Poison Gas Warfare In WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Poison Gas Warfare In WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special


Imagine you’re a soldier, in any war, anywhere.
You’re prepared for battle, for the enemy, and you know you might get shot or even killed.
Imagine being on the front line, though, and suddenly something comes creeping around your
legs. A cloud of yellow or green, that spreads and spreads until you have no choice but to
breathe it in, and you begin to gag and to choke as your throat and lungs are eaten from
the inside out by the horror of poison gas. I’m Indy Neidell, welcome to today’s special
episode about Chemical Weapons in the First World War. The stalemate on the Western Front that persisted
through much of the war prompted the most intensive use of chemical weapons in history.
Despite an 1899 treaty that banned the military use of poisonous gases, all major combatants
of the war used them at one point or another, especially during 1915 and 1916. Considered uncivilized prior to World War
One, the development and use of poison gas was seen as necessary by the wartime armies,
who were desperate to find a new way of overcoming that stalemate of unexpected trench warfare;
that war of attrition that claimed thousands upon thousands of lives every month with no
gain in territory. Although it is popularly believed that the
German army was the first to use gas, it was in fact initially deployed by the French.
In the first month of the war, August 1914, they fired tear-gas grenades- xylyl bromide-
against the Germans, but the German army was the first to give serious study to the development
of chemical weapons and the first to use it on a large scale. Let’s go back a bit; At the end of the 19th
century, many foresaw the devastation that chemical agents could cause in a European
war. The Hague Convention of 1899 discussed the issue of using chemicals as weapons, and
the signees agreed not to use projectiles whose sole purpose was the diffusion of asphyxiating
or deleterious gases. Delegates from all of the attending countries except the United
States signed the resolution. A Second Hague Convention reaffirmed the provisions
on chemical weapons usage and widened the restraints by prohibiting the use of poison
or poisoned weapons. Hague II included a clause prohibiting projectiles, weapons, and materials
that could cause unnecessary suffering. Prior to the war, all of the future belligerent
nations except Italy, the US, and the Ottoman Empire were signatories of Hague II. Both
Hague I and Hague II had good intentions: to prevent the creation of new and possibly
more awful weapons of war, but in reality the wording of the contracts was pretty confusing
and interpretations differed considerably between countries. So… gas. On January 31st, 1915, the Germans
used gas for the first time. It was also tear gas, like the French used, and they launched
18,000 shells loaded with it against the Russians on the Eastern Front, but it failed to vaporize,
having frozen in the winter temperature. Chlorine gas was used for the first time at
the Second Battle of Ypres a few months later. At around five PM on the 22nd of April, French
sentries in Ypres noticed a yellow-green cloud moving towards them – a gas delivered from
pressurized cylinders dug into the German front line between Steenstraat and Langemarck.
They thought that it was a smokescreen to disguise the advance of German troops, and
based on that, all French troops in the area were ordered to the firing line of their trench
– right in the path of the chlorine. Its impact was immediate and devastating. The French
and their Algerian comrades fled in terror. Their understandable reaction created a big
opportunity for the Germans to advance unhindered into the strategically important Ypres salient.
But even the Germans were unprepared and surprised by the impact of chlorine and they failed
to follow up the success of the attack. So the gloves were now off and other nations
with the ability to manufacture poison gas could now also use it and blame it on the
Germans, as they had been the first to use it. The first of the Allied nations to respond
to the Ypres gas attack was Britain in September 1915. The newly formed Special Gas Companies
attacked German lines at Loos. When the wind was in a favorable direction, chlorine gas
was released from the British front line so that it could drift over to the German front
line. This was then to be followed by an infantry attack. However, along parts of the British
line, the wind changed direction and the chlorine was blown back onto the British causing over
2,000 casualties on their own side with seven fatalities. This risk of blowback also affected
the Germans and the French in some of their gas attacks in late 1915. Did I say “gas
attacks”? Sorry, The Special Gas Companies were not allowed to call their new weapon
gas – it was referred to as an “accessory”. Like a handbag. The horrors of gas warfare caused public indignation,
