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Chapter 2: The Years Between the Wars

The Issue of Gas Warfare

Announcement of the creation of the Chemical Warfare Service in 1920 as a branch of the permanent Military Establishment presumably settled an issue that had been discussed heatedly and at length. Actually, debate over functions of the CWS was to continue for many years. This perennial controversy had its roots in two spheres. One was the policy of the United States on gas warfare. The other was the reaction within the War Department itself to gas warfare.

For centuries the use of poisons for military purposes has been generally disavowed by civilized nations.1 But not until the end of the nineteenth century, when the science of chemistry had advanced to a point where the use of toxics in warfare was being seriously considered, was the question raised as to whether toxics loaded into ammunition should be considered poisonous. Discussion of this point was listed on the agenda of an international conference, which, upon the initiative of the Russians, met at The Hague during the summer of 1899.

The proposal offered for consideration at the meeting would have bound the contracting powers to agree “to abstain from the use of projectiles, the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.”2 In instructions to the American delegates before they left to attend this conference, Secretary of State John Hay had stated, “The expediency of restraining the inventive genius of our people in the direction of devising means of defense is by no means clear ... the delegates are therefore enjoined not to give the weight of their influence to the promotion of projects the

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realization of which is so uncertain.”3 The United States therefore did not subscribe to the antigas agreement, although a number of nations did.4

The refusal of the United States to participate in formal measures to outlaw the employment of toxic chemicals was not based on lack of sympathy with the purposes of the proposal. It was the result, rather, of unwillingness to act in the uncertain light of what was then only a nebulous possibility. Moreover, since The Hague antigas declaration specifically outlawed only projectiles, its phrasing could be interpreted as a stimulus to the devising of other means of dissemination. Because of this loophole the German attack at Ypres in April 1915, when chlorine gas was released from charged cylinders, did not violate the letter of The Hague declaration.5

The Hague antigas declaration was a casualty of the Ypres attack even though it did not specifically apply. Both the Central and Allied Powers developed and used toxics which were disseminated by a number of means, including projectiles, throughout the war. The spirit of The Hague declaration lived, however, to become a part of the effective Allied antigas propaganda weapon which in the period between the wars was to stimulate widespread public indignation against the “barbaric” and “inhuman” employment of toxics by the enemy.6

After the war there was wide reaction against use of gas in future military conflicts. The peace treaties signed by the Central Powers all contained the clause, “the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids, materials or devices being prohibited, their manufacture and importation are strictly forbidden.”7 This wording presumably applied only to the defeated states. Subsequent agreements between the Allies and other powers were needed to insure universal prohibition of gas warfare.

The policy of the United States in the matter of toxic chemicals was clearly expressed at the Conference on the Limitation of Armament which met in Washington in 1921. This question was one considered earlier by a subcommittee on land warfare of which General Pershing was chairman.

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Pershing’s group recommended that “chemical warfare should be abolished among nations as abhorrent to civilization.”8 Another report submitted at this time by the General Board of the Navy stated that it was believed “to be sound policy to prohibit gas warfare in every form and against every objective.”9 Both of these reports were considered by, and no doubt strongly influenced, the U.S. delegation at the Washington arms conference in formulating its proposal to prohibit the use of poison gas in war.

The U.S. proposal, incorporated as Article 5 in the Washington arms conference treaty covering the Use of Submarines and Noxious Gases in War, first pointed out that the employment of toxic war gases had been condemned by world opinion and prohibited in numerous existing treaties. It then announced that the contracting parties, “to the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of international law binding alike the conscience and practice of nations, declare their assent to such prohibition, agree to be bound thereby as between themselves and invite all other civilized nations to adhere thereto.”10 The treaty was never ratified by France, one of the principal signatories, and therefore never came into effect.11 It remains the only antigas convention the ratification of which the U.S. Senate has ever approved.

The proposition of outlawing gas warfare was revived at a conference held in 1925 at Geneva to consider regulating the international traffic in arms. Here the U.S. delegation introduced and obtained general agreement to what has been called the Geneva Gas Protocol. This instrument, after reiterating a general condemnation of the use of toxic agents in war, declared that the contracting parties had agreed to prohibit the use of such materials in the future and had further agreed “to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and ... to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration.”12 Although the U.S. delegation signed this protocol, the Senate refused to ratify it.

A cross section of opinion in the United States on the military usefulness of gas warfare and the prospects of preventing its employment by

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international agreement was brought out in Senate debates on the ratification of the Geneva Gas Protocol.13 Some leading military figures were quoted as expressing agreement with eliminating gas as a weapon of war. Considerable opposition to ratification came from civilian groups, especially veterans’ organizations. Despite the fact that the Senate did not approve it, the protocol was supported in principle by the executive departments of the U.S. Government. By the time World War II began, the Geneva Gas Protocol was adhered to by forty-two nations and was the most generally accepted expression of international opinion relating to the use of toxic agents in war.

The influence of national policy and of international agreements in limiting employment of toxic agents in war was of obvious concern to the War Department. This matter was clarified by Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg on 7 December 1926 in a letter supporting continued military preparations in this field:

All governments recognize that it is incumbent upon them to be fully prepared as regards chemical warfare, and especially as regards defense against it, irrespective of any partial or general international agreements looking to the prohibition of the actual use of such warfare. I have never seen any proposal seriously advanced by any government to provide that national preparation for the use of and for defense against chemical warfare, if such warfare should be used by an enemy contrary to treaty agreements, should be abolished or curtailed in the slightest.14

In agreement with this statement was the joint Army-Navy policy on chemical warfare which in 1934 was framed in these words:

The United States will make all necessary preparations for the use of chemical warfare from the outbreak of war. The use of chemical warfare, including the use of toxic agents, from the inception of hostilities, is authorized, subject to such restrictions or prohibitions as may be contained in any duly ratified international convention or conventions, which at that time may be binding upon the United States and the enemy’s state or states.15

All Presidents whose administrations spanned the interwar years sought to eliminate gas as a military weapon. Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw eye to eye on this issue, were particularly outspoken. President Hoover steadily urged elimination before the disarmament deliberations that took place while he was in office. By the time of President Roosevelt’s inauguration the prospect of effective agreement among nations on the curtailment of armaments appeared to have vanished. In line, possibly,

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with this trend, Congress in 1937 passed a bill (S. 1284) to change the designation of the Chemical Warfare Service to Chemical Corps.16 This the President promptly vetoed. The reasons given in the Roosevelt veto message clearly expressed the White House attitude and, ipso facto, that of the U.S. Government:

It has been and is the policy of this Government to do everything in its power to outlaw the use of chemicals in warfare. Such use is inhuman and contrary to what modern civilization should stand for.

