Poison gas as a weapon of war

Poison gas, Chlorine, Mustard and several others were used by both Allied and German forces during WW1 but not during WW2 although Churchill had given express orders that if the German army attempted landings on English soil then the use of gas was to be used in large quantities in order to repel the invader.
I realise of course that the effects of gas on both civilian and military personnel is a terrible thing but what I can’t quite fathom out is why it is more terrible than say Napalm, Carpet bombing, Nuclear bombs…all are designed to kill or incapacitate the enemy.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I think war is a terrible thing and would never advocate the killing of another human being it is just that I am a little confused at what appears to be a set of double standards.

Gas is an indiscriminate weapon with no “target.” Once realeased, any change in wind (or even humidity or air pressure) can cause it to go someplace other than its original target. This can include both the users of the gas and other people who are (for the purposes of the battle scenario) neutral.

This is the reason that it was actually not used following WWII: it is a really crappy weapon that is as liable to harm the attacker as the attacked. When Iraq used it in the 1980s, for example, it was generally directed against civilian population centers because Hussein did not care who would be harmed, as long as someone died. (His attempts to use it on the battlefield were generally as poorly effective as the attacks of WWI.)

Yes I realise that Gas is an indiscriminate weapon but with the advent and improvement of gas masks does this not make it less so.
That is to say regardless of wind change, your own forces being aware that gas had been utilised would have ample time to don their masks.

What I’ve heard is that death by gas is just far too gruesome to be justified as a necessary use of force–the other weapons you mentioned (with the exception of nukes, perhaps) are ugly in their own right, but the argument goes that their use can be justified as necessary force–you have to stop the enemy somehow. Gas was very effective in doing this, but the way in which it works and the length of time it can take to die from the effects make it insupportable as a weapon of war–and that’s why its deployment is considered a war crime.

Here’s a link that describes it some.

From the sound of it, the ability of gas to hang around for long periods of time is probably another reason it’s disfavored–something like landmines.

pasunejen - I fail to see how having ones head cleaved off by grenade shrapnel is any more or less gruesome than the effects of gas. Fire and small fast moving bits of metal can do some pretty horrific damage to peopel.

I have heard that that Hitler may not have used gas in WWII due to his run-in with Baron von Mustard Gas during WWI.
Aside from the political reasons, there is the practical matter that gas is largely inneffective against modern troops who can defend against it with protective clothing and sealed vehicles.

It’s fairly indescriminate and makes a horrible offensive weapon as advancing troops would then find themselves advanceing through their own gas.

I think my defintion of what makes something a WMD would be:

a WMD is a bomb that keeps explodeing after you let it go.

a real bomb goes BAM and then is done. chemicals can end up pooling, biological weapons spread, nukes radiate the land. an ‘acceptable’ weapon should allow you to go sit and eat lunch where it exploded a half hour later if you want. it shouldn’t scar the land in a way that makes the land itself deadly.

Quick response to msmith537: I didn’t mean to imply that other weapons don’t produce unpleasant results, or even less damage. Certainly all death in war is horrific. Gas is just a particularly scary member of a generally scary class of things.

spogga, I can’t give you a specific cite, but I can pass on what friends of mine who have served have to say about modern chemical warfare drill:

It’s awful. According to my pals, the average soldier would likely only be able to march four to five miles in full chemical gear before requiring extensive rest. It’s alarmingly hot in mild weather, and downright dangerous in the sun. While modern equipment is greatly improved over the clumsy gear of the Great War, mobility and visibility is still restricted, and because movement is slow, soldiers in a chemical environment are especially vulnerable to artillery and aimed rifle fire. Treatment of the wounded is particularly hampered, which reduces battlefield survivability.

That having been said, chemical weapons can in theory be an extremely effective defensive area-denial weapon for the exact reasons above, if one is willing to accept the civilian and environmental harm which invariably accompanies the use of such weapons. Had the Iraqis actually had a stockpile of chemical weapons and been willing to use them in this most recent war, the Allied advance up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers might have been significantly slowed for a time. It’s only an inferential argument, but the fact that the Iraqis didn’t use such weapons when such a political and military opportunity existed seems to me to be some of the best evidence that he didn’t have the weapons to begin with.

(Had he used chemical weapons in southern Iraq, Hussein would have risked killing primarily Shiites and Marsh Arabs of dubious loyalty to him, and perhaps enhanced the defoliation of the Shatt al Arab, a project which was already being performed by the Iraqi military prior to the war.)

(By the way, this isn’t very relevant, but while I was looking into the history of post-WWI chemical weapons use, I found that both T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill recommended the use of chemical weapons against recalitrant Iraqi tribes, while Bomber Harris put into practice his theories about bombing civilian targets in Iraq. I can’t tell for sure if gas was actually used by the British against the Kurds, as several websites allege.)

