The Fifth Horseman: Chemical Warfare Renewed
AUTHOR Major Mark J. Ballas, USMC
SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting
TITLE: THE FIFTH HORSEMAN:
CHEMICAL WARFARE RENEWED
I. Purpose: To alert Marines , serving both at the front
and in the rear areas, to the resurgence of the use of
chemical weapons on the battlefield.
II. Problem: Since the end of World War I, the specter of
chemicals as a military weapon has faded. The Marine Corps
has grown complacent in preparing for war on a battlefield
in which chemicals may be encountered. Marine Corps
training has grown lax and does not place proper emphasis on
tactics and prevention in countering the chemical threat.
Marine Corps equipment is ill-suited to protect the Marine
and is not designed to be easily decontaminated.
III. Data: The incidence of chemicals being used in modern
conflicts is rising. It is an indication of the quickly
growing trend toward reliance on chemicals. It is a subtle
growth that frequently escapes the limelight. Many Third
World countries have acquired the capability to employ
chemical weapons in combat. Terrorist countries such as
Libya are now capable of manufacturing chemical weapons.
This capability also means that the use of chemicals may
become a terrorist weapon. Nations such as Syria, Iraq,
Iran and Cuba have been known to employ chemical weapons.
The Soviets, despite news reports to the contrary, maintain
a large and modern chemical weapons inventory.
IV. Conclusions: The Marine Corps will find that almost any
future potential adversary will possess the capability to
employ chemical weapons in almost every region of the world.
The Marine Corps is not currently prepared as well as
possible to meet that threat.
V. Recommendations: The Marine Corps review its training
for chemical warfare. Proper emphasis must be placed on
chemical decontamination. Preparation to meet follow-on
attacks should be emphasized. Marine Corps equipment should
be designed to be easily decontaminated. Most of all -- the
Marine Corps should recognize the real and growing trend
toward use of chemicals in war.
THE FIFTH HORSEMAN:
CHEMICAL WARFARE RENEWED
Marines must be properly trained and equipped to recognize
and counter the chemical threat.
I. Dawn attack
II. Historical background
A. World War I
B. World War II
III. Soviet doctrine
A. Offensive operations
B. Employment of chemicals
C. Assets available
IV. Current chemical threat
A. Warsaw Pact
B. Third World
V. Marine Corps response to chemical threat
A. Training to meet the threat
B. Improving the equipment
THE FIFTH HORSEMAN:
CHEMICAL WARFARE RENEWED
A light breeze cooled the troops conducting the
early morning police call of the run way area at the
expeditionary airfield. At the far end of the field, the
brigade service support group (BSSG) was just beginning to
turn to its daily logistics functions. The offensive
operations 40 miles to the east, supported from this "rear
area," were going well despite the strong Soviet force the
Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) was pitted against. The
sun had barely peeked over the horizon when two low-flying
MiGs turned to make their run over the airfield. The MiGs
carried an ominous spray tank slung under each wing. In
moments, the MiGs were gone. The light breeze helped to
disperse the gas over the entire field. The MEB and BSSG
staff patted themselves on the back, for only twenty-three
Marines lay writhing in agony, suffocating on the ground.
Casualties amounted to only six dead and seventeen
incapacitated. They had trained to operate in a chemical
environment. The casualties were those few Marines who were
slow to don their masks or who donned their masks
improperly. Yet, within two hours, the MEB and BSSG had
ceased to function. In spite of their initial belief, these
units had not trained properly for operations in a chemical
environment. To ensure that Marines are able to accomplish
their mission in a chemical warfare environment, Marines
must be properly trained and equipped to recognize and
counter the chemical threat.
The opening scenario ended disastrously for the MEB
and BSSG. What went wrong? In answering that question, I
will alert Marines, serving both at the front and in the
rear areas, to the threat they face.
