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Enabling Maneuver: Chemical Support in the Meuse-Argonne

Christy L. Lindberg


This is a reprint of Chapter 3 from Into the Breach: Historical Case Studies of Mobility Operations in Large-Scale Combat Operations, part of The Large-Scale Combat Operations Series.


Over forty-seven days--from 26 September to the Armistice on 11 November 1918--the American Expeditionary Force was engaged in the largest battle yet fought in the history of the United States, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. More than 1.2 million American servicemen were committed to the battle, in a combined Allied effort to finally break through German lines and once again combat the enemy on an open battleground. The objective was to cut the Mezieres-Metz railroad, which would sever the main lines of communication for the German forces along a front stretching from the Meuse River east of Verdun to a point midway into the Argonne Forest.

Throughout this campaign, toxic chemical agents, first introduced on the battlefield in April 1915, would be used effectively by German forces, inflicting a great number of casualties among American forces building up for the attack. Indeed, from 1915 to 1918, the Germans held the initiative in most areas of gas warfare. This they achieved through the introduction of new agents (the most recent, mustard gas in August 1917) that allowed them to direct more systematic thought to the question of how the employment of gas might alter a tactical situation. They were, for example, the first to use gas as an adjunct to maneuver in support of an infantry attack. The Allies struggled to keep up with such offensive doctrine, but they had to contend first with the development of effective defensive measures to counter German initiatives.1

Moreover, the use of toxic chemicals by the enemy was a hindrance to Allied forces and their ability to maneuver. Areas saturated by chemicals could be impenetrable for days and disrupt operations. Key to the success of the campaign was the newly-organized Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) which was tasked to provide offensive and defensive assistance to the American advance, in the form of gas training, providing smoke screens, and eliminating German machinegun positions with thermite. In addition, German chemical warfare material would be collected for investigation at the CWS laboratory near Paris.


When America entered the war in April 1917, the formation of a gas service was far from a reality. While our British and French allies were forming gas services in theater, the beginnings of the American program were much more disjointed. Stateside, research was being led by the Bureau of Mines and the eventual establishment of the American University Experiment Station in Washington, DC. Meanwhile in Europe, Brig. Gen. Amos A. Fries, chief of the fledgling American Gas Service, would seek the assistance of the British and French gas services to develop our capabilities. However, the race to combat this new form of warfare would see almost every branch of the Army having some connection to gas warfare:

The Medical Corps directed the Gas Defense production. Offense production was in the hands of the Ordnance Department. Alarm devices, etc., were made by the Signal Corps. The Engineers contributed their 30th Regiment (Gas and Flame) and the Field Training Section. The Research Section was still in charge of the Bureau of Mines, in spite of repeated attempts to militarize it. And in addition, the Chemical Service Section had been formed primarily to deal with overseas work. While the Director of the Gas Service was expected to co-ordinate all these activities, he was given no authority to control policy, research, or production.2

In May 1918, Maj. Gen. William L. Sibert, late in command of the 1st Infantry Division, was chosen to bring order to the chaos. An experienced Engineer officer, Sibert brought his organizational skills to the Chemical Warfare Service. Rather than working at cross purposes, Sibert brought not only his ability to organize, but his aptitude for getting different organizations to cooperate and work together.

The campaign to recruit volunteers for the Gas Service emphasized the technical nature of their work. Everything from chemists to explosives experts along with electrical experts and mechanics were needed for the varied needs of the new service. The "Hell Fire Battalion" was advertised as an opportunity to see active service on the front lines before other units were to be fielded. The chance to be the vanguard along with the combat arms was made even more enticing by the thought that we could "teach the Germans the war game in the use of their own hellish weapons."3 The American forces also had a firm faith in the inventiveness of our scientists and the availability of resources to get the job done.

