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Poison Gas for World War I, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The Use of Poison Gas during World War I

The first to employ poison gas in warfare were the French, who staged a gas attack in August 1915, but the gas was ethyl bromide , which is commonly known as a tear gas and the French did not attempt to use it as a lethal weapon, but rather, as an irritant (Castro 2012). However, one year later, the Germans took the use of poison gas a step forward by using Chlorine, a much more dangerous substance, able to cause blindness, asphyxiation and death. The first to develop it was a German Jewish scientist, Fritz Haver, who was one of Germany’s most important scientists. Known at the time as the world leaders in chemistry (Engelbrecht and Hanighen 1934), Germans actively began to be interested in chemical warfare at the beginning of the warfare introduced into the war the most feared type of weapon of the first half of the century.

According to History.com, chlorine was used as a chemical weapon for the first time in 1915, during the Battle of Ypres. Chlorine was a simple gas that had many other civil applications (Engelbrecht and Hanighen 1934).Initially, the allies believed that the cloud which drifted above no-man’s land was meant to hide the enemy’s advance, and ordered man to mount the trench and be prepared (Duffy 2009). The troops were therefore unprepared and suffered great losses during that initial chemical attack. According to Michael Duffy, the gas had severe effects and caused terror among victims. “Seconds after inhaling it, the gas destroyed the victim’s respiratory organs, Duffy explained (2009). After the attack, the international reaction was extremely negative. Even countries that were still passive expressed their disagreement in relation to the use of gas.

After this attack however, the allies who had avoided using the gas because it was considered barbaric, began to develop their own weapons. The first to retaliate against the Germans were the French and the British (History.com). The British ordered the gas attack at Loos in September 1915, but the attack was a failure because the wind shifted and blew the gas back in the British tranches. Both French and German troops however suffered the same type of accidents during that year, which led to the development of more effective delivery systems (Duffy 2009).  When they joined the war, Americans, who had been completely unprepared, rapidly joined the chemical weapon race, thus bringing the number of countries who used chemical weapons extensively to four.

In the beginning, delivery systems were comprised of canisters or hoses which were placed in no man’ land when wind was blowing in the direction of the enemy. However, after incidents such as the one described above, gas canisters began being installed in artillery shells and this improved safety for the attackers.  Apart from developments in the delivery system, the gas itself became much more potent as war progressed, as compared to the first experimental uses. Other version of the gas included the Phosgene and the mustard Gas. Phosgene was more dangerous than chlorine and had the potential to kill the victims more effectively because it caused less coughing and therefore, more of it was inhaled (Duffy 2009). In 1917, the Mustard Gas (Yperite) was developed by the same Haver and as used by Germans against the Russian army.  Mustard Gas was according to Duffy (2009), almost odorless and caused serious blisters hours after exposure. While this was a fierce weapon, it also proved to have a negative side because it remained potent in the soil, thus stopping attacker from claiming the land.

As compared to the beginning of the war, the production of gas increased tremendously towards its end while in the same time, the effects diminished with the introduction of masks that protected the soldiers effectively against the gas. As Ivan Castro (2012) remarked, the most important effect of the gas was psychological and the chemical weapons were able to strike terror into the enemy.

References

Castro, I. (2012). Poisonous gas: World War I’s terror weapon. Retrieved from: http://suite101.com/article/poison-gas-world-war-is-terror-weapon-a406853

Duffy, M. (2009). Weapons of war – poison gas. Retrieved from: http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/gas.htm

Engelbrecht, H.C. and Hanighen, F.C. (1934).  Merchants of death. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co. retrieved from: http://www.greatwar.nl/frames/default-germans.html.

History.com. Germans introduce poisonous gas. Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-introduce-poison-gas

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