Secret History of Chemical Warfare

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As the spring day of 22 April drew to a close, German soldiers released chlorine gas from cylinders against the Allies entrenched around Langemarck, near Ypres. What happened next was one of the most frightening and horrific experiences ever faced by men at war. The acrid cloud enveloped the soldiers and they began to cough, clutch their throats and gasp for air. Many turned blue and fell to the ground dead.

Those who were able to escape stumbled into first-aid stations where doctors were unable to provide any effective medical treatment. Chemical warfare had begun. The feelings of shock and outrage produced by this first gas attack were compounded by the fact that poison gas was specifically outlawed by international law.

The Hague Declaration of , with Germany as a signatory, prohibited the use of projectiles, the object of which was the diffusion of asphyxiating gases. As horrific as they were, gas attacks were to continue for the remainder of the war. Chlorine and other agents developed by both sides claimed over 1.

Initially the chemicals were used, not to cause casualties, in the sense of putting the enemy combatants out of action, but rather to harass. The sensory irritants used, however, were powerful enough to disable those who were exposed to them, but they served mainly to drive enemy combatants out of the trenches or other cover that protected them from conventional fire. About 10 per cent of the total tonnage of chemical xv xvi Preface warfare agents used during the First World War were chemicals of this type, consisting mainly of lacrimators tear gases , sternutators and vomiting agents.

However, the use of more lethal chemicals soon followed the introduction of disabling chemicals. Between and almost every known noxious chemical was screened in the chemical industry for its potential as a weapon and, indeed, this process was repeated during the Second World War, when substantial stocks of chemical weapons were accumulated, though never used in military operations. By the concentration of chemistry to war, two dominating factors emerged whose importance to war and danger to world peace gained momentum over time.

The first was the scientific initiative, that is to say the invention of deadly new chemicals, and the second was the threat that their impact on war through large-scale production in the convertible industries of peace constituted. A real threat which, if unanswered in by a practical scheme for world disarmament, would aggravate the danger of a sudden, decisive attack in an otherwise disarmed world.

Thus, the League of Nations, established by the Paris Peace Treaties to help attain world peace, implied recognition by our forefathers that a definite mechanism and definite measures were required. Just as special measures were put in place to control the older branches of warfare, similar measures were required to control the chemical peace. This, it was believed, would be an effective ban to chemical weapons.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be untrue, for an examination of warfare since the beginning of the treaty reveals chemical agent development and use up to the present day. What was even more alarming was the apparent escalation and proliferation of chemical warfare in the closing years of the twentieth Preface xvii century. The Chemical Warfare Convention was another mechanism, introduced in , to try to prevent this proliferation. Nevertheless, it seems chemical agents could still play a significant role in future military conflicts because their tactical and strategic effectiveness outweigh all existing legal and moral restraints.

Certainly, the end of the First World War brought with it an increase in research and development of chemical warfare agents. Phosgene and mustard, developed and used by Germany and Britain, were to signal the start of this ultimate weapons race. Hydrogen mustard, phosgene oxime, hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride and others came out of secret laboratories such as Porton Down in Britain and Edgeworth Arsenal in the United States.

In , however, Dr Gerhard Schrader, a German scientist researching organic phosphorus compounds for a more effective insecticide, discovered tabun, the first nerve agent, which acted rapidly, was colourless, practically odourless and could poison the body by either inhalation or penetration of the skin. A new chapter in the history of chemical warfare had begun. Historical accounts of military conflicts since the First World War lead us to believe that the use of chemical weapons was non-existent for legal or ethical reasons, or for fear of retaliation. In , in India, stocks of phosgene and mustard gas were sent out from Britain for use on the frontier, and the Royal Air Force RAF is alleged to have used gas bombs against the Afghans in By the French and Spanish were employing poison gas in Morocco, and it had become clear that chemical warfare had found a new role, as a tool by which major powers could police rebellious territories.

The month course ran for 12 years and turned out over chemical warfare officers for the Japanese Imperial Army. There is little doubt that from onwards the Japanese made extensive use of poison gas in their war against the Chinese. In the Italians invaded Abyssinia Ethiopia and over tons of mustard gas was shipped for use by the Italian Air Force.

Torpedo-shaped lb bombs, with time-delay fuses, were also utilised. These bombs burst about ft above the ground scattering spray over a considerable area. Later, aerial spraying was the preferred method. After all, this major world conflict offered many opportunities for poison gas use. Why then was it not utilised? There are, of course, a variety of reasons but certainly none of these were influenced by the legalities or ethics of the Geneva Protocol. It is clear, however, that the international reaction to the use of chemical warfare since the Second World War proved the existing legal and moral constraints had lost their effectiveness.

Chemical weapons were a relatively cheap way to kill people, had a devastating effect on morale and accomplished their objectives without the destruction of buildings, equipment or land. These advantages, when weighed against the political consequences incurred by the use of chemical warfare agents, came out victorious every time.