On 15 August 1917, the War Department issued General Order No. 108, which authorized the creation of "Gas and Flame" regiments, one for each Army. In conformity with this order, Capt. Earl J. Atkisson, Corps of Engineers, was assigned to the 30th Engineers and ordered on 30 August 1917 to report to the Commanding Officer of Camp American University, Washington, DC to begin the organization of a "Gas and Flame" Regiment. On 16 October 1917, Company A and Battalion Headquarters were organized, and assignment of officers was made at once. On 3 November 1917, Company B was formed; two weeks later, non-commissioned officers were appointed for both companies; and by 20 November 1917 the battalion was at full strength and ready for overseas duty. Regimental Headquarters, 1st Battalion Headquarters, and Companies A and B sailed for France on the USS President Grant on 26 December 1917 and reached Brest on 10 January 1918.4

These "Gas and Flame" troops would earn the distinction of being among the first American gas warfare specialists to arrive in France. With less than three months training after their organization, they would be on the front line performing their primary missions. The training they received stateside was brief. Out of the 640 hours of total instruction, gas warfare and defense accounted for only 14 hours of the training plan.5

The tactical employment of the gas troops was to support the infantry before and during the battle. Smoke, thermite, high explosives, and gas were to be used to take out enemy defenses, to assist local attacks and neutralize local resistance. Finally, the tactical use of gas troops could reduce the enemy morale and effective strength by the discharge of lethal gas against his defensive garrisons and sensitive points from which opposition or counter-attacks were expected.6

The AEF tactical doctrine for the employment of special gas troops cited the advantages of using gas in terms of accuracy, the extended casualty producing area, and lasting results. The doctrine noted the effectiveness of gas for the elimination of well-entrenched targets that high explosive fires could not destroy. The amount and type of chemical agent employed depended on the tactical situation, as well as wind and terrain features.7

The creation of the Chemical Warfare Service on 28 June 1918, the 30th Engineers (Gas and Flame) was officially transferred to the CWS, and redesignated the 1st Gas Regiment. The CWS mission to provide gas support to the American efforts of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive fell to the 1st Gas Regiment. A regiment in name only, the 1st Gas was comprised of only six companies, with a total of about 1,500 officers and men, the remaining companies having not yet completed their stateside training. Rather than acting as a single organization, the 1st Gas was broken up by companies and platoons and attached to American units along the entire front--Company A with the 33rd Infantry Division, Company B to the 91st, Company C the 35th Division, D in support of the 79th Infantry Division, E Company split by platoons in support of the 28th and 77th Divisions, F attached to the 80th, and a platoon each from Companies B and D went to the 37th Infantry Division. Making command and control more difficult was the loss of 13 combat-experienced company officers, either to staff duty or from being sent back to the United States to train the remaining battalions of the regiment.8

Map overview of the Meuse-Argonne

The primary weapons fielded by the 1st Gas were the Livens Projector and the four-inch Stokes Mortar. Both systems were designed and produced by the British War Department, and provided to their American counterparts, who had no similar weapons of their own. The Livens Projector required a lengthy and labor-intensive process of emplacement, and with a range of about 1,800 yards, they were usually emplaced under cover of darkness, and just behind the front-line positions. A "big shoot" might involve up to 5,000 projectors, making it necessary for the men of the 1st Gas to dig multiple emplacements nightly for a week before "zero hour." At "zero hour" the weapons were discharged, hurling the projectiles through the air toward their target. The singular advantage of the Livens was that, unlike mortars and artillery, the projectiles detonated on impact with the target, and all within a few seconds of each other, instantly blanketing the target, and without warning, often catching the enemy without cover and without their gas masks.

The Livens projector provided "the means for producing casualties and demoralization second to none." When used aggressively, they could keep enemy forces off balance; when employed on a quiet front, they could lessen considerably the likelihood of that front being used as a place to rest battle weary troops.9

The four-inch Stokes mortar was designed specifically to fire chemical-filled shells; in fact, a conventional high-explosive round was never developed for it. Weighing 240 pounds, the mortar was light enough to be portable, and could be hand-carried forward by its crew as mobile fire support for advancing infantry. It fired a 25-pound projectile, or "bombs," containing approximately 7 pounds of fill--either chemical agent, white phosphorous (for producing smokescreens), or thermiteto a maximum range of about 1,000 yards. A well-trained crew, with a good supply of prepared rounds, could fire one round every three seconds for a prolonged length of time and could be fired even faster for shorter durations.

