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One of our members Rex Haggett has put together a superb article on his childhood and experiences living near the Pawlett site where so much research went on into the use of cable cutting by aircraft during WWII. This article is based on a talk he recently gave to a local group. I am greatly indebted to Rex for sharing this story with us. For technical reasons I have had to change one or two of the pictures he sent but for the most part this is the original document.
PLEASE ALLOW TIME FOR THIS PAGE TO UPLOAD AS IT HAS SOME LARGE PICTURES IN IT!!
The Day the Balloon went up
(war-time memories of a country bumpkin)
War was declared on 3rd September 1939. I was 12 years old at the time and still living in the place of my birth; a bungalow in Pawlett, a village in north Somerset, 98% of which borders the left of the A38 main road, as you travel from Bridgwater (4 miles) to Highbridge. Below is a sketch of “The Bungalow”, drawn by my brother.
The accompanying aerial photograph, below which dates from the early 1950’s shows it’s position in the village.
At that age I was just a normal country lad with a love of the countryside and a penchant for collecting things. I had a prized collection of birds eggs, which was not illegal at that time, and I also collected such things as fag (cigarette) cards and stamps and played marbles with the other village lads.
I suspect that my infant days had some part to play in this because I remember all of us had to collect orange wrappers for the village school. Oranges were individually wrapped in printed tissue paper in those days. These were then stuck in scrap books. It was a practical geography lesson which taught us about the various countries from which oranges originated.
STOP PRESS: I asked my wife if she remembers when oranges were individually wrapped and, to my astonishment, she not only does, but recalls having to collect them for school to form the basis of a geography lesson. What a surprise to discover that after 58 years of marriage, there are still new things to be discovered about one’s partner.
My dad was an inveterate smoker and my prime source for new cards. As soon as he got in from work, up would go the cry “got any cards dad?”. To which he responded “First let me get my overalls off and then I’ll have a look”. I had two younger brothers who, fortunately, were not imbued with the collecting bug to the same extent so I did not have much competition.
Apart from collecting the cards and unwittingly enhancing our knowledge of the subjects they portrayed, I remember that, with other lads, we used to play a game with them called “Flip”. It consisted of leaning a row of cards against a wall. Then at a given distance from the wall we used to place another card between the index finger and the next one and proceed to flip it with a spinning motion at the leaning cards. If you succeeded in knocking one down then you claimed it as your prize. Apart from swapping, it was another way of enhancing your collection and a further step in the ultimate goal of completing sets.
I was always out in the countryside communing with nature. I used to earn pocket money by picking blackberries and selling them to the West Somerset Nurseries in the village. One day I thought that I was being clever by soaking them with water to make them weigh heavier, but the lady who took them in was up to all those tricks and docked payment to compensate.
My parents owned a couple of fields on the other side of the A38, opposite to our bungalow, and I remember on one occasion coming across a green woodpecker boring a hole low down in a withy tree (willow, to most of you I suspect). So I went home and borrowed my dad’s brace and bit and whilst the woodpecker was away I bored holes on the opposite side to make an opening about 4 inches in diameter.. I then took couple of pieces of bark and hinged it with nails. The woodpecker did not suspect a thing, and laid its eggs and reared a brood. All that I had to do observe what was happening was to open up the bark doors and look inside. I did not have a camera in those days, more’s the pity.
On another occasion, I was down on the Hams (more of them later) looking for moorhen’s nests in the rhynes. We used to eat moorhen’s eggs, during the war to supplement our rations. Moorhens lay up to about a dozen eggs in a clutch, and if you leave one in the nest it will continue on laying. On one occasion I was trying the reach the eggs in a nest, overbalanced and fell in. I was wearing a pair of green corduroy shorts at the time. The rhyne was quite deep and when I finally got out I was covered in duckweed and the dye in the shorts ran down my legs. Unfortunately on the way home I had to go past Gaunts Farm, where the inhabitants had a good laugh at the sight of me. But worse was to come for I had to face my mother when I got home. She demanded to know what had happened so I told her that I was trying to get moorhen’s eggs when a dragonfly pulled me in. She never did appreciate my sense of humour, so I was chased around the kitchen table with a withy stick. With hindsight I know that I deserved it.
