Gas Masks

Gas Masks

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The British government believed that some form of poison gas would be used on the civilian population during the war. The government issued a warning on 3rd September, 1939, that people must go to their nearest air raid shelter during bombing attacks: "If poison gas has been used, you will be warned by means of hand rattles. If you hear hand rattles do not leave your shelter until the poison gas has been cleared away. Hand bells will tell you when there is no longer any danger from poison gas." (1)

It was therefore decided to issue a gas masks to everyone living in Britain. Over 38 million gas masks were distributed to regional centres. Gas masks contained chrysotile (white asbestos) or crocidolite (blue asbestos) in their filters. While the masks were effective in terms of being able to filter out poisonous gases like mustard gas, phosgene or chlorine gas, the filters were in fact very dangerous to humans as it was later discovered that exposure to asbestos could causes asbestosis, pleuritis, and lung cancer, as well as a number of other lethal and incurable diseases. (2)

The gas masks were produced by a company in Blackburn and after the war factory workers making the masks started showing abnormally high numbers of deaths from cancer. Tests showed that asbestos fibres can also be inhaled by wearing the masks. However, it was at late as May 2014 that the Health and Safety Executive issued a warning to schools that they should not let children touch or try on gas masks as they contained asbestos. (3)

Adult gas masks were black whereas children had 'Micky Mouse' masks with red rubber pieces and bright eye piece rims. There were also gas helmets for babies into which mothers would have to pump air with a bellows. People carried their gas masks in cardboard cases for many months. (4) Neville Chamberlain went on to radio to explain the measures the government was taking: "How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing." (5)

Joyce Storey lived in Bristol: "Elsie remarked that she had spoken to Mr. Fry, the local Councillor and her next-door neighbour, and he had told her in confidence that the first consignment of gas masks due to be delivered the following week would be far from adequate and it was a question of distribution. Whoever got there first would be lucky. Elsie was right about the gas masks, and several weeks later there was a mad panic for these frightful looking things at local school rooms, where they were being distributed. People reacted in the most uncivilised way because they were so certain that poison gas would be used by the Germans and there were not enough gas masks issued on that first delivery. " (6)

People were encouraged to wear gas-masks for 15 minutes a day to get used to the experience. The government threatened to punish people for not carrying gas masks. However, legislation was never passed to make it illegal. The government published posters that said: "Hitler will send no warning - so always carry your gas mask". Government advertisements appeared in newspapers pleading with people to carry their gas masks with them at all times. Teachers were instructed to send children back home to fetch their masks if they had forgotten them. Entry was occasionally refused to restaurants, or places of entertainment, to patrons who were without their survival kit. John Lewis, the department store, reminded staff that "those who come without their gas mask must not be surprised if they are dismissed as unsuitable in time of war". (7)

Gas masks were neither easy nor comfortable to wear. The gas-like odour of rubber and disinfectant made many people feel sick. One child wrote: "Although I could breathe in it. I felt as if I couldn't. It didn't seem possible that enough air was coming through the filter. The covering over my face, the cloudy Perspex in front of my eyes, and the overpowering smell of rubber, made me feel slightly panicky, though I still laughed each time I breathed out, and the edges of the mask blew a gentle raspberry against my cheeks. The moment you put it on, the window misted up, blinding you. Our mums were told to rub soap on the inside of the window, to prevent this. It made it harder to see than ever, and you got soap in your eyes. There was a rubber washer under your chin, that flipped up and hit you, every time you breathed in... The bottom of the mask soon filled up with spit, and your face got so hot and sweaty you could have screamed." (8)

H. G. Wells, the famous novelist, and Kingsley Martin, the editor of The New Statesman, both wrote articles claiming they were unwilling to carry gas masks. Philip Ziegler, the author of London at War (1995), pointed out that the authorities in London carried out a regular survey of those carrying gas-masks on Westminster Bridge in 1939: "On 6 September on Westminster Bridge 71 per cent of the men and 76 per cent of the women carried masks; by 30 October the figures were 58 and 59; by 9 November a mere 24 and 39." (9)

A study at the beginning of the war suggested that only about 75 per cent of people in London were obeying government instructions regarding gas masks. By the beginning of 1940 almost no one bothered to carry their gasmask with them. The government now announced that Air Raid Wardens would be carrying out monthly inspections of gas masks. If a person was found to have lost the gas mask they were forced to pay for its replacement. Muriel Green was in Gloucester when there was a gas leak from a building: "Very few masks were visible except soldiers and an odd child." (10)

Jessica Mitford wrote about the mood the government was creating: "All sorts of emergency measures were being taken by the Government to prepare the people for war. Thousands lined up patiently to be measured for gas-masks, only to find out that because of the haste with which the masks were manufactured the parts which were supposed to intercept gas had been inadvertendy left out. Trenches were dug in Hyde Park, causing mass discontent on the part of nannies, who complained that their little charges were always falling in. Apart from the bitter jokes caused by these inept arrangements, the atmosphere was on the whole one of dreary calm, of apathetic bowing to the inevitable." (11)

Germany did not use chemical weapons during the war but a few year later the authorities began to have worries about the British gas masks that were produced by Baxters of Blackburn. Local GPs noticed factory workers that had been employed in making the masks were showing abnormally high numbers of deaths from cancer. It was pointed out that gas masks contained chrysotile (white asbestos) or crocidolite (blue asbestos) in their filters. One report suggested that working in gas mask factories resulted in the death of 10% of the workforce due to pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. This rate was three times the normal incidence of lung or respiratory cancers." (12)

As Jay Hemmings pointed out: "Sometimes the hastily-developed technology turns out to be immensely effective, but other times it can backfire, putting the user in as much or more peril as the danger from which it is supposed to be protecting them. One such example of a supposed advance that actually turned out to be dangerous to the user was the British civilian gas mask of the Second World War.... While the masks were effective in terms of being able to filter out poisonous gases like mustard gas, phosgene or chlorine gas, the filters in them contained a chemical that we now know is extremely harmful to humans: asbestos... Asbestos, which was widely used as a heat-resistant insulator... before it was discovered just how harmful prolonged exposure was. It causes asbestosis, pleuritis, and lung cancer, as well as a number of other lethal and incurable diseases." (13)

In 1965, scientists finally confirmed the link between asbestos inhalation and cancer, now referred to as mesothelioma. It was well-documented as a Type 1 carcinogen, but many employers continued to expose their workers to asbestos through the 1970s. "Though asbestos was officially banned outright from the UK in 1999, many employees today still fail to provide safe working environments with asbestos materials still present. In fact, between 2002 and 2010, 128 British school teachers died from mesothelioma. Seventy-five percent of schools in the UK contain asbestos, and due to recent education budget cuts, it’s likely that buildings in need of proper asbestos maintenance are lacking." (14)

