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Sometimes history is a very dark subject. Take, for example, the use of chemical weapons in warfare. WWI was bad in that regard, especially the use of phosgene (the greatest killer, about 85% of deaths), chlorine, and mustard gas. Chemical attacks were seen as an effective way to destroy enemy soldiers concentrated in trenches. The French were the first to use chemical weapons in the war, but those were non-lethal tear gas grenades. More lethal gases resulted in an estimated 1.3 million casualties by war's end, and approximately 2,000 American soldiers were killed in gas attacks.

As countermeasures evolved (namely gas masks), the use of gas increased as its effectiveness diminished. Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States all used poison gas during the war. By the end of WWI, a factory in Ohio was producing 10 tons of Lewisite (an improved version of mustard gas) every single day.

Italy used poison gases against both Libya (1930) and Ethiopia (1935). WWII was a different story. Churchill was a great advocate of using poison gas, saying if the Germans used gas then “We shall retaliate by drenching the German cities with gas on the largest possible scale.” The British first line of defense against a German invasion was its stockpile of chemical weapons. The Brits also experimented with anthrax weapons on remote Scottish islands. Germany developed the extremely lethal gases Sarin and Zyklon B during the war. Upon surrender, Germany was found to have 7,000 tons of Sarin gas alone, which is enough to kill every person in 30 cities the size of Paris.

Japan is infamous as the only country to use poison gas as a military weapon during the Second World War. They had 6,700 people working around the clock on Okunoshima Island manufacturing poison gas. The Imperial Japanese Army deployed both nerve and mustard gases against Chinese forces in 1939, 1941, and 1942. They also planned, but did not implement, “Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night” which was a biological attack against the US mainland scheduled for 1945.

Himself a victim of mustard gas during WWI, Hitler knew first-hand what it could do to his soldiers, and perhaps that is one of the reasons why, along with the threat of retaliation, he never deployed poison gas in combat, even when his country was on the verge of destruction. Aside from Japan, thankfully none of the other Axis or Allied powers opened that Pandora’s Box during the war.

Unfortunately, in 1943 there was a deadly poison gas event resulting from combat in Europe. It happened in the Italian city of Bari on the Adriatic Sea.

At the time, the large city of Bari (about 250,000 population) was a primary port of supply for advancing Allied troops moving north through Italy. Consequently, it was a primary target for the Germans. Rather stupidly on the part of the Allies, Bari was provided almost no defense against air attack, and it didn’t help that they kept the port lights burning all night to facilitate offloading of supplies.

On the afternoon of December 2, 1943 British Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham held a press conference to say that the Germans had already lost the air war and, "I would consider it as a personal insult if the enemy should send so much as one plane over the city" of Bari. How Coningham came up with such a dingbat conclusion in 1943 is unknown, but the Germans proved how wrong he was that very evening.

Beginning at 7:25 PM, the Germans attacked Bari with 105 JU-88 bombers flying from bases in both Northern Italy and Yugoslavia. Because there was no air defense, the Junkers kept circling over Bari to ensure pinpoint bombing. That one attack resulted in 24 ships sunk, three ships deemed a total loss, and 12 more ships seriously damaged. The Junkers also exploded a gas pipeline which spewed burning fuel across the harbor, furthering the spread of damage. That one attack knocked the port of Bari out of the war for nearly three months.

What no one knew at the time was the US Liberty Ship John Harvey had a massive load of 2,000 mustard gas bombs in Bari harbor. President Roosevelt personally approved transport of the chemical munitions to Europe to have on hand in case Hitler used poison gas as a last-ditch measure to prevent defeat.

Needless to say, the mustard gas on the John Harvey was top secret. Even the ship’s captain, Edwin Knowles, didn’t know what he had on board. So when a German bomb directly hit and destroyed the vessel, nobody understood that mustard was spreading across the water and mingling with the burning fuel and oil. For sailors blown into that contaminated water, it was horrible. Meanwhile the mustard gas spread across the city of Bari and its densely populated urban areas.

The final count was 83 military personnel who died from the mustard gas. Nobody bothered to tally the number of civilian casualties, but all agree the number of Italian civilian deaths would have been much greater.

Then there was the cover up. The Allied High Command immediately clamped down on any reporting about the tragedy for fear of provoking Hitler. They were worried Hitler would think poison gas was being sent to Europe for an imminent chemical attack against Germany. The Bari mustard gas deaths were described as “burns due to enemy action.” The full extent of what happened at Bari was not declassified until 1959. Dark history....
 

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Sometimes history is a very dark subject. Take, for example, the use of chemical weapons in warfare. WWI was bad in that regard, especially the use of phosgene (the greatest killer, about 85% of deaths), chlorine, and mustard gas. Chemical attacks were seen as an effective way to destroy enemy soldiers concentrated in trenches. The French were the first to use chemical weapons in the war, but those were non-lethal tear gas grenades.
The French used tear gas. Doesn't count.

The first time lethal gas was deployed was by the German Army against the Canadian Corps at Ypes. The French army broke and ran. The Canadians pissed in their handkerchiefs, socks, shirt tails...whatever they had....wrapped it over their mouths and noses and stood their ground. The Germans were stunned when they advanced, they expected everyone to be dead, not shooting them. Then the Canadians counter-attacked with bayonets. The Germans lost control of their bladders and ran. Canadians don't run...especially the ones from Alberta.
 

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Interesting story about WW2 you posted; I'd never heard it before. Certainly sounds credible.
 

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Germany developed the extremely lethal gases Sarin and Zyklon B during the war. Upon surrender, Germany was found to have 7,000 tons of Sarin gas alone, which is enough to kill every person in 30 cities the size of Paris.

Himself a victim of mustard gas during WWI, Hitler knew first-hand what it could do to his soldiers, and perhaps that is one of the reasons why, along with the threat of retaliation, he never deployed poison gas in combat, even when his country was on the verge of destruction. Aside from Japan, thankfully none of the other Axis or Allied powers opened that Pandora’s Box during the war.
Not precisely correct. Sarin was developed in 1938, along with Tabun. IG Farben was looking for more effective insecticides and stumbled over two substances that turned out to be frightful war gases.

Zyklon B was developed by German chemist Fritz Haber from a World War I war gas, Zyklon, which in turn was evolved from hydrogen cyanide, used as a pesticide in the United States beginning in the 1880s. Zyklon B was routinely used to insure no insects came across the border in fruit shipments from Mexico, Central, and South America beginning in the late 1920s. It was also used for delousing clothing without the need for live steam or boiling, which was the standard delousing method at the time. It was sitting right there on the shelf when the SS came looking for an efficient death agent for the Final Solution.

But the reason the Germans did not use poison gas in combat during World War II had nothing to do with Hitler's having been gassed during the Great War. The reason was far more practical.

The Allies wondered why the Nazis had not used gas against the Normandy beachhead, a target tailor-made for gas warface. Stanley Lovell, the Deputy Director for Research and Development of the Office of Strategic Services, one of the intelligence types tasked with providing questions for the interrogators of the Nazis leadership, sent that question to them and requested it be asked of Hermann Goering. The Reichmarschall's response?

The reason the Germans did not use gas at Normandy was "Because of the horses. The Wehrmacht was dependent upon horse-drawn transport to supply its troops, and we never developed a gas mask that a horse would tolerate. Every mask we tried resulted in the horse lying down in the traces because it could get enough oxygen to work." Goering further offered the opinion he was surprised Allied intelligence had not learned this.
 
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