in the Philippines, along with the 4th Balloon Company, and were demobilized in 1922 when storms destroyed their hanger and balloons.

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Twenty-seventh Balloon Company, Waco, Texas, Rich Field

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Christmas card  from the 27th Balloon Company Ft. Mills, Corregidor, P.I.

Twenty-eighth Balloon Company

     The Twenty-eighth Balloon Company was organized on February 16, 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. There they learned basic military training and drill with several other Balloon Companies. They went to Camp Morrison, at Lee Hall, where they and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. On December 26, 1918 they were assigned to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. They were demobilized on June 1, 1919.

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It's winter 1919 and cold: 2 groups of the 28th Balloon Company at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland

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Last 2 groups of the 28th Balloon Company at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland

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28th Balloon Company insignia, sewn in white silk on a black wool background. The singlet worn by this sergeant also has a 28th Balloon Company design with the winged prop.

Twenty-ninth Balloon Company

     The Twenty-ninth Balloon Company was organized on February 2, 1918 at Fort Omaha. There they learned basic military training and drill with several other Balloon Companies. Early in 1919 when Ft. Omaha was being closed, they were assigned to Fort Monroe and Fort Story, Virginia for coastal observation. They demobilized in early 1920.

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Twenty-ninth Balloon Company Fort Monroe and Fort Story, Virginia 1919

Thirtieth Balloon Company

     The Thirtieth Balloon Company was organized on January 21, 1918 at Ft. Omaha, and after training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 21, 1919 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 5 months in training and drill as part of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment. The arrived in the States at Hoboken, New Jersey went to Camp Mills on April 19, 1919, to be demobilized.

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Thirtieth Balloon Company in France 1919

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Pvt. James Fabert, note the inisigna.

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Thirtieth Balloon Company in the field.

Thirty-first Balloon Company

     The Thirty-first Balloon Company organized on March 18, 1918 at Rich Field in Waco, Texas. That spring they picked up more men and a balloon on a trip through Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In July they moved to West Pont, New York, and settled in for a 6 month stay. In January 1919, they moved to Camp Knox where they were demobilized in June, 1919.

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Thirty-first  Balloon Company, Camp Knox, Kentucky, 1919 

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Thirty-first Balloon Company at West Point: inspection time.

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West Point camp from the balloon basket.

Thirty-second Balloon Company

     The Thirty-second Balloon Company organized at Camp McClellan, Alabama, and moved to Camp Gordon, Georgia.  During war demobilization, left Camp Gordon and ended up at Camp Bragg, on March 20, 1920, and was demobilized in October 1920. There’s no available record of their company history other than a page in the 1920 Ft. Bragg annual.

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Thirty-second Balloon Company at Ft. Bragg

Thirty-third Balloon Company

     The Thirty-Third  Balloon Company was organized in March 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. There is no record of this company, and may have had a skeleton staff. During this period, existing companies had a difficult time keeping up their required numbers, because of the Spanish Flu epidemic, and never were fully manned.

Thirty-fourth Balloon Company

     The Thirty-fourth Balloon Company was organized at Camp Wise on March 30, 1918, and after training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 21, 1919 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They did not make it to the Front, and were stationed at the Meuson depot and returned to the States on March 20, 1919 and demobilized.

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Thirty-fourth Balloon Company at Meuson.

Thirty-fifth Balloon Company

     The Thirty-fifth Balloon Company was organized on March 20, 1918 at Camp Wise, and after training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 21, 1919 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 6 months in training and drill as part of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment. The arrived in the States at Hoboken, New Jersey went to Camp Mills on April 19, 1919, to be demobilized.

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Thirty-fifth Balloon Company 1919

Thirty-sixth Balloon Company

     The Thirty-sixth Balloon Company was organized on March 20, 1918 at Camp Wise, and after training was sent to Camp Morrison, where they, and many other Balloon Companies were in quarantine for the Spanish Flu. They departed for France on October 21, 1919 and arrived in France just in time for the Armistice. They spent the next 6 months in training and drill as part of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment. The arrived in the States at Hoboken, New Jersey went to Camp Mills on April 19, 1919, to be demobilized.

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Thirty-sixth Balloon Company, somewhere in France.

Thirty-seventh Balloon Company

      The Thirty-seventh Balloon Company organized at Camp John Wise on February 5, 1918, in San Antonio, Texas. They were among the group which was sent on July 8, 1918, to Arcadia, California to set up the Army’s new Balloon School, which became Ross Field. They were a training company; never made it overseas; and were demobilized on February 22, 1919 when Ross Field was downsized.