However, the government decided not to tell the British public about the possible dangers of wearing gas-masks during the war, fearing no doubt a large number of compensation claims. It was a story that appeared in The Lancashire Telegraph in August 2013, that suggested that gas masks posed a serious health danger. Doris Timbrell died of oesophageal cancer in November 2008. Her daughter, Patricia Nicholas, claimed that this was connected to her working at Baxters of Blackburn between 1941 and 1943 assembling gas masks and fitting filters. A compensation claim was launched against the Ministry of Defence and eventually she won nearly £48,000 in damages. (15)

The following year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it analysed a number of vintage gas masks at the request of the Department for Education (DfE). According to the BBC schools were now being warned about the use of gas masks in the classroom: "The analysis showed that the majority of the masks did contain asbestos, often the more dangerous crocidolite, or blue asbestos.... Schools with these items in their collections are advised to remove them from use, double-bag them and send them for licensed disposal or to be made safe by a licensed contractor or arrange to have them displayed in a sealed cabinet." (16)

All sorts of emergency measures were being taken by the Government to prepare the people for war. Apart from the bitter jokes caused by these inept arrangements, the atmosphere was on the whole one of dreary calm, of apathetic bowing to the inevitable.

If poison gas has been used you will be warned by means of hand rattles. Keep off the streets until the poison gas has been cleared away. Hand bells will be rung when there is no longer any danger. If you hear the rattle when you are out, put on your gas mask at once and get indoors as soon as you can.

Elsie remarked that she had spoken to Mr. Whoever got there first would be lucky.

Elsie was right about the gas masks, and several weeks later there was a mad panic for these frightful looking things at local school rooms, where they were being distributed. We carried them everywhere with us. In fact, it became a kind of ritual to say each time we ventured forth, 'Don't forget, Gas Mask, Identity Card and Torch.'

The Identity Cards had to be carried in wallets and handbags at all times. My identity number was TKBR/82/10. There was a brisk trade done with identity bracelets and necklaces. We bought special ones for loved ones and friends. Shelters were erected in back gardens. Ours took up all the small dirt square, with the opening coming right up to the edge of the path. Each street had an Air Raid Warden. My father was the warden for our street. He had no flowers to look at now, but spent hours looking up into the sky.

I remain far from satisfied with the state of our preparations for offensive chemical warfare, should this be forced upon us by the actions of the enemy.

I have before me a report on this matter by the Inter-Service Committee on Chemical Warfare, together with a commentary thereon by the Ministry of Supply. From these two documents the following special points emerge:

(1) The deficiency of gas shell is still serious. Although the production of 6-inch and 5.5-inch gas shell was due to start in February, none has yet been produced. I understand that the shortage of 25-pounder gas-filled shell is due to the lack of empty shell cases.

(2) The production of 30-lb. L.C. bomb, Mark I, will not keep pace with the production of the 5-inch U.P. weapon, the new mobile projector for use with the Army. Indeed, supplies will be insufficient even for training purposes.

(3) The production of phosgene gas is inadequate. The output from the plant is now about 65 per cent of capacity, having previously been only 50 per cent over a period of some months. I propose to examine the whole position at an early meeting of the Defence Committee (Supply).

In order that this examination may be as complete as possible, I shall be glad to receive from the Minister of Aircraft Production and the Minister of Supply, for circulation in advance of the meeting, brief comprehensive statements of the position so far as each is concerned, showing in respect of each of the main gas weapons and components (including gases):

(1) Total requirements notified to them, with dates.

(2) Stocks of components in the custody of each on April 1st.

(3) Supplies delivered by April to R.A.F. or Army authorities.

(4) Estimated output during each of the next six months.

I shall be glad if these statements can be submitted within a week. They should be addressed to Sir Edward Bridges.

Failure to carry gas masks was never a punishable offence though in many cases factory and office workers were compelled to bring them to work by the management, and sudden mock attacks were staged in crowded streets from time to time. Even in the first week of war, no more than three-quarters of Londoners seen in the streets were carrying gas masks. By November it was a minority habit, weaker among men than among women, some of whom had replaced the official containers with nattier ones sold by the department stores. By the following spring almost no one bothered. Meanwhile, the Government had instituted a monthly inspection of masks by the air raid wardens; the citizen would be charged for the replacement or repair of a mask which he had allowed to deteriorate, or had mislaid. (The lost property offices of the railways were stacked high with unclaimed containers.)

(1) The Daily Telegraph (3rd September, 1939)

(2) Jay Hemmings, The British Civilian Gas Mask: Full of Chemicals As Dangerous As The Gas it Was Protecting You From (20th January, 2019)

(3) BBC news report (13th May, 2014)

(4) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 555

(5) Neville Chamberlain, speech on the radio (27th September, 1939)

(6) Joyce Storey, Joyce's War (1992) page 5

(7) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) pages 66-67

(8) Stuart Hylton, The Darkest Hour: The Hidden History of the Home Front (2001) page 93

(9) Philip Ziegler, London at War (1995) pages 73-74

(10) Muriel Green, Mass Observation Archive (11th April, 1942)

(11) Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels (1960) page 174

(12) Communication Workers Union, Asbestos Danger from WW2 Gas Masks (13th December 2013)

(13) Jay Hemmings, The British Civilian Gas Mask: Full of Chemicals As Dangerous As The Gas it Was Protecting You From (20th January, 2019)

(14) Bainbridge E-Learning, The Human Price of Asbestos in the UK (11th July, 2017)

(15) The Lancashire Telegraph (1st August, 2013)

(16) BBC news report (13th May, 2014)

WWI gas mask

Gas masks were developed in WWI to protect soldiers from the effects of chloride gas. This gas mask was worn by 21 year old Levi Nathan Cox from Clarendon, Texas.

Chemical warfare using chloride gas was first released by German troops on April 22, 1915, killing 1,100 Allied soldiers and injuring an unknown number of others. An eyewitness account described the impact as "a burning sensation in the head, red-hot needles in the lungs, the throat seized as by a strangler." By the time the U.S. entered the war, gas masks such as this one had been developed with chemical absorbents that limited the impact of chloride gas.

Levi Cox (1896&ndash1964) enlisted in WWI on June 5, 1917. He served as a private in Company B, 7th Infantry before rising to a sergeant in Company H, 142nd Infantry, 36th Division, a consolidated unit of infantries from Oklahoma and Texas. After training at Camp Bowie, Cox was deployed to Europe where he was one of 70,552 Americans exposed to gas during the war. Cox apparently suffered no short term effects from the gassing &mdash his June 16, 1919, honorable discharge reported him being "0 percent disabled."