Chemical warfare, the use of noxious fumes or gases
to kill or incapacitate the enemy, has been with man for
over two thousand years. In 190 BC, the city of Ambracia
was besieged by the Roman army. The city was strongly
fortified and resisted all efforts by the Roman soldiers to
breach the walls. The Romans resorted to mining in an
effort to tunnel under the walls. Ian V. Hogg writes about
The Ambracians had other ideas; they had seen the
excavated earth being dumped and realised what was
afoot. They discovered the location of the Roman
tunnel. ..and broke into it. A large stone corn
jar filled with feathers had been prepared with a
tube in its base connected to a bellows. After
breaking into the tunnel, the Ambracians threw
burning charcoal into the jar, inserted the mouth
into the Roman mine, and pumped the fumes of the
burning feathers into the underground workings.
The Romans were driven from the mine and the
fortress was saved from that particular
The use of chemicals in warfare on a grand scale
began in World War I. As the war bogged down in the
trenches, both sides looked for a way to gain tactical
advantage and break the stalemate. The combination of
surprise and combat multiplier made gas an extremely
effective weapon. The first use of gas, by the Germans,
occurred at the Second Battle of Ypres on April 22, 1915.
This first use of gas has been recorded:
At about 1750 hours...after heavy shelling of the
French areas, British observers noted a
mysterious cloud moving slowly across the French
trenches helped by a light wind from the
north-east. . . .Allied soldiers could be seen
running to the rear. . .terror-stricken French
North-African troops staggered along the roads to
the city coughing and vomiting up blood and froth.
Field guns and other equipment littered the
battlefield as gun crews and others whipped horses
into a frantic gallop away from the area. Roads
became blocked with men and transport. Panic
reigned supreme. (4:9)
In that single day of first use of gas as a weapon, over
fifteen thousand soldiers became casualties.
Gas warfare in World War I was responsible for over
one and a quarter million casualties. The lingering effect
of being gassed and the horror of gas warfare was brought
home by the thousands of soldiers who survived their
wounds. Such was the private and public outcry that gas
warfare was effectively banned during World War II. This is
not to say that the combatants were not prepared for gas
warfare. Quite the contrary! Most of the warring nations
during WW II were well prepared to actively
wage gas warfare and remained so throughout that conflict.
The fact that gas was not used is a testimony to the horrors
of gas and the mutual reluctance for a nation to be the
first to introduce it in combat.
The principle of the attack in depth is an offensive
operation by the Soviets in response to the increased
capability and mobility of fire support systems (artillery
and aviation); it is also used to disrupt or to destroy the
enemy's lines of communication, command and control assets
and combat service support units. Whether used at the front
lines to aid Soviet forces conducting an attack or in the
enemy's rear areas, chemicals are an extremely dangerous and
potent weapon. The Soviets are extremely concerned with an
enemy's capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction
(nuclear, chemical and biological weapons). This means that
in any battle artillery and aviation units capable of
employing weapons of mass destruction are prime targets for
early engagement with chemical weapons.
Soviet doctrine of the employment of chemical
weapons is clear. Among the targets that chemical weapons
may be used to neutralize are systems that can deliver
weapons of mass destruction (artillery--the M198 howitzer
and aviation--the A-6 Intruder), lines of communication,
command and control assets and combat service support
units. Since almost every Marine artillery battery has
acquired the new, nuclear-capable M198 howitzer, every
battery is now a target for chemical weapons. The targets
that chemical weapons may be used against are many of the
same targets the Soviets aim at in attacking the rear
areas. If the prosecution of the battle at the front
depends upon the supplies, fire support (artillery and
aviation) and command and control provided by soldiers
operating in the rear, then the rear areas must be
considered a prime target for the employment of chemical
The Soviets are, indisputably, unmatched by any
other military force in the world in their ability to
operate in chemical environments. Given their capability
and past history in using chemicals or in supplying
chemicals for use by surrogates, it is entirely probable
that they will use chemicals against Marines.
The Soviets will attempt to carry the battle to the
rear area by using any number of units available to them.
