Defence Against Gas

The use of gas by the Germans during an invasion was considered a real possibility (44th Brigade noted that “the enemy is fully prepared to use gas”). The most likely methods of releasing gas during any landing were either from cylinders on barges or as a spray from containers fixed on aircraft (e.g. 9th Lancs Defence Scheme). The most likely gas would have been a “blister” gas, a group of gases which included mustard gas.

The use of gas as a weapon had two aims:

(1) Cause casualties
(2) Hinder the defence by defending troops having to take precautions against gas.

The effects of blister gas are quite nasty:

(1) Eyes – cause temporary blindness (or permanent blindness in the case of gas liquid)
(2) Cause serious internal injury to breathing passages and lungs
(3) Cause blisters on skin

Protection against gas for the individual soldier included the use of a respirator (complete protection for eyes, throat, nose and lungs) and a cape which could provide protection to the body against liquid gas. Specific key personnel who could not carry out their duties in the cape (e.g. AA troops, Bren carrier crews) may also have been issued with a light suit which would give additional protection, especially to the legs. Certain specialists would have been issued with a heavy gas suit.

  Above: Left - Service Respirator. Middle - Gas Cape. Right - Heavy Gas Suit and Respirator

If exposed to gas, decontamination would have been on two levels. Firstly troops would be issued with a tin of ointment which could give protection to hands and destroy blister gas on personal weapons, clothing and equipment. Secondly, decontamination centers were set up. 11th HLI Defence Scheme notes that companies should remove casualties by truck to the decontamination centre. If that was not possible, stretcher bearers were to carry out decontamination in the company area.

An example of defence measures taken against gas is illustrated in 45th Brigade Defence scheme:

(1) Every post or billet to have spray detectors (either metal sheets about 18” square painted with detector paint or metal frames with slits to insert detector paper in).
(2) Every soldier within five miles of the coast will sleep with respirators within arms reach.
(3) If gas is detected it will be reported immediately to Brigade HQ in a report marked “EMERGENCY OPERATIONS”.
(4) Each pillbox and defence post will have a tin of bleach paste for use in the event of heavy blister gas contamination.
(5) Each evening (at 1800 hrs) a weather report for the suitable use of gas will be produced (the report was code worded SIMPLEX). If the weather forecast was favorable, the word TOWARDS would be added with the time at which the weather was expected to be favorable (e.g. SIMPLEX TOWARDS TO 0400). If conditions were unfavorable, the code word RECEDEDS would be added to SIMPLEX. This forecast was issued to all troops forward of the line Wickham Market-Saxmundham-Haleswoth. On receipt of SIMPLEX TOWRDS troops east of this line would wear masks at “The Alert”. Sentries would watch the detectors for signs of gas (code word ARTHUR).

If the enemy used a gas of an unknown type, additional information was to be sent to Brigade HQ (and thence to 11 Corps):

(1) Samples of contaminated ground or other material.
(2) Enemy respirators and other equipment.
(3) Own respirators and equipment that showed unexpected effects.
(4) Any bodies, as a result of the gas, should be earmarked for examination.

left: Anti-aircraft crew with respirators and light gas suit
Right: Bren on Motley mount with gunners wearing gas suit and respirators

References
Gas Training, War Office, 1942
44th Brigade papers, TNA
45th Brigade papers, TNA
11th HLI papers, TNA
9th Lancs papers, TNA
Protection Against Gas And Air Raids, Pamphlet No.2 - Respirators, HMSO, 1939

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