Gas masks in World War One

Gas masks used in World War One were made as a result of poison gas attacks that took the Allies in the trenches on the Western Front by surprise. Early gas masks were crude as would be expected as no-one had thought that poison gas would ever be used in warfare as the mere thought seemed too shocking.

One of the first British gas masks was the British Hypo helmet seen below.

This crude mask gave some protection but its eye-piece proved to be very weak and easy to break – thus making the protective value of the hypo helmet null and void. The mask gave protection by being dipped in anti-gas chemicals. These were:

Though it was crude, the hypo helmet was a sign to British troops in the trenches that something was being done to help them during a gas attack and that they were not being left out for slaughter. As the months passed and the use of poison gas occurred more frequently, more sophisticated masks were developed and introduced.

The British small box respirator was first introduced to British soldiers in April 1916 – a few months before the Battle of the Somme. By January 1917, it had become the standard issue gas mask for all British soldiers. By now, the mask had an appearance on what we would assume a gas mask to have and its value can be seen in the number of fatalities the British suffered as a result of poison gas – 8,100 – far fewer than the total British deaths of the first day of the Somme.

U.S. Military Gas Masks: WW II and Later

U.S. Army personnel fitting gas mask spectacles before D-Day, 1944.

This section of reviews U.S. military gas masks from World War II through the 2006 deployment of the Joint Service General Purpose Mask (JSGPM). Although the U.S. Army masks were most widely used (by the Army and other services), there were a number of important masks developed for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force as well.

Here is a list of the most significant of the U.S. military gasmasks (or masks procured by the U.S. Government for civilian use) with links to pages with photos and further information on the individual models and their variants:

  • M24 Aircraft Gas Mask (1962)
  • M28 Riot Control Agent Gas Mask (1968)
  • M43 Aircraft Gas Mask (1986)
  • M42 Combat Vehicle Gas Mask (1987)
  • M45 Chemical-Biological Gas Mask (1996)
  • M48 Apache Aviator Gas Mask (1996)
  • Navy/USMC AR-5 NBC Aviators Protective Gas Mask
  • USAF Aircrew Eye and Respiratory Protection (AERP) Gas Mask.
  • Joint Service Aircrew Gas Mask. (JSAM) (to replace the AR-5)

This Collection of Photos Show Disturbing Daily Life in Gas Masks During WWII

Gas mask usage dates back to ancient Greece. They used sponges. Since then, various techniques and technologies have been used as inhalation filtration systems.

The first use of poison gas on the Western Front was by the Germans at Ypres on April 22, 1915. The initial response was to give the troops cotton mouth pads to protect their breathing. The primitive masks went through several stages of development before being superseded by the canister gas mask in 1916. The mask is connected to the tin which contains absorbent materials.

By 1944 the US Army Chemical Warfare Service developed a mask made of plastic and rubber which greatly reduced the weight and size of the masks.

Most civilians learned how to use gas masks through the civil defense department, but children received most gas mask education in school drills. Schools enforced the compulsory carrying of gas masks at all times.

A British couple wearing gas masks in their home in 1941. Wikipedia A mother cradles her newborn baby in bed, shortly after giving birth in 1941. The mother is wearing her civilian respirator, while the baby is encased in a baby gas helmet, which buckles up around the baby&rsquos bottom. The mother is demonstrating how the bellows on her baby&rsquos gas mask are pumped to supply the baby with air. Pinterest A warden gives directions to a mother and her two children during a World War II gas drill in Southend on Marcy 29, 1941. Eric Harlow Keystone Getty Images A young music hall dancer wears a gas mask and helmet in February 1940. Keystone-France. Gamma-Keystone. Getty Images. Children in London wear their gas masks as they skip in the park at their temporary homes on the south coast of England, circa 1940. General Photographic Agency. Getty Images. A baker delivering fresh baked goods wearing a gas mask. Keystone Press Agency INC. NY. Courtesy- Daniel Blau Munich London A couple posing for a wedding photo in their gas masks. Pinterest A crowd preparing to cross a busy street wearing gas masks. Keystone Press Agency INC. NY. Courtesy- Daniel Blau Munich London A family leans out the window of their flat wearing their gas masks. Pinterest A family use respirators at the Empire Pool, Wembley, London on August 21, 1938. Fox Photos. Getty Images A family wearing their gas masks to the shops during a gas drill in Richmond, Surrey, May 31, 1941. The drill involved a canister of tear gas to simulate a gas attack. Keystone. Hulton Archive. Getty Images A gas exercise for civilians, using tear gas, was held in Kingston-On-Thames in 1941. Keystone. Getty Images A horse getting accustomed to wearing a gas mask. Pinterest British artist Albert Perry at work with some of his pupils during their daily one-hour gas mask practice, August 19, 1941. Fox Photos. Getty Images Children playing in the school grounds in their gas masks. June 27, 1941. Keystone Press Agency Schoolboys walking through a cloud of tear gas as part of a routine gas drill, March 3, 1941. Keystone Press Agency INC. NY. Courtesy- Daniel Blau Munich. London Young children wearing their gas masks at school. Pinterest The Blitz intensified sexual desire. A full two decades before the so-called permissive society of the Sixties, a dramatic, if understated, sexual revolution was already taking place — one which would, significantly, prove to be a forerunner of the mores by which Britons live today. Daily Mail Underground air-raid shelters offered unprecedented opportunities for sexual liaisons. Daily Mail Nurses holding infants in gas masks. historylearningsite

Keeping Everyone Safe

Everyone had to carry their gas mask at all times, in a cardboard box with a long string strap over your shoulder. You could be fined if you were caught without your gas mask, and made to pay for a new one if you lost it! Posters were put up reminding the public to carry their mask, and how to put it on in case of an attack. The government advised everyone to put on their gas mask for 15 minutes each day so that they got used to it.

If you turned up at school without your mask, the teacher would send you back home to fetch it, and even some shops refused admission to customers caught without their gas masks. Schools held regular gas attack drills, a bit like a fire drill.

Air Wardens, who made sure everyone got to air raid shelters in case of bombing raids and ensured that people's homes did not show lights at nighttime (which could help enemy bombers identify towns in the dark) had a special rattle to warn of a gas attack. It looked like an old-fashioned wooden football rattle.

However, the gas masks ended up killing more people than they saved! The filter of a gas mask was made from asbestos, and sadly local GPs around Blackburn recorded abnormally high numbers of cancer deaths of workers from the gas mask factories.

