"The City of Orleans"


December 8, 2021

"Ville d'Orléans", often written in French in a specific form such as "Ville d'Orléans", was a manned gas balloon that took off from Paris during the German siege of the city during the Franco-German War in 1870. The balloon, which was loaded with around 250 kilos of mail, got off course, and the two drivers, Paul Rolier and Leon Bézier, landed under Lifjell in Seljord in Telemark on November 25, almost 15 hours after the ascent and over 1200 km away. Most of the letters were delivered, but a military message to French forces outside the occupied territories did not arrive in time. The record-breaking flight became a sensation of the time and the French, who came unscathed from the dramatic journey, were hailed as heroes. The crossing is still considered an event in aviation history.

Background, aviation and aftermath

Early air balloons in Norway The voyage with "Ville d'Orléans" has been considered the first manned flight over Norway. However, there were several balloon ascents from Norwegian soil in 1852 performed by Ignatz Lassé in Christiania (Oslo). Aasmund Olavsson Vinje wrote about this in his correspondent letters from the capital of Drammens Tidende in 1852. Vinje mentions flying the balloon "Samson" from Bygdøy and up to Maridalen. This is also mentioned in an edition of the Guinness Book of Records from 1977. Otherwise, the artist Francesco Cetti from Bergen is often regarded as Norway's first aeronaut, air skipper, with flights from around 1890 onwards. In the Nordic context, the Danish photographer Julius Wilhelm Moyel (1825–1898 ) from Copenhagen very early on, when he bought the silk balloon «Samson» from the estate of the Italian-Danish balloon skipper Joseph Tardini (1817–1851) in April 1852. It was Moyel who organized the balloon shows around the Norwegian capital in the summer of 1852, led by Tardini's friend, balloonist Johannes «Ignatz» Lass (é). The balloon skipper who called himself Johs. Ignaz Lassé described his own balloon travels around the capital in the newspaper Illustreret Nyhedsblad in a long article on 21 August 1852.

Gas balloons during the siege of Paris 1870–71

On June 19, 1870, the Franco-German War began, and after French surrender, riots broke out in Paris. From 19 September, the city was besieged by German soldiers under the leadership of Prussia by the Chancellor of the North German Confederation, Otto von Bismarck. Supplies to the city were stopped, telegraph lines cut, and under constant attack conditions became very critical. The inhabitants therefore used gas-filled hot air balloons to get out messages and important people. As early as 1783, the brothers Montgolfier and Jacques Charles had made ascents with hot air and gas, respectively. The use of balloons during the siege of Paris nevertheless became historic for the development of air traffic. This was the first time that aerostats, hovering aircraft, were used as a means of communication in organized transport. The gas used to lift the balloons was called coal gas (gaz d'houille). It was a by-product of coke production and flammable. The siege of the Germans lasted for four months, and the French sent up a total of almost 70 balloons during this period. All the aircraft were named. The very first ascent failed, but the next, with the balloon "Neptune", took place on September 23, 1870. The last balloon, "Général Cambronne", departed on January 28, 1871. Most of the air voyages escaped the German enemies and ended in unoccupied parts of France or in a neutral foreign country. One of the initiators of using balloons was the famous photographer and cartoonist Felix Nadar, who himself used these to take aerial photos. Military reconnaissance balloons were also known from before. The balloons were often tethered to a long rope, so that one could go up to get an overview and come down with information about enemy positions and maneuvers. The aeronauts (pilots, balloonists or skippers) were often unemployed naval officers who received short-term training.

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