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A Look at Military Gas Masks

The US Army became the largest user of gas masks just prior to America’s entrance into World War One. After that attack in France, there was no way a modern fighting force was going to be deployed against the Germans without the best equipment available to protect them from poisonous gas attacks.

Plants that were churning out small numbers of gas masks for firefighters suddenly had huge orders to fill for the fighting men of America and its allies. Money came pouring in to the industry which mushroomed overnight into large business enterprises. The very minute production began in earnest on the existing models, tweaked to ensure their usefulness against the known chemical agents of the time, research and development teams went to work to improve on the early designs.

The British first built a carbon monoxide respirator that was in use during World War One before the first use of chemical weapons by the Germans. Scientists had discovered that unexploded enemy shells gave off extremely high levels of carbon monoxide gas. These levels were found to be high enough to kill soldiers within 100 yards of the unexploded devices in trenches, foxholes and other small, sheltered protective areas where the carbon monoxide could concentrate even further. The effect was similar to a car exhaust when an automobile is left running in a closed garage.

It was a Canadian who designed a “smoke helmet” with a single exhaling tube filled with chemical solvents to neutralize the chlorine used in the gas attacks. Using this designFind Article, the smoke helmet was adapted by the allied forces and is widely considered to be the first mass produced gas mask employed for use against the Germans. The Germans countered with a gas mask (for use by their troops against the possibility of a wind shift blowing their own chemicals back over them) that employed an air filter drum screwed onto the front of the breathing apparatus that could be changed easily and quickly to keep the filtration system fresh during multiple attacks. The British countered with the SBR or Small Box Respirator which became the most widely used gas mask during the war.

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