Gas mask

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Gas mask, breathing device designed to protect the wearer against harmful substances in the air. The typical gas mask consists of a tight-fitting facepiece that contains filters, an exhalation valve, and transparent eyepieces. It is held to the face by straps and can be worn in association with a protective hood. The filter elements in the cheeks of the mask remove contaminants from the air that is drawn through the mask by the wearer’s inhaling. The filters, which can be replaced, clean the air but do not add oxygen to it (some masks are connected by a hose to a separate tank of oxygen). The most common filters employ fibre screens (to strain out finely divided solid particles) and chemical compounds such as charcoal (to capture or chemically alter poisonous gases in the air). Charcoal absorbs and holds a fairly large volume of poisonous gases.

Gas masks are widely used by the world’s armed forces. Although it is possible to design filtering devices that will neutralize almost any specific toxic substance in the air, it is impossible to combine in one mask protection against all toxic substances. Military gas masks are accordingly constructed with a view to counteracting those chemicals that are thought most likely to be used in wartime. Gas masks are effective only against those chemical-warfare agents that are dispersed as true gases and are injurious when breathed. Agents such as mustard gas that are dispersed in liquid form and attack the body through the skin surface necessitate the use of special protective clothing in addition to gas masks.


1914: Tear gas Edit

The most frequently used chemicals during World War I were tear-inducing irritants rather than fatal or disabling poisons. During World War I, the French army was the first to employ tear gas, using 26 mm grenades filled with ethyl bromoacetate in August 1914. The small quantities of gas delivered, roughly 19 cm³ per cartridge, were not even detected by the Germans. The stocks were rapidly consumed and by November a new order was placed by the French military. As bromine was scarce among the Entente allies, the active ingredient was changed to chloroacetone. [7]

In October 1914, German troops fired fragmentation shells filled with a chemical irritant against British positions at Neuve Chapelle the concentration achieved was so small that it too was barely noticed. [8] None of the combatants considered the use of tear gas to be in conflict with the Hague Treaty of 1899, which specifically prohibited the launching of projectiles containing asphyxiating or poisonous gas. [9]

1915: Large-scale use and lethal gases Edit

The first instance of large-scale use of gas as a weapon was on 31 January 1915, when Germany fired 18,000 artillery shells containing liquid xylyl bromide tear gas on Russian positions on the Rawka River, west of Warsaw during the Battle of Bolimov. Instead of vaporizing, the chemical froze and failed to have the desired effect. [8]

The first killing agent was chlorine, used by the German military. [10] Chlorine is a powerful irritant that can inflict damage to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. At high concentrations and prolonged exposure it can cause death by asphyxiation. [11] German chemical companies BASF, Hoechst and Bayer (which formed the IG Farben conglomerate in 1925) had been making chlorine as a by-product of their dye manufacturing. [12] In cooperation with Fritz Haber of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin, they began developing methods of discharging chlorine gas against enemy trenches. [13] [14]

It may appear from a feldpost letter of Major Karl von Zingler that the first chlorine gas attack by German forces took place before 2 January 1915: "In other war theatres it does not go better and it has been said that our Chlorine is very effective. 140 English officers have been killed. This is a horrible weapon . ". [15] This letter must be discounted as evidence for early German use of chlorine, however, because the date "2 January 1915" may have been hastily scribbled instead of the intended "2 January 1916," the sort of common typographical error that is often made at the beginning of a new year. The deaths of so many English officers from gas at this time would certainly have been met with outrage, but a recent, extensive study of British reactions to chemical warfare says nothing of this supposed attack. [16] Perhaps this letter was referring to the chlorine-phosgene attack on British troops at Wieltje near Ypres, on 19 December 1915 (see below).

By 22 April 1915, the German Army had 168 tons of chlorine deployed in 5,730 cylinders from Langemark-Poelkapelle, north of Ypres. At 17:30, in a slight easterly breeze, the liquid chlorine was siphoned from the tanks, producing gas which formed a grey-green cloud that drifted across positions held by French Colonial troops from Martinique, as well as the 1st Tirailleurs and the 2nd Zouaves from Algeria. [17] Faced with an unfamiliar threat these troops broke ranks, abandoning their trenches and creating an 8,000-yard (7 km) gap in the Allied line. The German infantry were also wary of the gas and, lacking reinforcements, failed to exploit the break before the 1st Canadian Division and assorted French troops reformed the line in scattered, hastily prepared positions 1,000–3,000 yards (910–2,740 m) apart. [8] The Entente governments claimed the attack was a flagrant violation of international law but Germany argued that the Hague treaty had only banned chemical shells, rather than the use of gas projectors. [18]

In what became the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans used gas on three more occasions on 24 April against the 1st Canadian Division, [19] on 2 May near Mouse Trap Farm and on 5 May against the British at Hill 60. [20] The British Official History stated that at Hill 60, "90 men died from gas poisoning in the trenches or before they could be got to a dressing station of the 207 brought to the nearest dressing stations, 46 died almost immediately and 12 after long suffering." [21]

On 6 August, German troops used chlorine gas against Russian troops defending Osowiec Fortress. Surviving defenders drove back the attack and retained the fortress. The event would later be called the Attack of the Dead Men.

Germany used chemical weapons on the eastern front in an attack at Rawka, south of Warsaw. The Russian army took 9,000 casualties, with more than 1,000 fatalities. In response, the artillery branch of the Russian army organised a commission to study the delivery of poison gas in shells. [22]

Effectiveness and countermeasures Edit

It quickly became evident that the men who stayed in their places suffered less than those who ran away, as any movement worsened the effects of the gas, and that those who stood up on the fire step suffered less—indeed they often escaped any serious effects—than those who lay down or sat at the bottom of a trench. Men who stood on the parapet suffered least, as the gas was denser near the ground. The worst sufferers were the wounded lying on the ground, or on stretchers, and the men who moved back with the cloud. [23] Chlorine was less effective as a weapon than the Germans had hoped, particularly as soon as simple countermeasures were introduced. The gas produced a visible greenish cloud and strong odour, making it easy to detect. It was water-soluble, so the simple expedient of covering the mouth and nose with a damp cloth was effective at reducing the effect of the gas. It was thought to be even more effective to use urine rather than water, as it was known at the time that chlorine reacted with urea (present in urine) to form dichloro urea. [24]

Chlorine required a concentration of 1,000 parts per million to be fatal, destroying tissue in the lungs, likely through the formation of hypochlorous and hydrochloric acids when dissolved in the water in the lungs. [25] Despite its limitations, chlorine was an effective psychological weapon—the sight of an oncoming cloud of the gas was a continual source of dread for the infantry. [26]

