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"Gas Warfare" from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following article on WWII German gas warfare was published in the Intelligence Bulletin, March 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



Since World War I, when the German Army first made use of poison gas, German scientists have conducted exhaustive research in the field of chemical warfare. The Germans are known to be well prepared for this type of combat, both offensive and defensive, and there is little doubt that they would use gas with their characteristic vigor and thoroughness should they decide that the situation seemed to demand it.

The agents that Germany may use do not differ materially from those available to the other Powers, and may be classified as follows:

 American classification            German classification 
Vesicants (blister gases).Yellow Cross (Gelbkreuz).
Lung irritants. Green Cross (Grünkreuz).
Lacrimators (tear gases). White Cross (Weisskreuz).
Irritant smokes. Blue Cross (Blaukreuz).

When applied as code marking to ammunition, there is some alteration of this classification. Rings replace crosses, and two rings of different colors indicate a gas with dual properties. For example, a green ring and a yellow ring indicate that the charging is a lung irritant gas with some vesicant properties.

In general, German chemical warfare troops are organized in regiments, battalions, and companies. Although they are called "smoke troops" (Nebeltruppen), it is to be emphasized that they are as well equipped to work with gas as with smoke. For defense, decontamination companies are included, and there are also some specialized decontamination companies among the medical troops.


If all troops are adequately supplied with antigas devices, gas warfare loses much of its effectiveness and power to terrorize. Before initiating gas warfare, an army must protect its own troops against retaliation. In the German Army antigas training is very well organized; as a basis for this work, there are a number of antigas schools to which officers and noncommissioned officers of units are sent.

Of all the agents mentioned in paragraph 1, the vesicant type, or a lung-irritant type possessing vesicant properties, seems to be preferred by the Germans. Such gases are really liquids which evaporate quickly, yielding heavier-than-air gases which collect and persist in low portions of the terrain. Both the liquid and the gas will produce severe burns if they come in contact with the skin. Ground and materiel which have been contaminated by these agents are dangerous over a period of hours or even, in extreme cases, for days.

All German troops are equipped on an adequate scale with standard materials for decontamination of personnel and weapons. These include the gas mask, anti- gas tablets called "Losantin" (to be moistened and made into a paste), an antigas sheet in a pouch (for protection against vesicant spray), and a pocket flask of weapon decontaminant. Each soldier is impressed with the importance of being able to protect himself, and of knowing how to decontaminate his personal equipment. In addition, certain unit equipment is issued, such as light and heavy protective clothing, and gas-detector sets for gas scout sections or gas sentries. Special equipment for decontamination on a large scale includes decontamination vehicles, which are half-tracked trucks equipped with rear hoppers for distributing bleaching powder; and clothing decontamination vehicles, which are large, windowless, six-wheeled trucks containing a boiler for generating steam quickly, a steam chamber, and a drying chamber. Some sections among the veterinary troops specialize in decontamination of horses.

The Germans lay great stress on not allowing contamination of terrain to hold up an advance. The gas scout sections are equipped with light antigas clothing, and have the duty of finding and marking off contaminated areas. A special plow is used to make safe, narrow paths which permit the rapid passage of troops in single file. This implement is a ditching plow with a rubber-tired, single-axle carriage and two plowshares; it is drawn by a decontamination truck. The two plowshares turn the sod over in opposite directions so that a shallow trench about 20 inches wide, as well as the slopes of the overturned earth, are free from contamination. For large areas, specialist troops are brought up for decontamination in accordance with a definite plan.


a. Weapons of Smoke Troops

If gas warfare breaks out, the primary role will be assigned to the smoke battery, as it is intended to fire gas as well as smoke. There are two different versions of this mortar; the model 35, which has a range of about 3,000 yards, and the model 40, which has a maximum range of about 6,500 yards. Ammunition charged with the various agents mentioned in paragraph 1 is believed to exist.

In 1942 the Germans were distributing a new type of weapon, the Nebelwerfer 41, which they classify as a mortar, although it is really a rocket weapon with six barrels set in a circle like the chamber of a revolver. The barrels have no breech and are open at both ends. This weapon can be used for firing high explosive, gas, or smoke projectiles.

The decontamination batteries of the smoke troops may also engage in bulk contamination. For this purpose they are equipped with contamination vehicles. These are standard half-tracked vehicles on which containers have been mounted. The liquid vesicant is emitted by what appears to be a spray arm extended well beyond the back of the vehicle. Emission, which is produced by compressed air, is controlled from the driver's compartment.

b. Equipment of Other Arms

Although the smoke mortars are perhaps more efficient for gas projection, it is believed that extensive supplies of gas-charged shells have been set aside for the 105-mm and 150-mm field howitzers. Also, gas shells may be fired from the light and heavy infantry guns.

Aircraft are important in gas warfare. The Germans consider low-altitude (under 1,000 feet) vesicant spray especially effective, both against personnel and for ground contamination. Moreover, the use of aircraft bombs with chemical charging is a possibility to be taken into account, if gas warfare should start.

c. Miscellaneous Gas Weapons

The Germans possess gas grenades, with which their parachute troops might be equipped. Ammunition for antitank rifles, models 38 and 39, includes armor-piercing tracer bullets charged with tear gas.


The Germans distinguish between gas attack for cloud effect and gas attack for contamination.

a. For Cloud Effect

Gas attack for cloud effect by means of nonpersistent gases, may be attempted to achieve the following purposes:

(1) The Germans might choose to put the opposition out of action before antigas measures could be adopted.

(2) The Germans might employ gas bombardment for several hours, or even days, to neutralize opposing units, weaken their gas discipline, and inflict casualties.

(3) The Germans might employ intermittent gas bombardment to compel opposition troops to wear gas masks during a long period, and thus weaken gas discipline.

(4) The Germans might introduce gas ammunition into a mixed bombardment of high explosive and smoke bombardment.

b. For Contamination1

The German theory of contamination by means of persistent gases (such as mustard) is more concerned with defense and withdrawal than with attack. However, in attack they might consider contamination useful for neutralizing centers of resistance which could then be bypassed, and for safeguarding a flank. When contaminating with artillery or aircraft, there is also the possibility of hindering the opposition's withdrawal or of changing its direction. However, the scope of such tactics is limited, inasmuch as they can hamper the advance of friendly troops.

1 It must be remembered that contamination, in a military sense, means the process of spreading an injurious, persistent chemical agent, which will remain in effective concentration at the point of dispersion from a few minutes to several days, depending on local conditions.


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