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    Fritz Haber - The Father of Modern Chemical Warfare
    When WW1 broke out in 1914, the German high command were confident of an early victory. However the war quickly stagnated into a trench-bound war of attrition, before one of Germanys leading scientists Fritz Haber, offered the Fatherland a way out of the impass. |Read More|

    Fritz Haber
    By 1914, Dr. Fritz Haber was already an internationally respected scientist, having perfected a process for extracting nitrates from the atmosphere. Used initially to produce fertilizer, then later the mass production of explosives vital to Germany's war effort. Haber dedicated himself to Germany in it's hour of need, determined to use his scientific knowledge to put an end to the deadlock on the western front. Originally of Jewish origin Haber had renounced Judaism and become a Christian, apparently driven by an overwhelming desire to prove his patriotism and worth to the fatherland.

    Realising that huge amounts lethal gases were already produced as a by-product of the chemical industry, Haber saw the possibility that these gases could weaponized and applied to the battlefield. In his Berlin institute, he began investigating the lethal capabilities of a toxic gas used by the dye industry, chlorine.

    Throughout this research, Haber had faced strong opposition from his wife and fellow PHD chemist Clara Immerwahr, who felt that this work into chemical warfare of was a gross perversion of the humanitarian values that science stood for. Haber paid no heed her objections and continued his research in secret, until a laboratory accident claimed the life of one Clara’s friends and fellow researchers. Her objections became total hatred of the project. Haber pressed on regardless.

    At the end of 1914 Haber approached the military with promises of victory that would result from his new weapon. However, he faced strong scepticism as chemical warfare was both a new concept, and at odds with their sense of honour and military tradition. Germany had also signed the Hague convention banning the use of gas in war. Though they initially rejected his ideas, in late 1915 as the casualties began to mount they reconsidered. Assigned a military rank, he set to work developing a gas Corps for them.

    Clara Immerwahr
    Chlorine gas irritates the respiratory system, reacting with the moisture in the eyes and lungs forming hydrochloric acid. Because it is heavier than air it clings to the ground, ideal for use against an entrenched enemy. Forming a grey-green cloud, it was described by soldiers as having a distinctive smell, a mixture between pepper and pineapple. At high concentrations and prolonged exposure it also causes death by asphyxiation.

    At Ypres on April 22nd 1915 the valves on the gas cylinders were released, and a deadly cloud drifted across the battlefield towards the unsuspecting French and Algerian troops. Ten thousand men died where they fell as the gas enveloped them. Everything in the clouds path was stained green, watches, bayonets, even human skin. The face of war had been irrevocably changed.

    Though the death toll was enormous the Germans failed to capitalise on the attack, even though it had created an 8,000 yard (7 km) gap in the Allied line. The Entente governments quickly claimed the attack was a flagrant violation of international law, but Germany argued that the Hague treaty had only banned chemical shells, rather than the use of gas projectors. Despite what Haber perceived to be a failure, he was hailed a hero and promoted to the rank of Captain, a rare honour to be bestowed on a civilian.

    Horrified by her husbands participation in the deaths of such a huge number of people, his wife Clara committed suicide with his service pistol, shooting herself in the heart. Seemingly unaffected, the next morning Haber made his way to the Eastern Front to personally oversee the next gas attack against the Russians.

    Allied troops were caught entirely unaware by this sinister new weapon, against which there seemed to be no protection. Soldiers were advised by the military commanders to use cloths moistened with urine as makeshift gas masks. Initially horrified by the use of gas, the British quickly gave the go-ahead to develop gas weapons. At the Battle of Loos on 25th September, in an operation codenamed Red Star, the British launched their own gas attack using Chlorine. The attack quite literally backfired, with prevailing winds blowing the gas back towards their own lines, highlighting an obvious drawback with such weapons. Both sides were soon using gas on a regular basis.

    Mustard Gas Victim
    As more effective means of protecting troops were introduced, the race to create even more lethal gases accelerated. The deficiencies of chlorine were overcome with the introduction of phosgene, a gas many times more deadly. Colourless and nearly odourless (likened in smell to "mouldy hay,"), phosgene was difficult to detect, making it a more effective and insidious weapon. French forces developed a technique for delivery of phosgene in a non-explosive artillery shell, overcoming many of the disadvantages of gas released from cylinders by delivering the agents close to the target.

    Then in July 1917, the Haber institute introduced a new horror, mustard gas. This attacked the skin as well as the lungs of soldiers rendering gas masks largely ineffective. Where the chemical came into contact with exposed skin it caused severe blistering, the effect on more sensitive tissues such as eyes and lungs was truly horrific and utterly debilitating. Mustard is what is now known as a "persistent" agent, meaning that it remains active even after that initial attack has ended. If mustard gas contaminated a soldier's clothing and equipment, then other soldiers coming into contact with it would also be poisoned.

    One nurse, Vera Brittain, wrote: "I wish those people who talk about going on with this war whatever it costs could see the soldiers suffering from mustard gas poisoning. Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke."

    Haber himself declared it's effectiveness as a weapon of terror, writing "Every sensation in the nose and mouth nags in the mind. It creates utter confusion, eroding the soldiers inner strength". Others saw it as the most inhumane weapon of a war, which had already plumbed the depths of mans inhumanity to man.

    As the war reached it's climax, the Germans used mustard gas a key weapon in their campaign, with over 100,000 shells being fired at the Allies. By September 1918 the British had developed their own variant of mustard gas, unleashed on the Belgian front against the 16th Bavarian reserve infantry. An obscure corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler was one of it's victims, temporarily blinded in the attack. He later wrote that it was horror of being gassed that drove him out of the army and into politics.

    In November 1918 Germany surrendered. Gas had added hugely to the horror of the war, but had failed to provide the rapid victory the high command had hoped for. What it had done was kill over one hundred thousand men, and maim over a million more. Men who would bear the physical and mental scars long after the war had ended. Thanks to gas masks, and vagaries of the wind, the first weapon of mass destruction had failed to decide the outcome of the world's first great war.

    After the war, Dr. Haber was fearfull he would face trial as a war criminal. However he was awarded the Nobel prize for his pre-war work on nitrates, leaving him free to continue his research into gas weapons. Under the cover of developing pesticides, in the 1920s he developed another toxic gas from hydro-cyanic acid. A powerful insecticide, in enclosed space it was also highly effective at killing humans. 20 years later Zyklon B would be used to commit mass murder in Nazi death camps. Millions of victims of this genocide were Jews, Haber's own people. A cruel twist of fate he could not have foreseen.

    The use of gas had been forbidden by international law. But Hitler and the Nazis considered it a vital component of their coming war plans and continued research in secret. Scientists had been commanded to develop new weapons for the Fatherland. But Haber, who had created the first effective bond between scientists and the military, was forced to leave Germany in 1933 because of Nazi persecution of persons of Jewish ethnicity. His Nobel Prize winning work in chemistry, and subsequent contributions to Germany's war efforts in the form of chemical fertilizers, explosives and poison munitions, were not enough to prevent his vilification by the Nazi regime.

    Rejected by the country he had strived so hard to serve above all other considerations, he left Germany a broken man. An exile, he died in Switzerland in 1934 at the age of 65 of heart failure. He was cremated and his ashes, together with his wife Clara's, were buried in Basel's Hornli Cemetery.

    1) Fritz Haber - Wikipedia.org
    2) Chemical warfare - Wikipedia.org

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    Posted on Thursday, May 14 @ 13:27:45 MDT by sonicbom
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