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Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons


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Tuesday, 11th February, 2014

In April 1915 the German Army used chlorine gas cylinders against the French Army at Ypres. Chlorine gas destroyed the respiratory organs of its victims and this led to a slow death by asphyxiation. General William Robertson recommended Brigadier General Charles Howard Foulkes to General John French as the best man to organise the retaliation. Foulkes accepted the post and on 25th September, 1915, the British Army launched its first gas attack.

Brigadier General Foulkes eventually received the title of General Officer Commanding the Special Brigade responsible for Chemical Warfare and Director of Gas Services. He worked closely with scientists working at the governmental laboratories at Porton Down near Salisbury. His biographer, John Bourne, has argued: "Despite Foulkes' energy, the ingenuity of his men and the consumption of expensive resources, gas was ultimately disappointing as a weapon, despite its terrifying reputation."

In July 1917, David Lloyd George appointed Winston Churchill as Minister of Munitions and for the rest of the war, he was in charge of the production of tanks, aeroplanes, guns and shells. Clive Ponting, the author of Churchill (1994) has argued: "The technology in which Churchill placed greatest faith though was chemical warfare, which had first been used by the Germans in 1915. It was at this time that Churchill developed what was to prove a life-long enthusiasm for the widespread use of this form of warfare."

Churchill developed a close relationship with Brigadier General Charles Howard Foulkes. Churchill urged Foulkes to provide him with effective ways of using chemical weapons against the German Army. In November 1917 Churchill advocated the production of gas bombs to be dropped by aircraft. However, this idea was rejected "because it would involve the deaths of many French and Belgian civilians behind German lines and take too many scarce servicemen to operate and maintain the aircraft and bombs."

On 6th April, 1918, Churchill told Louis Loucheur, the French Minister of Armaments: "I am... in favour of the greatest possible development of gas-warfare." In a paper he produced for the War Cabinet he argued for the widespread deployment of tanks, large-scale bombing attacks on German civilians and the mass use of chemical warfare. Foulkes told Churchill that his scientists were working on a very powerful new chemical weapon codenamed "M Device".

According to Giles Milton, the author of Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot (2013): "Trials at Porton suggested that the M Device was indeed a terrible new weapon. The active ingredient in the M Device was diphenylaminechloroarsine, a highly toxic chemical. A thermogenerator was used to convert this chemical into a dense smoke that would incapacitate any soldier unfortunate enough to inhale it... The symptoms were violent and deeply unpleasant. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant and crippling fatigue were the most common features.... Victims who were not killed outright were struck down by lassitude and left depressed for long periods."

Churchill hoped that he would be able to use the top secret "M Device", an exploding shell that released a highly toxic gas derived from arsenic. Foulkes called it "the most effective chemical weapon ever devised". The scientist, John Haldane, later described the impact of this new weapon: "The pain in the head is described as like that caused when fresh water gets into the nose when bathing, but infinitely more severe... accompanied by the most appalling mental distress and misery." Foulkes argued that the strategy should be "the discharge of gas on a stupendous scale". This was to be followed by "a British attack, bypassing the trenches filled with suffocating and dying men". However, the war came to an end in November, 1918, before this strategy could be deployed.

After the First World War Churchill was appointed as Minister of War and Air by David Lloyd George. In May 1919, Churchill gave orders for the British troops to use chemical weapons during the campaign to subdue Afghanistan. When the India Office objected to the policy, Churchill replied: "The objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than high explosive shell and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war. The moral effect is also very great. There can be no conceivable reason why it should not be resorted to."

Winston Churchill now took the controversial decision to use the stockpiles of M Device (diphenylaminechloroarsine) against the Red Army who were involved in fighting against invading forces hostile to the Russian Revolution. He was supported in this by Sir Keith Price, the head of the chemical warfare, at Porton Down. He declared it to be the "right medicine for the Bolshevist" and the terrain would enable it to "drift along very nicely". Price agreed with Churchill that the use of chemical weapons would lead to a rapid collapse of the Bolshevik government in Russia: "I believe if you got home only once with the Gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda."

In the greatest secrecy, 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Archangel, along with the weaponry required to fire them. Churchill sent a message to Major-General William Ironside: "Fullest use is now to be made of gas shell with your forces, or supplied by us to White Russian forces." He told Ironside that this "thermogenerator of arsenical dust that would penetrate all known types of protective mask". Churchill added that he would very much like the "Bolsheviks" to have it. Churchill also arranged for 10,000 respirators for the British troops and twenty-five specialist gas officers to use the equipment.

Some one leaked this information and Churchill was forced to answer questions on the subject in the House of Commons on 29th May 1919. Churchill insisted that it was the Red Army who was using chemical warfare: "I do not understand why, if they use poison gas, they should object to having it used against them. It is a very right and proper thing to employ poison gas against them." His statement was untrue. There is no evidence of Bolshevik forces using gas against British troops and it was Churchill himself who had authorised its initial use some six weeks earlier.

On 27th August, 1919, British Airco DH.9 bombers dropped these gas bombs on the Russian village of Emtsa. According to one source: "Bolsheviks soldiers fled as the green gas spread. Those who could not escape, vomited blood before losing consciousness." Other villages targeted included Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. During this period 506 gas bombs were dropped on the Russians.

Lieutenant Donald Grantham interviewed Bolshevik prisoners about these attacks. One man named Boctroff said the soldiers "did not know what the cloud was and ran into it and some were overpowered in the cloud and died there; the others staggered about for a short time and then fell down and died". Boctroff claimed that twenty-five of his comrades had been killed during the attack. Boctroff was able to avoid the main "gas cloud" but he was very ill for 24 hours and suffered from "giddiness in head, running from ears, bled from nose and cough with blood, eyes watered and difficulty in breathing."

Major-General William Ironside told David Lloyd George that he was convinced that even after these gas attacks his troops would not be able to advance very far. He also warned that the White Army had experienced a series of mutinies (there were some in the British forces too). Lloyd George agreed that Ironside should withdraw his troops. This was completed by October. The remaining chemical weapons were considered to be too dangerous to be sent back to Britain and therefore it was decided to dump them into the White Sea.

Churchill created great controversy over his policies in Iraq. It was estimated that around 25,000 British and 80,000 Indian troops would be needed to control the country. However, he argued that if Britain relied on air power, you could cut these numbers to 4,000 (British) and 10,000 (Indian). The government was convinced by this argument and it was decided to send the recently formed Royal Air Force to Iraq.

An uprising of more than 100,000 armed tribesmen took place in 1920. Over the next few months the RAF dropped 97 tons of bombs killing 9,000 Iraqis. This failed to end the resistance and Arab and Kurdish uprisings continued to pose a threat to British rule. Winston Churchill suggested that the RAF should use chemical weapons on the rebels. Some members of the Cabinet objected to these tactics: Churchill argued: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas... I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gases against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum... Gases can be used which cause great inconvenience and would leave a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent affect on most of those affected."

As soon as he gained power in May 1940, Churchill considered using chemical weapons. He changed his mind when informed by military intelligence that Germany was capable of dropping three of four times more chemical bombs than Britain. However, plans were put in place to use gas-warfare in Adolf Hitler ordered an invasion of Britain. On 30th May, 1940, he told the Cabinet "we should not hesitate to contaminate our beaches with gas". By the end of September, with the invasion scare over, he decided against first use of the weapon. He instructed General Hastings Ismay, his Chief of Staff, that stocks should be maintained: "I am deeply anxious that gas warfare should not be adopted at the present time... We should never begin but we must be able to reply."

In 1943 Churchill made a public statement that if Germany used chemical bombs against the Soviet Union he would order instructions that Britain would also use these weapons. Churchill told General Ismay "We would retaliate by drenching the German cities with gas on the largest possible scale." In March 1944 Churchill ordered 500,000 anthrax bombs from the United States. These bombs were to be dropped "well behind the lines, to render towns uninhabitable and indeed dangerous to enter without a respirator".

Churchill was also told by military intelligence in 1944 that the British had far larger stocks of poison gas than Nazi Germany. He wrote to Ismay on 6th July, 1944: "It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a nod of complaint from the moralists of the Church... It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts for women... One really must not be bound by silly conventions of the mind."

Churchill now sent a message to his chiefs of staff: "I may certainly have to ask you to support me in using poison gas. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention... If we do it, let us do it one hundred per cent. In the meantime, I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here now there."

On 28th July 1944, the chief of staffs reported to Churchill that gas warfare was possible and that Britain could drop more than Germany but they doubted whether it would cause many difficulties to the German authorities in controlling the country. However, they were deeply concerned by the possibility that Germany would retaliate as they feared the British public would react in a different way to those in Germany: "the same cannot be said for our own people, who are in no such inarticulate condition". After reading the chiefs of staff assessment Churchill concluded gloomily, "I am not at all convinced by this negative report. But clearly I cannot make head against the parsons and the warriors at the same time."

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Was Churchill advocate of chemical weapons’ use in Mideast?

Peter Harrison

The Western condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East, and further afield, is well documented. They have been used to justify threats - indeed even a justification - of strikes/even war against a number of nations, most recently in Syria and Iraq.

So it might still come as a surprise to some that the once highly respected British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led the British to victory against Nazi Germany in World War Two, is said to have been an advocate of their use.

The recent use of chemical weapons in the Middle East is undeniable - it is known that Saddam Hussein used them against his own people in 1988 on the Kurdish village of Halabja. More recently a team of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors confirmed the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack on the agricultural belt around the Syrian city of Damascus, on the morning of August 21, 2013.

In both instances the world watched on, outraged as images of dead and dying men, women and children were broadcast around the world. Calls were made for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The second Gulf war in Iraq was justified at the time with claims that Saddam had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) - a claim that was later discounted. And the U.S. unsuccessfully lobbied some Western allies to carry out airstrikes against Syria after the sarin attack.

But in 1920 it is argued by some that Churchill considered the use of chemical weapons in Mesopotamia during the Iraqi Revolt. Historians are divided on whether the use actually occurred, or what he meant when he called for the use of poisonous gas.

He is documented as having said in May 1919: “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas.”

