1900-1919 | Chemical weapons | Germany

Mustard gas shells fired at German lines in ‘handsome quantities’

Mustard gas victim c. 1918 –
US Army photograph via Wikimedia.

26 September 1918

Today in 1918, the British army began an offensive to break through the German ‘Hindenburg line’ in France, by firing 10,000 mustard gas shells at the enemy trenches. Another 22,000 gas shells exploded among the German lines over the next three days.1  Mustard gas was the most feared of the poison gasses deployed on the Western front, resulting in agonising injuries and death.

The British press was jubilant at the news. The London Daily News reported that ‘one reason for the large strides at the front is that we are using a mustard gas which shifts the Hun,’ after ‘the Hun soaked our front with mustard gas and caused our gallant men unspeakable torture.’ It added gleefully that following ‘a year of experiment, the Ministry of Munitions has produced a mustard gas, that permeates the enemy’s gas masks, clothes and boots. This gas is delivered to the Boche in shell form, and he is getting it in handsome quantities.’2 The Western Morning News was equally euphoric, reporting under the headline ‘”Medicine” for the Huns,’ that ‘this mustard gas penetrates the gas masks and the clothes of the Boche; nothing will keep it out,’ explaining that the ‘shortage of rubber has prevented the enemy getting the best protective devices,’ and adding triumphantly that ‘this is not the only surprise the Allies have up their sleeves.’3


  1. Charles H. Foulkes, Gas: The Story of the Special Brigade, William B. Blackwood and Sons, 1936, p. 326 and Edward M. Spiers, ‘The Gas War, 1915-1918: If not a War Winner, Hardly a Failure,’ Open Access Conference Paper, One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences pp 153-168| https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-51664-6_9 
  2. The London Evening News cited in ‘Mustard Gas for the Enemy,’ The Yorkshire Evening Post, 8 October 1918, p. 6.
  3. ‘”Medicine” for the Huns,’ The Western Morning News, 9 October 1918, p. 4.

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