After , systematic chemical surveys continued, together with a search for novel agents based on advances in toxicology, biochemistry and pharmacology. The chemical industry, not surprisingly, was a major source of possible agents since most of the new chemical warfare agents previously developed had initially been identified in research on pesticides and pharmaceuticals. However, few candidate chemical warfare agents satisfied the special requirements of their potential users during this period.

Of the many hundreds of thousands of chemicals screened between and , only sixty were used in chemical warfare after or stockpiled for possible use as weapons in the future. However, fewer than twelve of the chemicals were found to be effective, and at any rate, these were supplemented or replaced by a similar number of more-developed chemicals after Preface xix Such chemicals can be divided into two categories: lethal chemicals, in other words, those designed to kill or injure the enemy, and those used to incapacitate the enemy.

Before the Chemical Warfare Convention CWC was adopted in , chemicals were selected as chemical warfare agents primarily because they had characteristics that made them so aggressive that munitions disseminating them would be competitive with conventional weapons. Lethal chemicals known to have been developed into chemical warfare agents can be divided into two further groups: tissue irritants and systematic poisons.

The first group contains the choking gases lung irritants or asphyxiates and the blister gases vesicants , and the second group contains the blood and nerve gases. Chlorine, an asphyxiate, was the first lethal chemical to be used in the First World War. Widespread use of phosgene and diphosgene followed, and hydrogen cyanide was also produced. However, hydrogen cyanide was found to be unsuitable, as its physical properties it was lighter than air proved poorly suited to the munitions of relatively small payload capacity that were characteristic of most of the delivery systems of that time.

Another significant development was that of agents such as mustard gas and the arsenical vesicants, for example Lewisite, which damaged the skin and poisoned through skin penetration. Among the many new chemicals reviewed for their chemical warfare potential during the s and s were bis trichloromethyl oxalate, a congener of phosgene, and chloropicrin.

Other chemicals examined included disulphur deca-fluoride, various arsenical vesicants, nitrogen mustards and higher sulphur mustards, cadminium, selenium and tellinium compounds, and carbonates. A few were found to offer some advantages over existing chemical warfare agents for particular purposes and were put into production. None, however, was thought superior to phosgene or mustard gas in general utility, and it was these two agents that formed the bulk of the chemical weapons stockpiled at the start of the Second World War.

The purpose of this book is to contribute to informed debate by providing an analysis of the development and deployment of chemical weapons from BC to the present day. In Chapter 1 the groundwork for this, which follows a brief appraisal of historical prededents, is laid in a discussion of chemical warfare during the First World War, from which certain aspects are taken up and their development over subsequent years described. Chapter 2 examines the First World War in detail since it remains the most significant experience of the chemical threat.

It contains some technical descriptions and a number of wider themes that have present-day relevance. One such theme is the nature of the whole xx Preface development process for chemical weapons. Different stimuli have operated at different times. Chemical weapons came initially from chemists anxious to put their own particular expertise at the service of national war efforts. Later on, as the development process became institutionalised in different countries, the stimuli became more varied. They included, for example, known weaknesses in enemy protective equipment, the availability of new weapons delivery systems, the requirements of changing patterns of warfare, and the inevitable tendency towards self-preservation and propagation displayed by any institution.

It seems clear that the enthusiasm of the chemists involved often outstripped that of the armed services. Nevertheless, the destructive potential of chemical weapons has compelled the military to pay attention to them, however much they dislike the notion of chemical warfare. These chapters have two purposes. The first is to provide a catalogue of instances when the use of chemical weapons has been alleged. The second is to describe the military rationale underlying their use in those cases where the fact of their deployment is beyond reasonable doubt.

Many of the chemical warfare allegations seem improbable and yet in no case cited in this book is there enough evidence to exclude them from a list of instances in which chemical warfare agents might have been employed. Certainly there have been five adequately substantiated instances of chemical warfare in the past 90 years: during the First World War, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of China, by the United States forces in Vietnam, and the Iran—Iraq War.

It is also believed that large numbers of chemical weapons were deployed during the Yemeni Civil War and in the Korean War. There are two points that emerge from these chapters that are worth drawing brief attention to here. First, it is clear that in those rare cases since the First World War when chemical weapons have been used on a substantial scale, it has always been against an enemy known to be deficient in anti-gas protective equipment or retaliatory capability.

Second, in all substantiated cases of chemical warfare during the twentieth century, the employment of chemical irritants, such as tear gas, has always preceded the resort to more lethal chemical agents. In Vietnam, where irritants were used on a scale approaching that of the First World War, the reports of uses of more lethal chemicals remain unsubstantiated. These points seem to Preface xxi suggest that chemical weapons are likely to be militarily attractive only in strongly unequal conflicts, and that use of chemical irritants in war carries a risk of introducing more lethal forms of chemical warfare.

Chapter 3 is concerned with the period between the two world wars. It describes the ways in which public opinion in the field of chemical warfare was aroused after the experience of the First World War, and to some extent how public opinion was then exploited. The chapter considers some of the effects of this including how it stimulated the negotiation of the Geneva Protocol, one of the most important pieces of conventional international law prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons.

