by a `gas regiment' (
created expressly for this purpose
of the GermanWestern Front army against the Franco-Canadian infantry positions in the northernarch of the Ypres. In the previous weeks in this sector of the front, German soldiers,unbeknownst to the enemy, had installed in their batteries thousands of concealedcanisters of a previously unknown type. At exactly 18:00 hours, pioneers of the newregiment, under the command of Colonel Max Peterson, with a strong wind fromthe north and northeast, opened 1600 large (40 kg) and 4130 small (20 kg) canistersfilled with chlorine. Through this `release' (
) of the liquefied element, approx-imately 150 tonnes of chlorine were deployed, becoming a cloud of gas approximately6 km wide and 600 m to 900 m deep.
An aerial picture preserved for all time thedevelopment of this first toxic cloud of war over theYpres war front.The favorable windpushed the cloud to speeds from 2 m to 3 m per second against the French positions.The concentration of the toxic gas was calculated at approximately 0.5%. Prolongedexposure to the gas produced intense damage to the lungs and respiratory system.The French general Jean-Jules Henry Mordacq (1868^1943), who then was 5 kmfrom the front, received a telephone call shortly after 18:20 hours from the fieldin which an officer of the first sharpshooter (
) regiment announced theappearance of yellowish clouds of smoke that stretched from the German to the Frenchtrenches (Mordacq, 1933, cited in Hanslian, 1935, page 123f). Because of that warning,at first questionable but subsequently confirmed by other calls, Mordacq rode his horsewith his adjutants to examine the front in person, and he and his companions quicklyexhibited respiratory complications, bronchial irritations, and acute ear-ringing. Afterthe horses refused to continue, Mordacq's team had to approach the gassed areaon foot. Soon, they were met by swarms of panicked soldiers, running, with openedtunics, throwing their weapons away, spitting blood, and begging for water. Somerolled on the ground, struggling in vain to breathe. Around 19:00 hours a breach of 6 km opened up in the Franco-Canadian front; then the German troops advanced andoccupied Langemarck (cf Martinetz, 1996, page 23f). The attacking units had availableonly gauze pads soaked in a soda solution and a liquid that captured chlorine, thesewere worn over the mouth and nose for their own protection. Mordacq survived theattack and published his war memoirs the year that Hitler took power.The military success of the operation was at no point challenged. A few days afterYpres, Kaiser Wilhelm II had a personal audience with the scientific director of theGerman gas-war program, the chemistry professor Fritz Haber, director of the KaiserWilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrical Chemistry at Dahlem, promotinghim to captain.
In any event, the consensus emerged that the German troops weresurprised by the efficiency of the new method and had not gripped their victorioustriumph of 22 April successfully enough. On the contrary, the data on the number of victims differed significantly, then as now. According to nonofficial French sources, therehad been only 625 gas victims, of whom only three had succumbed to poisoning, whileaccording to initial German report there were 15000 poisoned and 5000 dead to be
These figures follow the presentation of Martinetz (1996); slight variations in the identificationof place, time, and quantity can be found in Lepick (1998).
Haber (1868^1934) was at the time of the war also the director of a department for `gas war' inthe Ministry of War. As a Jew, he was forced to leave Germany in 1933, after he gave the Germanmilitary command suggestions for the reintroduction of gas weaponry in the summer of the sameyear. After a stay in England, he died on 29 January 1934 in Basel on his way to Palestine. Someof his associates were executed in Auschwitz. In military science, the Haberian mortality productis derived by multiplying the concentration of poison (
) by exposure time (
product).The awarding of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918 to Haber in recognition of his discoveryof ammonia synthesis unleashed strong protests in England and France, where his name was linkedabove all to the organization of chemical warfare.
42 P Sloterdijk