Why are you asking a question that you must know the answer to?
I have a question for anyone familiar with America's war in the Pacific. A recent documentary about the Battle of Okinawa explained the defence in depth method used by the Japanese to defend Okinawa.
Three separate but interconnected lines of defence across the width of the island and comprising deep, well built underground man made bunkers, connecting tunnels and natural caves formed the core of the defence system and included portable artillery and ammunition stores.
Formidable defence lines and presenting an almost impossible challenge to attacking forces, resupply for the Japanese wasn't an option. On the face of it the odds were more than favourable to the defenders. The Americans attacked with formidable resolution. They used every asset at their disposal including the use of infantry portable and tank equipped flamethrowers. It was basic hand to hand warfare, using the bayonet, grenades, explosive charges and mortars.
My question is: why wasn't poison gas, assuming it was available, used in the assault ? 12,000 American lives were lost in taking Okinawa. Perhaps many could have been saved if gas had been available and used. The battlefield area was well suited to the use of this medium. A suitable, quickly incapacitating gas could have been pumped into the galleries and connecting passageways and tunnels of the bunker system and over time would have distributed itself thru' out the entire system.
As a former British Army soldier, my admiration for the unrelenting courage displayed by these American GIs is boundless. Their tenacity in attack was equalled by the Japanese tenacity in defence. It was only by the use of relentless assault that the American infantry were able to overcome.
Why are you asking a question that you must know the answer to?
Poison Gas probably wasn't used for several reasons.
It's unpredictable. A change in wind and you gas yourself. This was often the case in WW1.
The means to deploy it. You would need some serious kit to force it deep underground. In WW1 the delivery was mostly via shells.
Necessity. The Marines probably were not expecting a tunnel complex of such depth.
Lack of interest by the Americans. Japan was never a serious threat to America.
I read somewhere that America was producing 3 billion Barrels of Oil to Japans 80 million per year.
Most of America's effort was directed towards the war in Europe.
Apart from intelligence, and failing to meet any opposition on the beaches, the Americans knew that they would meet that opposition inland and certainly well dug in.
The use of poison gas in what amounted to a 'closed' battlefield would be a good deal more predictable than using it on an open battlefield subject to the vagaries of the weather. Additionally, the troops discharging it would be protected by the wearing of gas suits and gas masks.
As for distribution, once the gas had been introduced to the passageways and galleries, it would be simple to place powerful fans powered from portable generators to produce and ensure a flow into the enemy hideouts.
Japan was most certainly a major threat to America. Having determined upon an invasion and occupation of the Japanese mainland, the Americans knew that they would meet a ferocious opposition determined to defend their homeland to the bitter end. Without an invasion and occupation it was understood that Japan would fight on and on - to the last person standing. The Americans estimated that the storming of Fortress Japan would cost at least half a million American lives. This, they were not prepared to countenance, hence the dropping of the A-bombs.
I'm not sure I'd like to haul 'powerful fans and portable generators' over the bullet-swept sands of Iwo Jima!
I think you may be underestimating the technical problems of using gas within the tunnel systems built by the Japanese. Remember we are essentially talking about First World War gasses, not modern nerve-agents. The Allies were decades behind the Germans in the development of toxins and even the Japanese were probably years ahead (having conducted some brutal experiments on live subjects in China).
The standard defence against gas in First World War bunkers was to cover the entrances with closely-fitted curtains; the typical gasses of the time were heavier than air, so they tended to fill trenches and bunkers, but were easily stopped by a closely-fitted curtain. Given their ingenuity in designing defensive positions it is easy to suggest that the Japanese defenders would soon adapt their defences to cope with a US gas attack.
After Pearl Harbour America's industrial might saw to that.
Nemesis by Max Hastings states (and my memory is a little rusty here),
"after Pearl Harbour Japan would never achieve any great military success against America.
Within 18 months of Pearl all but three ships were repaired.
Of the remaining three Arizona was the only American Naval asset lost. Of the others,
one was at Pearl for scrapping and one was back in service after WW2".
America went from 8th military world power (behind Portugal) to Major World Power within 18 months of Pearl.
You just can't beat that kind of industrial and military might.
I'm not suggesting American losses were anything less than serious in terms of lives lost of course.
The simple reason gas was not used was because it would not work.
First an entrance had to be found where the gas could be pumped in, then while you are preparing your equipment, the Japanese who were watching you, and throwing shells and bullets at you. They would simply block the tunnel from their end.
Then you would have to go through the process of fighting for another entrance.
There is also the danger of killing more of your own people in the transportation and use of the gas.
Re: 2nd Dec 1943 Bari, Italy.
