A short history of No.11 Balloon Centre at Pucklechurch, 1939 to 1945, and RAF Station Pucklechurch, 1945 to 1959
A Brief Chronology
09/08/1939 - Opened as No.11 Balloon Centre.
22/04/1945 - Became a sub-site of No.7 Maintenance Unit, Quedgeley nr. Gloucester for storage.
19/07/1945 - Became No.251 Maintenance Unit (Mechanical Storage).
25/02/1947 - Became No.22 Reserve Centre (Recruiting & Training personnel for RAFVR).
15/01/1951 - No.2 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron formed at Pucklechurch.
16/06/1952 - No.62(Southern) Reserve Group HQ established at Pucklechurch.
16/06/1952 - Station re-named RAF Pucklechurch.
08/10/1952 - No.22 Reserve Centre became No.62(S) Group Combined Resereve Centre.
01/10/1956 - No.62(S) Group Combined Reserve Centre moved to Barnwood, Gloucester.
02/07/1957 - Language School (Russian Element) from Wythall, Worcestershire, to Pucklechurch
25/09/1958 - Unit badge presented to RAF Pucklechurch.
28/10/1958 - No.7 MU sub-site vacated.
30/11/1958 - No.2 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron moved to Tangmere, West Sussex.
11/09/1959 - Language School transferred to Tangmere, West Sussex.
31/12/1959 - Pucklechurch reduded to inactivity basis.
23/03/1961 - Disposal of Pucklechurch RAF station temporarily suspended.
Balloon barrages were a passive form of defence designed to force enemy raiders to fly higher, and thus bomb much less accurately. In July 1937 the siting of a barrage was started in London, and on September 21st 1938 it was ordered that this protection was to be extended to certain provincial towns and cities, those initially chosen being Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne, Plymouth, Southampton, Glasgow, and Cardiff. A defensive survey of the Bristol area had already been carried out in July 1938 and it had been decided that the presence of Filton aerodrome prevented the use of balloons to cover the whole area. Two small independent layouts were therefore proposed to protrect the harbour installations at the Bristol City Docks and Avonmouth Docks.
The provincial barrages in each district were to be organised into Auxiliary Air Force Balloon Squadrons, comprising 24 balloons each. The squadrons further being sub-divided into 3 Flights of 8 balloons each, and these units were to be administered by the local Territorial Association. In each locality depots were to be formed to administer, to provide a peacetime HQ for the balloon squadrons, and to be responsible for the assembly and testing of balloons and the training of balloon crews in time of war, and that serving the Bristol area was to be located at Pucklechurch.
On November 1st 1938 a separate Balloon Command, under the operational control of Fighter Command, was formed, its purpose being to take responsibility for the control and administration of the whole U.K. barrage comprising No.1 Balloon Training Unit at Cardington in Bedfordshire, the London Balloon Barrage Group, the Midlands Group, the Northern Group, and the Western Group, which included the balloon squadrons to be formed at Bristol, Plymouth, in the Solent area, and in South Wales. Temporary town premises were then being obtained to house each provincial Balloon Centre, these being used while the new specially designed centres were being built. On December 24th 1938 it was ordered that certain 'Key Buildings' were to be erected in advance of others at all provincial centres then under construction, thus enabling actual balloon training to be undertaken before the centre was formally opened.
The standard barrage balloon used throughout the war was designated the LZ (Low Zone). It was just over 62 feet long and 25 feet in diameter at its widest part and had a hydrogen capacity of 19,000 cubic feet. The LZ balloon was flown from a mobile winch and was designed for a maximum flying altitude of 5000 feet. The winch speed limited the raising and hauling down speed to about 400 fet per minute, which meant that the balloons required 11 minutes to reach 5000 feet from their close-hauled altitude of 500 feet. When an aircraft struck the cable of an LZ balloon armed with a Double Parachute Link, the cable was severed at the top and bottom by two cutting links. The aircraft thus carried away the main portion of the cable and an 8 foot diameter parachute opened at each end of the wire. Together the parachutes exerted a drag about six times as great as the engine thrust of a bomber, sufficient to stop it almost dead in its tracks, causing the victim to fall out of the sky and crash. As the cable parted from the balloon, a wire ripped off a patch which allowed the hydrogen to escape, causing the balloon to descend slowly to the ground.
For the defence of the harbour installations at Bristol and Avonmouth some three balloon squadrons were allocated, and No.11 Balloon Centre was established at the HQ Territorial Army and Auxiliary Forces Association at 17 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol, on January 16th 1939. February 6th saw the opening of a temporary Town HQ at 57 Victoria Street, Bristol, and recruiting for the three 'County of Gloucester' Auxiliary Airforce (Balloon Barrage) Squadrons, No.927 under S/L G.S.James, No.928 under S/L J.P.Hitchings and No.929 under S/L R.A.A.Hall began immediately. An age limit of 32 to 49 years was imposed for officers and 38 to 49 for men.
