Battle of Bolimow
January 31, 1915: The Battle of Bolimow is fought. The armies of Germany and Russia met near Bolimow, Poland – a small village in central Poland located between Lodz and Warsaw. The German Ninth Army was led by August von Mackensen while the Russian Second Army was led by Vladimir Smirnov and Vasily Gurko. The day’s events were inconclusive and the battles would continue at the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes which was fought between February 7 and February 22, 1915. This battle was a victory for the German Empire.
The Battle of Bolimow is noted as the first attempt by the Germans at a large-scale use of poison gas. They fired 18,000 “T-shells” at Russian positions. The shells were filled with xylyl bromide (also called methylbenzyl bromide or T-stoff). It is a poisonous organic compound and is colorless with a pleasant smell. It is chemically written as C8H9Br and was used as a tear gas. Xylyl bromide is highly toxic and was used as a chemical weapon since the early days of World War I. The French were the first to use tear gas grenades against the Germans as early as August 1914. But today’s date is the first time it was brought into battle on a large scale. It was a complete failure.
The six inch artillery shells contained an explosive charge along with seven pounds of xylyl bromide. The winter weather was a factor in the failure. It was too cold to permit a decent aerosol effect and most of the agent was blown back onto the German lines or fell harmlessly to the ground. The dosage was also insufficiently concentrated to do much damage. The gas was again tried in a similar attack at Nieuwpoort in March 1915 and it, too, was unsuccessful. The gas was easy to make and was widely used throughout the rest of the war.
On this day, with the tear gas not effective, the German commanders called off the attack. The Russians sent in 11 divisions in a counter attack. Gurko, a career officer, led his men into what became a German artillery attack using conventional artillery shells. The Russians suffered 40,000 casualties while the Germans suffered 20,000. Today, poison gasses are under the heading of chemical warfare and about 70 different chemicals have been used or stockpiled during the 20th century. Chemical weapons are divided into three categories. The first has few, if any, legitimate uses. The second are chemicals which have no large-scale industrial uses but may have some small-scale legitimate uses. The last have large-scale industrial uses but still can be used as weapons.
Throw poison in the form of powder upon galleys. Chalk, fine sulfide of arsenic, and powdered verdegris may be thrown among enemy ships by means of small mangonels, and all those who, as they breathe, inhale the powder into their lungs will become asphyxiated. – Leonardo da Vinci
There was no sense in this objection. It is considered a legitimate mode of warfare to fill shells with molten metal which scatters among the enemy, and produced the most frightful modes of death. – Lyon Playfair
Why a poisonous vapor which would kill men without suffering is to be considered illegitimate warfare is incomprehensible. War is destruction, and the more destructive it can be made with the least suffering the sooner will be ended that barbarous method of protecting national rights. No doubt in time chemistry will be used to lessen the suffering of combatants, and even of criminals condemned to death. – Lyon Playfair
Russians should be eventually cleared out of the mountain range with gas. – 1943 German telegram to command at Kuban
Also on this day: Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Radiation Trap – In 1958, James Van Allen was given the means to describe the eponymous bands.
Love Bug – In 1747, The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.
The Only One – In 1945, Eddie Slovik was executed.
Battle of May Island – In 1918, tragedy at sea struck.