I am doing everything in my power to discourage the use of gases and other chemicals in any war between nations. While, unfortunately, the defensive necessities of the United States call for study of the use of chemicals in warfare, I do not want the Government of the United States to do anything to aggrandize or make permanent any special bureau of the Army or the Navy engaged in these studies. I hope the time will come when the Chemical Warfare Service can be entirely abolished.

To dignify this Service by calling it the “Chemical Corps” is, in my judgment, contrary to a sound public policy.17

The War Department and Gas Warfare

Beginning in 1921 and continuing until 1941, the mission of the Chemical Warfare Service was the subject of almost continuous debate by the War Department General Staff (WDGS). During these years there was scarcely a time when the CWS felt that it enjoyed undisputed membership on the War Department team. Hence a great deal of energy was continually expended by the CWS in defending its statutory position. This fact had considerable bearing on the development of the new service.

The questions most frequently raised by the War Department were: Could the Chemical Warfare Service be eliminated and its duties distributed among other services ? Could the Chemical Warfare Service be relieved of combat functions and its activities limited to technical and supply duties and to defensive training ?

In 1924 the WDGS phrased a sentence which, constantly repeated in later years, came to be generally accepted as a statement of policy and a guide to the activities of the CWS: “Our peacetime preparations in chemical warfare will be based on opposing effectively any enemy employing chemical weapons.”18

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This statement was based on a War Department policy announcement which had attempted to clarify preceding general orders and other instructions relating to the establishment of the Chemical Warfare Service, particularly in the light of current developments toward international limitation of armaments. It had the merit of clearly stating an obviously desirable objective, yet the means to be followed to this end proved to be subject to widely varying interpretations. Some of the difficulties being encountered were brought to the attention of the War Department by the Chief, CWS (Maj. Gen. Amos A. Fries), in 1926, when some liberalizing of existing policy as to offensive means was proposed.19 The staff study of CWS functions which followed carefully reviewed all the preceding actions and pointed to still further investigations that needed to be made but did not lead to immediate change in standing instructions.20

The War Department by this time had definitely veered away from planning the type of positional warfare characteristic of the campaigns in France in 1917 and 1918 and with which large-scale gas operations staged by chemical troops seemed intimately associated. Consequently, the existence of special gas troops was increasingly challenged, and the employment of gas by branches other than the CWS was increasingly favored by the staff. The CWS view was that gas had important uses in a war of movement as well as in static operations and that technical considerations necessitated the employment of special gas troops in either situation. These differing attitudes were never wholly reconciled, although at times the General Staff view appears to have been maintained somewhat less resolutely than that of the Chemical Warfare Service.

The mission of the Chemical Warfare Service with respect to its principal preoccupation, gas warfare, was therefore somewhat complex. Primarily the CWS was expected to provide insurance for American military forces against the shock of sudden gas attack. Hand in hand with this mission went responsibility for maintaining a state of readiness for quick retaliation. These two constituted explicit responsibilities. In a broader sense, an implicit function of the CWS was to provide military support for a national policy, that of dissuading others from resorting to the gas weapon. This was accomplished, as matters turned out, more by the strength of U.S. preparedness for toxic warfare than by the cogency of political agreements.

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Carrying Out the Peacetime Mission: 1920-39

To supplement the National Defense Act statement of CWS functions the War Department spelled them out in more detailed fashion via a series of general orders issued in 1920 and 1921. On 28 August 1920, for example, it defined the specific duties of the Chemical Warfare Service and the Ordnance Department with regard to the investigation, development, procurement, and supply of munitions: Ordnance retained the responsibility for the design, procurement, and supply of chemical shells, grenades, and bombs; the CWS was to fill them with gas, smoke, or incendiary agents. Later it defined the relationship of the CWS to the corps areas and, still later, outlined the storage and issue responsibilities and specified that the chemical warfare training of the Army be along both offensive and defensive lines.21

The signing by the U.S. delegation at the Washington arms conference of the proposal to outlaw gas warfare led the War Department in mid-1922 to modify its policy on the functions of the CWS.22 The General Staff rescinded provisions of several general orders and promulgated two new general orders which suspended all work on toxic agents and restricted CWS activities in gas warfare to purely defensive measures.23 Although the War Department eventually modified these directives, the change in policy which they represented was to exert a retarding influence on the CWS for many years.

For a decade and a half after the close of World War I appropriations for national defense were decidedly limited.24 This was the era when the government and a good many citizens held high hopes for the early elimination of armed conflicts. It was the U.S. Government that initiated the call for the Washington conference of 1921-22, and it was an American Secretary of State who was coauthor of the Pact of Paris of 27 August 1928, aimed at outlawing war as an instrument of national policy (the so-called Kellogg-Briand agreement). During the 1920s the President and the Congress were insisting on economy in all branches of the national

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Table 1: Congressional Appropriations for CWS, 1922-46

Fiscal year Appropriations
1922* $1,350,000
1923 600,000
1924 700,000
1925 700,000
1926 907,980
1927 1,232,980
1928 1,304,780
1929 1,304,780
1930 1,246,776
1931 1,295,215
1932 1,252,099
1933 1,222,000
1934 1,255,563
1935 1,257,369
1936 1,388,330
1937 1,483,608
1938 1,525,180
1939 2,867,300
1940 2,091,237
1941 60,092,532
1942 1,067,461,059
1943 620,546,241
1944 340,025,000
1945 †100
1946‡ §624,525,000

* 1922 was the first year for which funds were appropriated directly for the CWS. From 1918 to 1922 funds for the CWS were transferred from, or included in, other appropriations.

