Unlike the Zeppelin units the Feldluftschiffer used
balloons which were anchored to the ground ascending with the aid of a cable
and a winch. Their job was to observe and photograph the enemy troops and
positions and correct the fire of the artillery.
At the outbreak of the war each Armee had a
Feldluftschiffer Abteilung as did the IX Reservekorps.
Each Abteilung had a commander, 4 observation
officers, 177 N.C.O.s and men, 123 horses, 12 gas-, 2 equipment-, 1 winch-, and
1 telephone wagon. The gas section that accompanied them had a further 12 gas
and 1 equipment wagon.
By the end of 1914 a further 5 Abteilungen were
created and in 1915 a further 30 (20 Festungs-Luftschiffer-Abteilung were taken
to form the bulk of the new units), later another 9 Abteilungen were formed.
To assure the supply of replacement equipment,
winches, balloons and gas, Feld-Luftschiffer-Parks were formed at Armee level
in November 1916. At the beginning of 1918 all the Feldluftschiffer-Parks were
moved to the western front.
An Iron Cross 2nd Class document to Luftschiffer Paul Walter of the Feldluftschiffer Abteilung 2, Ballonzug 137.
The fixed attachment of an Abteilung at Armee level
proved to be inadaptable to the changing front conditions. A more elastic
system was needed and as a result the Felduftschiffer units were restructured
in March 1917.
The Abteilung were transformed into Feldluftschiffer-Stäbe
(Staffs) with independent Ballonzüge. The Stäbe were numbered 1-45 (Bavarian
Stäbe from 61-68) and the Ballonzüge 1-112 (Bavarian 201-223) a total of 135
Züge that would later grow to 182.
The Feldluftschifferabteilung 46 and 47 were
integrated into the Luftschifferschule at Namur
and the Marinebeobachterschule. At more of less the same time the Osmanische
Ballonzuge 2 and 3 were formed for service with the Turkish army.
The newly formed Stäbe were mostly to be found under
the command of one of the General Kommandoes. The commanding officer was
responsible for training and combat readiness as well as the observation and
photography tasks of his attached Züge. The Züge themselves were generally
attached to a division within the General Kommando.
An Iron Cross 2nd Class document to Landwehrmann Albert Schmid, Feldluftschiffer Abteilung 16, Ballonzug 44.
The task of the Ballonzüge remained observation of the
enemy and of the effects of German artillery fire as well as taking panoramic
photographs of the battlefield. As these tasks overlapped with those of the
flyers it was important that the Stab commander liaised with the commander of local
flying units to arrange the distribution of observation and photographic
missions with their respective General Kommandoes.
In spite of being mainly of use to the artillery, the
balloons were also used on occasion to aid the infantry. As units were sometimes
far forward without the possibility of telephone lines the signallers, making
use of a blinker or mirror, were able to communicate with the balloon observers
who could pass the information on by means of a telephone.
As the war progressed and the allies took control of
the skies, the job of the balloon observer became very dangerous indeed.
The following is from an article by Irwin S. Cobb an
American journalist who included the following account in his book "Paths
of Glory" published in 1915.
.......there came across the field to join us a tall
young officer with a three weeks' growth of stubby black beard on his face. A
genial and captivating gentleman was Lieutenant Brinkner und Meiningen, and I
enjoyed my meeting with him; and often since that day in my thoughts I have
wished him well. However, I doubt whether he will be living by the time these
lines see publication.
It is an exciting life a balloon operator in the
German Army lives, but it is not, as a rule, a long one. Lieutenant Meiningen
was successor to a man who was burned to death in mid-air a week before; and on
the day before a French airman had dropped a bomb from the clouds that missed
this same balloon by a margin of less than a hundred yards — close
marksmanship, considering that the airman in question was seven or eight
thousand feet aloft, and moving at the rate of a mile or so a minute when he
made his cast.
"An officer had stepped up alongside to tell me
that very shortly I should undoubtedly be quite seasick—or rather
skysick—because of the pitching about of the basket when the balloon reached
the end of the cable, and I was trying to listen to him when I suddenly
realised that his face was no longer on a level with mine. It was several feet
below mine. No ; it was not—it was several yards below mine. Now he was looking
up towards us, shouting out his words, and at every word he shrank into
himself, growing shorter and shorter."
The balloon went up and up until .finally in about two
or three minutes it fetched up with a profound and disconcerting jerk. "If
we should break away—but I don't think it likely—you should really be wearing
military uniform. However, we should probably both be killed before we reached
the earth." Although the new kite balloon is so much steadier than the
old, there are still disconcerting movements which make the landscape appear to
slant and bend in a highly unpleasant manner. "On a clear day," said
Lieutenant Brinkner, "one can see the Eiffel
Tower in Paris
and, of course, the cathedral at Rheims."
For once in my life — and doubtlessly only once — I
saw now understandingly a battle front.
