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France’s Political and Military Reaction in the Aftermath of the First German Chemical Offensive in April 1915: the Road to Retaliation in Kind
The sudden outburst of chemical warfare initiated in April 1915 by Germany, which on the occasion deliberately violated the laws of war, created a real shock in the French public opinion. Nevertheless, and soon after the decision was taken very rapidly to retaliate in kind by the French government, a huge industrial and scientific effort was launched by the country. And indeed, only a few months after the German surprise attack of Langemarck and despite many obstacles, the French army was ready, soon after the British, to launch their first chemical offensive. But in the storm of the war when urgency was the only law and political influence far less than military, the belligerents didn’t realize that adopting the chemical weapons in a mechanical way, they were doing, the first step that will lead to the total war. Of course at the period of the conflict, gas was not yet the weapon of annihilation but rather the weapon that could make the breakthrough possible and that the perspective was so crucial that political authorities stood aside. But, undoubtedly ten long month before the battle of Verdun, the beginning of gas warfare was the first and real step of the totalisation of the war.