† This low figure is due to the fact that sufficient funds were appropriated in the previous fiscal year to take care of CWS needs in 1945.

‡ a Surplus Appropriation Rescission Acts (P.T,. 301, 8 Feb 46 and P.L. 391, 27 May 46) rescinded $1,024,351,000 of unexpended CWS appropriations for the years 1942-1946.

§ This appropriation was made only two and one-half months before V-.1 Day (2 Sep 1945) and none of these funds were ever expended.

Source: Budget of the United States, transmitted to Congress by the President.

government. Following the stock-market crash of 1929 and the resultant depression, economy in the use of government funds became more of a watchword than ever.

If the Military Establishment as a whole felt the effects of the trend toward economy, the Chemical Warfare Service felt it in even greater degree. Since the necessity for a separate organization to supervise chemical warfare functions was seriously questioned by some of the highest ranking officers in the General Staff, the War Department was not prone to be oversolicitous for the welfare of the new service. The meager resources of the CWS until mid-1940 in terms of appropriations and personnel strength are indicated in Tables 1, 2, and 3. A glance at Table 2 will disclose that the quota of ioi officers and 1,200 enlisted men provided for in the National Defense Act of 1920 was not filled until after the close of fiscal year 1940.

Peacetime Organization

Within the confines of limited appropriations and personnel, the Chemical Warfare Service carried out its restricted peacetime mission.

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Table 2: Military Strength of the CWS, 1918–46*

30 June Actual strength CWS officers† Actual strength enlisted men‡
1918§ 1,680 20,518
1919** 328 261
1920 108 1,544
1921 79 442
1922 84 518
1923 64 363
1924 70 424
1925 89 424
1926 79 417
1927 80 418
1928 81 450
1929 76 425
1930 78 413
1931 77 451
1932 73 425
1933 77 413
1934 82 420
1935 83 450
1936 82 670
1937 82 782
1938 83 753
1939 91 803
1940 93 1,035
1941 833 5,059
1942 2,287 17,938
1943 8,103 61,688
1944 7,679 59,244
1945 7,686 53,228
1946 1,998 6,815

* For detailed figures on CWS military personnel strength in World War II see Appendixes A and B.

† Figures represent total strength reported as CWS by all commands and theaters. Officers of other branches or without branch assignments may have been serving with the CWS, but the number is judged not to be of significant size. Includes Regular Army, Reserve, Army of the U.S., and National Guard officers on active duty (except trainees) under the jurisdiction of the Chief, CWS.

‡ Includes enlisted men reported as CWS.

§ Figures as of 11 November 1918.

** Figures as of 30 June from 1919 to 1946.

Source: Figures from 1918 to 1921 were taken from the annual report of the Chief, CWS, to the Secretary of War. Figures 1922-1941 from Tables, Actual Strength of the Military Personnel of the Army, Annual Reports of the Secretary of War to the President, 1922-41. Figures 1942-46 from draft table, Total Male Strength of the Army by Arm or Service, prepared by Statistics Br, Program Review and Analysis Div, Off, Comptroller of the Army.

Administratively, the CWS was a supply service of the Army, responsible to the War Department General Staff and to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War for procurement and procurement planning activities. The Chief, CWS, was of course responsible for the organization and administration of his own service. In 1920 he set up an organization consisting of five divisions: Procurement and Supply, Technical, Medical, Industrial Relations (later called Procurement Planning), and Plans, Training, and Operations.25 Except for the elimination of the Medical Division in 1932, this organization remained substantially unchanged throughout the peacetime period. From

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Table 3: Chemical Warfare Service Civilian Personnel Strength, November 1918–December 1945

End of month Total OCCWS Field
1918 11 November 784 180 604
1923 June 820 20 800
1928 June 736 20 716
1931 June 742 27 715
1939 September 1,102 26 1,076
December 1,355 28 1,327
1940 March 1,464 28 1,436
June 2,221 30 2,191
September 3,352 63 3,289
December 4,207 89 4,118
1941 March 6,048 116 5,932
June 5,477 139 5,338
July 5,227 184 5,043
August 5,276 194 5,082
September 5,357 196 5,161
October 5,603 238 5,365
November 5,854 258 5,596
December 7,268 335 6,933
1942 January 10,060 369 9,691
March 12,646 596 12,050
April 12,667 604 12,063
May 13,354 626 12,728
1942 June 13,950 652 13,298
July 16.045 655 15,390
August 17,433 632 16,801
September 19,708 657 19,051
October 20,979 667 20,312
November 23,381 675 22,706
December 25,611 655 24,956
1943 January 27,281 640 26,641
February 27,608 662 26,946
March 29,058 637 28,421
June 28,038 596 27,442
September 25,639 521 25,118
December 24,810 502 24,308
1944 March 25,703 489 25,214
June 25,411 513 24,898
September 23,860 501 23,359
December 23,003* 474 22,529
1945 March 23,001 489 22,512
June 22,824 457 22,367
September 11,303 399 10,904
December 7,671 353 7,318

* For breakdown in this period see Table 6 where totals vary slightly, probably reflecting a later adjustment.

