Chemical Warfare by Edward M. Spiers (auth.)

By Edward M. Spiers (auth.)

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To provide additional protection against prussic acid, the British eventually introduced the small box respirator (SBR), in which the mask was connected by a flexible rubber tube to a filter containing charcoal and sodium permanganate-lime granules. 40 Having captured German plans in November 1915, the British were forewarned of the next gas attack. It was to be launched in Flanders in early December and would use various gases including phosgene. Suitably alerted, the British accelerated and completed the introduction ofthe P helmet.

Because the gas was fired in lethal concentrations without warning, all German working parties had to wear gas masks when within 1000 yards of the front line on any night when an Allied gas attack could be launched. Morale undoubtedly suffered as the troops laboured under this imposition. Logistics, finally, proved a persistent problem in gas warfare, especially for the British in mounting their cylinder attacks. The infantry deeply resented the additional work involved in night-time installations which had to be quietly and carefully completed in order to preserve the secrecy of the operation.

63 Foulkes would claim that these fears, which were also apparent in British trenches, were '(largely) imaginery'. In the seven months after June 1916, the British kept 20 000 cylinders in their front line with only twenty-five burst by shells, killing thirty-one men. In 110 cloud attacks, drift-back occurred only once, killing nineteen men as a consequence. 64 Gas instruction was perfunctory, extremely dull and boring for instructors and men alike. Soldiers spent about one week in gas schools, with about one hour immersed in a cloud gas and thirty seconds exposed to tear gas.

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