BREA, California – It was many years ago during my third term at Clovenhoof College and my friend Neville had an assignment in Imperial History to write something about the British conquest of India. I volunteered to help and I told him about the Balloon War. He typed up the report as I dictated it to him.
When the British Army was consolidating its rule (the Raj) in northern India there was a maharajah who was resisting and had holed up in a mountainside fortress. A contingent of the British army was encamped on the plain below but couldn’t get anywhere near the fortress because the cannon fire from the fortress had a much longer range due to its elevation. A clever British officer with an education in engineering, Leftenant Cranston Howe-Itzer, thought that if a counter-battery cannon could be mounted under a tethered balloon that floated higher than the fortress, it would have superior range and be able to support a successful attack.
The British had just begun using hot air balloons as observation platforms. However, there was a big problem. If you fired a cannon suspended below a balloon, the recoil would cause a pendulum swinging effect that would tear the somewhat delicate balloon apart. His solution was to have a “double” cannon that simultaneously fired rearward as well as forward. The two opposing recoil forces would cancel out the pendulum effect. However, to make sure nobody in the British army got hurt by the rearward fire, the aft cannon was loaded with a goatskin bag filled with water that matched the weight of the forward firing cannonball or grapeshot. After much experimentation to make sure the barrels fired simultaneously the army was ready to make its assault, only to find that the maharajah and his subjects had sneaked out through a tunnel and had abandoned the fortress.
The instructor was very impressed with Neville’s paper and awarded him an “A”. Fortunately, he was not asked to supply any references. I never told him that the Balloon War was a load of rubbish that I had dreamed up. My ability to fabricate such stories has served me well as a 2P News correspondent.