Preparation for Battle

The Meuse Argonne Offensive was the largest American engagement of World War I. Following the success of the St. Mihiel Offensive, the American Expeditionary Force led by General John J. Pershing bolstered the Allied forces along the entire Western Front. French and American troops, along with British and Australian units, fought in the Argonne Forest and Meuse River in the Alsace Lorraine region of France in the fall of 1918. Although the German forces had the advantage of key defensible terrain, the Allied forces had renewed momentum with the addition of fresh American troops.

Throughout the first weeks of September 1918, in addition to continuing their combat support of the St. Mihiel Offensive, the 1st Gas busied themselves cleaning and testing their weapons, checking the continuity of miles of electrical detonation wire, inspecting and repairing gas respirators, and moving tons of munitions up to forward area ammunition dumps, all in preparation for the upcoming Meuse-Argonne campaign.

In the days before the attack, the officers of the 1st Gas moved forward to reconnoiter their routes of advance and to identify likely targets. Plans focused on key targets such as gassing road networks and control points. As the area was still under French control, and not wanting to telegraph the impending arrival of American forces to the German forward observers, many of the Chemical officers carried out their reconnaissance in French uniforms. One observer in E Company described the ground over which the 1st Gas would soon fight:

The forest itself is a stretch of wild country some 70 kilometers long and about 15 wide, consisting of thickly wooded steep hills and deep ravines, or gullies, the whole being wonderfully adapted to ambuscades and machine-gun work . . . artillery and machine guns had invested the underbrush and thickets. . . . Under these conditions it will not be hard to understand that here [would be] desperate fighting . . . and we were to start on a line of well-constructed and complete defenses.10

In preparation for the offensive, Capt. Laurent Lowenberg, former commander of C Company and now in command of the 1st Battalion, issued the operational orders for the event. In addition to their Stokes mortars and Livens projectors, the men would carry their rifles, with each platoon also fielding Chauchat automatic rifles. "Be prepared to act quickly and intelligently," he wrote, "by throwing smoke, thermite and gas on such obstacles and targets which suddenly develop, and which give trouble to the advancing Infantry."11

After a week of moving Stokes mortars and ammunition by hand, truck, and train to the closest railhead to the front, on 24 September 1918 Company B began hand-carrying their supplies to their forward positions. By the evening of 25 September 1918, all the men were standing by at their forward positions, ready for "zero hour." Cpl. Robert MacMullin, of E Company, later recorded:

Our mission was to give support to regular army divisions by laying down massive doses of lethal gases by [Livens] projectors prior to attack; to lay smoke screens with Stokes mortars, and to silence enemy machinegun nests with such nasty things as white phosphorus, thermite, phosgene, skunk gas, etc. During an attack, the demand for our services grew rapidly and the regiment was spread pretty thinly, platoon by platoon, over a wide front reaching from Flanders to the Vosges.12

Early in the morning of 26 September 1918--with "zero hour" rapidly approaching Capt. Roscoe B. Dayton, commander of Company E, tasked Corporal MacMullin and another Soldier to move forward and establish a weather station, as the company was slated to fire both gas and smoke from their mortars at the start of the assault, it was important to ascertain wind speed and direction. Returning to Captain Dayton, MacMullin could report that unless the direction changed, the wind would not push the gas and smoke back on American positions.13

The Battle Begins

For the 1st Gas, "zero hour" was 0530 on 26 September 1918. Company A launched 1,000 Livens projectiles, including a recently developed high-explosive version, where the liquid agent fill was replaced with 30 pounds of TNT. The plan was to use the new munition to cut through the aprons of barbed wire emplaced in front of German positions. The explosive effect was greater than that of the 8-inch howitzer, and the mass firing of Livens batteries meant the devastation wrought on German wire, trenches, and bunkers was instantaneous and complete. Other companies used their Livens to fire smoke projectiles, which not only obscured the American advance from the watchful eyes of German machine gunners, but forced the enemy to don their protective masks, out of fear the smoke was actually poison gas, or at the least was mixed with poison gas. In other locations the Livens projectors were set to fire blank charges only, and in sequence, rather than in a single volley, in an attempt to fool enemy "flash and sound" detectors. It was hoped the enemy would suspect the Livens positions were actually artillery batteries, and mark them for counter-battery fire, wasting their ammunition and efforts.