The chapter also considers the national policies and programmes relating to chemical warfare in the inter-war period and examines important chemical warfare discoveries in these decades. Chapter 4 deals with the Second World War. The non-use of chemical weapons was surprising, for by the end of the war the total stocks of chemical weapons by the belligerents far exceeded the total consumption during the First World War. The chapter explores the incentives there might have been for the different belligerents to use chemical weapons at different stages of the war, and then contrasts these with the constraints that might have been operating.

But in these, and all other cases, the temptation was rejected. The reasons for this restraint varied from country to country, but included the fear of retaliation against other fronts and against civilian populations, personal opposition to chemical warfare on the part of political leaders and, in certain combat zones, the absence of trained soldiers and large supplies believed necessary to sustain a chemical warfare campaign.

Chapter 7 examines the threat real and imagined from a chemical warfare attack today by rationally assessing to what extent terrorist groups around the world are capable of making and using such weapons. Finally, throughout the book, the various protocols that attempted to bring about either the non-production or destruction of chemical weapons from to are examined and evaluated.

Today, in the light of a significant terrorist chemical threat and solid evidence of the utilisation of chemical warfare in lesser conflicts, it is by no means certain they will retain that distinction. There are huge uncertainties about the effectiveness of chemical weapons particularly in comparison with precision-guided high explosives. There seems little justification for describing chemical weapons as weapons of mass destruction for in no way do they threaten devastation on the scale of nuclear weapons.

Although many casualties resulted, the numbers were not exceptionally high in comparison with those from more conventional warfare. Also the use of chemicals was not decisive even in the World War against poorly protected soldiers in a trench warfare scenario in which chemical weapons might be expected to be most effective. There are many other reports of the use of chemical warfare where the facts are sparse or where the allegations of use are not substantiated. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether the effects described result from poisoning or the fear of poisoning. Today, the uncertainties about the effects of chemical weapons are increased by the large number of chemicals that are available — some are synthetic, some occur naturally, some cause irritation and incapacitation, some are instantly lethal, whereas others are active towards plants and animals.

Also although the actual toxicity of chemicals is important that is the smaller the dose to produce a required effect the better other factors such as ease of synthesis, storage stability, ease of dissemination and persistence also play a major role. The uncertainty about the effects is further increased by the fact that against some chemicals soldiers have good defence from protective clothing, detectors and alarms, and medical countermeasures. Dr Coleman in her book has provided an excellent historical perspective of chemical warfare.

We see the desire of some to achieve a unique military advantage opposed by others particularly revolted by warfare with poisonous gases. We see the reluctance of some military commanders to use weapons they did not fully understand. Was it the fear of retaliation in kind that prevented chemical warfare in the Second World War or was it the uncertainty of effects both on the user as well as on those attacked that was the most restraining influence?

When one looks at the size of the US and USSR stockpiles declared under the Chemical Weapons Convention , it becomes apparent that very large quantities were considered necessary to be militarily effective. There is such a significant logistic burden in deploying such stocks that any commander would like to be confident about the outcome. This may be another reason why chemicals were not used. Dr Coleman comments on the use of chemicals by terrorist groups.

The wide range of options are described as well as the difficulties. There is little doubt that the potential use of poisonous chemicals creates much fear and apprehension. It is important however not to exaggerate the threat. Although as is often stated in popular reporting that a few grams of some chemicals can kill some thousands of people, the problem of bringing those thousands into contact with the few grams are so great that it is unlikely that any terrorist chemical incident would have more than quite local effects.

We must ask then, whether, bearing in mind the public revulsion to poisonous chemicals, few terrorist groups would wish to deviate from more conventional methods. Nevertheless, it is important that both national and local governments take steps to have well-trained people to provide proportionate response in the event of a chemical terrorist attack. The advice that should be available to the public at large must be based on well-founded data and should not alarm the public unnecessarily.

Dr Coleman provides some apt comments about the Chemical Weapons Convention. In many respects this is a unique arms control treaty since it attempts to ban the production and stockpiling and the use of all chemicals except for permitted purposes. In other words it impinges on the activities not just of defence organisations but also of worldwide chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Signatories to the convention were required to agree to the destruction of any stocks of chemical weapons and to report on and allow inspections of all sites in their countries where chemicals listed in the schedules were made.

It is perhaps astonishing that the whole process that is overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons works as well as it does. And yet it is difficult to believe that an international treaty such as this, even if each and every country had signed and the small number of non-signatories are significant , could be monitored internationally to prevent any state party or any terrorist group from covertly breaching the convention. Few countries fully appreciate that signing Foreword xxv the convention requires national authorities to take steps to ensure all the provisions of the convention are adhered to.

Too few politicians and probably too few members of the community that work with chemicals on a daily basis properly understand the far-reaching requirements of the convention and the national responsibilities under it. Concerns about chemical terrorism are raising the profile of the issues but more is required. The history of chemical warfare is important so we can learn lessons for the future. Dr Coleman has provided a well-referenced account of the history.

