Chemical Warfare 1914–18

  • Edward M. Spiers
Chapter

Abstract

During the First World War 124 200 tons of poison gas were used in battle. Compared with the expenditure of 2 million tons of high explosive and the 50 000 million rounds of small arms ammunition, this was a fairly small total. But gas was a new weapon. Once introduced on a significant scale (3870 tons) in 1915, it was employed in increasing quantities thereafter (16 535 tons in 1916,38 635 tons in 1917 and 65 160 tons in 1918).1 New and more potent gases were introduced; although irritants (both lachrymators which produced tears and sternutators which caused sneezing) were used to harass adversaries throughout the war, the lethal agents — including chlorine, phosgene and later mustard — became the primary instruments of chemical warfare. The methods of disseminating gas were also refined as were the techniques of gas protection. Chemical warfare organisations appeared in the various armies, supported by extensive research and development in their respective countries. ‘As a result,’ wrote Major Victor Lefebure (a wartime CW expert who later held an executive post in Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd), ‘the history of chemical warfare becomes one of continual attempts, on both sides, to achieve surprise and to counter it by some accurate forecast in protective methods. It is a struggle for the initiative’.2

Keywords

Arsenic Chlorine Explosive Smoke Charcoal 

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Notes and References

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© Edward M. Spiers 1986

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