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Thursday, October 22, 2009

History of The Kite - Kites At War

The kite was used as a military tool very early in its history. The Chinese were the inventors of the kite and were the first to use the kite for warfare. Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty used a kite to allow him to evade an enemy city's defenses. He needed to build a tunnel under the city's walls, but required a tool to help him determine how far to dig the tunnel. He had a kite flown over the city, marked the line and pulled the kite in. Engineers then began to dig the tunnel. When they reached the length determined by the kite string, they started ascending. The tunnel entered the city in the courtyard. His troops were able to enter the city and captured it. The Chinese also used kites to lift fireworks over enemy troops, terrifying and dispersing them. Kites of different shapes and sizes were also flown to deliver signals to soldiers in the field.

From China, kite technology spread to other Asian nations. Thailand made good use of the kite in many ways, including the art of war. King Petraja used kites to deliver what many feel was the first aerial bombing in history. A subject principality, Nakhon Ratchasima, known also as Korat, rebelled against his rule. King Petraja had kegs of gunpowder tied to kites flying over the rebel fortifications. These were then ignited and the explosions caused enough dismay and confusion among the rebels that they surrendered.

During the Crimean War an interesting concept using kites were tried. Admiral Sir Arthur Cochrane came up with the idea of using kites to tow torpedoes into Russian ships. He set up some practice runs which were successful. But the idea was never implemented due to the fact that enemy ships were not always positioned correctly in relation to the prevailing wind to allow the kites to hit their targets.

World War I saw several uses for kites, mostly as observational devices. The French deployed a kite corps which consisted of a car, trailer and a motor driven winch. Most of the combatant armies used kites for observation early in the war. The arrival of the airplane caused these divisions to become obsolete and they were disbanded. The Germans used a specially designed box kite system on their submarines. The fact that an observer lifted to an altitude of 400 feet could see almost 250 miles over open ocean gave the submarines a bit of an advantage because they could see their enemies before being themselves detected.

A man named Harry Sauls designed a kite he called the barrage kite to fly advertising banners over tourist areas. The kite was found useful in protecting merchant ships during World War II. A strong wire was used as the kite line and flown from strategic places on the ships. The wire was invisible to airplanes and strong enough to cut off a wing or destroy a propeller. The kites played a deterrent role in holding off enemy dive bomber attacks against the ships.

During World War II gunners on aircraft carriers used clouds for target practice. This practice did not provide a very realistic simulation of an attacking aircraft. Lieutenant Commander Paul E. Garber served on the aircraft carrier USS Block Island. Observing the limitations of the system, he decided to come up with a better target. He designed a kite for this purpose and challenged the gunnery crews to hit it with gunfire. To their chagrin, the kite proved a difficult target. His commanding officer observed this and ordered Garber to build more kites. He managed to come up with kites which mimicked the movements of an attacking aircraft, and the gunnery crew’s accuracy increased immensely. This helped the crews to destroy attacking aircraft at a much higher rate.

A box kite was also a key component of a device called the Gibson Girl during this war also. The apparatus consisted of a kite, antennae and hand crank radio. The Gibson Girl was standard issue on United States and British bombers. An airman shot down and adrift on the sea could deploy the kite with the antennae attached, and use the hand crank radio to signal his position. The Gibson Girl saw action as late as the Vietnam War.

Kites were used extensively during the course of history for many different military uses. From their inception by the Chinese to World War II and as late as the Vietnam War, kites have had their use as weapons, observational tools and signal devices.
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