Gas, Gas!!!!!!


pshit           In response to a request, I thought  I’d look at Mustard Gas poisoning in particular. It was a nasty device and continued to kill people in the 1920′s through making them more suceptable to illnesses. It left many disabled for life. I know many won’t like my cartoon on the left, but that’s my warped sense of humour for you. What it does hint at is that chemical warfare didn’t start in WW1. In ancient times fires were lit so that smoke choked the other side, especially if the things you were burning was soaked in tar or oil. Hot oils were tipped over attackers besieging castles. So these things had gone on before.WW1 took root. Gas as we know it was first used on the western front at Ypres in 1915 (it had been first used on the eastern front) when they released Chlorine gas which was a suffocator, it caused great terror. It was deployed by pipe and was blown by the wind. The allies used it also, with a spectacular own goal at LOO’s where the British managed to gas many of there own men.. The race was on to who could build the most effective gas, with differing agents being used and differing delivery devices. Masks were naturally introduced so the next step was to develop a gas that would penetrate masks. At the end of the war there were many different types of gas

Types of gas

Common   name Effect
White   Cross Eye   Irritants (lachrymal)
Blue   Cross Nasal   and Pharyngeal tract irritants
Green   Cross Suffocating   Agents
Yellow   Cross Caustic   Agents

Most gas used in WW1 was the Lachrymal type-tear gas. It was used to cause serious inconvienience and terror. Men had to put on masks, and fight in them sapping their strength and weakening them. Those that got a lung full or eye full were inconpacitated for some time. The terror of a gas attack often caused non experienced troops to run, all in all it added to the hazardous environment of trench warfare. In 1917 the Germans developed a gas which could get through all masks and clothing etc, this was Mustard Gas- A real nasty one. It fitted in the yellow cross catagory, it was called mustard gas because of it’s smell. It became the most effective chemical weapon of WW1.  The reasons for this was, that it was difficult to detect, it penetrated anything, masks clothes, it vapourised relitively easily depending on the weather conditions and could form fogs, it was also easy to deliver.

Effects on People

 As stated the gas got through anything, it then set to work causing injury, an American study which looked at 7000 cases came up with the following figures for injuries:

SITE     %    
Eyes 86.1
Respiratory    tract 75.3
Scrotum 42.1
Face 26.6
Axilla   (armpits) 12.5
Arms 11.7
Legs 11.4
Abdominal   regions 6.4
Hands 4.3
Feet 1.5

As suggested the gas was caustic, and had it’s worst effect on moist areas of the body, hence if you look at the above list you will see that is the case. The effects to the skin would be blistering that would be worst the longer the exposure. Blistering would start serveral hours or several days later. The mildest reaction would be reddening and itching, but the worst ones would be large blisters that became gangrenous, again the greater the exposure the greater the reaction.

The eye’s were the most likely to be damaged, we have all seen the pictures of trails of men with padded eyes walking in lines with hands on the shoulders. After exposure the first symptoms would be 2 hours later with an irritation to the eyes , like some foreign body in them. Then the eye lids would swell forcing the eyes to close, the conjuntiva in the eyes swell (those who have had conjunctavitis would know). The eyelid would burn and get cramp.The eyes would be very sensitive to light. The vision would then be lost as the cornea became ulceratedand decays.

The effect on the eye’s was gross, but non fatal, the effects on the respiratory tract were worst and life threatening.If the victim had a small exposure they would get the first symptoms 3 hours after exposure, the throat would have an irritation and an urge to cough would result, there would be a difficulty in swallowing and a shortness in breath. The inner passages of the respiratory tract would then become inflammed. The gums would develop dead tissue and the throat would become conjested.  If the victim inhaled large amounts of gas the above would happen, plus the lungs would die in parts. A bronchitis would follow with a tightening of the throat. Pneumonia would follow with bleeding and dead tissue collecting, the inner passages would secrete mucous and these could block the airway. The outcome would be that the airways would eventually block and the victim suffocate. There were two peaks of death occuring, day 3 and day 8. If you survived your lungs would be “Completely Knackered”.

Other organs could also bem damaged like the alimentary system, causing sickness , diarrhoea and bowel damage- disabling not killing. All of the above non fatal damage left men open to diseases such as TB and Pneumonia as the bodied defence system often became supressed, that and the damage already inflicted usually lead to the victim being overwhelmed.

As stated earlier the damage caused depended on two factors, the concentration of the gas and the length of exposure. The table below gives an indication:


-Parts per million

Duration    of exposure


                0.1                10 first   damages (eyes, skin)
                1.0                60 serious   lung damage
                10                60 dangerous   to life
                100                10 lethal   within hours


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