Whilst talking about incurring my mother’s wrath, I remember on one occasion several of us were playing a game of cricket in one of my father’s fields and I was fielding on the boundary. The batsman hit an easy dolly catch towards me and just prior to catching it I shouted “this is one for the cameras” and purposely fell backwards in doing so. What I did not realise, was that I was standing in front of a fresh cow pat and I was wearing a clean white aertex shirt. (Who says that God does not have a sense of humour?) Once again, after the laughter had died down, I realised that again I had to face the justice to be meted out by my poor mother.
So that is a snapshot of the life I was living when the war broke out.
You may think that in such a rural community the war would pass us by.
We used to have a daily newspaper and I avidly read about the progress of the war. This was in the days of censorship and "D" notices, so we were told just as much as the government wanted us to hear and no more. Even so there were scares and rumours of an invasion, so when we saw parachutists coming down over towards the neighbouring village of Puriton we feared the worst. Us kids stupidly hared over there on our bikes to find out what was going on. We found that a Heinkel 111 had been shot down and landed, on fire, on a farm in the village. We put our lives at risk because the heat was causing bullets to explode and fly all over the place.
The Parachutists? There were 5 of them and they were the crew of the plane. One of them ended up in Bridgwater Hospital with a broken leg. The others gave themselves up to the police.
On another occasion we could see and hear a dog fight going on overhead, and then suddenly the metal clips which held the gunners belt of bullets together started falling all around us.
Another reminder of the war was that we knew that there was a munitions factory in the adjacent village of Puriton. We were aware of this because we knew people who worked there. A tell tail sign as to where they worked was the front of their hair which turned a shade of orange. I think it had something to do with the sulphur they came into contact with.
On a day in 1940 we were surprised to hear and see numerous builders lorries trundling through the village so, being curious, we got on our bikes and followed them. They went through the village and along Gaunts Road for about a mile and there they stopped in a field just past, the aforementioned Gaunts Farm, but on the other side of the road. The coloured map shows the position of the Balloon Site.
Immediately after that point the road takes a sharp turn to the right, but ahead of you is the first gate onto the Hams.
The Hams are a large area of rich grassland fields, the best in the country we are told, contained in a large bend of the River Parret. There is a metalled road through the centre with five gates across it at intervals, which have to be opened and shut every time one travels along it. It is shown as “White House Road” on the map I have given you. At the end, about a mile, there used to be a derelict inn known as White House. It was built adjacent to the river bank opposite to the village of Combwich on the other side. In it’s heyday a ferry used to operate across the River Parret no doubt taking customers to and from the pub.
In my early lifetime the Inn was a just derelict building but, having visited it recently, I found that it is now but a memory with just an overgrown pile of stones remaining. Apart from a small brick structure used, we think, to house pumping equipment to control the level of the rhynes, there were no other buildings on the Hams. The only living thing which I remembered, which is still on the White House site, is an old cypress tree which is currently festooned with large cones.
But back to the builders lorries. Building got under way quite rapidly and to our surprise a huge (80 foot high, 70 foot wide and 100 foot in depth) barn type building took shape. But what was it for?
This is as it is now!!
Not long after that, from our living room window, I saw a barrage balloon appearing over the Gaunts hill horizon and continuing upwards into the clear blue sky.
Of course I knew about barrage balloons, but I always associated them with cities.
Bristol was ringed with them where they, hopefully, gave protection against low flying bombers and fighter aircraft. The theory was that they forced enemy aircraft to fly at more than 5000 feet where they were could be caught in searchlights by night and become targets for anti-aircraft fire and our fighter planes, such as spitfires and hurricanes.
