I paid a pretty penny for a dozen photos from the 20th Balloon Company (WWI, American) specifically for this photograph. I’m attracted to obscure and strange photography, and this photo is an anomaly for WWI image collectors. What the heck is going on?
The vehicle/tractor/truck in the image was something I’ve never encountered. I knew it was related to a balloon company, and the large drum on the back alerted me to the fact that it likely was meant to hold and retract cable wire. But how could I figure out the make and model of the vehicle? Balloon Company information is difficult to identify through google searches, but I was able to make some leads by searching in French!
My first hit came with a French search for “winch truck” and provided the above image. I now knew that the Latil Company made heavy 4×4 vehicles for the French army during WWI and provided the American Expeditionary Forces with balloon winches!
I couldn’t quite make out the grill badge in the image I purchased……
But I was able to figure it out after my French language search…
The Latil trucks/tractors were originally made to tow 155mm guns, but they were retrofitted to accept heavy-duty winches to support the observation balloons used by the 20th Balloon Company. The Latil company would later be absorbed into Renault….
And according to a ca. 1919 publication, only 50 of these trucks were made specifically for the AEF during WWI. They were outfitted with Cachot power winches (seen in the rear of the head image) to retract the balloons after observation was achieved.
Special thanks to the Transport Journal blog!
Check out this specific post to learn more about the Latil:
And another blog picked up the Latil story: http://justacarguy.blogspot.com.br/2015/11/ww1-observation-blimp-and-tow-truck-i.html