Source: Figures 1918-1931 compiled from reports, “Civ Pers Strength,” prepared by the Office of the Assistant and Chief Clerk to the SW. Figures 1939-1945 compiled from Office of the Comptroller, Dept of the Army, Statistics Br (Squier/Pentagon 2B673) from; (1) “Monthly Rpt of Pers Activities,” WDAGO; (2) “Monthly Rpt of Authorizations and Strength for Pers Operating the Z of I Establishment,” WDGS Conti Symbol SM-P2-39; (3) “Monthly Rpt of Pers Authorizations and Strengths for Establishments in Area of District of Columbia and Arlington County, Va.,” WOMB Form 114, WDGS SM-P2-40; (4) draft reports of War Dept Monthly Strength in Statistics Br, Program Review and Analysis Div, Office of the Comptroller of the Army.

1920 until 1938 a dozen officers and a score of civilians constituted the entire personnel of the Chief’s office.26

Each of the Chiefs made his own special contribution to the development of the Chemical Warfare Service. General Sibert devoted his mature judgment to the task of organizing the new service in World War I, and he had much to do with marshaling the sentiment which finally prevailed in 1920, when the decision was taken to make the emergency CWS organization a permanent element of the Army. General Fries, during his long

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tenure as Chief (1920-29), continuously displayed the aggressive capability that had made him conspicuously successful as head of the AEF Gas Service. He withstood all opposition from without while he molded the CWS into its ultimate peacetime form. During the next four years Maj. Gen. Harry L. Gilchrist brought to the Office of the Chief (OC) the prestige of an internationally known authority on gas casualties. A medical officer, he continued to emphasize, as had his predecessors, the scientific aspects of chemical warfare. Gilchrist’s successor, Maj. Gen. Claude E. Brigham, an artilleryman, had executive and command experience which gave him a thorough insight into the strength and weakness of the Chemical Warfare Service as it existed in the middle 1930s. It was during Brigham’s tour that the prospect of another major war began to take shape, and it became his responsibility to initiate a more vigorous preparedness program. To Maj. Gen. Walter C. Baker, who served from May 1937 to April 1941, fell the task of carrying out and extending this preparedness program into the emergency period.

Assisting the Chief, CWS, were an Advisory Committee of fifteen civilian authorities in chemistry and chemical engineering, a CWS Technical Committee, and a Chemical Warfare Board. The Advisory Committee, which was unofficial in capacity, was set up in the American Chemical Society in 1920. The members of the committee met periodically with CWS scientists and administrators to discuss policies and problems of research and development. The CWS Technical Committee, also set up in 1920, came into existence as the result of a need for coordination among interested branches of the armed forces in the development and standardization of chemical warfare items.27 On the Technical Committee sat representatives of CWS and of the following: Field Artillery, Coast Artillery, Infantry, Air Corps, Cavalry, General Staff, National Guard Bureau, and the Assistant Secretaries of the War and Navy Departments. The Chemical Warfare Board was established at Edgewood Arsenal in 1923 to study and coordinate technical developments with tactical doctrine and methods.28

Research, development, training, manufacturing, and storage functions were centered at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. There in 1920 a functional type of organization was set up consisting of the following units: the

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Chemical Warfare Service Chiefs, February 1920–April 1941


Maj. Gen. Amos A. Fries, 1920-29


Maj. Gen. Harry L. Gilchrist, 1929-33


Maj. Gen. Claude E. Brigham, 1933-37


Maj. Gen. Walter C. Baker, 1937-41

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Chemical Division and the Mechanical Division, each of which was engaged in research and development activities; the Plants Division, which was responsible for manufacturing; the Property Division, to which supply responsibilities were delegated; the Chemical Warfare School; and CWS troops.29 Later a Safety and Inspection Division and a Medical Research Division were activated.

From a managerial standpoint the 1920s were a period of trial and error at Edgewood, when certain administrative procedures were inaugurated which later had to be modified. For example, before 1924 it was the practice to allocate funds to each division chief, who would disburse such funds and keep the necessary records pertaining to them. Each division, moreover, maintained its own storehouses, and it was not uncommon for one division to be short of certain items while another division had a surplus of these items. To rectify the condition a Planning Division (later called Administration Division) was set up in 1924. Another outstanding instance of how Edgewood profited through experience was in the field of research and development. Here each of three divisions (Chemical, Mechanical, and Medical Research) did all its own research and all its own engineering, which resulted in duplication of effort. A reorganization in 1928 largely remedied the situation by eliminating the Chemical and Mechanical Divisions and activating the following divisions: Research, Munitions Development, Information, Protective Development, and Engineering. After this reorganization, research was confined to the Research and Medical Research Divisions, and all engineering activities were concentrated in the Engineering Division. This was substantially the organization of Edgewood Arsenal at the start of the emergency period. At that time approximately nine hundred civilians were employed at Edgewood.30

Research and Development

Research and development was affected less than other functions by the action of the General Staff in 1922 which restricted CWS activities to the defensive. This was natural, and indeed inevitable, for it was not possible in doing research on a chemical agent or munition to make a nice distinction as to whether the item would be used by an enemy or by the

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U.S. Army. In February 1923 the War Department modified its former ruling to permit investigation of “various types of offensive gases and appliances against which defensive measures might be necessary.”31 During the peacetime period, therefore, the CWS conducted research and development on chemical agents, on the dispersion of those agents from airplanes, on smoke-producing materials, on the Livens projector, and on the 4.2-inch chemical mortar. Results of this research included the decrease in weight and increase in range of the 4.2-inch mortar, the development and standardization of sulphur trioxide in chlorosulfonic acid (FS), a smoke-producing material, and the design and installation of a filling plant for loading chemical munitions in Hawaii.