Soldier firing projectiles


Due to the change and adaptation of the new German doctrine of elastic defense-in-depth in late 1916, the German defense consisted of three successive zones, the outpost zone, the battle zone, and the rearward zone. The outpost zone consisted of machine guns, mortars, and light artillery in order to contain enemy raids and patrols, to provide an early warning system, and to disrupt and slow down any enemy advance. Here the Stokes were called into service, to drop concentrations of smoke and thermite rounds on these positions as they were identified. "Our company used all of our different explosives, but largely smoke bombs," wrote Private Myron Edwards of D Company. "Later reports advised us that the smoke added to the confusion of the Germans, making it very hard to . . . keep in contact with each other." Continuing in his description, Edwards recorded "Our 'D' Company, with . . . smoke and thermite bombs, were of great help to the infantry in cleaning out machine gun nests and other points of resistance [and] our men were called on many times in similar cases."14 Thermite was especially effective against machine gun nests, as the bomb produced a shower of molten metal burning at a temperature of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and was extremely difficult to extinguish. Molten thermite burned through the machine gun nest's overhead cover, dropping on the weapon and crew below, making the position untenable.

C Company, was ordered to support the 35th Infantry Division's attack in the well-fortified area of the Argonne Forest between Varennes and Mountfaucon, and used Stokes and Livens to deliver gas and smoke shells on German positions. This forced the German troops there to remain in their bombproof shelters, and so blinded their observers that when the attack took place the 35th Division was able to make rapid progress.15

In a memorandum dated 14 October 1918, the Office of the Chief Gas Officer proposed the "Use of Gas Troops in Proposed Operations."16 One of the first daily tasks would be to establish smoke screens in combination with lethal gas along the Meuse River between Bois de Chatillon and Sivry. Additional smoke screens not involving lethal gas will be used to neutralize and capture machine gun positions. Furthermore, Stokes mortars using thermite, smoke and small amounts of gas will also aid in taking out enemy machine guns.

Two days later, this was detailed in more depth in a memorandum on the "Study of Use of Gas and Smoke in Possible Operations." River crossings would be assisted with the use of smoke, gas and thermite from Stokes' Mortars, gas and H.E. from Liven's projectors, by the First Gas Regiment, to aid the crossing of the river at points between Erieulles and Vilosnes.

Also, surprise bombardments would be conducted with lethal gas shells upon selected sensitive points along the Route Nationale No. 64, between Liny-devant-Dun and Vilosnes. These bombardments were carried out with special shell No. 5 (Collongite). Besides inflicting casualties, such bombardments will aggravate the confusion and surprise occasioned by the advance, and will interfere with the bringing up of reserves.

In order to occupy the forests, such as Bois de Sartelle, Bois de Sivry, and Bois de Fontaines, a continuous and slow fire of special shell No. 7 (Aquinite) and No. 9 (Martonite) upon certain or probable battery positions, will at least decrease the rate and accuracy of their fire by compelling the enemy artillerymen to wear their masks. This slow fire should be preceded by a burst of fire of lethal gas on known positions to inflict casualties. As soon as the advance commences, a continuous and steady fire of special shell No. 20 (Yperite) upon the Bois de Mont and Cete de Chatel, one kilometer south of Sassey-sur-Meuse, and Cote de Saint Germaine (as soon as it is within range) will neutralize enemy activity from these positions.

From the beginning of the attack a steady fire of special shell No. 20 (Yperite) upon the enemy reserves in towns of Ecurey, Breheville and Reville would be of great assistance to the troops making the attack. These towns are admirable targets for Yperite, being in sheltered valleys and are not positions which it will be necessary for us to occupy as soon as we reach our objective. Yperite in these positions will not only inflict casualties in the reserves, thereby seriously interfering with reinforcements, but will also cause casualties among retreating enemy troops.