both during and after the war, and in 1925 a Geneva Convention outlawed the use of chemical
weapons. Adolf Hitler, who had himself been a victim of mustard gas in 1918, adamantly
refused to deploy poison gas during World War II. Nevertheless the major powers retained
stockpiles of these weapons – and indeed still do. A chemical weapon is generally defined as
a toxic chemical contained in a delivery system, maybe a shell or a bomb. In trench warfare,
direct attack was often fraught with difficulties and incurred massive casualties. Chemical
warfare was to be an effective way of attacking without direct contact or direct risk. A cloud
of gas could be launched towards a line of soldiers sheltering in a trench without danger
for the attackers. Now, there were several types of gas used
during the war; here are a few of them: Tear Gas First introduced, as I said, by the French
in 1914. Tear gas is an irritant and is not deadly. When they first deployed this against
the Germans by using hand grenades, the Germans didn’t even know they were using it. One
thing here- none of the warring countries believed that tear gas was a violation of
the Hague Conventions. Chlorine Gas Just a few months later, Germany had the Bayer
Company, the aspirin people, come up with a more toxic type of gas to use. The result
was Chlorine gas, which was a by-product of dye manufacturing. Chlorine gas looked like
a greenish-gray cloud of smoke and was highly visible to the enemy. Chlorine gas is a powerful irritant that inflicts
damage to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. At high concentrations and prolonged exposure
it can cause death by asphyxiation. An initial attack against the Russians that injured some
9,000 of them so inspired them that they too began to practice chemical warfare. Brilliant.
Thing is, you need a lot of Chlorine to kill people and gas masks are an effective deterrent.
Something stronger had to be created. Thus, Phosgene Gas This was the next step in the progression.
The French retaliated against Chlorine gas with phosgene. Phosgene was a potent killing
agent, deadlier than chlorine. One semi-drawback was that some of the symptoms of exposure
took 24 hours or more to manifest. This meant that the victims were initially still capable
of putting up a fight; although this could also mean that apparently fit troops would
be incapacitated by the effects of the gas on the following day. Colorless and having an odor likened to “moldy
hay,” phosgene was difficult to detect, making it a more effective weapon. It was
sometimes used on its own, but was more often mixed with an equal volume of chlorine to
help it spread across the battlefield. Although phosgene was never as notorious in the public
consciousness as our next gas, it killed far more people, about 85% of the 100,000 deaths
caused by chemical weapons during the war. Mustard Gas The poster child for WWI chemical weapons.
As if these chemicals weren’t scary enough, mustard gas was unleashed by Germany in 1917.
Mustard gas was the most effective and widely publicized gas of the entire war. However,
it wasn’t a particularly effective killing agent, though in high enough doses it is fatal.
The reason it was so terrifying is that mustard gas was painful, caused huge yellow blisters,
and incapacitated a person – just by touching their skin. Gas masks didn’t work against
this stuff! Not only that, it didn’t go away like other gases. When other gases were
used against an enemy, wind would eventually disperse them. Not so with Mustard gas. It
was heavy and sunk into crevices and trenches, then stayed there for weeks, months, even
years, so the Germans found that it was quite difficult to attack the enemy with Mustard
gas and then advance to the enemy’s position. When you think about it, compared to the other
causes of casualties in the First World War, chemical weapons were relatively ineffective.
Only 3% of those who suffered an attack by chemical weapons died, another 2% were permanently
incapacitated, but nearly three quarters were fit for active duty again within 6 months.
However, blindness, temporary or permanent, was often a side effect of gas, as was respiratory
illness, and death by gas was often slow, so you can see why it got its reputation,
when those hardest hit were sent home to painfully and slowly die in front of their loved ones
over weeks and months. It was Russia that actually suffered the most
casualties, by far, from gas during the war- around 56,000, but everywhere it was the trench
soldier’s greatest fear, and was immortalized in paintings, diaries, and poems, like this
one from Wilfred Owen: Gas… GAS! Quick boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time. But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. 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. Just try for a moment to imagine the horror. We make these special episodes every few weeks
to go in greater depth into topics we can’t cover properly in our regular weekly episodes,
and you can check out our special on animals in the war right here. Don’t forget to subscribe.
See you Thursday.