My reference was to Okinawa not Iwo Jima. There were no "bullet swept sands" at Okinawa because the Japanese did not defend the beach landings.
If the use of gas had dictated using fans and generators then I'm sure the Americans would have done just that. The imperative was to save American lives facing an implacable enemy - 'needs does as needs must'.
The Allies had vast stocks of mustard gas; a toxic, disabling gas which had a known history of use. I can't think of any disqualification that would prevent the successful use of this rather potent gas. The Allies might have known of others more potent but perhaps held in only small quantities.
No suggestion or implication on my part of the 'ability to defeat America'. Without widening the debate, I was curious as to what others opinions were on the merits - or otherwise - of using gas to breach the subterranean Japanese strongholds on Okinawa and thus save many lives.
'Would not work'. We don't know that, because as far as I'm aware, it has never been used in the circumstance that I describe.
The Okinawa cave entrances were assaulted by infantry with conventional arms and flamethrowers. Once a cave entrance is cleared of the enemy then preparation to pump in gas could begin. If you watch the American assault unfold, it is apparent that, perhaps because of the uneven terrain, none of the cleared cave entrances were covered by enemy flanking fire. So, the gas assault teams could go about their tasks relatively unmolested.
The transportation and handling of the most readily available mustard gas was well understood. Accidents can and do occur and in war there is a greater propensity for this to happen. That apart, I wonder if there was any kind of feasibility study to determine the effectiveness of the use of gas in this particular theater of war.
There must be a reason; my guess is the complexity of getting the equipment necessary into position, under enemy fire, whether it be on Okinawa or anywhere else, and the relative ease with which the tunnels could be sealed internally. It is tempting to think that capturing a few tunnel entrances would allow US Forces to gas the entire network (many miles of tunnel) but given the ingenuity of the Japanese defenders, and their tenacity in defence, I doubt it would be that simple.
In fact I cannot think of a single case of gas being used I combat anywhere in the Second World War, and yet nearly all combat troops carried gas-masks.
Is gas actually that effective? Does a good gas mask negate it's effects and render it useless?
Or maybe the side using it fears that the enemy will do the same. Wasn't that the reason Hitler never used it?
All good points to consider but, my question was why it wasn't - as far as I know - considered for use inside a closed system of deep underground tunnels and galleries. It was the closed system or, system that could effectively be sealed, that encouraged the practical use of gas.
Just 'googled' 'Okinawa battle WW2 use of gas'.
There was a precedent. Japan had used gas against the Chinese during WW2. No details. The question of gas use against the Japanese in the Battle of Okinawa had been considered and thought feasible, the more especially since it was intended to inject the gas into a closed system.
Gas was not used as it had already been agreed upon that it would only be used as a last resort.
And as in ww1 it was found to be as lethal to those that employed it, than it was them that it was intended for. The Public would also be against it.
>'Would not work'. We don't know that, because as far as I'm aware, it has never been used in the circumstance that I describe.>
I know it would not work, same as I know square wheels don’t work.
< The Okinawa cave entrances were assaulted by infantry with conventional arms and flamethrowers. Once a cave entrance is cleared of the enemy then preparation to pump in gas could begin. If you watch the American assault unfold, it is apparent that, perhaps because of the uneven terrain, none of the cleared cave entrances were covered by enemy flanking fire. So, the gas assault teams could go about their tasks relatively unmolested. >
Most of those caves, bunkers and sniper pits were not connected to the main tunnels. So would be pointless pumping gas into a hole that has already been cleared.
Now if you are gassing rabbits in a warren then every rabbit hole has to be blocked up, otherwise gas comes out. So the Americans could be pumping gas in one hole and the Japanese diverting it out of another hole on the other side of the hill and straight at the troops behind the lines.
As the Japanese were in positions above the Americans, they did not need to have flanking fire, they shot downwards.
< The transportation and handling of the most readily available mustard gas was well understood. Accidents can and do occur and in war there is a greater propensity for this to happen. That apart, I wonder if there was any kind of feasibility study to determine the effectiveness of the use of gas in this particular theater of war.>
Apparently there was a study. but nothing came of using gas.
The raid on Bari during WWII when a secret U.S. ship containing Mustard Gas was hit and sunk was probably all the evidence of it being a stupid idea.
The Germans did not know it was there so it was fortune that it was hit.
Eighty some people died from it.
Japanese had artillery on Okinawa; a Japanese shell or shells spreading it would have been a bigger disaster than Bari which is sometimes called the U.S. of A.'s European Pearl Harbor.
The weather was miserable as it was, imagine having to endure that wearing a mask and protective clothing.
