JF Ptak Science Books Post 2414
About two months after the Germans used the first poison gas in WWI (on April 22, 1915 against French Colonial troops at he Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium) the Scientific American published (on June 12, 1915) an account of some very early responses to the new lethal threat. This was a more caustic and dangerous form of a warfare that existed for at least 2200 years, going back to the Peloponnesian wars, with pitch- and sulphur-saturated wood that was set alight and buried under siege walls, the noxious smoke incapacity the soldiers within the walls. As the SA article also points out, bellows were used to propel the nasty and noxious smoke produced in a cauldron of burning charcoal, pitch and sulphur, blown hopefully over the walls and lines of the enemy--this at about the same time as the Athenians and Spartans were having it out.
There's also indications that plague/disease-ridden animal carcasses were catapulted across enemy lines, armies going at one another using rockets of diseased meat. And so on.
But the 150 tons of chlorine gas that the Germans sent over the French lines on that day was something entirely different--and far more lethal than any other gas previously used. (There was an earlier attempt to use gas in battle, employing an even nastier gas--xylyl bromide. It was dispatched January 15, 1915 against the Russians on the Eastern Front, but due to extreme cold most of the gas froze--it still however was potent enough to kill a thousand soldiers.)
The early response to protection from gas warfare was inadequate, with masks being sometimes little more than string and cotton gauze. This response was better than no response, because in the end it at least gave some millions of soldiers comfort to know that they were being taken care of, that something was being done to address the gas problem. Of course this would last only so long as they didn't have to actually employ the mask.
As the war progressed, the gas mask response improved, though so did the lethal varities of gases that were employed. Even the best of the masks were incapable of defending much against phosgene and diphosgene--and then there was no protection at all from mustard gas, which was another beast entirely.
It was the illustrations that stopped me in the Scientific American article--first for the flannel muzzle mask (above), which made my heart half-break; and then, just beneath that picture, a portrait of a group of British soldiers wearing cloth masks, who were "prepared to weather a gas attack". They were told that adding a little water to the mask would help stop the gas, a lot of which was hopeful expectation and wishful thinking.
An earlier post appears here, "Gas Masks and Poison Gas, World War I, 1915", on early (November/December 1915) masks.