Readers should form their own judgements on the threat chemical weapons pose — whether they really are weapons of mass destruction, their attractiveness to terrorists and the strengths and weaknesses of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Dr Thomas D. Before , spent 20 years at Porton Down in research with over publications on chemistry and medicinal chemistry.

During the latter part of this period, occasionally served as a technical advisor to the UK government in discussions leading to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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This page intentionally left blank 1 Historical Precedents? War is defined as a state of hostility, conflict, antagonism or struggle between two opposing forces for a particular end. When chemical weapons are added to an existing arsenal, the nature of the conflict is changed in two significant ways. First, the number of deaths and injuries are potentially increased.

Secondly, if one country has chemical weapons this causes other countries to devote vast resources to develop a matching arsenal. Since the invention of these weapons, warfare and the threat of warfare has never been the same. The twentieth century saw the development of progressively more deadly chemical weapons. It saw their use, with significant effect, in a world war, in a regional conflict and the first instance of their use by terrorists.

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Today, the so-called weapons of mass destruction WMD , which is an umbrella term to include chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, have become one of the most prominent topics in the news since the events of September 11, Not a day passes without much being said about them in the media, by politicians and other commentators. War, they argue, is necessary and justified to remove these threats because unless the regimes in the accused countries are changed, WMD may be used with devastating effects. Should we believe these prophecies of doom or are they exaggerated nightmares?

It is impossible to judge the threat unless we know the answers to some key questions. What are WMD? How do chemical, biological and nuclear weapons differ from 1 2 A History of Chemical Warfare each other? What are the effects of the use of these weapons? Which terrorist groups are capable of making and using these weapons?

What facilities do countries need to manufacture and deliver WMD? Weapons of mass destruction take chemical, biological and nuclear form. The use of the term is recent; it is also controversial. In effect, it seems that the creation of the blanket acronym WMD blurs these distinctions.

This book is concerned with the history of the development and deployment of chemical weapons and, as such, the focus hereafter lies in that area. Most of the weapons used today are chemical. The explosion of tri nitro toluene TNT is a chemical reaction and so is the combustion of the nuclear bomb. This book, however, is concerned with those weapons that are based on the toxic properties of chemicals rather than on the energetics of their interaction.

As a category, toxins have recently acquired greater prominence in the literature on chemical and biological warfare, though not because of any increase in their potential for weaponisation, despite their being among the most dangerous substances known today. It is true, however, that some toxins are becoming more accessible to quantity production than they once were.

Toxins, of course, are both toxic and chemical in nature. According to the Chemical Warfare Convention CWC , toxic chemical refers to any chemical that through its action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. Some toxins, although toxins are usually associated with biological warfare, are included in Annex 1 of the CWC. A weapon system based on toxic chemicals may be looked at as the sum of four parts: a system to deliver the munitions; munitions to disseminate the chemical agent; the agent itself; and the part played by the environment in transporting the disseminated chemical to its target.

Each of the four parts is dependent to a greater or lesser extent on the other parts. If the chosen agent is one that is sensitive to heat, then the chosen munition must avoid it. Chemical warfare means the wartime use, against an enemy, of agents having a direct toxic effect on man, animals or plants. The use of chemical warfare agents against man, rather than animals or plants, is referred to as gas warfare, even though the substances used may be solid, liquid or gaseous.

The toxic effects produced in gas warfare may be transient or permanent, ranging from a temporary irritation of the eyes to death. Choking agents, such as carbonyl chloride or phosgene, attack the respiratory tract making the membranes swell and the lungs fill with fluid so that the victim drowns in his own juices. Choking gases are the classical agents of chemical warfare but are unlikely to be used in a modern chemical war as their initial irritancy or smell immediately warns of their presence, and gas masks can therefore be put on before a lethal exposure.

Mustard gas is a persistent agent that remains toxic for a long period and can be lethal. Blister agents produce large watery blisters on exposed skin that heal slowly and may become infected. Blister agents may also damage the eyes, blood cells and respiratory tract. There are two main classes of blister agent — arsenicals, such as Lewisite which has a sharp, irritating odour and causes immediate eye pain,4 and mustards. Arsenicals give enough warning of their presence for protective clothing to be put on in time, mustards do not, and it is for this reason they are still in arsenals today.

Blood agents such as AC are absorbed into the body by breathing and kill by entering 4 A History of Chemical Warfare the bloodstream and causing vital organs to cease functioning. There are two main groups of nerve agents, the G-agents, typically volatile liquids that break down quickly and cause death when inhaled, and the V-agents which are much more persistent and can be absorbed through the skin. The most lethal nerve agents are three G-agents, tabun, sarin and soman, and a V-agent, VX. Tabun was first discovered in It is a colourless liquid with a fruity smell, first produced in industrial quantities in Silesia in Sarin was also discovered in Germany in It is a colourless liquid with no smell.

Soman, again discovered in Germany in , is also a colourless liquid with a fruity smell. Tabun is about half as toxic as sarin, and soman, about twice as toxic. Nerve agents are organophosphorus compounds as are, for example, insecticides. In the body they prevent acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme essential for the normal functioning of the nervous system, from acting normally. The initial symptoms vary according to which agent is absorbed.

