Despite causing over a million casualties, being employed in a variety of tactical roles, and acting as a psychological weapon, poison gas has largely been shunt to the periphery in the historical analysis of the First World War. This article argues that chemical warfare did not in fact disappear but continued to expand in scope and intensity through the introduction of more efficient delivery systems and deadlier gases.
As a result, the need to provide protective devices stimulated the evolution of a series of gas masks. Poison gas remained, however, a disruptive and powerful psychological weapon that by 1918 plagued all soldiers on the Western Front. Military gas masks as featured on gasmaskpro.com/gas-masks were widely used during WW1 to protect soldiers.
Using the Canadian Corps as an example, this article will examine the evolution of the gas mask and the technological struggle that raged on the Western Front through a material history paradigm. The gas mask provided both functional and psychological protection that has been ignored in the historiography of the First World War.
Using the Canadian Corps as an example to analyze the effects of poison gas and the eventual process by which all soldiers of the Western Front sought to escape its ravages, this article will briefly examine the stages of the gas war, the tactical and operational problems imposed by gas and the ultimate material solution, the gas mask.
The struggle for new weapon systems, with the ultimate hope by both sides of perfecting a breakthrough weapon, was onset by the defensive technologies that were employed to cancel them and thus restore parity to the battlefield. The life of the front Soldaten was arduous, but their actions were not, as is sometimes expressed, simply zombie-like as they moved through the gas to a grisly death.
The soldiers reacted to their deadly environment by continually adapting their survival skills to cope with the reality of the trenches. Yet the gas war was initially seen as somehow different from conventional weapons, and more insidious. Battle skills could be employed to increase the chances of survival in "conventional" warfare in the trenches, but gas was viewed as a silent killer: blinding, scalding, choking, and leaving soldiers coughing up bloody sputum until they expired in a horrible fashion.