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World War One - Gas Warfare
|Gas Attack Horrors (New York Times, 1915)|
French novelist Pierre Loti (né Julien Viaud: 1850 - 1923) filed this dispatch from a forward aid station in the the French sector where he witnessed the suffering of the earliest gas attack casualties:
"A place of horror which one would think Dante had imagined. The air is heavy, stifling; two or three little night lamps, which look as if they were afraid of giving too much light, hardly pierce the hot, smoky darkness which smells of fever and sweat. Busy people are whispering anxiously. But you hear, more than all, agonized gasping. These gaspings escape from a number of little beds drawn up close together on which are distinguished human forms, above all, chests, chests that are heaving too strongly, too rapidly, and that raise the sheets as if the hour of the death rattle had already come."
The Blessings of Chemical Warfare (Literary Digest, 1927)
Having examined the collected data from the First World War, scientists and soldiers alike were drawing surprising conclusions as to the inefficiency of chemical agents in warfare. No doubt, it was articles such as this that lead to the decision not to use gas in the Second World War:
"Poisonous gas as used in warfare is 'a blessing, not a curse,' and makes for the future security and peace of the world, declares J.E. Mills, of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service...Theoretically one ton of mustard gas could kill 45,000,000 men. Actually one ton of mustard gas as used at the front caused about twenty-nine casualties, of which one died."
"Is gas warfare inhumane? All warfare is inhumane and barbarous, but the facts are that 2 percent of American gas casualties died, while more than 24 percent of American battle casualties died."
W.W. I Gas Shells of the German Army (Almanach Hachette, 1919)
It is often believed that the Germans were the first to use chemical weapons during the Great War, but historians like to point out that they were second to the French in this matter: in August of 1914, French infantry fired tear-gas grenades and in October, the Germans one-upped them with chemical artillery shells during the battle of Neuve Chapelle. However, the Germans are properly credited for being the first of the combatants to use chemical artillery with the most devastating effect. On April 22, 1915, the German Army hurled 520 gas shells at British and Canadian units in Belgium, killing five thousand and incapacitating ten thousand more. Following this historic incident, both sides began producing large amounts of gas shells and, of course, gas masks. The following is a black and white diagram depicting five different German gas artillery shells that were manufactured to be fired from a number of different guns of varying calibers.
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