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Germany and the use of chemical warfare

Brian Blodgett To contact me, email me at brian. Then chemist, student, artisan answered Duty's call; Our arms, our arts, our poison fumes Gained Liberty for all. The paper will focus primarily on the German offensive use of chemical agents gas and will discuss the defensive measures of the Allies.

The paper will define chemical warfare and explain its early use. It will also mention the number of casualties that Germany caused by using gas and the psychological effect it had on the Allied soldiers. The paper will examine how gas effected several battles. In conclusion, I will discuss the overall effects that gas had on World War I. A current definition of chemical warfare is the "aspects of military operations involving the employment of lethal and incapacitating chemical munitions or agents.

Although reports of the employment of poisonous or suffocating gases date back to Spartan forces attacking an Athenian city in the fifth century B. At the end of the 19th century, a number of men foresaw the devastation that chemical agents could cause in a European war. The Hague Convention of 1899 discussed the issue of using chemicals as weapons.

The Contracting Powers agreed not to use projectiles whose sole purpose was the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases. Delegates from all of the attending countries except the United States signed the resolution.

The Hague II Convention reaffirmed the provisions on chemical weapons usage and widened the restraints by prohibiting the use of poison or poisoned weapons. Hague II included a clause for the avoidance of projectiles, weapons, and materials that could cause unnecessary suffering. Hague II, like Hague I, had no provision for enforcement. The German attack through Belgium and into France in August 1914 quickly stalled into a static trench war.

Germany, looking to break the deadlock, decided that a possible solution was the use of poison gas. However, Germany did not want to be the first to break The Hague Conventions, so they sought an indication that the Allies were using gas. In August 1914, France used 26-mm gas grenades during a battle. After a French bombardment that left soldiers dead due to asphyxiation, Germany blamed the deaths on turpinite. Moreover, the German High Command felt that Germany was now free to used poison gas.

When Germany launched its chlorine attack at Ypres on 22 April 1915, it caught the world by surprise. It aroused world public opinion, which blamed Germany for breaching The Hague Conventions. Germany justified its actions. They stated that The Hague Conventions only discussed germany and the use of chemical warfare whose sole purpose was the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases and did not cover gases released by cylinders.

The Germans also stated that France broke the conventions first. Chemical warfare agents are chemical substances designed to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate humans and animals. Chemical agents can also deny or hinder the use of areas, facilities, and materials. Chemical agents are grouped into categories based on their physiological effects. Lachrymators are primarily designed to affect the eyes, but also cause respiratory problems when soldiers are exposed to a large quantity of the chemical.

Toxic gases pass through the lungs and into the blood and prevent the circulation and release of oxygen in the body. Sternutators caused respiratory irritation, sneezing, nausea, and vomiting. Blister agents initially cause pain in the eyes, throats, and lungs, but later cause blisters on exposed skin.

Germany used various chemical agents during the war, depending on the desired effect they wished to inflict on the Allies. The primary gases used in World War I were chlorine, phosgene, a mix of chlorine and phosgene, and mustard.

Chlorine is an asphyxiating gas that causes acute bronchitis with gradual suffocation and, "those who initially survived a considerable dose generally died from pneumonia.

A combination of chlorine and phosgene also caused severe injuries, depending on how much of the gas a soldier breathed. People seldom died when the asphyxiating gas passed over them if they masked quickly enough and those who breathed in small amounts of the gas usually recovered quickly. However, those that were badly gassed soon suffered severe inflammation of the lungs. The critical stage for these men usually occurred within three to four hours after initially being gassed.

At this point, either the soldier would recover after sleeping, or his health would deteriorate further with death occurring within the next twenty-four hours. Mustard gas produces a large amount of casualties that require extensive medical treatment.

Initially some soldiers did not realize that they had been gassed with mustard because the effects were not apparent for up to twelve hours after exposure. An unidentified Allied nurse stated: Their civilian industrial base for making chemicals was already a vast institution at the start of the war.

The Germans simply needed to test the effectiveness of various chemicals and germany and the use of chemical warfare combinations and match them with a delivery system. They maintained the initiative through the introduction of new agents, improved delivery systems, and new tactics.

Chemical Weapons: A Deadly History

Although Germany held the initiative, their chemists had to work hard to stay ahead of the Allied chemists. One of the problems faced was that chemists were not accustomed to the operational tempo that they had to work in. They were used to a traditional way of systematic work; that of beginning with theories, progressing slowly with the exchange of information, testing products thoroughly, and then carefully producing them.

However, chemists soon found themselves conducting hurried testing on chemicals that they knew little about. Security often left some scientists working in a void that, with only a little help from the other chemists, could have been solved. One of the many problems was the difficulty in finding chemists to work on chemical agent production. Academic chemists, used to working on their own, did not work well with technologists.