Some notable accomplishments in the defensive field were development of impregnite for gasproofing of clothing, improvement of the gas-mask canister to provide against irritant smoke, and development of a fully molded facepiece for the gas mask.32

The Chemical Warfare Service, in addition to conducting research and development on various aspects of chemical warfare, cooperated with other branches of the Army, with the U.S. Public Health Service, and with the Navy on projects of a quasi-public-health nature. In 1920 the service was directed to cooperate with the Medical Department and the Quartermaster Corps on the extermination of rodents and vermin.33 Later the CWS worked on methods of exterminating the boll weevil and on improved methods for fumigating ships.34

Procurement and Supply

The peacetime restrictive policy of the War Department had a marked effect on CWS procurement and supply activities. Manufacture of all toxics was completely discontinued and the plants at Edgewood Arsenal fell into a state of disrepair. The only toxics in existence in the U.S. Army from 1922 to 1937 were some leftovers from World War I that were held in

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storage in the lone CWS storage depot at Edgewood and a small quantity that had been shipped from the Edgewood depot to Hawaii in 1921. Manufacture at Edgewood Arsenal was restricted to defensive items, chiefly gas masks.

While procurement was kept at a minimum there were no restrictions on procurement planning. The Procurement Planning Division of the Chief’s office was responsible for drawing up and submitting its portion of industrial mobilization plans to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War. Early in 1924 procurement district offices were activated in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and San Francisco.35

The War Department general order No. 26, 1922, which restricted CWS research, procurement, and supply of poison gases to the defensive aspects of chemical warfare was not rescinded during the peacetime years or, as a matter of fact, at any later date. As mentioned above, it was modified in February 1923 but only with regard to research. Certain developments from the mid-thirties on, however, had the effect of nullifying the general order. This fact was brought out very well in a written discussion within the General Staff in the spring of 1936. Certain members of the staff were then contending that under General Orders No. 26 the Chemical Warfare Service had no authority to manufacture and supply toxic chemicals. In rebuttal, the chief of the War Plans Division (WPD), Brig. Gen. Stanley D. Embick, marshaled the following list of developments to prove that General Orders No. 26 was null and void:

a. Approval by the Secretary of War, 7 November 1934, of the Joint Board recommendation, to make all necessary preparations for the use of chemical warfare from the outbreak of war.

b. Approval by the Secretary of War, 21 August 1935, of the Joint Board recommendation, in regard to chemical warfare, that “adequate facilities must be available to meet the peace and wartime needs of both services [Army and Navy].”

c. Recommendations of the Secretary of War during the past two years for funds for the partial rehabilitation of the mustard gas plant at Edgewood Arsenal, for the manufacture of fifty tons of mustard gas, and for the three-year rearmament program for 4.2-inch chemical mortars.

d. Appropriations by the Congress of funds to cover c, above.

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e. Army Appropriation Acts 1935 and 1936, containing the following language: “For ... manufacture of chemical warfare gases or other toxic substances—or other offensive and defensive materials or appliances required for gas warfare purposes.”36

The presentation of this list seems to have clinched the argument.

Training of Troops

The CWS training mission included staff supervision of the training of the Army in chemical warfare and the training of CWS military personnel, both Regular and Reserve. Training of the Army was conducted under the direction of “chemical” officers, who were CWS technical specialists assigned by the War Department to the staffs of division and Air Corps commanders as well as to corps area and department headquarters. “Gas” officers assisted in the training at lower echelons. The center of training of CWS personnel, as well as selected officers of the Navy and Marine Corps, was the Chemical Warfare School at Edgewood Arsenal. Reserve officers were trained through Army extension courses and through fourteen-day-on-duty training periods with the Army. Reserve Officers’ Training Corps courses for prospective CWS officers were conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College.

In 1923 the War Department modified the CWS training mission. Training of the noncombatant branches of the Army “other than the Chemical Warfare Service” was ordered confined to defensive aspects.37 Training of the combatant arms was to include the “use of smoke, incendiary materials. and nontoxic gases.” Training of CWS personnel was to be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the National Defense Act, that is, it was to cover both the offensive and defensive aspects.38

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Relations With Other Elements of Armed Forces

To carry out its assigned mission, the Chemical Warfare Service had to maintain contact with other elements of the Army, such as the Quartermaster, Ordnance, Air Corps, and Medical Department, and with the Navy and the Marine Corps. Several media of liaison have already been mentioned, such as the CWS Technical Committee and the chemical and gas officers who served at headquarters and with troop units. In the Army, the CWS had particularly close relations in the peacetime years with the Medical Department which, as already indicated, had an interest in gas warfare dating back to World War I.39 After the war, medical research on chemical warfare lapsed, but in 1922 a new Medical Research Division was set up at Edge-wood Arsenal. This division was headed by Lt. Col. Edward B. Vedder, Medical Corps, a noted toxicologist. Vedder was directly responsible to the chief of the Medical Division, OC CWS, Colonel Gilchrist, who in 1929 was to be named Chief, CWS. It was largely through Gilchrist’s influence that close relations between the CWS and the Medical Department were established. At the medical research laboratory at Edgewood trained research workers (about a dozen in number) of both organizations worked side by side.

CWS relations with the Navy dated back to World War I, when there was considerable apprehension that ships might be attacked with poison gas. At that time, the Chemical Warfare Service undertook research projects for the Navy, and naval personnel were furnished gas masks and trained in offensive and defensive gas warfare. After the war, as the result of the recommendations of a board of Navy officers headed by Rear Adm. William S. Sims, provision was made in the Navy for assigning various chemical warfare functions to specific bureaus. From 1921 on, these Navy bureaus maintained close liaison with the CWS.40

In February 1922 the Navy set up at Edgewood Arsenal a unit whose

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duties included maintaining liaison between the Army and the Navy on all matters pertaining to chemical warfare, coordinating research work in progress at Edgewood for various bureaus of the Navy, inspecting chemical warfare matériel manufactured at Edgewood Arsenal for the Navy, and planning certain courses of instruction for naval officers at the Chemical Warfare School. In May 1922 the Secretaries of the War and Navy Departments reached an agreement stipulating that the Navy would provide definite financial assistance to the Army for research in the means of defense against war gases. The following year the two Secretaries agreed that the CWS would be responsible for development and procurement activities relating to chemical warfare matériel for both the Army and the Navy.41

