Question about D-day picture

In this famous picture, you see lots of balloons or “mini-blimps” in the air.

What are they and what are they used for?

They’re barrage ballons. The idea is that enemy aircraft won’t be able to bomb the area under the balloons without hitting the cables and crashing. Or at least, they’ll be forced to fly higher then the balloons to do so.

Wiki even uses that photo in the article.

interesting, I had no idea. Does the army still use them?

No. Stand-off weaponry makes them useless.

Maybe those pictures are deceiving, but it doesn’t look like the balloons are very high at all. It looks like you could easily fly about about 1000-2000 feet and be above all of them.

Am I wrong? This doesn’t seem to add up.

The balloons make strafing runs very difficult. If you make the attacking planes fly higher, they are in the sights of the AA guns for longer. The biggest threat was from low, fast fighter sweeps.

Anti-aircraft guns don’t move fast enough to track a very low fighter or dive bomber. All you need to do with the balloons is force those planes up far enough that the anti-aircraft guns can effectively track and shoot them.

First, ask yourself, where is the photo being taken from? A Hilltop? Or a plane? If a hilltop, fair enough, but from a plane, it would be flying in the same danger as the enemy’s planes by running into those blimps or their tethers. Also, isn’t that a picture of an infantry, don’t they carry a lot of 50 cal. guns for easy shooting low flying planes? Aren’t the bullets about five inches long? I’m just wondering…

The two closest are barely off the ground, which suggests that they’re just starting to be deployed. There’s no way of knowing whether the others are at their final operational altitude yet.

They are probably closed-hauled for a reason - friendly a/c in the area, strong winds …

They are probably there more for comfort of the ground troops that use, by D-day the air over the beaches was under allied command. To such an extent that allied planes were more at risk from “friendly fire” than anything else, if one looks at D-day pictures of plains they all carry “D-Day stripes” Very bold black and white stripes at the wing roots and often round the tail.

Perhaps I over estimate the ease of shooting down a blimp, but wouldn’t one strafing run just over them allow you to circle around and come back with them flat on the ground? I had been thinking about them in the sub vs blimp thread.

At this point the Allies had near total air superiority and so the Germans had to resort to hit-and-run tactics using small numbers of aircraft. If they made one run to burst the balloons, they’d be going back into a hornet’s nest on the next run and plus they likely couldn’t hang around to wait for the balloons to deflate. They were also (other than the famous daylight strafing sortie on D-day) limited to operating at night when the balloons would have been essentially invisible.


Bombing runs that low with the planes of the time wasn’t that practicle (not to say it was never, ever done.) A bomb of any size, say 250 pounds and up, would be likely to hit the planes as well as what ever was on the ground.

In Vietnam the bombs dropped in close air support had these four arms that would come out in the back and slow the bombs enough to allow the jets to get out of harms way. I don’t remember ever seeing these in any WWII clips. Not to say they didn’t have them, just don’t remember ever having seen them.

You’re thinking of “Snakeeye” bombs. I’ve only seen them in the Vietnam era…

But during WW2, Kenny’s airforce (the Pacific, 5th airforce among others) did use parachute retarded bombs for treetop level strafing and bombing of Japanese airfields and other targets. Most of these were smaller, fragmentation or incendiary types

Think of the size of those blimps, compared to a bullet hole. How long would it take for enough gas to leak out to cause the blimp to be ‘flat on the ground’?

The photo is taken from the top of a slope, which is typical of the terrain in Normandy. Most of the beaches are below steep terraces.

The picture is indeed of infantry, but Browning M2s are far to heavy to carry by foot. Some would be mounted on the trucks and ships, which would have heavier pieces such as Oerlikon 20mm and Bofors 40mm. Infantry themselves rarely carry heavy enough weapons to down a plane.

In any case, downing a moving plane from the ground is quite difficult. You need to lead your sights, which means mentally calculating where the plane will be by the time your bullets get there. Not a simple task.

They were not entirely a waste of time.

This website says that they were effective in getting the Germans to modify their attacks:

While the total effort (men and material) expended on the barrage balloons as a whole throughout the war was significant, it adds another layer (type) of defense, making a target area more complex to engage. In other words, the balloons by themselves would not have been much of a defense, but add in fighters and AA guns, and the defense system as a whole works better together than seperately.

Not entirely unlike concertina wire. Undefended wire can be walked through with some care; but backed by trenches and troops manning machine guns, it’s murder.