The threat to Marines may materialize in the form of
airborne or heliborne units landing in their midst, Spetsnaz
units striking from out of the background, supporting arms
or aviation raining destruction on them, forward detachments
of regular ground forces punching their way to the rear or
any combination of the above. The basic Soviet principle of
chemical warfare is to achieve surprise. What better way is
there to totally disrupt rear areas than to surprise them
with the use of chemicals followed by destruction
accomplished by the follow-on forces mentioned above.
The use of chemicals as a weapon is extraordinarily
treacherous because a human does not know when they are
being employed because they are invisible weapons. They
are employed as an aerosol and can move noiselessly and
invisibly, without warning, across a battlefield harming
everything in its way. The Soviets have a large arsenal of
chemical weapons available to them. A 1987 unprecedented
tour of Soviet chemical warfare facilities by diplomats,
journalists and military observers from more than forty-five
countries gave the world a glimpse into the Soviet arsenal.
The Soviets displayed nineteen chemical munitions, including
rockets, warheads for tactical missiles, bombs, airborne
spray tanks and even a chemical hand grenade. (5:1) The
Soviets train for the employment of these assets as an
integral part of their military exercises.
The opening scenario ended disastrously because the
Marines were not prepared to repel the enemy attack that
came when an airborne unit dropped in to visit. The Soviet
paratroopers found Marines, in chemical protection equipment
at their desks typing requisitions, preparing unit diaries,
and turning wrenches on aircraft. The Soviets found Marines
performing their jobs in a chemical environment just as the
Marines had been trained to do.
Current Chemical Threat
The current chemical threat facing U. S. forces from
the Warsaw Pact armies is relatively straight forward. It
must be assumed that if Warsaw Pact forces are engaged, then
Soviet chemical weapons are likely to be encountered.
Release of the control of Soviet weapons to its allies is
unlikely, but Soviet forces are well integrated with their
allies. Any engagement with non-Soviet Warsaw Pact units
will be an engagement where Soviet forces with access to
chemical weapons are nearby and available for assistance.
Additionally, by tracing shipments of chemicals in the
international trade market, U. S. government officials
suspect that Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania possess or
are in the process of acquiring chemical weapons. (11:1)
This presents an especially dangerous aspect in warfare
because it gives the ability to wage chemical warfare to
nations that probably have little doctrine or guidance for
the employment of gas weapons. Soviet surrogate states may
fastidiously follow Soviet doctrine for the employment of
chemicals or they may not; they may throw the rule book
away. If they follow Soviet doctrine, U. S. forces will
have a good idea of the conditions under which chemicals may
be employed. If they do not follow Soviet doctrine, they
may employ weapons in a manner for which no one is
prepared. For example, Team A in football is on the
forty-five yard line -- it's fourth down with nine yards to
go for a first down -- you know the team will punt the ball
away. But Team B, in the same situation, may try a
quarterback sneak and throw the "rule book" away.
There is little doubt that the use of chemical
weapons is on the increase. News reports over the preceding
three months indicate that Libya, an outlaw nation
supporting international terrorism, is constructing a
chemical weapons manufacturing plant. The plant, located at
Rabta, thirty-five miles southwest of Tripoli, was built
with the aid of West German expertise. U. S. government
revelations concerning West German complicity in the
construction of the Rabta chemical plant initially strained
U. S. -- German relations. West Germany, after thorough
investigation, has admitted that substantial aid came from
West German industry in the construction of the plant.
Unquestioned is the plant's sole purpose of chemical weapons
production. Of the factory at Rabta, Wolfgang Schauble,
Minister of State in the West German's Chancellor's Office
said, ".... the factory was not only suitable (for the
production of chemical weapons) but was intended from the
very start to make nothing but." (1:3)
Other countries possessing chemical weapons of war
are Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria and Cuba. Iran and Iraq used
gas weapons in the war they recently waged against each
other. Iraq has extensively used chemicals in their effort
at genocide against the Iraqi Kurdish population. Time
Magazine ran pictures of the results of an Iraqi attack on a
Kurdish village; the dead men, women and children lay
"frozen in time" on the village street. (10:7) Cuban troops
are reported to have used poison gas against Angolan
rebels. In Libya's war with Chad, the Chadians accused
Libya of using gas. Additionally, U. S. government agencies
estimate that about twenty nations have chemical weapons and
that another ten are considering acquiring them.