A smoke barrage placed upon the heights northeast of Sivry-sur-Meuse and maintained until as long as necessary, would aid in the crossing of the river. Special shell No. 3 should be used for this purpose, and only limited and important targets should be selected for screening by smoke, owing to the meager supply of smoke ammunition on hand. These positions, which are screened, should also be submitted to a burst of fire of lethal shell, before the establishment of the smoke screen, for the purpose of inflicting casualties.

A supply of No. 5 lethal shells and No. 3 smoke shells should be carried forward by batteries (or selected batteries) advancing with the attack, in order to fire immediately upon new artillery or machine gun positions at the borders of the woods being flanked, north of Haraumont, in order to neutralize fire and obtain casualties.17

Two very hard lessons learned by the American Army came at a very high cost: "how to neutralize the greatly enhanced power conferred on the defensive by the machine gun and how to use gas in the offensive."18 The reluctance to use gas to our fullest capability coupled with the determination to primarily use high explosives to counter enemy use of gas resulted in high casualties. The extensive use of gas shells by the enemy during this operation, together with the nature of the terrain, resulted in an appreciable number of gas casualties. More than 19,000 admissions were made to Gas Hospitals during this offensive, constituting about 19 percent of the total casualties incurred by the Allied Forces. Many of these casualties were caused by men not keeping their masks close by or not wearing them in the "ready" position; uncertainty of when masking was required (not recognizing the signs of gas attack, like the sight of a gas cloud, the smell of the agent, or the distinctive sound of a gas shell exploding as opposed to a HE shell); and unmasking too soon (for the same reasons, and because the mask limited vision, fogged up, and was uncomfortable).

Over the next month, the 1st Gas continued to support the American advance. Although under fire and taking casualties, their real struggle was with fatigue. Being the only chemical warfare specialists at the front, the 1st Gas had no relief, and could not be pulled off the line and replaced with another gas unit. Men struggled to move ammunition closer to the ever-changing front, and a three-mile trip to the ammunition dump, carrying mortar rounds by hand forward to gun positions, through mud and under fire, wore the men out. Additionally, constant fire missions were taking their toll on the mortars themselves, forcing the supply sections to repair parts, or scramble to find replacements.

Although the fire support provided by the 1st Gas Regiment was helpful in reducing enemy strong points, screening American advances, and creating confusion and misdirection among the enemy, the after-action reports from the company commanders were less laudatory. While it was undoubtedly helpful, it could have been a greater success. Infantry commanders were often reluctant to request the assistance of the gas troops, either from ignorance of their actual function, lack of knowledge about what types of weapons they employed, or from fear any requested gas would blow back on friendly troops. One division gas officer reportedly recommended to a division operations officer (G-3) that gas be used during a particular phase of the engagement. The staff officer replied that he would employ the artillery firing gas shells only if the gas officer stated in writing that the gas would not cause a single American casualty. This request was unrealistic in that a thorough staff planner in World War I "usually included an allowance for casualties due to a friendly barrage."19 Another objection raised to the use of gas was that commanders feared its employment would subject their men to unnecessary retaliatory gas attacks.

Unfortunately, many senior US Army officers remained oblivious to the potential use of chemicals by special gas troops in the offense. In preparing for the Meuse-Argonne campaign, for example, the US First Army Headquarters studied the spring offensives of 1918, where the Germans literally smothered the Allies with hundreds of thousands of gas shells in a relatively short space of time. To its credit, First Army Headquarters disseminated this information to its units and, in field orders during the campaign, urged subordinate corps and divisions to use gas. Gas was made available by the French to the Americans in a sufficient quantity to neutralize enemy batteries, strong points, and installations, and to produce casualties. The final decision to utilize gas, however, rested with the corps and division commanders. With little or no doctrine, training, or experience they were reluctant to employ gas. The offensive use of chemical weapons, according to one First Army general, "does not seem to be understood."20 Army-level operational planning for the campaign included extensive use of gas, but its use by corps and divisions was halting. While the First Army's divisions did gain some confidence in the use of gas toward the end of the campaign, they never really mastered its employment. Had the 1st Gas Regiment more time prior to the assault to liaise with infantry commanders, or had infantry commanders received practical training or observed Stokes mortars and Livens projectors in use prior to "zero hour," perhaps the results would have been even more beneficial.21