Churchill went on to argue: “It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.”
He went on to argue that the number of casualties suffered would be smaller, compared to the use of conventional weapons.

It’s a stance the British had taken when fighting the Bolsheviks in 1917, when M-Devices - shells with a canister of poisonous gas in the tip - were dropped on the enemy forces.

The British claimed that shortly after breathing in the gas Bolshevik soldiers coughed up blood and fell unconscious - but those on the frontline told a different story.

Giles Milton, had been researching a new book when he discovered a document in London’s National Archives compiled by British scientists who had been sent to Russia to record the effects of the M Device on the Bolsheviks.

He said in 2013: “You can imagine it’s not exactly nice stuff. If you breathe it in, you start vomiting blood and you become unconscious - it’s all pretty hideous. There were endless incidents. It’s fascinating, if slightly queasy.

“The British play it down…one (Russian) soldier said that all 50 of his comrades were wiped out. It’s difficult to know how many fatalities there were but they dropped thousands of these things on various villages.”

Whether Churchill actually got his wish to use chemicals against the revolting crowds in Iraq three years later, is still disputed by some and whether he meant the use of deadly chemicals is also under dispute.

The revolution in Iraq started peacefully in May 1920 with mass meetings and demonstrations held in Baghdad. Both Sunni and Shia communities opposed to British rule attended large gatherings. But their demands for Iraqi independence were dismissed by British officials, and an armed revolt broke out in June of the same year.

Churchill suggested that chemical weapons should be used “against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment.” He added “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes to spread a lively terror” in Iraq.

In the end both sides suffered heavy casualties, with up to 10,000 Iraqis killed as well as 500 British and Indian soldiers.

Churchill had personal experience of warfare, he had served on the frontline – he knew what it was like to come under intense fire from enemy positions. Arguably he had a realistic view of what frontline fighting was like.

When the Syrian sarin gas attacks of 2013 were reported, comparisons to Churchill’s comments on ‘poisonous gas’ were drawn. But Churchill historian Richard M Langworth says it is wrong to compare the two following his comments on Iraq in the 1920 revolt.

He said that the world’s media had made claims that “Britain and Churchill were not different from Syria and Assad: That Churchill favored, and/or used, initiating the use of ‘poisonous gas’ from World War One through World War Two, notably on the Indians, Bolshaviks in 1919 and the Iraqis in the 1920s.”

“After the war, with Churchill at the War Office, Britain was faced with the question of using gas against rebel tribesmen in northwest India and in Mesopotamia.”
In World War One the use of chemical weapons was widespread with soldiers in the trenches suffering agonizing deaths in the trenches as they scrambled – often too late – for their gas masks.

But said Mr Langworth, Churchill’s comments were largely misunderstood.

He said: “It was never proposed to use chlorine or phosgene, but Churchill confused the matter when he used the general term ‘poisonous gas’ in a departmental minute in 1919.”

British naval historian Iain Ballantyne who has written about Winston Churchill’s key interventions in shaping warfare, and author of the book ‘Hunter Killers’ (Orion), said Winston Churchill would often make “wild suggestions” that “alarmed his fellow politicians as well as generals, air marshals and admirals,” yet were unlikely to ever happen in reality.

Mr. Ballantyne said: “When proposing schemes, Churchill would often use passionate language and advocate violent action. Some of them did happen and worked.”

But he said that he believed that often Churchill would not even take his own ideas or opinions seriously “other than as a vent for his frustration at inaction or an insoluble situation.”

Comparing the chemical war comments, Mr Ballentyne added: “From earlier in Churchill’s career – when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914 – was his view of submarine warfare against commerce, the lifeblood of the British empire.

“Churchill was so violently against any nation sinking merchant ships that he felt retaliation should include “the extreme resources of science” to spread “pestilence, poison the water of great cities” and even “assassination of individuals.”


Winston Churchill's shocking use of chemical weapons

S ecrecy was paramount. Britain's imperial general staff knew there would be outrage if it became known that the government was intending to use its secret stockpile of chemical weapons. But Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, brushed aside their concerns. As a long-term advocate of chemical warfare, he was determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1919, 94 years before the devastating strike in Syria, Churchill planned and executed a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia.

The British were no strangers to the use of chemical weapons. During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, General Edmund Allenby had fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas at enemy positions, to limited effect. But in the final months of the first world war, scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret "M Device", an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it "the most effective chemical weapon ever devised".

Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. "If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda."The cabinet was hostile to the use of such weapons, much to Churchill's irritation. He also wanted to use M Devices against the rebellious tribes of northern India. "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes," he declared in one secret memorandum. He criticised his colleagues for their "squeamishness", declaring that "the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than [the] high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war."

He ended his memo on a note of ill-placed black humour: "Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?" he asked. "It is really too silly."

A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.

The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages: Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped. Two weeks later the remaining weapons were dumped in the White Sea. They remain on the seabed to this day in 40 fathoms of water.


Winston Churchill’s shocking use of chemical weapons

Giles Milton — The Guardian Sept 1, 2016

Secrecy was paramount. Britain’s imperial general staff knew there would be outrage if it became known that the government was intending to use its secret stockpile of chemical weapons. But Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, brushed aside their concerns. As a long-term advocate of chemical warfare, he was determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1919, 94 years before the devastating strike in Syria, Churchill planned and executed a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia.

The British were no strangers to the use of chemical weapons. During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, General Edmund Allenby had fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas at enemy positions, to limited effect. But in the final months of the first world war, scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret “M Device”, an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it “the most effective chemical weapon ever devised”.

Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. “If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda.” The cabinet was hostile to the use of such weapons, much to Churchill’s irritation. He also wanted to use M Devices against the rebellious tribes of northern India. “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” he declared in one secret memorandum. He criticised his colleagues for their “squeamishness”, declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than [the] high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war.”

He ended his memo on a note of ill-placed black humour: “Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?” he asked. “It is really too silly.”

A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.

The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages: Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped. Two weeks later the remaining weapons were dumped in the White Sea. They remain on the seabed to this day in 40 fathoms of water.


3. Bengal famine

In 1943, India, then still a British possession, experienced a disastrous famine in the north-eastern region of Bengal - sparked by the Japanese occupation of Burma the year before.

At least three million people are believed to have died - and Churchill's actions, or lack thereof, have been the subject of criticism.

Madhusree Mukerjee, author of Churchill's Secret War, has said that despite refusing to meet India's need for wheat, he continued to insist that it exported rice to fuel the war effort.

"[The War Cabinet] ordered the build-up of a stockpile of wheat for feeding European civilians after they had been liberated. So 170,000 tons of Australian wheat bypassed starving India - destined not for consumption but for storage," she said upon release of the book in 2010.

"It's one of the worst blots on his record," says Toye. "It clearly is the case that it was difficult for people to get him to take the issue seriously."

"Churchill viewed it as a distraction," he explains. Preoccupied with battling Germany in Europe, Churchill didn't want to be bothered by it when people raised the issue.

"We have this image of Churchill being far-sighted and prophetic," says Charmley. "But what he does tragically in the case of the Bengal famine is show absolutely zero advance [since] the Irish famine 100 years earlier."

It was a horrendous event but it needs to be seen within the context of global war, says Packwood.

"Churchill is running a global war at this point and there are always going to be conflicting priorities and demands," he says. "It's an incredibly complex and evolving situation - and he's not always going to get everything right."

Arthur Herman, author of Gandhi & Churchill, has argued that without Churchill the famine would have been worse. Once he was fully aware of the famine's extent, "Churchill and his cabinet sought every way to alleviate the suffering without undermining the war effort", Herman wrote.

It was a failure of prioritisation, says Toye. It's true that Britain's resources were stretched, he says, but that's no excuse given the relatively small effort it would have taken to alleviate the problem.


&ldquoWe have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English&rdquo

Churchill had seen firsthand what the British imperial project meant while serving in India and Africa, and just how successful terror could be as a weapon against people in revolt. He would find in Ireland that it was not always successful.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Ireland &ndash then a constituent part of the United Kingdom without its own Parliament &ndash had been promised Home Rule, but had had it suspended due to the conflict. During the war, however, militant nationalists staged the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, an attempt at revolution that was brutally suppressed by the British. All the leaders were executed and the rebellion crushed, but the tide of public opinion had shifted massively against Britain. At war&rsquos end, a general election was held in 1918 and the radical Nationalist party in Ireland, Sinn Fein, won a resounding victory. They refused to take up their seats in the House of Commons and instead declared independence.

The Irish War of Independence began in early 1919 and the military wing of the Irish nationalist movement, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began attacking British Army units stationed in Ireland. Churchill, who was at the time Secretary of State for War, proposed a paramilitary force that could back up the regular army, to be recruited from unemployed veterans from the First World War. Nearly 10,000 men were raised, trained in a hurry and shipped over the Irish Sea. Due to their uniforms, which did not match, they were known as the Black and Tans. Alongside them were the Auxiliaries, a paramilitary wing of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the police, recruited from former British Army officers, again spearheaded by Churchill.

Between them, they wreaked havoc on the local population. As the IRA tended to work in flying columns and attack and withdraw quickly, the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries would take out their revenge on the local civilian population. They were poorly disciplined and often drunk, as well as arbitrarily violent and destructive. In November 1920, they killed 14 civilians at a Gaelic Football match in Dublin, while in December, they burned the centre of Cork to the ground and shot at firefighters attempting to put out the blaze. It was clear that they were out of control and the Irish public only galvanised themselves against them. Back in England, public opinion turned against the Army because of their strongarm tactics.

&ldquoIf the British Commonwealth can only be preserved by such means, it would become a negation of the principle for which it has stood,&rdquo wrote Lionel Curtis, a staunch defender of imperialism. When peace was offered by England, Gandhi wrote: &ldquoit is not fear of losing more lives that has compelled a reluctant offer from England but it is the shame of any further imposition of agony upon a people that loves liberty above everything else.&rdquo

Churchill&rsquos decision to vastly escalate the conflict in Ireland through paramilitaries begat the end of the closest colony to England and again diminished his reputation further. He remained Secretary of State for War, however, and would again show his brutality in the near future: this time, in the Middle East.


