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At the beginning of the twentieth century developed exponentially, the european industry, and in germany the chemical industry gained a prominence unusual. In the year 1909 the company BASF launched a project designed to produce nitrates for explosives . He was the spud of the barbarism.

During the First World War it manufactured chemical weapons on an industrial scale in the form of gas cylinders and projectiles, so that the laboratories were converted into makeshift trenches scientific.

despite the fact that one of the main champions of this change of weapons was the German Nobel prize-winner Fritz Haber , the first to make use of the periodic table, for warlike purposes were the French.

In August of 1914, the army in gaul launched grenades loaded with bromoacetato ethyl , a substance tear-jerker employed previously as antidisturbio civil. The result was less satisfactory than expected, which was not an obstacle for the project is arrinconase.

The germans take the lead

Months later –we are already in January 1915 – the scientist Fritz Haber he proposed to use bleach to annihilate enemy armies . Under the umbrella of William II of the army teutonic used it for the first time in Ypres (Belgium), which led to 11,000 cylinders that are loaded with this element.

The 22 of April of that year, a date that has passed to encompass the memorial calendar of the human stupidity, caused the death chemical of more than 800 people, in addition to an additional 3,000 affected.

At the beginning of September, the French decided to apply the same medicine and launched more than 5,000 bottles in the battle of Loos (France). However, their expectations were dashed when a change of wind direction caused the poisoning of british troops .

The appearance of this chemical element on the battlefield forced the armies to use solutions of sodium bicarbonate and pieces of cotton to protect themselves from the harmful effects. Unfortunately not always have the sufficient material and in some occasions had to use tissues and urine.

The germans took back the lead and before the end of the year used the fosfogeno , a chemical more toxic than chlorine, and to which was added the peculiarity of the symptoms made their appearance hours after exposure. At Wieltje, Belgium, the armies of the kaiser led to more 1.000 casualties, a hundred of them were fatal.

Six months later, the germans perfected their chemical attacks by combining fosfogeno with difosfogeno –a mixture known as the “green cross”-. Eventually fired more than 100,000 projectiles with this composition in Fleury (France).

The dreaded mustard gas

The lack of coordination and improvisation chemical of the early years gave way to a systematic in the employment of the chemical gases from 1917 . Without a doubt, the protagonist’s most well-known of this second phase is the mustard gas –the iperita-named for the stench that flowed in its fumes. The first time it was used was in July of that year at the battle of Passchendaele (Belgium).

This deadly weapon forced to redesign the measures of protection, and the soldiers used gloves and a special uniform , because the masks were not reliable enough to protect them.

In 1918 a young messenger of the 16th Infantry Regiment (Bavarian Reserve was the victim of one of the last attacks british with mustard gas. His name, Adolf Hitler.

If we look with the telescope that provides the historical distance, the chemical weapons themselves were determinants in a large number of battles, but it in no way influenced the final outcome of the race.

M. Jara

Pedro Gargantilla is a internist in the Hospital of El Escorial (Madrid), and author of several popular books.