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Thirty-seventh Balloon Ccompany in formation  for roll call and drill.

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Hooking the balloon  to the winch cable  .

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This is the company "street". 

Thirty-eighth Balloon Company

     The Thirty-eighth Balloon Company organized at Camp John Wise on February 2, 1918, in San Antonio, Texas. They were among the group which was sent on July 8, 1918, to Arcadia, California to set up the Army’s new Balloon School, which became Ross Field. They were a training company; never made it overseas; and were demobilized on February 22, 1919 'when Ross Field was downsized.

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Master Balloon Mechanic shoulder insignia, sewn in silver, gold and copper bullion thread.

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Balloon Mechanic shoulder isignia, sewn with copper bullion thread.

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Another balloon basket parachute drop test.

Thirty-ninth Balloon Company

     The Thirty-ninth Balloon Company organized at Camp John Wise on February 5, 1918, in San Antonio, Texas. They were sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for live artillery observation. They never got orders to go overseas, but many of the men got assigned to other companies: to fill vacancies caused by the Spanish Flu. They demobilized in January 1919.

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Thirty-ninth Balloon Company Ft. Sill, Oklahoma 1918

Fortieth Balloon Company

     The Fortieth Balloon Company was organized on February 5, 1918 at Camp Wise, in San Antonio, Texas. They were a training company, shuffling men through to fill positions in the other companies as needed. When the camp was abandoned in February 1919, they moved to the new Balloon School at Brooks Field on the other side of San Antonio. They demobilized May 1, 1919, when the kite balloon technology became obsolete.

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Fortieth Balloon Company  Camp John  Wise, San Antonio, Texas 1918

Photo from the Balloon Pilot Souvenir

Forty-first Balloon Company

     The Forty-first Balloon Company was organized on March 1, 1918 at Camp Wise, in San Antonio, Texas. They were went to Camp Morrison May 5, 1918 and were quarantined. Because many of their men were shuffled to other companies, they did not get to full strength until October, when they were sent to Camp Jackson, South Carolina, and were demobilized in June 1919 during the reduction in forces at that post. 

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Camp Jackson, South Carolina, from the basket 1918

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Early design for a Balloon Corps logo, which appeared in several early publications, and became the basis for the many unofficial company insignia that exist. 

Forty-second Balloon Company

      The Forty-Second Balloon Company was organized on March 15, 1918 at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas. They were sent to Camp Morrison and deployed to France on June 29, 1918. They were in all major actions and returned to the States on May 5, 1919 and demobilized.

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Forty-Second Balloon Company in France 1919

Forty-third Balloon Company

      The Forty-Third Balloon Company was organized on March 23, 1918 at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas. They were sent to Camp Morrison and deployed to France on June 29, 1918. They were in all major actions and returned to the States on May 5, 1919 and demobilized.

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Forty-Third Balloon Company somewhere in France.

For a more detailed history of the Forty-Third Balloon Company go to:  http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/balloon43.htm

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Painted helmet with the 43 and their balloon insignia.

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Chain-stitched insignia on puttee wool from the Forty-third Balloon Company.

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Official design of the Balloon Corps insignia: blue and white silk. It was never approved by the Army, and there are many variations.

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     HQ staff, mess in the field. Note the balloon design and aero roundel on the staff car. The balloon design was the "official" insignia design for the Balloon Corps, and was to replace all the variations that were being made by each company. It was mass produced in the spring of 1919 and many were given to the men when they embarked to the States: with their new uniforms. The aero roundel was also used with Army and Corps insignia, along with the "official" balloon insignia. In the collection of papers I had from Col. Ira Fravel, (he saved most of the overseas records) the design was submitted, but the Army never gave their official approval. The men and officers of the Balloon Corps were a surly lot, and because of their remoteness from HQ staff, and disdain for petty regulations, did what they pleased when it came to insignia and wing badges. 

Forty-fourth Balloon Company

     The Forty-fourth Balloon Company was organized at Camp Wise on March 23, 1918, and left for France from Camp Morrison on July 10th 1918. They arrived in Brest and were moved into the encampment in Meuson that was just vacated by the Tenth Balloon Company. They remained there until the middle of November when they were moved to the Front, and spent the next nine months in drill and training before they left and arrived back in the states on August 1, 1919 and demobilized.