This arrangement had been in force a dozen years when the Navy began to develop doubts as to the ability of the CWS to make chemical warfare preparations for both services. In March 1935 the Chief of Naval Operations, in a letter to the Joint Board, stated that the chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair felt that the CWS did not have the capacity to meet the requirements of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps and that consequently he had recommended a reconsideration of the existing agreement between the Army and the Navy.42

The letter prompted the Joint Board to consult the other services and bureaus of the War and Navy Departments, and, on the basis of the replies received, the board decided on 21 August 1935 to renew the agreement of 1923.43 Although the Navy as well as the Army approved this decision, less than two years later the Secretary of the Navy again raised the question of the Navy’s dissatisfaction with the arrangement. Thereupon the Joint Board again took the matter under consideration and on 12 May 1937 reversed the decision of 21 August 1935.44 The 1937 ruling of the Joint Board, which remained in effect throughout World War II, stated that while the Navy’s

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requirements in chemical warfare matériel in peace and war would generally be filled through the facilities of the CWS, the Navy might, if it deemed advisable, assign development or production of its chemical warfare requirements to sources other than the CWS. The ruling also listed certain procedures which both departments would have to observe. These included the mutual disclosure of their chemical warfare requirements and the mutual exchange of technical information obtained from outside sources.45

Industrial Mobilization Gets Under Way

On 8 September 1939, one week after the outbreak of war in Europe, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation of “limited national emergency.”46 This led to a greater emphasis on preparedness throughout the armed forces.47 While all CWS activities felt the impact of this declaration, procurement was affected more than other functions. The main current of CWS developments in the emergency period was the industrial mobilization program.

The CWS took steps, under the guidance of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War, to implement the educational order legislation enacted by Congress in June 1938.48 This legislation had as its objective the training of selected industrial concerns in the manufacture of a half-dozen Army items, one of which was the gas mask. The first educational order contract was written by the Chemical Warfare Service in late 1939 and several more were awarded in 1940 and 1941.49 The educational order program was the first real step, as far as the CWS was concerned, in the direction of industrial mobilization in the emergency period.

Other strides toward industrial mobilization were taken under the Munitions Program of 30 June 1940. The formulation of this program by the President, the National Defense Advisory Commission, and the War Department was the first important move to supply an expanding army with the implements of war.50 In June 1940 Congress passed the first of five

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supplemental appropriation acts for the fiscal year 1941 to finance this program. Included in those appropriations was over $57,000,000 for the Chemical Warfare Service, of which over $53,000,000 was for procurement and supply.51

The appropriation of funds in such unprecedented sums enabled the CWS to undertake a number of programs, some of which had been in the planning stages for a number of years. Among the important programs were the following: rehabilitation of old and construction of new facilities at Edgewood Arsenal, construction of new CWS arsenals at Huntsville, Alabama, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, erection of new government-owned chemical plants in various parts of the country, acceleration of production activities at Edge-wood Arsenal, and awarding of contracts through the procurement districts for such items as the gas mask and 4.2-inch mortar shells. Construction of the new arsenal at Huntsville began in July 1941 and at Pine Bluff in December 1941.

Passage of the Lend-Lease Act of II March 1941 gave further impetus to the CWS procurement and supply program.52 Lend-lease appropriations enabled the CWS to undertake procurement activities on a larger scale. Between April and December 1941, the Chemical Warfare Service procured raw chemicals, gas masks, and other items for supply to Great Britain. Many of the items were manufactured at Edgewood, but a number were also secured through special contracts in the procurement districts.

Research and Development: A Change in Outlook

In late 1936 the General Staff had decided to cut research and development funds throughout the Army. The reason was a desire to get the Army equipped as soon as possible with the best matériel then available and to concentrate on that objective rather than on research and development of new matériel.53 Consequently, the Army began to place more emphasis on work pertaining to plant design, specifications for items, and manufacturing directives than on pure research and development projects. From 1937 to 1939 much effort and money (for that period) went into the design, construction, and operation of a pilot mustard-gas shell-filling plant at Edgewood Arsenal. In November 1939 research and development was even more sharply subordinated to procurement under a policy of the Assistant Secretary of War

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to abandon all basic research projects and all long-range development and to concentrate on completing development of the most promising items for which there was a definite military requirement.54

Research and development was not to be long hidden under a bushel. In June 1940 the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) was set up by Presidential approval.55 Division B (later expanded to Divisions 8, 9, 10, and 11) of NDRC, headed by Dr. James Bryant Conant, was set up to handle studies on bombs, fuels, gases, and chemical problems. Present at the first meeting of this division on II July 1940 were General Baker, Chief, CWS, and Lt. Col. Maurice E. Barker, chief of the Technical Division, OC CWS. Shortly thereafter the CWS proposed six projects for study by Division B, and by July 1941 this number had increased to sixteen. On 28 June 1941 NDRC and the Committee on Medical Research were included, by Executive order, under the jurisdiction of a newly created Office of Scientific Research and Development. Three months later the CWS recommended its initial medical project to the Committee on Medical Research, the first of seventeen such projects that would be undertaken before the close of World War II.

Included in the construction program which got under way at Edgewood Arsenal in the fall of 1940 was a new research center. Prior to that time research had been carried on in old, scattered buildings of World War I vintage, ill-suited for the purpose and costly to maintain. The new research center was completed by the time war was declared. It consisted of a modern, two-story, laboratory building, animal and storage buildings, machine shops, powder and smoke laboratories, pilot plants, a power plant, and other necessary structures.56 By that time also the CWS had acquired a new laboratory on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.57

Limited Emphasis on Chemical Warfare Service Training

Of all the principal functions of the Chemical Warfare Service, training received least emphasis in the emergency period.58 There were several reasons. First of all, war plans did not call for the use of gas offensively in the period of mobilization and therefore the War Department did not put a high priority on the training of chemical troops. More important was the

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uncertainty over the function of chemical combat troops in theaters of operation. Should CWS troops be employed to disperse toxic chemicals or

should this be done by artillery or infantry using conventional-type weapons? Answers to this and several other basic questions on the CWS mission were not forthcoming until the fall of 1941. Until these answers were given CWS training activities continued to be limited.

