Published on 3 Dec 2016
A big thank you to the project team: Archaeological Revival of Memory of World War I: Material Remains of the Life and Death in Trenches of the Eastern Front and the Condition of the Ever-changing Battlescape in the Region of the Rawka and Bzura (1914–2014).
The project is funded by the Polish National Centre of Science and implemented by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences.
This is the first big video from our trip to Poland. In Bolimow, Polish archaeologists are digging in the former trenches of the Eastern Front. Here, the Germans used gas on a big scale for the first time. Polish soldiers were fighting each other on both sides of the front.
December 4, 2016
June 6, 2016
Published on 5 Jun 2016
Since you all liked our first test of OUT OF THE ETHER so much, we decided to bring in some new episodes occasionally. In this episode we talk about the design behind the forts at Verdun and gas development sights in Washington.
February 7, 2016
Published on 6 Feb 2016
Check out War History Online and their excellent coverage: http://warhistoryonline.com
Indy sits in the Chair of Wisdom again and this week we talk about a strange story in which Germany and Britain actually traded goods during wartime.
October 23, 2015
Published on 22 Oct 2015
Edith Cavell was a British nurse serving in a nursing school in occupied Belgium. She was executed by the Germans for treason and espionage in Brussels. Her death and the surrounding atrocity propaganda caused a public outcry all over the world. At the same time the First World War continued like never before. The Third Battle of the Isonzo didn’t bring a decision between Austria-Hungary and Italy, in Gallipoli the troops were slowly withdrawn and the the Champagne offensive of the French army was still in full swing.
October 2, 2015
Published on 1 Oct 2015
After weeks of preparation the French and British Armies unleash a new offensive on the Western Front. Not only is it supposed to relieve pressure on the Russians on the Eastern Front but the Entente wants to achieve the decisive breakthrough. The French actually break through German trenches only to realise that they have a second line of trenches completely intact right behind the first line. The British attack at Loos also turns into carnage even though the British use gas for the first time.
June 23, 2015
Published on 22 Jun 2015
Fritz Haber is one of the most famous German scientists. His inventions made it possible to feed an ever growing human population and influence us till this day. But Fritz Haber had a dark side too: His research made the weaponization of gas and the increased production of explosives possible. Find out more about the life of Fritz Haber in our biography.
April 24, 2015
Published on 23 Apr 2015
After experiments on the Eastern Front, the German Army is using poison gas for the first time on the Western Front. At the beginning of the 2nd Battle of Ypres, the wind blows in a favourable direction; the wide spread use of chlorine gas has a devastating effect on the French troops. Even the Germans are surprised by it. The incredible sacrifice of the Canadian troops make it possible to defend Hill 60 in the end.
April 9, 2015
Published on 7 Apr 2015
All soldiers feared poison gas but all sides developed deadlier and more perfidious kinds of chemical agents. Indy tells you everything about gas warfare in World War 1 in this special episode.
February 6, 2015
Published on 5 Feb 2015
After more than 6 months of stalemate, the German Empire is playing two new cards to gain a decisive advantage. On the Eastern Front, the Germans use gas on a huge scale for the first time. While the attack fails, the foundation for gas warfare is laid. At the same time Kaiser Wilhelm II agrees to unrestricted submarine warfare – any ship can be sank at any time.
December 8, 2014
Patrick K. O’Donnell discusses one of the Luftwaffe‘s most deadly attacks and why most people have never heard of it:
Americans remember December 7 as Pearl Harbor Day, but most Americans have never even heard of the “Little Pearl Harbor,” which occurred in Bari Harbor, Italy, on December 2, 1943. More than 100 Luftwaffe bombers mounted a surprise attack on Allied ships moored in the harbor. Their bombs sank or rendered inoperable 28 of these ships. Nearly a thousand Allied troops were killed or wounded. along with hundreds of civilians.