So what was a barrage balloon doing on the edge of Pawlett? At least one thing was now clear. The huge barn like construction was a hangar to house inflated barrage balloons.
Before I leave the subject of building work I must tell you about an another unusual happening.
On the 4th June, 2005 Barbara and I accepted an invitation to go down to Pawlett and see the Flower Festival set up to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the village Methodist Chapel which I regularly attended during the formative years of my life.
Whilst there we met a lot people whom we hadn’t seen for 50 years or more. Knowing that I was going to talk to you about the Pawlett Barrage Balloons I asked a friend if he remembered the war time experiments. He certainly did, and so I agreed with him that I would send him copy of my script for his appraisal and criticism. This I did and as a result I have had to make a few changes to it.
I had always assumed that the afore mentioned Gaunts Farm and it’s associated cottages had both electricity and the telephone when the Barrage Balloon people moved in, but I was wrong – they had neither. So the telephone was brought in across the fields from a farm in the vicinity and electricity was taken to the site from the village by partially burying a cable in the mile long road verge. So far all well and good, but the first time the Balloon on the winch Picture 84. was taken towards the village they encountered a snag. The cable had to cross the road at a point about a quarter mile from the village, but instead of burying it, the contractors had suspended it on poles across the road. So the Balloon was brought to an untimely halt short of its intended destination. My friend in his letter says this - and I quote: “I have a memory of when the balloon was being transported on the winch towards the village. It proceeded steadily until they were brought to a standstill at the cable crossing, which was obviously a surprise to them. I recall much shouting was heard over quite a distance, although I don’t think they actually brought the cable down! The poles were subsequently removed and Gaunts Road remained uncluttered for almost 60 years.”
When the balloon rose up into the sky on that first occasion we could see that the main cable had largish red and white striped windsocks at intervals of approximately 200 feet up its whole length. Apart from judging the height of the balloon I presume that they also acted as a “keep clear” warning to other aircraft in the vicinity. There was also a large, 18 foot square, black flag attached a little way down from the top of the main cable. See diagram below:
Coming out from the coupling point at the top was a secondary cable of shorter length which billowed out from the main cable. This also bore various flags. The most striking of them were two 6 foot square orange flags which really showed up against the blue sky. (Occasionally they substituted the orange flags for larger orange and black flags, but orange flags were the norm.) In between them were a series of 4 smaller black flags. These black flags lined up in the sky opposite to the large black flag on the main cable. At the foot of the subsidiary cable was an inverted parachute filled with sand, which weighted down the cable and, attached to the bottom of it, was a small drogue parachute.
What did it all mean?
We were soon to find out, for it was not long before we could hear the drone of a Fairey Battle bomber approaching.:
It circled the balloon a few times and then, revving up it’s engine, flew straight at the subsidiary cable aiming at the small black flags between the two orange ones. Then all hell was let loose for we could hear the crack of a detonator, or was it the sound of the plane’s impact?, as the subsidiary cable was cut by the plane’s wing. Then a largish parachute opened at the top of the cable, the two orange flags freed themselves and came streaking down to the ground. As the severed bottom part of the cable started falling, the small drogue parachute tugged at the side of the inverted bottom parachute causing the sand to empty out and so turning it into the main parachute for the bottom section of cable.
As all this paraphernalia was falling we got on our bikes hared off to try to find it. The orange flags were easiest to spot in the fields and when we took a close look at them we found that they were 6 foot squares of orange silk. At one corner there was a built-in bag of lead shot. At an adjacent corner there was a loop of fine twine. It was obvious that the flag was attached to the cable with the loop of twine and, with the free weight pulling it taut, caused it to billow out.
