A Load of Hot Air

Throughout the descriptions of conflict, we have been introduced to standard artillery, cavalry, and infantry. I assumed this would be the extent of military forces covered, but out of the blue, a wonder weapon was introduced. I never considered air power a factor in any major conflict before World War I but was surprised to see the appearance of a hot air balloon in the midst of war in 1812. Pierre briefly introduces us to “…the big hot-air balloon that was being constructed by Leppich to destroy the enemy…it was being constructed at the wish of the sovereign”(751) but it has not been mentioned again. After some external research, I found that just like the brief mention, the lifetime of this balloon was also short-lived and the project was scrapped. It was the brainchild of Franz Leppich who sought to make a machine that would be able to decimate the French from the air by dropping explosives. Hot air balloons were not a new invention, but used by French forces before for enemy observation and signaling. However, they could not be reliably moved and steered. Leppich sought to make add maneuverability to the equation. His insane plan for maneuvering through the air would be with rowers and paddles, similar to those you would find on a boat. The German inventor first proposed his idea to the French, but was ridiculed and ultimately expelled from France. When turning to the Russians he developed the vehicle on an estate near Moscow in secrecy leading to false rumors to be spread about the government activity. These presumptions ranged from the making of plows to the development of a submarine. However, with the war of 1812 continuing, Napoleon pushed closer to Moscow and Leppich continuously missed deadlines for flight and had failed flights. He used taffeta silk which leaked too much to be useful and planned for an airship made of heavy wood to be chock full of guns, explosives, and 50 men. When doing a final test before Napoleon arrived the balloon failed to lift off the ground with only 5 men and only took off with 2 aboard. His project was scrapped and destroyed before Napoleon arrived after it was promised that this wonder weapon would save the Russian war effort.



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