The war on the Western Front was long and arduous, with both sides, the British and the Germans, having entered a stalemate in which they dug down into their trenches and literally waited for the enemy to attack, consequently waiting the war out and dragging it on for an unnecessarily long time.
To break the stalemate, the notion of the development of biological warfare was developed – poison gas. It’s a common generalisation that it was the Germans who were the first to develop and use poison gas in war. This is a common misconception – it was in fact the French who did in August 1914. The French used tear gas grenades against the German army advancing upon them in Belgium and throughout ...view middle of the document...
At around 17.00 hours on the 22nd April, French sentries in Ypres noticed a yellow-green cloud moving towards them - a gas delivered from pressurised cylinders dug into the German front line between Steenstraat and Langemarck. They thought that it was a smokescreen to disguise the movement forwards of German troops. As such, all 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 an opportunity for the Germans to advance unhindered into the strategically important Ypres area. But even the Germans were unprepared and surprised by the impact of chlorine and they failed to follow up the success of the chlorine attack.
What did occur at Ypres was a deliberate use of a poison gas. Now, the gloves were off and other nations with the ability to manufacture poison gas could use it and blame it on the Germans as they had been the first to use it (despite the French tear gas variant).
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. In the Ypres attack, the German had delivered their chlorine by using pressurised cylinders. For the attack at Loos, the British also used gas cylinders. When the wind was in a favourable 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 front line, the wind changed direction and the chlorine was blown back onto the British causing over 2,000 casualties with seven fatalities. The Special Gas Companies were not allowed to call their new weapon gas - it was referred to as an "accessory".
However, the risk of the wind blowing gas back onto you also affected the Germans and French in some of their gas attacks during late 1915.
The development in the use of poison gases led to both phosgene and mustard gas being used. Phosgene was especially potent as its impact was frequently felt only 48 hours after it had been inhaled and by then it had already bedded itself in the respiratory organs of the body and little could be done to eradicate it. Also it was much less apparent that someone had inhaled phosgene as it did not cause as much violent coughing. By the time that phosgene had got...