The history of chemical weapons

Objective: To familiarize with the history of the emergence of poisons and chemical weapons. To study the basic components of it.

The ability of toxic substances to cause the death of people and animals is known from time immemorial. In the XIX century, toxic chemicals have been used in the fighting on a large scale.

However, the birth of chemical weapons as a means of warfare in the modern sense dates back to the time of the 1st World War.

First World War, which began shortly after the start in 1914 acquired positional character that made search for new offensive weapons. The German army began to use massive attacks of the enemy positions with the help of poisonous and asphyxiating gases. April 22, 1915 on the western front near Ypres (Belgium) was carried out with chlorine gas attack, the first to show the effect of the massive use of toxic gas as a weapon of war.

The first harbingers.

April 14, 1915 near the village of  Langemark, near the little-known at the time the Belgian  Ypres, the French division captured a German soldier. During the search he found a small gauze bag filled with the same rags cotton cloth and a bottle of colorless liquid. It was so similar to the package of dressing that was originally simply irreversible attention to him.

Apparently his appointment would have remained unknown if the prisoner under interrogation is not said that the bag – a special means of protection against new “devastating” weapon, which the German Command plans to apply in this sector.

Asked  these weapons, willing prisoner said that has no idea about it, but it seems to be a weapon hidden in metal cylinders, which dug into no man’s land between the lines of trenches. To protect against these weapons need to wet the flap of the bag with liquid from the vial and apply it to his mouth and nose.

French gentlemen officers found the story of the captive soldier came down from delusions of mind and gave it meaning. But soon the mysterious cylinders reported prisoners captured in the neighboring parts of the front.

On April 18, the British drove the Germans from a height “60” and thus captured the German non-commissioned officer. The prisoner also told about the unknown weapon and noticed that the cylinders dug him on this same height – ten meters away from the trenches. English sergeant went out of curiosity to the two soldiers in the exploration and in the specified location actually found heavy cylinders and unusual species of unknown purpose. He reported this to the command, but to no avail.

Mysteries of the Allied Command in those days, and brought the English radio reconnaissance, to decipher German radio messages scraps. What was surprising cryptanalysts, when they discovered that the German staffs are extremely interested state weather!

– Adverse wind blows … … – denounced the Germans. – … … The wind intensified its direction is constantly changing … The wind is unstable …

In a telegram mentioned the name of a doctor Haber. If the British knew who Dr. Haber!

Dr. Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber was deeply civilians. At the front, he was in an elegant suit, adding to the impression of a civilian gloss gold-plated eyeglasses. Before the war he led the Berlin Institute of Physical Chemistry at the front, and even parted with their “chemical” books and manuals.

Gaber was at the service of the German Government. As a consultant of the War Ministry of Germany he was instructed to establish irritant, which would have forced the enemy troops to leave the trench.

A few months later he and his staff have created weapons using chlorine gas, which was launched into production in January 1915.

Although Gaber hated war, he believed that the use of chemical weapons can save many lives if stops exhausting trench warfare on the Western Front. His wife Clara was also a chemist and strongly opposed his war work.

April 22, 1915

Selected for the jumping-off point was in the north-eastern part of Iprskogo projection, in the place where converge the French and British fronts, heading south, and pulling back from the trenches of the channel near Bösingen, Baden-Württemberg.

The closest to the front portion of the Germans defended the soldiers, who came from Algiers colonies. Getting out of the shelters, they are basking in the sun, talking loudly to each with the other. About five o’clock in the afternoon, a large greenish cloud in front of the German trenches. How to assure witnesses of many French watched with interest approaching the front of the fancy “yellow fog”, but did not give it a value.

Suddenly they felt a sharp smell. All stung in the nose, eyes cut, both from the acrid smoke. “Yellow fog” choked, blinded, burned his chest fire, turning over. Beside himself, the Africans rushed out of the trenches. Who lingered, fell covered suffocation. People with cries rushed the trenches; colliding with each other and fought fell into convulsions, gasping mouths skewed.

A “yellow fog” rolled farther and farther in the rear of the French position on the way sowing death and panic. For mist orderly marched the German circuit with rifles at the ready, and bandages on his face. But they were not attacking anyone. Thousands of Algerians and French lay dead in the trenches and artillery positions.”

However, for the Germans themselves, and this result is unexpected. Their generals belonged to the undertaking, “the bespectacled doctor”, as an interesting experience because really not ready a large-scale offensive.

When the front was actually fractured – the only unit that has flooded into the breach, was an infantry battalion, which could not, of course, decide the fate of the French defense.

The incident caused a lot of noise and by the evening of the world to know that the battlefield was a new party that can compete with “His Majesty – a machine gun.” On the front rushed chemists, and by the next morning it was clear that for the first time for military purposes Germans used a cloud of choking gas – chlorine. Suddenly, it was found that any country with even the makings of the chemical industry, can get their hands on the most powerful weapon. One consolation is that easy to escape from the chlorine. It is enough to cover the respiratory bandage, soaked in a solution of soda, or hyposulfite and chlorine is not so bad. If these substances are not at hand – enough to breathe through a damp cloth. Water significantly reduces the chlorine action, dissolving in it. Many chemical establishments have rushed to develop the design of masks, but the Germans were in a hurry to repeat the gas bottle attack, while the Allies were not reliable protection.