Countermeasures were quickly introduced in response to the use of chlorine. The Germans issued their troops with small gauze pads filled with cotton waste, and bottles of a bicarbonate solution with which to dampen the pads. Immediately following the use of chlorine gas by the Germans, instructions were sent to British and French troops to hold wet handkerchiefs or cloths over their mouths. Simple pad respirators similar to those issued to German troops were soon proposed by Lieutenant-Colonel N. C. Ferguson, the Assistant Director Medical Services of the 28th Division. These pads were intended to be used damp, preferably dipped into a solution of bicarbonate kept in buckets for that purpose other liquids were also used. Because such pads could not be expected to arrive at the front for several days, army divisions set about making them for themselves. Locally available muslin, flannel and gauze were used, officers were sent to Paris to buy more and local French women were employed making up rudimentary pads with string ties. Other units used lint bandages manufactured in the convent at Poperinge. Pad respirators were sent up with rations to British troops in the line as early as the evening of 24 April. [27]

In Britain the Daily Mail newspaper encouraged women to manufacture cotton pads, and within one month a variety of pad respirators were available to British and French troops, along with motoring goggles to protect the eyes. The response was enormous and a million gas masks were produced in a day. The Mail ' s design was useless when dry and caused suffocation when wet—the respirator was responsible for the deaths of scores of men. By 6 July 1915, the entire British army was equipped with the more effective "smoke helmet" designed by Major Cluny MacPherson, Newfoundland Regiment, which was a flannel bag with a celluloid window, which entirely covered the head. The race was then on between the introduction of new and more effective poison gases and the production of effective countermeasures, which marked gas warfare until the armistice in November 1918. [27]

British gas attacks Edit

The British expressed outrage at Germany's use of poison gas at Ypres and responded by developing their own gas warfare capability. The commander of II Corps, Lieutenant General Sir Charles Ferguson, said of gas:

It is a cowardly form of warfare which does not commend itself to me or other English soldiers . We cannot win this war unless we kill or incapacitate more of our enemies than they do of us, and if this can only be done by our copying the enemy in his choice of weapons, we must not refuse to do so. [28]

The first use of gas by the British was at the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915, but the attempt was a disaster. Chlorine, codenamed Red Star, was the agent to be used (140 tons arrayed in 5,100 cylinders), and the attack was dependent on a favourable wind. On this occasion the wind proved fickle, and the gas either lingered in no man's land or, in places, blew back on the British trenches. [8] This was compounded when the gas could not be released from all the British canisters because the wrong turning keys were sent with them. Subsequent retaliatory German shelling hit some of those unused full cylinders, releasing gas among the British troops. [29] Exacerbating the situation were the primitive flannel gas masks distributed to the British. The masks got hot, and the small eye-pieces misted over, reducing visibility. Some of the troops lifted the masks to get fresh air, causing them to be gassed. [30]

1915: More deadly gases Edit

The deficiencies of chlorine were overcome with the introduction of phosgene, which was prepared by a group of French chemists led by Victor Grignard and first used by France in 1915. [31] Colourless and having an odour likened to "mouldy hay," phosgene was difficult to detect, making it a more effective weapon. Phosgene was sometimes used on its own, but was more often used mixed with an equal volume of chlorine, with the chlorine helping to spread the denser phosgene. [32] The Allies called this combination White Star after the marking painted on shells containing the mixture. [33]

Phosgene was a potent killing agent, deadlier than chlorine. It had a potential drawback in that some of the symptoms of exposure took 24 hours or more to manifest. This meant that the victims were initially still capable of putting up a fight this could also mean that apparently fit troops would be incapacitated by the effects of the gas on the following day. [34]

In the first combined chlorine–phosgene attack by Germany, against British troops at Wieltje near Ypres, Belgium on 19 December 1915, 88 tons of the gas were released from cylinders causing 1069 casualties and 69 deaths. [32] The British P gas helmet, issued at the time, was impregnated with sodium phenolate and partially effective against phosgene. The modified PH Gas Helmet, which was impregnated with phenate hexamine and hexamethylene tetramine (urotropine) to improve the protection against phosgene, was issued in January 1916. [32] [35] [36]

Around 36,600 tons of phosgene were manufactured during the war, out of a total of 190,000 tons for all chemical weapons, making it second only to chlorine (93,800 tons) in the quantity manufactured: [37]

  • Germany 18,100 tons
  • France 15,700 tons
  • United Kingdom 1,400 tons (also used French stocks)
  • United States 1,400 tons (also used French stocks)

Phosgene was never as notorious in public consciousness as mustard gas, but it killed far more people: about 85% of the 90,000 deaths caused by chemical weapons during World War I.

1916: Austrian use Edit

On 29 June 1916, Austrian forces attacked the Italian lines on Monte San Michele with a mix of phosgene and chlorine gas. [38] Thousands of Italian soldiers died in this first chemical weapons attack on the Italian Front.

1917: Mustard gas Edit

The most widely reported chemical agent of the First World War was mustard gas. It is a volatile oily liquid. It was introduced as a vesicant by Germany in July 1917 prior to the Third Battle of Ypres. [8] The Germans marked their shells yellow for mustard gas and green for chlorine and phosgene hence they called the new gas Yellow Cross. It was known to the British as HS (Hun Stuff), and the French called it Yperite (named after Ypres). [39]

Mustard gas is not an effective killing agent (though in high enough doses it is fatal) but can be used to harass and disable the enemy and pollute the battlefield. Delivered in artillery shells, mustard gas was heavier than air, and it settled to the ground as an oily liquid. Once in the soil, mustard gas remained active for several days, weeks, or even months, depending on the weather conditions. [40]

The skin of victims of mustard gas blistered, their eyes became very sore and they began to vomit. Mustard gas caused internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. This was extremely painful. Fatally injured victims sometimes took four or five weeks to die of mustard gas exposure. [41]

One nurse, Vera Brittain, wrote: "I wish those people who talk about going on with this war whatever it costs could see the soldiers suffering from mustard gas poisoning. Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke." [42]

The polluting nature of mustard gas meant that it was not always suitable for supporting an attack as the assaulting infantry would be exposed to the gas when they advanced. When Germany launched Operation Michael on 21 March 1918, they saturated the Flesquières salient with mustard gas instead of attacking it directly, believing that the harassing effect of the gas, coupled with threats to the salient's flanks, would make the British position untenable. [ citation needed ]

Gas never reproduced the dramatic success of 22 April 1915 it became a standard weapon which, combined with conventional artillery, was used to support most attacks in the later stages of the war. Gas was employed primarily on the Western Front—the static, confined trench system was ideal for achieving an effective concentration. Germany also used gas against Russia on the Eastern Front, where the lack of effective countermeasures resulted in deaths of over 56,000 Russians, [43] while Britain experimented with gas in Palestine during the Second Battle of Gaza. [44] Russia began manufacturing chlorine gas in 1916, with phosgene being produced later in the year. Most of the manufactured gas was never used. [22]

The British Army first used mustard gas in November 1917 at Cambrai, after their armies had captured a stockpile of German mustard gas shells. It took the British more than a year to develop their own mustard gas weapon, with production of the chemicals centred on Avonmouth Docks. [45] [46] (The only option available to the British was the Despretz–Niemann–Guthrie process.) This was used first in September 1918 during the breaking of the Hindenburg Line with the Hundred Days' Offensive.