Leading Myths: “Churchill Advocated the First Use of Lethal Gas”

Historians from Martin Gilbert forward have published the facts about Churchill and chemical warfare so often in the last forty years that one is surprised this myth continues to perturb the innocent. No doubt the shock value of the claim is high, given what has been going on in Syria.

Outrage over use of chemical weapons in Syria has led the world media to Winston Churchill. Reports have circulated to the effect that Britain and Churchill were no different from Syria and Assad: that Churchill favored and/or used initiating the use of “poison gas” from World War I through World War II, notably on the Indians and Bolsheviks in 1919, and on the Iraqis in the 1920s. What’s more, he wanted to “drench” German cities with gas in 1943.

The BBC, planning to cover all this, asked: was the matter something we might wish to discuss? Well, yes—before it all gets out of hand.

“Uncivilised Tribes” vs. Welfare of Troops

At the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, the horrors of German poison gas broke upon a shocked world. The outraged Allies retaliated in kind, although British manufacture of lethal gas—chlorine, and later phosgene—was a small fraction of that produced by the French and Germans.

Though the killing capacity of those gases was limited to only 4% of combat casualties, revulsion over their insidious effects and the suffering they caused was widespread.1

After the war, with Churchill at the War Office, Britain was faced with the question of using gas against rebel tribesmen in Northwest India and in Mesopotamia, now Iraq. It was never proposed to use chlorine or phosgene, but Churchill confused the matter when he used the general term “poison gas” in a departmental minute in 1919 (italics mine):

It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.2

Ten days later, Churchill addressed the India Office’s reluctance to use tear gas against rebel tribesmen on the Northwest Frontier:

Gas is a more merciful weapon than high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war. The moral effect is also very great. There can be no conceivable reason why it should not be resorted to. We have definitely taken the position of maintaining gas as a weapon in future warfare, and it is only ignorance on the part of the Indian military authorities which interposes any obstacle.3

Churchill went on to cite what he saw as a greater good, which in his view made the use of “lachrymatory gas” acceptable: the welfare of soldiers. In all the accounts of his supposed enthusiasm for gas warfare, I have never seen this key minute cited in full:

Having regard to the fact that [the India Office] are retaining all our men, even those who are most entitled to demobilisation, we cannot in any circumstances acquiesce in the non-utilisation of any weapons which are available to procure a speedy termination of the disorder which prevails on the frontier. If it is fair war for an Afghan to shoot down a British soldier behind a rock and cut him in pieces as he lies wounded on the ground, why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze? It is really too silly.4

Almost always absent from quotations alleging Churchill’s penchant for the use of gas is the above paragraph, and certainly the first part of it. It testifies that Churchill was thinking more broadly, and more humanely, than most: He was thinking of sparing serving soldiers, most of them not volunteers, from ugly deaths by the most grisly and barbarous methods.

The issue of gas came up again after Britain had occupied Mesopotamia, part of the old Ottoman Empire, and was trying to restore order and establish a state, later Iraq— “nation building,” we would call it today. Britain was not securing her oil supply, which had already been achieved elsewhere. Churchill actually considered “Messpot,” as he called it, a huge waste of money. (See David Freeman, “Churchill and the Making of Iraq,” FH 132.)

Continued use of the Royal Air Force in Iraq, Churchill explained to Air Marshal Trenchard, might require “the provision of some kind of asphyxiating bombs calculated to cause disablement of some kind but not death…“5 A year later Churchill urged Trenchard to continue “experimental work on gas bombs, especially mustard gas, which would inflict punishment upon recalcitrant natives without inflicting grave injury upon them.”6

Now mustard gas is much sterner stuff than tear gas. It causes itching, skin irritation and large, putrid blisters. If a victim’s eyes are exposed they become sore. A victim can contract conjunctivitis, where the eyelids swell, resulting in temporary blindness. But Churchill was right in his judgment that mustard gas was not usually lethal. Of 165,000 British mustard gas casualties on the Western Front in World War I, only 3000 or 2.5% were deaths. Chlorine, first used by the Germans, in its later “perfected” stage, killed nearly 20%.7 In the event, gas of any kind was not used in India or Iraq.

Gassing the Bolsheviks

The strongest case for Churchill as a chemical warfare enthusiast involves Russia, and was made by Giles Milton in The Guardian on 1 September 2013, which prompted this article. Milton wrote that in 1919,

scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret “M Device,” an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine [DM]. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it “the most effective chemical weapon ever devised.” Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. “If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda.”

A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919….Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious. The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages….But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped.8

If Churchill planned, or even countenanced, dropping lethal gas on Russian villages, even for three days, he is certainly culpable, assuming he actually understood the horrific nature of the device. It would be the only case where he advocated the use of a killing agent on civil populations, rather than on the battlefield—where he favored throwing at the enemy whatever they threw first.

I respectfully asked Mr. Milton for the sources of his statements, and had no response. I am not sure why I should have to do this. One would expect that a writer making such serious charges would offer sources. No matter: my BBC correspondent put me onto his source: Simon Jones, in a 1999 article which Milton paraphrases, but in my judgment quite misconstrues.9

According to Jones, General Foulkes did consider the M Device and DM gas effective, and Sir Keith Price was convinced it would eliminate any “Bolshies” who came in contact with it. And Churchill did order General Ironside, in command at Archangel, to make “fullest use” of the new weapon—for the same reason he always cited with regard to gas: “Bolsheviks have been using gas shells against Allied troops….” (Jones explains that the Bolsheviks had used German shells recovered on the battlefield.10)

Nowhere, however, does Jones state that anyone thought the M Device “would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik state.” Neither Simon, nor Milton paraphrasing Simon, says anything about deaths or civilian casualties. This is not to say they didn’t occur, but they could not have been numerous. In a September attack on Chunova, for example, “ten Bolsheviks were affected.” Opposing British troops were advised that in the event of accidentally inhaling DM, “cigarette smoking would give relief.”11

Reading Jones, DM comes off as an ugly, disgusting, but generally non-lethal advance on tear gas. Reading Milton, it sounds almost like Zyklon-B, the gas of choice at Auschwitz and the other killing factories of World War II. Milton’s Guardian article then transitions on to the subject of India as if the same gas were proposed there. But Sir Charles Foulkes was next posted to India, where he “investigated and rejected proposals to use gas against the fiercely independent North West Frontier tribes who guarded the main strategic routes into Afghanistan.”12

It is possible to believe Churchill would countenance use of more serious gasses in Russia, which he regarded as a life or death struggle against a barbarous tyranny. Yet a document in the Churchill Archives, at the time of the Allied intervention in Russia, suggests that his views here were no different than over India and Iraq:

Because an enemy who has perpetrated every conceivable barbarity is at present unable, through his ignorance, to manufacture poisoned gas, is that any reason why our troops should be prevented from taking full advantage of their weapons? The use of these gas shell[s] having become universal during the great war, I consider that we are fully entitled to use them against anyone pending the general review of the laws of war which no doubt will follow the Peace Conference.13

There is nothing here suggesting a Churchill penchant for using gas against civilian populations, as Assad (or somebody, depending on whose intelligence you believe) did in Syria. Indeed Churchill qualified his recommendation: “pending the general review of the laws of war.”

World War II and Beyond

Churchill’s chemical weapons philosophy leading up to the Second World War remained along the lines he had expressed before. If the enemy should use it first, he would expect to use it back. Speaking in the House of Commons in 1932, he said:

Nothing could be more repugnant to our feelings than the use of poison gas, but there is no logic at all behind the argument that it is quite proper in war to lay a man low with high-explosive shell, fragments of which inflict poisonous and festering wounds, and altogether immoral to give him a burn with corrosive gas or make him cough and sneeze or otherwise suffer through his respiratory organs. There is no logical distinction.…The attitude of the British Government has always been to abhor the employment of poison gas. As I understand it, our only procedure is to keep alive such means of studying this subject as shall not put us at a hopeless disadvantage if, by any chance, it were used against us by other people.14

Lethal gas was not used by the Allies or Germans on World War II battlefields, though the Nazis certainly reached new depths with its application in the death camps. Churchill was content with the battlefield stand-off, but was always prepared to use it there if it were used first by the enemy. One such possibility arose in February 1943, when London became aware that the Germans might use gas against the Russians in their counterattack on the Donets Basin. The Prime Minister immediately minuted the Chiefs of Staff Committee:

In the event of the Germans using gas on the Russians, my declaration of last year of course stands. We shall retaliate by drenching the German cities with gas on the largest possible scale. We must expect their counter-measures. Is everything in readiness for this contingency both ways? It is quite possible that another warning like I gave last year might check them off at the last minute, but we must be ready to strike and make good any threat we utter with the utmost promptitude and severity. 15

The out-of-context quote one often sees here is “drenching the German cities with gas on the largest possible scale.” It is clear, however, that Churchill’s minute was a response, not an order. Nor did the military object. The Vice Chiefs of Staff reported back: “we are prepared offensively and defensively for gas warfare and are in a position to retaliate by air on a very large scale.”16

Sir Martin Gilbert added that the Prime Minister was talking about mustard gas (described above), “from which nearly everyone recovers.” Even then he would use it, he continued, only “it was life or death for us” or if it would “shorten the war by a year….” To that end, in Churchill’s opinion, Sir Martin continued,

it might even be used on the Normandy beach-head. “It is absurd to consider morality on this topic,” he wrote, “when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint from the moralists or the Church. On the other hand, in the last war the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course.”

It would be several weeks or even months, Churchill added, “before I shall ask you to drench Germany with poison gas.” In the meantime he wanted the matter studied, he wrote, “in cold blood by sensible people, and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across, now here, now there.”17

Again the military replied that they were ready, although they “doubted whether gas, of the essentially non-lethal kind envisaged by Churchill, could have a decisive effect, and no gas raids were made.”18

In view of the celerity and gusto with which Right Thinkers in the media attack Churchill, it is appropriate to mention Sir Martin’s next paragraph—a poignant reminder of stark reality, and the difference between “us” and “them”:

“News had just reached London of the mass murder in specially-designedgas chambers of more than two and a half million Jews at Auschwitz,which had hitherto been identified only as a slave-labour camp.”19

Myth and Reality

If anyone still believes that Churchill was an enthusiast of lethal gas, he will have to come up with better evidence than we have seen so far—and some acceptable explanation for the many instances when, faced with its possible use, Churchill and his commanders demurred. Truly, they thought on higher moral planes than the Syrians.

