RAF Balloon Command was responsible for controlling all of the United Kingdom based barrage balloon units during World War II. 33 (Balloon Barrage) Group was responsible for the north of England and was headquartered at Parkhead House, Abbey Lane, Sheffield, Yorkshire. The Newcastle area was covered by 15 Balloon Centre and headquartered initially in the Town HQ at 44 New Bridge Street for recruitment but eventually, at a dedicated base in Longbenton.
Under the command of 15 Balloon Centre were 936, 937 and 938 Squadrons with 936 and 937 Squadrons being responsible for manning the Tyne Barrage, and 938 Squadron the Tees Barrage. All were formed in early 1939. Recruitment began in March 1939 with the initial response resulting in 192 recruits. Considerable help in the recruiting campaign was given by local bodies, principally the Chamber of Commerce and the local labour exchanges, and certain well known individuals. Advertising also played a major part with posters display throughout the town and in the local press.
Following this advertising campaign 936 Squadron was brought up to strength on 11th April 1939 under the command of Squadron Leader Kenneth Forsyth Angus OBE, MC, TD (28462), former Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Artillery. Shortly after 937 and 938 Squadrons were brought up to strength and by late August 1939 all units moved into the permanent base at RAF Longbenton, which had been under construction by Messers Wimpy.
The site at Longbenton, located on the south side of Front Street and immediately to the east of Coach Lane, consisted of four large balloon hangers, sick quarters, billets, bunkers, a trench system and various other storage sheds.
The barrage balloon sites themselves were situated across the region and we will be carrying out more research into their exact locations. If any evidence remains of their existence, we will post photos here.
A large air raid on 5th/6th May 1941 saw two members of 983 Squadron killed and several others wounded when bombs were dropped in the Benton area, some landing at Benton Golf Course and another at RAF Longbenton.
Those killed were:
Corporal Walter Sablick Wilson (871702) was killed outright
AC1 John Clive Matthews (985497) was rushed to Stannington Hospital with a shrapnel wound to the chest and succomed to his injuries the following day.
AC2 Horace Leonard Leedham (961034) suffered a serious scalp wound but eventually made a full recovery.
AC1 Frank William Cowle (549837) suffered a perferated wound to the right buttock
AC2 Frank Woodall Lovatt (10666096) suffered a perferated wound to the right foot
AC2 Francis Coates (991336) suffered a perferted wound to the back
Suffering from shock were:
AC1 Edward Barnfather (867937)
AC2 Frederick Alfred Hayward (1260462)
AC1 George Sinclair Pattinson (867851)