To complete Balloon Command's organisation in the South and West a new parent Group to which No.11 Balloon Centre was to be responsible was formed on May 15th. The HQ of No.32 (Balloon Barrage) Group was first established at Portsmouth, but it moved to Romsey, Hampshire on June 23rd 1940. In addition to No.11 Balloon Centre, No.32(BB) Group was responsible for No's. 12, 13, and 14 Balloon Centres, at Fareham (covering Eastleigh, Southampton, Portsmouth, and Gosport); Plymouth; and Cardiff respectively. Finally on November 9th 1941 the HQ of No.32(BB) Group moved to Claverton Manor, Bath.
A public demonstration of a barrage balloon flying took place on a very hot July 8th 1939, when a balloon was flown on the Downs for the benifit of the citizens of Bristol, while on August 9th the new camp at Pucklechurch was taken over as the permanent home for No.11 Balloon Centre, and HQ for its three Balloon Barrage Squadrons. War was now imminent, and on August 25th No.927 Squadron was embodied, followed by No.929 on the 29th, and No.928 the next day. During 1939, with the massive increase in balloon deployment throughout the country, it became necessary to provide additional sources of suppy for the hydrogen gas used to inflate the balloons. Accordingly Imperial Chemical Industries erected, at a cost of œ85,000, a new hydrogen plant at Weston super Mare Gas Works, and this was to provide gas for the balloons in the Southern and Western Barrages, located around Plymouth, the Solent, and in the Severn area. By the end of the year the plant was producing 2,500,000 cubic feet of hydrogen a week, with a holding capacity of 500,000 cubic feet.
The station defence force at Pucklechurch, provided by the army, was entrusted to The Gloucestershire Regiment. Initially this was undertaken at Pucklechurch (Vulnerable Point GLO 13) by 'militiamen', but on August 30th they were relieved by a detachment of an officer and 30 'other ranks' from the 7th (Territorial) Battalion. Their stay, however, was very short for on September 16th they were replaced by a detachment of 'C' Company, 8th (Home Service) Battalion under Lieutenant H.R.Newman. This formation remained at Pucklechurch until April 20th 1940, when RAF personnel finally took over the responsibility for guarding their own establishment.
The Balloon Squadrons had meanwhile started to leave Pucklechurch and occupy their wartime sites, forming skeleton barrages around the vital port facilities at Avonmouth and Bristol. No.927 Squadron were the first to move, commencing deployment at Avonmouth on August 27th 1939, its H.Q. being established at 'The Chalet', Henbury, although this moved to 'Twyford House', Shirehampton, before the raids commenced. No.928 Squadron followed on September 7th, their balloons soon being deployed at Clifton, as well as at sites across the River Avon at Pill, Portbury, and Sheephouse Lane, Easton in Gordano, and their H.Q. was established at 3 Caledonia Road, Clifton. Finally September 18th saw No.929 Squadron commence deployment in the Bristol area with 'B' Filght occupying sites in Bedminster, while 'C' Flight were deployed in the East Bristol in the St.George, Whitehall and Eastville areas. 'A' Flight, however, remained at Pucklechurch as a Reserve. No.929 Squadron's H.Q. was the moved to 57 Victoria Street, Bristol.
On October 22nd 'A' Flight No.928 Squadron was re-designated 'D' Flight No.927 Squadron bringing No.927 Squadron up to four flights, but leaving No.928 Squadron with two flights only, while the following day No.929 Squadron commenced their transfer to Queensferry in Scotland, where they were required to protect the Forth Bridge, the vulnerability of which had been shown by a German air attack on the area on October 16th. During September and October almost all enemy air attacks had taken place in daylight, so not surprisingly, the discovery of considerable activity low off the Essex coast and over the Firth of Forth during the evening of November 18th was a major event. These operations, carried out by minelaying aircraft, caused a rapid response, and on November 22nd No.928 Squadron were ordered to haul down their balloons and move in two groups to R.A.F. Felixstowe, in Sufflok, where they re-deployed on the 24th. This left only the enlarged No.927 Squadron to man both the Bristol and Avonmouth barrages, and although a replacement was formed at Pucklechurch on December 15th it was not until March 30th 1940 that No.951 Squardon, consisting of 5 Flights, was able to take control of the Bristol barrage. When deployed its H.Q. was established in the old No.928 Squadron accommodation at 3 Caledonia Place, Clifton.
Unfortunately during the winter of 1939/40 balloon production was unable to keep pace with demand, and as losses due to unexpected changes of weather far exceeded expectations the squadrons were forced to conserve their stocks by keeping a large number of them deflated. On January 20th 1940 No.927 Squadron reported 32 balloons deployed at Avonmouth (10 inflated, 22 deflated on site) and 50 balloons at Bristol (33 inflated, 17 deflated on site)
On May 27th 1940 Sir Stanley White, the Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company wrote to Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding Air Officer Commander in Chief of Fighter Command requesting that a balloon barrage should be provided to protect the company's works at Filton. He was well aware of the difficulties involved by the proposal as a fighter squadron had already been operational in the vicinity from Filton aerodrome. He suggested therefore, that the balloons should be flown immediately the fighters had taken off. On conclusion of their sortie the aircraft should be detailed to land at Hullavington, or at some other suitable aerodrome in the vicinity and await instructions to return to Filton when the balloons had ben lowered.