A low dose of any nerve agent will generally cause reactions like a running nose, contraction of the pupils, blurred vision, slurred speech, nausea and hallucinations. A high dose will cause the victim breathing problems, convulsions, deep coma and finally death.

At even higher doses, the symptoms will occur very rapidly and the person will die from suffocation as both the nervous and the respiratory systems fail at the same time. A minute drop of a nerve gas, inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes, is enough to kill within about twenty minutes. The job of a chemical munition is to create a toxic environment over as much of the target as is compatible with the toxicity of its charge. It must convert its bulk load either into an even distribution of liquid or solid particles, or into a cloud of vapour, or into both.

It must, additionally, do this in a certain time. These are strict demands, and they are made more severe by the diversity of chemical agents now in stockpiles. Each agent has a combination of physical characteristics and toxic behaviour that is unique but, nevertheless, all munitions work on the same basic principle: they cause the transfer of energy from a store, generally an explosive, to the chemical load. The simplest chemicals to disperse are the volatile, non-persistent ones such as phosgene; the hardest ones Historical Precedents?

One of the assets of chemical warfare is that it does not depend on extraordinary delivery systems. Chemical munitions may be adapted for delivery by almost any means — grenade throwers, artillery and aircraft. Indeed, in some cases the delivery system may be the environment itself — the chlorine cylinders of the First World War for instance. However, once a chemical weapon has been deployed its user has no further control over it. This, of course, is true for any other weapon, but whereas the effects of, say, high explosive follow within a fraction of a second of detonation, those of a chemical may be delayed for minutes, hours or even days.

In this lies both the strength and the weakness of chemical warfare. On the one hand, a toxic atmosphere may be set up which will envelope the whole target area, seeping into tunnels, bunkers and buildings. On the other hand, the entire loads may be blown uselessly away by a sudden wind. Certainly, the weather, winds and, to some extent, precipitation and indeed the practical limitations of dispersal generally limit the use of chemical weapons against concentrated targets as opposed to large geographical areas. Chemical weapons can be very effective against troop concentrations, military facilities and highly populated civilian areas.

However, chemical weapons do not, obviously, pose much of a threat to a geographically dispersed civilian population. It must be emphasised then that no matter how welldesigned a chemical weapon is, its effectiveness depends critically on the prevailing weather conditions. All this implies that previous knowledge of target conditions is essential to a chemical attack.

However, science and technology have refined these weapons and now their potential is awesome. It was the rise of the modern chemical industry at the end of the nineteenth century that first made feasible the use of significant quantities of toxic chemicals on large-scale battlefields and, indeed, chemical weapons were first used on a significant scale by both sides in the First World War. They were then used immediately after the war by Britain in Iraq , and Spain in Morocco Both sides in the Iran—Iraq War used them in —, and in a particularly high-profile attack they were deployed by Iraq against the Kurds at Halabja in However, the use of poisons that could be considered chemical weapons dates back to antiquity.

The wars of ancient India in about BC were fought with smoke screens, incendiary devices and toxic fumes that caused sleep. Thucydides tells of the use of gas during the Peloponnesian War — BC ; also the use of an incapacitating agent, one which caused incessant diarrhoea, is recorded by Polyaenus, Fronto and Pausanias.

The Spartans used arsenic smoke, comprised of pitch and sulphur, during the sieges of Plataea and Delium. Undoubtedly, this was exactly what happened during both sieges, making the way then clear for the Spartan Army to seize the advantage presented to them by the incapacity of their enemy, an opportunity they did not squander. In this case the effects of this chemical weapon are clear — the Charakitanes were defeated in two days. Indeed, it can be argued, its effectiveness was a prime reason for the long survival of the Byzantine Empire.

The exact composition of Greek Fire is still a mystery but naphtha or petroleum is thought to have been the principle ingredient, probably with sulphur or pitch and other materials added. Indeed, Greek Fire, it can be assumed, was the forerunner of Napalm. It is not clear, however, how it was ignited, but quicklime was probably used, mixed with the main ingredients at the last moment.

Once lit, the substance was very hard to extinguish; water was useless, sand or vinegar was the only solution. In the Middle Ages, chemical warfare was put to similar use as at the siege of Delium and such usage continued through to the fifteenth century. In an alchemist who prepared a poisonous mixture saved Christian Belgrade from the attacking Turks.

The Christians dipped rags Historical Precedents? Christians must never use so murderous a weapon against other Christians. Still, it is quite in place against Turks and other miscreants. Such a weapon was indeed developed and deployed, and as such is the first recorded usage of a chemical weapon. This was elaborated in the Strasbourg Agreement 27 August , a bilateral French and German accord which directed that neither side should use poison bullets and, as such, constitutes the first international agreement in modern history in which use of such weapons was prohibited.

