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> First gas attack - 17 April 1917, Chemical service in Romanian Army
dragos
Posted: November 26, 2004 07:11 pm
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Source: Revista de istorie militara

When Romania entered the WW1 (1916), the usage of poison gas was already common in this war. On various theatres of operations were used clouds of chlorine and artillery shells filled with asphyxiant substances (bromine, phosgene, diphosgene, methylic chlorsulfonate, chlor-methylic chloroform) or general toxic substances (cyanic acid, chlor-cyan, brom-cyan), or tear gases (chlor-picrine, brom-acetone, brom- and chlor-benzidine, chlor- and brom-xylidine) . Neither the iperite (blistering effects) nor the arsine (sneeze effects) were in use at that time.

At the begining of the campaign, because of the mobile character of the operations, neither the Germans nor the Russians could use the poison clouds or chemical shells. In 1917, after the front line stabilized, the German army, in spite of having the necessary materials, could not use the poison clouds, because of the unfavorable terrain features. In the mountaineous area, the winds were variable, and the Romanian troops were positioned on the higher left bank of the Siret River. It seems that the enemy trying to use poison clouds on the Siret Valley, endangered his own troops, because of the winds above the water, blowing in the direction of river flowing.

Still, on 17 April 1917, the German army launched a chemical attack on 1st Vanatori Regiment/1st Infantry Division, deployed in the Iresti - Putna area. The attack is described by the eye witness lt. Octav Catana: "After 15 minutes the Germans started to fire again, this time with shells that were blowing up different from those used before.

These shells gave the impression of failing to explode, which made the soldiers to jeer. After few minutes I felt a burning at nose and a heavy smell, and before I realized what was happening, I heard yelling from the trenches: gas, gas...

I ordered immediately the putting of gas masks for those that had one (the entire machinegun section had only 8 gas masks of Romanian production, a kind of sacks covering the entire head to the shoulders, with goggles).

For the rest of the men I ordered the descent to the enemy field works.

The German gas attack, aimed at the junction of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Regiment's reserve, caused the death of 35 and the evacuation of other 50. The effect was not exploited by the Germans, but evidenced the danger of the chemical attack and the lack of training and equipment needed against poison gas. In the morning of 20 April we received instructions for alert in case of chemical attack, as well as gas masks for all the soldiers (Romanian and Russian gas masks)."

(to be continued)
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johnny_bi
Posted: December 01, 2004 01:20 pm
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This is the first time I hear about a gas attack on the Romanian front... Very interesting... Did the Romanians use such chemical weapons during WWI?

This post has been edited by johnny_bi on December 02, 2004 12:55 pm
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dragos
Posted: December 01, 2004 07:58 pm
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At the beginning of June, the Germans repeated the gas attack in the same sector, but this time with no effect. After one month, on 5 July, another attack with toxic shells, this time against the 24th Artillery Regiment of 14th Infantry Division, deployed on a 3 km front in Costieni - Girlenesti - Moldovani - SW Namoloasa area. Our regiment was replacing the Russian artillery and was digging trenches together with the infantry, closer to the enemy positions, installing communication wires, building field fortifications and was making artillery fire adjustments on important spots of enemy trenches, on crossroads, observation posts etc. The massive concentration of guns in the sector (74-80 batteries of all calibres), as well as the activity on the entire front line, made the enemy suspect preparations for offensive.

The events in the evening of 5 July, at 20:00 hours, at sunset, are described 12 years later by cpt. Ioan Petrovan, from the gas defense service: "... a rain of enemy artillery shells passed over our heads and bursted nearby with a low sound.

We never heard such low explosions neither in the first part of the war, nor during the 17 days since we replaced the Russians in this sector. Therefor we were amazed by such poor quality of the ammunition... In the same time, our eyes started to burn and filled with tears, and our breathing grew heavier and a light but dry coughing started to choke us.

We realized immediately that the shells with low bursts where filled with toxic gasses and we searched for our gas masks to put them on. Right from the concentration area, all the officers and soldiers were given a French gas mask M-2. We did not have training with these masks, being delivered in last moment, and we did not carry them around as we did not consider them absoultely necessary. Under this circumstances, the shelling of 5 July 1917 found us without the gas masks at hand, to put them on at once."

Fortunatelly, the Germans failed to achieve the lethal concentration of gas, so the effects were small. After 15 minutes the German shelling was resumed vigorously, and they used chemical and explosive shells in the same amount. Romanian artillerymen, unaware of the enemy's intentions and without waiting orders, opened heavy fire, spending some 18,000 shells in two hours, on the enemy's positions that they have previously adjusted the fire. Taking advantage of the infernal noise of the cannonade and of the disarray of the Romanian lines, the Germans managed to sneak one company along the Rimnic and then Siret riverbeds, and captured an infantry squad and one military in term. This way they gained information on the Romanian disposition, strength, intentions etc.

The effect of the German chemical attack on the Romanian artillerymen, as described by cpt. Petrovan, was minimal (non lethal), but was a good lesson for the utility of the gas masks. In exchange, the effects on the Romanian infantrymen were worse, because they were lying in trenches were concentrations of toxic substances were accumulated. Lacking training, the soldiers panicked and run behind the lines in open, being hit by enemy shrapnels. This attack was one more occasion to prove the deficiency in the Romanian Army lack of training and equipment, that could not face the German chemical attack.

(to be continued)
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dragos
Posted: December 02, 2004 06:08 pm
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QUOTE (johnny_bi @ Dec 1 2004, 04:20 PM)
This is the first time I hear about a gas attack on the Romanian front... Very interesting... Did the Romanians use such chemical weapons during WWI?

The answer is no, Romanians did not make any chemical attack during WW1. The reason is the lack of the ammunition in quantity needed to cover an area. Romanian artillerymen had in their caissons only small quantities of chemical shells, as little as needed to "satisfy the ego of the artilleryman", by also having toxic shells.
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Iamandi
Posted: December 03, 2004 06:47 am
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What was projectiles for counter batteries "de contrabaterie"? Was not chemical ones?

Iama
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dragos
Posted: December 03, 2004 09:24 am
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QUOTE (Iamandi @ Dec 3 2004, 09:47 AM)
What was projectiles for counter batteries "de contrabaterie"? Was not chemical ones?

Iama

Counter battery is fire to disrupt/suppress the operation of enemy artillery.
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Iamandi
Posted: December 03, 2004 09:28 am
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I know. I asked about projectiles used for that - if they were not chemical ones.

Iama
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dragos
Posted: December 03, 2004 10:16 am
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No, they were using regular ammunition. As it is described above, the usage of chemical ammunition required several conditions (quantity, wind direction etc)
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