Chemical weapons in World War I

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A poison gas attack using gas cylinders in World War I.

Chemical weapons were a major part of World War I. It was the first time that chemical weapons was widely used in warfare. Noxious smokes and fumes had been used for centuries without much success. During World War One the German Empire learned to use poison gas effectively. Their attacks with chlorine caused severe coughing fits. Coughing was followed by choking and then the victims would drown on their own fluids.[1] Fritz Haber, a leading German chemist, led the development effort. The gas was released from big gas canisters. The gas was very harmful to both sides because the gas would often blow back into the attackers front lines. For this reason the use of gas was feared by both sides.

In the later parts of the war different kinds of gas were used. Phosgene gas would damage the lungs and cause them to fill with mucus. This then caused the victims to drown. Mustard gas was also used. This was the most feared gas. Mustard gas gets its name because it smells like mustard. This gas would not kill people immediately, Instead it would make the eyes water, cause their skin to blister and damage the lungs. This would then result in deadly diseases.

Gas masks were used to stop the gas by preventing it from traveling to the lungs. The first masks were big and clumsy. This caused them to be hated. The masks did not protect against mustard gas.

Only about one percent of the deaths in World War I were caused by gas.[2][3][4] About 9.7 million soldiers died in World War I;[2][3] about 100,000 of these deaths were caused by gas.[4]

As the war went on, the use of poison gas became less effective.

"Although gas claimed a notable number of casualties during its early use, once the crucial element of surprise had been lost the overall number of casualties quickly diminished. Indeed, deaths from gas after about May 1915 were relatively rare... Gas never turned out to be the weapon that turned the tide of the war, as was often predicted".[5]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Edmonds J.E. & Wynne G.C. [1927] 1995. Military Operations France and Belgium, 1915: Winter 1915: Battle of Neuve Chapelle: Battles of Ypres. History of the Great War based on official documents by direction of the historical section of the Committee of Imperial Defence I (Imperial War Museum and Battery Press). London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-89839-218-7
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cox, Michael; Ellis, John (2001). The World War I Databook: The Essential Facts and Figures for all the Combatants. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-85410-766-6.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mougel, Nadège; translated to English by Julie Gratz (2011) World War I Casualties . REPÈRES/Partenariat Éducatif Grundtvig 2009-2011, 1, 5-6. Report. Retrieved on February 7, 2016. “The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians. The Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) lost about 5.7 million soldiers while the Central Powers lost about 4 million (p.1).”
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Chemical Weapons". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. United Nations. http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Chemical/. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  5. Duffy, Michael 2009. firstworldwar.com: Weapons of war -- poison gas. [1]