Balloon Centre, RAF Balloon
> Units and Formations
Opened: 28 Jun 1939
Renamed: 15 Oct 1942 to RAF Sutton-on-Hull
Disposed: 14 Aug 61
17 Ballon Centre was not located in Lincolnshire, but was in Kingston upon Hull, on the far side of the Humber Estuary. However, the Centre exercised command and control over the flights, their equipment and personnel based at Grimsby Fish Dock, East Halton and subordinate locations.
The Hull Docks - including those at Immingham in Lincolnshire - were a prime target for enemy bombing raids. The regional ballon barrage for the Hull area, to protect the city and its vital docks and Royal Navy oil depot, was designated as RAF Number 17 Balloon Centre, subordinate to 33 Group of Balloon Command. Construction started late in 1938 with RAF Personnel reporting for duty early in January 1939.
17 Balloon Centre was established with three squadrons. By 25 Jan 1939, Nos 942, 943 and 944 (East Riding) Balloon Squadrons had established their headquarters in Kingston-upon-Hull, awaiting construction of their HQ buildings. Each Squadron was to consist of 5 Flights with 9 Balloons. In turn each balloon was crewed by a Corporal, 10 Airmen of the Auxiliary Air Force and a Regular RAF Balloon Operator.
On 28 Aug 1939 the Squadron’s Flight HQs were formed. No 942 Sqn had one flt HQ at Hull’s Riverside Quay Railway Station and two others at Grimsby Fish Dock and East Halton (both in Lincolnshire); together they were responsible for North Lincolnshire and the River Humber.
In Sep 1939 and the outbreak of war with Germany manufacturers were unable to meet demand for barrage ballons which resulted in only 180 balloons being available to the 14 barrages being created outside London. By 1 Oct 1939, the Hull Barrage still consisted of only 19 Balloons, which it will be seen was only about a quarter of those required.
In 1939 only one balloon protected the oil and petrol installation at Saltend on the north bank of the River Humber. However more effort went into protecting the Admiralty Tanks near North Killingholme Haven on the south bank of the same river. The North Killingholme Haven site in Lincolnshire was of military importance as its 53 tanks contained various fuels for the Royal Navy. This establishment covered some 100 acres of reclaimed land, and having been opened prior to WW1
By Jun 1940 over 50 fifty Balloon Land Sites had been created in the City of Hull and rural areas north and south of the River Humber, including those sites in Lincolnshire subordinate to 942 Sqn's Flights at Grimsby and East Halton.
These sites all required accommodation for the balloon crew. In settlements houses were commandeered and elsewhere crews were initially accommodated in bell-tents , later replaced by RAF Type B timber huts, or corrugated iron sheeted Nissen huts.
There were also balloon barrage drifters - eleven at Grimsby, one at Humber. Hired or commandeered river barges moored to buoys at strategic points, and crewed by RAF personnel to fly the balloons - they became known as the "Waterborne".
On 15 Jun 1940 38 Remote Balloon Sites were vacated, taking 26 winches, balloons and the personnel to Group HQ at Sheffield. This included two flt of 944 Balloon Squadron. The Hull Barrage was re-constructed by Wing Commander GES Lamb, OC 942 Balloon Squadron, having at his disposal a balance of 36 balloons, 14 of which were waterborne.
His headquarters was situated at Newland House, 435-439 Beverley Road, Hull with Flights “A” at the Riverside Quay Railway Station, Albert Dock, “B” Hedon Road and “E” Holderness Road in the City. In North Lincolnshire, “C” Flight at Grimsby with “D” at East Halton.
Humber Barrage Command and Control
Direction of the Hull Barrage fell to the local Barrage Control, who acted on orders from RAF Fighter Command in the form of the Sector Operations Room based at RAF Station Kirton in Lindsey. It was there that all information of approaching enemy aircraft from RADAR Stations and the Observer Corps was received.
A photograph of the site as it appeared in 1960 can be viewed on the 17 Balloons website. The tall balloon hangars are clearly visible in the centre of the image.
A thorough and informative history spanning the life of 17 Balloon Centre and other Sutton-on-Hull units can be found at www.17balloons.co.uk
Remains in Lincolnshire
Of the 15 known land Balloon Sites that operated in North Lincolnshire, 7 have disappeared under industrial development but evidence of the remaining ones is abundant. The wooden buildings that were on all of them have perished but brick buildings can still be seen. Details are included on the East Halton page.
Grimsby - E Flt 942 Sqn
East Halton - D Flt 942 Sqn
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