Two days later Dowding informed White that he would get his balloons, and No.32(BB) Group immediately ordered No.935 (County of Glamorgan) Squadron to move from Cardiff to Filton to protect the Bristol Aeroplane Compamy's plant, the squadron establishing its H.Q. at R.A.F. Filton. At 15.00 hrs on the 31st, No.935 Squadron reported balloons flying at Filton, while the existing two Flights were increased to three with the announcement that 'B' Flight No.956 Squadron, then operating a waterborne barrage at Deal in Kent, was to be incorporated into the squadron as from June 2nd. Initially it was ordered that the balloons at Filton were to fly from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise, but were to be close hauled during the day, flying only on the receipt of air raid warning 'Yellow'. Overall control was to be under the Officer Commanding R.A.F. Filton, but during the hours of darkness they came under the orders of the Avonmouth Barrage Control. In the Whitchurch area a number of balloons in No.951 Squadron's 'B' Flight were also controlled by Bristol Airport, the interests of flying safety again being of paramount importance.
The completing of balloon barrages at Filton, Bristol and Avonmouth by early June 1940 was a most sensible precaution, for it was on the night of June 19th that the Luftwaffe carried out its first attack on the West Country. The attack force of at least seven Heinkel He 111's of III/KG 27 based at Merville in Northen France were briefed to attack the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton, in additon to harbour installations at Avonmouth and Southampton. The attack was not a success, the nearest bombs falling at Portishead at around 02.15 hrs, but this was just the first of a long series of raids which were to last until May 1944. During the course of the war the Luftwaffe successfully identified many of the most important military and industrial targets in the area, and this included target number GB 25 16 Pucklechurch - Sperrballonlager (Barrage Balloon Store), although no specific attacks were actually mounted against the installation.
On May 31st the Air Ministry had written to Dowding instructing him to provide the greatest possible protection for aircraft factories engaged in the production of Hurricanes, Spitfires and Wellingtons. Accordingly the Gloster Aircraft Company's plant at Brockworth, near Gloucester, which had 24 acres of factory floor area devoted to Hurricane production, was the next to be provided with a balloon barrage. No.912 Squadron, consisting of 3 flights of 8 balloons was detailed to provide this protection, and on June 26th it transferred from No.1 Balloon Training Unit at Cardington to the Gloucester area, commencing operations at Brockworth on June 28th. Initially they operated from a temporary squadron H.Q. at 'Hill Crest', Ermine Road, but on August 5th this moved to 'Woodstock', Upon Lane, Barnwood.
The beginning of July 1940 saw the balloon barrage start to receive damage and suffer casualties during enemy air attacks. At 17.15 hrs on July 3rd 1940 three Junkers Ju 88's of II/KG 51 based at Orly near Paris attacked what they identified as the harbour installations at Portishead where they identified 12 barrage balloons flying. No.927 Squadron at Avonmouth, however, reported bombs dropped between Sites 27/8 and 'C' Flight HQ. Windows were damaged at the HQ and in huts at Sites 27/8 and 27/9. Several airmen received minor injuries through glass and by flinging themselves to the ground at the Cowley Farm Site. These were the first casualties suffered by Balloon Command due to enemy action during World War II.
The following day, at 15.05 hrs, No.935 Squadron at Filton suffered a direct hit by a high explosive bomb which fell on Site 35/10 located opposite the Rodney Works on Filton Hill. It was dropped by a lone He 111 of III/KG 54 based at Le Bourget near Paris which was attempting to raid the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Another bomb fell on the road beside the site and during the raid 333413 WO H.T.Sharp; 865647 Cpl. N.Love; 865527 LAC R.H.Jones were all injured. The balloon was in the process of leaving the bed at the time and the winch and balloon were completely destroyed.
The next important aircraft factory to be covered by a balloon barrage was the Westland Aircraft works at Yeovil, where the Whirlwind fighter was in production, and where Spitfires were soon to be built on a sub-contractor basis. No.957 Squadron with three flights, which had only formed at Cardington on July 7th, was selected for this task, and deployment commenced on July 24th. Two days later they reported that all balloons were inflated, and the squadron H.Q. was established at 'Braggchurch House', Hendford Hill.
