The date is January 31st, 1915. German soldiers fire artillery shells filled with tear gas against Russian soldiers on the eastern front. Due to the extreme cold, the attack proved relatively unsuccessful. This was followed up by another tear gas attack in March against the French and then a chlorine attack on April 22nd, 1915, at what would become known as the Second Battle of Ypres (above image).
After a full day of heavy artillery against the combined lines of the French, British, Canadian, and Algerians, the Germans transitioned to firing chlorine gas rounds. Believing the yellow gas to mark the front line of a German attack, the French and Algerian soldiers conducted a stand to, moving their forces to the front lines in preparation for the attack. The result was catastrophic. The chlorine gas caused immediate and violent choking of the Allied soldiers and damaged their respiratory systems. Had the Germans been more prepared for the outcome, they would have been able to break out of their defensive line as Allied soldiers fled for more than four miles.
Both sides were guilty of using this new weapon on the battlefield. The attacks left more than 1.3 million dead, including over 20,000 military and 40,000 civilians dying from chemical weapon effects in 1920 alone. In the war of attrition, the weapon which reduced the other side’s effectiveness through death and psychological warfare was king. A line in the sand had been crossed, and it was one which would have ramifications to this day.
The 1928 Geneva Protocol, which was signed by 65 countries, prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in armed conflict. Unfortunately, much has been left open to interpretation and subsequent refinement. The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam resulted in the 1977 Environmental Modification Convention which simply identifies that herbicides should be considered on a case by case basis. Under the Geneva Protocol, tear gas is considered unlawful, but under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, it can be used only to provide for riot control.
That is not to say that incidents have not still occurred despite the ban. Some of the most well-known incidents include the use of chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran war, and the use of sarin and chlorine gas in Syria in 2013.
US service members today continue to train to respond to incidents both conventional and unconventional in nature. The protective mask, or PRO-Mask, is able to be equipped and utilized in any environment. Soldiers are able to shoot, move, communicate, and conduct operations in a way that protects themselves not only from the traditional threat of bullets or bombs, but the non-traditional threats posed by chemical and biological weapons. While their use since World War I has been limited, the ban did not limit the ability for countries to produce and stockpile these weapons leading to the concern that in the future, a stable country may collapse, exposing us all to the risks presented by these weapons.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.