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Remembered Today:

Aerial pic of gas attack


Aurel Sercu
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I'm sure that many of us have already seen this photo. If I am correct it may haven been posted already on this Forum some time ago. But I's like to approach it here from a specific angle.

There has always been doubt where it was taken.

- Some say : Langemark 22 April 1915.

- Others : Somme

- And also : eastern front.

This discussion (is it Langemark ?) has been going on for a while on the Dutch WW1 Forum.

We seem to agree now there that it is not Langemark. For the Langemark hypothesis we focus on the road with the trees starting in the middle of the right side, and the road (?) that is parallel with it, starting in the bottom right corner. It could be argued that the "tree road" could be the road Langemark - Madonna (Klerkenstraat). Or that the white road is the road Langemark - Pilkem - Boezinge (with the trees lining the railway ?). Both theories have been discarded. (For the latter location : the line of gas canisters cannot possibly have been between Hagebos and Pilkem, as the gas was released north of the built up area of Langemark (crossing the German Cemetery, where the 3 concrete bunkers are now).

In a following posting I will post the "Somme" interpretation.

Aurel

post-92-1247996951.jpg

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One of the Dutch Forum members (hi, Joris !) found this pic on the internet, from

http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/gu...he-somme-e.aspx

This seems to conform that the photo was taken in the Somme area.

"503 - Attaque aux gaz - Somme"

We don't know when these words were added (and if they are correct).

Of the photo of the previous posting (found in the Ypres Documentation Centre) the upper part appears to be cut off. Was that to allow the photo being presented as taken elsewhere ?

I would also like to add that in the photo in this posting here, from the CWM, the lower edge appears to have been cut off. This edge appears to have a number, containing (?) 100 (?). I don not know if this was done deliberately, or maybe that no reason for this is behind it.

My question : are there Somme experts, very familiar with the topography of the area, who can recognize where this was, if it was the Somme indeed ?

Aurel

post-92-1247997662.jpg

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This looks very much like a cloud gas attack from cylinders rather than gas shells or projectors. I'm no expert, but wasn't that type of attack superceded by 1917/ 18?

Ian

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Ian,

Exactly. I don't know till when chlorine gas from cylinders was used, but I had always thought that soon phosgene gas (Livens projectors), and mustard gas (gas shells, from July 1917 on) replaced them.

So indeed placing the aerial pic in 1917-18 makes it even more complicated. Or unlikely.

Was tear gas ever released from cylinders ? But even so I don't think it was in 1917-18.

Aurel

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Based on the fact that there is no truly descernible second line, or at least not one that is built with any depth or permanency, is it possible that this was taken in a rear position for training purposes?

Jon

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In one of the links to the HSP site pages there is a picture of an officers record book with caption stating that "..it includes information about the flights Capt Noyes participated in.". I wonder if an email to the HSP would gain any information about places and dates. It might help to narrow things down a bit.

Ken

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Several comments.

The landscape, the trench system, and particularily what looks like a cute, tightly packed tent city does not at all look like an actual front line situation from the period 1915-1918. Very little evidence of cratering. And who would put up tents or other structures so close to the front line, and what opponent would not have shelled whatever it is into nothingness?

Foulkes, the CO of the Brit Special Brigade, was probably the world's most stubborn man, and insisted on using cylinder release right thru the war, after everyone else had gone away from this clumsy and dangerous attack methodology. (He did use other methods as well.) Late in the war he was trying larger and larger cylinder attacks to overcome its limitations. Some Brit generals reportedly would not even let him set up his cylinder systems in their sectors, as cylinder attack was so dangerous and unpredictable in effect. At least once the plan was for a gas release at 7 AM, the wind was blowing the wrong way, and his men opened the cylinders anyway and intelligently ran away, but regrettably took the wrenches with them, so that the poor infantry could not close the cylinders. The gas pooled in the bottom of the first line, and when the wounded from the infantry attack were brought back from no man's land they had to be laid down on the floor of the trench, where the gas was the densest. No wonder that some generals did not want the Special Brigade about to launch cylinder attacks.

As Tom might agree, the idea of a gas and flame attack, suggesting them being used simultanously, is an odd idea. Stating that this caption was ascribed to this photo implies to me that they were being used simultanously. Sounds like a caption added afterwards by some librarian who did not know what they were writing about. See a lot of smoke, maybe it is gas, maybe a flame attack, why not both.

Bob Lembke

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I don't know till when chlorine gas from cylinders was used...
Aurel, cylinders continued to be used for cloud gas attacks after the introduction of Livens projectors and gas shells. There are examples of cylinders being transported in railway wagons, which were then positioned just behind the front on branch lines. The soldiers were evacuated from the line, and the cylinders were opened simultaneously by means of electronically activated switches.

Robert

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Two questions/remarks:

- Could the history of aerial photography determe the period of when it was taken? Or otherwise; was it already technically possible to take a picture in such an angle in 1915?

- Isn't it possible that those emplacements with always 8 short trenches are the places where the cylinders were stored before the attack? And isn't the ground at the Somme cretaceous...? If that's right, no much camouflage measures were taken...

