Thursday, October 22, 2015

WW1: Gas Attacks

Battle of Loos
Much is made of the use of chemical warfare in World War One. The gas attacks started lightly in 1914 with tear gas. In 1915, the attacks started to use far stronger disabling agents as well as lethal gases. An interesting thing that happened was the idea that gas was not proper warfare but these same powers started to employ tactics that led to starvation and destruction of civilian populations through total warfare. Gas aimed at soldiers is heinous, but decades later, we employ many munitions and tactics that are far more destructive. Gas being deemed a weapon of mass destruction is interesting since gas has a limited reach. Many of the WW1 gas attacks were subject to the wind.

The above picture is from the Battle of Loos, and that battle along with others in the fall, saw widespread use of gas. It did not take long to figure out proper countermeasures as well as where in the trench one should be when gas came. Counter-intuitively, the higher one was standing in a trench, the less likely one was to be affected by the gas. Being on the move helped too. Gas masks developed, even ones for dogs and horses, and the two sides started to develop mechanical means of overcoming the entrenched defenses.

It makes one wonder. For all the talk of how evil the Nazis were, why did they not gas the troop build ups in southern England? Why did they not gas the troops washing up on shore at D-Day? It seems odd they did not since the Allies prepared for gas attacks with clothing, Churchill planned to use gas if the Nazis ever landed in England, and we hear how the Nazis used gas in the Holocaust. Weird. One would think they'd have used all the tricks in their playbook to keep the D-Day invasions or even the Russian hordes at bay. Strange quirk of history.


Michael Dresdner said...

Leading German military historian is equally puzzled. It seems to be an early case of the M.A.D. principle.

Toddy Cat said...

I'm told that Hitler was gassed in WWI. Not sure if this is either true or relevant, but the Nazis lack of gas use in WWII is unusual, especially since their chemical warfare capability was far in advance of anything the Allies had (they invented Tabun, the first nerve gas, and had fairly large stocks of it on hand). It's particularly interesting that the Nazis didn't at least use it on the Soviets, whom they regarded as "subhuman" and who had also, almost certainly, used biological weapons on them at Stalingrad.

Even 70 years later, there are aspects of WWII that remain a mystery.

Red said...

Gas really hasn't proven all that useful in war. Hitler didn't use it on the allies because he didn't want German cities gassed from the air(where it might be useful) and it wasn't useful on the eastern front due to the huge size of the battle lines(too much empty space to make it effective. The only real wonder weapon ever proven to work is the atomic bomb.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Michael - I dont know if I buy the MAD thing. Hitler's mind was that this was a battle for the very existence of germanic people. Seems he would have used every weapon possible at his disposal. The fact that they never bombed the groups of Allies amassed in England was a strategic blunder of epic proportions. It sealed their fate. Well, what sealed their fate was declaring war on the US and America's nuke program. Like Toddy Cat, I too am shocked they didnt even try it on the Russians.

TC - Hitler himself as gassed. Temporarily blinded and even lost his voice. Amazing what if there had that been permanent.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Red - Yes, gas has limited use. Biological weapons are far more frightening and useful if applied properly.

Toddy Cat said...

Yes, gas isn't as fearsome as it's sometimes cracked up to be, but under the right circumstances, the higher-end nerve agents can be terrifyingly deadly, as was shown in Saddam Hussein's ANFAL operation (If you do a web search on this, be careful. The images are sickening. Going into Iraq was probably a mistake, but Saddam deserved everything he got). Tabun would have been effective utilized against urban areas like Stalingrad, or against both Warsaw uprisings. You do have to wonder.

(And yes, Hitler was actually decorated for bravery on the Western Front during WWI. Too bad it wasn't posthumous...)

Anonymous said...

"It's particularly interesting that the Nazis didn't at least use it on the Soviets, whom they regarded as "subhuman". . ."

I recall reading somewhere that the Germans used gas against the Soviets in the Crimea, and possibly elsewhere, but don't recall the source.


Alexandros HoMegas said...

There is a lot of lies about WWII.

Mindstorm said... - not particularly helpful if you plan to gas the landing force

Alan Roebuck said...

I read somewhere (don't remember the source) that the British let the Germans know, through back-door diplomatic channels, that if they used gas, the British would retaliate with Anthrax.