Chemical Soldiers: British Gas Warfare in World War I

Chemical Soldiers: British Gas Warfare in World War I

by Donald Richter


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They were sometimes the butt of jokes, the "comical chemical corporals." Officially they were the British Special Brigade, sent to retaliate against German chemical warfare, selected, as one of their members said, almost willy-nilly. "They wanted chemists," a young recruit later recalled, ". . . so I looked up the formula for water and told them it was H2O and I was in."

Although the Brigade itself has received little attention since its disbandment following the war, chemical warfare in World War I has been mythologized, sentimentalized, and vilified. Its image has been distorted by legends and sensationalized by half-truths.

Taking a new look at the reality of poison gas warfare in World War I and the role of the Brigade, Donald Richter exposes the myths perpetuated over the years by novelists and misinformed sentimentalists and challenges prevailing views. He weaves data from official military records with personal anecdotes from diaries, letters, and memoirs to create a real-life account of the formation of the Brigade and the frustration, fear, boredom, pain, and day-to-day life that followed.

Richter presents new information about the details of all the varied methods of gas warfare, from airborne discharges by cylinders and projectors to flame-throwers, smoke screens, and "Beam" attacks. He also explores the ethical and moral scruples of gas soldiers concerning their novel methods of warfare.

To make the story complete, Richter takes a critical look at the Brigade's leader, Charles Foulkes, revealing a forceful and capable but stubbornly obstinate commander.

This is the first book on the Brigade since the 1934 publication of Foulkes's own Gas! The Story of the Special Brigade, a biased and self-justifying account of chemical warfare in which Foulkes exaggerated the unit's successes and ignored its failures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780700611133
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Publication date: 11/16/1992
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations, Maps, and Tables
1. The Germans Do It First
2. The Decision to Retaliate
3. Corporals All
4. Putting the Hell into Helfaut
5. Up the Line to Loos
6, Loos—The First British Gas Attack
7. Boomerang Ally
8. The Specials' First Winter
9. Expansion into the Special Brigade
10. White Star over the Somme
11. Livens and the Fammenwefer
12. Somme Strange Guns
13. Another Brigade Reorganization
14. "G" Is for Gas
15. The Last Season: 1918
16. No Humanitarian Scruples
Appendix A: Structural Chart
Appendix B: The Royals Keep a Distance
Selected Bibliography

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