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#1 khaki

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 10:06 PM

Was the Great War use of gas as a weapon, progressive insomuch that lachrymatory gas was replaced by chlorine in turn by phosgene and then mustard, or were they all used until the conclusion of the war.

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#2 31543 Ogilwy

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 07:24 AM

Khaki,

Very good question. I'm researching Gas at the moment for my studies, and had not considered that particular question I must admit ! As far as I can see, although the Germans accused the allies of the use of noxious gas, that was a bi-product of the functioning of their High Explosive shell, the chemicals used in Gas Munitions launches straight into damaging and leathal agents.

What did start was a fascinating race to develop tactics, procedures and equipments to counter the effect of the chemicals being used. The result of that was production of ever increasingly better agents and a viscious circle began.

Yours Aye,

Rod

#3 4thGordons

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 12:41 PM

I would suggest you consult this:
"Seeking Victory on the Western Front, The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I" : Albert Palazzo
Available throught the forum's amazon link.
Chris

#4 jhill

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 04:52 PM

I am sure our various experts will come forward with a better commentary.

It is true that various types of gas were introduced at various times, depending on when the chemists could develop the stuff. Some, like chlorine, were largely replaced by others, like phosgene, but things were not that simple.

Each product had specific properties which made them useful for different purposes. Phosgene products were asphyxiants and were used as a battle gas to kill people with. It helped (if I may use the expression!) that it collected in low spots like dugouts and shell holes where its intended victims tended to be. Mustard, on the other hand, is a vesicant, or blister gas, and was used to cause large numbers of immediately debilitating casualties, for example against gun crews. However, Mustard casualties were not usually fatal, and were often back in the line within a number of weeks. Mustard also had the property of persistence, which meant it could contaminate ground for a week or two, thus denying the use of the ground to the enemy. On the other hand, one would not want to contaminate the ground where one's own advance was targeted.

Thus Phosgene and Mustard coexisted throughout the War, being used for different purposes. I recall reading that in British use, even chlorine remained in use alongside phosgene for some cloud gas operations.

There are other examples I am sure.

#5 truthergw

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 05:27 PM

Was the Great War use of gas as a weapon, progressive insomuch that lachrymatory gas was replaced by chlorine in turn by phosgene and then mustard, or were they all used until the conclusion of the war.

khaki


The quick answer to your question is no. There was no direct progression from tear gas through Chlorine and so on. The use of tear gas in the early stages seems to be still debateable but probable. Chlorine was used by the British from containers as a cloud gas because they were able to make reasonable quantities fairly quickly and that was the only available means of storing, transporting and delivering it on the field. The phosgene gas came along at the same time as shells and shortly after that Livens introduced his projector. Mustard gas was part of the strategy of domination rather than destruction. Used as a counter battery measure because it could not be used where your own infantry were expected to go. Used against front lines it actually showed where the infantry follow up would happen. So, as others have said, gas was not introduced solely along a linear time line, other factors were important.

#6 bob lembke

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 12:38 PM

Two interesting progressions here. One was the types of gas, there were quite a few, more than mentioned above. It is true that clorine was eventually largely or completely replaced with other gasses.

Another trick was to mix gasses in the same shell, for different effects. One fiendish trick was to mix a choking or sneezing but not fatal gas, to force the victim to pull off his mask, with a second "active ingredient", a fatal agent. Different agents would make the problem of selecting the means of filtration or neutralization to be used in a given mask more difficult.

Another interesting "progression" with WW I gas technology was the means of delivery. While other armies eventually abandoned cylinder delivery for gas shells, the commander of the UK Special Brigade, Foulkes, an energetic but exceptionally obstinate (if not pig-headed) character, insisted on continuing using cylinder delivery under adverse conditions. He had a very weak technical training, and arguably made poor technical choices, and once he made his mind up on a matter he (to my mind) would be as tenacious as a junkyard dog with a dirty bone.

In a contrast, the first German gas battalion was remarkable as four of its officers later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry or Physics. Ironically, the principal innovator of the German gas weapon was Fritz Haber, a Jewish reserve officer and leading chemist, whose wife so opposed his work in this area that during the war she committed suicide with his service weapon; doubly ironically, Haber later invented the notorious insecticide Zyklon-B. Very interesting and tragic story.

Bob Lembke

#7 WhiteStarLine

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 12:54 AM

Kaki, my notes cover my grandfather's service in 1918:

"By the time 1918 had arrived, four types of gas were used and the soldiers classed them according to the colour of the shell that delivered it. The shell or grenade had the fuse end painted as well as a cross of the same colour at the bottom of the cartridge. Over the course of 1918, the Brigade gas officer variously reported Yellow Cross (mustard), Blue Cross (sneezing), Green Cross (phosgene or chlorine) or Lachrymatory (tear gas). Chlorine gas is only mentioned as being used once against 4th Section by the Germans and once as part of a training exercise. K Stoff and T Stoff were also fired".

Here's a unit war diary extract showing multiple delivery, from April 1918: "Heilly was shelled with HE [high explosive] & Gas during night. Phosgene, yellow cross [mustard], blue cross [sneezing], K Stoff and T Stoff were all detected." Stoff was another chemical with similar properties to chlorine or phosgene. My grandfather died of war attributed injuries in 1938 and we suspect it was the 25,000 gas shell bombardment on the Brigade rear area at Villers-Bretonneux that led to this. One battalion lost 620 casualties, sugar cubes dissolved and peeled potatoes shrivelled. Local stories say that it was still dangerous to cut down a tree up until the 1960s.