One of the biggest problems for the balloon barrages throughout the war was the risk of lightning strike during a thunder storm, and probably the most serious incident of this type took place in the Bristol area on the night of July 26th 1940 when between 00.30 hrs and 00.47 hrs a total of 28 balloons were struck by lightning and brought down in flames. Those destroyed were at Sites 27/14, 27/18, 27/30, 27/12, 27/15, 27/23, 27/27, 27/21, 27,25, 27/26, 27/28, 27/1, 27/2, 27/5, 27/7, 27/31, 27/20, 27/32, and 27/22 of No.927 Squadron at Avonmouth; 35/2, 35/3, 35/7, and 35/9 belonging to No.935 Squadron at Filton; and 51/1, 51/3, 51/7, 51/27, and 51/30 of No.951 Squadron at Bristol.
At Filton the danger of trying to operate a flying traing unit in an area covered by a balloon barrage was quickly realised and on August 3rd, the resident No.2 Elementary Flying Training School was moved to Staverton airfield near Cheltenham. The problem of strikes on balloon cables by friendly aircraft, however, continued throughout the war, sometimes with fatal results to both aircraft and aircrew. The first occasion when this took place locally was on August 13th 1940 when at 17.18 hrs Spitfire R6880 of No.4 Ferry Pilots Pool hit cable of balloon 12/6 operated by No.912 squadron at Brockworth causing the balloon to break away. The aircraft subsequently crashed in flames 300 yards south east of Dean Farm, and although the pilot baled out, it was only at an altitude of some 150 feet, and sadly he died later in the evening.
On August 31st No.11 Balloon Centre was responsible for No.912 Squadron (3 Flights with 24 balloons) at Brockworth; No.927 Squadron (4 Flights with 32 balloons) at Avonmouth; No.935 Squadron (3 Flights with 24 balloons) at Filton; No.951 (5 Flights with 40 balloons) at Bristol; and No.957 (3 Flights with 24 balloons) at Yeovil.
During the night of September 10th some 16 He 111's of the Bourges based II/KG 27 carried nuisance attacks against Merseyside, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, and a number of bombs fell in South Gloucestershire. At the Pucklechurch R.A.F. Camp an airman suffered burns on the back due to the presence of a reddish powder thought dropped from one of these aircraft. He was taken to Cossham Hospital, and a sample of the powder was sent to the Home Office for analysis. This proved to be a Sodium compound of dye-stuff, resembling Uranium, which on contact with sea water turned yellow and caused acute dermatitis. It had formed part of the German emergency equipment carried in case the crew were forced to ditch in the sea.
On the morning of September 25th 1940 a large scale attack was carried out against the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton by 58 He 111's of I,II,& III/KG 55 based at Dreux, Chartres, and Villacoublay near Paris. At 11.48 hrs, No.935 Squadron at Filton reported that one salvo of H.E.'s had fallen in the immediate neighbourhood of Site 35/6 and caused the instantaneous death of 865570 AC1 S.T.Parnall who was fitting the lower Double Parachute Link to the flying cable. A hut and tent on the site were also demolished, but no other casualties were suffered. The following day it was ordered that the balloons should be controlled during daylight by the Officer Commanding R.A.F. Filton under orders of the Avonmouth Barrage Control, while at night the flying of balloons was to be dependent at all times on the requirements of the R.A.F. Station.
The first large scale raid on Bristol took place on the night of November 24th 1940 when 135 enemy bombers attacked the city between 18.30 hrs and 23.00 hrs. During this period No.951 Squadron at Bristol suffered its first fatality due to enemy action when at 20.55 hrs a high explosive bomb was dropped on Site 51/31 and the balloon set adrift. The site hut was damaged and 996328 AC1 J.Bain suffered serious injuries from which he died two days later in the Bristol Royal Infirmary. 'A' Flight HQ and billet were also reported slightly damaged by the blast.
In addition to their normal operations, No.951 Squadron also controlled Bristol's six 'Starfish' Decoy Sites, the construction of which commenced in late 1940. They were eventually located at Stockwood, Chew Magna, Downside, Kenn Moor, Yeomouth, and Cheddar, and it was during the city's second large scale raid on the night of December 2nd that the first 'Starfish' site in the country was lit in anger.
A new policy for the use of the small very low altitude Admiralty Mk.VI Kite Balloons, which had been designed to protect shipping and harbours was introduced on December 31st. The plan called for the substitution of Mk.IV balloons in land barrages protecting certain aircraft factories, and it was hoped ultimately to withdraw 60% of LZ balloons and substitute with Mk.IV's in the ratio of two Mk.IV's to one LZ. Filton was one of the factories selected, and here 28 V.L.A.'s were to be added to release 14 LZ's.
On the night of January 16th 1941 the Luftwaffe carried out a heavy raid on Avonmouth. 178 aircraft were dispatched, of which 126 claimed to have attacked the target between 19.30 hrs and 05.08 hrs. No.927 Squadron at Avonmouth reported Site 27/18 damaged by a high explosive bomb, as a result of which three airmen, 1291948 AC2 R.C.Lawrence, 1006143 AC2 R.Peck, and 865245 AC1 C.H.Waters were killed. In addition seven airmen were slightly injured, while the site hut and contents were completely destroyed.
