Skip to main content

Killer Chemistry: The Chemical Weapons of World War I (Photos)

Simple gas mask

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

World War One (WWI), known as the “chemists’ war,” was the first time that chemical weapons were used for killing thousands of people on the battlefield at a time. By the war’s end, world leaders mobilized to contain the horrific and deadly agents of mass destruction.

A very simple "gas mask used during WWI by the allies in the campaign in France, circa 1915.

Sound the alarm

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

A German signal alarm warned when their gas was being released. This photo was taken circa 1916.   

Gas warning

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: General Photographic Agency/Getty)

A German soldier bangs on a suspended frying pan to warn of a gas attack.

American nurse

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Russell/Hulton Archive/Getty)

An American nurse wears her gas mask while working in the trenches near the front.

American soldier

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

An American soldier stands guard during a German gas attack in France, circa 1918 

Postcard from 1917

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Stefn Sauer/DPA/Zuma)

Jan. 1, 1917, Unbekannt, Germany. This historic drawing on a postcard from 1917 shows a propaganda portrayal of a ''Gas Alarm'' in the German bunker on a WWI battlefield.

Anti-aircraft gun

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: General Photographic Agency/Getty)

German artillery soldiers wearing gas masks pose with a quick-firing anti-aircraft gun used mainly against low-flying airplanes.

Blowing in the wind

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Henry Guttmann/Getty)

German soldiers take advantage of a suitable wind to release poison gas from cylinders.

French soldiers

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

August 1915: French soldiers load artillery shells while wearing masks to protect against gas attacks.

French troops

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

Circa 1915:  French troops wear an early form of gas mask in the trenches during the second Battle of Ypres.

Gas shell bursting

WWI chemical warfare

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

Circa 1916: A gas shell bursts at a road block on the Italian front.  

Mindy Weisberger
Mindy Weisberger is a senior writer for Live Science covering general science topics, especially those relating to brains, bodies, and behaviors in humans and other animals — living and extinct. Mindy studied filmmaking at Columbia University; her videos about dinosaurs, biodiversity, human origins, evolution, and astrophysics appear in the American Museum of Natural History, on YouTube, and in museums and science centers worldwide. Follow Mindy on Twitter.