It was spread before me — lines and dots and dashes on
a big green and brown and yellow map. Why, the whole thing was as plain as a
chart. I had a reserved seat for the biggest show on earth.
To be sure it was a gallery seat, for the terrace from
which we started stood fully five hundred feet above the bottom of the valley,
and we had ascended approximately seven hundred feet above that, giving us an
altitude of, say, twelve hundred feet in all above the level of the river; but
a gallery seat suited me. It suited me perfectly. The great plateau, stretching
from the high hill behind us, to the river in front of us, portrayed itself,
when viewed from aloft, as a shallow bowl, alternately grooved by small
depressions and corrugated by small ridges. Here and there were thin woodlands,
looking exactly like scrubby clothes brushes. The fields were chequered squares
and oblongs, and a ruined village in the distance seemed a jumbled handful of
children's grey and red blocks.
A scarce Non Combatant Iron Cross 2nd class "For service in the field" to Unterzahlmeister Heiser, a paymaster at Inspektion der Luftschiffertruppen.
It was an excessively busy afternoon among the guns. They
spoke continually — now this battery going, now that; now two or three or a
dozen together — and the sound of them came up to us in claps and roars like
summer thunder. Sometimes, when a battery close by let go, I could watch the
thin, shreddy trail of fine smoke that marked the arched flight of a shrapnel
bomb, almost from the very mouth of the gun clear to where it burst out into a
fluffy white powder puff inside the enemy's position.
Contrariwise, I could see how shells from the enemy
crossed those shells in the air and curved downward to scatter their iron
sprays among the Germans. In the midst of all this would come a sharp,
spattering sound, as though hail in the height of the thunder shower had fallen
on a tin roof; and that, I learned, meant infantry firing in a trench
For a while I watched some German soldiers moving
forward through a criss-cross of trenches; I took them to be fresh men going in
to relieve other men who had seen a period of service under fire. At first they
suggested moles crawling through plough furrows; then, as they progressed
onward, they shrank to the smallness of grey grub-worms, advancing one behind
another. My eye strayed beyond them a fair distance and fell on a row of tiny
scarlet dots, like cochineal bugs, showing minutely but clearly against the
green-yellow face of a ridgy field well inside the forward batteries of the
French and English. At that same instant the lieutenant must have seen the
crawling red line too. He pointed to it.
"Frenchmen," he said; "French
infantrymen's trousers. One cannot make out their coats, but their red trousers
show as they wriggle forward on their faces."
Better than ever before I realized the idiocy of
sending men to fight in garments that make vivid targets of them.
My companion may have come up for pleasure, but if
business obtruded itself on him he did not neglect it. He bent to his telephone
and spoke briskly into it. He used German, but, after a fashion, I made out
what he said. He was directing the attention of somebody to the activities of
those red trousers.
I intended to see what would follow on this, but at
this precise moment a sufficiently interesting occurrence came to pass at a
place within much clearer eye range. The grey grub-worms had shoved ahead until
they were grey ants; and now all the ants concentrated into a swarm and,
leaving the trenches, began to move in a slanting direction toward a patch of
woods far over to our left. Some of them, I think, got there, some of them did
not. Certain puff-balls of white smoke, and one big smudge of black smoke,
which last signified a bomb of high explosives, broke over them and among them,
hiding all from sight for a space of seconds. Dust clouds succeeded the smoke;
then the dust lifted slowly. Those ants were not to be seen. They had
altogether vanished. It was as though an anteater had come forth invisibly and
eaten them all up.
Marvelling at this phenomenon and unable to convince
myself that I had seen men destroyed, and not insects, I turned my head south
again to watch the red ladybugs in the field. Lo! They were gone too! Either
they had reached shelter or a painful thing had befallen them.
The telephone suddenly gave a brisk sign. The
lieutenant clapped his ear to the receiver; an answer was snapped back. "I
think we had better return at once," said the lieutenant. The car jerked
and heeled over. The balloon resisted the pressure from below and curled up its
tail like a fat bumble-bee trying to sting itself. But the six-horse team was
pulling hard, and the sergeant who was looking after the twin telephone wires
was put to it to keep his wires from being entangled.
Soon Mr. Cobb was being helped out from between the
stay-ropes. An aeroplane had been observed for a moment or two, but it had then
suddenly disappeared. The lieutenant jumped into the basket again, the balloon
re-ascended to a height of some 500 ft., when from every side of the field
there suddenly came shouts. The six horses galloped. "Flyer ! French flyer
!" shouted every- one. A monoplane had just emerged from a cloudbank to
the southward. Down came the balloon with a run, the basket hitting the earth
with a bump. The German anti-aircraft guns began to bark at the oncoming
aviator. He turned, however, when he met the increasing fire from the guns. One
shot very nearly upset the pilot's balance, but he managed to get away, and an
adventurous day closed
Above: the ground crew ready a balloon for an observation mission