During the emergency period the CWS continued to supervise the training of the Army in defensive gas warfare. In 1940 and 1941 the service faced the task of training fillers for existing CWS units which were being built up to full strength and training cadres and fillers for units being activated in the ground forces and air forces.59 During this period also the Training Division of the Chief’s office drew up Tables of Organization and Equipment for field units to carry out tasks resulting from recent technical developments, such as impregnating clothing to protect the wearer against gas vapors.60 A Service Units Board, set up by the Chief, CWS, in May 1940, reviewed the mission and organization of CWS laboratory, depot, and maintenance units in the light of the operations in the European war and redefined their functions.61 In the spring of 1941 the CWS organized a Replacement Center (later called Replacement Training Center) at Edge-wood Arsenal. Between the date of its activation and the end of 1941 the center trained over seventeen hundred men, but this was less than one half of the number of troops coming into chemical units in that period.

Organizational Developments: 1940–41

The increase of CWS activities and the consequent expansion of personnel rolls made it necessary to set up more elaborate administrative machinery in the Chief’s office and in the field. (Charts’ and 2. See also Tables 2 and 3.) In July 1940 General Baker provided for an expanded organization in his office. Fiscal, Supply, Procurement, and Information Branches were raised to division status and thus placed on an administrative par with the Technical, Personnel, and Training Divisions. Since the Army was placing greater emphasis on procurement than on any of its other functions, the new Procurement Division was most imposing in its make-up. It included two subdivisions, designated Arsenal Procurement and Industrial Procurement. Each subdivision contained several sections and some of the sections had several

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Chart 1: Organization, 
Office, Chief of Chemical Warfare Service, Washington, D

Chart 1: Organization, Office, Chief of Chemical Warfare Service, Washington, D.C., as of 6 July 1940

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Chart 2—Organization 
of the Chemical Warfare Service, as of August 1940

Chart 2—Organization of the Chemical Warfare Service, as of August 1940

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branches.62 Later this nomenclature was reversed, and sections became standard subdivisions of branches in all Army organizations.63

The initiation of procurement activities in the districts in mid-1940 led to an increase in the number of employees and to the development of district organizations to supervise expanding activities. Before 1939 each procurement district office was staffed by one officer and a stenographer or two, but in fiscal year 1940 several of the districts added a civilian engineer and a draftsman to the rolls. The increased appropriations in fiscal year 1941 enabled the districts to hire many more employees, so that by December 1940 the Boston district had 108 civilian employees, New York 82, Pittsburgh 373, and San Francisco 73. The vast majority of these were inspectors. By the end of 1940 the number of officers in the various districts ranged from five and twenty.64 During 1941 the roster continued to grow. The following tabulation shows the comparative number of military and civilians in the five districts at dates indicated in 1941:65

District Military Civilians (Includes Inspectors) Date
Boston 17 269 18 January
Chicago 22 265 27 March
New York 23 150 20 February
Pittsburgh 24 380 14 March
San Francisco 6 34 15 April

Although the organizational structures which were set up in the procurement districts in 1940 were essentially similar, there were enough variations to cause confusion. For example, each district but one had a separate fiscal unit; the one exception had a fiscal, property, and transportation unit. Almost all districts had separate inspection units. While the Office of the Chief reviewed the organizational charts of the districts, it did not insist on uniformity, and Inspector General reports on the procurement districts noted without comment the varying organizational patterns of the districts. In addition to lack of complete uniformity of organization there was lack of uniformity in administrative procedures in the districts. For instance, the district offices differed in the types of forms and records which they kept. This absence of standardization was to engage the attention of the Chief’s office after the war got under way.

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Between the summer of 1940 and the declaration of war, two changes were effected at CWS installations. In August 1940 Fort Hoyle, a Field Artillery installation adjacent to Edgewood Arsenal, was vacated and the land and buildings turned over to the CWS. This space was sorely needed in the period of expansion. In December 1940 an arsenal operations department was set up at Edgewood to supervise strictly arsenal functions such as production, service, and inspection.

General Baker retired as Chief, CWS, on 30 April 1941 and was succeeded on 31 May by Maj. Gen. William N. Porter.66 The activities of the service continued to expand, and General Porter immediately began to take steps to crystallize the CWS mission, steps which would shortly result in still greater expansion of activities. Porter, like many other military men of the time, was convinced that American entry into the war was all but inevitable and that the CWS had to be prepared for nothing short of full-scale operations. Therefore in the summer of 1941 he reorganized his office.67

One feature of this organization of the Office of the Chief, CWS, was use of terminology then in general use throughout other technical services of the Army. Thus, the term “services” was used to designate the echelons having jurisdiction over the principal operating functions of CWS, namely, industrial, technical, and field (troops and training). General Porter selected Col. Paul X. English to head the Industrial Service, Col. Edward Montgomery, the Field Service, and Lt. Col. Maurice E. Barker, the Technical Service.

Development of the Chemical Warfare Service Mission in the Emergency Period

General Porter inherited several problems for which his predecessors in office had been unable, for a variety of reasons, to find satisfactory solutions. One was the impasse, already referred to, on the role of chemical troops in combat. Another was the division of responsibility for incendiary bombs between CWS and Ordnance, which was impeding production of these important munitions. A potential problem was the absence of specific official responsibility in the Chemical Warfare Service for an activity in which the CWS had an interest, namely, biological warfare (BW).