In regard to Bob's posting, two points:

The gas was not mixed, but sent in separate shells as part of a coordinated fire mission. Lachrymatory was launched in sufficient concentration to cause soldiers to remove their mask to sneeze, so that the phosgene, chlorine would be more effective.

Others on the forum more knowledgeable than me have suggested in previous posts that the Livens projector was very effective and that the high tensile steel required for the tubes could only be manufactured in sufficient quantities by the British. One British division had to vacate their front trenches while a 4,000 cylinder gas cloud attack was launched on the Germans - I guess this level of rapid saturation might otherwise have required Corps artillery in other armies?

#8 Jack Sheldon

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 07:25 AM

There is something a little strange about the way the various kinds of gas were being described in the extracts. Furthermore Stoff is not 'another chemical ...'. It is a generic word meaning in this context nothing more than 'gas'. So, for example, T-Stoff is an abbreviation for Traenen-Stoff, i.e. tear gas. K-Stoff is an abbreviation for Kampfstoff which is simply a veiled term for Kampfgas, (lit. 'battle-gas' or asphyxiating gas), which best translates as 'gas'.

All armies had oblique ways of referring to chemical weapons. The British called gas, 'the accessory' and its discharge in cloud form was the work of the Special Brigade RE. The French also used the word 'special'. For example, gas shells, generically, were obus speciaux. The French also paralleled the T-Stoff/K-Stoff distinction, dividing their stocks of gas shells into two main types: obus lacrymogenes and obus asphyxiants.

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#9 31543 Ogilwy

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 08:18 AM

White Star Line,

In regard to Bob's posting, two points:

The gas was not mixed, but sent in separate shells as part of a coordinated fire mission

WSL,

I'm sorry but gas was mixed. I have personaly opened a 4.5 in with a mixture of chemicals within it, I think it was Phosgene (CG)and Chloropicrin (Trichloronitromethane) (PS) 25 / 75% mix that we call PG (although my exact recollection dims with time)! This information was passed to us after our testing to ascertain the filling came up with inconclusive readings. Having spoken to my colleagues in the De-mineur as well as the Dovo at Poelkaplle and they too have had cocktails. Remember some fillings were mixtures as standard such as NC which is a mixture of Chloropicrin (PS) and Stannic Chloride (CG) 80 / 20% mix and the PG mix I encountered.

The cylinders often have such a mix, phosgene causes crystalisation on the nozzel that can block it, so a chlorine / phosgene mix worked much better. Somewhere I have the suggested chemicals and ratios I'll see if I can dig them out when I go home next. These were often filled at the rear Ammunition Depots and mixes could be 'ordered' by CO's to obtain specific results depending on the desired effect.

One main thing about chemical agents and their use is not if it is lethal, incapacitating or lachrymatory, (the three military catagories of agent) it is their persistance. The use of mustard or another such persistant incapacitating agent is counter productive if you intend to push your troops through that area shortly after it's dissemination. likewise the use of non-persistent agents like Phosgene (CG) would be of short lived effect if trying to damage the enemys supply dumps and supply line.

Ah, well enough of work and back to work instead!

Regards,
Rod

#10 WhiteStarLine

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 08:43 AM

Rod and Jack, many thanks for that extra information - very interesting!

Cheers,

Bill

#11 bob lembke

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 11:24 AM

Others on the forum more knowledgeable than me have suggested in previous posts that the Livens projector was very effective and that the high tensile steel required for the tubes could only be manufactured in sufficient quantities by the British.


I hate to "pile on " White Star", but the comment about especially high tensile steel being required for the Livens projector is a puzzlement. (I amn a mechanical engineer and am intensively studying and writing about German super-heavy artillery .) A weapon of that general design has, I believe, rather low breech pressures. It was possible to make weapons similar to the Livens projector with wooden barrels bound with steel straps, I believe. I have a photo of my fathers' of an emplacement of German weapons along the line of the Livens Projector, set up to deliver gas; my father had offered a copy to the West Point Museum, which responded that they were interested as they did not have a similar photo. I know of a somewhat ballistically similar weapon often made with PCV pipe, hardly high-tensile steel. But it is true that the Germans had some difficulty obtaining certain exotic metals used for hardening alloy steels, due to the blockade. Remember that, pre-war, the Royal Navy and every other major navy paid Krupp a royalty for every ton of armor plate incorporated in capital ships. They hardly were innocents in the manufacture of alloy steels.

I believe that some German guns, in particular the "Paris Gun" and the Gamma=Gerat 42 cm howitzer, had breech pressures in excess of any Allied artillery. The former had sufficient breech pressure to toss a 21 cm shell 40 miles up and 80 miles out, wearing out the barrel in about 80 shots, despite employing a set of shells of graduated diameter to make up for barrel erosion. At every shot a device in the wall of the chamber measured the actual breech pressure of that shot, for adjusting the next powder charge. A small piston struck and deformed a steel ball, that ball then put in a special calibrated microscope to measure the deformity and hence the breech pressure.

Bob