Free Research Paper About Chemical Warfare In World War I
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The term “chemical warfare” has many definitions, but they all essentially mean a type of military tactic that involves using chemical agents to incapacitate or kill the enemy 1. The use of chemicals such as phosgene, chlorine, and mustard gas in World War I initiated the use of a weapon not seen before on any battlefield 2. The toxins were used in addition to more traditional strategies involving hand-carried weapons, artillery, bombs, and so on. But the introduction of chemical warfare was an innovative method of removing men from the engagement; the topic of this paper is the use of chemical warfare during World War I.
The primary source for this paper is the Leavenworth paper written by Major Charles Heller in 1984 titled “Chemical Warfare in World War I” 3 and includes a history of America’s involvement with gas as a military offensive and the defensive steps possible. Stored in the Library of Congress, the report addressed the involvement of the United States in the development, use, and defense against various types of chemicals in combat. In it, Heller states that American armed forces were ineffective in the use of their available technology such as gas masks and the training supplied to the troops in the prevention of assault by chemical warfare; this is his thesis. In fact, as a historical source, a newspaper article written in 1918 4 agreed with the same issue in the more dramatic writing style of the time, citing the appearance of the men in gas masks and the horrendous consequences of lack of protection.
As research began in the major countries for toxins to be used during war, national heads of state grew alarmed at the potential for destruction 5. During the Hague convention of 1899, the issue of chemical warfare was discussed. The nations agreed not to use projectiles to dispense gases that suffocated or injured soldiers. Every country attending signed the resolution except the United States 6.
After the war started, the German army broke through the Belgium defenses in 1914 and crossed into France, they stalled in their advance 7. The use of chemical weapons was deemed the best way to break the deadlock and bring the troops back into offensive movement. Not wanting to break the commitment made during the Hague Convention, Germany looked for a way to invalidate the resolution. In August of that year, the French used 26-mm gas grenades and the German army had its excuse. Although the grenades only used tear gas which was only lethal in enclosed spaces, the Germans claimed the deaths of their soldiers were from the grenades. Actually, the fatalities resulted from carbon dioxide poisoning as the men huddled in dugouts. Later that year, Germany launched the same tactic against the Russian soldiers with similar poor results.
The first large-scale use of chlorine gas was at Ypres in 1915 by the German High Command 8. Although the town was not the most optimum location, fear of the chemical caused other commanders to refuse to use the weapon. The German army relied on the winds to carry the gas cloud over the Allied forces and was so cautious in evaluating weather conditions, they waited almost a month to start the attack. As the cloud descended over the front lines, hundreds of dying soldiers collapsed and many more fled. However, the Germans were not prepared for a victory of this magnitude, and they did not pursue the advantage; forces from Britain and Canada formed a defensive line approximately 7 kilometers from the initial front and halted the German advance.
A newspaper article in 1918 declared that Germany had initiated the use of chemical weapons, forcing the Americans to retaliate in kind 9. This type of information created animosity against Germany by neutral countries and actually allowed the nation to openly engage in chemical warfare. Stories came from the press about the suffering of the men from all countries and each nation increased its use of gas to lessen the number of available men in the enemy forces. Horses and mules were still used to a significant extent in the transport of artillery and supplies and the gas affected them, also.
Methods of Protection
As the use of chemical warfare intensified, the invention of ways for soldiers to protect themselves became for important. Before the attack at Ypres, the Germans apparently gave little thought to protection against gas attacks 10. They sent their own men into that battle with coverings for their mouths. However, by the end of 1915, the soldiers in the German army were fitted with a self-contained respirator. The British developed the Tar Box Respirator early in 1916, and the French invented the M-2 Mask which was a snorkel and eventually created the Tissot which was worn on the back and covered the entire face. When the impact of chemical warfare on the horses and mules was seen, they were fitted with gas masks, also 11. Even passenger pigeons used for carrying messages were equipped with masks 12. The Russians never applied effort to inventing their own types of gas masks despite large numbers of losses and eventually imported the masks for their men from other countries. The Germans lagged behind in the area of protection against gas attacks because the Allies concentrated on different types of masks as a response to their lack of innovative chemicals. However, as the war continued, the Allied forces used their more readily available resources for masks which the German were more restricted in that area and forced to use substandard materials.