The flags have an interesting history as far as we boys were concerned. As I said in the first place, initially they were made of orange silk, but then, “coincidentally?” orange silk curtains started appearing in the windows of several of the houses in the village. You must remember that this was a period of rationing and to buy clothes and material you needed coupons. Then presumably, the powers that be must have got wind of this because the flag material changed from silk to cotton. The next stage was that the flags were stamped with a large stamp which read “Air Ministry Property, Return to the Police” and a reward of 2/6d was offered. The problem was that we boys were getting to them before the official recovery team, sent out to search for the items. So the reward was stopped. Having said that we still went out looking for the fallen items. I remember that at one time I encountered a near death experience when chasing the flags. I came across the wire laid out across a field as it was still falling and I instinctively picked it up. I then spotted the parachute ahead and saw that it was taking the wire across some high voltage electricity wires suspended between pylons. I dropped the wire there was a blinding flash and Pawlett was without an electricity supply for a time.
My mother too got in on the act and used it to her advantage. She used to say to me: “You are not going out chasing those flags until you have done the washing and wiping up.”
I used to go to school in Bridgwater and as I looked out of the classroom window during lessons I could see the Pawlett Barrage Balloon. I remember thinking at the time, “the official recovery team have it all their own way today”.
t this point I should make it clear that, until recently, everything which is described was from mine and a couple of old school chums, personal observation. But now, thanks to the power of the internet, I have discovered facts and figures to supplement our memories.
For example we guessed that the leading edge of the wings of the Fairey Battle Bombers, doing the wire cutting must have been reinforced in some way, possibly with attached knives. Then again we deduced that from the direction the planes were homing in and leaving that they were possibly coming from Exeter Aerodrome. This theory has been partially substantiated in a book called “Somerset at War” and supplemented by on-line information from the Somerset Historic Environment web site. It says that initially the balloon cutting aircraft came from Exeter but later the “Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough sent aircraft on detachment to RAF Culmhead Airfield, at Trickey Warren Farm, in the parish of Churchstanton in Somerset for cable cutting experiments at Pawlett“.
This, a typical three runway fighter airfield, was opened on 1st August, 1941, and is only about 23 miles from Pawlett - much nearer than Exeter. I understand that its main use was to house units of the Polish Air Force, who were helping us out during the war. We also deduced that the primary thing that the Balloon Experimental station was interested in was the recovery of the wire so that they could see how it had been cut. The aforesaid book also says that different types of wire were also used, but I did not realise that at the time.
At that time I had no thought as to the risks the pilots might be taking by flying aircraft into a Balloon cable.
Recently however, via the internet, I made contact with the Secretary of an organisation known as “The Balloon Barrage Reunion Club”. This is a club for those who served in Balloon Command during World War II. Members meet up annually for a Reunion dinner and, no doubt, discuss old times. The Secretary has kindly sent me an extract from a book entitled “Testing Aeroplanes in Wartime” by Alan Wheeler. The chapter he sent me is devoted to the experiences of pilots who have tested Barrage Balloon cables by flying into them. In it , although the Pawlett is not specifically mentioned, the airfield at Churchstanton is, so to my mind it must be one and same, especially as I have never heard of any other site in the country which was carrying out similar experimental work.
The chapter is too long to quote here in full but I thought that you might like to listen to this extract.
“the technique for this test work had been worked out by a sturdy band of select pilots who had to do it for the first time when very little was known about the effect cables would have on the aircraft structure. As things turned out the effect was generally not serious and it was surprising how easily a real balloon cable could be broken by an aircraft wing so long as the aircraft was flying fast. This was just one of the valuable pieces of information which came out of these experiments. But there always was a definite element of risk as was brought home to us abruptly when a Wellington was flown into a balloon cable by Squadron Leader (“Tiger”) Hawkins in the course of normal test work when he was in command of the Research Flight.
