Chemical weapons on the Eastern front in WW1

Russia used chemical weapons in WW1 for its decisive operation, the Brusilov offensive

Russia was slow to adopt poison gases during WW1. The first episodic uses were reported in the second half of 1915 using imported French chlorine. During the summer of that year, large-scale production of chlorine started in Donetsk area and some other places. The production of phosgene and chloropicrin started as late as the end of 1916, in the Poltava governorship.

The Russia-produced chlorine was first deployed on March 21, 1916 in the vicinity of Minsk. Up to 10,000 shells were fired, but the gas concentration was too low to incur considerable damage on the enemy,

Gas mask

In August 1915, a university professor in Moscow Dmitri Zelinski and engineer from St Petersburg (Petrograd) Mikhail Kummant, created the first universal gas mask with the use of carbon filters. It was what later became a classic composite of rubber and glass. They proved very effective. By spring 1917 the front lines of Russian troops in the east were fully saturated with the masks. Total losses from poisonous gases on the Russian side during WW1 were estimated up to 56,000 dead and 420,000 incapacitated.

Successful use

One of the most successful uses was during the last victorious battle of the Russian Empire, Brusilov Offensive., It became one of the most lethal offensives in history with 2.000.000 troops lost on both sides. On June 4, 1916, artillery shells with chlorine were fired towards the positions of the Central Powers. Then, Russian infantry attacked their positions wearing gas masks. According to the Russian HQ, the attack was a success.

According to HQ Commander of the 7th Army General Nikolai Golovin, only during May 22th and 23rd, 1916 the Second Army Corps delivered 3,500 chemical munitions to Austrian positions. There is also documented use of chemical shells by the 9th Army of Infantry General Lechitsky during the Chernovtsy offensive.

russian-soldiers-in-gas-masks-ww1
Russian soldiers in WW1 wearing gas masks
The Zelinski-Kummant gas mask from the Imperial War Museums

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