“The Balloon Busters” by Frederick Blakeslee
Frederick Blakeslee painted all the covers for the entire run of Dare-Devil Aces. And each of those covers had a story behind it. This time Mr. Blakeslee brings us a story of “The Balloon Busters” from the July 1932 issue of Dare-Devil Aces!
THE cover shows a patrol of French Spads attacking a group of observation balloons. Helpless as these “sausages” were, it was dangerous business to attack even one of them. Many a good pilot met his Waterloo by so doing, and as a rule the Allies left them strictly alone, unless ordered otherwise.
German archie usually had the drachens ranged and an attacking pilot had to go through an explosive hell to get at them. A favorite trick of the Germans was to send up a decoy balloon which was not only ranged but instead of carrying an observer, had its basket filled with amanol. If a ship survived the barrage and came within range, the Boches exploded the amanol—and that was the end of the attacking ship. We can’t blame the Germans for using this trick, as the Canadians were the originators of it.
A similar ruse which the Allies played unsuccessfully was to surround Dunkirk at night with a dozen or more balloons which were attached to strong cables. Dunkirk suffered frequent bombing from the air and it was hoped that a raiding Boche would run into one of the cables. There is no official record, however, of such a thing ever having happened.
In spite of the danger of the observation balloons, Frank Luke, the American pilot, seemed to enjoy attacking them. He received the D.S.C. for bringing down eight of them in four days. Balloon bursting was Frank Lukes’ specialty.
Balloons were olive drab, camouflaged in green and brown or black and white checks. The large green balloon in the foreground of the cover is a German Ae. It is colored after a French war balloon which is now being kept as a war souvenir near Versailles. The green and brown balloon on the cover is a Luftchifftrupp 20.
A balcony runs around the inner court of Les Invalides in Paris. Hanging in one corner of it is a famous airplane which I have reproduced here from a color sketch I made last summer. The plane is the Spad used by Georges Guynemer. He called it “Vieux Charles” (Old Charles), and on the side, under the exhaust pipe, that name was printed. Back of that was the stork insignia of his squadron. You see this plane on the cover as it actually looks today.