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Introduction

Contents

INTRODUCTION

No attempt is made here to trace the history of gas warfare prior to the entry of the United States into the World War, nor is it intended to dwell upon the work of the other combatants after that time, except as it was concerned directly with our own. The student who may be interested in the evolution of this method of warfare will find it amply covered in published books and in official documents on file in Government bureaus.

The extensive use of poisonous gases was one of the most important military developments of the World War; no innovation since the introduction of gunpowder has revolutionized warfare to such an extent. So seriously did our General Staff regard gas as a weapon that machinery had been put into opera- tion by the end of the war to produce in this country nearly twice as much gas as the combined output of Germany, France, and England.1 The personnel at Edgewood Arsenal, the chief ordnance plant of the United States Govern ment working on gas, numbered more than 10,000 men and women at the peak of production, and nine other great establishments in this country were engaged in the manufacture of combat gases.2 At the time of the armistice these plants were capable of producing 140 tons per day.3

While Germany possessed the advantage of having been the first combatant nation to use poisonous gases, even before Great Britain and her Allies had made a serious study of this subject, the economic conditions in Germany were such that the production of combat gases on a large scale could not be continued throughout the war. Thus, when chemical warfare was first introduced it was estimated that Germany was manufacturing about 50 tons of gas per day, whereas at the time of the armistice she was capable of producing only about one-fourth of this amount. 4 The rapid development of gas defense and gas production by the Allies promptly deprived Germany of her lead in this phase of warfare. While the Germans originated the manufacture, for war purposes, of most of the gases that were used extensively at the front, all of these gases were soon known to the Allies, whose vast capacity for production quickly turned this powerful weapon of Germany against her own forces.

When Germany launched gas warfare on a large scale against the Allies, the substance selected was the well-known chlorine gas, the first attack being made on April 22, 1915, at Ypres against the French and Canadians. 5 Enormous numbers of casualties and fatalities resulted at first, but the Allies quickly provided methods of defense. These included strengthening their medical organization to care for casualties produced by this new weapon. The development of a mask, observations regarding the influence of wind, and the exercise of alertness for the singing sound produced by the launching of cylinder or cloud attacks soon enabled the Allies to rob this, the earliest method. of its effectiveness. The same may be said of phosgene, the gas next used by the Germans, and for at time with success. It is true, however, that new gases


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of unknown character usually found the opponent unprepared, for the time being, and such gases continued to be effective weapons in each case until specific methods of defense were evolved to meet them. Moreover, with the high development, by the Allies, of protective apparatus against known gases, the enemy constantly sought to obtain better results through the production of new gases and the use of gases of different types during the same attack, hoping that any change would find newly recruited troops of the Allies deficient in gas training and gas discipline.

At the time of our entry into the war the enemy had developed and put into use practically all of the gases employed by them during the war; until the close of hostilities, however, they engaged in further experimentation, and varied both the combinations of gases and the tactics employed in their use. 6
 
REFERENCES
 
(1) Gilchrist, H. L., and Church, J. R.: Report on Chemical Warfare in France, July 1, 1921, 148. On file, Medical Division, C. W. S.
(2) Fries, Amos A., and West, Clarence J.: Chemical Warfare. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, 1921, 55.
(3) Gilchrist and Church: Op. cit. 104.
(4) Porter, William N.: Report of Chemical Warfare Officer in Germany, Appendix IV, German Reports on Chemical Warfare, December 1, 1922. On file, Office of the Chief, Chemical Warfare Service.
(5) Fries and West: Op. cit., 10.
(6) Gilchrist and Church: Op. cit., 159