WW1’s Legacy of Chemical Warfare Continues

During the First World War, there were numerous new developments in the different modes of combat. One of the most monstrous of these was in the innovation and deployment of chemical weapons. Mustard gas became a frightening prospect for soldiers. Those unfortunate enough to be caught up in one of these attacks, without a gas mask, could face blindness, painful internal injuries and even a horrendous death.

So, it seems unfortunate that such weapons are still being used today. The Syrian War has seen an increase in the amount of chemical attacks being used by the Assad Regime. Such attacks have been condemned by the global community and denied by the perpetrators. We can see the origin of these attacks in the dark days of WW1.

In 1907, the use of poison as a weapon of war was forbidden by the Hague Convention. Despite this, a large amount of chemical gas was used during the First World War. At least 124,000 tons is known to have been produced by the time the war had ended. France was the first country to utilise it. At first, they only used tear gas. Unfortunately, as the war intensified so too did the strength of the chemicals being deployed.

Germany used gas shells for the first time in October of 1914. These were fired against the British and later the Russians when they joined the war. These chemicals were irritants and not deadly. Only in 1915 did Germany start to use fatal gas attacks. Their gas of choice was chlorine. Both sides ended up resorting to this cruel mode of warfare.

Communities close to the fighting were in danger of coming into contact with these gases. Winds often blew them into civilian towns where they caused devastation. There were no warning signs for these people in this situation. By the end of the war 100,000 – 260,000 civilians had been killed by chemical weapons.


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