As chemistry advanced during the nineteenth century, many new proposals for chemical weapons were made; for example, organoarsenical bombs and shells at the time of the Crimean War and a chlorine shell and other devices during the American Civil War. Indeed, Napoleon III is said to have put hydrogen cyanide to military use in First, the explosion ship would be towed into place at an appropriate distance from anchored enemy ships, heeled to a correct angle and anchored.

When detonated the immense explosion would cause debris to fall onto the enemy causing mayhem. Then the follow-up, the sulphur ship would be towed into place and when the wind blew windward charcoal covered with sulphur 8 A History of Chemical Warfare would be ignited. A quick landing by the British could then secure an otherwise unattainable position and clear the way for the establishment of a beachhead. All fortifications, especially marine fortifications, can undercover of dense smoke be irresistibly subdued by fumes of sulphur kindled in masses to windward of their ramparts.

The Peloponnesians had attempted to reduce the town of Platea with sulphur fumes in the fifth century BC. At length, an expert panel decided there was merit in this unusual scheme, but fear of the implications that such radical devices would have on warfare stifled their enthusiasm. Again, the idea was quickly dismissed. A year later, in July , Cochrane again urged Graham to employ his vessels to force the Russian troops away from the fortifications of the harbour at Krondstadt.

Once more, however, the scheme was rejected and the British sailed to the Baltic where they eventually failed to subdue Krondstadt. Throughout the debate, the details of the scheme remained secret. In the boardroom at the Admiralty, the plan showed the sulphur ships with layers of coke and sulphur ready to emit their choking fog. Added to the scheme was the intention to create a smoke screen by pouring naphtha onto the surface of the harbour and igniting it with potassium,17 perhaps a nineteenth-century version of Greek Fire. Cochrane was convinced that a few hours would accomplish what months of debilitating conventional warfare had failed to achieve.

All discussion of the revolutionary weapons was Historical Precedents? Less than a decade later the sulphuric yellow clouds of mustard gas ravaged thousands in the trenches of France.

Nerve agents: A history of chemical weapons | Newshub

A plan was devised to attack Confederate trenches with a cloud of hydrochloric and sulphuric acids. This declaration renounced the use of explosive projectiles charged with fulminating or inflammable substances in war. By the end of the nineteenth century the use of poison gas was still by far the exception and not the rule in war, and yet there were in all the great powers a number of men who foresaw its widespread use should a general conflagration engulf Europe. Mahan, who declared that, It is illogical and not demonstrably humane to be tender about asphyxiating men with gas, when all.

The Hague Conference did not prevent some nations from discussing the use of chemical weapons, and at least one country, France, experimented publicly with gas. The French Army tested a grenade filled with 10 A History of Chemical Warfare ethyl bromoacetate, a non-toxic tear agent or lachrymatory developed for use in the suppression of small-arms fire from the concrete casements then prevalent in the fortifications that dotted western Europe. In , French police used mm grenades filled with this agent to capture a gang of notorious bank robbers.

Quick, boys! Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light. As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. The thinking behind this was relatively simple: modern methods of transportation and communications created unprecedented opportunities for speed and mobility in attack. In fact, all the war plans of the great powers before hinged on railway timetables and the rapid deployment of men in the field.

Young men went off adventurously, glad to change their lives, to travel. They were answering the call of duty and were sure they would soon be back home crowned with victory; in London, Berlin and Paris they left singing and exuberant. But, the dream became a nightmare. The belief in speed was crucial. The most famous stratagem, the German Schlieffen Plan called for a lightning attack on France — but this was not exceptional.

A Brief History Of Chemical Weapons - Mach - NBC News

These plans show the extent to which strategists committed themselves to the view that standing on the defensive would lead to destruction. These strategic calculations, however, proved to be ill-founded and the end of locked the armies on the Western Front in a deadly, static form of trench warfare and about to experience the nightmare intensification of the industrialised battlefield. Unwilling to accept the deadlock of trench warfare, army staffs of both sides deliberated on ways to break the stalemate and return to open or manoeuvre warfare.

Alternatives were proposed; some were strategic like the Allied attack on Gallipoli, some tactical like the change from full-scale bombardment prior to attack at Neuve Chapelle. In April the Allies carried out a military landing on the Gallipoli Peninsular. They were to hold the area and advance. Undoubtedly, however, the Campaign was of lasting significance because the troops, in the first action of its kind, under immense physical and emotional pressure, strove for political and military gains to no avail.

At Neuve Chapelle British military doctrine dictated that indirect fire could cut wire and that a short bombardment would allow a break-in. However, indirect fire was inflexible and the artillery found it difficult to locate targets and so therefore, indirect fire was ineffective. Therefore, both plans failed for a variety of reasons, and the deadlock on the Western Front continued. By the autumn of , interest in the combat possibilities of toxic chemicals had quickened. In the United Kingdom the Admiralty was reconsidering the proposal of Admiral Cochrane for the offensive use of sulphur dioxide clouds.

