A Brief History
On January 31, 1915, the German Army, in violation of the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases, launched 18,000 artillery shells containing xylyl bromide tear gas against Russian positions, the first truly large scale use of poison gas in combat.
While people have used various poisons to deny the use of water wells as far back as 600 BC and to foul the air with toxic sulfur fumes in 479 BC, the 19th and 20th Centuries saw efforts to outlaw such use of poisons.
In World War I, the first and most common use of poison gas was using various tear gas type weapons, first developed by the French for riot control, not toxic but irritating and capable of degrading the enemy’s combat ability.
By April of 1915, the stakes were raised by German use of chlorine gas, a deadly poison. Later developments in gas warfare produced phosgene gas, used by both sides and often mixed with chlorine. Mustard gas, a particularly diabolical agent, caused the most chemical casualties of World War I.
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For more information, please see…
Charles Rivers Editors. The Second Battle of Ypres: The History of the Notorious World War I Battle that Witnessed the First Mass Use of Poison Gas. CreateSpace, 2018.
Hammond, James W., Jr. Poison Gas: The Myths Versus Reality. Praeger, 1999.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Russian Red Cross nurses tending “gassed” Russians brought in direct from trenches on stretchers in 1915, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1928, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.
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