The next deployment under No.11 Balloon Centre took place when a barrage was installed to protect the Bristol Aeroplane Company's Shadow Factory at Weston super Mare, where Beaufighters were to be built. On October 18th 1940 the sub-committee of the Deputy Chief of Staff (A.A.), under pressure from the Ministry of Aircraft Production had decided to invite Dowding to consider the provision of balloons to protect the nearly completed plant, but this presented a formidable problem. H.Q. Fighter Command replied on December 6th informing the Air Ministry that a survey had been made of the proposed barrage and that a complication had arisen in that No.10 Elementry Flying Training School was operating at Weston aerodrome, and that this would be completely surrounded by the proposed balloons.
As the factory was considered more important it was decided to move the flying school as soon as possible, and on January 21st 1941 No.955 Mobile Balloon Squadron, then at Cardington, was ordered to reform at Pucklechurch with a view to operating the barrage at Weston. The 3 Flight squadron commenced its move to the town on February 18th, although it was not until May 3rd that the squadron eventually became operational with 17 of its balloons flying,, its H.Q. being established at Banwell Castle, Banwell. The E.F.T.S., however, was still in occupation. It was therefore decided that no balloons were to be flown in daytime except at such times as flying had stopped at the E.F.T.S. When these occasions arose, the balloons were to be flown by arrangement between the barrage commander and the chief flying instructor, but were to be close hauled immediately flying commenced again. By night it became subject to a control under which it was grounded, together with a number of other barrages, from half an hour after the prescribed balckout time until the cessation of the balckout period. The balloons were released from this condition only if enemy aircraft were plotted approaching the barrage area, or on receipt of an air raid warning 'Red' from the Home Office. As a result the Weston balloon barrage was operational for only very brief periods in each 24 hours.
A further fatality occurred on January 30th when 158620 AC2 Warren of No.927 Squadron accidently drowned in Avonmouth Dock. At 16.15 hrs he was observed riding a motor cycle along the pier when he became entangled with the tie ropes and both rider and machine were thrown into the Dock. A dragging operation was immediately carried out, but it was 15 minutes before the body was recovered. On February 25th, the Bristol University Air Squadron was formed and on May 16th set up a permanent HQ at 1 Tyndall Avenue, Clifton, Bristol. The squadron was for accounting and equipment purposes attached to No.11 Balloon Centre at Pucklechurch which remained its 'Parent Unit' until 1945.
The first quarter of 1941 saw four balloon cable impacts by aircraft, all of which were destroyed. The first on February 21st involved Hurricane P3653 of the Filton based No.501 Fighter Squadron which collided with the cable of the balloon at Site 35/20 operated by Filton's No.935 Squadron. The aircraft crashed in a field at Patchway, about 500 yards from the Site, the pilot 903560 Sgt. D.G.Grimmet being killed.
The following day it was the turn of No.927 Squadron at Avonmouth where at 14.12 hrs Heinkel He 111H-3, Wnr. 3247, IG+GM of 4/KG 27 operating from Bourges in France, and on a mission to attack Parnall's Aircraft Factory at Yate, collided with the balloon cable at Site 27/29. The aircraft's port wing was torn and it crashed a little less than a mile away from the point of impact, while the balloon itself broke away. The only survivor, Ltn. Berndt Rusche, the pilot, said that prior to impacting the cable he was hit once in the port engine and at least twice in the fuselage by heavy A.A. fire and one of these hits was thought to have carried away the entire tail unit. The other crewmen killed killed were Fw. Georg Jankowaik the Wireless Operator; Gefr. Erich Steinbach the Gunner; Uffz. Heinrich de Wall the Flight Engineer; and Fw. Albert Ranke the Observer.
On March 20th 1941 Magister V1065 of the Service Ferry Pool collided with the cable of the balloon at Site 35/5 operated by No.935 Squadron at Filton and crashed 50 yards from the site. The pilot F/Lt. Smith based at Kemble airfield was killed. The fourth victim impacted the barrage operated by No.951 Squadron at Bristol, for at 21.40 hrs on April 30th Wellington T2905 of No.11 Operational Training Unit at Bassingbourne collided with balloon cables at Sites 51/21 and 51/23. The aircraft crashed at 'D' Flight Site 51/25 in St. Andrew's Park, Bristol and was carrying both high explosive and incendiary bombs, as well as ammunition which exploded after the crash. Of the crew of six, 61048 P/O. K.G.Evans, the pilot, together with 979838 Sgt. T.L.Lever, and 744913 Sgt. C.J.Clarke were killed, and Sergeants, J.S.Jones, L.H.Houghton and P.Wish injured. On the ground a balloon operator, 618025 AC1 Rowland was injured and admitted to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. The balloon at Site 51/21 broke away after impact, but that at Site 51/23 remained flying. During April No.951 Squadron had been reduced to 4 Flights of 8 balloons.
