Gas Instruction in the 1st Division

Despite the gas defense exercises from September on, a gas organization was not set up in the division until December, when 2nd Lt. D. B. Wright was appointed Division Gas Officer, with a staff of regimental and battalion gas officers and gas NCOs.12 Implying that it was an innovation, the appointment of gas officers in the battalions "thought necessary due to the large number of villages occupied by the Division, and...to provide trained gas officers who might take the place of R.G.O.'s who might be assigned elsewhere or become casualties."13

A course of instruction was begun at once that included nine hours of training in offensive and defensive use of gas, with the troops carrying out maneuvers while masked. Gas mask drill and maneuvers, however, were hampered by a serious shortage of both British and French masks, and defective masks on hand had to be reissued for drill purposes.14 The shortage had still not

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been made up when the division left for the front.

Parallel with the troop instruction, all officers and NCOs in the division received a course of six lectures on gas defense, given by the gas officers. To supplement the lectures, the gas officers had instructions to make full use of AEF Pamphlet 253, "Defensive Measures against Gas Attacks," which had been prepared by the Gas Service in October 1917, a month after the establishment of that service in the AEF.l5 "In this pamphlet," said Lieutenant Wright, "you will find some variations from that in the corresponding British pamphlet. These are intentional variations and not oversights." (He did not describe the variations, and without the British pamphlet they have not been identified.)

The emphasis in the lectures was on the cloud gases, of which "chlorine and phosgene at present are the most important." Not until the fifth lecture was mention made of "the German paralysant," prussic acid, said to have been used on the Russian front. (The 1st Division was later to use it, in the No. 4 French gas shell.) In that lecture too appeared a brief description of "probably the most important shell gas at the present time...the so-called MUSTARD GAS," with the statement that "probably more casualties have been caused by this gas since its introduction in July of this year than by all the rest of the gases in the war." Mustard gas burns were said to take from three to

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five weeks to heal and made a man "practically useless for that length of time." Its least effect on the eyes was loss of vision for from three days to three weeks. The gas also had some effect as a vapor, especially on perspiring parts of the body.16

What appears to have been the Division Gas Officer's first gas discipline problem centered on the misuse of the gas mask carrier, and a division order was issued making unit commanders responsible that "ABSOLUTELY NOTHING of any sort...be carried in the Gas Mask Satchel except the gas mask.''17 Six months later this order had been forgotten. In a memo to his gas officers, the Division Gas Officer said:

In the satchel of salvaged masks are found everything from clothing to wrist watches. Most of these salvaged masks come from the hospitals and very likely the men were casualties from removing the mask because they could not breathe due to carrying things in the satchel which get under the canister and close the inlet valve.

All Gas Officers should see that the satchel, as well as mask, is inspected and [that] the practice of using the satchel as a carryall is discontinued.18

Less than two weeks after its exercises in the "defensive and offensive use of gas with actual gas and gas bombs," the 1st Division was pronounced

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qualified to take its place at the front, and on 7 January received orders to relieve a part of the 1st Moroccan Division in the Ansauville sector, north of Toul.19 The Ansauville sector was dominated by Mont Sec, a hill held by the enemy which commanded the wooded plain through which the German and French trench works wound their way (see Sketch). The terrain was otherwise fairly level, broken up only by wooded areas and the shell craters of three years of stabilized warfare.

In the Ansauville sector the division came under Passaga's XXII Corps of the First French Army, commanded by General Debeney. Supply functions of the division, however, remained with the embryo I American Corps. Although the relief was completed 18 - 21 January, command of the sector was retained by the adjacent 69th French Division until 5 February, when it passed to the 1st Division.20

From the point of view of gas warfare, the condition of the 1st Division on arrival in the sector was not auspicious. The 28th Infantry was short 2,600 English respirators and was not to receive them until 5 February. And

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Sketch Vue Panoramique, Ansauville Sector

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the 18th Infantry, which had started out from Gondrecourt with both its French and English masks, had lost or damaged large numbers of them on the march. As 1st Lt. Robert A. Hall, the Regimental Gas Officer, said:

The loss on the march of S.B.R.s & French masks was unusually large. The damage to French masks, due to...getting wet through, despite the fact that the French masks were being worn under the overcoat as required, was unusually large.21

It is probable that the experience of the other regiments was similar.

The division was warned on coming into the sector that a great deal of gas was being used by both sides and that the Germans on this front were using mustard gas, which, in the form of "yperite," was still under development by the French. The troops were told that now that they were in the field it was of special importance... [that they become] accustomed to wear[ing] their gas masks for long periods and to march or work with their masks on."22

The warning was punctuated by a gas bombardment of French artillery positions which the division had just reconnoitered, in which "60 men were

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badly burned with 'mustard gas' at position #12 & others were burned at position #16" (Map No. 2).23 A week later, as the 1st Brigade moved into the trenches, 200 gas cases were seen being evacuated from the Moroccan division to the right of the incoming troops.24

At the direction of the French corps commander, General Passaga, instructions were posted in every dugout and shelter in the 1st Division area on proper procedure during a mustard gas attack. The troops were told to put on the British mask when the first gas shell fell and to keep it on for four hours after a gas bombardment. Anyone passing through a gassed area was to beat and shake his clothes before entering a dugout, and to use soap suds as first aid treatment for liquid mustard on the skin. Further instructions from Passaga in late January were based on recent gas attacks against the 42nd Division, where most of the casualties had occurred as a result of faulty gas proofing of dugouts and of poor gas mask discipline.25

The instructions, however, did not prevent a soldier from washing his hands in a shell hole filled with mustard-contaminated water. He was "badly burned." And as might be expected, the knowledge that Ansauville was a highly active gas front set off a spate of false gas alarms almost nightly in the

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Map No. 2 1st FA Battery Disposition, 29 Jan

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division sector.26

To the directions in the AEF gas pamphlet that contaminated dugouts and shelters were to be promptly evacuated and that where possible men were to be withdrawn from contaminated areas, a division memo early in February added that all battery units were at once to establish duplicate positions about 500 yards from their first positions and were to withdraw to them when the others were rendered untenable by mustard gas. The memo also repeated much of the earlier instruction on masking and first aid, and pointed out that "Protection is a matter of seconds."27 Still another memo said that gas gloves and chloride of lime would be shortly issued to all artillery, machine gun, signal, and medical units.28 The months at Ansauville were to prove that the artillery rather than the infantry needed the most gas protection. It would be the only time in the experience of the AEF that this was so.