Unbeknownst to those in the port, one of the ships carried liquid death in its belly. The American freighter John Harvey was secretly carrying mustard agent, in violation of international agreements that banned its use. President Franklin Roosevelt had covertly ordered the shipment of 100 tons of mustard agent to Italy for retaliation in the event that the Germans used chemical warfare against the Allied troops. The incident was covered up and remained a secret for decades.
When the German bombs hit the John Harvey, the ship’s hold immediately exploded with devastating violence, killing all those who knew about the mustard [gas]. Deadly liquid and gas flew high into the air and then slowly settled back down into the harbor, coating everything and everyone in the vicinity. Casualties would mount over the coming days and weeks as the agent slowly and painfully claimed the lives of many who had survived the initial attack.
Mustard gas was one of the nastiest relics of the attempts to break the trench lines during the First World War. Wikipedia says:
The sulfur mustards, or sulphur mustards, commonly known as mustard gas, are a class of related cytotoxic and vesicant chemical warfare agents with the ability to form large blisters on the exposed skin and in the lungs. Pure sulfur mustards are colorless, viscous liquids at room temperature. When used in impure form, such as warfare agents, they are usually yellow-brown in color and have an odor resembling mustard plants, garlic, or horseradish, hence the name. Mustard gas was originally assigned the name LOST, after the scientists Wilhelm Lommel and Wilhelm Steinkopf, who developed a method for the large-scale production of mustard gas for the Imperial German Army in 1916.
Mustard agents are regulated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Three classes of chemicals are monitored under this Convention, with sulfur and nitrogen mustard grouped in Schedule 1, as substances with no use other than in chemical warfare. Mustard agents could be deployed on the battlefield by means of artillery shells, aerial bombs, rockets, or by spraying from warplanes.
September 12, 2013
Steve Chapman thinks Barack Obama is a very lucky man indeed:
In assessing the feasibility and probability of Russia’s proposal to secure Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons, one overlooked factor should be paramount in our minds: Barack Obama is the luckiest politician on the face of the planet. If he were tied to a railroad track, the train would levitate and pass harmlessly over him. He’s always the windshield, never the bug.
In this instance, Obama got himself into a box that would flummox Harry Houdini. In a procession of careless comments, he said Assad had to go and that if he ever used chemical weapons against rebels, he would face “enormous consequences.”
When the Syrian dictator used them anyway, Obama was forced to prepare for a military strike that found scant public support. When he tried to gain the upper hand by asking for congressional authorization, he got an Arctically frigid reception.
So he faced two unpleasant possibilities: Congress would refuse, in which case he would look like a chump. Or it would agree, forcing him to carry out an attack that was likely to accomplish nothing except to wreck his approval rating.
But then along came the Russians to open an escape route. Acting in response to another unscripted remark, from Secretary of State John Kerry, they proposed to place Syria’s chemical gas arsenal under international control. The Syrians responded by not only admitting that they had such weapons, but offering to surrender them.
The proposal sounded implausible and impractical, but it had too many things going for it to be passed up. Most importantly, it serves the interests of every important party. It spares the Syrian regime a damaging attack by the United States. It spares the rebels being gassed again. It validates the great power status of Russia — and might even win Vladimir Putin a Nobel Peace Prize.
Not least, it saves Obama from looking like an appeaser, a warmonger or an incompetent. It even allows Kerry to portray the administration as unsurpassed in its diplomatic brilliance.
May 4, 2013
It’s almost anti-climactic to report that the Israeli defence ministry is confirming that an air strike was launched against Syria yesterday. The unexpected part of the news is that the attack was on a shipment of missiles, not a chemical weapons depot:
Israeli officials said the shipment was not of chemical arms, but of “game changing” weapons bound for the Lebanese militant group. The airstrike took place early on Friday, but did not say where it took place.
American officials earlier told the Associated Press of an airstrike. One report had suggested the strike was on a chemical weapons facility.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms were to reach Hizbollah.
Lebanon’s army said pairs of Israeli airplanes entered Lebanese airspace on three occasions overnight between Thursday and Friday.
The move will raise tensions in the Middle East and comes amid mounting pressure over the alleged use of chemical weapons by president Bashar Assad’s regime.
