Change To Chemical Warfare In The Great

War Essay, Research Paper

Change to Chemical Warfare in The Great War

The decision by the Germans to first use chemical bombs was a very controversial

one. Not only did it open up a can of worms in World War one, but changed the face of

battle for years to come. The use of these new weapons lead to huge problems for the

U.S. and its people. For the first time ever, the United States had to play catch-up in the

weapons brigade. As the second World War came, the effects carried on and the

production of hazardous bombs and explosives greatly increased.

The initial decision to use lethal chemical weapons at Ypres in April, 1915, was

due mostly because of poor expectations, frustration, and blood. At the start of World

War I in August, 1914, each side expected an easy victory by Christmas. Instead, the war

escalated greatly. More than 800,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured in the early

battles of First Marne, First Ypres, Masurian Lakes, and Tannenberg (Broen). This figure

does not include casualties from smaller battles or those who became sick in trench

warfare. Most of these casualties were hardened professionals: Most soldiers had been

civilians or, at most, in national part-time militias only a few months before. Far from

being over by Christmas, in early 1915 the war was far from done. The war dragged on for

almost four more years and would be fought by nearly a whole generation of young men

of draft age.

The decision to use lethal chemical weapons was highly controversial in military

circles. Nevertheless, General Erich von Falkenhayn, commander-in-chief of the German

forces, asked for volunteers among the commanders of his armies to try out the

technology developed and overseen by Dr. Fritz Haber (Morse) . With the exception of

Duke Albrecht von W rttemberg, commander of the Fourth Army, who wasn t willing to

use this untested new technology.

April 22, 1915, was a beautiful spring day near the Belgian town of Ypres. It was a

Thursday afternoon, it was dry and sunny with a breeze blowing away from German

trenches. Even the war seemed relatively quiet. A while after the heavy battling began at

5:00 P.M., two almost invisible greenish yellow clouds flew into the air near the village of

Langemark. The clouds merged and crept in the direction of the Forty-Fifth Algerian

Division and the French Eighty-Seventh Division, by a twist of wind barely missing the

Canadian First Division to the east (Broen). At first, no one among the Allies understood

what was happening.

The Germans later claimed that only two hundred of their casualties at the

five-week Second Battle of Ypres came from chemical weapons. The Allies said that

fifteen thousand of the fifty-nine thousand casualties they suffered were a result of

chemical weapons, including five thousand deaths. Although historians doubt the figures

on both sides, the results of the first use of modern, lethal chemical weapons at Ypres

made it clear that chemical warfare, even against unprotected opponents, is both terrifying

and deadly but is no guarantee of military victory. This is important because some claim

that since it is important to have as an army, then it is okay to use in war even though you

might not win.

Chemical weapons took a terrible human toll over the next three and one-half

years. Of the approximately fifteen million casualties suffered in World War I, one million

soldiers were hospitalized or killed because of exposure to chlorine, phosgene, or mustard

gas (Morse) . The fact that chemical weapons are airborne, allows them to spread beyond

the battlefield. This makes them uncontrollable area weapons, possibly harming civilians

who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. More than two thousand total

civilian casualties have been found from industrial accidents and attacks by the Germans.

Use of chemical weapons also contributed to the erosion taking place on the western front

as a result of military jumbles. As General Peyton March, chief of staff for the United

States Army, wrote later, “War is cruel at best, but the use of an instrument of death,

which, once launched, cannot be controlled, and which may decimate noncombatants

women and children reduces civilization to savagery.”

In conclusion, it is clearly stated the negative effects, on the U.S. and the world, of

chemical warfare. Not only that, but it is totally unnecessary in battle, because the

Germans used lethal elements and still lost the war. Also in could have an effect on

innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the war. Chemical warfare has physical

effects on one s body and psychological effects from being through these terrible battles.


Britanica Online. World War I . 1997

Broen, Anthony. The Great War. New York: Bantam, 1979.

Cheney, Glenn Alan. Weapons of WWI. London: Franklin Watts, 1983.

Gale Group, The. Germany First Uses Lethal Chemical Weapons on the Western Front

World History. . 1994

Morse, Joseph Laffan. World War I . Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. 1967 ed.


In conducting research for this paper, I found that online sources were extremely

helpful. Encyclopedia Britanica online was very easy to use and gave me a lot of

information on my subject. The books weren t as great, I had to fish around a great deal,

mostly because the books covered to broad of a region rather than focusing on one aspect

of the war. My least helpful source was the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia, I didn t give

me any other information other than pure facts and numbers involved in the war. The

online Britanica was good because it also searched for articles relating to the topic to hear

an opinion on the matter.

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