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Photos of WWI poison gas and flamethrowers.
September 14, 2007 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Photos of WWI poison gas and flamethrowers.

This amazing photo set includes masks for horses, gas attack as seen from above, a pretty corpse, there can only be one, subterranean frogs, and americans with liquid fire.
posted by damn dirty ape (44 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
and what must the inspiration for david lynch's Sardaukar.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:50 PM on September 14, 2007


Those are some great photos. If you want to dig in deep, in your trench, check out this site.
posted by snsranch at 4:01 PM on September 14, 2007


Wow, the child soldier section there is incredible. I also want to link the the wikipedia page on wwi gas.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:06 PM on September 14, 2007


Flamewar!
posted by Poolio at 4:09 PM on September 14, 2007


WWI was a bitch...

There was an enormous amount of new technology and new ideas employed in that particular slaughterfest, some of it very bizarre indeed. I recall once seeing some, well, camouflage, I guess you could call it: they were actually little tree suits, something like those trees that come alive on Dorothy and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The idea would be that soldiers would wear this tree getup in order to sneak up on the enemy lines!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2007


I think snipers still use those "tree suits", flapjax.
posted by Poolio at 4:18 PM on September 14, 2007


Now people are just using tree suits to rob banks.
posted by tepidmonkey at 4:19 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


They're called Ghille suits.

World War 1 scares the shit out of me.
posted by quin at 4:31 PM on September 14, 2007


Actually I'm now wondering if flapjax is thinking of something else. I remember seeing an actual "tree suit" but I'm pretty sure I'm thinking of the deleted scenes from 1941 with the Japanese ninja-sailors sneaking through the Christmas tree farm.
posted by quin at 4:35 PM on September 14, 2007


quin writes "They're called Ghille suits."

I'm so getting one of these.
posted by mullingitover at 4:36 PM on September 14, 2007


damn dirt ape, it's weird that you're posting this today, I've been on a "Great War" binge for the last couple of days.

Another fascinating thing that came about during that war was the rapid advance in plastic surgery.

One thing that seems to recur in stories told about that war is that the soldiers felt as though they were only doing their "master's bidding" and rarely felt ill will toward the enemy except during times of actual combat.
posted by snsranch at 4:44 PM on September 14, 2007


WWI was great because it was the war to end all wars. So now we don't have war anymore.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:44 PM on September 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I know of what flapjax speaks, and he literally means tree suit - not brush suit.
posted by pokermonk at 4:48 PM on September 14, 2007


I don't know from tree suits, but they did build elaborate, fake, armor-plated trees to match actual trees, and switched them out with the real trees, overnight.
posted by steef at 4:50 PM on September 14, 2007


Advance in plastic surgery, better link.
posted by snsranch at 4:50 PM on September 14, 2007


One thing that seems to recur in stories told about that war is that the soldiers felt as though they were only doing their "master's bidding" and rarely felt ill will toward the enemy except during times of actual combat.

The Christmas Truce
posted by ryoshu at 4:55 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Flamethrowers are cool, but they're probably the most sadistic and cruel weapon that exists which is practical for battlefield use. If only we could just agree not to kill each other with hot lead and fire....
posted by tehloki at 5:04 PM on September 14, 2007


It's pretty telling that since WWI the major conflicts of the world have, by and large, generally actually held back from poison gas attacks.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:29 PM on September 14, 2007


Flamethrowers give a spectuctlar appearance but being cruel? Flame consumes all the oxygen and super heats the air, one breath,and your lungs are done...death 5 min. Probably the sight of being embroiled and you suffer Neurogenic shock and die even quicker. Gut shot is the most painful and can be very drawn out.
posted by Rancid Badger at 5:30 PM on September 14, 2007


I'll bet I'm the only MeFite that has ever actually been poisoned by something akin to mustard gas.

Eight years old, playing with a pool's floating chlorinator (looked like this one). And over time (weeks? months?), the trapped air that allowed it to float had been partially replaced by chlorine gas that had dissolved out of the chlorine tablets.

I pushed the chlorinator underwater and flipped it over, allowing the gas to bubble out. One particularly large bubble broke the surface near my face right when I inhaled, so I got a lungful of chlorine and various sundry chemicals that are created on contact with water and air.

Chemical burns inside my mouth. Burned in interior of my trachea and lungs. Pulmonary edema as the lungs filled with fluid. A week in intensive care.

Good times for an eight year old. ;-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:47 PM on September 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Christmas Truce

Ah yes. That's when all the soldiers dressed up in Christmas tree suits!

But, yeah, I think steef found the thing I was thinking of: not a suit, exactly, but an actual sculptured fake tree for a soldier to get into. Kind of a suit, after all...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:58 PM on September 14, 2007


Really nice post damn dirty ape. The Chlorinator story wow. Did you know right away that you had been burned or did it take a bit of time, did they intubate you at the Hospital?
posted by Rancid Badger at 6:03 PM on September 14, 2007


I can't help but look at this and think "Tuscan Raiders."