May 1, 2013
Strategy Page outlines what we think we know about the use of nerve gas in Syria:
In Syria the rebels have been accusing the government of using nerve gas shells and bombs. Israel is convinced this is so and the U.S. is inclined to agree with them. The known incidents occurred in the northern city of Aleppo where government forces are taking a beating. Syria insists that no nerve gas was used, but the nerve gas may have been ordered as a desperate measure to halt the advancing rebels, with instructions that “this never happened”. Israel insists it has definitive proof and apparently that is convincing many NATO members, including the United States. Moreover a Syrian general defected in late April and said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against rebels in the southwest recently, but fired shells with harmless chemicals instead. The general offered to reveal where he had buried the actual chemical shells.
Syrian nerve gas is stored at some fifty locations all over the country. A large number of troops are devoted to defending these stockpiles and some chemical weapons have been moved to avoid capture by the rebels. Officially Syria has no nerve gas, but the Assad government has recently made statements indicating that it is abandoning that fiction. Syria has maintained stocks of chemical weapons for decades as a last ditch weapon for any future war with Israel (which few Syrians believe could be won). Israel has prepared accordingly. Recently Syria announced that it never had any intention of using nerve gas against Israel. This all gets even stranger as Israel has recently advised the United States to stay out of Syria, even if nerve gas is being used. That’s apparently because Israel wants to take care of this problem itself, as its Israeli civilians who are likely to die if Syrian nerve gas is captured by Islamic terrorists (who still want to use nerve gas against Israel).
Photos of dead civilians the rebels claim were nerve gas victims do show signs of nerve gas in use (foaming at the mouth and contracted pupils). The only way to obtain conclusive evidence is for someone to bring out the bodies of victims (or blood samples) and soil samples from the area where the nerve gas was used. If the rebels want to prove their accusations of nerve gas use they just have to collect these samples and get them out of the country. Apparently that has been done, at least to the satisfaction of Israeli intelligence. The U.S. said it would intervene militarily if Syria used chemical weapons and demands conclusive proof (blood and soil samples) before deciding and acting. Now the U.S. has apparently been shown evidence of Syrian use of chemical and is debating what to do about it.
January 7, 2013
In Maclean’s, Paul Wells looks deeply into the hidden meanings of the Prime Minister’s rare interview utterances:
The Prime Minister’s year-end interviews are always worth close reading. Partly because he gives few interviews. Partly because those interviews, widely spaced, show how his thinking changes as circumstances do. This year the changes are stark.
The part I’ve just quoted came when Friesen asked Harper about the possibility that Bashar al-Assad might use chemical weapons against Syrian opponents of his regime.
Would NATO intervene? “Well, I don’t want to speculate.”
Is the use of what we used to call weapons of mass destruction a “red line,” as the Obama administration has called it? That was the question that got Harper talking about risks and caution. “What we can continue to do, as I say, is try to work with elements of the opposition and others to try to push that country to a better solution and try to avoid further escalation of this conflict.”
This is what being Prime Minister does to you. A decade ago, when conversation turned to the use of chemical or biological weapons and the theatre was Iraq, it was Jean Chrétien talking about risks and caution and Harper urging red lines. I dare hope we’ll never get to test the hypothetical in Syria, but it was not only when it came to Assad that this year’s Harper was notably less cocky than previous years’. Chastened, one might say, by a year when the world turned out to be more complex than advertised.
September 20, 2012
A long, fascinating, disturbing blog post at SciencePunk on unexploded munitions from both World War 1 and World War 2, still showing up unexpectedly:
The WMD was discovered, quite by chance, lying by the side of a Bridgeville road in late July by a Delaware state trooper on an unrelated callout. Jutting out of the ground, the 75mm shell was encrusted in barnacles and pitted with rust; barely recognisable as a munition at all. The trooper called in his find and a military team took the bomb to Dover Air Force Base for disposal. As with most conventional rounds, a small charge was placed on the side of the shell and detonated to trigger the vintage munition’s own explosive. But something went wrong, and the bomb failed to explode.
