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World War I, Soldiers during gas attack / Photo, 1917
History / World War I 1914–18.
Western front: German soldiers during a gas attack in Flanders.
Photo, September 1917; digitally colourised.
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22 April 1915 - Beginning of Gas Warfare
"Gas! Gas!" was the most feared cry of alarm on the Western Front. The first use of chloric gas by German troops in warfare was recorded on 22 April 1915 at around 6pm near Ypres. The yellow-green cloud of chloric gas moved slowly along the trenches filled with unsuspecting French soldiers. A German officer noted that thousands of French soldiers ran "like a herd of sheep" for their lives, already injured by the gas, their eyes and lungs burning. This new weapon shaped the memory of the war like no other.
The well-known German chemist Fritz Haber (1868-1934) who received the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1918 was instrumental in the development and use of poison gas during World War I. He personally supervised the preparations and first use of gas at Ypres. Altogether more than 150 tons of poison gas were used in accordance with Haber's instructions. Chemical weapons were used for the first time and chloric gas was a by-product of much of BASF's production and thus a profitable use.
Fritz Haber's wife Clara Immerwahr (1870-1915) killed herself with her husband's service pistol on the morning of his own private victory celebration on 2 May 1915. She had not only been a well-known chemist in her own right and the first woman to receive a doctorate in her field, but she had also been a fervent supporter of human and women's rights.
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