The Allies mounted more gas attacks than the Germans in 1917 and 1918 because of a marked increase in production of gas from the Allied nations. Germany was unable to keep up with this pace despite creating various new gases for use in battle, mostly as a result of very costly methods of production. Entry into the war by the United States allowed the Allies to increase mustard gas production far more than Germany. [47] [48] Also the prevailing wind on the Western Front was blowing from west to east, [49] which meant the Allies more frequently had favourable conditions for a gas release than did the Germans.

When the United States entered the war, it was already mobilizing resources from academic, industry and military sectors for research and development into poison gas. A Subcommittee on Noxious Gases was created by the National Research Committee, a major research centre was established at Camp American University, and the 1st Gas Regiment was recruited. [48] The 1st Gas Regiment eventually served in France, where it used phosgene gas in several attacks. [50] [48] The Artillery used mustard gas with significant effect during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on at least three occasions. [51] The United States began large-scale production of an improved vesicant gas known as Lewisite, for use in an offensive planned for early 1919. By the time of the armistice on 11 November, a plant near Willoughby, Ohio was producing 10 tons per day of the substance, for a total of about 150 tons. It is uncertain what effect this new chemical would have had on the battlefield, as it degrades in moist conditions. [52] [53]

Post-war Edit

By the end of the war, chemical weapons had lost much of their effectiveness against well trained and equipped troops. At that time, chemical weapon agents inflicted an estimated 1.3 million casualties. [54]

Nevertheless, in the following years, chemical weapons were used in several, mainly colonial, wars where one side had an advantage in equipment over the other. The British used poison gas, possibly adamsite, against Russian revolutionary troops beginning on 27 August 1919 [55] and contemplated using chemical weapons against Iraqi insurgents in the 1920s Bolshevik troops used poison gas to suppress the Tambov Rebellion in 1920, Spain used chemical weapons in Morocco against Rif tribesmen throughout the 1920s [56] and Italy used mustard gas in Libya in 1930 and again during its invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. [57] In 1925, a Chinese warlord, Zhang Zuolin, contracted a German company to build him a mustard gas plant in Shenyang, [56] which was completed in 1927.

Public opinion had by then turned against the use of such weapons which led to the Geneva Protocol, an updated and extensive prohibition of poison weapons. The Protocol, which was signed by most First World War combatants in 1925, bans the use (but not the stockpiling) of lethal gas and bacteriological weapons. Most countries that signed ratified it within around five years a few took much longer—Brazil, Japan, Uruguay, and the United States did not do so until the 1970s, and Nicaragua ratified it in 1990. [58] The signatory nations agreed not to use poison gas in the future, stating "the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world." [59]

Chemical weapons have been used in at least a dozen wars since the end of the First World War [57] they were not used in combat on a large scale until Iraq used mustard gas and the more deadly nerve agents in the Halabja chemical attack near the end of the 8-year Iran–Iraq War. The full conflict's use of such weaponry killed around 20,000 Iranian troops (and injured another 80,000), around a quarter of the number of deaths caused by chemical weapons during the First World War. [60]

Effect on World War II Edit

All major combatants stockpiled chemical weapons during the Second World War, but the only reports of its use in the conflict were the Japanese use of relatively small amounts of mustard gas and lewisite in China, [61] [62] Italy's use of gas in Ethiopia (in what is more often considered to be the Second Italo-Ethiopian War), and very rare occurrences in Europe (for example some mustard gas bombs were dropped on Warsaw on 3 September 1939, which Germany acknowledged in 1942 but indicated had been accidental). [56] Mustard gas was the agent of choice, with the British stockpiling 40,719 tons, the Soviets 77,400 tons, the Americans over 87,000 tons and the Germans 27,597 tons. [56] The destruction of an American cargo ship containing mustard gas led to many casualties in Bari, Italy, in December 1943.

In both Axis and Allied nations, children in school were taught to wear gas masks in case of gas attack. Germany developed the poison gases tabun, sarin, and soman during the war, and used Zyklon B in their extermination camps. Neither Germany nor the Allied nations used any of their war gases in combat, despite maintaining large stockpiles and occasional calls for their use. [nb 1] Poison gas played an important role in the Holocaust.

Britain made plans to use mustard gas on the landing beaches in the event of an invasion of the United Kingdom in 1940. [63] [64] The United States considered using gas to support their planned invasion of Japan. [65]

The contribution of gas weapons to the total casualty figures was relatively minor. British figures, which were accurately maintained from 1916, recorded that 3% of gas casualties were fatal, 2% were permanently invalid and 70% were fit for duty again within six weeks. [66]

It was remarked as a joke that if someone yelled 'Gas', everyone in France would put on a mask. . Gas shock was as frequent as shell shock.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Death by gas was often slow and painful. According to Denis Winter (Death's Men, 1978), a fatal dose of phosgene eventually led to "shallow breathing and retching, pulse up to 120, an ashen face and the discharge of four pints (2 litres) of yellow liquid from the lungs each hour for the 48 of the drowning spasms."

A common fate of those exposed to gas was blindness, chlorine gas or mustard gas being the main causes. One of the most famous First World War paintings, Gassed by John Singer Sargent, captures such a scene of mustard gas casualties which he witnessed at a dressing station at Le Bac-du-Sud near Arras in July 1918. (The gases used during that battle (tear gas) caused temporary blindness and/or a painful stinging in the eyes. These bandages were normally water-soaked to provide a rudimentary form of pain relief to the eyes of casualties before they reached more organized medical help.)

The proportion of mustard gas fatalities to total casualties was low 2% of mustard gas casualties died and many of these succumbed to secondary infections rather than the gas itself. Once it was introduced at the third battle of Ypres, mustard gas produced 90% of all British gas casualties and 14% of battle casualties of any type.