On that occasion the first warning he had that anything had gone wrong was that a lot of dust and bits of fabric and wood were blown forward into the cockpit from the rear part of the fuselage. The Wellington then pitched upwards uncontrollably. Hawkins was still completely unaware that the whole tail unit and back fuselage had been broken off by the sudden yaw induced by the balloon cable drag on the outer wing. The next moment the Wellington did an equally sudden pitch downwards which was so violent that Hawkin’s straps were broken and he was thrown forwards and downwards into the bomb-aimer’s compartment amongst all the debris which had come from the broken back end. Hawkins was, of course, alone in the Wellington since there was no reason to carry unnecessary passengers on the rather risky tests. He remembered struggling to get back to the pilot’s cockpit where the escape hatch was situated, but the forces due to the Wellington’s manoeuvre were such that he could not move until a sudden change in manoeuvre threw him back on to his seat. From this position he saw a means of egress and baled out. He first thought that he had gone out through the top escape hatch but subsequent investigation suggests that he actually went out through the pilot’s side window and thus passed through the propeller! Fortunately he had shut both throttles at the first intimation of trouble, and the various antics of the Wellington had probably contributed to stopping the engines altogether.
It was subsequently established that this accident was due to unforeseen forces induced on the Wellington with a slight increase of speed of impact on the balloon cable. We learnt a lot. There are those people who hold that such troubles should be foreseen but if we could foresee all the forces imposed on an aircraft every time we increase the speed slightly there would be no need for test work at all.”
You can see a separate page on Tiger Hawkins at this page: Tiger Hawkins AFC
These cable cutting experiments went on day after day during fine weather. It normally happened twice a day but during the long summer days the balloon went up as many as three times in a day.
You may wonder how we knew in which area the flags and parachutes would fall. This was a case of judging the wind direction and its force. The Balloon itself gave us a vital clue, because its nose always pointed into the wind, whereas the tail fins always pointed in the direction the wind was going, (like a weather vane) and the supplementary cable which was to be cut also billowed out in the same direction.
I remember that I had a secret ambition to catch one of the flags before it hit the ground. I never achieved it but it was my goal at the time.
The station itself had more sophisticated equipment for judging the wind. They had a smaller silver balloon (a blimp) with flat triangular tail fins which they used to fly with the measuring equipment attached to it. It did not go up very high so you had to be at the site peering over the gate to see it. The only thing which I can remember about it were the revolving spoons, which, later in life I learned was an anemometer, to gauge the wind speed..
The balloon was always raised on a mobile winch on a specially constructed lorry. This meant that it could be transported as far as White House on the Hams in an westerly direction and along Gaunts Road to the outskirts of Pawlett village to the east. I have highlighted this in orange on the map I have given you.
The river Parret was always a problem to them because if the wind was coming from an easterly direction the severed equipment could fall either in the river or, as some time happened, onto the other side.
The nearest bridge over the river was at Bridgwater, a distance of 4 miles, and to get to the likely landing place from there was about another 9 miles. So the recovery team would have to drive a distance of 13 miles there and 13 miles back.
Sometimes the balloon was flown even though the skies were overcast with low cloud. The balloon used to go up right through the clouds, presumably, into blue sky above. On such occasions we could hear the plane come over and the crack of the detonator. We would then watch for the orange flags to come streaking through the clouds.
Bombing Practice on the Hams.
On occasions other experiments were made. At one period they had an observation balloon at the station. This was like a barrage balloon but longer. Slung underneath it at the rear end was a large basket. In normal war time operation it would be used to carry personnel up into the air for observation purposes. At Pawlett however the basket was weighted, probably with sandbags, and it was towed down onto the Hams and moored there. Planes used to come over and use it for bombing practice. Another target for bombing practice on the Hams was a brick built pyramid which was painted white. It was constructed in such a way that it would look like a cross from the air.
On one scary occasion, my friend tells me, a Lancaster bomber, aimed a very large cylinder bomb at the target but it overshot by a very large margin and it landed very near to the Balloon Station. Unfortunately some of the men were on top of the hangar filming the event and they got showered with clods of earth.
The same friend tells me that he used to go down the Hams picking blackberries and on more than one occasion he had to take shelter because of low flying aircraft.
Eventually someone must have realised the danger because later, on such occasions, a red flag was flown at the entrance gate to the Hams and alongside it was a notice which forbade anyone to pass it when the red flag was flying.