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Pay book: Pvt. William McNeal, Forty-Fourth Balloon Company.

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Hooking the parachute to the harness.

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Map of the routes the various Balloon Companies took during the St. Mihiel Offensive. 

Forty-fifth Balloon Company

     The Forty-fifth Balloon Company was organized at Camp Wise on March 23, 1918, and left for France from Camp Morrison on July 10th 1918. They arrived in Brest and moved to La Testa, where they set up their camp. They remained there part of the 2nd Provisional Aero Regiment until they returned to the States at Hoboken, New Jersey and demobilized at Camp Mills on April 19, 1919.

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Walking the balloon into its bed.

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Observer Wing Badge in silver on black wool sewn to a brass plate with a pin back.

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National Association of American Balloon Corps Veterans membership card from the 1960's

Forty-sixth Balloon Company

     The Forty-sixth Balloon Company was organized on July 13, 1918 at Fort Omaha. They went to Camp Morrison, Virginia on November 6, 1918. Having arrived after the Armistice, they were demobilized in January 1919.  At this time there are no official records or unit photographs.

Forty-seventh Balloon Company

     The Forty-seventh Balloon Company was organized on July 21, 1918 at Fort Omaha. They were one of the companies that did not get fully manned, and were demobilized when the Army abandoned the Balloon School at Fort Omaha in 1919. At this time there are no records or unit photographs.

Forty-eighth Balloon Company

     The Forty-eighth Balloon Company was organized on August 19, 1918 at Fort Omaha. They were one of the companies that did not get fully manned, and were demobilized when the Army abandoned the Balloon School at Fort Omaha in 1919. At this time there are no records or unit photographs.

Forty-ninth Balloon Company

    The Forty-ninth Balloon Company was organized on August 23, 1918 at Fort Omaha. They went to Camp Morrison, Virginia on November 6, 1918. Having arrived after the Armistice, they were demobilized in January 1919. At this time there are no official records or unit photographs.

Fiftieth Balloon Company

     The Fiftieth Balloon Company was organized on August 28, 1918 at Fort Omaha. They were one of the companies that did not get fully manned, and were demobilized when the Army abandoned the Balloon School at Fort Omaha in 1919. At this time there are no official records or unit photographs.

Fifty-first Balloon Company

     The Fifty-first Balloon Company organized at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on April 25, 1918, after basic military training, they were sent to start up the new Balloon School at Arcadia, California on June 11, 1918.  They were in training when the Armistice was signed, and demobilized when the Army abandoned the school on February 22, 1919.

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Arcadia, California, Ross Field, February 1919, all the Balloon Companies' transportation, with the balloons and hangers. In  the background is Mt. Wilson: where balloon officers would go to spot artillery when the balloons could not fly.

Fifty-second Balloon Company

      The Fifty-second Balloon Company organized at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on April 25, 1918, after basic military training, they were sent to start up the new Balloon School at Arcadia, California on June 11, 1918.  They were in training when the Armistice was signed, and demobilized when the Army abandoned the school on February 22, 1919.

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Arcadia, California, Ross Field, February 1919, all the Balloon Companies assembled for review. Note that the balloons are weighted down with sand bags to keep them stable with just a few men on the ropes.

Fifty-third Balloon Company

     The Fifty-third Balloon Company was organized on July 14, 1918 at Fort Omaha. They departed to Camp Morrison, Virginia on November 6, 1918. Having arrived after the Armistice, they were demobilized in January 1919. 

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Fifty-third Balloon Company, December, 1918 Camp Morrison, Virginia

Fifty-fourth Balloon Company

     The Fifty-fourth Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on August 2, 1918 and part of the contingent of companies that were sent to Brooks Field in February 1919, when Camp Wise was abandoned. They were demobilized May 1, 1919: when the kite balloon became obsolete.

Fifty-fifth Balloon Company

     The Fifty-fifth Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on August 10, 1918 and part of the contingent of companies that were sent to Brooks Field in February 1919,  when Camp Wise was abandoned. They were demobilized on May 1,1919, when the kite balloon became obsolete.

Fifty-sixth Balloon Company

     The Fifty-sixth Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on August 10, 1918 and part of the contingent of companies that were sent to Brooks Field in February 1919,  when Camp Wise was abandoned. They were demobilized on May 1,1919, when the kite balloon became obsolete.