In the wake of the American advance, CWS officers and NCOs scoured the battlefield for German gas munitions and defensive equipment. The German munitions were delivered to the CWS Gas laboratory at Puteaux, a suburb of western Paris. In addition to the research conducted on captured German gas warfare materiel, the CWS laboratory at Puteaux was developing products for gas defense. Finally, the Puteaux laboratory's Organic Division was developing a gas camouflage which, although too late for use in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, was hoped to reap benefits in the planned American gas offensive of 1919. By developing and adding a secondary chemical to the agent, one that would produce a smell like freshly-dug earth, a common smell secondary to conventional shellfire, it was hoped the agent would be camouflaged from olfactory detection, leading to greater enemy casualties.22 The benefits of establishing a site for gas training and experimentation was realized at the same time the creation of a gas laboratory was first requested, in December 1917.

This idea was realized with the AEF Experimental Field, later christened Hanlon Field, it had twin missions: to instruct unit and division gas officers and NCOs, and to conduct experimental work on new gas munitions and materiel.23 The Gas Defense School combined classroom instruction with "hands on" training designed to provide practical experience and to build confidence in gas defense and decontamination operations. By "training the trainer," it was believed this knowledge would be passed down to personnel within the soldier's home unit. By the time of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, the school had trained more than a thousand gas personnel. In August an offensive course was created, giving students the opportunity to plan and launch chemical agent attacks, using the gamut of weapons and agents available. To this effect, three ranges were created for the four-inch Stokes mortar, and for 75-mm and 155-mm guns. The target demographic for this training were officers destined for various staff positions at the division, corps, and army-level. Colonel Amos Fries, Chief of the Gas Service, knew that, by and large, division-, corps-, and army-commanders were unfamiliar with the strengths and limitations of poison gas, and were therefore unlikely to incorporate their use in the planning for upcoming offensives. With practical knowledge of gas weapons under their belts, these staff officers would be in a prime position to advise commanders on the benefits gas weapons provided. In addition to obtaining practical knowledge on gas delivery methods, these unit gas officers were expected to become advisers whose technical knowledge would be solicited "in the preparations of all plans involving the extensive use of gas, whether by artillery or by other means."24 Despite the order, staff officers too often told gas officers that their advice for offensive planning was not required and that they should concern themselves only with defensive duties. The success of division gas officers in integrating plans for the use of gas in offensive operations eventually depended on, in the words of the Gas Service's Chief, their ability to "go out and sell gas to the army."25


Soldiers loading projectiles on the street


Additionally, Hanlon Field was used as the test facility for new gases and weapons, where the effects of weather and terrain on the behavior and persistence of gases could be ascertained. One new munition developed and tested here played a role in the support given by the 1st Gas Regiment in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign that of the high-explosive filled Livens projectile.26

The Medical Section of the Chemical Warfare Service, through its work in the physiological laboratory at Hanlon Field, had conducted extensive research in the effect mustard agent had on soldiers exposed during combat. Mustard agent, with its high boiling point, evaporates slowly, and soldiers exposed to it could unknowingly carry the agent on their clothing and skin for hours before the first signs of chemical burns appeared. Knowing that rapid decontamination was key to preventing injury, the CWS proposed the creation of mobile decontamination teams, known as "degassing units," attached to each American division, and capable of quickly moving into forward areas following an enemy mustard gas attack.

