During World War I the U.S. Army activated 102 balloon companies for use in aerial observation of the enemy's front line, and of these balloon companies thirty-six saw service in France. The balloon companies were at this time one component of the U.S. Army Air Service. One of the few German aircraft shot down during World War I by American anti-aircraft fire is fully documented. It involved the 6th Balloon Company and took place on October 3, 1918. The following account of this downing is from the unit histories of the 304th Engineers and the AEF Balloon Section.
The 6th Balloon Company was activated as Company B 3d Balloon Squadron at Ft. Omaha, Nebraska, in November 1917, and arrived in France on February 20, 1918, under the command of 1st Lt. George R. Nixon. The Sixth's T&OE allocated it one balloon and six anti-aircraft machine guns.
The 6th Balloon Company first saw action in the Saint Mihiel Offensive from September 12 to 16, 1918. On September 20, 1918, the Sixth deployed to Montezeville, France, for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. They first inflated their balloon for this offensive on October 1, 1918, in a forest located two kilometers southeast of Montfaucon, France.
The 304th Engineer Regiment was organized at Camp Meade, Maryland, in 1917 and in 1918 was assigned to the 79th Infantry Division. Among the actions the regiment supported was the 79th Division in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. During this offensive, the 79th Division was in action in the Montfaucon Sector from September 26 to October 11, 1918. On October 3, 1918, the 304th was operating in the vicinity of Nantillois, France. Flying nearby was the observation balloon of the 6th Balloon Company.
On October 3, 1918, the 6th Balloon Company's balloon was attacked by a German Fokker flown by Unteroffizier Hans Heinrick Marwede of Jagdstaffel 67. The Balloon Company's After Action Report states: "An ace in a Fokker came over the lines for the balloon. The Observer jumped, the balloon burned, but the machine gun crew of the Sixth jumped into fame by shooting down the plane."
As stated above, Unteroffizier Marwede was successful in shooting down the Sixth's Balloon Company's balloon. Unteroffizier Marwede was credited with five kills during his flying career. On September 14, 1918, he reportedly shot down three balloons within a five-minute period southeast of Verdun. However, the balloon company's six defending machine-guns damaged Marwede's aircraft's engine, forcing him to...