We need also to consider attitudes at the time—what really mattered. After the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian exit from World War I, this same Winston Churchill advocated sending a “commissar” (as he put it) to Lenin, who would offer—in exchange for Russia reentering the war—that Britain would guarantee Lenin’s revolution! Sir Martin said that he first revealed this in a lecture to a very large group of distinguished Soviet officers in Moscow: “You could have heard a pin drop.”20

While he never advocated the first use of lethal gas, Churchill’s main aim in both world wars was victory: “Victory at all costs,” as he said in 1940, “victory in spite of all terror.” To that end he would consider almost anything. Describing the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 he had written similarly:

At the Admiralty we were in hot pursuit of most of the great key inventions and ideas of the war and this long in advance of every other nation, friend or foe. Tanks, smoke, torpedo-seaplanes, directional wireless, cryptography, mine fenders, monitors, torpedo-proof ships, paravanes—all were being actively driven forward or developed. Poison gas alone we had put aside—but not, as has been shown, from want of comprehension.21

I recall the words of his daughter Lady Soames: “My father would have done almost anything to win the war, and I daresay he had to do some pretty rough things. But they didn’t unman him.”22

Endnotes: Websites accessed 3 September 2013

1. Chris Reddy, “The Growing Menace of Chemical War,” Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2 April 2007, cited at http://bit.ly/15pDuRq.

2. Churchill minute. War Office, 12 May 1919. Martin Gilbert, ed., Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume 4, Part 1 (London: Heinemann, 1977), 649.

5. Martin Gilbert, “Churchill and Bombing Policy,” Fifth Churchill Lecture, Washington, D.C., 18 October 2005, on the Churchill Centre website: http://xrl.us/bgy3j2.

6. WSC to Sir Hugh Trenchard, 29 August 1920, Martin Gilbert, ed., Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume 4, Part 2 (London: Heinemann, 1977), 1190.

7. “Chemical Weapons in World War I,” op. cit. See also “Sulphur Mustard,” http://bit.ly/15pE8hL.

8. Giles Milton, “Winston Churchill’s Shocking Use of Chemical Weapons,” The Guardian, 1 September 2013, http://xrl.us/bprq4v.

9. Simon Jones, “‘The right medicine for the Bolshevist’: British air-dropped chemical weapons in north Russia, 1919,” Imperial War Museum Review 12, 1999, 78-88. (A .pdf copy is available from the editor by email.)

10. War Office to General Officer in Charge Archangel, telegram, 7 February 1919, Public Record Office. Jones, 80.

12. King’s College, London, “The Serving Soldier: Major General Charles Foulkes (1875-1969),” http://xrl.us/bprrmo.

13. WSC to Chief of Imperial General Staff, 25 January 1919, supplied by Allen Packwood, Churchill Archives Centre, 4 September 2013.

14. “Disarmament Problems,” House of Commons, 13 May 1932, in Winston S. Churchill, Arms and the Covenant (London: Harrap, 1938), 23-24. Richard M. Langworth, ed., Churchill in His Own Words (London: Ebury Press, 2012), 190.

15. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 7, Road to Victory 1941-1945 (London: Heinemann, 1986), 352-53. On 20 March 1942, Churchill had written Stalin: “His Majesty’s Government will treat any use of this weapon of poison gas against Russia exactly as if it was directed against ourselves.” See Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), 329.

17. Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (London: Minerva, 1992), 783.

20. Sir Martin Gilbert to the author private correspondence, 1993.

21. Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. 1, 1911-1915 (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1923), 382. I am grateful to Prof. Antoine Capet for bringing this to my attention.


#88: When Churchill Experimented with Chemical Weapons—Giles Milton of the Unknown History Podcast


Winston Churchill is consistently ranked as the greatest leader in British History. But like any complex historical figure, he has his dark side. Most notoriously, but least well known, is his interest in chemical weapons.

“If it is fair war for an Afghan to shoot down a British soldier behind a rock and cut him in pieces as he lies wounded on the ground, why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze? It is really too silly.” —WSC, 1919

Churchill favored and/or used “poison gas” from World War I through World War II, notably on the Indians and Bolsheviks in 1919, and the Iraqis in the 1920s. What’s more, he wanted to “drench” German cities with gas in 1943.

To discuss this issue in greater depth with us is Giles Milton. He is the host of the History Unknown Podcast and author of “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”: a book about a secret inner circle within the British government that planned all of the most audacious sabotage attacks of the Second World War.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

ABOUT GILES

Giles Milton is the internationally best-selling author of nine works of popular history, including Nathaniel’s Nutmeg. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages and have been serialized on both the BBC and in British newspapers.

The Times described Milton as being able ‘to take an event from history and make it come alive’, while The New York Times said that Milton’s ‘prodigious research yields an entertaining, richly informative look at the past.

Giles Milton’s latest book, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, became a Sunday Times bestseller in the first week of publication.


Ancient Greek myths about Hercules poisoning his arrows with the venom of the Hydra monster are the earliest references to toxic weapons in western literature. Homer's epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, allude to poisoned arrows used by both sides in the legendary Trojan War (Bronze Age Greece). [1]

Some of the earliest surviving references to toxic warfare appear in the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. [2] The "Laws of Manu," a Hindu treatise on statecraft (c. 400 BC) forbids the use of poison and fire arrows, but advises poisoning food and water. Kautilya's "Arthashastra", a statecraft manual of the same era, contains hundreds of recipes for creating poison weapons, toxic smokes, and other chemical weapons. Ancient Greek historians recount that Alexander the Great encountered poison arrows and fire incendiaries in India at the Indus basin in the 4th century BC. [1]

Arsenical smokes were known to the Chinese as far back as c. 1000 BC [3] and Sun Tzu's "Art of War" (c. 200 BC) advises the use of fire weapons. In the second century BC, writings of the Mohist sect in China describe the use of bellows to pump smoke from burning balls of toxic plants and vegetables into tunnels being dug by a besieging army. Other Chinese writings dating around the same period contain hundreds of recipes for the production of poisonous or irritating smokes for use in war along with numerous accounts of their use. These accounts describe an arsenic-containing "soul-hunting fog", and the use of finely divided lime dispersed into the air to suppress a peasant revolt in 178 AD. [ citation needed ]

The earliest recorded use of gas warfare in the West dates back to the fifth century BC, during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Spartan forces besieging an Athenian city placed a lighted mixture of wood, pitch, and sulfur under the walls hoping that the noxious smoke would incapacitate the Athenians, so that they would not be able to resist the assault that followed. Sparta was not alone in its use of unconventional tactics in ancient Greece Solon of Athens is said to have used hellebore roots to poison the water in an aqueduct leading from the River Pleistos around 590 BC during the siege of Kirrha. [1]

The earliest archaeological evidence of gas warfare is during the Roman–Persian wars. Research carried out on the collapsed tunnels at Dura-Europos in Syria suggests that during the siege of the town in the third century AD, the Sassanians used bitumen and sulfur crystals to get it burning. When ignited, the materials gave off dense clouds of choking sulfur dioxide gases which killed 19 Roman soldiers and a single Sassanian, purported to be the fire-tender, in a matter of two minutes. [4] [5] [6] [7]

Quicklime (the old name for calcium oxide) may have been used in medieval naval warfare – up to the use of "lime-mortars" to throw it at the enemy ships. [8] Historian and philosopher David Hume, in his history of England, recounts how in the reign of Henry III (r.1216 – 1272) the English Navy destroyed an invading French fleet, by blinding the enemy fleet with quicklime. D’Albiney employed a stratagem against them, which is said to have contributed to the victory: Having gained the wind of the French, he came down upon them with violence and gassing a great quantity of quicklime, which he purposely carried on board, he so blinded them, that they were disabled from defending themselves. [9]

In the late 15th century, Spanish conquistadors encountered a rudimentary type of chemical warfare on the island of Hispaniola. The Taíno threw gourds filled with ashes and ground hot peppers at the Spaniards to create a blinding smoke screen before launching their attack. [10]

Leonardo da Vinci proposed the use of a powder of sulfide, arsenic and verdigris in the 15th century:

throw poison in the form of powder upon galleys. Chalk, fine sulfide of arsenic, and powdered verdegris may be thrown among enemy ships by means of small mangonels, and all those who, as they breathe, inhale the powder into their lungs will become asphyxiated.

It is unknown whether this powder was ever actually used.

In the 17th century during sieges, armies attempted to start fires by launching incendiary shells filled with sulfur, tallow, rosin, turpentine, saltpeter, and/or antimony. Even when fires were not started, the resulting smoke and fumes provided a considerable distraction. Although their primary function was never abandoned, a variety of fills for shells were developed to maximize the effects of the smoke.

In 1672, during his siege of the city of Groningen, Christoph Bernhard von Galen, the Bishop of Münster, employed several different explosive and incendiary devices, some of which had a fill that included Deadly Nightshade, intended to produce toxic fumes. Just three years later, August 27, 1675, the French and the Holy Roman Empire concluded the Strasbourg Agreement, which included an article banning the use of "perfidious and odious" toxic devices. [ citation needed ]

The modern notion of chemical warfare emerged from the mid-19th century, with the development of modern chemistry and associated industries. The first recorded modern proposal for the use of chemical warfare was made by Lyon Playfair, Secretary of the Science and Art Department, in 1854 during the Crimean War. He proposed a cacodyl cyanide artillery shell for use against enemy ships as way to solve the stalemate during the siege of Sevastopol. The proposal was backed by Admiral Thomas Cochrane of the Royal Navy. It was considered by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, but the British Ordnance Department rejected the proposal as "as bad a mode of warfare as poisoning the wells of the enemy." Playfair's response was used to justify chemical warfare into the next century: [11]

There was no sense in this objection. It is considered a legitimate mode of warfare to fill shells with molten metal which scatters among the enemy, and produced the most frightful modes of death. Why a poisonous vapor which would kill men without suffering is to be considered illegitimate warfare is incomprehensible. War is destruction, and the more destructive it can be made with the least suffering the sooner will be ended that barbarous method of protecting national rights. No doubt in time chemistry will be used to lessen the suffering of combatants, and even of criminals condemned to death.

