The Impact of Chemical Warfare on the Western Front of World War One

The Impact of Chemical Warfare on the Western Front of World War One

Prior to the early 20th century war was a romantic impression, a expansive feat that brave work forces embarked upon to support the ideals of their state. This picturesque scene would be shattered gruesomely in April 1915 with the release of Cl gas on the World War One battleground. The first usage of Cl gas deeply altered the sentiment of heroic warfare, and henceforth the First World War would be a continual evildoing into a inexorable quag of blood and panic. Primary information of the conflicts provided from the eyes of soldiers grant a natural expression at the pandemonium in the trenches at Ypres. Furthermore, expert research contributed by writers ; Gerald Fitzgerald, Richard Harris, Jeremy Paxman, and Ladislaus Szinics provide in-depth analyses of the legion constituents lending the development of gas warfare. The many facets of deadly chemical warfare can be deconstructed and analyzed, uncovering the horror behind the “yellow-green” mask. Particularly fascinating to analyse, is how soldiers reacted to the first onslaught, protected themselves from farther chemical onslaughts, and how gas evolved from Cl to the ghastly deadly agents of subsequently in the war.

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Gas warfare on the western forepart of World War One commenced on April 22, 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres, and from that twenty-four hours forth smitten fright and heartache into any soldier busying the trenches. The first onslaught was carried out by the German Army as a technique to clasp the glooming deadlock that had developed on the western forepart. Although a chemical onslaught had been hypothesized by the entente commanding officers, they “could non visualise an onslaught with gas, [ as they ] could non think where the gas would come from or how [ they ] could acknowledge it when it did come, and [ they ] did non cognize what the necessary safeguards were” –Lieutenant Colonel William Hart-McHarg ( Cook, 2000, p.19 ) . Therefore the menace of gas was non taken seriously. In actuality, by March 10, 1915 the German ground forces had secured 6,000 cylinders of gas along the face of their trench across from a subdivision of Gallic Colonial and Canadian held line. Finally, on the afternoon of April 22, more than a month after installing, the Germans opened up an intense heavy weapon bombardment. This was accompanied by the gap of 5,730 case shots of Cl gas that formed… “Two clouds of yellowish-green smoke… which appeared to unify into each other”-Canadian General Alderson ( Cook, 2000, p.19 ) . The allied soldiers watched perplexed as the deathly cloud lumbered frontward with its “yellow tendrils” ( Cook, 2000, p.20 ) defeat at the parapet of the entente trench. The gas was the extremely concentrated over the Gallic Colonial part of the salient, and one time the cloud had infiltrated, the immediate effects were fleet and awful. Military personnels were engrossed in violent coughing and gagging. The impacts of Cl gas on the organic structure compounded over clip, quickly germinating in more ghastly ways and finally taking to decease. This is described by Sergeant E.W. Cotton, “Their coloring material was black, green, and blue, linguas hanging out and eyes staring” ( Cook, 2000, p.22 ) . It is speculated that approximately 5,000 military personnels fell victim to gas throughout the 2nd conflict of Ypres. This initial onslaught would take to three more old ages of life in a changeless province of fright.

It is understood that allied commanding officers were anticipating a gas onslaught, and despite their premises troops busying the forepart lines were neglected and unequipped if such an onslaught were to take topographic point. Amidst the pandemonium in response to the Cl gas, soldiers were ordered to urinate on their hankies and keep them fast to their nose and oral cavity. This was unusually successful due to the chemical, urea, present in piss that reacted with the Cl organizing dichloro-urea. This did non harm the respiratory system as it crystalized in the hankie. Amazingly, the German military personnels were besides outfitted improperly. This is most curious as the agent had been released from cylinders, making an increased hazard of inadvertent exposure to their ain military personnels due to air currents trading waies. The crude devices used by the Germans were comprised of cotton tablets soaked in Na thiosulphate and K hydrogen carbonate. In response to the initial gas onslaught, the development of wearable inhalators was paramount for both combatants. Unfortunately, inhalators for the soldiers could merely be introduced with some slowdown as a consequence of the surprise of the onslaught. Late in 1915, approximately eight to nine months after the initial onslaught, British forces fashioned an oculus protecting inhalator consisting of a big box that was slung over the back and filled with a chemical that scrubbed the deathly exhausts. Similarly, the German Army employed a wearable inhalator, though theirs had a screw-in mouthpiece that collected the gas. Development would go on fierily until the terminal of the war, but the merely genuinely successful technique to battle gas exposure was full organic structure suits. These were merely provided to members of artillery crews as they were excessively cumbrous for the mean soldier to have on in a trench. Though deadly gas is a ugly tool of war, it has led to many rapid technological promotions.

Aside from the wellbeing of soldiers and defensive engineering, the weaponized gases used besides evolved throughout the war. The first onslaught used Cl, which caused major harm to the respiratory system. Canadian Major Andrew McNaughton, described the symptoms in twisting item, “The victims of the onslaught writhed on the land. Their organic structures turned a unusual grass-green. They were literally coughing their lungs out, gum was coming out of their mouths.” ( Cook, 2000, p.21 ) . In comparing, the gases used subsequently in the war were much more grisly. In December of 1915, the German forces released an agent called phosgene. Phosgene damaged the lungs in a significantly more deathly manner than its predecessor. The usage of this gas is sometimes neglected in history, however “During WWI most casualties ( deceases ) caused by exposure to chemical agents were due to phosgene” ( Szinics, 2005 ) . The most accepted gas of World War One was mustard gas. Though there is no individual mustard gas, the largely widely used agent was sulphur mustard. Sulphur mustard was peculiarly dismaying because it non merely attacked the lungs, but any tegument that was non covered by vesture or a mask. This sort of gas is referred to as a vesicatory or vesiculation agent. Mustard gas in peculiar ab initio causes inflammation and itchiness of the tegument that finally turn in big xanthous blisters. Though mustard gas was the most unsightly of all compounds used in the war, it wasn’t effectual at killing the enemy, but instead disabling them. Therefore, the figure of gas related hurts increased, but the figure of deceases remained changeless. In fact, “ [ mustard gas ] killed fewer than 5 % of the people who were exposed and got medical care” ( CDC, n.d. ) . Though the initial usage of Cl was hideous, scientists worked fierily to make even more awful agents throughout the continuance of the war.

The usage of weaponized gas doubtless changed how the remainder of World War One unfolded. Analyzing the many facets of gas illustrates how far making its impacts were. The soldiers busying the trenches would be put into a changeless province of edginess, defensive engineering would go an immensely of import constituent of the war-effort off from the front-line, and gas would invariably be developing into more and more baleful agents. War surely would ne’er be the same one time gas had infected its gallant image.


Cook, T. ( 2000 ) .No topographic point to run: the Canadian corps and gas warfare in the First World War. Vancouver, UBC Press.

Fitzgerald, J. G. ( 2008 ) . Chemical Warfare and Medical Response during World War 1.American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved from hypertext transfer protocol: // .

Harris, R. , Paxman, J. ( 1982 ) .A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare.London: Chatto & A ; Windus ltd

Szinicz, L. ( 2005 ) . History of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents.Toxicology, 214( 3 ) . Retrieved from hypertext transfer protocol: // _tid=7d66d6ca-4dd8-11e4-8bd6- 00000aacb362 & A ; acdnat=1412655474_f97eabff2ee0992517d6908e9b0a2358.

Facts about Sulfur Mustard ( n.d. ) retrieved from hypertext transfer protocol: //

The Second Battle of Ypres ( 2006 ) . Retrieved from hypertext transfer protocol: //



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