• Balloon Squadrons came to Calcutta’s rescue
Courtesy: RAF Museum

New Delhi. 20 December 2020. On 20th of December of 1942 a Japanese bomber bombarded Calcutta and India felt the heat of the World War II in its own yard. Over the next few days, the city was bombed many times. Their targets were the Howrah Bridge and Calcutta seaport but the strong air defence system of the city restricted Japanese attacks to night times and flying high.

Kolkata, then known as Calcutta was a major garrison and cantonment along with being a launch region for British military operations . The Japanese occupied Burma, defeated the British and Chinese ground troops and felt that Kolkata was then, within their reach in May 1942.

The bombers of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) not only brought sorrow to the  city of joy but also made a large chunk of them to flee. It also brought realisation to the government of the day that more defences were needed in the city and Hurricane aircraft were moved to Calcutta, emergency airfields were constructed, including one in the centre of the city between Chowringhee and the Maidan and slit trenches were dug .

Courtesy : Ananda Bazar Patrika

A new modus operandi of security which came into being was the use of huge balloons to guard important structures and it was executed by the Army.  This squadron was on its way to Rangoon when Calcutta was bombed and it was directed to India instead.

The quiet hero during this time of crisis was the 978 Balloon Squadron. The British set up balloons, attached to the ground by several steel cables. These balloons prevented bombers from going low and hitting targets. The planes would get stuck in the cables and crash. The Japanese Air Force flew many sorties over Kolkata, bombing the central business district and the docks. As many as 131 bombs were dropped.978 Balloon Squadron was led by Squadron Leader Robert Wallis Beresford.

Courtesy : Indian Vagabond

During WWII the British found a new usage of the balloons which came to be known as Barrage Balloons. Commonly these were known as Blimps and were simply designed as a defensive measure. Balloons filled with Hydrogen gas were lifted up in the air and were secured to the ground by steel cables. Not one cable but several cables in a spread out fashion. This prevented aircraft bombers to dive low and go for a precise target run. The cable was not visible to the pilots of the bombers since they were flying at high speed and the aircraft wings would get tangled with these wire and with the high speed the aircraft would get damaged and crash.