The night of May 7th 1941 saw a major attack carried out against Liverpool and Birkenhead, during which 16 aircraft unable to locate that target attacked Bristol as an alternative between 01.12 hrs and 02.35 hrs. No.951 Squadron at Bristol reported that four airmen injured by shrapnel when a High Explosive bomb fell on Site 51/11 of 'A' Flight had been sent to hospital. They were named as 848380 LAC H.Bath, 979237 LAC A.Locket, and 861113 AC1 C.Parsons, while the fourth, 925154 AC1 J.W.Pateman, sadly died soon after admission to the Bristol Royal Infirmary.
As had happened earlier in Bristol, No.957 Squadron at Yeovil were also entrusted with their local 'Starfish' site, control being assumed by them at 12.00 hrs on June 1st. Not before time September 9th saw No.955 Squadron at Weston super Mare take responsibility for the Bleadon Decoy Site, No.10 E.F.T.S. having finally departed that day for Stoke Orchard, near Bishop's Cleeve, in Gloucestershire.
At 19.57 hrs on June 6th 1941 two Spitfires of a patrol protecting a convoy in the Bristol Channel passed over the barrage area operated by No.955 Squadron at Weston super Mare. The rearmost aircraft, P8143 of 501 Squadron operating from Colerne, hit the cable of the balloon at Site 55/19. The Double Parachute Link fired and the balloon broke away, but the aircraft crashed at Shiplate Court Farm, Hutton. The pilot, Sgt. C.J.Barton was killed and the aircraft burnt out.
It was not long before the Bedminster area of Bristol again suffered serious damage, for at 04.00 hrs on the night of June 11th a single He 111 of the Nantes based I/KG 28, unable to find its target at Birmingham, dropped two 1000 kg Land Mines on the suburb No.951 Squadron at Bristol reported that they had fallen on the edge of Victoria Park, Bedminster, one impacting about 100 yards from Site 51/12 where 997865 AC1 D.McDonnel was severely injured by falling debris. He was admitted to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, but died there the following day.
The final serious aircraft impact incident took place at 05.40 hrs on July 14th 1941 when No.955 Squadron at Weston super Mare reported that a friendly aircraft had collided with the balloon cable at Site 55/12. The balloon was said to have broken away and the aircraft to have crashed after the pilot had successfully baled out.
The Bristol University Air Squadron received instructional airframe 2756M, a DH 60G Moth Major, in October 1941, this being installed in the Senate Room of the University, and from the beginning of the following month the squadron commenced training in signals, armament, and navigation for air crew candidates from Balloon Squadrons in the vicinity, a task which it continued to carry out throughout the war. The B.U.A.S. also employed the R.A.F. station band from Pucklechurch at a number of its social functions!
As the main blitz on the region had now finished and in order to release personnel for other duties the amalgamation of the balloon squadrons in the Bristol area began, the first being on January 14th 1942 when No.951 Squadron ceased to exist, its personnel being absorbed into No.927 Squadron, reducing the total number of balloons deployed in the Bristol area from 96 to 88. Upon amalgamation No.927 Squadron also took over responsibility for the local 'Starfish' sites previously operated by No.951 Squadron. By this time considerable aggrivation was being caused by the ballons, which hampered flying training from local airfields. As a result of a trial it was therefore decided, that from February 1942, No.11 Balloon Centre would hand over control of the barrages to the local No.10 (Fighter) Group, whose H.Q. was at Box in Wiltshire. Inland balloons would either be grounded or close hauled if flying was in progress, and because of reduced enemy activity ample warning could be given, sometimes as much as 15 minutes, if hostile aircraft were approaching. This allowed sufficient time for the balloons to be lifted aloft.
The R.A.F. raids on Rostock and Lubeck in April 1942 brought a response from the Germans in the form of the so called 'Baedecker' Raids, when the realatively unprotected centres of British culture were singled out for attack. Exeter was the target on April 23rd and 24th, followed by Bath on the folowing two nights. With the cancellation of the proposed balloon barrages for Eire, the necessity for holding, within Balloon Command, and organisation for the rapid deployment of balloons over an area likely to be attacked was revived. This had luckily coincided with the start of the 'Baedecker Raids' and steps to combat the new menace included the deployment of a mobile barrage. A mobile balloon squadron comprising 2 Flights of 10 balloons was authorised to be raised under No.32 Group, and possible targets in No.10 (Fighter) Group's area were to be surveyed, these included Salisbury, Swindon, Bath, Gloucester, and Exeter.
The new unit, No.992 Squadron, which was also known as the 'Rover Squadron', came into being on May 5th 1942, 'A' Flight being formed at No.14 Balloon Centre at Cardiff, and 'B' Flight at No.11 Balloon Centre at Pucklechurch. Deployment to Broadclyst, near Exeter, under No.30 (BB) Group, commenced on May 11th and this was completed by 15.10 hrs the following day. The Squadron did not, however, stay very long in the Exeter area, for on June 3rd No.992 Squadron, back under No.32 Group control, was re-deployed to Salisbury which was considered a likely target, and its balloons were all flying by 22.10 hrs. H.Q. Fighter Command issued operational instructions which outlined the action to be taken in the event of future deployments due to a recurrence of raiding, and the operation was given the code word 'Crittall'.