100 thoughts on “Poison Gas Warfare In WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

  1. One of my great great uncles was gassed in the Great War. Though he survived and returned home safely after the war, he died in 1922 after he fell ill with a cold which went into pneumonia because so much of his lung tissue had been damaged by his exposure to the gas. My Dad had his diary.

  2. chemical weapon… mmmh: inefficient, slow, easy to counter = a failure of a weapon and a stain on humanity capacity to create things (back then I mean)

  3. It seems like Phosege was far more effective than the other gas weapons of the war. I wonder why France didn't use it more?

  4. I work as an HVAC technician by trade, and for anyone who’s reading this who knows what I’m talking about will understand… but apparently when ever you’re ‘sweating a join’ or basically remelting a solder or a braze joint in copper pipework in a refrigeration or aircon system that uses CFC’s or even HCFC’s that are still very much in use, that as the join comes apart any residual refrigerant left in the system escapes and go through the cherry red open copper pipe, that the refrigerant burns off and creates phosgene gas. So I’ve breathed in a bunch of times and basically every HVAC technician around the world does as a part of a crappy side effect of the trade. True story.

  5. My Grandad was a sniper in WW1 mustard gas burnt him Badly he said he peed in his hanky to try an protect his eyes,he passed in 1978.

  6. To say that the French were the first to use gas by using tear gas is misleading in my opinion. I would compare tear gas vs chlorine or phosgene gas as being like the difference between throwing dirt in your opponents face to temporarily stun or distract them and shooting a gun or throwing a grenade to kill them.

  7. Did any of the soldiers use front line methods to mitigate a gas attack, like aerosolizing water with explosives to absorb the chlorine gas?

  8. This is a plagiarized video. There is an article just like this and was made before this video. All of the words in this video are plagiorized

  9. One of the many reasons I will never have sympathy for the German people.
    At what point do we just not let them be a country anymore?

  10. just after 6:00 at approximately 6:02, tou can see a guy get stabbed through the head with a bayonet. just saying.

  11. So how come you didn't talk about the canaidiens in the 2nd battle of ypres because they where the ones who stood there ground and this was one of the moments where Canada started to see them self's as there own country not British.

  12. My Grandfather had an Uncle who served in WW1. His lungs were damaged by a gas attack and I'm told he would always sit down on a chair backwards, apparently that made it easier for him to breathe.

  13. Chemical weapons – like nuclear – are basically useless as weapons of war.  Their only value is employment against civilian populations who can not retaliate.  Using them against modern militaries who are equipped to function in a chemical environment simply results in your own troops losing much of their fighting capacity as they in turn will also have to employ defensive measures – while the impact upon the opposing force will be minimal as they also have protective equipment.  So you only end up complicating the battlefield with little real advantage. 

    Chemical weapons are weapons of terror.  Even back in WWI their effectiveness rapidly diminished as they were impossible to control and once gasmasks became standard issue among the various armies their effectiveness waned.  Far more troops were lost to artillery etc. than to chemical weapons.

  14. Anyone who has ignored label warnings and mixed two different types of drain cleaner has experienced chlorine gas warfare in its mildest possible form. I knew what was happening the instant I smelled chlorine. It didn't seem strong at first, and I thought I could work around it by holding my breath and opening the kitchen back door to move back and forth from the kitchen and the yard to get fresh air. I can be extremely stubborn, or stupid might be a better word. After two or three minutes I had to run far out into the back yard and stand crouched down with my hands on my knees to breathe. My eyes and lungs were on fire. I had to strip down and take a shower. I literally struggled to breathe for the next three hours, and my voice sounded like a 90-year-old chain smoker's for days after. I should have gone to the emergency room, but again, I'm stubborn like that.

    I opened every window in the kitchen and left a powerful fan running in the doorway at the top setting, and it was still two hours before I could go back into it for more than a few seconds.

    What had happened was that in those first few minutes, even the low concentrations of chlorine coming from the drain were enough to permeate my skin, hair, and clothing, and this slight residue was enough to attack my lungs and eyes during my breathing trips to the back yard.

    Chlorine is an insanely toxic chemical. I can't imagine what running around in thick green clouds of its pure form must have been like.

  15. I miss ww1 it was a terrible gruesome war but…. it was organized and beautiful it was like art. The shells of rifle falling with a rhythm the whips and snaps of shots in the trenches. IT WAS AMAZING!

  16. My grandfather was a victim of a gas attack. Fortunately, he survived and returned to the US after the war. He suffered from breathing problems for the rest of his shortened life.