Joris

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Thanks, Jon, Ken, Tom, Bob, Robert and Joris.

We (Joris and I) too had spotted that photo with French gas and flames used on German trenches on 1 Jan 1917, but that seems highly unlikely. I have never heard of ther French using gas cylinders here in Flanders.

So, cylinders were used after 1915 too. If the photo was 1917-18, this is not unlikely.

But gas cylinders used with tents right behind the line, yes, very unlikely indeed.

Joris, as I have said elsewhere (Dutch Forum), I have no idea when oblique aerial photos were used for the first time. :-(

Aurel

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I have just had a closer look at this aerial photo, in different (?) versions.

And discovered something "baffling".

This is a detail of the photo that has, written in the top half : "503 - Attaque aux gaz - Somme"

That is the photo as I have always known it, though my version was cropped (top part cut off), and did not have these words.

But I have always considered this line of dark dots as trees. Never any doubt. (And I always based my search to find the exact location on these trees.)

Meanwhile I and Tom found the same photo, but with the caption :

"French soldiers making a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders. Belgium." Date : 1 Jan 1917.

The photo is a little dark, too much contrast, so I brightened it a little, and ... to my amazement discovered that someone had felled the trees !!!

What happened ?

I haven't the "foggiest" idea. Were the trees on one pic added later, or were the original trees deleted on the other pic ? And why ?!

I tend to believe that originally the trees were there, for it seems to me that they fade in the gas clouds in a natural way.

So this is the pic WITH the trees...

post-92-1248086498.jpg

post-92-1248086583.jpg

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Something went wrong. I wanted to post the two pics in separate postings. (Because I don't know how to post two pics in one posting ! But now it happened automatically).

Anyway, the second pic, in B/W (not sepia), does not show the trees anymore.

Anybody any idea what happened ? And why ?

Aurel

(I wonder where this will be posted ... :o )

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Cylinder gas was being used in June 1918. The 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters mention tham in their war diary. They were based in the Hulluch sector at the time.

'The Special Company's Royal Engineers began to install the gas cylinders on 5th April 1918'

18th june 1918 - 'At 11.30 pm gas was projected .........'

Steve M

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Is it just me, or do the "trees" look drawn on with a felt-tip pen or something? If you look closely at them, there appears to be a dark line connecting them, which seems to be drawn over the lighter colored "road". Perhaps this was done by the person who wrote the "Attack Aux Gaz" caption at the top?

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Steve,

5 April 1918 : "cylinders installed", yes this seems to say : the way the German gas cylinders were buried the way the Germans did it in April 1915.

Yet : 18 June 1918 : "projected". Does this mean like with ... Livens Projectors ?

I am a little cofused.

Jeff,

Unconsciously I am pushing the idea that the trees were added deep down. For if this is true, I have been deceived all these years !!!! (Yes, I have studied this pic for years ! And I would not be "amused" !)

Yet, you may be correct.

Only : why would anyone want to add trees ? (And I must say the way this was done (if it was done) gradually fading in the white gas clouds is perfect !)

Maybe they were added. For in a way it is easier to add them than to delete them, it seems to me.

(The answer could be in the original pic. I mean : original = not the digital scanned version. If they were added there, with a pen, on the print, this should be visible. Yes, I know, if it was done on the negative, then ... :-(

Aurel

P.S. Joris ! You did it again ! You posted while I was writing and thinking about mine ! :-)))

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You're right, they do seem to fade into the cloud perfectly. I was paying more attention to the ones further to the right than to the cloud itself.

I shouldn't attempt photo analysis after being up for 19 hours. :lol:

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I too had noticed that the tree's had disappeared in one photograph, but I believe the one that plainly show the trees is the one to work with.

The road that these trees border appears to be arrow straight, looking at trench map's the road running from Albert to Bapaume is just such a road, and the maps show it to be populated with numeropus trees along its length. There also appears to be another stretch of trees in the background also appearing to run on a diagonal, maybe to meet up with the road in the foreground?

regards

Tom

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Again, What are the white things? They would seem to be a set of clean large tents erected recently, since they are so white. They seem to be about 150 yards/meters from the first line, where the "gas" is being released. We are talking about the Somme or Flanders. Anyone know of anyone who, on those battlefields, allowed the enemy to erect a tent city for 1000-2000 men 150 yards from the front line, on terrain perfectly flat. Absurd. And gas cylinders wern't stored in large white tents right behind the lines.

There is a dramatic photo like this which supposedly shows an early German cylinder gas attack on the Russians.

At first (and thru the war) aerial observers often simply took photos with a hand-held camera, so mny of the earlier aerial photos are oblique. It was not some great technical advance; in fact for many purposed they are not very good for intelligence work. Later in the war, I think, cameras were being fixed in the plane in some sort of mount, for vertical shots and probably oblique. Oblique shots give info but are bad for accurate measurements, comparing to maps, etc.

Bob

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If it is the Somme, then what looks like tents could be chalk excavated when constructing trenches and dugouts. They certainly don't look like tents to me.

Tom

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I agree with Tom. I was about to mention the whiteness of the road and the spoil on the lips of trenches. Too much chalk about for Flanders, I would have thought.

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