In training, the units performed well, moving quickly forward to assembly points, where "contaminated" Soldiers had congregated. The unit could roll onto site, erect a 50-foot hospital ward tent, assemble the shower unit, and begin bathing operations within 17 minutes. Each unit could then treat and clothe 1,000 men before their supply of towels and uniforms were expended and resupply required. Once the mission was complete, in nine minutes, the ward tent and shower unit could be broken down and repacked, and the units placed on the move.

In actual practice, the operation did not go as smoothly. During the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, these units had a difficult time traversing along the narrow, congested, muddy, shell-pocked roads of France, sometimes not arriving until several hours after the attack. Still, these units did their job effectively, preventing injury and hospitalization of combat troops, and returning them to combat in an expedient manner.27


Today, the Army is preparing to conduct large-scale combat operations in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) environment. Through the process of assessing enemy capabilities, determining the appropriate protective posture and mitigating the threat of our adversaries, the Chemical Corps will continue to support the combat arms as it has done since its inception. The experience by the officers and men of the CWS during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive illustrates lessons learned that are still applicable in large-scale operations 100 years later.

Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, provides doctrine on how Army forces, as part of a joint team, conduct sustained, large-scale combat operations with current force structure and capabilities against a regional peer. As it states, "Historically, battlefields in large-scale combat operations have been more chaotic, intense, and highly destructive than those the Army has experienced in the past several decades."28 The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the very definition of large-scale combat operations (LSCO), a battle "at the far right of the conflict continuum and associated with war."29 Throughout the forty-seven-day offensive, the US Army was simultaneously conducting offensive, and defensive operations; aimed at seizing, retaining and exploiting the initiative, in order to shape the operational environment, and win this war for our nation as part of Unified Action.

It is important to note that while the United States, and specifically the Chemical Warfare Service, the historic predecessor of today's Chemical Corps, used chemical munitions in World War I, this country is currently a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an agreement banning the use of chemical weapons that went into force 29 April 1997. However, as FM 3-0 states, "The likelihood of the enemy's use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) increases during large-scale combat operations--particularly against mission command nodes, massed formations, and critical infrastructure."30 German use of chemical weapons was very effective against poorly prepared US forces in the Meuse-Argonne. It is an old saying amongst historians that history does not necessarily repeat itself but it rhymes. Our study of past adversaries, such as Germany in World War I--combined with our understanding of emerging Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) threats today--drives us to prepare to fight and win our nation's wars in a contaminated environment.

The tactical employment of the gas troops 100 years ago during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the same as the Chemical Corps's current mission, to support combat arms before and during the progress of the battle. Then and now, the importance of chemical defense specialists embedded at every level of command cannot be overstated. Again during World War I, Soldiers received 640 hours of instruction, with 14 of that being chemical-related. While today the brigade combat team (BCT) program of instruction consists of 568.1 academic hours with 9.5 hours of that covering CBRN specific training. The CBRN specific training covers 13 CBRN common Army tasks and the Mask Confidence Training (MCT) Exercise.

Combat commanders must be aware of what support is available to them in the arena of chemical defense and decontamination. The fledgling efforts of CWS "degassing" units of 1918 have grown to become more plentiful, more portable, and more effective than they could have imagined, and able to provide mass decontamination in support of large-scale combat operations.

One mission of the Chemical Corps, to take samples of enemy CBRN material and deliver it safely to a laboratory, remains relevant today. Understanding rapidly emerging threats can enable our success during large-scale combat operations. Our ability to assess CBRN threats, protect our service-members, and mitigate consequences of an attack, are the cornerstone of what the Chemical Corps provides our Army today. FM 3-0 identifies WMD as a threat on future battlefields. "The use of WMD and the constant pursuit of materials, expertise and technology to employ WMD will increase in the future. Both state and non-state actors will continue to develop WMD programs to gain advantage against the US and its allies."31 This trend compels the United States Army Chemical Corps to not rest on our success supporting maneuver over the last 100 years. We must continue to prepare for the future. The Chemical Corps must seek tactically and technically competent recruits, which are capable of advising their commander in any situation. We must competently support movement and maneuver on tomorrow's battlefields; while remaining technically competent and tied to the science and technology community. In World War I this meant developing ways to increase our mobility of the gas troops by providing means for carrying forward more easily the ammunition needed for mortars. General William L. Sibert summarized it best: "It is my humble judgment, however, that the same rule will hold in the future as has held in the past, that is, the next war will begin ahead of where the last one left off, and that a nation that is not up-to-date in chemical warfare both offensive and defensive will be so seriously handicapped as to be practically out of the fight in the very beginning."32

