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Remembered Today:

Use of Gas in Mesopotamia


ddycher
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Does anyone know if gas was used extensively, or at all, in the Mesopotamian campaign. I have ref's to a MGC survivor of this theatre who apparently never served on the western front dieing in 1934 from the after effects of gas poisoning contracted during the war.

Any insight would be helpful.

Regards

Dave

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Dave,

Only thinking out aloud...on my NBC instructors course albeit some years ago it was said that using poison gases didn't work too well in 'hotter climates'....I can't recall any of the RE Special Companies going east....at home I have a copy of Gas by Foulkes and will look in there for any references.

Unless of course another Pal beats me to it!

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Does anyone know if gas was used extensively, or at all, in the Mesopotamian campaign. I have ref's to a MGC survivor of this theatre who apparently never served on the western front dieing in 1934 from the after effects of gas poisoning contracted during the war.

Any insight would be helpful.

Regards

Dave

I have written an account of the campaign in Mesopotamia but in the research for the book I never came across any

mention of gas in Mesopotamia.

Ron

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As well as enemy action 'gas poisoning' could refer to a number of things including carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty stoves (in dug outs, huts etc) or motor exhaust systems. It did happen.

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There have been various rumours that gas was used in Mesopotamia but no real evidence. The following extract from a Highland officer's account of this time there may give an explanation of how the these rumours may have started.

"One hot and sunny morning I was speaking to one of our sentries who had been watching a Turk appear above their parapet and had already had one shot at

him and was waiting to get another and I had scarcely moved a 100 yards down the trench when the unfortunate sentry having looked over too far received a bullet

clean through his head. Once or twice during the hot weather bombing parties went over for short raids but without very much success and very little advantage.

I witnessed no instance of gas being used but precautions were taken and gas helmets issued with orders that they must always be carried whilst in the fire zone.

Gongs were placed at intervals all along the front line and had to be sounded at the first alarm, but fortunately that alarm never came. "

If gas masks and warning gongs were issued there was obviously felt to be a risk of the use of gas which may in time have metamorphosed into the rumour that it actually was used.

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The commander in the area requested permission to use gas in order to put down elements of the revolution in the 1920s. It was to be air dropped. Churchill as the minister responsible granted permission for the use of tear gas ( a non lethal gas and therefor legal) to be used. In the event it was not deployed for a number of reasons including 1] opposition from senior officers on moral grounds 2] technical reasons - the RAF were not equipped to do it 3] cost ( a considerable amount of gas would have to be shipped out, aircraft converted etc etc) - and 4] lack of need - conventional air attack combined with the use of armoured cars did the job and the tide turned. Nevertheless this was used as the basis of all sorts of lurid accounts of the British using gas against unarmed civilians which have persisted to this day.

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Thanks for the feedback so far.

If it helps any he served with the 37th Bde, Machine Gun Coy. Can not find any ref's todate of this contingent of the Indian Army ending up in France but does anybody know any different ?

Regards

Dave

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In the Foulkes book page 95 it says....

'detachmetns of the Special Brigade were asked for, and gas shells were supplied to both armies (Egypt and Salonika), as well as to the army in Mesopotamia and to the troops in Archangel at the beginnnig of 1919'

As it would appear that the stuff was out there even if it was used.....

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The commander in the area requested permission to use gas in order to put down elements of the revolution in the 1920s. It was to be air dropped. Churchill as the minister responsible granted permission for the use of tear gas ( a non lethal gas and therefor legal) to be used. In the event it was not deployed for a number of reasons including 1] opposition from senior officers on moral grounds 2] technical reasons - the RAF were not equipped to do it 3] cost ( a considerable amount of gas would have to be shipped out, aircraft converted etc etc) - and 4] lack of need - conventional air attack combined with the use of armoured cars did the job and the tide turned. Nevertheless this was used as the basis of all sorts of lurid accounts of the British using gas against unarmed civilians which have persisted to this day.

Centurion, thanks for this clarification; I had asked this question on this Forum a couple of times , on the use of poison gas in Iraq by the British during the post-war occupation, as I had heard these rumors over here, but no one had responded. Wasn't "Bomber" Harris sent to Iraq with some of the heavy bombers post-war to keep the locals under control? I had heard that he supposedly had gassed the locals from aircraft (I now assume from your information that this was not true), and had had supposedly boasted that, upon receiving news of unrest in a given village, that he could flatten the same village within 15 minutes of the receipt of that news. (I for one doubt this, it probably would take a couple of hours with more remote locations.) I think that this is a legitimate topic for the GWF, as such matters flowed directly out of WW I, many of the same players, etc.

