Poison gas (4-24-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (April 24, 1943)

Background of news –
Poison gas

By editorial research reports

The near future will tell whether one expected horror of World War II – gas bombardment of cities from the air – has moved forward or has been delayed by the official British warning of April 22 that any use of poison gas by Germany on the Russian front:

…will immediately be followed by the fullest possible use of this process of war upon the German munitions centers, seaports and other military objectives throughout the whole extent of Germany.

Great Britain’s threat of retaliation for any use of poison gas against its Russian ally followed reports from Moscow telling of the capture of German documents which showed preparations to employ gas against Soviet forces on one of the Russian fronts. The new British warning to Hitler came on the 28th anniversary of the first use of poison gas by the Germans in World War I.

At 5 o’clock on the afternoon of April 22, 1915, artillery observers noticed a bank of greenish vapor moving from the German trenches toward the British and Canadian lines around Ypres in Belgium. The vapor, rolled by a breeze, came along a front of four miles. The French had been warned by prisoners and deserters that the Germans were preparing to use asphyxiating gases, but the British High Command was incredulous.

Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, later wrote:

It was at first impossible for anyone to realize what had actually happened. The smoke and fumes hid everything from sight and hundreds of men were thrown into a comatose or dying condition, and within an hour the whole position had to be abandoned.

The German High Command appears to have been surprised at the success with which the gas (chlorine) was used, and was not prepared to follow up the breakthrough.

Later in April, gas was used by the Germans against the Russians on the Eastern Front.

Canadian soldiers found that a wet handkerchief over the face gave some protection against the gas, and the first gas masks were received by British forces in mid-May. Improvements in the masks gave adequate protection against chlorine and most of the other gases developed during World War I.

Charges have appeared from time to time that the Germans have used gas against Russian forces and Yugoslav insurgents in the present war and that the Japanese have employed it against the Chinese. In a radio address on May 10, 1942, Winston Churchill said the Nazis in the description of their assault might “make use of poison gas against the armies and people of Russia.” He went on to say that the British government, while firmly resolved not to employ this weapon unless it was used first by the enemy, had not neglected to make preparations “on a formidable scale.”

President Roosevelt said in a formal statement on June 5, 1942, that the U.S. government had received “authoritative reports” that Japanese forces were using poison gas in various localities of China. He added:

I desire to make it unmistakably clear that, if Japan persists in this inhuman form of warfare against China or against any other of the United Nations, such action will be regarded by this government as though taken against the United States, and retaliation in kind and in full measure will be meted out.

The President’s latest statement on the subject was made March 23, 1943. He then said that he was checking on reports from Chungking that Japan was again using gas against Chinese forces.