Although I was not aware of it, I am told that rockets were launched from the Hams.
and when they exploded they released several parachutes. I was not aware of this neither do I know what purpose this served.
I was saying previously how the weather affected life at the Barrage Balloon Station and one of the conditions which stopped them launching the Balloon was a windy day. I always assumed that the balloon could not be launched in such weather, but upon reflection I am sure that the defence balloons around our cities were there whatever the weather conditions. So it could have been that it would have been too dangerous for the pilots to carry out their work in such conditions. I do not know. On the other hand it may have been that the balloon was too difficult to launch in such conditions.
Having seen the huge hangar doors open I could see inside a few inflated balloons ready for launching. They were held in place at ground level, with weighted sandbags hooked over loops around the balloon.
The method of launching was that a team of men around the balloon would lift the sandbags and walk it onto an area outside the hangar. It would then be attached to the cable winch. Having done that the sandbags were unhooked and the balloon would rise, a very short distance. The subsidiary cable of flags and parachutes was laid out along the ground and then attached to the main cable. The balloon rose very slowly at first until the sandbag parachute on the sudsidiary cable left the ground.
Meanwhile a man standing at the winch hooked the large black flag to the main cable and the red and white windsocks at measured intervals as it unwound.
As we all know the British weather is very unpredictable so what happened to the staff when it was considered to be unsuitable balloon flying weather? Did they have anything else to do, or did they just sit around playing cards like Test Match cricketers waiting for the umpires to declare the pitch playable.
Kites on a windy day
Having said that on one occasion, I was surprised to see three very large orange and black 18’ winged box kites, flying in tandem, appearing over the horizon on a very windy day. Obviously they were trying to find other ways of getting the equipment airborne, but for the life of me I cannot remember whether the flags and parachutes were attached or whether the plane came over. Suffice it to say that it was only on the one occasion that I saw it happen.
N.B. Another friend does remember them, and that the equipment was attached, and that the cutting plane did come over. However the experiment was not very successful due to the fact, as we all know, that kites have a habit of dipping erratically at times which made it unsafe for the cutting plane to operate.
How does he know all this. Well he is a year older than me and used to work in “Harding and Norman’s” garage in the village. He said that the boss man at the Balloon Station, a Mr.Purvis, used to be a frequent visitor to the garage to have his car filled up with petrol or for a periodic service.
My friend told me that he still had some of the parachutes and other paraphernalia from the Balloon. I asked him how that came about , because I dutifully used to hand anything I found back to them. He said that Mr. Purvis used to give the old equipment to the garage for use as cleaning rags.
Cutting away the main balloon.
Finally there was one other experiment which I remember vividly. It was when the balloon itself was cut away by an aircraft. There was no subsidiary cable attached and the cutting plane aimed at the large 18’ square black flag. You are right to be sceptical as to the ability of the light weight Fairey Battle Bombers to do the job. On the 2 occasions which I remember it being done, it was the bigger, heavier, twin propped Wellington bombers which carried out the task.
What should happen when the plane cuts the cable is that a rip panel on the top of the balloon is torn open, the balloon deflates and it comes spiralling gently down. The first occasion I saw it happened we tore after it on our bikes and arrived at the same time as the recovery team. We then had great fun jumping on it to exclude the air and gas so that the men could pack it flat and transport it back to the Station. The second time things did not go according to plan for the rip panel must have stayed intact and instead of deflating the balloon just pointed it’s nose upwards, rose higher and higher and sailed off into the sunset.
That then is the end of my observations on a fascinating period in the history of the war for us children.
Today there is nothing left of the site for except the Hangar which is gently rusting away and a few dilapidated, garage like buildings which housed the resident staff.
I should add as a postscript that the proceedings so interested me that I tried to imitate some of the experiments myself at home.