Fifty-seventh Balloon Company

     The Fifty-seventh Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on August 10, 1918 and part of the contingent of companies that were sent to Brooks Field in February 1919, while Camp Wise was being abandoned, and demobilized on May 1,1919, when the kite balloon became obsolete.

Fifty-eighth Balloon Company

     The Fifty-eighth Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on March 13, 1918 was sent to Camp Morrison and departed to France on October 21, 1918. They arrived at the Armistice and were in training and drill until they departed. They demobilized within a few days of their arrival back in the States on June 27, 1919.

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Faded period sketch: proposed  58th Balloon Company insignia. 

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Fourth Corps insignia in felt, the aero roundel in felt, and the balloon insignia. 

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First Army insignia in felt, with the  balloon as an aero roundel in wool felt and the basket embroidered in silk thread.

Col. Henry B. Hersey's uniform.

Fifty-ninth Balloon Company

     The Fifty-ninth Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on August 28, 1918 and was in training when the Armistice was signed. They were sent to Ft. Crook on December 1, 1918 and was demobilized when the Army abandoned Ft. Omaha in 1919.

Sixtieth Balloon Company

     The Sixtieth Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on August 28, 1918 and was in training when the Armistice was signed. They were sent to Ft. Crook on December 1, 1918 and was demobilized when the Army abandoned Ft. Omaha in 1919.

Sixty-first Balloon Company

     The Sixty-first Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on August 28, 1918 and was in training when the Armistice was signed. They had orders to depart to France on November 6, 1918, but went to Langley, Virginia, and demobilized on April 1, 1919

Sixty-second Balloon Company

     The Sixty-second Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on March 16, 1918 and probably never fully staffed. At this time there is no record available.

Sixty-third Balloon Company

      The Sixty-third Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on March 16, 1918 and probably never fully staffed. At this time there is no record available.

Sixty-fourth Balloon Company

     The Sixty-fourth Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on March 16, 1918 and was part of the group that were sent to start the new Balloon School at Arcadia California on July 4, 1918. They were in training when the Armistice was signed and were demobilized when the Army abandoned the Balloon School on February 22, 1919.

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Balloon pilot dressed for the weather and his balloon upon return from a crash in Arcadia

Sixty-fifth Balloon Company

       The Sixty-fifth Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on March 16, 1918 and was part of the group that were sent to start the new Balloon School at Arcadia California on July 4, 1919. They were in training when the Armistice was signed and were demobilized when the Army abandoned the Balloon School on February 22, 1919.

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Grave Identification Card for Lt. Cleo J. Ross, only Balloon Pilot killed in action, for whom the Balloon School in Arcadia, California was named.

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Sixty-sixth Balloon Company

     The Sixty-sixth Balloon Company organized at Fort Omaha on March 16, 1918 and was part of the group that were sent to start the new Balloon School at Arcadia California on July 4, 1919. They were in training when the Armistice was signed and were demobilized when the Army abandoned the Balloon School on February 22, 1919.

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Arial view of the Balloon School at Arcadia California, which later became Ross Field.

Sixty-seventh Balloon Company

     The Sixty-seventh Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on August 23, 1918 and part of the contingent of companies that were sent to Brooks Field in February 1919, when Camp Wise was abandoned. They were demobilized on May 1,1919, when the kite balloon became obsolete.

Sixty-eighth Balloon Company

     The Sixty-eighth Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on August 23, 1918 and part of the contingent of companies that were sent to Brooks Field in February 1919,  when Camp Wise was abandoned. They were demobilized on May 1,1919, when the kite balloon became obsolete.

Sixty-ninth Balloon Company

     The Sixty-ninth Balloon Company was assembled on July 18, 1918 at Camp De Souge in France with the men from other companies declared excess when the Army reduced staffing requirements for Balloon Companies. Experienced officers were pulled from other companies as well. Because most of them had training in balloon handling, they got to the Front quickly, and saw some action. They were demobilized shortly after they arrived in the States on May 3, 1919.

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Sixty-ninth Balloon Company in France

Seventieth Balloon Company

     The Seventieth Balloon Company was organized at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in August 1918, with men who were declared excess when the requirements for staffing were adjusted, and with men who had recovered from the Spanish Flu. With the signing of the Armistice whatever training was taking place, ended, and the men were quickly mustered out of the service. There are no official records at this time.  

