Chemical Soldiers, British Gas Warfare in World War One

B1947

The use of poison gas may have been first proposed by a British Napoleonic War frigate captain who also proposed the use of naval aviation to deliver the chemical weapons, but it was the Germans who first used them a hundred years later. This book provides a comprehensive view of the weapons and how the British set about training and deploying specialist troops to counter the weapons.

The author has woven data from official records with personal data from diaries, letter and memoirs, to build a unique and thorough review of the weapons, the British special troops training and deployment and taken a critical look at the Brigade’s leader. A good selection of maps, sketches and photographs are used through the body of the book to ably illustrate the text.

This is an important book because it provides a balanced coverage of its subjects and exposes the myths and misunderstandings that have sprung up over the years.

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NAME: Chemical Soldiers, British Gas Warfare in World War One
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
DATE: 280214
FILE: R1947
AUTHOR: Donald Richter
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
PAGES: 282
PRICE: £14.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, The Great War, World War One, First World War, trench warfare, gas, chemical weapons, flame throwers, mortar shells, artillery shells, gas curtains
ISBN: 1-78346-173-X
IMAGE: B1947.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/phhoaq5
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The use of poison gas may have been first proposed by a British Napoleonic War frigate captain who also proposed the use of naval aviation to deliver the chemical weapons, but it was the Germans who first used them a hundred years later. This book provides a comprehensive view of the weapons and how the British set about training and deploying specialist troops to counter the weapons.

The British Army has been composed of regiments that recruited locally and special regiments and corps that were established to address new technology and tactics. Following this time honoured procedure, the British Army established the British Special Brigade, often referred to by troops as the ‘comical chemical corporals’. Special organizations were frequently the butt of jokes in the trenches and RAMC medics were often referred to as ‘Rob All My Comrades’ because stretcher bearers were frequently suspected of looting the dead and wounded, usually unfairly.

Chemical weapons have traditionally inspired fear, but have been variable weapons operationally. When the Germans began using poison gas, they used a crude system of delivery, locating banks of gas canisters in forward trenches or cutting a special trench closer to the British and French lines. The gas canisters fed distribution nozzles that might be partly buried in front of the gas attack trench. The Germans then waited for a favourable wind and opened the gas taps. In ideal conditions, the gas cloud silently drifted towards and into the British trenches. Often, the wind direction changed and on some occasions, the gas cloud turned around before reaching the enemy trenches, drifting back on the Germans. As a result, the Germans developed both the means of delivering the gas and respirators for the use of their own troops to protect from a drift back. The British initially had no gas, no delivery systems and no respirators. The result was that early German gas attacks caused significant injury to British troops.

There was also one further potential danger for the Germans. As long as they depended on crude delivery systems, there was a danger that enemy artillery might rupture banks of gas cylinders and an unfavourable wind could circulate the released gas in the German trenches before the troops became aware of the danger and donned respirators. This encouraged the Germans, and the British, who rapidly built their own chemical weapons in retaliation, to manufacture mortar shells and artillery shells to deliver gas in targeted strikes on the enemy, reaching further behind the front lines. Work also went into developing bombs that could be dropped from aircraft.

Even with new delivery systems, chemical weapons had many limitations. They worked best when the wind was steady on one heading and the enemy were unaware of the attack taking place. Once the British and French were aware of the German weapons and had developed their own respirators and protective clothing, they only had to develop a system of gas detection to render the weapons virtually useless. However the gas was delivered, wind conditions could blow it away from the target trenches and it normally dispersed rapidly to ineffectual levels.

The more effective chemical weapons were flamethrowers. Some will argue that these are not really chemical weapons but fire projectors. In reality they require a delivery system and a flammable fluid that is engineered to increase its effectiveness and to stick to the target. The fluid is therefore an engineered chemical substance and not just a simple petroleum product. Projectors require a method of propelling the fluid and igniting it. The usual method being to employ compressed gas. The projectors were initially designed as mounted weapons located in the trenches, but smaller portable devices proved very effective in storming machine gun positions and trenches. As armoured vehicles were developed, flamethrowers became one of the available weapons systems that could be carried.

Where poison gas and nerve gas has been rarely used, the flamethrower has enjoyed widespread use through a series of wars since its initial development and napalm bombs have proved very effective weapons for delivery by aircraft. All of the early development work was completed during WWI and only relatively small refinements have been made to chemical weapons and their delivery systems since then.

The author has woven data from official records with personal data from diaries, letter and memoirs, to build a unique and thorough review of the weapons, the British special troops training and deployment and taken a critical look at the Brigade’s leader. A good selection of maps, sketches and photographs are used through the body of the book to ably illustrate the text.

This is an important book because it provides a balanced coverage of its subjects and exposes the myths and misunderstandings that have sprung up over the years.

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