Last edited by RpR; 22nd March 2017 at 15:53.
For centuries there have been taboos against such weapons, but the use of poisonous gas in World War I led to the first international agreement – the 1925 Geneva Protocol – banning asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and bacteriological methods of warfare.8 Apr 2013
When waging total war, international agreements count for little. Japan had already, I think, just prior to WW2 used gas against the Chinese. Latterly, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, had used chemical warfare against the Kurds.
Gas attacks during WW1 were used by the Allies and the Germans. When atmospheric conditions were right - a rare occurrence - zero wind or a maximum of three miles per hour and blowing towards the enemy, gas attacks were successful and helped infantry to overcome entrenched positions.
The description given in the quoted TV documentary specifies that the underground network was just that . An interconnected construction of tunnels, passageways and galleries incorporating firebreaks ideally suited to the spread of toxic gases. Dispersal would have been easy and continuous and ultimately lethal even considering the problems of some leakage that perhaps hadn't been closed by the application of explosive charges.
It isn't that square wheels don't work; they work, but they are clumsy in the way that some applications of force are, in wartime, equally clumsy but do work. The point of pumping gas into caves 'that have already been cleared' is that you can do so untroubled by enemy fire.
I'm aware that American lives were important to the American Command in a way that did not seem to be the case with the Germans and the Japanese. If casualties became excessive then questions would be asked back home. I would have thought that with some effort, any measure that represented a possible saving of the attackers lives would have been welcomed.
The Battle of Okinawa was a cruel and savage business. Any measure that offered even some practical help could have made a difference to the numbers (12,000) of those who died.
You asked why they didn't use it, I've told you.
And I replied that in total war, international agreements count for nothing. I followed that by quoting at least two instances where, despite the 1925 Geneva Protocol, toxic gas had been used in warfare. these were just two occasions; there might have been others.
Altho' put in place with the best intentions, international agreements are very often worthless. Munich ?
A few years ago I had a good look round the large German bunkers on Guernsey and one of the things that struck me about the bunkers was that they were all designed to be defended, and to continue operating, after they had become completely surrounded, cut-off from friendly forces, and all the defenders had withdrawn into the bunker itself.
Each bunker had an embrasure with a machine-gun covering the rear entrance and all the rear entrances doors were steel 'hatches' with multiple clamps (rather like the weather-proof hatches on ships). The hatches were all fitted with rubber seals. Each entrance also has a second internal hatch and the two formed an effective 'gas-lock' (air-lock). All the bunkers were also fitted with an air-pump, either hand or motor operated, and all the air-pumps were fitted with filters.
It was apparent that the Germans, at least, took the threat of gas very seriously.
I doubt the Japanese on Okinawa had that level of sophistication when it came to defending themselves against a possible gas-attack but I'm fairly sure they would have prepared for such an attack (especially given their own experiments with gas in China).
In the First World War the many underground bunkers were particularly vulnerable to gas-attack because the gasses in use were heavier than air but the defenders overcame this weakness by installing 'gas-proof' coverings at all the entrances; I understand these consisted of waterproof canvas screens nailed round the entrances in such a way that they formed a barrier to gas but that personnel could still pass through.
Now suppose the Japanese, suspecting a gas-attack was possible, had installed such screens in their tunnels; how would a gas-attack overcome those?
These screens could be placed every hundred yards or so, at a dog-leg in the tunnel, and out of direct sight of any attacker. They'd be far less vulnerable to explosive pressure-waves than steel or wooden gas-proof doors and yet very cheaply installed.
How would any gas-attack deal with these? How would fans push gas past them? Would it be necessary for US Forces to venture into the (gas-filled) tunnels to clear them when they realised their gas wasn't moving through the tunnels?
Last edited by Creaking Door; 22nd March 2017 at 14:46.
Perhaps the U.S military preparing the invasion of Okinawa had posed the same or more or less the same questions as you pose and decided in the face of the difficulties that using gas wasn't an option. I've certainly read that the U.S had considered the possibility of using gas but it appeared that it went no further than that.
I agree, I do not think that the Japanese would have deployed the same level of sophistication as the Germans in the construction of their underground defences. As for 'firebreake', I was referring to the construction of either walls at right angles to the main passage ways and galleries or adoption of the zig zag or herringbone pattern of construction to offer an impedance to small arms fire or artillery blast.
The central point for me is the knowledge that the US military anxious to avoid heavy casualties would have considered every possible method to mitigate. Perhaps gas was considered in depth and rejected because of certain practicalities some of which you touch on. The gas project was perhaps not minuted hence no records because of sensitivities related to the subject.
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