With nice hats.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:05 PM on September 14, 2007


i realize this is straying a bit from the spirit of this post, but the sargent painting on the wikipedia page that damn dirty ape linked to is quite remarkable.
posted by the painkiller at 6:06 PM on September 14, 2007


WWI gas was a horrible thing, but really, a minor problem.

What made WWI such a horror was the Machine Gun. Suddenly, the defense was holding almost all of the cards. Worse, the fact that the Generals and Field Marshalls were sending their men into that fire is unforgivable, we already knew what massed, accurate, long range fire from fortifications would do to mass infantry attacks. Why?

The US Civil War. There are many examples, but two stand out -- Chancellorsville and Cold Harbor. The latter, esp. was a waste of life -- Grant himself said "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made....At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained."

It was clear that the infantry rifle -- new in the US Civil War as a general issue weapon -- had changed how infantry combat worked. The machine gun doubled and redoubled this, combining the accuracy of the rifle with the firepower of an entire battalion, handed by two to four men. You couldn't charge overland into trenched lined with rifles, machine guns just made it a slaughter.

A completely new attack had to be invented. Gas was tried, but it was too unpredictable and too unreliable. What broke the rule of the rifles was combined arms -- Infantry, Artillery, and the brand new Armor working together. WWI ended when the tank came along and broke Germany's back -- a lesson that the Allies seemingly learned. The Germans proved them wrong on that.
posted by eriko at 6:07 PM on September 14, 2007


I'll bet I'm the only MeFite that has ever actually been poisoned by something akin to mustard gas.

I only suffered minor irritation, but as a child I urinated in a toilet that my mother had taken a break from cleaning ... with bleach.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:08 PM on September 14, 2007


I didn't realise flame throwers were ordnance weapons.
posted by Mitheral at 6:15 PM on September 14, 2007


eriko, regarding the gas, I've read that it wasn't used as often as intended because it often blew back on their positions-that was from a German perspective.
posted by snsranch at 6:26 PM on September 14, 2007


Three quarters of the wounds inflicted during the war came from shell fire. And the mortality was far grater for fragmentation wounds. The wound resulting from a shell fragment was usually more traumatic than a gunshot wound. A shell fragment would often introduce debris making it more likely that the wound would become infected. These factors meant that a soldier was three times more likely to die from a shell wound to the chest than from a gunshot wound.
posted by Rancid Badger at 6:31 PM on September 14, 2007


regarding the gas, I've read that it wasn't used as often as intended because it often blew back on their positions-that was from a German perspective.

Indeed, sns, one of the photos in the linked set shows German troops running from their own gas.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:44 PM on September 14, 2007


The whole history of technology in warfare is of tactics lagging behind new technologies. It did take an astonishingly long time for them to figure out you couldn't just charge machine guns. Seems like you'd get that the very first time.

Cold Harbor was horrible, and the attacking Union soldiers knew it would be. The night before they wrote their names on pieces of paper and pinned them to their uniforms so their bodies could be identified. One soldier's diary said "June 3, 1864. Cold Harbor. I was killed."

rarely felt ill will toward the enemy except during times of actual combat

That happens in most wars.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:30 PM on September 14, 2007


Did you know right away that you had been burned or did it take a bit of time, did they intubate you at the Hospital?

Oh, I instantly knew something had gone desperately, horribly wrong -- the burns were painful. No intubation was necessary, but I was breathing through a gas mask for several days.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:08 PM on September 14, 2007


There's a book called "War Against War", by Ernst Friedrich that documents the horrors of WWI and the wounded and the dead from the battlefields. A friend of mine picked it up from AMOK Books some years ago, and in it, there are pictures of the victims of some of these gas attacks, which are terrible things to see. The sheer bravery/insanity of these people who threw themselves into the battlefield to do the right thing never ceases to amaze me.
The following links have pictures of some of the living and dead of WWI, and are extremely graphic. Memory Hole link. The Anti-War Museum in Berlin. The opening statement to his book. An essay on Friedrich.
And as we all, all human beings, equally feel joy and pain, let us fight unitedly against the common monstrous enemy, War.
posted by Zack_Replica at 8:42 PM on September 14, 2007


From Memoirs & Diaries: The First Gas Attack, Ypres, France, April 22nd, 1915:
As we gazed in the direction of the bombardment, where our line joined the French, six miles away, we could see in the failing light the flash of shrapnel with here and there the light of a rocket. But more curious than anything was a low cloud of yellow-grey smoke or vapour, and, underlying everything, a dull confused murmuring.

Suddenly down the road from the Yser Canal came a galloping team of horses, the riders goading on their mounts in a frenzied way; then another and another, till the road became a seething mass with a pall of dust over all.

