Poison gas was first used in World War I. Poison gas was first been developed by a German Jewish scientist working for the Whermacht. Gas was widely used on the both the Western and Eastern Front during the War. Losses were especially severe on the Eastern Front where the Russians were not equipped to take the needed counter measures and were unable to reply
with gas weapons of their own. The Germans first used poison gas at Ypres (April 1915) with devestating effect. The British and French followed suit. I don't think the Americans and Russians used it, but I think the Austrians did. Gas because of its stealth and horendous effects was perhaps, the most terror-inspiring of all the World War I weapons. Poison gas caused only a small fraction of total battlefield deaths, less than 0.1 million, but more than 1.3 million men received terrible wounds--many never fully recovered. Countermeasures were, however, rapidly developed which reduced gas to primarily a means of harassing the opposing forces. One estimate suggests that by the end of the War in 1918, about 25 percent of all artillery shells fired contained chemical weapons.
Poison gas was first used in World War I. In the years leading up to the War there was a furious arms race in Europe involving battleships, improved artillery, machine guns, and many other modern weapons. Chemical weapons or poison gas was not one of the weapons systems developed.
The Germans are primarily associated with gas weapns, because they first developed and used poison gas and used it on a large scale. They wre not, however, the first country to use gas weapns. The French in fact were the first to use gas in the War. The French fired tear-gas grenades (xylyl bromide) against advancing German troops in the first month of the War (August 1914). The Germans first experimented with gas at Neuve Chapelle (October 1914). When assulting the town, the German army
shelled French positons with munitions that included a chemical irritant which induced violent sneezing.
World War I confounded military experts which had anticipated a short war of rapid movement. Instead, on the Wesern Front the War settled down to a war of attrituon with the two sides facing each other in fixed trench positions streaching from the Channel south through Belgium and northern France to the Swiss border. Efforts to break through these trenches proved enormously costly. Thus the Germand turned to poison gas. The trenches protected men from machine guns and even atillery. Gas was conceived as a weapon that could effectively kill even in trenches, in fact drive a defending force out of the trenches.
Poison gas was first developed by the Germans which had the world's most advanced chemical industry. The Allies quickly followed suit.
The Germans both developed ad first deployed chemical weapons (poison gas). They produced nearly half of the gas manufactured during the War. They also develped several new imprived types. The Germany relied most heavily on poison gas, on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. The British and French followed suit very uickly after the Germas began usung it. America was totally unprepared for chmical warfare when it entered the War.
Poison gas was first been developed by a German Jewish scientist. Fritz Haver was one of Germany's foremost scientists. He rivaled Einstein in scientific prestige. Germany at the the turn of the 20th century was the world leader in chemistry. Haver in 1904 began working on one of the most important chemical problem of the age. The lack of fertilizer serious hampered agriculture and limited farm yields. Fertilizer was collected as guano on bird islands, but it could not be manufactured. Amonia was the basis of fertilizer and it was composed of very common elements, hydrogen and nitrogen. Haver astonished theworld in 1909 when he designed a furnace which could develop the temperatures needed to produce amonia. This made possible the commercial manufacture of fertilizer. The increase in agricultural production fed millions. Haver was also a German patriot. Apauled by the horendous battlefielld loseses, Haver began working on a chemocal weapon. The Wehrmact was at first ot interested, but stoped on the western Front and suffering heavy losses, the wehrmact in early 1915 decised to use Haver gas wapon. Have's first gas weapon was cylinders of clorine. The Wehrmact was pleased with the results and made Haver a general. His wife, a fellow chemist, was apauled of his use of sceince and shot herself. Haver later developed phodphene and mustard gases. All of the gas weapons used by both sides were basically the chemical agents developed by Haver. The Germans produced about half the gas produced during the War, about 69,000 t of the 151,000 t produced. Most was the irritant gases, but substantil quantities of Vesicant gas was also produced and smaller quantities of Lachymatory gas.
The British quickly produced their own gas weapons. Britain produced about 25,000 t of gas, mostly irritant types.
France produced about 37,000 t of gas, mostly irritant types.
