This post is about a revelation I had a while back, which those of you with a firmer grasp of the English language than I will think is nothing at all new (and you're right!) The thing is that I'd always been puzzled by the word barrage. This gets used a lot by journalists: 'the minister faced a barrage of criticism for her decision', 'the home team's late barrage of goals sealed their victory', and so on. Obviously, this is related to the artillery barrages so characteristic of trench warfare on the Western Front, intense bombardments which were usually the prelude to an attack across no-man's land. There were several kinds of artillery barrage, for example hurricane barrages (shorter but even more intense) [edit: bzzzt, wrong, see below] and creeping barrages (moving just ahead of the advancing troops). There was also the anti-aircraft barrage, where the targets are up in the sky instead of on the ground. So it's easy to see how the civilian uses of barrage came from the military ones (or perhaps vice versa); the sense of the word in both would seem to be something like the raining of blow after furious blow upon an opponent.
OK, but what about barrage balloons? They didn't rain furious blows upon anything, they just sat there swaying in the breeze, on the off chance that enemy aircraft might fly down low and hit their mooring cables. And what was the deal with balloon barrages,1 which confusingly were composed of barrage balloons? And then there were anti-submarine barrages, essentially nets stretched across maritime choke-points such as the Strait of Dover or the mouth of the Adriatic. None of these things have the very active quality of the previously-mentioned barrages -- they're all in fact very passive indeed. It's hard to see what the one sort of barrage has to do with the other, but since they are all called barrages and arose during the same period of the two world wars, presumably there's some logic to it all. But what?
In the First World War these were called balloon aprons, a slightly different idea where the balloons were also connected to each other by horizontal cables, from which yet more cables were suspended. I'm not sure why balloon aprons were abandoned by the Second World War; perhaps because they were more fiddly to deploy? ↩