We have little information on British chemical weapons programs after the use of these weapons were prohibited by thev Geneva Protocol (1925). As best we can tell, Britain did not hace a major chemical weapons program, either a research progrm or a production program to stockpine chenical weapons. The British were well behind the Germans. Only after the fall of France did the British begin a crash program to produce chenical weapons. Military planners in Britain assumed that the NAZIs would ignore international conventions and use poison gas when war broke out. The superority of the Luftwaffe made this an especially terrifying possibility. As a result, the British gave considerable priority to preparations for chemical weapons civil defense. At the same time, bomb sheltrs and anti-aircraft artillery was neglected. Every British citzen, including children were issued gas masks. Children in school practiced using the masks. Civilians were not only issued gas masks, but were required to carry them. There were even masks for babies. The British evaculated children from the major cities at the onset of World War II (September 1939). The images of the evacuation all show them children and the adults with them carrying their gas masks.
British autjorities used poison gas in Iraq after Wrld War I (early 1920s.
The revulsion with the enormous casualties during World War I signigicantly saffected public thinking after the War. And no where was the public more horrified thsn with chemical weapons. This led to the Geneva Protocol (1925). These negotiatioins were initiated by the United States. The resultng protocol forbade the use of poison gas and bacteriological weapons in warfare. It did not prohibit their production and stockpiling, but it did prohibit the use of the weapons. The Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and France ratified the protocol with the reservations that it would not be binding if other countries violated the agreement. Italy and (Weimar) Germany ratified without reservations. The United States and Japan did not. [Tucker] As far as we know, the British stoped using gas in colonial conflicts afte siugninging the Geneva Convention.
We have little information on British chemical weapons programs after the use of these weapons were prohibited by thev Geneva Protocol (1925). As best we can tell, Britain did not hace a major chemical weapons program, either a research progrm or a production program to stockpine chenical weapons. The British were well behind the Germans. Only after the fall of France did the British begin a crash program to produce chenical weapons. One source reports that as late as mid-1940 when the country braced for a German invasion, the British had only 410 tons of gas. The British began a crash production program and by the end of 1941 had suceeded in stockpiling over 15,000 tons of mustard, phosgene, and other gases, The Brtish had the capsability of delivering these weapons by both artillery shells or aerial bombs. This quantity had been doubleled by the end of the War (1945). They like the Americans, however, were behind the Germans in developing more effective agents like Tabun and Sarin. The Germans were unaware that they had a subsantisal lead in dveloping these more effective agents. [Tucker]
There was no doubt among military plnners that the Germans would use chemicl weapons again. British Military planners as Hitler moved toward war assumed that the NAZIs would ignore international conventions and use poison gas when war broke out. The superority of the Luftwaffe in the early stage of the War made this an especially terrifying possibility. And based on the World War I experiences with Zeohlins and the Gogh Bomber, there ws lottle dounbt the Germans bombers would get through again. 'The bombers will always get through' ws a well accepted xion of modern warfare. As a result, the Czech Crisis (September 1938) caused the Government to begin issuing gas masks and train the public, including school children. There were no militry or civilian figures that believd ht Hitler would refrain from using poison gas in an air assault on Britin. An even more terrifying given what we now know avout Hitler is that the Germns at the ime were in the verge of developing a chemical weapon mny more deadly than the agents used in World War I. Not fully ralized at the time Hitler and Stalin launched the War and British children were sent from the cities with their cardboard boxes holding gas masks (September 1939) was that the Luftwaffe did not have have the long range nombers needed for a sustained strategic bombing campaign. The Fall of Frnce changed this. France gave the Germans French bases and prepared airfields from where they could launch such an attack, The children were sent into the country again, still carrying their little cardboard boxes. As far as we know, the British did not contemplate using poison gas unless as in World War I the Germans began using it first again. There were two exceptions. First, the British high command apparently considered the use of chemical weapons if the German invaded Britain. [Shirer] We do not think that any final decession was reached on this by the time thst the Germans dropped their plans to cross the Channel (September 1940. Second, Churchill was so infuriated with the German V-1 attacks on London (June 1944) that he considered employing chemical weapons on German cities in retalistion. The Chiefs of Staff managed to disuade him, arguing that the use was impracticable.
