More armchair generalling

That First World war thread is still unwinding, and provoked this as my latest response:

@ APettigrew92, 02:45 PM

I read somewhere that Austro-Hungarian/German troops were affected more due to malnutrition caused by the food shortage.

That sped up the surrender apparently. That and the fear of the Americans using their huge gas reserves to start gassing German cities along the border.

Two issues there:

  • Was the Allied blockade successful?
  • Can anyone back up that Americans using their huge gas reserves to start gassing German cities along the border?

First, the blockade.

It only became effective after the US entered the War, with American warships involved in patrol, and the US forcing the imposition of quotas on neutrals. So the Swiss entered an agreement with the Allies towards the end of 1917. When the Dutch and the Scandinavians stood out against imposed quotas, they were totally embargoed, and were dependent on goodwill aid. Norway came into line in April 1918; Sweden in May 1918; Denmark in Setember 1918. The Netherlands remained under blockade until later in 1919.

I’d not like to be prescriptive as to how the blockade worked beyond the northern zone (I haven’t the data). The German 1914 economy depended on about 20% imports, and about 18% exports. A cut-back in exports facilitated increased production of military materials. Imports were compensated by the development of ersatz substitutes, and by increased imports through neutral neighbours.

Second, gas.

Where did those huge gas reserves to start gassing German cities come form?

Despite the hysteria, after initial deployments in 1915, gas and chemical agents were never a major weapon (their use was fatal in only about 3% of casualties). They became a kind of “terrorist” weapon: both sides were moving towards gas-filling about a third of their artillery shells by the Armistice. The German Army was the most prolific gasser (about 68,000 tons), with the French (about 36,000 tons) and the British (about 25,000 tons) somewhere behind. I have no figures for American gas-deployments, but — see below— believe they were inconsiderable; perhaps APettigrew92 can help.

The best I can come up with is:


When the US declared war (2 April 1917), the Bureau of Mines recruited laboratories to investigate gas and chemical weapons, These were brought under full military control in June 1918 as the Chemical Warfare Service, soon employing a tenth of all US chemists.

Winford Lee Lewis became director of the Offensive Branch of the Chemical Warfare Service, and began weaponising arsenic trichloride. Officially this work was terminated. Unofficially, production of Lewisite (a.k.a. ‘Methyl’ and “G-34′) continued. The US commander of the Expeditionary Force’s Chemical Weapons Branch was Gen. Amos Fries. He it was who conceived delivering Lewisite from aircraft, hence the post-war moniker “The Dew of Death”.

By the Armistice perhaps 150 tons of Lewisite had been produced. That may have been despatched to Europe. And thatmay have been scuttled at sea with the Armistice. The whole anecdote is unconvincing, not least because …

I’m trying to imagine how any gas or chemical agent could have been deployed against German cities along the border. Consider the Western Front, in mid-1918:

Where are those German cities along the border? I’m trying to imagine Foch (whose relations with Pershing were not of the best) giving the OK to attacks on “German” cities in Alsace-Lorraine. Beyond that, any major target would be in the Rhineland.

[Yes: I’m open to criticism, commentary and contradiction on all of that.]



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