The man who would go down in history as the father of chemical warfare acted as his own guinea pig to test his invention. On April 2, 1915, Fritz Haber, the head of Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry, rode through a yellow-green cloud of chlorine gas on grounds used for troop exercises.
The experiment was successful. The scientist, himself a war enthusiast, began coughing convulsively; he grew pale and had to be carried away on a stretcher.
About three weeks later, German troops used chlorine gas for the first time on a mass scale during combat on the Western Front near the Flemish city of Ypres in Belgium, deploying a total of 150 tons of the substance. At first, French soldiers thought the shimmering cloud was intended as a diversionary tactic. But then, suddenly, they began flailing about with their hands in the air as they gasped for breath and collapsed on the ground. As many as 1,200 were killed and 3,000 wounded. Haber observed the event from a safe distance.
The Birth of Weapons of Mass Destruction
In military history, the deployment of chlorine gas in Ypres is considered the moment when weapons of mass destruction were born, and the rapid development of additional chemical weapons ensued. It was a development that revolutionized warfare and has manifested itself in many ways: from the use of toxic defoliants like Agent Orange in the Vietnam War to the more recent poison gas attacks in the Syrian civil war.
The use of chemical weapons in Flanders was the result of military desperation. The German army's initial invasion had already devolved into stationary trench warfare by the end of 1914 and was running out of munitions.
All sides were looking for a way to break through enemy lines at the time and they spent billions on the search. The result was an unprecedented advance in technology. Researchers invented mobile radio telephones, engineers constructed cannons capable of firing shells as far as 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) and fighter planes were flown into battle zones for the first time ever.
Even a century after Ypres, armed conflicts continue to spur technological advances. Wherever wars are fought, money flows into military innovations. The United States' War on Terror, for example, resulted in the addition of billions to the defense budget and also led to the development of killer drones and vastly complex surveillance technologies.
A Preparedness to Invest
Prior to World War I, German politicians and generals had rejected a number of defense projects, but the conflagration of violence that enveloped Europe in 1914 triggered a flood of investment. One example was the flamethrower, which had already been patented by a Berlin engineer all the way back in 1901. But it was first deployed on a large scale during the course of the war, in the February 1916 battle at Verdun. The jet of fire had a range of 35 meters (115 feet).
The tank also developed quickly during the Great War, though the allies were in the lead. In 1906, Austrian Kaiser Franz Joseph I had declared the Austro-Daimler armored vehicle to be useless. Just 10 years later, the British rolled with their tanks into the Battle of the Somme. The Central Powers followed up much too late and developed their own tanks.
During the war years, the military budget of the German Reich grew by 505 percent, and the technical advances weren't by any means restricted to weapons. The telephone, for example, became the most important means of communication during World War I. On average, each army corps received 5,000 calls a day. By 1917, the German army had installed a 920,000-kilometer (571,000 mile) long network of cables for its field telephones. The fact that the lines could easily be cut in trench warfare promoted the deployment of radio equipment. The world's first "mobile phones" weighed 50 kilograms (110 pounds).
Each side reacted swiftly to progress made by the other. At the beginning of the war, aircraft squadrons were primarily used to conduct surveillance on the front. But 1915 proved to be a watershed moment. French fighter pilot Roland Garos installed a machine gun on his Morane-Saulnier monoplane. In response, the Germans developed the Fokker fighter plane, which included synchronization gear that enabled it to fire in the direction of flight through the arc of its spinning propeller without hitting the blades.
The Allies initially responded with outrage to the Germans' deployment of chlorine gas in Flanders, calling it a barbaric act. But they, too, began to deploy poison gas beginning in September 1915. All told, the parties to the conflict used 112,000 tons of chemical weapons between 1914 and 1918.
Fritz Haber, the father of the poison gas war, got promoted to the rank of captain as a result of the Germans' successful attack near Ypres. It was reported that he responded to the promotion with tears of joy.
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Warfare
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- Rating: Excellent
Industrial Revolution, which took place over much of the nineteenth century, had many advantages. It provided people with tools for a better life; people were no longer dependent on the land for all of their goods. The Industrial Revolution made it possible for people to control nature more than they ever had before. However, now people were dependent on the new machines of the Industrial Age (1). The Revolution brought with it radical changes in the textile and engine worlds; it was a time of reason and innovations. Although it was a time of progress, there were drawbacks to the headway made in the Industrial Revolution. Granted, it provided solutions to the problems of a world without industry. However, it also created problems with its mechanized inventions that provided new ways of killing. Ironically, there was much public faith in these innovations; however, these were the same inventions that killed so many and contributed to a massive loss of faith. These new inventions made their debut in the first world war (2) ).
The products of the Industrial Revolution made World War I a war like no other. The Industrial Age brought with it the development of the railroad, a huge factor in the area of transportation of soldiers and supplies. The Revolution also brought changes in warfare at sea. Instead of ships made of wood, iron and steel were the new materials of choice. The products of the Industrial Revolution that had the most impact on the war were by far the weapons created by the new machines and materials of the revolution. The book, Warfare in the Twentieth Century, states that "industrialization dramatically increased the destructive capacity of armies by providing them with weapons of enhanced range, accuracy, and fire..." (3). The weapons of World War I are a perfect example of how reason and progress are not always without consequence; they can sometimes bring about horrible suffering and pain.