The British as a result of military assessments gave considerable priority to preparations for chemical weapons civil defense. Of all the World War II beligerant countries, the British gave the most attention to preparing the public gor poison gas attack, primarily aerial attack. One British historian describes the precautions taken against gas attack as an obsession and says that other important aspects of preparing for aerial attack was neglected. [Spaight, pp. 58-59.] While resources were devoted to gas masks, the construction of bomb shelters and anti-aircraft artillery were neglected. Over 50 million gas masks were produced by March 1939. When the NAZI Blitz came (September 1940), the public had gas masks, but there were few bomb sheltrs. Every British citzen, including children were issued gas masks. There were special masks for infants unavle to wear a srandard mask. These masks were of course terrifying for many of the younger children. Children in school practiced using the masks so they would be prepared if a gas attack ever came. . Civilians were not only issued gas masks, but were required to carry them. There were fines for people who left home without their masks.
The British and other Europeans were terrified that the Germans would use gas against civilians in the next war. The British took the threat more seriously than any other country. Europe came close war at the time of the Munich crisis (1938). It was at this time that Britain began to serious plan to protect civilians from poison gas attacks. The British Government isued 38 million gas masks to civilians. The Government required civilians to carry them. This was done even before World War II actually brokeout. They had been trained in school how to use them. Some of the younger children were terrified of the masks, but practicing in school helped resolve most of this problem. The British children evacuated in 1939 all had little boxes in which they carried their gas masks. The photographs of the children lining up and boarding the trains all show the children carrying these boxes. Even the smallest children had them. Special masks were created for infants.
After Pearl Harbor and Hitler's Declaration of War on America (December 1941), the United Stastes rushed Army amd Army Air Force units to Britain. The principal American air formation was the 8th Air Force whose mission was to join RAF Bomber Command in the strategic bombardment of Germany. The presence of air units in particular operation from British territory necesiated some kind of agreement on the use of chemical weapons. A joint agreement was quickly reached (1942). [Dear and Foot] The first use had to be agreed between the two countries, but either could retaliate without the other's permission in caseof a German chen\mical attack. The British supplied the 8th Air Force with 10,000 phosgene-filled bombs. American production of chemical weapons was quickly ramped up and thirteen new plants were opened in the states. The United States by the end of the War had stockpiled 87,000 tons of chemicals.
Unknown to the Allies were the far more deadly chemical weapons that the Germans had deceloped. The Allies had much more deadly chemical weapons than the crude ones commonly used in World War I. They had nothing remotely as deadly as the German nerve agents (tabun, sarin and soman) developed by German chemists. The Germans had stockpiles of both tabun and sarin. In effect, the situation by 1943 when the 8th Air Force was ready to begin the stratgic bombardment of Germany was that the Allies had a striking force capable of delivering chemical weapons in great volume, but far less potent chemical weapons than the Germans. The Germans on the other hand had horrifyingly deadly chemical weapons unknown to the Allies, but losing air superiority meant the loss of the means to deliver them in large volume over large areas. The key factor here was Hitler who unlike any other weapon, was reluctant to order the use of chemical weapons. It was something he considered. And some of his advisers urged him to do so. Historians speculate as to just why he reached the decision not to use them. Chemical weapons were in fact the secret weapon developed by the Germans that might have affected the course of the War.
Dear, I.C.B. and M.R.D. Foot. "Chemical warfare." The Oxford Companion to World War II (Oxford University Press. 2001).
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
Spaight, J.M. Bombing Vindicated (London, 1953-55).
Tucker, Jonathan B. War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda Pantheron: New York, 2006).
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