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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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As in other respects, so in the field of chemical service operations the
Army Air Forces functioned as a separate entity. The Air Forces had
major CWS functions, as a potential principal user of toxic agents in
the event of gas warfare, as a participant in smoke missions, and as the
utilizer of the new CWS strategic weapon, the incendiary bomb. To
assist in the execution of these chemical missions, the CWS organized
and sent into the field several types of service units especially designed
for Air Forces needs. Included among those seeing overseas service were
chemical depot companies, chemical maintenance companies (both
types bearing the additional designation "Aviation"), and the many
chemical companies designated simply "Air Operations," one hundred
of which were activated between 1942 and 1945. Half of these saw
service in overseas theaters. Four of the fourteen maintenance com-
panies, aviation, and all of the twenty depot companies, aviation, also
went overseas.

The air depot companies, like their ground counterparts, had as their
principal mission the storage, surveillance, and preparation for issue


The 236th (formerly Unit 2) was attached to the 38th Division, an element of XI Corps, on 23

March 45.





of CWS materiel, in this case primarily bulk toxics, smoke mixtures,
and incendiaries. Normal assignment was on the basis of one per AAF
general depot when, as was usually the case, the depot in consideration
was intended for storage and issue of chemical supply in appreciable
quantities. A typical air depot company, the 754th, assigned to the
VIII Air Force Service Command in England, had four sections: ad-
ministrative, chemical, incendiary, and security maintenance.82

last three of these were respectively in charge of storage, surveillance,
and filling of chemicals and chemical ammunition, storage and sur-
veillance of incendiaries, and repair, maintenance, defense, and security
details for the depot. The proper execution of these tasks called for a
good deal of technical proficiency, especially in the handling and sur-
veillance of toxics. Another air depot company in that command, the


T/O 3-418, 28 Feb 42.



763d, found that a depot company might be responsible not only for
filling mustard bombs but for making up such items as M4/Ai incen-
diary bombs as well, using bomb casings, gasoline, and thickener.83
Chemical companies, air operations, in their organization and mission
presented certain parallels to the composite companies of the ground
forces. Like the latter, they were meant for close support of combat
units and were organized on a cellular basis, with platoons (four to
the company) capable of performing like missions on a self-sustaining
basis when attached separately to units of appropriate size. The major
missions of air operations companies were to maintain CWS ammuni-
tion storage dumps, to prepare and arm chemical munitions for combat
use and (in practice) to load such munitions on the using aircraft. The
recommended normal basis of assignment was one air operations com-
pany per group or one platoon per squadron. A platoon consisted of
a headquarters team and four identical operations teams, which were
essentially toxic-filling outfits. In addition to its headquarters and
its four platoons, the air operations company included a distributing
point section to operate its dump; this group included at least two
men trained in decontamination techniques and equipped with a
power-driven decontaminating apparatus.84

The processes involved in
handling, arming, and loading CWS bombs, bomb clusters, and spray
tanks required a good deal of technical training and special equipment.85
Air operations companies were not infrequently faced with unan-
ticipated tasks. For example, companies in the SWPA used a newly
developed spray tank (the E2B25, produced by the Far East Air
Force Service Command) not only for smoke operations but for the
spraying of DDT over areas rendered hazardous by the presence of
insect-borne malaria or typhus.86
In the last months of the Pacific war aerial incendiaries played an
increasingly important role in both the strategical and tactical spheres.
The assault on Iwo Jima, for example, was preceded by a 10-week
bombardment by planes based in the Marianas; incendiary bomb
clusters formed a significant part of their load. Air operations com-


Conf Rpt, The Opn, Duties, and Function of a Cml Depot Co, Avn, 22-23 Feb 43- Eighth AF

520.805-Nov 43.


TOE 3-457, 29 Sep 44. An earlier version, 1 July 1942, differed in providing for platoons with
two large operations teams apiece.


Capt Louis E. Schueler, 876th Cml Co AO, The Cml Co, Air Opns. Eighth AF 520.805-Nov 43.


Col Augustin M. Prentiss, Jr., Cml Warfare History of Fifth Air Force-Far East Air Forces.

CWS 314.7 Fifth AF.



panics supporting the bomber formations increased the supply of
incendiaries by improvising fire bombs from 55-gallon drums filled
with napalm and armed with an M15 WP grenade and an all-ways
fuze. The fuzing of this unfamiliar weapon was the source of so much
concern to the air crews that at first they insisted that CWS personnel
accompany the flights to keep an eye on the incendiaries. The air
operations companies always loaded incendiaries into planes and, when
necessary, were called upon to modify bomb bays to accommodate
particular types of incendiary bomb clusters.87

In the early months of
1945 incendiary raids on a vast scale carried the war direct to the
industrial centers of Japan. In their support of these crippling blows,
the air operations companies contributed significantly to the final



Interv, Hist Off with Lt Col Alfred J. Green, USAR, 15 Sep 59.

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