Innovative training and leader development, ensuring our units are organized for combat, continual force modernization, and working with our Allies are as essential to our success on the next battlefield as they were to US and Allied forces during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Preparedness for fighting in a contaminated environment decreases the potential lethality of future CBRN attacks. The US Army Chemical Corps continues to enhance the mobility of today's Army by fulfilling its mission of "Protecting the Force."


84; and Lester and Pury, "What Leaders Should Know about Courage," 22.

  1. Charles E. Heller, "Chemical Warfare in World War I: The American Experience, 1917-1918," Leavenworth Papers #10, Combat Studies Institute, Leavenworth, KS, 1984, 22.
  2. Amos A. Fries, and Clarence J. West, Chemical Warfare (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1921), 35.
  3. James Thayer Addison, The Story of the First Gas Regiment (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920), 6.
  4. "History of the First Gas Regiment," 1919, copy in USACBRNS archives, 1-3.
  5. Richard S. Faulkner, Pershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2017), 83-84.
  6. "Report of Operations by First Gas Regiment during Argonne-Meuse Operation of First Army," 1919, 2.
  7. Heller, "Chemical Warfare in World War I," 88.
  8. Addison, The Story of the First Gas Regiment, 136.
  9. Heller, "Chemical Warfare in World War I," 88.
  10. William Langer, Gas and Flame in World War I (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), 47-49.
  11. Papers of Capt. Laurent Lowenberg, US Army Chemical Corps Museum.
  12. Robert B. MacMullin, Odyssey of a Chemical Engineer (Smithtown, NY: Exposition Press, 1983), 92.
  13. MacMullin, 92.
  14. "World War I Experiences of Myron J. Edwards, PFC Co D 30th Engineers (Gas & Flame), written by Myron Edwards in 1975," copy in the collection of the US Army Chemical Corps Museum.
  15. American Armies and Battlefields in Europe, American Battle Monuments Commission, Government Printing Office, 1938, 218.
  16. Report of Chief Gas Officer on Operations of the First Army, October 1918, Appendix 19, 1.
  17. Report of Chief Gas Officer on Operations of the First Army, October 1918, Appendix 20, 1-2.
  18. US Army Chemical Corps Historical Studies, Gas Warfare in World War I: The Use of Gas in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, September-November 1918, 75.
  19. Heller, "Chemical Warfare in World War I," 74.
  20. Heller, 87.
  21. Heller, 87.
  22. History of Chemical Warfare Service American Expeditionary Forces Technical Division, Part II, Paris Laboratory. Although much work was done for the development of gas camouflage, a satisfactory combination was never achieved.
  23. "Office Chief of Chemical Warfare Service, 30 August 1918. Hereafter the Experimental Field, CWS, will be known as "Hanlon Field," in honor of Lt. J[oseph] T. Hanlon, Company B, First Gas Regiment, who was killed in action July 30, 1918 . . . while engaged in conducting a carrying party to the site of a proposed Stokes mortar operation." Hanlon was the first CWS officer killed in action.
  24. Heller, "Chemical Warfare in World War I," 74.
  25. Heller, 74.
  26. Story of the First Gas, 138.
  27. Col. H. L. Gilchrist, "Mobile Degassing Stations," The Military Surgeon XLIV, no. 6, June 1919, 543-48.
  28. Headquarters, Department of the Army, Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2017) 1-3.
  29. FM 3-0, 1-2.
  30. FM 3-0, 1-4.
  31. FM 3-0, 1-6.
  32. Chemical Warfare Service. Remarks by Major General Wm. L. Sibert, US Army, Director, Chemical Warfare Service, 17 January 1920, 1.


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