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Chart 3: Organization, 
Office, Chief of Chemical Warfare Service, as of 2 September 1941

Chart 3: Organization, Office, Chief of Chemical Warfare Service, as of 2 September 1941

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After Porter became Chief he made solution of these problems the first order of business. There were two concomitant circumstances in his favor: (1) the sense of urgency which marked U.S. military preparations in mid-1941; and (2) the receptive attitude of the Chief of Staff to proposals that promised to strengthen the nation’s defenses. Porter was quick to take advantage of both.

In July 1941 the Chief, CWS, took action to get the question of weapons for chemical units settled. This he did by formally recommending to the Chief of Staff that the two active chemical weapons companies in the zone of interior be expanded to battalions and equipped with the 4.2-inch mortar.68 The Chief, CWS, encountered some difficulty with this suggestion in the General Staff, but General George C. Marshall decided the issue by directing that General Porter’s proposal be carried out.69

The division of responsibility for the incendiary bomb between Ordnance and Chemical Warfare Service dated back to 1920, when the War Department charged the CWS with the development of incendiary agents and the filling of incendiary munitions and Ordnance with responsibility for the procurement, storage, and issue of those munitions.70 Neither Ordnance nor the CWS showed any marked enthusiasm for incendiaries in the peacetime years, although certain individuals, at least in the CWS, did. The CWS officer who perhaps more than anyone else was responsible for “selling” the Air Corps on the incendiary bomb was General Porter, who had been liaison officer at the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field (1933-37) and later (1937-40 liaison officer at GHQ Air Force headquarters at Langley Field. From Langley Field Porter went to Washington as Chief, CWS, thoroughly convinced that incendiaries were an absolutely indispensable munition for the winning of any future war.71

Two months after he assumed office, General Porter arranged for the recall to active duty of a colonel in the Reserves who had been intensely interested in incendiaries since World War I, Professor J. Enrique Zanetti of Columbia University. Porter sent Zanetti to London to obtain firsthand information on the bomb situation and upon his return put him in charge of the incendiary bomb program in the CWS.72

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4.2-inch Chemical Mortar, used by Chemical units, World War II. Soldier is adjusting elevation of his weapon.

The issue of divided responsibility for the incendiary bomb program came up for consideration at a midnight conference on 15 July 1941 called by the Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Moore. Represented at this conference were the Ordnance Department, Army Air Forces, and the Chemical Warfare Service. General Porter, representing the CWS, was emphatic in asserting that divided responsibility for the bomb program would not work, and to this proposition Brig. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, Chief of Staff, Army Air Forces, lent his emphatic indorsement. The War Department announced its official decision on the matter on 3 September 1941 when it turned over responsibility for all phases of the incendiary bomb program to CWS.73

The subject of biological warfare attracted but passing interest in the Chemical Warfare Service in the years between the two wars.74 The chief of Medical Division, OC CWS, Maj. Leon A. Fox, lectured on the topic in the early 1930s at the Chemical Warfare School. His lectures reflected the general attitude of both the scientists and military men of the period, which was to minimize the potentialities of biological warfare.75

The later 1930s witnessed a marked change in thinking on biological warfare, a result of the simultaneous development of the science of bacteriology and airpower. By the ‘forties the threat of this type of warfare

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was causing concern not only to the armed forces, but also to certain nonmilitary governmental agencies and to scientific associations. The reason for this is quite obvious: if a biological warfare attack were made on the civilian population, the attack would possibly be conducted on such a scale that every known resource would have to be employed to combat it. In the fall of 1940 Dr. Vannevar Bush, chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, suggested to Dr. Lewis H. Weed of the Health and Medical Committee of the Council of National Defense that consideration be given to the offensive and defensive aspects of biological warfare.76 A few months later the National Institute of Health took the threat of biological warfare under advisement. The attitude of these scientific groups was not one of alarm. They believed that the relatively advanced state of public health in the United States put the population in a favorable position in the event of a biological attack, but at the same time they felt that the situation should be carefully watched.77

The Surgeon General and the Chief of the Chemical Warfare Service welcomed the assistance of nonmilitary agencies and groups. In the summer of 1941 The Surgeon General suggested to the National Defense Research Committee that a committee of scientists be set up to survey all phases of biological warfare, and about the same time the Chief, CWS, suggested to Mr. Harvey H. Bundy, special assistant to the Secretary of War, that a letter be prepared for the president of the National Academy of Science recommending the activation of a similar committee.78 Secretary Henry L. Stimson that fall addressed such a letter to Dr. Frank B. Jewett, president of the National Academy of Science.79 As a result of this letter a committee known as the WBC was set up, headed by Dean Edwin Broun Fred of the University of Wisconsin.80 This group, which counted among its members outstanding authorities on human, animal, and plant pathology and bacteriology, was making a survey of the potentialities of biological warfare when the United States became involved in the war.

The Army had meanwhile been giving serious consideration to preparations against biological attack. Shortly after General Porter became Chief,

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CWS, he advised General Marshall that more consideration should be given to biological warfare, and he suggested that the responsibility go to the Chemical Warfare Service.81 In August 1941 Brig. Gen. Harry L. Twaddle, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, informed General Marshall that in his judgment the Chemical Warfare Service was best equipped to handle this assignment.82 Two months later Twaddle called on the Chief, CWS, to convey an oral directive from the Chief of Staff for the CWS to carry on research on biological warfare.83 To supervise the function a new Biological Division was activated in the Office of the Chief.84

The emergency period saw not only the beginnings of industrial mobilization in the CWS but also the expansion of the CWS mission. Faced with the threat of war, the General Staff was less prone to deliberate on what activities the Chemical Warfare Service could carry on under War Department regulations and more inclined to assign definite responsibilities to the service. When the members of the General Staff could not agree, General Marshall personally intervened to decide the issue. Yet despite the progress made, the exact role of the CWS was not definitely decided until the war was well under way.