Chemical Warfare in the 1920s & 30s

Sebastian Balfour recalls the use and effects of chemical warfare during, and after, the early decades of the twentieth century.

Between the two World Wars, Britain, Spain and Italy launched chemical offensives against their enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq and North Africa. Most of these wars have been kept secret for decades and official documents relating to them have still not been released. Politicians and military leaders in Europe were well aware of the effects of the deadliest of these chemicals, mustard gas. It had caused deaths and horrific injuries among soldiers in the battlefields of the First World War before they began to wear protective clothing. Yet this was the preferred chemical warhead used by European armies in these areas and their victims were often old men, women and children because they were easier to target and had no means of protection.

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