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The EK1

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 somewhere. 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