Weston super Mare was the next town in the area to be attacked, being raided by a force of 53 aircraft on the night of June 27th. A repeat attack by a similar number of aircraft was carried out the following night, and it was as a result of his efforts during that raid that 1020475 AC1 J.H.McNeill of No.955 Squadron at Weston super Mare was awarded the B.E.M., which was presented to him on February 2nd 1943. By the summer of 1942 No.927 Squadron at Bristol was starting to receive W.A.A.F. operators to replace the men, and the first three trained female balloon crews arrived on August 13th, these being detailed to operate 'F' Flight Sites 27/59, 27/60 and 27/61.
In a further attempt to protect the local 'Cathedral Cities' No.912 Squadron at Brockworth commenced the re-deployment of 'C' and 'D' Flights to Gloucester on August 17th, where they were declared fully operational at 12 noon the next day. This was, however, to be a temporary arrangement for from 14.00 hrs on October 30th the two flights at Gloucester were declared non-operational, pending their return to Brockworth.
As a result of a major re-organisation within Balloon Command, No.14 Balloon Centre in Cardiff received an order from 32(BB) Group on March 6th 1943, advising them that with effect from March 31st, their Balloon Repair Section would be closed and the work transferred to No.11 Balloon Centre at Pucklechurch. At the same time the South Wales Balloon Squadrons, No.953 at Cardiff/Barry, No.958 at Swansea/Port Talbot, and No.966 at Newport, would also transfer to the control of No.11 Balloon Centre. In order to further release men for alternative work it was ordered that by April 1st some 31,800 W.A.A.F's were to be deployed on balloon sites around the U.K. and No.11 Balloon Centre was allocated some 880 women.
The establishment of many local balloon squadrons was also reduced at this time. In the Bristol area, April 14th 1943 saw the number of balloons reduced from 88 to 65, this being achieved by the amalgamation of No.935 Squadron and No.927 Squadron, the resulting formation being designated No.927/935 Squadron. Its H.Q. was at 'Drinagh', Sneyd Park, Bristol. This unit now had sole charge of all the balloons in the vicinity of Bristol, and now operated only 2 Flights at Filton. No.912 Squadron at Brockworth and No.955 at Weston super Mare were both reduced from 24 to 20 balloons each, and No.992 at Salisbury, which was now flying 32 balloons, was reduced to 25. It had also been intended to reduce the establishment of No.957 Squadron at Yeovil from 24 down to 20, but this does not seen to have been carried out.
The next change took place on April 26th, when No.992 Squadron at Salisbury re-deployed to Swindon, becoming operational by 18.00 hrs the following day. Their stay was, however, destined to be very short, for on May 13th all balloons were deflated, and on the 18th the squadron left nearby RAF Wroughton for attachment to No.11 Balloon Centre at Pucklechurch where it became a temporary non-operational 'lodger unit' with an establishment of 18 balloons. June 22nd saw No.992 Squadron commence reforming at Pucklechurch, and on July 4th the unit left the Balloon Centre before taking operational control of a number of sites at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, from No.1 Mobile Balloon Flight and No.995 Squadron, effective from 12.00 hrs the following day. A further movement took place on the 7th when the relieved No.1 Mobile Balloon Flight was transferred to Pucklechurch for re-equipping, checking of site equipment, and making ready for re-deployment. During its short stay the airmen were generally employed on harvesting work under the Gloucestershire War Agricultural Committee! No.1 Mobile Balloon Flight then became a self-accounting and self-equipping unit, and on August 8th left Pucklechurch for Norwich where it took over further sites from No.995 Squadron.
Down at Weston super Mare, September 9th 1943 saw No.955 Squadron also re-organised as a self-accounting Barrage Control Squadron, its 2 Flights operating from a combined Squadron and Flight H.Q. Although not an integral part of the Bristol Barrage, H.Q., No.101 and No.102 Flights of No.992 Squadron, then located at Edgbaston in Birmingham, undertook three training deployments to Easton in Gordano, near Bristol, between April and June 1944. The first took place between April 20th and April 23rd, the second lasted from May 12th and May 16th, and the third from June 6th to June 11th.
The last mission flown against the area by the German Airforce, an attempted raid on the harbour installations at Bristol by a force of 91 bombers on the night of May 14th 1944, was a complete failure. Only one aircraft succeeded in even finding Bristol, dropping its three sticks of high explosive bombs at Abbots Leigh, Kingsweston, and Headley Park at around 02.00 hrs. In Bristol the 'All Clear' that night sounded at 03.07 hrs signalling the departure of the last Luftwaffe bomber to threaten the City.