Seventy-first Balloon Company

   The Seventy-first Balloon Company was organized, when the requirements for staffing were adjusted, at Lee Hall at Camp Morrison, Virginia in August 1918, with men declared excess in the Balloon Companies that were awaiting embarkation to France: along with men who had recovered from the Spanish Flu. With the signing of the Armistice, people were quickly mustered out of the service. There are no official records or unit photos at this time.  

Seventy-second Balloon Company

     The Seventy-second Balloon Company organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on September 23, 1918. It was a training company and was one that moved to Brooks Field when Camp Wise was abandoned in February 1919. They demobilized on May 1, 1919 when the Army discontinued the kite balloon program.

Seventy-third Balloon Company

     The Seventy-third Balloon Company organized at Ft. Omaha on September 28 1918. They moved to Florence Field and then Ft. Crook on November 6, 1918. There is no record after this date, and probably demobilized after the Armistice.

Seventy-fourth Balloon Company

     The Seventy-fourth Balloon Company organized at Ft. Omaha on September 28 1918. They moved to Florence Field and then Ft. Crook on November 6, 1918. There is no record after this date, and probably demobilized after the Armistice.

Seventy-fifth Balloon Company

     The Seventy-fifth Balloon Company organized at Ft. Omaha on September 28 1918. They moved to Florence Field and then Ft. Crook on November 6, 1918. There is no record after this date, and probably demobilized after the Armistice.

Seventy-sixth and Seventy-seventh Balloon Company

numbers were assigned to Camp Wise but were not organized

Seventy-eighth Balloon Company

     The Seventy-eighth Balloon Company was organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on October 17, 1918. After the Armistice, they were assigned to Camp Travis’ 91st Division, a couple miles away, as part of the First Provisional Aero Regiment: on December 20, 1918. They remained there until Camp Wise was abandoned. Then moved to Brooks Field, and were demobilized on May 1, 1919: when the Army discontinued the use of kite balloons

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Seventy-eighth Balloon Company, Camp John Wise, 1918

Photo is from the Balloon Pilot Souvenir

Seventy-ninth Balloon Company

     The Seventy-ninth Balloon Company was organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on October 17, 1918. After the Armistice, they were assigned to Camp Travis’ 91st Division, a couple miles away, as part of the First Provisional Aero Regiment, on November 25, 1918. They remained there until Camp Wise was abandoned. Then moved to Brooks Field, and were demobilized on May 1, 1919: when the Army discontinued the use of kite balloons.

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Famous photo of San Antonio's Camp Travis 91st Cactus Division: carefully created with all the men and horses lined up and posed, then taken from one of the First Provisional Aero Regiment balloons. If you see this photo in any publication, it is usually cropped at the top, just above the men lined up forming the "Cactus Division". What nobody ever sees is the back end of the balloon, and the men from the Seventy-Ninth Balloon Company at the upper right side of the photo. 

Eightieth Balloon Company

     Eightieth Balloon Company was organized at Camp Wise in San Antonio, Texas on October 17, 1918. After the Armistice, they were assigned to Camp Travis’ 91st Division, a couple miles away, as part of the First Provisional Aero Regiment, on December 20, 1918. They remained there until Camp Wise was abandoned. Then moved to Brooks Field, and were demobilized on May 1, 1919: when the Army discontinued the use of kite balloons.

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Balloon Observer Wing Badge in gold bullion on black wool, sewn over a brass plate with a pin-back.

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Reserve Military Aviator Wing Badge, in gold bullion on black wool, sewn over a brass plate with a pin-back: worn by some of the Balloon Pilots.

Eighty-first Balloon Company

     The Eighty-first Balloon Company was organized at Ft. Omaha on October 26, 1918. It was probably never fully staffed, and demobilized after the Armistice. There are no records or photos of this company. 

Eighty-second Balloon Company

number was assigned to Fort Omaha but was never organized

Eighty-third Through the Ninetieth Balloon Companies

numbers were never assigned

Ninety-first through the Ninety-ninth Balloon Company

numbers were assigned to Camp Wise but were never organized

One Hundredth Balloon Company

number was never assigned

One Hundred-first Balloon Company

     The One Hundred-first Balloon Company organized on June 6, 1918 at Camp De Souge, France. It consisted of men and officers from Balloon Companies that were reduced in size and with men returning from the hospitals. They were a training company: providing needed replacements to the Balloon Companies in the field. No photo is currently available. They demobilized when they returned to the States on July 13, 1919.