As poison gas was a novel new weapon introduced by the Fermans during the War, the United States was totally unprepared. President Wilson was concerned about America's lack of chemical weapons after America entered the War. He instituted a crash program. Teams of chemists worked on chemical weapon at American and Catholic Universities in Washington, D.C. [Tucker] The United States produced about 5.600 t of poison gas during the War, nosly irritant varities. Small quantities of Lachymatory and Vesicant gases were also produced. This was much smaller than the quantities produced by the British and French and especially theGermans who produced about half of thecgas msanufctured during World War I. The Americans not only used the gas they manufactured, but like the British, French manufactured gas. Nor did the Army have gas defense equipment (gas masks) stockpiled for use. The Army placed a rush order for 25,000 masks to be shipped oversees for use by the to the First Division. (May 1917). Time did not permit thecAericans to conduct etensive trials and research. The first American gas masks were based on the British small box respirator (SBR). The British had had 2 years to design an effective mask. This standard British mask used both a noseclip and a mouthpiece. The Army medical department did contact the Interior Departmnt (Bureau of Mines) to assess the British design. The design was finaized (July 1917). A major national effort was organized to produce the masks. Manufacturing took place at Boston, Massachusetts; Brooklyn, New York; and Akron, Ohio. The resulting masks, however, prived inadequate and were rejected by the Army. The facepieces did not keep chloropicrin out. As a result the AEF was issued the British SBR and the French M2 masks. This was an acceptable emergency measure, but the Allies did not have adequate masks for the entire AEF. The Gas Defense Service of the Surgeon General's Department was set up (August 1917). They were ordered to produce 1.1 million masks. Contractors were found for the various components. The Hero Manufacturing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was responsible for assembling the final masks. The AEF reported about 73,000 gas casualties and nearly 1,500 killed. The casualty/kill rario was substantially lower than the Britis and French. I am not entirely sure why, but suspect it was because tactics to contend with gas had been worked out by the time the AEF was commited in force.
Various chemical agents were used during the War. The fitst was clorine gas. This was soon followed by more advanced agents.
The first chenical agent used in the War was clorine gas. Clorine was readily availble, because it was a chemical used in the dye industry. It was first used April 22, 1915 at Yypres, Belgium. The rirst use involved simply opening canisters. The clorine caused uncontrolable coughing and choking. The first use of clorine unlreased a chemical arms race.
Abour 6 months after the German use of poson gas, the allies responded with a gas attack of their own. About 3 months later, Fritz Haver perfected a much more toxic gas--phosphene which had aout 18 times the killing power.
Mustard gas (Yperite) was the most deadly chemicl agent used in World War I. It was also developed by Fritz Haver. The agent was not a gas but a colorless, oily liquid.
It was weaponized through dispersed as an aerosol produced by a bursting shell. It was very difficult to detect, having only a slightly sweet, almost agreeable odor. Unlike clorine and phosgene, there was no immediate reaction. It was, however, a powerful vesicant, blisters appeared after about 12 hours on skin or lung menbranes exposed to the gas. Those affected began vomiting uncontroably. Exposure to high concentrations attacked the corneas of the eyes, causing conjunctivitis and eventually blindness. The gas caused internal and external bleeding and striped away the mucous membrane and damaged the bronchial tubes, causing pulmonary edema. Much of the protective gear devolped for clorine and phosphene was not effective against mustard gas. Mustard gas resulted in harrowing deaths and injuries. It was terribly painful. Casualties had to be strapped to their hospital beds. Death came slowly, often after 4-5 weeks of suffering. The Germans first used it in September 1917. (Other soyrces say Ypres, Belgium July 1917.) Mustard gas was also extrodinarily potent. Only very small amounts needed to be added to explosive shells. The agent also remained effective in the soil of the trenched attacked for several weeks. As it is only slightly soluable in water, it was difficult to was up. Doctors at the time could do very little to help the casulaties. The only means of detoxification was by oxidation with hypochlorite bleaches. Casulaties after the War found themselved exposed to a higher risk of cancer with low blood cell count, because the mustard gas attacked white blood cells, and bone marrow aplasia (breakdown). Ironically mustard gas compounds were later ound to be useful to fight cancer and were employed in chemotherapy.
Countermeasures were, however, rapidly developed which reduced gas to primarily a means of harassing the opposing forces. One estimate suggests that by the end of the War in 1918, about 25 percent of all artillery shells fired contained chemical weapons.
Gas was widely used on the both the Western and Eastern Front during the War. Losses were especially severe on the Eastern Front where the Russians were not equipped to take the needed counter measures and were unable to reply
with gas weapons of their own.
