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World War I
Balloons As Weapons?



Balloons As Weapons?
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.6

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    anti, determined, covering, attain, combat, dirigible, capability, commander, heroism, reconnaissance, military, treaty, flights, reality, homeland, accuracy
     content words:    Civil War, World War, When World War, In January, In May, Pilot Rex Warneford, Allied Air Force, Height Climbers, Captain Peter Strasser, German High Command


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Balloons As Weapons?
By Jane Runyon
  

1     It may sound strange to list balloons as weapons in a war. But we're not talking about the kind of balloons you see at a birthday party or an amusement park. There are much larger balloons capable of carrying passengers and bombs. The first time balloons were used in combat was back in the Civil War. These were usually one passenger hot air balloons used to keep track of the movement of troops. The French also used a limited number of balloons during the siege of Paris in 1870. By the beginning of World War I, technology had advanced the design of the hot air balloon. The Germans called them dirigibles. The dirigibles had a cigar shaped frame of wood and a covering which carried several smaller balloons filled with lighter than air gas. The dirigible carried a lightweight cabin on the bottom of the frame. This cabin carried the steering mechanism used to fly the dirigible. Several small engines were placed around the dirigible to give it power. A hot air balloon could only move in the direction of the wind. The engines and steering mechanism on a dirigible allowed the pilot to go in any direction he wished.
 
2     The Germans had two factories capable of producing dirigibles. People began to call the dirigibles Zeppelins because of the owner of one of these factories. Ferdinand von Zeppelin believed that air travel would be the newest, fastest means of transportation in the world. Makers had already proved that their airships could travel to London and back with no problem. When World War I broke out, Germany had seven dirigibles that were quickly put into military use. At first, their thought was to use the dirigibles for reconnaissance. In other words, they would fly the balloons over enemy lines to keep track of troop movement. Because they could fly higher and quieter than the few airplanes being flown by the Allies, the Germans felt that this was the cheapest and safest way they could go.
 
3     The success of the dirigible reconnaissance flights led the Germans to make another decision. Why not put the same kind of bombs being dropped by planes onto the dirigibles and let the crew drop the bombs on Allied targets? In January of 1915, this thought became a reality. About two dirigible raids a month took place in 1915. In May, the Germans went so far as to drop bombs on London. Seven people were killed and thirty-five were wounded. Another attack on London in September did hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

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