Soon after the balloon barrages in the West Country and South Wales were withdrawn, with many personnel and some equipment being transferred to the South Coast as part of 'Operation Crossbow', the 'Anti-Diver' measures intended to combat the flying bomb menace. The deployment of the 'Anti-Diver' barrage was authorised on June 16th, and on that day the South Wales squadrons, still controled by No.11 Balloon Centre at Pucklechurch, were ordered to deflate immediately. No.953 Squadron at Cardiff/Barry and No.958 Squadron at Swansea/Port Talbot were disbanded and reformed the next day with a new establishment at No.22 Balloon Centre, Biggin Hill, while No.966 Squadron at Newport reformed at No.23 Balloon Centre, Gravesend.
On June 21st the four other balloon squadrons in the area were ordered to deflate and pack. These were No.955 Squadron at Weston super Mare, where many of the operators transferred to No.966 'Diver' Squadron, No.957 Squadron at Yeovil and No.912 Squadron at Brockworth, where one flight from each unit was re-deployed on 'Anti-Diver' duties prior to the squadrons disbanding, and No 927/935 Squadron at Bristol, from which 80 operators had been transferred to No.958 'Diver' Squadron on June 26th. This squadron was finally declared non-operational at 23.59 hrs on July 12th 1944. No.11 Balloon Centre, however, soldiered on and on November 30th 1944 its personnel still numbered 26 officers (including 2 WAAF's) and 487 other ranks (including 158 WAAF's).
A certain amount of excitement took place on December 22nd, when in fog, an American UC64 aircraft mistook R.A.F. Pucklechurch for an airfield and put down in a nearby field, happily without sustaining any damage. It subsequently took-off successfully and completed its journey to Filton, inspite of the fact that only about 200 yards of open ground was available. The days of No.11 Balloon Centre were now numbered, and accordingly on March 15th 1945 R.A.F. Filton took over 'Parent Unit' responsibility in connection with the Bristol University Air Squadron. The demise of the Balloon Centre finally came at 00.01 hrs on April 22nd when the station transferred to Maintenance Command, the administration of the Pucklechurch site passing to No.7 Maintenance Unit at Quedgeley, near Gloucester. The vacated station was then earmarked as one of the centres for controlling and supervising demobilisation, and for post-war use as a sub-storage site for balloon equipment.
No.7 M.U. were not, however, to remain in control of Pucklechurch for very long, for on July 19th 1945 the site was re-designated No.251 M.U. a Mechanical Storage Unit dealing with motor vehicles. No. 251 M.U. continued as a M.T. Store until December 31st 1946 when all its operations were taken over by No.7 M.U. at Quedgeley. The station was now turned into an instructional facility, and on February 25th 1947 was re-named No.22 Reserve Centre, officially transferring to 62(Southern) Group, Reserve Command, which also controlled the nearby Filton airfield. A detachment from No.7 M.U., however, still occupied a number of buildings at Pucklechurch, including the Balloon Sheds, where equipment was still kept. On February 16th 1948 recruiting for Volunteer Reserve pilots started, with flying training scheduled to commence on April 1st, this being carried out in conjunction with No.12 Reserve Flying School at Filton which opened that day.
Consequent upon the decentralisation of the radio servicing commitment of the Radio Engineering Unit at Henlow, No.2 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron was formed at Pucklechurch on January 15th 1951. Its main duty was to provide third line servicing of telecommunicatons equipment, navigational aids and radar installations in South West England and South Wales, and as such formed part of No.90(Signals) Group.
On June 16th 1952 a major re-organisation took place at Pucklechurch. The Administration and Air Branches of No.62(S) Reserve Group HQ transferred to the site, while the station was officially renamed RAF Pucklechurch, No.22 Reserve Centre being re-classified as a section of the station establishment, along with the other lodger units, No.2 GRSS, and the No.7 MU detachment, which was to retain its sub-site presence until the Pucklechurch site closed.
A further re-organisation took place on December 8th 1952 when No.22 and No.27 Reserve Centres were both closed. At Pucklechurch a new No.62(Southern) Group Combined Reserve Centre was opened to replace them, and all the personnel of the old No.22 RC were transferred to the new formation.
The requirements of the RAF Reserve were now becoming less, and on March 31st 1953, No.12 RFS at Filton closed, but at Pucklechurch life went on as normal, interrupted only in May 1956, by the arrival for a short stay of No.7847 Reserve Flight, under the command of No.62(S) (Reserve) Group.
On October 1st 1956, HQ No.62(S) Group and No.62(S) GCRC, transferred operations to the RAF Records Office at Barnwwood, Gloucester. Pucklechurch, however, still had No.2 GRSS and the No.7 MU sub-site located on the station, while it retained 'parental' responsibilities for the motor transport unit No.61(Southern) Group M.TR & S, a Mobile Glider Servicing Unit and an Armament Servicing Party also located on the camp, as well as for No.36 Recruiting Centre in Bristol.