Barrage Balloons and the V1 Threat

Deflating a barrage balloon on Hoy. Orkney Library Archive, ref. L5315/1


With the allied invasion of occupied Europe underway and German Forces losing ground on several fronts, the danger posed to the Fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow by 1944 was significantly reduced from what it had been several years earlier. The diminished threat and the demand for air defences over the Normandy beachhead led to a reduction of army personnel stationed on Hoy and a reorganisation of the searchlight and anti-aircraft gun sites (ADM116/5790 p.272). The 23rd of June witnessed further reductions in the defences when 950 Barrage Balloon Squadron was given orders to deflate the balloon barrage defending Scapa Flow and move from its headquarters at Ore Brae (HY53 & 54) to RAF Redhill in Surrey (TNA: AIR 27/2298). The order was given as a result of events unfolding over London. On 13th June 1944 the first V1 flying bombs fell on London killing 6 people and by the end of the month between 70 and 100 of the unmanned gyro guided planes were delivering their 1 ton payloads onto London every day. To try and counter this deadly threat Operation ‘Diver’ was launched which saw the large scale redeployment of thousands of anti-aircraft defences across the UK (Price, A., 2004 p.51). The majority of 950 squadron departed Hoy on the 30th June and added the Scapa balloons to a burgeoning barrage of over 1200 that formed a belt along the North Downs in Kent (TNA: AIR 27/2298).


Scapa Flow wasn’t left entirely without a balloon defence. A token barrage of 12 Mk VI Low Zone (LZ) balloons (smaller kite balloons with an operational ceiling of 2000ft) remained and a staff of 4 kept the hydrogen factory at Rinnigill (NMRS: ND39SW 18.02) running to produce the gas to fill them (TNA: AIR 27/2298). In all, 6 RAF personnel and 1 WAAF stayed on to oversee the training and hand over of these balloons to the Admiralty also serving as a Care & Maintenance Party to organise the shipment of any remaining RAF equipment (ADM116/5790 p.418). RAF barrage balloon involvement in Orkney finally ended on 21st October with the departure of the last remaining personnel from Hoy (TNA: AIR 27/2298). With the addition of the Scapa balloons, the ‘diver’ defences along the south coast began to prove effective and the rate of V1 strikes on London was drastically reduced.


© Source: Lindsay, G.J. & Dobney, K. (2014). Legacies of Conflict: Hoy & Walls Wartime Heritage Project, Wartime Development Document. Island of Hoy Development Trust.


THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE UK (TNA), (1937-1946). ADM116/5790 Main Fleet Base – Scapa Flow: Inception, Development and History. Unpublished Archive Document.

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE UK (TNA), (1943-1944). AIR 27/2298 950 Squadron Operations Record Book. Unpublished Archive Document.


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One thought on “Barrage Balloons and the V1 Threat

  1. I would be very great full for any information on my late father Frederick Walsh from Preston Lancashire you who to my best knowledge was stationed with the RAF at the beginning of WW2 on Scapa Flow maintaining barrage balloons from trawlers.
    I also believe he was involved in the making of a large steel rope net which was sunk over the wreck of the Royal Oak.

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