The design of the American gas mask was delegated to the Army’s Medical Department and the initial design on based on masks worn by miners. The lackadaisical attitude toward developing an effective gas mask changed when the United States entered the war in 1917. At that time, the director of the Bureau of Mines offered not only the experience in the construction of gas masks, but information on how to detect and deal with the dissemination of gas. Full production of the gas masks began in May of that year with an order for the manufacture of one million masks.
In July, nine officers from the Medical Department of the Army with no training in gas masks or chemical warfare were designated to begin the education of what would eventually be over three million men. Heller 13 stated that Americans did not take the time to adequately instruct their troops on the importance of proper use of the gas mask. A rudimentary rundown of how to wear the mask and when it was appropriate constituted the majority of instruction. The training eventually would consist of one or two hours of lecture and a demonstration on how to put on the mask. Speed became the primary focus as there was generally little warning for the men to put the masks in place and begin their operation. They were instructed to have them on hand and ready at all time. In October, the British government sent officers experienced in chemical warfare to assist the United States in training their troops.
Another major problem with the gas mask was that it made combat more difficult 15. It was difficult for soldiers to fire their weapons and communication was impaired. If a person wanted to remove the mask in order to talk or listen to another person, he ran the risk of being gassed. The use of the masks was stressful and resulted in depression and anxiety in the men forced to wear them. Medical personnel were required to deal with feelings of claustrophobia and emasculation 16. Mental breakdowns were not unusual.
The use of chemical warfare during World War I initiated the creation, implementation, and development of protective strategies against lethal and/or incapacitating gas. The gas mask was invented in response to the German offensive with chlorine in 1915. It served its purpose for the period until mustard gas was introduced, when it became ineffective. By late 1918, both sides in World War I were using chemical weapons and protection became less important than treatment.
Chemical warfare continues to this day, and the threat of biological weapons remains a topic of discussion. The gas mask of World War I would not be effective against this type of weapon, but it served its purpose when chlorine and phosgene were introduced in Ypres.
1 Blodgett, Brian. 2009. “First World War.Com - Feature Articles - Germany's Use Of Chemical Warfare In World War I”. Firstworldwar.Com. http://firstworldwar.com/features/chemical_warfare.htm.
2 Llewellyn, Jennifer, Jim Southey, and Steve Thompson. 2012. “Chemical Weapons”. World War I. http://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/chemical-weapons/.
3 Heller, Charles. 1985. “Chemical Warfare In World War I”. Leavenworth Papers. Washington, DC. Series UG447.H39 1985. Library of Congress.
4 Bache, Rene. 1918. “Poison Gas -- The Weapon Revolutionizing Warfare”. The Washington
5 Blodgett, 2009
7 Blodgett, 2009
12 Fitzgerald, G. J. 2008. “Chemical Warfare And Medical Response During World War I”.
American Journal Of Public Health 98 (4): 611-625. doi:10.2105/ajph.2007.11930.
14 Duffy, Michael. 2009. “First World War.Com - Weapons Of War: Poison Gas”.
15 Blodgett, 2009
16 Fitzgerald, 2008.
Bache, Rene. 1918. “Poison Gas -- The Weapon Revolutionizing Warfare”. The Washington
Blodgett, Brian. 2009. “First World War.Com - Feature Articles - Germany's Use Of Chemical
Warfare In World War I”. Firstworldwar.Com.
Duffy, Michael. 2009. “First World War.Com - Weapons Of War: Poison Gas”.
Fitzgerald, G. J. 2008. “Chemical Warfare And Medical Response During World War I”.
American Journal Of Public Health 98 (4): 611-625. doi:10.2105/ajph.2007.11930.
Heller, Charles. 1985. “Chemical Warfare In World War I”. Leavenworth Papers. Washington,
DC. Series UG447.H39 1985. Library of Congress.
Llewellyn, Jennifer, Jim Southey, and Steve Thompson. 2012. “Chemical Weapons”. World War
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