In the United States a patent application was being prepared that related to an artillery shell charged with hydrogen cyanide. In France, army officers were considering the tactical possibilities of the tear gas weapons that the Paris police force had been using since In Germany a team was experimenting with phosgene and arsenical grenade fillings. Toxic chemicals had no obvious part to play in the sort of fighting which took place during the opening campaigns and, in principle, their The First World War 13 use was obnoxious to the professional code of the military, a distaste symbolised in the somewhat vague proscriptions that had emerged from the Hague Conferences.

If seeking developmental pre-conditions for the introduction of modern chemical warfare, there is no doubt they existed in Germany prior to the outbreak of the First World War. The industrial and indeed, economic markets of pre-war Germany were dominated by the chemical industry which had a tradition of intense and well-developed research and development programmes. Considered uncivilised prior to the First World War, it could be argued that the development and use of chemical warfare was necessitated by the requirements of wartime armies to find new ways of overcoming the stalemate of unexpected trench warfare.

On relatively few occasions in military history has an army employed weapons that are so intrinsically unreliable that they pose the same threat to the side using them as to the enemy. In such cases friendly casualties are almost inevitable and the best example of this process is the use of poison gas during the First World War.

Subject to the vagaries of wind and weather, poison gas always posed a threat not only of blowing back onto the advancing formations of troops but also of gathering in thick clouds around the enemy trenches so that even if an initial attack was successful it was impossible for the attacking forces to occupy enemy lines without falling victim to their own gas. He also perceived that foggy or rainy weather favoured chemical warfare.

The impetus came from chemists who had become aware of the noxious effects of certain chemicals in their laboratories, and who felt that these efforts could be exploited to assist national war efforts. Certainly from onwards, attempts were being made in several academic laboratories throughout Europe to convert 14 A History of Chemical Warfare laboratory chemicals into weapons of war. Nevertheless, it took some time for these initial efforts, in which a number of scientists succeeded in killing themselves, to produce significant results on the battlefield.

Several of the belligerents had been using munitions filled with irritants from almost the beginning of hostilities and, although it is popularly believed that the German Army was the first to use gas it was in fact the French who initially deployed it. As early as August the French, experimentally, fired tear-gas grenades xylyl bromide against the Germans. This early venture into chemical warfare had little impact other than to draw attention to its potential.

However, it was the Germans who were the first to give serious study to the development of chemical weapons and, ultimately, the first to use poison gas on a large scale. Despite the great psychological activity of obvious chemical warfare agents, the weapons designers of soon realised that it was no easy matter to design a weapon that could deliver effective dosages of the agent to an enemy deployed over a distant target area.

It was realised then that the performance of the potential weapon was crucially dependent on the state of the atmosphere. On the one hand, a great load of poison gas might be carried by the wind and permeate the entire target area, on the other hand, the whole load might be uselessly blown away or become so diluted as to be harmless.

Certainly, it was recognised that the greater the dependence of any weapon system on the prevailing weather conditions, the fewer would be the occasions on which it could be used. During the capture of Neuve Chapelle in October , the German Army fired shells at the French that contained a chemical irritant whose result was to induce a violent fit of sneezing. This gas potential attracted the attention of the German High Command and consequently they asked the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin to investigate the possibility of using a more effective chemical agent. The only guideline provided by the military was that the Hague Declaration , banning projectiles used exclusively for delivering poison gas, had to be circumvented.

Adhering to the letter, if not the spirit of the ban, the Germans devised a gas shell T-Stoff that also contained an explosive charge for producing a shrapnel effect. German officers who were confident that their The First World War 15 new weapon would neutralise the enemy positions were therefore surprised when their attack was repulsed with severe casualties.

The new experiment had proved unsuccessful as the tear-gas liquid had failed to vaporise in the freezing temperatures prevalent at Bolimov. Not giving up, the Germans tried again with an improvised tear-gas concoction at Nieuport against the French in March , however with limited success. The Germans quickly realised that the value of irritants increased with the scale on which they were used. If irritant agent harassment of enemy troop units was to disrupt supply lines or lower battlefield performance significantly, the Germans realised the agents would have to be used over a wide area and for prolonged periods.

The scattering of a few irritant shells over enemy positions had only nuisance value, given the inefficiency of early weapon designs. Once the German High Command had become accustomed to thinking about and using irritants on a large scale, it was only a matter of time before it began to do so for more lethal chemicals as well. After the Battle of the Marne, the mobility of both armies had been destroyed by the appearance of trench warfare. With its armies dug in from Switzerland to the Channel ports, Germany had almost exhausted its pre-war stockpile of high explosives and to very little effect.

Furthermore, the blockade at sea was depriving the country of the raw materials needed to manufacture explosives, primarily nitrates from Chile. The purpose of this conference was to reorganise munitions production and during it the representative of IG Farben promoted the idea of using chemical agents to injure or kill, rather than harass.

The decision was accordingly taken to try chemical agents on the battlefield. To find a more effective means of employing gas on the battlefield, the German High Command turned to Professor Fritz Haber, the worldfamous chemist who had developed a crucial process for extracting nitrates from the atmosphere Nitrogen Fixation.