Later, during the American Civil War, New York school teacher John Doughty proposed the offensive use of chlorine gas, delivered by filling a 10-inch (254 millimeter) artillery shell with two to three quarts (1.89–2.84 liters) of liquid chlorine, which could produce many cubic feet of chlorine gas. Doughty's plan was apparently never acted on, as it was probably [12] presented to Brigadier General James Wolfe Ripley, Chief of Ordnance. [ clarification needed ]

A general concern over the use of poison gas manifested itself in 1899 at the Hague Conference with a proposal prohibiting shells filled with asphyxiating gas. The proposal was passed, despite a single dissenting vote from the United States. The American representative, Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, justified voting against the measure on the grounds that "the inventiveness of Americans should not be restricted in the development of new weapons." [13]

The Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907 forbade the use of "poison or poisoned weapons" in warfare, yet more than 124,000 tons of gas were produced by the end of World War I.

The French were the first to use chemical weapons during the First World War, using the tear gases ethyl bromoacetate and chloroacetone. They likely did not realize that effects might be more serious under wartime conditions than in riot control. It is also likely that their use of tear gas escalated to the use of poisonous gases. [14]

One of Germany's earliest uses of chemical weapons occurred on October 27, 1914, when shells containing the irritant dianisidine chlorosulfonate were fired at British troops near Neuve-Chapelle, France. [3] Germany used another irritant, xylyl bromide, in artillery shells that were fired in January 1915 at the Russians near Bolimów, in present-day Poland. [15] The first full-scale deployment of deadly chemical warfare agents during World War I was at the Second Battle of Ypres, on April 22, 1915, when the Germans attacked French, Canadian and Algerian troops with chlorine gas. [16] [17] [18]

A total 50,965 tons of pulmonary, lachrymatory, and vesicant agents were deployed by both sides of the conflict, including chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas. Official figures declare about 1.3 million casualties directly caused by chemical warfare agents during the course of the war. Of these, an estimated 100,000–260,000 casualties were civilians. Nearby civilian towns were at risk from winds blowing the poison gases through. Civilians rarely had a warning system put into place to alert their neighbors of the danger. In addition to poor warning systems, civilians often did not have access to effective gas masks. [18] [19] [20]

World War I-era chemical ammunition is still found, unexploded, at former battle, storage, or test sites and poses an ongoing threat to inhabitants of Belgium, France and other countries. [21] Camp American University where American chemical weapons were developed and later buried, has undergone 20 years of remediation efforts. [22] [23]

After the war, the most common method of disposal of chemical weapons was to dump them into the nearest large body of water. [24] As many as 65,000 tons of chemical warfare agents may have been dumped in the Baltic Sea alone agents dumped in that sea included mustard gas, phosgene, lewisite (β-chlorovinyldichloroarsine), adamsite (diphenylaminechloroarsine), Clark I (diphenylchloroarsine) and Clark II (diphenylcyanoarsine). [25] [26] [27] Over time the containers corrode, and the chemicals leaked out. On the sea floor, at low temperatures, mustard gas tends to form lumps within a "skin" of chemical byproducts. These lumps can wash onto shore, where they look like chunks of waxy yellowish clay. They are extremely toxic, but the effects may not be immediately apparent. [24]

Between World War I and World War II, chemical agents were occasionally used to subdue populations and suppress rebellion.

Lenin's Soviet government employed poison gas in 1921 during the Tambov Rebellion. An order signed by military commanders Tukhachevsky and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko stipulated, "The forests where the bandits are hiding are to be cleared by the use of poison gas. This must be carefully calculated, so that the layer of gas penetrates the forests and kills everyone hiding there." [28] [29]

In 1925, 16 of the world's major nations signed the Geneva Protocol, thereby pledging never to use gas in warfare again. Notably, while the United States delegation under Presidential authority signed the Protocol.

Alleged British use in Mesopotamia Edit

It has been alleged that the British used chemical weapons in Mesopotamia during the Iraqi revolt of 1920. Noam Chomsky claimed that Winston Churchill at the time was keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment", and that he stated to be "strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes". [30] [31]

According to some historians, including Geoff Simons and Charles Townshend, the British used chemical weapons in the conflict, [32] [33] while according to Lawrence James and Niall Ferguson the weapons were agreed by Churchill but eventually not used [34] [35] R.M. Douglas of Colgate University also observed that Churchill's statement had served to convince observers of the existence of weapons of mass destruction which were not actually there. [36]

Spanish use in Morocco Edit

Combined Spanish and French forces dropped mustard gas bombs against Berber rebels and civilians during the Rif War in Spanish Morocco (1921–1927). These attacks marked the first widespread employment of gas warfare in the post-WWI era. [37] The Spanish army indiscriminately used phosgene, diphosgene, chloropicrin and mustard gas against civilian populations, markets and rivers. [38] [39] Despite having signed the Geneva Protocol in 1925, Spain continued to use chemical weapons for the subsequent two years. [39]

In a telegram sent by the High Commissioner of Spanish Morocco Dámaso Berenguer on August 12, 1921 to the Spanish minister of War, Berenguer stated: "I have been obstinately resistant to the use of suffocating gases against these indigenous peoples but after what they have done, and of their treacherous and deceptive conduct, I have to use them with true joy." [40]

According to military aviation general Hidalgo de Cisneros in his autobiographical book Cambio de rumbo, [41] he was the first warfighter to drop a 100-kilogram mustard gas bomb from his Farman F60 Goliath aircraft in the summer of 1924. [42] About 127 fighters and bombers flew in the campaign, dropping around 1,680 bombs each day. [43] The mustard gas bombs were brought from the stockpiles of Germany and delivered to Melilla before being carried on Farman F60 Goliath airplanes. [44] Historian Juan Pando has been the only Spanish historian to have confirmed the usage of mustard gas starting in 1923. [40] Spanish newspaper La Correspondencia de España published an article called Cartas de un soldado (Letters of a soldier) on August 16, 1923 which backed the usage of mustard gas. [45]

Chemical weapons used in the region are the main reason for the widespread occurrence of cancer among the population. [46] In 2007, the Catalan party of the Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) passed a bill to the Spanish Congress of Deputies requesting Spain to acknowledge the "systematic" use of chemical weapons against the population of the Rif mountains [47] however, the bill was rejected by 33 votes from the governing Socialist Labor Party and the opposition right-wing Popular Party. [48]

Italian use in Libya and Ethiopia Edit

In violation of the Geneva Protocol, [49] Italy used mustard gas and other "gruesome measures" against Senussi forces in Libya (see Pacification of Libya, Italian colonization of Libya). [50] Poison gas was used against the Libyans as early as January 1928 [49] The Italians dropped mustard gas from the air. [51]

Beginning in October 1935 and continuing into the following months Fascist Italy used mustard gas against the Ethiopians during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in violation of the Geneva Protocol. Italian general Rodolfo Graziani first ordered the use of chemical weapons at Gorrahei against the forces of Ras Nasibu. [52] Benito Mussolini personally authorized Graziani to use chemical weapons. [53] Chemical weapons dropped by warplane "proved to be very effective" and was used "on a massive scale against civilians and troops, as well as to contaminate fields and water supplies." [54] Among the most intense chemical bombardment by the Italian Air Force in Ethiopia occurred in February and March 1936, although "gas warfare continued, with varying intensity, until March 1939." [53] J. F. C. Fuller, who was present in Ethiopia during the conflict, stated that mustard gas "was the decisive tactical factor in the war." [55] Some estimate that up to one-third of Ethiopian casualties of the war were caused by chemical weapons. [56]

The Italians' deployment of mustard gas prompted international criticism. [52] [55] In April 1936, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin told Parliament: "If a great European nation, in spite of having given its signature to the Geneva Protocol against the use of such gases, employs them in Africa, what guarantee have we that they may not be used in Europe?" [55] [57] Mussolini initially denied the use of chemical weapons later, Mussolini and Italian government sought to justify their use as lawful retaliation for Ethiopian atrocities. [52] [53] [55]

After the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941, Ethiopia repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to prosecute Italian war criminals. The Allied powers excluded Ethiopia from the United Nations War Crimes Commission (established 1942) because the British feared that Ethiopia would seek to prosecute Pietro Badoglio, who had ordered the use of chemical gas in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, but later "became a valuable ally against the Axis powers" after the fascist regime of Mussolini fell and, after the rise of the Italian Social Republic, Italy became a co-belligerent of the Allies. [52] In 1946, the Ethiopians under Haile Selassie again sought "to prosecute senior Italian officials who had sanctioned the use of chemical weapons and had committed other war crimes such as torturing and executing Ethiopian prisoners and citizens during the Italian-Ethiopian War." [52] These attempts failed, in large part because Britain and the U.S. wished to avoid alienating the Italian government at a time when Italy was seen as key to containing the Soviet Union. [52]

Following World War II, the Italian government denied that Italy had ever used chemical weapons in Africa only in 1995 did Italy formally acknowledge that it had used chemical weapons in colonial wars. [58]

Nerve agents Edit

Shortly after the end of World War I, Germany's General Staff enthusiastically pursued a recapture of their preeminent position in chemical warfare. In 1923, Hans von Seeckt pointed the way, by suggesting that German poison gas research move in the direction of delivery by aircraft in support of mobile warfare. Also in 1923, at the behest of the German army, poison gas expert Dr. Hugo Stoltzenberg negotiated with the USSR to build a huge chemical weapons plant at Trotsk, on the Volga river.

Collaboration between Germany and the USSR in poison gas continued on and off through the 1920s. In 1924, German officers debated the use of poison gas versus non-lethal chemical weapons against civilians.

