Terror Weapons: The British Experience of Gas and Its Treatment in the First World War

Edgar Jones*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Chemical weapons accounted for only 1 per cent of the 750,000 British troops killed in the First World War and yet caused disproportionate casualties (estimated at 180,100). The considerable investment in the development of new toxins and methods of delivery was designed to maintain the elements of surprise and uncertainty as these accentuated their psychological effect. Soldiers were continually challenged on the battlefield by combinations of different types of agent designed to undermine their confidence in respirators, disorientate them, and erode their morale. At first, army doctors practised defensive medicine, invaliding their patients for protracted periods to the UK or base hospitals. By 1917, progressive study of the physical and psychological effects of different types of toxin allowed physicians to design new management strategies. Borrowing ideas from shell shock, specialist units were set up closer to the front line and medical officers taught to identify crucial points in the course of illness to accelerate recovery times and forestall the accretion of psychosomatic symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-375
Number of pages21
JournalWar in History
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2014


  • First World War
  • gas
  • chemical weapons
  • casualties
  • shell shock
  • treatment
  • WAR


Dive into the research topics of 'Terror Weapons: The British Experience of Gas and Its Treatment in the First World War'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this