Estimated gas casualties [43]
Nation Fatal Total
(Fatal & non-fatal)
Russia 56,000 419,340
Germany 9,000 200,000
France 8,000 190,000
British Empire
(includes Canada)
8,109 188,706
Austria-Hungary 3,000 100,000
United States 1,462 72,807
Italy 4,627 60,000
Total 90,198 1,230,853

Mustard gas was a source of extreme dread. In The Anatomy of Courage (1945), Lord Moran, who had been a medical officer during the war, wrote:

After July 1917 gas partly usurped the role of high explosive in bringing to head a natural unfitness for war. The gassed men were an expression of trench fatigue, a menace when the manhood of the nation had been picked over. [67]

Mustard gas did not need to be inhaled to be effective—any contact with skin was sufficient. Exposure to 0.1 ppm was enough to cause massive blisters. Higher concentrations could burn flesh to the bone. It was particularly effective against the soft skin of the eyes, nose, armpits and groin, since it dissolved in the natural moisture of those areas. Typical exposure would result in swelling of the conjunctiva and eyelids, forcing them closed and rendering the victim temporarily blind. Where it contacted the skin, moist red patches would immediately appear which after 24 hours would have formed into blisters. Other symptoms included severe headache, elevated pulse and temperature (fever), and pneumonia (from blistering in the lungs).

Many of those who survived a gas attack were scarred for life. Respiratory disease and failing eyesight were common post-war afflictions. Of the Canadians who, without any effective protection, had withstood the first chlorine attacks during Second Ypres, 60% of the casualties had to be repatriated and half of these were still unfit by the end of the war, over three years later.

Many of those who were fairly soon recorded as fit for service were left with scar tissue in their lungs. This tissue was susceptible to tuberculosis attack. It was from this that many of the 1918 casualties died, around the time of the Second World War, shortly before sulfa drugs became widely available for its treatment.

British casualties Edit

British forces gas casualties on the Western Front [ citation needed ]
Date Agent Casualties (official)
Fatal Non-fatal
April –
May 1915
Chlorine 350 7,000
May 1915 –
June 1916
Lachrymants 0 0
December 1915 –
August 1916
Chlorine 1,013 4,207
July 1916 –
July 1917
Various 532 8,806
July 1917 –
November 1918
Mustard gas 4,086 160,526
April 1915 –
November 1918
Total 5,981 180,539

A British nurse treating mustard gas cases recorded:

They cannot be bandaged or touched. We cover them with a tent of propped-up sheets. Gas burns must be agonizing because usually the other cases do not complain even with the worst wounds but gas cases are invariably beyond endurance and they cannot help crying out. [68]

A postmortem account from the British official medical history records one of the British casualties:

Case four. Aged 39 years. Gassed 29 July 1917. Admitted to casualty clearing station the same day. Died about ten days later. Brownish pigmentation present over large surfaces of the body. A white ring of skin where the wrist watch was. Marked superficial burning of the face and scrotum. The larynx much congested. The whole of the trachea was covered by a yellow membrane. The bronchi contained abundant gas. The lungs fairly voluminous. The right lung showing extensive collapse at the base. Liver congested and fatty. Stomach showed numerous submucous haemorrhages. The brain substance was unduly wet and very congested. [69]

Civilian casualties Edit

The distribution of gas cloud casualties was not limited to the front. Nearby towns were at risk from winds blowing the poison gases through. Civilians rarely had a warning system to alert their neighbours of the danger and often did not have access to effective gas masks. When the gas came to the towns it could easily get into houses through open windows and doors. An estimated 100,000–260,000 civilian casualties were caused by chemical weapons during the conflict and tens of thousands (along with military personnel) died from scarring of the lungs, skin damage, and cerebral damage in the years after the conflict ended. Many commanders on both sides knew that such weapons would cause major harm to civilians as wind would blow poison gases into nearby civilian towns but nonetheless continued to use them throughout the war. British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig wrote in his diary: "My officers and I were aware that such weapon would cause harm to women and children living in nearby towns, as strong winds were common on the battlefront. However, because the weapon was to be directed against the enemy, none of us were overly concerned at all." [70] [71] [72] [73]

None of the First World War's combatants were prepared for the introduction of poison gas as a weapon. Once gas was introduced, development of gas protection began and the process continued for much of the war producing a series of increasingly effective gas masks. [48]

Even at Second Ypres, Germany, still unsure of the weapon's effectiveness, only issued breathing masks to the engineers handling the gas. At Ypres a Canadian medical officer, who was also a chemist, quickly identified the gas as chlorine and recommended that the troops urinate on a cloth and hold it over their mouth and nose. The first official equipment issued was similarly crude a pad of material, usually impregnated with a chemical, tied over the lower face. To protect the eyes from tear gas, soldiers were issued with gas goggles.

The next advance was the introduction of the gas helmet—basically a bag placed over the head. The fabric of the bag was impregnated with a chemical to neutralize the gas—the chemical would wash out into the soldier's eyes whenever it rained. Eye-pieces, which were prone to fog up, were initially made from talc. When going into combat, gas helmets were typically worn rolled up on top of the head, to be pulled down and secured about the neck when the gas alarm was given. The first British version was the Hypo helmet, the fabric of which was soaked in sodium hyposulfite (commonly known as "hypo"). The British P gas helmet, partially effective against phosgene and with which all infantry were equipped with at Loos, was impregnated with sodium phenolate. A mouthpiece was added through which the wearer would breathe out to prevent carbon dioxide build-up. The adjutant of the 1/23rd Battalion, The London Regiment, recalled his experience of the P helmet at Loos:

The goggles rapidly dimmed over, and the air came through in such suffocatingly small quantities as to demand a continuous exercise of will-power on the part of the wearers. [74]

A modified version of the P Helmet, called the PH Helmet, was issued in January 1916, and was impregnated with hexamethylenetetramine to improve the protection against phosgene. [32]

Self-contained box respirators represented the culmination of gas mask development during the First World War. Box respirators used a two-piece design a mouthpiece connected via a hose to a box filter. The box filter contained granules of chemicals that neutralised the gas, delivering clean air to the wearer. Separating the filter from the mask enabled a bulky but efficient filter to be supplied. Nevertheless, the first version, known as the Large Box Respirator (LBR) or "Harrison's Tower", was deemed too bulky—the box canister needed to be carried on the back. The LBR had no mask, just a mouthpiece and nose clip separate gas goggles had to be worn. It continued to be issued to the artillery gun crews but the infantry were supplied with the "Small Box Respirator" (SBR).

