& Weaponry - Page 2
Chemical warfare in World War I
full-scale deployment of chemical
warfare agents was during
World War I, originating in the Second Battle of Ypres, April 22, 1915,
when the Germans attacked French and Algerian with chlorine gas. Since
then a total 50,965 tons of pulmonary, lachrymatory, and vesicant
agents were deployed by both sides of the conflict, including chlorine,
mustard gas, and phosgene gas. Offical figures decare about 1,176,500
non-fatal casualties and 85,000 fatalities directly caused by chemical
warfare agents during the course of the war.
WWI-era chemical ammunition, up to this day, is still
commonly uncovered when the ground is dug in former battle or depot
areas and continues to pose a threat to the civilian population in
Belgium and France. The French and Belgian governments have had to
launch special programs for treating discovered ammunition. The United
States has a non-stockpile chemical materials program to identify
former CW burial sites within the United States and to excavate,
transport, and dispose of old chemical munitions.
in the interwar years
First World War, the United States
and many of the European
powers attempted take advantage of the opportunities that the war
created by attempting to establish and hold colonies. During this
interwar period, chemical agents were occasionally used to subdue
populations and suppress rebellion.
defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1917, the Ottoman
government collapsed completely and the former empire was divided
amongst the victorious powers in the Treaty of Sèvres. The
British occupied Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and established a
In 1920, the Arab
and Kurdish people of Mesopotamia revolted against
the British occupation, which cost the British dearly. As the Iraqi
resistance gained strength, the British resorted to increasingly
repressive measures, and Winston Churchill himself, in his role as
Colonial Secretary, authorized the use of chemical agents, mostly
mustard gas, on the Mesopotamian resistors. Mindful of the financial
cost of supressing the dissidents, Churchill was confident that
chemical weapons could be inexpensively employed against the
Mesopotamian tribes, saying "I do not understand this sqeamishness
about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas
against uncivilised tribes." Although opposition to the use of gas and
technical difficulties prevented the gas from being used in
Mesopotamia, the records of British consideration of poison gas,
including Churchill's enthusiasm, were suppressed for many years until
the records were released in 1980.
had caused so much misery and revulsion in the First
World War that their use had become the ultimate atrocity in the minds
of most people at the time. So much so, in fact, that in 1925, sixteen
the world's major nations signed the Geneva Protocol, thereby pledging
never to use gas or bacteriological methods of warfare. While the
United States signed the protocol, the Senate did not ratify it until
In 1935 Fascist
Italy used mustard gas during the invasion of Ethiopia.
Ignoring the Geneva Protocol, which it signed seven years earlier, the
Italian military dropped mustard gas in bombs, sprayed it from
airplanes, and spread it in powdered form on the ground. 15,000
chemical casualties were reported, mostly from mustard gas.
in World War II
The chemical structure
of sarin nerve gas, discovered by Germany in 1938.
During World War
II, chemical warfare was revolutionized by the Nazi's
accidental discovery of the nerve agents tabun, sarin and soman. The
Nazis developed and manufactured large quantities of several agents,
including the newly discovered nerve agents, but chemical warfare
agents were not extensively used by either side. Recovered Nazi
documents suggest that during that time, German intelligence
incorrectly thought that the Allies also knew of these compounds,
interpreting the lack of discussion of these compounds the Allies'
scientific journals as evidence that information about them was being
suppressed. Germany ultimately decided not to use the new nerve agents
against Allied targets, fearing a potentially devastating Allied
retaliatory nerve agent deployment.
weapons were not deployed on a large scale during
World War II, there were some recorded uses of them by the Axis powers,
when retailiation wasn't feared:
The Japanese used
mustard gas and the recently-developed blister agent
Lewisite against Chinese troops. During these attacks, the Japanese
also employed biological warfare by intentionally spreading cholera,
dysentery, typhoid, plague, and anthrax.
In 1944, Grand
Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, the senior
Islamic religious authority of the Palestinian Arabs and close ally of
Adolf Hitler, sponsored an unsuccessful chemical warfare assault on the
Jewish community in Palestine. Five parachutists were supplied with
with maps of Tel Aviv, canisters of a German-manufactured "fine white
powder," and instructions from the Mufti to dump chemicals into the Tel
Aviv water system. District police commander Fayiz Bey Idrissi later
recalled, "The laboratory report stated that each container held enough
poison to kill 25,000 people, and there were at least ten containers."
The Nazis used
the insecticide Zyklon B, which contains hydrogen
cyanide, to kill large numbers of victims in concentration camps such
as Auschwitz and Madajnek during the Holocaust.
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