In my father’s fields there were several large elm trees. On one of them a large branch protruded outwards at a height about 30 feet from the ground. I bought myself a pulley, shinned up the tree to the overhanging branch and then inched out over it. (My mother would have had 40 fits if she had known) I secured the pulley to the underneath of the branch and looped a long length of cord through it so that, in effect, I had a hoist that reached the down to the ground.
I then inveigled a lady friend of the family into making me a large stuffed replica of a Barrage Balloon. Using my mother’s sewing machine I made replicas of the windsocks, flags and the parachutes in the appropriate colours. I solved problem of housing for the top parachute by using a cocoa tin with a clothes peg inside was clipped to the top of the parachute. When the string was pulled from the ground the lid came off the tin and parachute was pulled from inside it and came floating down. But I wanted more authenticity - how to make the sound of the detonator exploding? I was always a practical joker and I had in my possession an authentic looking exploding sauce bottle. Attached to the cork was a mechanism which had to be primed with a cap, so that when the cork was pulled there was a loud bang. But at that stage in my life I, like St Paul, had put aside childish things, or so I thought, and I adapted the mechanism and put it in the cocoa tin so that when the parachute came out there was an authentic sounding explosion to go with it. The venture gave endless amusement and scope for inventiveness for me and my mates.
P.P.S. Due to my enquiries in Pawlett I have recently discovered that, unbeknown to me, my younger friend too used to carry out similar experiments using an elm tree at the other end of the village. Upon reflection I suppose that, because of the unique situation in which we children found ourselves, it was only natural that we should try to copy the experiments of our elders.
Rex Haggett May 2006
The German Solution to Barrage Balloon Cables.
The Germans too were working along the same lines as us, for they were experimenting with cutting equipment attached to the wings of aircraft to sever our Barrage Balloon defences.
This is a picture of a crashed Heinkel bomber which came to grief because the deflecting and cutting equipment was so cumbersome that it made the aircraft unstable. It is interesting to note that 842772 Corporal W.W. Cooper who was on duty at Crewe balloon barrage on the night of the 7th/8th April gave a statement to his officers about an aircraft he saw that was penetrating the balloon barrage while on duty that night at Crewe:
"At about 2235 hours on the night of the 7th/8th April, (1941) an aircraft flying at about an estimated height of 300-400 feet passed directly over my head. When it was silhouetted against the moonlit sky, I noticed that it had a contraption similar to the front bumper of a motor car fixed in front of the wings and airscrews.
The device was very noticeable. being thick and it appeared to be of heavy construction. The weather at the time was good there being a moon shining on a little thin cloud."
Corporal Cooper, by being a careful observer was the first British airman to notice the fenders that the Germans were experimenting with, some officers thought he was seeing things, but they were wrong, as his observations were proved to be 100% accurate when the above Heinkel came down.
The British eventually became aware as this report shows.
An extract from P.W (Prisoner of War) Report No. 165/1941
6. The anti-balloon barrage device formed by a cable in front of the aircraft from beyond the noise to the wing tips where there is an explosive charge has already been described.
7. It is now said that one such aircraft is to be on the establishment of every Bomber Gruppe. I/K.G.76 are said already to have a Ju.88 with this equipment.
8. The idea of these aircraft is that they shall go ahead of the Bomber Geschwadeer to sweep up the balloons in just the same way as minesweepers precede convoys in mine-infested waters."
An extract from P.W (Prisoner of War) Report No. 35/1941
ANTI BALLOON BARRAGE DEVICE
24.Two P/W have recently and independently corroborated the earlier descriptions of arming aircraft against balloon cables. A rod projection from the nose carries a wire running to the two wingtips. At the wingtips there is a metal grapnel, into which the balloon cable is designed to slip, and which actuates a small explosive charge to cut the cable
25. This fitting is aid to have been tried out at Rechlin, at various heights and found to be satisfactory, the explosive charge being sufficient to cut a balloon cable without damaging the aircraft.
26. It is maintained that the reduction in speed caused by this fitting is not great.