Use of Gas Weapons in World War 1


Use of Gas Weapons in World War 1


The use of gas weapons in World War 1 has altered the way humans employ the new arms for mass destruction.  The use of gas weapons was regarded as barbarous before the war, but the same became necessary owing to the need of exploring different methods for winning over the surprised warfare technique involving trenches. The use of gas weapons was initiated by the French armies in August 1914 in order to win over the Germans. They launched the tear-gas shells laced with ‘xylyl bromide’ on the German forces. (Pruszewicz, 2015) However, the Germans were the pioneer to develop chemical weapons and use them full-fledged in the war.

Germans used chemical weapons first time on January 3, 1915. The gas weapon was released by an artillery shell when the Russian army was attacked by tear gas on the Rawka River. However, the attempt was a failure as the chemical was used to freeze instead of turning into vapour and thus had a negligible effect. In the second instance on 22nd April of the same year, German forces took the two French colonial divisions deployed at Ypres, Belgium by surprise when they shelled over 150 tons of dangerous chlorine gas against them. (Fitzgerald, 2008) This was the first deliberate attempt by the Germans to attack the Allied forces on large scale. By that time, German scientists had developed a way to disperse chlorine gas from pressurized cylinders. Without any cover, several French soldiers passed away from choking.

On 24th April, The Germans used chemical weapons on a Canadian division. They were able to drive the Allied forces back, and by May they were pushed until the Ypres town. The Germans got an advantage in the Second Battle of Ypres which finished on May 25. The development of poisonous gas had a great role to play in World War I.

The employment of chemical weapons using poison gas was greatly criticised and impacted the relationship the Germans had with the rest of the world. England slammed the Germans by taking out a wide awareness movement, but with no gain as the use of gas kept increasing all through the war. The British retaliated with a gas attack on the Loos battlefield in September 1915. (Everts, n.d.) The change proved to be fatal for them as their army suffered more than the Germans in this attempt. This made them turn to artillery shells to release the poison effectively.

Precisely there were three types of gas majorly used in World War 1. The Lachrymator gas popularly known as tear gas led to temporary blindness as well as severe discomfort in the nostrils and throat of the victims. It was primarily deployed for troubling troops that were involved in close encounters or were handling machine guns. The Sternutator gasses, comprised poisonous gas, chlorine, phosgene, and diphosgene. The chlorine gas when comes in contact with moisture, impacts the eyes and lungs. Phosgene an alternative for chlorine causes much less coughing in the initial assault and is more damaging in the long run. (Pruszewicz, 2015) A soldier assaulted by it could be down for up to 48 hours. In the later stages, phosgene was used in combination with chlorine to create an extensive and deadly vapour. Lastly, suffocating gases result in serious edema of the lungs and also lead to death from suffocation within hours. Mustard gas went through the clothes and was significantly persistent on the earth and vegetation wherever it had been sprayed causing severe blisters internally as well as externally.



Everts, S., n.d. When Chemicals Became Weapons of War. [Online]
Available at:

Fitzgerald, G. J., 2008. Chemical Warfare and Medical Response During World War I. American Journal of Public Health, 98(7), p. 611–625.

Pruszewicz, M., 2015. How deadly was the poison gas of WW1?. BBC World Service, 30 January.



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