K.J. Bunting Capt.
Issued down to Divisions
(for distribution down to Battalions)
NOTES ON RECENT FIGHTING – No. 16.
(Issued by the General Staff)
Use of gas by the enemy prior to his attack on the British on the Aisne, the 27th of May, 1918.
Particulars of the bombardment.
There was practically no gas shelling on our front up to the morning of the 27th of May. At 1 a.m. that day an intense bombardment with gas and H.E. shell was opened along the whole sector, and apparently extended on both flanks. There is no reliable information as to how much gas was used on our front line system, but various targets – notably woods and villages in back areas – and battery positions were very heavily shelled with gas. The enemy attacked about 4.30 a.m., and the whole of the area affected by the preliminary bombardment appears to have been free from gas by about 7 a.m.
Nature of gas shells used by the enemy.
Everywhere the gas seems to have caused sneezing, but there is no evidence to shew that the enemy employed any new gas. It is clear that a large number of blue-cross shells were used, but as it is impossible to distinguish this shell from H.E. except for the gas effect, it is difficult to arrive at an estimate of the proportion of blue-cross shells actually fired. The matter is further complicated by the enemy’s employment of shells containing ethyl dichlorarsine (yellow-cross I) the gas effect of which is similar to that of blue-cross. A considerable amount of ethyl dichlorarsine was used in the bombardment. Green-cross shells were definitely recognised by the characteristic smell of phosgene. The evidence as to the employment of yellow-cross shells (dichlorethyl sulphide) is inconclusive, especially as it is uncertain how far the effects of ethyl dichlorarsine (yellow-cross I) may resemble those produced by dichlorethyl sulphide.
Effects of the gas.
The gas formed a continuous invisible cloud of low concentration with pockets where it was more concentrated. It was noticeable as far back as Corps H.Q., about eight miles from the nearest point in the line.
The casualties caused by the gas appear, however, to have been few and mostly slight. They were caused by:-
- Shells bursting close to men.
- Removal of respirators owing to the difficulty of seeing.
- Men being surprised while sleeping.
- Blue-cross shells being mistaken for H.E.
- Respirators being damaged. As the whole bombardment prior to the attack only lasted four hours and was directed against a highly organized-trench system, the main intention of the enemy was probably to cause a temporary paralysis of the defence. For this purpose, a combination of gas shell and H.E. appears to be more effective than either gas or H.E. would be alone.For defence against this use of gas three things are essential:-
- The effects of the gas may be regarded as practical and moral. The practical effects arise from the physical discomfort which it causes and the difficulty of seeing when men have to wear their respirators for any length of time. Reports, however, shew that the majority of our artillery continued firing in spite of the gas and that in some cases the rate of fire was not even reduced to any appreciable extent. The moral effects are uncertainty as to whether it is necessary to wear respirators, and a tendency for men who have smelt the gas to believe that they have been poisoned.
- The protection given by the Box Respirator appears to have been complete so long as the respirator was in good condition. On the whole, the gas discipline was excellent and the system of alarms worked quickly and well. The sector was well provided with gas-proof dug-outs and staffs were able to work without wearing respirators.
- Careful instruction of officers in the properties of the various kinds of gas used by the enemy.
- Thorough and consistent practice with the respirator by all ranks.11th of June, 1918.
- Printed in France by Army Printing and Stationary Services. PRESS A-6/18-6750S-4,000.