The Germans first used poison gas at Ypres (April 22, 1915). The German commander there was revolted when first told of the poison gas. The porspect of a stunning victory soon changed his mind. General Berthold von Deimling wrote after the War that he thought at the time, "If, however, the poison gas were to result in the fall of Ypres, we would win a victory tht might decide the entire campaign. .... So onward, do what must be dome! War is necessity and knows no exception." [Tucker] The gas attack at Ypres had a devestating effect. The first German attack killed 5,000 and injured 10,000. It created a hole in the British line. The Germans were not, however, prepared to exploit the gap that it had opened. The Allies (British and French) reacted quickly. Within 3 months, troops were provided basic gas masks. Within 6 months the Allies launched gas attacks of their own. I don't think the Americans and Russians used it, but I think the Austrians did. I'm unsure about the Italians.
Fritz Haver shortly after the attack at Ypres, supervised the use of gas against the Russians on the Eastern Front. Casulties were enormous. The Russians were totlly unprepared. They were not able to take the needed countrmeasures or issue masks for the troops. World War I historians dicussing gas warfare, often overlook German usage of gas on the Eastern Front.
Poison gas caused only a small fraction of total battlefield deaths, less than 0.1 million. (Yhis may well be a figure related to the Western Front. Almost certainly casualties were higher on the Eastern Front where Rusian soldiers did not have gas masks.) This is an imprecise figure and relates to direct mortalities. Others died because their reaction to the gas exposed them to conventional weapons. Another 1.3 million men received terrible wounds--many never fully recovered.
Part of the terror og poison gas was the lingering impact of exposure from gas exposure. About 1.3 million men received terrible wounds--many never fully recovered. Many of those that survived gas attacks has terrible symptoms for the rest of their lives. Many sustined severe lung damage and suffered respirtory problems for the rest of their lives. It also mde them suspectable to lung infections. This affected their ability to hold jobs and certainly their live styles. Many died at an early age.
Poison gas came to be considered uncivilised and barbaric. Of course if one looks and the mortalities and mangled bodies stemming from conventional weapons, it is difficult to see a great deal of moral difference between gas and conventional weapons. Gas because of its stealth and horendous effects was perhaps, the most terror-inspiring of all the World War I weapons. It came to be seen as especially sinister even before the end of the War. Perhaps because the Germans were most associated with gas weapons and the Germans lost the War that gas weapons seemed to be seen as morally wrong. The terror began to grow after the War with the improvements in aircraft and the acceptance of the milutary maxim that the bomber will always get through. The German Zephlalin attacks on Britain had a substantial impact on British public opinion. The potential of using gas weapons on civilian targets as part of aerial warfare became increasingly frightening.
After the War, the Allies wanted Haver extradited as a war criminl. The German Governmnt refused to do so. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on amonia. many objected to the award, because of his role in developing chemical weapons. Haver was employed by the German Government to work on pesticides. In fact he was involved in a secret military arms program, a violation of the Versailles Treaty. One of the chemicals developed was Zyclon-B, the nerve agent used by the SS in the World war II Holocaust. Haver was dismissed from his official positipn after the NAZIs seized power in 1933. He was forced to leave Germany. He died broken heated in Switzerland in 1934.
Mustard gas was used by British forces which intervened in the Russian Civil War during 1919. We have no details at this time on the research and production prgrams for poison gas. The Germans were of course probited from manufacturing poison gas under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. After the NAZI rearmament program, poison gas was again produced. Subsequently international agreements prohibiting its use. I am not sure how this affected research and production programs. Even so poison gas was used in the inter-war period on a number of occassions. The Italians under Mussolini used it in their African campaigns in Libyia and Ethiopia. The Spanish also employed gas in their North African campaigns, both in Libya and Ethiopia. The Japanese used gas in China even before the beginning of World War II and were condemned by the United Nations. Despite the international conventions outlawing poison gas, there was widespread fear in Europe that it would be used. Advances in aviation brought the fear that gas would be used against civilian populations. One of the limitations of gas usage in World War I was the difficulty of delivering gas on enemy targets with the danger of your own forced being affected. Aerial delivery resolved this limitation.
One of the unanswered questions about World War II is why poison gas was not used. Gas had been widely used on the Western Front in World War I. After the War, the major world powers outlawed the use of poison gas in war. This ban was included in several international agreements. Even so, the Italians under Musolini used it in their African campaigns in Libyia and Ethiopia. The Japanese used gas in China even before the beginning of World War II and were condemned by the United Nations. Military planners in Britain assumed that the NAZIs would use it when war broke out. Every British citzen, incliding children were issued gas masks. There wee even masks for babies. They were aklso issued in France, Italy, and Germany. Major combattant countries (America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union) had large stocks of poison gas in their arsenals. They employed gas in China. The question arrises as to why it was not employed in the War, especially in the air war.
Tucker, Jonathan B. War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda (Pantheon, 2005), 479p.
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