An increasing threat to world security is the
nightmare specter of terrorist use of chemical weapons. In
the hands of terrorists, chemical weapons give them the
potential to devastate cities. Terrorists would be able to
hold not only individuals hostage but also nations. The
ability of Libya, or another nation possessing chemical
weapons, to influence world events by providing terrorists
with chemical weapons is frightening. The United States,
acting unilaterally or in concert with other responsible
nations, must quickly and decisively act to halt the
proliferation of chemical weapons.
Marine Corps Response to Chemical Threat
Our doctrine for operations in chemical environments,
found in various FMFMs, FMs, and operational handbooks
(OHs), is incomplete. The emphasis in training does not go
the whole distance. It stops short of the goal. Our
training doctrine emphasizes us to be practical, to apply
sound training principles, to require action to reinforce
training, to be realistic, to use simulants properly, and to
use concurrent training. It is in the 'to be realistic"
area that we are deficient. The pictures of Marines wearing
gas masks while working at their desks, or in their supply
huts, or on aircraft parked on a flight line are ludicrous
and only serve to emphasize the mistaken idea that such
conduct constitutes realistic training. Who, in their right
mind, would work while enveloped in a gas cloud or on
contaminated equipment? Yet this is what our training
emphasizes. Despite the preponderance of written material
documenting the Soviet's concern with their enemy's rear
area and the Soviets' expertise in and demonstrated
willingness to use chemical weapons (Soviet chemical use in
Afghanistan is well documented), we still take the threat
lightly. Our training is good as far as it goes, but must
We don't train for decontamination of our equipment
in the rear areas. We don't train for the possibility of
enemy attack after the use of chemical weapons. We don't
train for decontamination of our work areas. We don't train
to limit the effects of chemical attacks on our work areas.
These deficiencies must be remedied. We must practice
decontamination of the equipment used in our daily work. By
this I mean we must decontaminate file cabinets,
typewriters, workbenches, repair and diagnostic equipment,
and the other various equipment used by the many and varied
occupational specialties found in the rear areas. We must
practice limiting the effects that chemical weapons will
have on our work areas. By this I mean we must practice
keeping our equipment and work areas covered to prevent, to
the greatest extent possible, chemical contamination. For
example, aircraft parked on a flight line during good
weather are often open to the elements. They should not be
left open. Troops must practice securing the aircraft to
prevent chemical contamination of the interiors, an
occurrence which would only exacerbate the decontamination
problem. Most importantly, we must train to repel enemy
assaults that are likely to occur in combination with the
use of chemicals rather than attempting to carry on the
normal work routine while clothed in chemical protective
gear and enveloped in a gas cloud.
The Marine Corps needs to take action to insure its
equipment is chemical-proof. For example, there are no
vehicles in the Marine inventory that offer protection to
its occupants from chemical attack. Equipment must be
designed to eliminate surfaces that collect and hold
chemical contaminants. All equipment should be designed to
easily shed liquids. All equipment should be designed to
prevent chemicals from entering the interior, whether the
equipment is a tent, a vehicle, a radio or a rifle.
Through proper training and awareness, we can change
the ending to the opening scenario. It goes like this. The
MEB and BSSG staff patted themselves on the back, for they
had only taken 23 casualties. The staff immediately
implemented the defensive plan. Thirty minutes later, after
the chemical attack, the Soviet paratroopers began landing.
It was a short, quick battle. The Marines were prepared and
waiting. Several of the enemy transports were shot out of
the sky before disgorging their cargo. Many of the
paratroopers died before hitting the deck. The surviving
paratroopers were either killed or captured shortly after
landing. They had not expected to meet Marines ready to do
battle. The MEB and BSSG staff patted themselves on the
back for a good reason. Their success was due to proper
training to meet the threat in a chemical environment.
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