The Small Box Respirator featured a single-piece, close-fitting rubberized mask with eye-pieces. The box filter was compact and could be worn around the neck. The SBR could be readily upgraded as more effective filter technology was developed. The British-designed SBR was also adopted for use by the American Expeditionary Force. The SBR was the prized possession of the ordinary infantryman when the British were forced to retreat during the German spring offensive of 1918, it was found that while some troops had discarded their rifles, hardly any had left behind their respirators.

Horses and mules were important methods of transport that could be endangered if they came into close contact with gas. This was not so much of a problem until it became common to launch gas great distances. This caused researchers to develop masks that could be used on animals such as dogs, horses, mules, and even carrier pigeons. [75]

For mustard gas, which could cause severe damage by simply making contact with skin, no effective countermeasure was found during the war. The kilt-wearing Scottish regiments were especially vulnerable to mustard gas injuries due to their bare legs. At Nieuwpoort in Flanders some Scottish battalions took to wearing women's tights beneath the kilt as a form of protection.

Gas alert procedure became a routine for the front-line soldier. To warn of a gas attack, a bell would be rung, often made from a spent artillery shell. At the noisy batteries of the siege guns, a compressed air strombus horn was used, which could be heard nine miles (14 km) away. Notices would be posted on all approaches to an affected area, warning people to take precautions.

Other British attempts at countermeasures were not so effective. An early plan was to use 100,000 fans to disperse the gas. Burning coal or carborundum dust was tried. A proposal was made to equip front-line sentries with diving helmets, air being pumped to them through a 100 ft (30 m) hose.

The effectiveness of all countermeasures is apparent. In 1915, when poison gas was relatively new, less than 3% of British gas casualties died. In 1916, the proportion of fatalities jumped to 17%. By 1918, the figure was back below 3%, though the total number of British gas casualties was now nine times the 1915 levels.

Gas Masks - History

By September 1939 some 38 million gas masks had been given out, house to house, to families. They were never to be needed.

Why were people given gas masks during the war?

Why did people wer gas masks?

Everyone in Britain was given a gas mask in a cardboard box, to protect them from gas bombs, which could be dropped during air raids.

Instructions written on the inside lid of each gas mask box

Why did people fear that chemical weapons might be used in World War Two?

Gas had been used a great deal in the First World War and many soldiers had died or been injured in gas attacks. Mustard gas was the most deadly of all the poisonous chemicals used during World War I. It was almost odourless (could not be smelt easily) and took 12 hours to take effect. It was so powerful that only small amounts needed to be added to weapons like high explosive shells to have devastating effects.

There was a fear that it would be used against ordinary people at home in Britain (civilians).

Posters reminded people to carry their gas mask at all times. People were fined if they were caught without their gas masks.

A poster remindng people to lways cary their gas masks

What were the gas masks like?

The masks were made of black rubber, which was very hot and smelly. It was difficult to breathe when wearing a gas mask. When you breathed in the air was sucked through the filter to take out the gas. When you breathed out the whole mask was pushed away from your face to let the air out.

Woman wearing a gas mask

The smell of the rubber and disinfectant made some people feel sick.

Army Gas Mask

Army Gas Mask

There was a special gas mask for children .

Mickey Mouse childs gas mask

Posters instructed people how to put their gas masks on

How were people warned about a gas attack?

To warn people that there was a gas about, the air raid wardens would sound the gas rattle (pictured below).

To tell people that it was all clear they would ring a bell.

Was there ever a gas attack?

No, gas was never used against the British, so the effectiveness of the preparations was never tested.

Children had to take regular gas drills at school. They found these drills hard to take seriously, especially when they discovered blowing out through the rubber made 'rude' noises!

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History and Development [ edit | edit source ]

Entering into the First World War, the United States had no domestically-made gas mask to issue to their soldiers. Despite the fact that the US Army issued masks such as the French M2, British PH Helmet, British Small Box Respirator, and the French Appareil Respiratoire Tissot, the government wanted something designed at home. This led to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Mines and B.F. Goodrich to design a standard gas mask for the US Army.

Of course, there was not much time for the Bureau of Mines to work on such a thing. On May 16, 1917, Acting Chief of Staff Tasker H. Bliss commanded the surgeon general to immediately begin producing protective masks for the Army. With soldiers already on their way to France, work had to begin rapidly. The Bureau of Mines used the British Small Box Respirator as the basis for their experimental design – the mask that would be referred to as the Bureau of Mines Mask or the American Small Box Respirator (ASBR) – and produced just over 20,000 in under a month with the other 5,000 produced soon afterwards. Companies that worked on the production of parts for the mask include B.F. Goodrich (manufacturing faceblanks with lenses, hoses, and inlet valves), the Day Chemical Co.(did the first burning of the charcoal), the American Can Co. (assembly of masks and manufacture of canisters), the Ward Baking Co.(activated the charcoal by baking it in their ovens for free), the General Chemical Co. (sourced soda-lime granules), the Doehler Die Casting Co. (manufactured angletubes), the Simmons Hardware Co. (manufactured the carriers), the Seaver Howland Press (printed instruction cards), the Beetle & MacLean Manufacturing Co. (printed the record-keeping tags), the Improved Mailing Case Co. (produced tins for the anti-dimming solution), and the National Carbon Co. (designed the charcoal). Note that some hoses were sourced from Britain.

These masks were sent to the British for testing and were found to be useless. Not only did the facepiece fail to resist the chemical weapon chloropicrin, but the soda-lime granules in the Type A canister would block inhalation by clumping up. The US, learning from this failure, revised the design by reinforcing the facepiece, adding a larger angletube, adding an exhale valve guard, the addition of an internal metal support to the mouthpiece, and switching from the Type A filter to a series of lighter canisters that were more compact and functioned better. The result of this revision was the Box Respirator, Type C.E. (commonly known as the CEM).

Because of the mask’s failure, the ASBR was repurposed for training. With the original 25,000, this repurposing would consist of adding a stamp to the facepiece saying “FOR TRAINING PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT USE IN GAS.” Production of the ASBR did continue despite its failure as a protective mask. These later production examples would only be used as training masks and have some differences from the original 25,000 and will be referred to as the American Training Gas Mask. See the list below for examples of differences.

  • The head harness is changed to a fully-elastic 5-point instead of having a cloth forehead strap.
  • Lenses are the type used on the Corrected English as opposed to being a single sheet of celluloid plastic with the frame being attached to the facepiece with twine.
  • Some use the MI chest carrier.
  • Some Type A canisters are marked with red paint.
  • Some use later canisters, but specifically which ones is uncertain.

Because the angletube remains unchanged, the best way to differentiate an ASBR or ATGM from a Corrected English is by looking at the angletube.

Watch the video: Gas - Königsforst 1999 full album