April 24 gathering reserves for the development of the offensive, they have taken a blow to the front of the neighboring property, which was defended by Canadians. But Canadian troops have been alerted to the “yellow fog” because seeing yellow green sky, prepared for the action of gases. Their scarves, socks and blankets are soaked in the pools, and applied to the face, closing his mouth, nose and eyes from corrosive atmosphere. Some of them, of course, suffocated to death, others were permanently poisoned or blinded, but no one did not move. And when the fog crawled to the rear and moved after the German infantry, talking Canadian machine guns and rifles, doing advancing ranks, not expecting resistance, huge gaps.

Updating an arsenal of chemical weapons

As the war continued, many toxic compounds in addition to the chlorine were tested for effectiveness as chemical warfare agents (agents) of chemical warfare.

In June 1915, it was applied bromine is used in mortar shells; first appeared and also lacrimation agent: benzyl bromide connected ksililenom bromide. This gas-filled artillery shells. For the first time the use of gas in artillery shells, which later received such wide circulation, clearly seen on June 20 in Argon forests.


Widespread in the First World War was phosgene. It was first used by the Germans in December 1915 on the Italian front.

At room temperature, phosgene – a colorless gas with the smell of rotted hay, referring at – 8 ° C in a liquid. Before the war, phosgene was mined in large quantities and served for the manufacture of a variety of colors for fabrics of wool.

Phosgene is highly toxic and, in addition, acts as a substance strongly irritates the lungs and cause damage to mucous membranes. The danger has increased its item is that its effect is not immediately detected sometimes painful phenomena appeared only after 10 – 11 hours after inhalation.

Relative cheapness and ease of preparation, strong toxic properties prolonged action and low resistance (the smell disappears after a 1 1/2 – 2 hours) make the substance phosgene, a very convenient way for military purposes.

Mustard gas

On the night of 12 on 13 July 1917 with the aim to disrupt the onset of the Anglo-French troops Germany has used mustard gas – liquid poison blister. The first application of mustard lesions of varying severity were 2490 people, of whom 87 died. Mustard has a distinct local action – it affects the eyes and the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and skin. Soaked in blood, he shows and general toxic effect. Mustard affects skin when exposed, in drip and in the vapor state. From the droplets and vapors of mustard does not protect the skin normal summer and winter army uniforms, as well as almost every kind of civilian clothes. The real protection of troops from mustard in those days was not, and its use on the battlefield to be effective until the end of the war.

It’s funny to note that with a certain degree of imagination, it is possible to calculate the nucleation catalyst poisons of fascism and the initiator of the Second World War. After all, after the British gas attack at Comino, lying in the hospital temporarily blinded by chlorine German Corporal Adolf Schicklgruber, I began to wonder about the fate of the German people deceived, a celebration of the French, the betrayal of the Jews, etc. Later, while in custody, he has streamlined these thoughts in his book “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), but the title of the book was already a pseudonym – Adolf Hitler.

Results of the First World War.

chemical warfare ideas took firm positions in the military doctrines of all, without exception, the leading countries of the world. Improvement of chemical weapons production facilities and capacity at its manufacturing do Britain and France. Defeated in the war on Germany, where the Treaty of Versailles was not allowed to have chemical weapons and has not recovered from the civil war, Russia agree on building a joint plant mustards and testing of samples of chemical weapons at the sites of Russia. US met the end of World War II, having the most powerful military-chemical potential, surpassing the production of toxic substances Britain and France combined.

Nerve gases

History of nerve agents starts December 23, 1936, when Dr. Gerhard Schröder from the lab, “IG Farben” in Leverkusen for the first time got the herd (GA, ethyl ester dimetilfosforamidotsianidnoy acid).

In 1938 there was opened a second powerful organophosphorus agent – sarin (GB, 1-methyl ethyl ether metilfosfonoftoridnoy acid). At the end of 1944 in Germany it was obtained by a structural analogue of sarin, called soman (GD, 1,2,2-trimethylpropyl ester metilfosfonoftoritsidnoy acid), which is about 3 times more toxic than saran.

In 1940, in Oberbayern (Bayern) was commissioned a large plant, owned by “IG Farben”, for the production of mustard gas and mustards, the capacity of 40 thousand tons. Total in the prewar and early war years, about 17 new process units for the production of OM, the annual capacity of over 100 thousand. Tons was built in Germany. The city Dyuhernfurte, Oder (now Silesia, Poland) there is one of the largest manufactures OB. By 1945, Germany had left 12 thousand tons of the herd, the production of which has not been found anywhere else.

The reasons why Germany during the Second World not to use chemical weapons, are still not clear, according to one version, Hitler gave a command to use CWA during the war because he thought that the USSR had a greater number of chemical weapons. Churchill recognized the need to use chemical weapons, but only if its use by the enemy. But the undeniable fact is that the superiority of Germany in the production of toxic substances: production of nerve gas in Germany came as a complete surprise to the Allied forces in 1945.

Some work on the production of these substances, were performed in the US and the UK, but a breakthrough in their production can occur no earlier than 1945. During the Second World in the United States on 17 plants it produced 135 thousand. Tons of toxic substances in the mustard accounted for half of the total volume. Mustard was kitted out about 5 million. Shells and 1 million. Bombs. From 1945 to 1980, the West used only 2 types of chemical weapons: lachrymators (the CS: 2 Hlor-benzilidenmalonodinitril – tear gas) and herbicides (so-called “Orange Agent”) is used by the US Army in Vietnam, the consequences of notorious “yellow rain”. One only CS, has been applied 6,800 tons. In the US chemical weapons produced before 1969.


In 1974, President Nixon and General Secretary of the CPSU Leonid Brezhnev signed a significant agreement to the prohibition of chemical weapons. It was confirmed by President Ford in 1976 on bilateral negotiations in Geneva.

However, the history of chemical weapons did not end there …

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The history of chemical weapons

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