The Medical Aspects of Gas Warfare

During WW1, Gas Warfare was first used at the Battle of 2nd Ypres in 1915 when Chlorine gas was released from cylinders with devastating effect on French Colonial Troops. This use of gas from cylinders, however, was dependent on the prevailing wind and it was subsequently found that chemical agents could be carried more effectively inside shells; these could be fired at the enemy, independent of the weather.

The gases used during WW1 may be classified as:

1. Lacrimators: (eye irritants and "tear gases") such as Benzylbromide.

2. Sternutators: (nasal irritants, "sneeze gases," "vomiting gases"), such as Diphenylchlorarsine. Sternutator gases were mixed with the other, more lethal, gases in order to interfere with the men wearing their protective gas masks..

3. Lung irritants: (suffocants, respiratory irritants) Chlorine, Phosgene, carbon oxychloride, chlormethylchlorformate, bromacetone, chloropicrin.

4. Vesicants (skin irritants, escharotics) Dichlorethylsulphide, or Mustard Gas, chlorarsines and bromoarsines.

The following descriptions of the medical effects of Gas Warfare have been extracted from "The Medical Department of the United States in the World War", Volume XIV.


A Description of the Medical Effects of the Various Gases used during WW1. The classification and methods of use of the gases used on the Western Front.

The Pathological effects of Gas Warfare An account of the general pathological findings in 107 fatal gas cases, subjected to postmortem examination during 1918. This article describes the effect of suffocant gases, the pathology of Mustard gas poisoning is described separately in the next link.

The Pathology of Mustard Gas The detailed post mortem examination reports of twenty five men who suffered fatal exposure to this gas..

Return to Main Medical Page

Last updated: 29 August 2007