Osprey | Balloon Busting Aces of WW I

Reviewed by Tony Oliver

Balloon Busting Aces of WW I
Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 66
Author: Jon Guttman
Illustrations: Harry Dempsey and Mark Postlethwaite
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
ISBN: 1 84176 877 X

“The balloon’s gone up”, a popular phrase of the 30’s and 40’s and quite literally a statement that something ominous was about to happen. Its origins lie with the experiences of those who returned home from the trenches of Flanders, the sight of an enemy observation balloon rising was sure indication of an imminent artillery barrage.

The use of mobile observation balloons during WWI wasn’t anything new, in fact they were first used by Napoleon Bonaparte around the end of the 18th Century and, by the early 20th Century, most modern armies made regular use of two basic designs. However their usefulness was rapidly eclipsed by the advent of the aeroplane which appeared as the observation balloon’s nemesis and asa a more effective means of reconnaissance.

Jon Gutmann’s book is another new title from Osprey that explores a lesser known corner of military aviation history and is both well researched and fascinating. From a point of view of providing modelling subjects, a variety of aircraft from the major combatants involved in the Great War are described and illustrated whilst explaining in detail, the finer points of that special breed of aviators who excelled at balloon busting. Accomplishing this was down to skill and no small amount of luck, as recounted in the book with detailed accounts of actions against the ‘drache’, amply supported by background detail of the airmen.

Harry Dempsey’s profile artwork again is exemplary and has an eclectic mix of aircraft types and nationalities gleaned from period images and references. 40 profiles are added to by 8 plan-form drawings illustrating the sometimes complex and colourful schemes found on these aircraft. Diverse subjects ranging from the Nieuport 16 of Charles Nungesser, the SPAD XIII of Frank Luke Jnr and a Prieur rocket fitted Nieuport 11 of Giovanni Ancillotto to the mottled Albatros DIII of Heinrich Gontermann, the all black Fokker DrI of Josef Jacobs and including the most famous balloon buster of all, Willy Coppens and his all blue Hanriot HD1. It almost seems that the profusion of colour suggests that these volunteer flyers had a desire to be recognised, reflecting as Jon states in the text, their combination of pyromanic tendencies and latent ‘death wish’ known as ‘balloon fever’.

To quote from the book again: ‘An estimated 500 kite balloons were employed by each side over the Western Front, and they came to symbolise the trench warfare that made them such a fixture. When the Armistice went into effect on 11th November 1918, a British communiqué announced it by declaring ’All along the Front, the balloons are down’…


From a modeller’s reference work viewpoint, this book fills a niche and amply describes a certain breed of flyers from a unique time in history. We are unlikely to see their kind again.

Smaller scale modellers are well catered for in terms of subject matter and for them there is inspiration a plenty here for available kits, whilst larger scales are slowly catching up. The subject matter in this title is incentive indeed for more WWI large scale kits with a profusion of Albatros SPADs, Nieuports and SE5s illustrated here.

Recommended and inspiring material for WWI modellers in all scales.

Review sample compliments of Osprey.

© Tony Oliver 2005

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This review was published on Saturday, July 02 2011; Last modified on Wednesday, May 18 2016