World War I is known as a war that occurred on extremely cruel terms; there were not many restrictions on what and when certain weapons could be used. Unfortunately, the Industrial Age brought with it many new ways to kill; the soldiers of World War I came in contact with many new weapons that they had never seen in combat.
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Crimes Industrial Age New Ways Supplies Drawbacks Inventions Industrial Revolution Ships Innovations Twentieth Century
These weapons included the rifle, which had been around for quite some time, but was greatly improved with a longer range by the time World War I was underway. The knife bladed bayonet was also an industrialized tool that was widely used in the war. One of the newer innovations that was developed in the Industrial Age was the machine gun, the source of many casualties during combat. This weapon could fire many rounds of ammunition at a very high speed (600 rounds per minute). Germans equated the firepower of one machine gun with 80 riflemen (4). The machine gun was usually positioned at the top of a trench and operated by 6 or 7 men; it would eliminate hundreds of men as an advance was made. As Hiram Maxim, the inventor of the machine gun, said "...Only a general who was a barbarian would send his men to certain death against the concentrated power of my new gun..." (5). Grenades were also widely used during World War I; this weapon allowed for an enemy to kill or wound his opponent without being seen (by throwing them from the trenches). Another product of the technology of the Industrial Age was the flame thrower, which was a liquid fire projector that was quite feared by all soldiers. Yet another weapon feared by many soldiers was the use of poisonous gas, which could be released from cylinders, or dropped on the enemy in shells. The gas could be determined as either lethal or irritant, and many forms of the gas left the recipient maimed for life. For example, Dichlorethyl Sulphide (otherwise known as "mustard gas") was known for blistering and burning skin. It also caused blindness, and burned the respiratory system. It could remain in the air for many days, causing continual danger to those who came in contact with it (6). Yet another innovation that resulted from materials produced by the Industrial Revolution was armored warfare, which began as armored cars and was developed into the tank; an important destructive weapon in World War I. Airplanes were also developed for combat by this time; dogfights in the sky were quite common. World War I also marked the emergence of submarine warfare. Regulations were set to ensure that civilian ships were not hit only after the civilian ship Lusitania was hit by German submarines. Overall, the technology of the Industrial Revolution helped to develop machines that enhanced the destructive power of armies. The fruits of reason were killing machines that led to unreasonable atrocities. These heinous ways of killing continued to develop and evolve over the period between World War I and World War II.
Elements of reason and technology played a large part in the development of the highly mechanized warfare that characterized World War II (7). One of the major German tactics during World War II was the strategy of blitzkrieg, otherwise known as "lightning war". This strategy involved German armies plowing through enemy territory with tanks and air power (8). The technological advances in the area of radar also allowed for pilots and ground crew to know where enemy vehicles were positioned; with this knowledge the enemy could be easily eliminated. The culmination of technology used in war came with the nuclear age, which the world entered on August 6, 1945 with the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima, Japan (9). The atomic bomb caused destruction that the world had never seen. It was the cause of ultimate suffering; it was also built with technology that had begun to develop in the Industrial Revolution.
The reason and innovations of the Industrial Revolution brought about immense progress in many areas of life. Ironically, this period of reason also led to unreasonable ways of killing in the first and second World Wars. The aftermath of these catastrophes left people asking the following question "In order for civilization to progress, to move forward technologically, must there always by a price to pay in human suffering or abuse?" (10). This question was indefinably answered with the massive destruction of the two world wars. The fruits of this reasonable period led to unparalleled suffering and pain that is still being felt to this day.
1. Perry Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization: Problems and Sources in History:
Volume II. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), 122.
2. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization..., 123.
3. Colin McInnes, et.al. Warfare in the Twentieth Century: Theory and Practice.
(London: Unwin Hyman, Ltd, 1988),4
This source was helpful to my web project because of its useful knowledge dealing
with the topic of weapons used in both World War I. and World War II. It also
deals with issues of naval and land power in both wars and the issue of nuclear
power. It discusses the theory and practice of various military strategies and
the way that these practices are changing. It was quite helpful to my topic,
especially the issue of how weapons changed with the Industrial Revolution.
4. Philip J. Haythornthwaite, The World War One Source Book. (London: Armsand Armour
This source was helpful in formulating my web project specifically because of its
lengthy explanation of the weapons of World War I. It gave detailed descriptions
of the actual weapons, as well as the destructive power of these weapons. It was
helpful to me in the sense that it provided me with descriptions of weapons that
allowed me to use these weapons as examples of the negative effects of the
5. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization..., 197.
6. Philip J. Haythornthwaite, The World War One Source Book. (London: Armsand Armour
Inc., 1992), 78
7. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization..., pg. 340.
8. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization..., pg. 353.
9. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization..., pg. 382
10. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization...,pgs. 123, 124.