This process was used 16 A History of Chemical Warfare to manufacture fertilisers and later, once war broke out, explosives. His country, however, made proper use of him. Had he been born an Englishman, he would certainly have attained higher rank, but almost certainly he would not have been properly utilised until it was nearly too late. Cylinders could deliver large amounts of gas and, like the T-Stoff shell, did not technically violate the Hague ban on projectiles. Haber also recommended the use of chlorine as an agent because it was commercially produced and readily available in large quantities; additionally, it also satisfied the requirements for military application — it was lethal, effective, non-persistent and volatile.

The German High Command chose, from a study of prevailing winds, the most suitable part of the front for the experiment, and it was decided that the Ypres sector of the Western Front was to be the proving ground. Although the contrary has been argued, it seems doubtful whether the German High Command regarded the forthcoming chlorine attack as anything more than a battlefield trial of an experimental weapon.

The local field commanders were not enthusiastic about gas, and their requests for augmentation of ammunition supplies and reserves to exploit such success as it might achieve were turned down. A belief in the superiority of the German chemical industry and the inability of its British and French counterparts to provide the means of retaliation would surely not have been adequate reason to take this risk. After all, chlorine was one of the simplest industrial chemicals to make, and indeed was being made in Allied factories, albeit only on a small scale in liquefied form.

On 10 March German Pioneer Regiment 35 referred to as the Stinkpionere by other German troops had emplaced large and small cylinders containing tons of chlorine in The First World War 17 the area earmarked for the attack around the Ypres salient. With the coming of April the weather improved and late in the afternoon of 22 April , with temperatures into the seventies, as a setting sun cast long shadows over the battle-scarred terrain around the Belgian City of Ypres, at , three flares rose from an observation balloon over the German lines and burst against the darkening eastern sky, and German artillery commenced a new and furious bombardment of the towns and villages.

The code word Gott strafe Engelland was passed along the line and German assault troops moved into position. Finally, signal — open the gas containers — was issued and the men of Pioneer Regiment 35 pulled on their masks, bent over their cylinders and wrenched open the cocks to release the gas into the wind. These clouds spread laterally, joined up and, moving before a light wind, became a bluish-white mist. Rapid fire from the French mm field batteries continued, as did the rifle fire of the Germans who appeared to be advancing.

The cloud did not mask an infantry attack however, at least, not yet. The Canadian Division on the right of the French had only just arrived in the sector and as such had no proper communication with them. Additionally, all telephone lines to and from Divisional Headquarters had been cut by the German bombardment. Therefore, it was impossible for anyone to form a clear picture of what was happening but, as the minutes passed, people in the rear areas, in particular the British reserves, became aware of a peculiar smell and stinging eyes.

Then, as the German artillery fire stopped, masses of soldiers came stumbling down the roads from the direction of Langemarck. Few could speak, many were blue in the face and others were choking. The effects of the chlorine gas were severe. Sign in. This book offers a full examination and description of all the toxic chemical and microbiological agents, either tested, manufactured or used since It identifies the major research, testing and manufacturing plants worldwide with special emphasis on the UK and North America. It details all verifiable uses of CBW since and examines the rationale behind such operations.

The author uncovers the scientific arrogance and political ignorance that has led to a greatly exaggerated perception of the potency of CBW, which he maintains is still the case today. Finally McCamley reveals the scandalous history of inadequate and dangerous storage and disposal practices. Canada in the Great Power Game Gwynne Dyer. Fredric Boyce. A Higher Form of Killing. Robert Harris. Britain's War Machine. David Edgerton. Fergus Mason. The Cold War.

David Miller. Now It Can Be Told. General Leslie R. How to Become a Spy. British SOE.

Taste of War. Lizzie Collingham. Professor Richard Ogorkiewicz. The Bomb. Gerard DeGroot. Flying for Freedom. Alan Brown. War of Nerves. Jonathan Tucker. Six-Legged Soldiers. Jeffrey A. Blackett's War. Stephen Budiansky. Chris Martin. Relentless Offensive. Roy Irons. Calvin Tan. Churchill's Underground Army. John Warwicker. Quick, Boys! Michael Freemantle. The Devils Doctors. Taylor Downing. Ten Decisions. Larry D. Major Gregory C. The German Home Front — Brian L Davis. Arming Mother Nature. Jacob Darwin Hamblin. Britain's Cold War. Bob Clarke.

Pillboxes and Tank Traps. Bernard Lowry. Lenny Flank. The British Home Front — Martin Brayley. Progressive Management. Benjamin C. The Irish Defence Forces since Donal MacCarron. Jaume Ortiz Forns. Dresden and the Heavy Bombers. Frank Musgrove. The Book of Camouflage. Tim Newark. Losing Control. Paul Rogers. Questions and answers about the Second World War. Jo Foster. Britain's Shield. David Zimmerman. Great Scientists Wage the Great War. William van der Kloot. The Invisible Weapon. Daniel R.

A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare

Landmines in War and Peace. Mike Croll. Cleanup of Chemical and Explosive Munitions. Richard Albright. War on the Home Front. World War I for Kids.