  17. Damn it’s so sad. WW1 may not have been the worst in terms of number of deaths, but as far as the most inhumane suffering of young soldiers, I consider it probably the worst of them all. In my opinion it is.

  18. So you mean to tell me that even Hitler had better morals than nerve gas deployment teams in the middle east?

  19. It’s odd that the Geneva Convention would deem poisonous gas inhuman and unfit for warfare. Bullets, bombs and bayonets were on the approved list. How awful the business and progress of weaponry.

  20. German Used toxic weapon * OH NO THE HUMANITY HOW COULD YOU !!
    American Used Atomic Bombs that could cause that land have radiation for declares * ENTIRE WORLD * YAY AMERICA !!

  21. Anyone do hvac? If not, we deal with phosgene gas from time to time. Is a by product of burning refrigerant. It can occur when replacing a compressor in your air conditioning system! Fun fact

  22. Trench assault thru bursting gas shells while masked up has been a bucket list thing forever, never happens anymore, ah, those were the days…

  23. All I can tell is that people were salty they just got their sturdy, insurmountable trenches fucked by a big brain

  24. In Peace time for humanity, in war for the fatherland.
    …Aren't people creative when it comes to killing or justifying killing?
    I respect Fritz Haber for his abilites as a chemist. But an inventor must never forget, what his brainchild is capable of…
    Or you might end up quoting Hindu texts

  25. My Grandfather, Garvin Algar Lollar died from Mustard Gas poisoning in World War One. Left 6 children, including my mother, orphaned.

  26. Andy, What is your email address?
    I need your help about how to find information- my grandfather, that served in the French legion during WW1
    Thanks.

  27. Saying tear gas is comparing to chlorine is like me saying because someone throws vinegar at me it's comparable to a acid attack

  28. In the WW1 section of the Imperial War Museum of London there's a story that tells how a soldier, who was being bombarded with gas, found out his gas mask was broken (it had received a shot). He was terrified. Then he encountered another soldier, who was wounded and dying. But his gas mask was intact. He shot the other man and took his gas mask.

  29. Excellent portrayal as people tend not really think about the horror of gas and how little a soldier could do to defend against the gas

  30. So accordingly to the Haag nuclear weapons are illegal because of the creation of further horrible weapons is illegal

  31. Anyone else here about containers of these chemicals that were encased in concrete and thrown in the ocean have started leaking recently?

  32. Agent orange and yellow by the US allowed so many vietnamese to have the freedom to develop multiple limbs. How befitting is it of the namesake, land of the free

  33. Crazy as it is each of those chemical weapons has an industrial use like Phosgene. The plant I worked for at Dupont used tons upon tons of Phosgene to make Nomex and Kevlar. Without it no bullet proof vests. Phosgene is made by introducing Carbon Monoxide with Chlorine gas under heat and pressure. When the two meet it creates an exothermic reaction and instantly makes Phosgene. It smells nothing like moldy hay,new mown hay it actually smells pleasant more like Maraschino cherries low concentrations and permanent markers in high concentrations. Not sharpy markers the old markers lol. I got gassed a few times during shutdowns and sampling.

  34. I actually had no idea they were using phosgene. That just slays me. I wonder if they even fit-tested their masks. I doubt it, and I'm relatively sure they didn't have filters that could stop phosgene. Only supplied air would help.

  35. Blame it on the other guy. They did it first! Schoolyard bullying and social distinctions on an adult global level.

  36. Apparently one of my ancestors (my great-great uncle) was exposed to gas and suffered either nerve damage or respiratory damage or something like that. Then when he was sick in the hospital due to the effects of the gas, he jumped out of the second story window, broke his legs, but survived only to die of pneumonia not long after. But that was years after the war in 1923. Chemical weapons in that war were absolutely horrifying

  37. I think the real question is why are we making rules for war as if it's a game and justified how about no war if so you get your country taken away

  38. My great uncle survived a gas attack during WW1. Mustard gas was found to have an amazing effect on killing tumors thus opened the door to cemo-therapy.

  39. I dont see the issue with chemical weapons. During WW1, you were forced to run through fields and to be mowed down by maxim guns; you could be gutted by bayonets; you had artillery shells falling everywhere; you could be crushed by a tank; you could even burn alive now that they developed flame throwers. But chemical weapons is somehow inhuman… I'm sorry, I just cant square that circle…

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