When the two staff sergeants and technician walked over to inspect the failed detonation, they found a strange black liquid seeping out of the cracked mortar. Given that the shell had been under the sea for the better part of fifty years, the men thought little of the foul-smelling substance until hours later, when their skin began to erupt in agonising blisters. All three were rushed to Kent General hospital, where two were released later after minor treatment. A third, more seriously injured serviceman was transported to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, where he remained in serious but stable condition with what were only described as “burns or blisters” in a statement issued by the Army later that week. A scientific team were sent to Dover to collect soil samples from the area. The results were clear: the shell had been filled with mustard gas. The United States’ forgotten weapons of mass destruction had returned to haunt it.
[. . .]
With three servicemen now lying in hospital, injured by a weapon of mass destruction, officials could no longer ignore the problem of the rogue munitions. On August 4, the U.S. Army announced a $6 million plan to locate and stem the source of the clamshell ordnance. The investigation was led by Robert Williams Jnr of the Army’s Corps of Engineers. It seemed like an impossible task – Williams couldn’t search every clamshell-topped road in the state, and even if he did, there’d be no guarantee he could complete the survey before one of the hidden weapons detonated. Worse still, nobody knew how the munitions were getting from the ocean into driveways, and how to stop more arriving. Then Williams was handed a gigantic stroke of luck: interviews with everyone who discovered ordnance in their driveways revealed that they had all purchased their clamshell mix from one hauler, Perry Butler. And Perry Butler had an exclusive contract to collect waste clamshells from one Milford clam processing plant: SeaWatch International.
As Delaware’s only clam processor, suspicion had already been placed on the Milford plant. In spite of initial claims that no ordnance had been found on site, when the U.S. Army turned their attention to the factory, it was already the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. On inspecting the facility, their suspicions were confirmed: twelve munitions were recovered onsite. Workers had picked the highly unstable ordnance off the conveyor lines and stored them in a bucket of water in the basement. The munitions that they did not spot had been first plunged into conditioning tanks with the live clams, passed through steam cookers, and then raked across an industrial shucker that violently shakes the cooked meat from the shells. From there, the ordnance was picked up by Perry Butler, hidden in containers of empty clamshells, who passed them through a grinder that pulverised the shells into gravel before selling the fill on to various downstate residents. That none of the munitions exploded at any point was nothing short of miraculous. That no chemical rounds had broken open or leaked, even more so. SeaWatch International was fined $9,000 by OSHA for endangering staff and only permitted to continue business with the installation of $15,000 metal detector. Just three days later, the buzzer sounded. Workers reported the discovery of a 75mm shell, identical to the one that had injured three servicemen at Dover.
The problem is much bigger than the incidents in Delaware, however, as all the combatant nations of WW1 dumped their unused chemical weapons into the sea … and not always safely (and that really deserves scare quotes: “safely”).
With the close of the First World War, both defeated and victorious nations of the world were left holding thousands of tonnes of lethal chemical weaponry and no one to launch them at. The weapons were dangerous to transport and difficult to store. And nobody really knew how to neutralize their contents. So it’s easy to see how dumping the weapons in the deep ocean, out of harm’s way, was seen as a sensible solution. Entire ships were loaded with munitions, chemical and conventional alike, and sailed out to sea where the cargo was thrown overboard. As part of the CHASE program (“Cut Holes And Sink ‘Em), entire ships filled with weapons and unwanted hardware were scuttled, some detonating on their way to the seabed. For many decades, countries cast their surplus chemical weapons into ocean water and forgot about them. Over a quarter million tonnes of British bombs filled with mustard and phosgene gas and the nerve agent Tabun lie in the waters around the UK, concentrated off the west coast of Scotland. Somewhere between 50,000 and 300,000 tonnes of German, Soviet, US and British chemical agent lies in the shallow Baltic Sea. The USA has also admitted to dumping toxic materiel off the coastlines of other nations rather than risk carrying the volatile cargo home. The James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies lists 127 known dumpsites across the world, it’s likely even more exist.