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Chemical Warfare Service Chemicals in Combat

Chemical Warfare Service Chemicals in Combat

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Published by Bob Andrepont
United States Army history of the Chemical Warfare service in combat in World War II
United States Army history of the Chemical Warfare service in combat in World War II

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 06, 2011
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The Chemical Warfare Service provided service units for all theaters
of operations during World War II. In so doing, it had in mind pri-
marily its responsibility for providing the United States Armed Forces
with the capability of defending themselves against gas attack and
retaliating effectively in kind. The task of maintaining readiness for
gas warfare in the field embraced a number of contributory missions.
Chemical warfare materiel, whether defensive, like gas masks and pro-
tective clothing, or offensive, like toxic agents and the munitions to
deliver them, had to be provided through depots and dumps; this
required units trained to handle, repair, and issue such items. Teams
trained and equipped for the systematic decontamination of service
area installations after gas attack were essential in a gas warfare
situation. Defensive measures also included the availability of freshly
processed permeable protective clothing for troops called on to execute
missions in a contaminated area; hence the need for processing teams
and equipment to insure an adequate supply of impregnated uniforms.
Gas warfare intelligence was dependent on the presence in theaters of
technicians and laboratories capable of determining the nature of gas
attacks and assessing the significance of captured materiel. Finally,
the prosecution of a gas offensive demanded close maintenance and
supply support for the combat elements responsible, whether they were
mortar battalions or Air Forces bombers.
The needs of gas warfare readiness, therefore, set the pattern for
prewar CWS planning for service units. The prescribed standard for
a wartime situation, in which the existence or at least the imminence
of gas warfare was taken for granted, called for the assignment of a
chemical depot company, decontamination company, laboratory com-
pany, impregnating company (as the processing company was then
called), and maintenance company to each field army, with additional

278

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

base depot chemical facilities under the control of the army communi-
cations zone.1

By the time the United States entered the war, the
CWS had come, perforce, to adjust its standards to meet the needs of
gas warfare preparedness in situations which, for the time being, at
least, did not include gas. The normal basis of assigning maintenance
companies remained the field army, but the other units were hence-
forth to be assigned to theaters of operation, either for retention under
direct theater control or for further assignment to agencies within the
theater. CWS air service units were provided for assignment to theater
air forces. In addition to these specialized companies, the CWS began
at the outset of the war to provide composite companies capable of
undertaking all of these service missions for field armies through a
system of specialized teams of platoon size or less.
Somewhat more than a year after Pearl Harbor, with large-scale land
action against the enemy taking place as yet only in the Southwest
Pacific and North Africa, a CWS report showed a total of 19 service
units of all types sent to all overseas destinations, including some in
the Western Hemisphere. Of these 19, the Southwest Pacific had
received a composite company, 2 decontamination companies, a lab-
oratory, a maintenance, and a depot company. A depot company, a
maintenance company, and a decontamination platoon had gone to
North Africa. Only 2 processing companies had left the zone of
interior; both were in the United Kingdom.2

By the middle of 1944,
with major Allied offensive campaigns in process all over the world,
the current troop basis included an authorization for 128 CWS ground
service units, about 2 5 more than the total number included in theater
CWS plans, so far as these had been formulated. There were 102
service units actually in the theaters as of 31 July 1944, compared with
the 101 deemed necessary by the Chief, CWS, for a nongas situation.
A total of 64 additional CWS units were on duty overseas with the
Army Air Forces. In general, the supply of CWS service units was
adequate for "insurance" purposes, considering the fact that gas had
not been used by the enemy and that there was no particular indication
of a sudden change in that situation. Had there been a sudden shift to
gas warfare conditions, service unit requirements would have been
seriously above existing theater capabilities in some instances, most

1

FM 3-15, Sup and Field Serv, 17 Feb 41.

2

USCWC, Rpt on Gas Warfare Preparedness, U.S. Army, 2 Feb 43.

CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE UNITS

279

notably in the need for processing companies. The European and
Mediterranean theaters alone would have required a total of two dozen
additional processing companies to meet an all-out resort to gas warfare
by Germany.3

But with gas warfare no more than a grim possibility, it was not
surprising that theaters were willing to spread their chemical service
units somewhat thin. It was inevitable, also, that those service missions
which were not directly dependent on the presence or threat of gas
should come to the fore. Two of these, both unanticipated in prewar
planning, came to be of particular importance: the provision of close
maintenance and supply support for 4.2-inch mortars firing HE and
the storing, mixing, filling, and loading of airborne incendiary muni-
tions. The hard-won acceptance of the flame thrower as an effective
weapon in the Pacific theaters brought with it the need for flame
thrower maintenance and fuel supply. The demonstrated value of
CWS screening smokes led to the requirement for stockage of smoke
mixtures and maintenance of smoke generators. The immediate rele-
vance of all these services to the needs of combat gave them prominence,
but the basic gas warfare readiness mission was not forgotten. Depot
companies continued to see to it that a gas mask in good working
order was available for every soldier, processing companies maintained
theater reserve stocks of impregnated clothing, and laboratory com-
panies worked steadily at the tasks of evaluating enemy chemical war-
fare materiel and providing technical surveillance for American stocks.
As one of the consequences of serving as insurance against the out-
break of gas warfare CWS service units acquired an assortment of
responsibilities of immediate urgency, but often unrelated to their basic
missions. The decontamination companies, which never functioned as
such overseas, were particularly prone to this sort of development.
Their equipment, which lent itself to the carrying and dispensing of
water, became the basis for their utilization as shower units, among
other things. Similarly, the impregnating plants of the processing
companies bore enough of a functional relationship to laundry ma-
chinery to enable companies to supplement quartermaster laundry
service when their own processing mission was in abeyance. Sometimes
it was CWS training rather than organic equipment that seemed to
point the way to new missions for service units. More than one chemical

3

USCWC, Rpt of Readiness for Cml Warfare as of 1 Jul 44.

280

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

service company found itself, after a brief training period, operating
smoke lines, and in two cases CWS service troops joined mortar units.
Laboratory companies turned to developing or testing field expedients
ranging from camouflage dye to flame thrower tanks and found time
to perform an impressive variety of miscellaneous technical chores for
other services.

The development of new missions, even more than the ordinary
exigencies of active theaters, frequently demanded a high degree of
flexibility in CWS service units. More often than not, flexibility in
response was obtained at the expense of the proper organization of the
unit and consequently with a good deal of difficulty. For the most part,
each type of company was set up to operate as a unit under the control
of the company commander. Each subordinate element was organized,
manned, and equipped for a specific range of specialized tasks con-
tributory to the main task. Ad hoc rearrangement of manpower and
equipment to meet new demands resulted in administrative problems
which often interfered with the unit's effectiveness. The requirement
for flexibility was met to some degree by the formation of the compos-
ite companies, with their cellular structure designed to permit each
cell to operate independently of the others. The experience of the
Pacific theaters was to lead to greater reliance on these all-purpose
organizations and to demands for still more flexibility of structure and
employment. In this respect this experience pointed the way toward
postwar doctrine.

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