Chemical warfare was revolutionized by Nazi Germany's discovery of the nerve agents tabun (in 1937) and sarin (in 1939) by Gerhard Schrader, a chemist of IG Farben.

IG Farben was Germany's premier poison gas manufacturer during World War II, so the weaponization of these agents cannot be considered accidental. [59] Both were turned over to the German Army Weapons Office prior to the outbreak of the war.

The nerve agent soman was later discovered by Nobel Prize laureate Richard Kuhn and his collaborator Konrad Henkel at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg in spring 1944. [60] [61] The Germans developed and manufactured large quantities of several agents, but chemical warfare was not extensively used by either side. Chemical troops were set up (in Germany since 1934) and delivery technology was actively developed.

Imperial Japanese Army Edit

Despite the 1899 Hague Declaration IV, 2 – Declaration on the Use of Projectiles the Object of Which is the Diffusion of Asphyxiating or Deleterious Gases, [62] Article 23 (a) of the 1907 Hague Convention IV – The Laws and Customs of War on Land, [63] and a resolution adopted against Japan by the League of Nations on May 14, 1938, the Imperial Japanese Army frequently used chemical weapons. Because of fear of retaliation, however, those weapons were never used against Westerners, but against other Asians judged "inferior" by imperial propaganda. According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Kentaro Awaya, gas weapons, such as tear gas, were used only sporadically in 1937 but in early 1938, the Imperial Japanese Army began full-scale use of sneeze and nausea gas (red), and from mid-1939, used mustard gas (yellow) against both Kuomintang and Communist Chinese troops. [64]

According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno, the chemical weapons were authorized by specific orders given by Emperor Hirohito himself, transmitted by the chief of staff of the army. For example, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions during the Battle of Wuhan from August to October 1938. [65] They were also profusely used during the invasion of Changde. Those orders were transmitted either by Prince Kan'in Kotohito or General Hajime Sugiyama. [66] The Imperial Japanese Army had used mustard gas and the US-developed (CWS-1918) blister agent lewisite against Chinese troops and guerrillas. Experiments involving chemical weapons were conducted on live prisoners (Unit 731 and Unit 516).

The Japanese also carried chemical weapons as they swept through Southeast Asia towards Australia. Some of these items were captured and analyzed by the Allies. Historian Geoff Plunkett has recorded how Australia covertly imported 1,000,000 chemical weapons from the United Kingdom from 1942 onwards and stored them in many storage depots around the country, including three tunnels in the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney. They were to be used as a retaliatory measure if the Japanese first used chemical weapons. [67] Buried chemical weapons have been recovered at Marrangaroo and Columboola. [68] [69]

Nazi Germany Edit

During the Holocaust, a genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany, millions of Jews, Slavs, and other victims were gassed with carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide (including Zyklon B). [70] [71] This remains the deadliest use of poison gas in history. [70] Nevertheless, the Nazis did not extensively use chemical weapons in combat, [70] [71] at least not against the Western Allies, [72] despite maintaining an active chemical weapons program in which the Nazis used concentration camp prisoners as forced labor to secretly manufacture tabun, a nerve gas, and experimented upon concentration camp victims to test the effects of the gas. [70] Otto Ambros of IG Farben was a chief chemical-weapons expert for the Nazis. [70] [73]

The Nazis' decision to avoid the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield has been variously attributed to a lack of technical ability in the German chemical weapons program and fears that the Allies would retaliate with their own chemical weapons. [72] It also has been speculated to have arisen from the personal experiences of Adolf Hitler as a soldier in the Kaiser's army during World War I, where he was gassed by British troops in 1918. [74] After the Battle of Stalingrad, Joseph Goebbels, Robert Ley, and Martin Bormann urged Hitler to approve the use of tabun and other chemical weapons to slow the Soviet advance. At a May 1943 meeting in the Wolf's Lair, however, Hitler was told by Ambros that Germany had 45,000 tons of chemical gas stockpiled, but that the Allies likely had far more. Hitler responded by suddenly leaving the room and ordering production of tabun and sarin to be doubled, but "fearing some rogue officer would use them and spark Allied retaliation, he ordered that no chemical weapons be transported to the Russian front." [70] After the Allied invasion of Italy, the Germans rapidly moved to remove or destroy both German and Italian chemical-weapon stockpiles, "for the same reason that Hitler had ordered them pulled from the Russian front—they feared that local commanders would use them and trigger Allied chemical retaliation." [70]

Stanley P. Lovell, Deputy Director for Research and Development of the Office of Strategic Services, reports in his book Of Spies and Stratagems that the Allies knew the Germans had quantities of Gas Blau available for use in the defense of the Atlantic Wall. The use of nerve gas on the Normandy beachhead would have seriously impeded the Allies and possibly caused the invasion to fail altogether. He submitted the question "Why was nerve gas not used in Normandy?" to be asked of Hermann Göring during his interrogation after the war had ended. Göring answered that the reason was that the Wehrmacht was dependent upon horse-drawn transport to move supplies to their combat units, and had never been able to devise a gas mask horses could tolerate the versions they developed would not pass enough pure air to allow the horses to pull a cart. Thus, gas was of no use to the German Army under most conditions. [75]

The Nazis did use chemical weapons in combat on several occasions along the Black Sea, notably in Sevastopol, where they used toxic smoke to force Russian resistance fighters out of caverns below the city, in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol. [76] The Nazis also used asphyxiating gas in the catacombs of Odessa in November 1941, following their capture of the city, and in late May 1942 during the Battle of the Kerch Peninsula in eastern Crimea. [76] Victor Israelyan, a Soviet ambassador, reported that the latter incident was perpetrated by the Wehrmacht's Chemical Forces and organized by a special detail of SS troops with the help of a field engineer battalion. Chemical Forces General Ochsner reported to German command in June 1942 that a chemical unit had taken part in the battle. [77] After the battle in mid-May 1942, roughly 3,000 Red Army soldiers and Soviet civilians not evacuated by sea were besieged in a series of caves and tunnels in the nearby Adzhimushkay quarry. After holding out for approximately three months, "poison gas was released into the tunnels, killing all but a few score of the Soviet defenders." [78] Thousands of those killed around Adzhimushkay were documented to have been killed by asphyxiation from gas. [77]

In February 1943, German troops stationed in Kuban received a telegram: "Russians might have to be cleared out of the mountain range with gas." [79] The troops also received two wagons of toxin antidotes. [79]

Western Allies Edit

The Western Allies did not use chemical weapons during the Second World War. The British planned to use mustard gas and phosgene to help repel a German invasion in 1940–1941, [80] [81] and had there been an invasion may have also deployed it against German cities. [82] General Alan Brooke, Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, in command of British anti-invasion preparations of the Second World War said that he ". had every intention of using sprayed mustard gas on the beaches" in an annotation in his diary. [83] The British manufactured mustard, chlorine, lewisite, phosgene and Paris Green and stored them at airfields and depots for use on the beaches. [82]

The mustard gas stockpile was enlarged in 1942–1943 for possible use by RAF Bomber Command against German cities, and in 1944 for possible retaliatory use if German forces used chemical weapons against the D-Day landings. [80]

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, issued a memorandum advocating a chemical strike on German cities using poison gas and possibly anthrax. Although the idea was rejected, it has provoked debate. [84] In July 1944, fearing that rocket attacks on London would get even worse, and saying he would only use chemical weapons if it were "life or death for us" or would "shorten the war by a year", [85] Churchill wrote a secret memorandum asking his military chiefs to "think very seriously over this question of using poison gas." He stated "it is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint. "

The Joint Planning Staff, however, advised against the use of gas because it would inevitably provoke Germany to retaliate with gas. They argued that this would be to the Allies' disadvantage in France both for military reasons and because it might "seriously impair our relations with the civilian population when it became generally known that chemical warfare was first employed by us." [86]

In 1945, the U.S. Army's Chemical Warfare Service standardized improved chemical warfare rockets intended for the new M9 and M9A1 "Bazooka" launchers, adopting the M26 Gas Rocket, a cyanogen chloride (CK)-filled warhead for the 2.36-in rocket launcher. [87] CK, a deadly blood agent, was capable of penetrating the protective filter barriers in some gas masks, [88] and was seen as an effective agent against Japanese forces (particularly those hiding in caves or bunkers), whose gas masks lacked the impregnants that would provide protection against the chemical reaction of CK. [87] [89] [90] While stockpiled in US inventory, the CK rocket was never deployed or issued to combat personnel. [87]

Accidental release Edit

On the night of December 2, 1943, German Ju 88 bombers attacked the port of Bari in Southern Italy, sinking several American ships—among them the SS John Harvey, which was carrying mustard gas intended for use in retaliation by the Allies if German forces initiated gas warfare. The presence of the gas was highly classified, and authorities ashore had no knowledge of it, which increased the number of fatalities since physicians, who had no idea that they were dealing with the effects of mustard gas, prescribed treatment improper for those suffering from exposure and immersion.

The whole affair was kept secret at the time and for many years after the war. According to the U.S. military account, "Sixty-nine deaths were attributed in whole or in part to the mustard gas, most of them American merchant seamen" [91] out of 628 mustard gas military casualties. [92]

The large number of civilian casualties among the Italian population was not recorded. Part of the confusion and controversy derives from the fact that the German attack was highly destructive and lethal in itself, also apart from the accidental additional effects of the gas (the attack was nicknamed "The Little Pearl Harbor"), and attribution of the causes of death between the gas and other causes is far from easy. [93] [94]

Rick Atkinson, in his book The Day of Battle, describes the intelligence that prompted Allied leaders to deploy mustard gas to Italy. This included Italian intelligence that Adolf Hitler had threatened to use gas against Italy if the state changed sides, and prisoner of war interrogations suggesting that preparations were being made to use a "new, egregiously potent gas" if the war turned decisively against Germany. Atkinson concludes, "No commander in 1943 could be cavalier about a manifest threat by Germany to use gas."

After World War II, the Allies recovered German artillery shells containing the three German nerve agents of the day (tabun, sarin, and soman), prompting further research into nerve agents by all of the former Allies.