"Tear gas" is really not truely "non-lethal", it really is less lethal, and if used properly, rarely fatal. (I have been "tear gassed" several times, heavily during US Army cadet gas training, and lightly during urban rioting in Washington, D.C., and, if memory serves, during a student riot in Berlin quite a while ago.) I have followed the Mid-East mess since 1956 quite closely, and for many years I have read the Israeli press daily, and I can remember the considerable discussion of the losses from the Israeli use of such agents while trying to put down the First Intafada. After some months the Palestinians and the reporters of the New York Times compiled detailed accounts of about 35 deaths and about 100 miscarrages from the use of tear gas in enclosed spaces. It seemed that the Israelis were quite indiscriminate in its use, including at least one occasion of entering a hospital and tossing tear gas grenades into an operating room while surgery was being performed by the Palestinian surgical staff. Of course application of tear gas while a surgical procedure was underway would be quite dangerous to the patient, as general anesthesia would greatly reduce resperatory function from a normal level. As I remember, aside from feteuses, the deaths almost entirely occured to children under five and to the elderly. There were some efforts on the part of some hopeless liberals in the US to pressure the American manufacturers of the Israeli-used tear gas to bar future sales to the Israelis, as they were not using the agents in manners outside of the manufacturers' recommendations.

Only two days ago I was reading the history of the 33e Regiment d'Infantry Coloniale, and it described the use of tear gas to kill by tossing several tear gas grenades into occupied dugouts and then sealing the exits of the dugouts in question.

Bob Lembke

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I suspect some of the tales have come from the 'lets vilify Bomber Harris' camp. Britain's post war heavy bomber capability was very rapidly curtailed and largely confined to home stations (which had the right length of runway , suitably sized hangers etc.). Most of the bombers used in Mesopotamia/Iraq were the ubiquitous Dh9a, (with a single RR Eagle engine rather than a Liberty). Twin engined types were largely confined to specialised troop carriers based on the Vickers Virginia and Vimy bomber but with a specialised airliner type fuselage (Vernons and Victorias) . These provided a rapid response capability but also acted as extemporized bombers, recce and ,fitted with load hailer's, psywarcraft as well as air ambulances and freighters. I beleive a few ordinary Vimys may have been used by no 70 sqadron which converted to Vernon troop carriers (and was commanded by Raymond Collishaw the former triplane ace). Harris commanded a squadron of Vernon troop carriers which were used as extemporised bombers . They specialised in dropping delayed action bombs on villages (which gave the non combabtents time to evacuate).

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Are you quite sure he was in Mespot? 37th Company MGC was in France.

Which he do you refer to? Any way both Harris and Collishaw served as Sqn Leaders in post WW1 Mesopotamia/Iraq

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I suspect some of the tales have come from the 'lets vilify Bomber Harris' camp. Britain's post war heavy bomber capability was very rapidly curtailed and largely confined to home stations (which had the right length of runway , suitably sized hangers etc.). Most of the bombers used in Mesopotamia/Iraq were the ubiquitous Dh9a, (with a single RR Eagle engine rather than a Liberty). Twin engined types were largely confined to specialised troop carriers based on the Vickers Virginia and Vimy bomber but with a specialised airliner type fuselage (Vernons and Victorias) . These provided a rapid response capability but also acted as extemporized bombers, recce and ,fitted with load hailer's, psywarcraft as well as air ambulances and freighters. I beleive a few ordinary Vimys may have been used by no 70 sqadron which converted to Vernon troop carriers (and was commanded by Raymond Collishaw the former triplane ace). Harris commanded a squadron of Vernon troop carriers which were used as extemporised bombers . They specialised in dropping delayed action bombs on villages (which gave the non combabtents time to evacuate).

Seem to recall reading in a 'poison gas' book some years ago that the 'first' post Great War use of a gas was by the Italians in Abasynnia...but I might be wrong...also weren't 'posion gases' banned by the League of Nations?

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The gent in question was Thomas Innis Farrar late of the 2/5th Devons and transferred to the 37th Bde MG Coy of the 14th Indian Division (Chris - think I am correct here but pls advise) from the 1/4th Devons in Mesopotamia in October 1916.

Regards

Dave

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According to the foremost expert on employment of chemical weapons in the Middle East, Yigal Sheffy, the answer to the original question is a definite no.

Lots of rumors and false alarms but that was all for the Mesopotamian Front. As far as I know both sides prepared for a chemical warfare. Several specially trained Gas Coys were deployed by the Ottomans but after spending six months they were disbanded and their equipment were sent back.

Reference to post war use by British I remember seing photos of brusting aerial shells and several official Turkish protests. As far as I understand from the remarks he made in his latest article Mr. Sheffy is preparing an article about this issue.

Excerpts from his article "The Chemical Dimension of the Gallipoli Campaign: Introducing Chemical Warfare to the Middle East"

It took only some months for the issue of British employment of such weapons to surface again, this time against

the Bolsheviks in Russia and against tribes and groups that rebelled in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the north-western front in India. But these events deserve an entirely separate article.

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It took only some months for the issue of British employment of such weapons to surface again, this time against

the Bolsheviks in Russia and against tribes and groups that rebelled in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the north-western front in India. But these events deserve an entirely separate article.

probably in the Fortean Times

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Gas is a subject I am personally interested in , but please note the thread refers to Mesopotamia in WW1.

TR

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I was referreing to Egypt and Mesopotamia

There does not appear to be any evidence that gas was used in Mesopotamia but it was used by the British in the 2nd battle for Gaza, as were tanks, but the use of both were ineffective. The web may be untangled in that units of the Mesopotamian Force were withdrawn and posted to Egypt for the third Gaza and later battles.

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