By the end of the war, Germany employed only 2,000 chemists. Less than ten percent of them had a university degree. The rest were chemistry students, laboratory technicians, and men from the medical, engineering, or ordnance branches of the armed services.

Until the end of the war, the German chemists generally remained well ahead of their Allied counterparts in the development of chemical agents and delivery systems. After Germany used phosgene, it took the Allies six months to employ it.

The lag between the German and the Allied use of mustard gas was a year. However, while Germany remained ahead of the Germany and the use of chemical warfare in offensive chemical measures, they were not able to match the Allied defensive means against poison gases. The main methods to deliver chemical agents were by cylinders and artillery. Gas delivery by cylinders was the most common early in the war because they were refillable and Germany lacked large-scale gas-shell production capabilities.

Once the German ordnance department created artillery shells that could be filled with chemical agents and maintain a relatively stable flight path, they abandoned their unpredictable cylinder-based attacks. Cylinders released gas clouds that would "float" towards the enemy.

The emplacement of cylinders was a time consuming project that usually took germany and the use of chemical warfare days of intense labor. Men transported the 100-pound cylinders from drop-off points through the maze of trenches to the front lines. Soldiers then dug in the cylinders to prevent them from being destroyed by enemy artillery fire.

The movement and placement of these cylinders sometimes numbering up to 12,000 for a single operation in front of the friendly trenches was usually accomplished during hours of limited visibility so that the enemy would not detect it and be alerted to an imminent chemical attack.

If the enemy detected the placement of cylinders, artillery often targeted these areas with harassing fire. This harassing fire served two purposes; to slow down and hopefully halt the placement of the cylinders, and to cause damage to the cylinders themselves, thus exposing the enemy troops to its own chemical agents.

The speed and direction of the wind was a problem that officers considered before releasing gas clouds. The wind needed to be blowing towards the enemy at a speed sufficient to move it away from the release point, yet slow enough for it to linger over enemy positions. The lack of prevailing winds for the Germans in the west often delayed chemical operations for days or even weeks, while they waited for favorable winds.

This unpredictability eventually forced Germany to abandon the cylinder-based cloud attack. Another problem with using cylinders to deliver the poisonous gases was that it prohibited Germany from conducting a mobile type of warfare. The first German use of artillery fired chemical shells occurred at Neuve-Chapelle on 27 October 1914. In this battle, Germany modified the 105-mm shells so that shrapnel surrounded a lachrymator.

The Allies did not detect the firing chemical shells since the dispersal of the chemical was small and the irritating action so benign.

  1. The next section will discuss the use of chemical agents in several battles.
  2. Particularly, they addressed the eagerness of Germany's NATO allies, the United States and United Kingdom, to seek restrictions on long-range strategic weapons while modernizing their short-range and tactical nuclear systems.
  3. Haber came up with a method that captured the abundant nitrogen in air by reacting it with readily available hydrogen, in effect producing food out of thin air.
  4. But Fritz Haber is one of them. However, in the larger scheme of things, it could not win the war by itself.

Because the chemicals were not asphyxiators or deleterious gases, and the chemicals were surrounded by a shell designed to send shrapnel through the air, Germany did not believe that these shells violated the Hague Conventions. Germany soon increased their development of gas shells but they had trouble with filling the shells.

Germany and weapons of mass destruction

Initially, Germany had only one toxic gas, diphosgene, which was not an all-round chemical agent. Since flexibility and specificity was the essence of artillery warfare, the Germans were hampered until they discovered mustard gas and other arsenic compounds in mid-1917. By the time Germany stopped using gas clouds, they had a variety of shells filled with various agents at their disposal.

However, convincing the artillerymen of the usefulness of chemical shells was not easy. Firing chemical shells had no precedent and a lot of learning by experience was done by artillerymen who normally had a conservative attitude to war.

It was not until mid-February 1917 that German leaders felt that they had learned enough about the use of chemical filled artillery shells to produce new instructions concerning their tactical use.

However, by the end of the war, half of Germany's basic artillery load was chemical germany and the use of chemical warfare.

Germany, enjoying the lead in the development of chemical agents and chemical shells, was able to experiment with different types of chemical shells and different amounts of explosive. They learned that by increasing the amount of explosive in a mustard gas shell, that the area contaminated was larger. They also discovered that when a smaller amount of explosive was used, that the agent persisted longer.

By further experimentation, Germany was able to develop shells that could spread out the chemicals to a maximum radius while keeping them airborne the longest. From this knowledge, the Germans began making gas barriers and gas pockets. Germany believed in using surprise and high concentrations of gas against the Allies. They also fired both chemical and high explosive shells during an attack so that the result was even more deadly than either of the attacks by themselves.

Persistent agents often served as gas barriers in both the offense and the defense. Although Germany wanted to surprise the Allies when they used a non-persistent gas so that it caused a lot of casualties, this was not necessary for persistent agents.

When using persistent agents, artillery fire would last for several hours and thoroughly contaminate an area.