Although the threat of global thermonuclear war was foremost in the minds of most during the Cold War, both the Soviet and Western governments put enormous resources into developing chemical and biological weapons.

Britain Edit

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, British postwar chemical weapons research was based at the Porton Down facility. Research was aimed at providing Britain with the means to arm itself with a modern nerve-agent-based capability and to develop specific means of defense against these agents.

Ranajit Ghosh, a chemist at the Plant Protection Laboratories of Imperial Chemical Industries was investigating a class of organophosphate compounds (organophosphate esters of substituted aminoethanethiols), [95] for use as a pesticide. In 1954, ICI put one of them on the market under the trade name Amiton. It was subsequently withdrawn, as it was too toxic for safe use.

The toxicity did not go unnoticed, and samples of it were sent to the research facility at Porton Down for evaluation. After the evaluation was complete, several members of this class of compounds were developed into a new group of much more lethal nerve agents, the V agents. The best-known of these is probably VX, assigned the UK Rainbow Code Purple Possum, with the Russian V-Agent coming a close second (Amiton is largely forgotten as VG). [96]

On the defensive side, there were years of difficult work to develop the means of prophylaxis, therapy, rapid detection and identification, decontamination and more effective protection of the body against nerve agents, capable of exerting effects through the skin, the eyes and respiratory tract.

Tests were carried out on servicemen to determine the effects of nerve agents on human subjects, with one recorded death due to a nerve gas experiment. There have been persistent allegations of unethical human experimentation at Porton Down, such as those relating to the death of Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison, aged 20, in 1953. Maddison was taking part in sarin nerve agent toxicity tests. Sarin was dripped onto his arm and he died shortly afterwards. [97]

In the 1950s the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment became involved with the development of CS, a riot control agent, and took an increasing role in trauma and wound ballistics work. Both these facets of Porton Down's work had become more important because of the situation in Northern Ireland. [98]

In the early 1950s, nerve agents such as sarin were produced— about 20 tons were made from 1954 until 1956. CDE Nancekuke was an important factory for stockpiling chemical weapons. Small amounts of VX were produced there, mainly for laboratory test purposes, but also to validate plant designs and optimise chemical processes for potential mass production. However, full-scale mass production of VX agent never took place, with the 1956 decision to end the UK's offensive chemical weapons programme. [99] In the late 1950s, the chemical weapons production plant at Nancekuke was mothballed, but was maintained through the 1960s and 1970s in a state whereby production of chemical weapons could easily re-commence if required. [99]

United States Edit

In 1952, the U.S. Army patented a process for the "Preparation of Toxic Ricin", publishing a method of producing this powerful toxin. In 1958 the British government traded their VX technology with the United States in exchange for information on thermonuclear weapons. By 1961 the U.S. was producing large amounts of VX and performing its own nerve agent research. This research produced at least three more agents the four agents (VE, VG, VM, VX) are collectively known as the "V-Series" class of nerve agents.

Between 1951 and 1969, Dugway Proving Ground was the site of testing for various chemical and biological agents, including an open-air aerodynamic dissemination test in 1968 that accidentally killed, on neighboring farms, approximately 6,400 sheep by an unspecified nerve agent. [100]

From 1962 to 1973, the Department of Defense planned 134 tests under Project 112, a chemical and biological weapons "vulnerability-testing program." In 2002, the Pentagon admitted for the first time that some of tests used real chemical and biological weapons, not just harmless simulants. [101]

Specifically under Project SHAD, 37 secret tests were conducted in California, Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland and Utah. Land tests in Alaska and Hawaii used artillery shells filled with sarin and VX, while Navy trials off the coasts of Florida, California and Hawaii tested the ability of ships and crew to perform under biological and chemical warfare, without the crew's knowledge. The code name for the sea tests was Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense—"SHAD" for short. [101]

In October 2002, the Senate Armed Forces Subcommittee on Personnel held hearings as the controversial news broke that chemical agents had been tested on thousands of American military personnel. The hearings were chaired by Senator Max Cleland, former VA administrator and Vietnam War veteran.

United States chemical respiratory protection standardization

In December 2001, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), along with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC), and the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published the first of six technical performance standards and test procedures designed to evaluate and certify respirators intended for use by civilian emergency responders to a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon release, detonation, or terrorism incident.

To date NIOSH/NPPTL has published six new respirator performance standards based on a tiered approach that relies on traditional industrial respirator certification policy, next-generation emergency response respirator performance requirements, and special live chemical warfare agent testing requirements of the classes of respirators identified to offer respiratory protection against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agent inhalation hazards. These CBRN respirators are commonly known as open-circuit self-contained breathing apparatus (CBRN SCBA), air-purifying respirator (CBRN APR), air-purifying escape respirator (CBRN APER), self-contained escape respirator (CBRN SCER) and loose- or tight-fitting powered air-purifying respirators (CBRN PAPR).

Soviet Union Edit

There were reports of chemical weapons being used during the Soviet–Afghan War, sometimes against civilians. [102] [103]

Due to the secrecy of the Soviet Union's government, very little information was available about the direction and progress of the Soviet chemical weapons until relatively recently. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov published articles revealing illegal chemical weapons experimentation in Russia.

In 1993, Mirzayanov was imprisoned and fired from his job at the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, where he had worked for 26 years. In March 1994, after a major campaign by U.S. scientists on his behalf, Mirzayanov was released. [104]

Among the information related by Vil Mirzayanov was the direction of Soviet research into the development of even more toxic nerve agents, which saw most of its success during the mid-1980s. Several highly toxic agents were developed during this period the only unclassified information regarding these agents is that they are known in the open literature only as "Foliant" agents (named after the program under which they were developed) and by various code designations, such as A-230 and A-232. [105]

According to Mirzayanov, the Soviets also developed weapons that were safer to handle, leading to the development of binary weapons, in which precursors for the nerve agents are mixed in a munition to produce the agent just prior to its use. Because the precursors are generally significantly less hazardous than the agents themselves, this technique makes handling and transporting the munitions a great deal simpler.

Additionally, precursors to the agents are usually much easier to stabilize than the agents themselves, so this technique also made it possible to increase the shelf life of the agents a great deal. During the 1980s and 1990s, binary versions of several Soviet agents were developed and designated "Novichok" agents (after the Russian word for "newcomer"). [106] Together with Lev Fedorov, he told the secret Novichok story exposed in the newspaper The Moscow News. [107]

North Yemen Edit

The first attack of the North Yemen Civil War took place on June 8, 1963 against Kawma, a village of about 100 inhabitants in northern Yemen, killing about seven people and damaging the eyes and lungs of 25 others. This incident is considered to have been experimental, and the bombs were described as "home-made, amateurish and relatively ineffective". The Egyptian authorities suggested that the reported incidents were probably caused by napalm, not gas.

There were no reports of gas during 1964, and only a few were reported in 1965. The reports grew more frequent in late 1966. On December 11, 1966, fifteen gas bombs killed two people and injured thirty-five. On January 5, 1967, the biggest gas attack came against the village of Kitaf, causing 270 casualties, including 140 fatalities. The target may have been Prince Hassan bin Yahya, who had installed his headquarters nearby. The Egyptian government denied using poison gas, and alleged that Britain and the US were using the reports as psychological warfare against Egypt. On February 12, 1967, it said it would welcome a UN investigation. On March 1, U Thant, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he was "powerless" to deal with the matter.

On May 10, 1967 the twin villages of Gahar and Gadafa in Wadi Hirran, where Prince Mohamed bin Mohsin was in command, were gas bombed, killing at least seventy-five. The Red Cross was alerted and on June 2, 1967, it issued a statement in Geneva expressing concern. The Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Berne made a statement, based on a Red Cross report, that the gas was likely to have been halogenous derivatives—phosgene, mustard gas, lewisite, chloride or cyanogen bromide.

Rhodesian Bush War Edit

Evidence points to a top-secret Rhodesian program in the 1970s to use organophosphate pesticides and heavy metal rodenticides to contaminate clothing as well as food and beverages. The contaminated items were covertly introduced into insurgent supply chains. Hundreds of insurgent deaths were reported, although the actual death toll likely rose over 1,000. [108]

Angola Edit

During the Cuban intervention in Angola, United Nations toxicologists certified that residue from both VX and sarin nerve agents had been discovered in plants, water, and soil where Cuban units were conducting operations against National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) insurgents. [109] In 1985, UNITA made the first of several claims that their forces were the target of chemical weapons, specifically organophosphates. The following year guerrillas reported being bombarded with an unidentified greenish-yellow agent on three separate occasions. Depending on the length and intensity of exposure, victims suffered blindness or death. The toxin was also observed to have killed plant life. [110] Shortly afterwards, UNITA also sighted strikes carried out with a brown agent which it claimed resembled mustard gas. [111] As early as 1984 a research team dispatched by the University of Ghent had examined patients in UNITA field hospitals showing signs of exposure to nerve agents, although it found no evidence of mustard gas. [112]

The UN first accused Cuba of deploying chemical weapons against Angolan civilians and partisans in 1988. [109] Wouter Basson later disclosed that South African military intelligence had long verified the use of unidentified chemical weapons on Angolan soil this was to provide the impetus for their own biological warfare programme, Project Coast. [109] During the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, South African troops then fighting in Angola were issued with gas masks and ordered to rehearse chemical weapons drills. Although the status of its own chemical weapons program remained uncertain, South Africa also deceptively bombarded Cuban and Angolan units with colored smoke in an attempt to induce hysteria or mass panic. [111] According to Defence Minister Magnus Malan, this would force the Cubans to share the inconvenience of having to take preventative measures such as donning NBC suits, which would cut combat effectiveness in half. The tactic was effective: beginning in early 1988 Cuban units posted to Angola were issued with full protective gear in anticipation of a South African chemical strike. [111]

On October 29, 1988, personnel attached to Angola's 59 Brigade, accompanied by six Soviet military advisors, reported being struck with chemical weapons on the banks of the Mianei River. [113] The attack occurred shortly after one in the afternoon. Four Angolan soldiers lost consciousness while the others complained of violent headaches and nausea. That November the Angolan representative to the UN accused South Africa of employing poison gas near Cuito Cuanavale for the first time. [113]