One Hundred-second Balloon Company

     The One Hundred-second Balloon Company organized on October 5, 1918 at Camp De Souge, France. It consisted of men and officers from other Balloon Companies that were reduced in size and from men returning from the hospitals. They also provided replacements to other Balloon Companies. There is no photo currently available. They arrived in the States on May 3, 1919 and demobilized.

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Remembrance and souvenir of the Great War by an unknown member of the One Hundred-second Balloon Company.

The End of an Era and Their Dreams

     The rapid pace of the war; advances in the technologies of killing; and requirements in the field changed the composition and structure of the Balloon Corps on a weekly basis. As training progressed, the Army realized that the observers did not have to be balloon pilots, which shortened training, and drew men from the field artillery to take to the baskets. There was a constant shuffle among the officers.

     The men needed to operate and manipulate the balloon and associated gear was reduced by 20 percent. With the movement  of men and materials in the field, and at the schools, this created chaos in the ranks. The schools were gearing up to provide trained men for two more years of war. When they signed the Armistice, this left many Balloon Companies with a number; an orderly room staff; and no company personnel. Many company numbers were assigned to a post but never organized, others were just not used.

     Within all of the events of the war, the “Spanish Flu” took a big toll on the men in training, as quarantines for several weeks put them behind with their training and deployment to overseas schedules. Companies who had members in the hospital were filled with men from other companies, and as the sick got better, they back-filled those positions. Among the various places members of the Balloon Corps were stationed, about 250 died from the Spanish flu. Many training accidents took their toll in lives and injuries: several balloon fires; vehicle accidents; artillery explosions; basket mishaps; and drownings. More members of the Balloon Corps were killed during training accidents than in combat. Statistics show that the Balloon Corps actually had one of the lowest battle casualty rates of all the units on the Front. 

 

     Record keeping became a problem toward the end. Stateside records of unmanned units just disappeared. With the rapid abandonment of the Balloon Schools in the states, and the movement of companies to other posts, sometimes the records did not follow. On more than one occasion, I found that the company clerk took the company papers home with him: nobody knew what to do with them. Col. Ira Fravel saved carbon copies of most of the records of the active units in France, and they were the only copies.

      I am sure that there is still some information out there, in a box, stored in an attic or basement. Perhaps stuck in an envelope in an old album, at the bottom of a trunk. In the three decades I have been collecting information and such, I will get a random email from the relative of a person who was in the Balloon Corps. I will exchange any data and scans of photos I have with them, and I ask for any they many have: sometimes there is a small gem of data that clarifies an event.

     The advancement of the powered airship put observation from kite balloon into the back pages of aviation history. There were a few hundred men in the Army’s Lighter Than Air (LTA) section through the 1920’s. The losses of men and materials during that era was great, and consumed about a quarter of the Army’s budget. That in itself is another story to be told. By the 1930’s only the Navy kept an extensive fleet of Airships. The Army Air Service began with an airship and an aeroplane and by the mid 1930's only had airplanes. 

     A few years after the war’s end, the members of the Balloon Corps got together and formed an association: The National Association of American Balloon Corps Veterans. The met in their local “balloon beds” and published a quarterly newspaper: “Haul Down and Ease Off”. It kept members connected with each other and provided a platform for their stories. Annual conventions across the country drew members together for stories and camaraderie. The last member: Capt. Charles Hayward,  passed away in 1995 at the age of 103.

     I began my quest before there was an internet, on-line databases and e-publications did not exist. I would visit  Army posts and Air Force bases where data were held and went through boxes of files and such, and found little. But there was more than I had time for. Posts and bases got decommissioned and those things went into some archive: which became inaccessible after 9-11. Perhaps as time goes on, some of those things will get scanned and put on line. It took several years to get all of Gorrell's History microfilms on line, as some of the rolls on the Balloon Corps got "lost". I keep checking the internet for new listings: they are very few and far between, and some of those data are buried in the bowels of some unit whose history goes back to the WWI Balloon Corps.

 

    If you need more information about something; a reference source; or a photo; have a critical comment; find an error in the data; a typo; or a bit of information to add to the subject, feel free to contact me at my email: deschenes_rich@sbcglobal.net

This will always be a work in progress, and subject to change as new or better data are found.

All the period photos are from my stash, and the images of things are stuff I have, or have had.

I hope you enjoyed the trip through time.

 

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For those of you who are serious WWI collectors, and would like to get a copy of my book, you can find it at Amazon. If you want it at a lower cost, drop me an email. It was voted as the best historical publication for 2018.