Perhaps because chemical weapons are an escalation trigger point. Notwithstanding the previous posts, chemical weapons were the WMDs of WWI. No matter how accurate the initial strike using chemical weapons, they exposed friend and foe alike, including civilians.

WWII was a different war, but with a legacy. When the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the devil changed from chemicals to nuclear weapons. The Cold War was a tip-toe dance around WMDs. But the military industrial complex needed to keep operating – one nuclear war will ruin your whole day – so they devised napalm, carpet bombing, etc. Since none of these weapons supercede nuclear weapons, they are not WMDs.

In addition, one might argue that until recently, “rational minds” had the fingers on the buttons. As long as we kept talking, no one was pushing any buttons.

But now we have “irrational minds” seeking WMDs, if not already having acquired them. As long as they can inflict enormous casualties on their enemies, their deaths (martyrdom?) are fine with them. Yet, we in the “West” still think in terms of a “civilized war.”
Yet with the potential use of WMDs by “irrational minds,” it is now a matter of time before we use that ace. “We” don’t do suicide attacks; “they” do. “We” don’t threaten WMDs as a first strike; “they” do.

With chemical weapons as escalation trigger points, didn’t we warn Saddam before the war that any use of chemical weapons on his part would be met with a nuclear strike, or two? As long as we have the nuclear ace up our sleeves, we maintain ultimate control.

But for how long?

Depending on the scenario, gas can most certainly be an offensive force multiplier, too. Modern AFVs/APCs are NBC sealed.

Defending infantrymen eventually need to leave their vehicles and dig in. Maneuvering is great, fighting on the move is preferable, but sooner or later you have to offer battle or cede territory.

Dropping gas over their positions hampers them greatly, as has been mentioned. The attackers, on the other hand, will stay in their vehicles for as long as possible. If a breakthrough is achieved, the attackers will bring reinforcements in sealed vehicles through the polluted area and take the fight to the rear echelons. Certainly this was Warsaw Pact doctrine in the Bad Old Days.

[ quibble ]
Napalm, carpet bombing, fire bombing, fragmentation anti-personnel bombs and a host of other weapons and tactics were in use quite a while before the atomic bomb was created.
[ /quibble ]

I’m thinking that the psychological effects of gas are probably worse than the actual physical damage (relative to shrapnel and napalm and such). With conventional weapons you have the tried and true methods of protecting yourself like actually being to SEE the bombs and guns firing. The old trusty battlefield companion - the wall or large rock or hole provides some measure of protection. Not so with gas.

Gas weapons were not used in WWII because then everyone would have used them. Basically, Hitler didn’t dare because he knew he’d then face the depopulation of Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, etc from wave after wave of allied gas bombers. It was one thing to build bomb shelters. It was another to risk exposing all of his population centers to mass gas warfare.

It is well known that Hitler maintaintened the belief that if Germany lost the war then the people deserved it. It is also fact that after the July plot to kill him he went completely off his trolley.
Bearing both of these facts in mind the question must be “Why didn’t he order that his V1 and V2 rockets be given gas warheads?” After all he had nothing to lose at that late stage of the war, he didn’t give a shit about Germany or its population who he reckoned did not deserve him

IMHO: the US is concerned about WMD like gas because there no answer when terrorists obtain and use it. These are great weapons of terror.

We still haven’t figured out where that anthrax came from. If terrorists use gas or radiation or death rays, what can the US do?

cynical me: take out Iran or North Korea, of course.

As msmith537 already noted, Hitler had forbidden the use of gas because he thought it too horrible a weapon.
And as Spogga pointed out, the English were quite prepared to use it, in the event of an invasion.

The effectiveness of gas is highly overrated.

Against soldiers, gas should be compared to minefields and barbed wire. They might kill a few people, but their main use is to force the soldiers to slow down while they take precautions against the weapon. While the enemy is taking that time, you are busy doing other things.

Well, he still thought the war was winnable during the time V1s and V2s saw use. So why would he start launching terrorist gas raids against countries who had a much, much larger gas stockpile and delivery system than him? Any chance he had of winning would be gone.

Besides, I don’t think he’d think dropping a few hundred tons of mustard gas, or whatever, on Berlin would be something the German people deserved because, uh, I guess they didn’t shoot those bombers down in time.

As I said SENORBEEF towards the end he really didn’t give a shit about the German people, in his mind THEY ALONE had lost him the war.

Also he gave orders that the sewers of Berlin were to be flooded despite the fact that many German citizens were using them as bomb shelters, thankfully his orders were not carried out and a lot of lives saved

By the time Hitler realized it was all over he no longer had access to V2 rockets or his chemical weapons stocks, I would imagine.