2

Gas

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering 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.

Wilfrid Owen

 

 

 

One of the horrible features of World War I was the military use of chemical agents.  Although gas attacks rarely produced decisive results, from 1915 both sides made use of gas in attacks.  The US, along with almost every other element necessary to wage modern war, entered World War I ill-prepared to deal with gas.  Initially gas training consisted of a brief lecture followed by rudimentary instruction on the use of gas masks which the Army was badly supplied with in any case.  Training improved as the War went on, but US troops sustained unnecessary gas casualties due to the original shoddy training.

The US formed the 1rst Gas Regiment which deployed phosgene gas, a nasty compound which produced about 85% of the 100,000 gas fatalities incurred during the War.  US artillery batteries were supplied with mustard gas shells.  All told there were 1.3 million gas casualties during the War.  Although conventional artillery was the overwhelming killer during World War I, most veterans came out the conflict with a great horror of gas weapons, which might help explain why they were not used militarily in World War II, when most of the high command of the nations involved were Great War veterans.