Falklands War Edit

Technically, the reported employment of tear gas by Argentine forces during the 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands constitutes chemical warfare. [114] However, the tear gas grenades were employed as nonlethal weapons to avoid British casualties. The barrack buildings the weapons were used on proved to be deserted in any case. The British claim that more lethal, but legally justifiable as they are not considered chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention, white phosphorus grenades were used. [115]

Vietnamese border raids in Thailand Edit

There is some evidence suggesting that Vietnamese troops used phosgene gas against Cambodian resistance forces in Thailand during the 1984–1985 dry-season offensive on the Thai-Cambodian border. [116] [117] [118]

Iran–Iraq War Edit

Chemical weapons employed by Saddam Hussein killed and injured numerous Iranians and Iraqi Kurds. According to Iraqi documents, assistance in developing chemical weapons was obtained from firms in many countries, including the United States, West Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and France. [119]

About 100,000 Iranian soldiers were victims of Iraq's chemical attacks. Many were hit by mustard gas. The official estimate does not include the civilian population contaminated in bordering towns or the children and relatives of veterans, many of whom have developed blood, lung and skin complications, according to the Organization for Veterans. Nerve gas agents killed about 20,000 Iranian soldiers immediately, according to official reports. Of the 80,000 survivors, some 5,000 seek medical treatment regularly and about 1,000 are still hospitalized with severe, chronic conditions. [120] [121] [122]

According to the Foreign Policy, the "Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. . According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983." [123] [124]

Halabja Edit

In March 1988, the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja was exposed to multiple chemical agents dropped from warplanes these "may have included mustard gas, the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX and possibly cyanide." [125] Between 3,200 and 5,000 people were killed, and between 7,000 and 10,000 were injured. [125] Some reports indicated that three-quarters of them were women and children. [125] The preponderance of the evidence indicates that Iraq was responsible for the attack. [125]

Persian Gulf War Edit

The U.S. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency's longstanding official position is that Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein did not use chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In a memorandum in 1994 to veterans of the war, Defense Secretary William J. Perry and General John M. Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote that "There is no evidence, classified or unclassified, that indicates that chemical or biological weapons were used in the Persian Gulf." [126]

However, chemical weapons expert Jonathan B. Tucker, writing in the Nonproliferation Review in 1997, determined that although "[t]he absence of severe chemical injuries or fatalities among Coalition forces makes it clear that no large-scale Iraqi employment of chemical weapons occurred," an array of "circumstantial evidence from a variety of sources suggests that Iraq deployed chemical weapons into the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO)—the area including Kuwait and Iraq south of the 31st Parallel, where the ground war was fought—and engaged in sporadic chemical warfare against Coalition forces." [126] In addition to intercepts of Iraqi military communications and publicly available reporting:

Other sources of evidence for sporadic Iraqi chemical warfare include U.S. intelligence reports on the presence of Iraqi chemical weapons in the KTO military log entries describing the discovery by U.S. units of chemical munitions in Iraqi bunkers during and after the ground war incidents in which troops reported acute symptoms of toxic chemical exposure and credible detections of chemical-warfare agents by Czech, French, and American forces. [126]

Nerve agents (specifically, tabun, sarin, and cyclosarin) and blister agents (specifically, sulfur-mustard and lewisite) were detected at Iraqi sites. [126]

The threat itself of gas warfare had a major effect on Israel, which was not part of the coalition forces led by the US. Israel was attacked with 39 scud missiles, most of which were knocked down in the air above their targets by Patriot missiles developed by Raytheon together with Israel, and supplied by the US. Sirens warned of the attacks approximately 10 minutes before their expected arrival, and Israelis donned gas masks and entered sealed "safe" rooms, over a period 5 weeks. Babies were issued special gas-safe cribs, and religious men were issued gas masks that allowed them to preserve their beards. [127] [128] [129]

In 2014, tapes from Saddam Hussain's archives revealed that Saddam had given orders to use gas against Israel as a last resort if his military communications with the army were cut off. [130]

In 2015 The New York Times published an article about the declassified report of operation Avarice in 2005 in which over 400 chemical weapons including many rockets and missiles from the Iran-Iraq war period were recovered and subsequently destroyed by the CIA. [131] Many other stockpiles, estimated by UNSCOM up to 600 metric tons of chemical weapons, were known to have existed and even admitted by Saddam's regime, but claimed by them to have been destroyed. These have never been found but are believed to still exist. [132] [133]

Iraq War Edit

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, American service members who demolished or handled older explosive ordnance may have been exposed to blister agents (mustard agent) or nerve agents (sarin). [134] According to The New York Times, "In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act." [135] Among these, over 2,400 nerve-agent rockets were found in summer 2006 at Camp Taji, a former Iraqi Republican Guard compound. "These weapons were not part of an active arsenal" "they were remnants from an Iraqi program in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war". [135]

Syrian Civil War Edit

Sarin, mustard agent and chlorine gas have been used during the conflict. Numerous casualties led to an international reaction, especially the 2013 Ghouta attacks. A UN fact-finding mission was requested to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks. In four cases the UN inspectors confirmed use of sarin gas. [136] In August 2016, a confidential report by the United Nations and the OPCW explicitly blamed the Syrian military of Bashar al-Assad for dropping chemical weapons (chlorine bombs) on the towns of Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015 and ISIS for using sulfur mustard on the town of Marea in August 2015. [137] In 2016, Jaysh al-Islam rebel group had used chlorine gas or other agents against Kurdish militia and civilians in the Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood of Aleppo. [138]

Many countries, including the United States and the European Union have accused the Syrian government of conducting several chemical attacks. Following the 2013 Ghouta attacks and international pressure, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons began. In 2015 the UN mission disclosed previously undeclared traces of sarin compounds [ disputed – discuss ] in a "military research site". [139] After the April 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, the United States launched its first attack against Syrian government forces. On 14 April 2018, the United States, France and the United Kingdom carried out a series of joint military strikes against multiple government sites in Syria, including the Barzah scientific research centre, after a chemical attack in Douma.

For many terrorist organizations, chemical weapons might be considered an ideal choice for a mode of attack, if they are available: they are cheap, relatively accessible, and easy to transport. A skilled chemist can readily synthesize most chemical agents if the precursors are available.

In July 1974, a group calling themselves the Aliens of America successfully firebombed the houses of a judge, two police commissioners, and one of the commissioner's cars, burned down two apartment buildings, and bombed the Pan Am Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, killing three people and injuring eight. The organization, which turned out to be a single resident alien named Muharem Kurbegovic, claimed to have developed and possessed a supply of sarin, as well as four unique nerve agents named AA1, AA2, AA3, and AA4S. Although no agents were found at the time Kurbegovic was arrested in August 1974, he had reportedly acquired "all but one" of the ingredients required to produce a nerve agent. A search of his apartment turned up a variety of materials, including precursors for phosgene and a drum containing 25 pounds of sodium cyanide. [140]

The first successful use of chemical agents by terrorists against a general civilian population was on June 27, 1994, when Aum Shinrikyo, an apocalyptic group based in Japan that believed it necessary to destroy the planet, released sarin gas in Matsumoto, Japan, killing eight and harming 200. The following year, Aum Shinrikyo released sarin into the Tokyo subway system killing 12 and injuring over 5,000.

On December 29, 1999, four days after Russian forces began an assault of Grozny, Chechen terrorists exploded two chlorine tanks in the town. Because of the wind conditions, no Russian soldiers were injured. [141]

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. cities of New York City and Washington, D.C., the organization Al-Qaeda responsible for the attacks announced that they were attempting to acquire radiological, biological, and chemical weapons. This threat was lent a great deal of credibility when a large archive of videotapes was obtained by the cable television network CNN in August 2002 showing, among other things, the killing of three dogs by an apparent nerve agent. [142]

In an anti-terrorist attack on October 26, 2002, Russian special forces used a chemical agent (presumably KOLOKOL-1, an aerosolized fentanyl derivative), as a precursor to an assault on Chechen terrorists, which ended the Moscow theater hostage crisis. All 42 of the terrorists and 120 out of 850 hostages were killed during the raid. Although the use of the chemical agent was justified as a means of selectively targeting terrorists, it killed over 100 hostages.

In early 2007, multiple terrorist bombings had been reported in Iraq using chlorine gas. These attacks wounded or sickened more than 350 people. Reportedly the bombers were affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, [143] and they have used bombs of various sizes up to chlorine tanker trucks. [144] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks as "clearly intended to cause panic and instability in the country." [145]

The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and the Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, or the Geneva Protocol, is an international treaty which prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in warfare. Signed into international Law at Geneva on June 17, 1925 and entered into force on February 8, 1928, this treaty states that chemical and biological weapons are "justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world." [146]

Chemical Weapons Convention Edit

The most recent arms control agreement in International Law, the Convention of the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, or the Chemical Weapons Convention, outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. It is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organisation based in The Hague. [147]


Winston Churchill’s shocking use of chemical weapons

Secrecy was paramount. Britain's imperial general staff knew there would be outrage if it became known that the government was intending to use its secret stockpile of chemical weapons. But Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, brushed aside their concerns. As a long-term advocate of chemical warfare, he was determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1919, 94 years before the devastating strike in Syria, Churchill planned and executed a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia.

The British were no strangers to the use of chemical weapons. During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, General Edmund Allenby had fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas at enemy positions, to limited effect. But in the final months of the first world war, scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret "M Device", an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it "the most effective chemical weapon ever devised".

Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. "If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda."The cabinet was hostile to the use of such weapons, much to Churchill's irritation. He also wanted to use M Devices against the rebellious tribes of northern India. "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes," he declared in one secret memorandum. He criticised his colleagues for their "squeamishness", declaring that "the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than [the] high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war."

He ended his memo on a note of ill-placed black humour: "Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?" he asked. "It is really too silly."

A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.

The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages: Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped. Two weeks later the remaining weapons were dumped in the White Sea. They remain on the seabed to this day in 40 fathoms of water.


Watch the video: underidoderidoderiododeriodoo Winstion Churchill meme (July 2022).


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