Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I

By Albert Palazzo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Experimentation

I consider it of first importance that an immediate supply of lethal gas shell should be sent. -- Sir Douglas Haig

Gas had failed to bring about decisive victory at Loos. Nevertheless, it was successful enough to suggest its potential as a useful adjunct in future attacks. Despite the problems with blowback, gas would eventually find a role in the British method of waging war. The officer corps had accepted it as a weapon that should be used at every opportunity, they had created specialized units charged with its employment and incorporated operational lessons on gas into training materials and courses, and they had committed resources to satisfy the growing demand for necessary gas materials. However, relative to other weapon systems, the importance of gas declined during 1916. At Loos the chlorine cloud was the battle's critical element, while at the Somme the various gases and their delivery systems represented a minor subtheme to the supremacy of the gun. Throughout 1916 British use of offensive chemical warfare was a small affair when compared to the commitment they made to other weapons. Yet this state of affairs was not the result of a lack of enthusiasm for the weapon but rather the result of material shortages. As the war progressed and Britain expanded its chemical infrastructure, the value of gas and the army's commitment to it greatly increased. Though gas would never again be the most vital weapon, it did evolve into one of the more important auxiliaries.

Over the course of the year the War Office and the Ministry of Munitions laid the basis for a vast expansion of gas production that would compensate for the nation's scandalous prewar neglect of its chemical industry. The results were dramatic. By 1917 the shortages eased, by 1918 the position relative to the Germans equalized, and by 1919, had the war lasted, Britain would have dominated the chemical battlefield. The year of the Somme also witnessed the creation of the Special Brigade and the acceptance of new dispersal systems particularly designed for the Royal Artillery, systems that the British would employ in their quest for a superiority. The chemical struggle against Germany was a constant one. First there was the need to find the means to dominate the

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Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Gas Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Confronting the Western Front 6
  • Chapter 2 - Introduction and Reaction 41
  • Chapter 3 - Experimentation 78
  • Chapter 4 - Institutionalization 111
  • Chapter 5 - March to Victory 154
  • Conclusion 190
  • Notes 201
  • Index 233
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