Plainly something terrible was happening. What was it? Officers, and Staff officers too, stood gazing at the scene, awestruck and dumbfounded; for in the northerly breeze there came a pungent nauseating smell that tickled the throat and made our eyes smart.
Twenty-four years later, all sides were prepared to use gas again, but shied away from its threat of mutually assured destruction. From the August/September 1985 American Heritage Magazine, Why We Didn’t Use Poison Gas in World War II:
In June 1943, using a State Department draft, Roosevelt sharply reaffirmed United States policy on gas warfare: “Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind. This country has not used them, and I hope we never will be compelled to use them. I state categorically that we shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies.”
Some generals thought this was wrongly taking a military option off the table, even with the development of the atomic bomb. The bomb won out, and we instead embraced MAD by nuclear weapons in the war's aftermath.

War is Hell (previously): once it starts, it wins by whatever means necessary.
posted by cenoxo at 10:29 PM on September 14, 2007


Firstworldwar.com
The war to end all wars

Hmmm. Rather bathetic subtitle for the site. A brilliant post, though. The first thing I thought of was Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est - which has almost become cliched, but for me its descriptions of a gas attack still make me want to choke. It's still an incredibly powerful image it conjures up. To add to the links, here are two British veterans talking about the effects of gas:

They were blind the men, they couldn't see at all, they were choking and in thousands they had to leave the line. Fortunately one or two of the shells had not exploded and I got one of these and nursed it on my knee all the way back to the research station. But it took our best chemists some weeks to find out what this new substance was - dichloretyl sulphide. It was an oily liquid which evaporated very slowly and because it had such a faint smell the troops tended to take no notice of it. And when they did feel their eyes smarting they were to late. It was a dreadful substance: if they got it on the soles of their boots, it would go through and burn their feet; if they went with some on their boots into a dugout and slept there, they would gas everyone in the dugout; one man could go in with some on his boots into a hut and gas everyone in the hut.
posted by greycap at 11:14 PM on September 14, 2007


Cripes can you imagine the nerve it would take to carry an unexploded gas shell for miles until you hand it off to the scientists?
posted by Mitheral at 11:31 PM on September 14, 2007


A picture that struck me: a pigeon shaped German plane flying over.
posted by jouke at 12:11 AM on September 15, 2007


If only all these other new weapons had been as successful as Albert's Helmet-Mounted Pistol.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:33 AM on September 15, 2007


My favourite WWI site - dedicated to probably the most bittersweetly "heroic" figure from that war - or indeed, any war.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 3:14 AM on September 15, 2007


The sheer bravery/insanity of these people who threw themselves into the battlefield to do the right thing because they were told to never ceases to amaze me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:24 AM on September 15, 2007


Gas!7 Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets8 just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime9 . . .
Dim, through the misty panes10 and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,11 choking, drowning.

posted by craniac at 6:59 AM on September 15, 2007


One of the greatest baseball players of all time, Christy Mathewson, had his career cut short after volunteering. He didn't make it into combat, but then was accidentally gassed during a training exercise after the armistice. It destroyed his lungs and cut short not just his playing career, but also his life.
posted by Atreides at 7:36 AM on September 15, 2007


A few things of note: First, it's interesting that it is now 'en vogue' to refer to World War I once again as "The Great War" - I'm seeing it crop up more and more in journal articles and books I've been reading on the subject.

Second, I think it's a shame that the attention paid to The Great War is as little as it is because it was far more horrific than World War II due to the sheer combination of new technologies, old tactics and some stubbornly unimaginative commanders. The stories of the mistakes, misjudgments and coincidences both leading up to and following through the War is amazing.

It is also a magnificent historical period because it truly marked the end of "the old regime" and ushered in the modern world. The number of lessons learned from The Great War, it's prelude and its conclusion and aftermath should be studied by every so-called 'leader' who wishes to take us back into war.

Changing topics, yes, gas was not used as often as popularly thought because quite frequently it would blow back onto the side that used it (usually German); Since weather forecasting was so relatively primitive, it was very difficult to tell when prevailing winds would help or hurt the side using it.
posted by tgrundke at 1:21 PM on September 15, 2007


I think it's a shame that the attention paid to The Great War is as little as it is because it was far more horrific than World War II due to the sheer combination of new technologies, old tactics and some stubbornly unimaginative commanders.

Judging by this site and others like them (many of them noted in other threads on the blue), I think that's less true now than a few decades ago. Further evidence- an acqaintance of mine writes military history and he says that the popular military journals generally don't want stories on WWI because they're already inundated with the subject. This trend, I imagine, should increase as the anniversaries start to crop up.

(As a slight derail- don't underestimate the stubbornly unimaginative commanders of the second war. The entire Iwo Jima campaign, for one, was about on par with Cold Harbor as far as futility was concerned.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:06 PM on September 16, 2007


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