WW1 was, among other things, the first war where chemical weapons were used on massive scale.


However, I never heard of any mention of biological weapons used in WW1, despite the fact that they were used in warfare for centuries in one form or another.

Is it because there was simply no such use, or because they were used but just weren't effective enough to merit mention/infamy?

  • There was a really bad "Spanish" Flu pandemic that killed perhaps 100 million worldwide right in the middle of WWI. For a while it was killing more soldiers than enemy fire was. I've never heard of one side trying to deliberately spread it on purpose, but it wouldn't shock me if some individuals tried that.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 30 '13 at 2:17
  • what is your definition of "biological weapons"?
    – Louis Rhys
    Mar 31 '13 at 6:33
  • @LouisRhys - i'm fine with Wiki definition: "Biological warfare (BW) — also known as germ warfare — is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed "bio-weapons", "biological threat agents", or "bio-agents") are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of Biological Weapon."
    – DVK
    Mar 31 '13 at 16:25
  • @DVK that's a rather narrow definition. As far back as the Romans (and no doubt earlier) rotting carcasses were catapulted into besieged towns and cities in the hope of poisoning food and water supplies.
    – jwenting
    Apr 2 '13 at 6:28
  • @jwenting - I fail to see how that doesn't fit into Wiki definition.
    – DVK
    Apr 2 '13 at 13:14

To quote my grandfather's memoirs:

The enemy had gained possession of the high ground in the area during the November battle and even such small bumps as Hill 60 were in their hands. Entrenched on the forward slopes, they could observe and frequently enfilade the British lines, and, even more uncomfortably, could drain their positions into our lines. The never-ending task of trench drainage became a major scourge to the R.E. and it is difficult for the inexperienced to imagine the tedium of the sappers’ unromantic and apparently losing struggle against the persistent water which eroded the defence and even gnawed away at the soldier’s morale.

Whether you would consider this biological warfare or not is debatable.

It is unclear from his memoirs what period of the war this referred to but the immediately following paragraph refers to the death of an Sgt. V. Caudle NCO i/c Section 3 who is recorded as dying 12/02/1915.

My grandfather served in the Royal Engineers in WW1 (and WW2 for that matter). At the above date he was serving with the 28th division.

  • would be biological warfare, draining sewage into enemy trenches. But was probably unintentional, intended instead to be just harassment, rather than a deliberate campaign of poisoning.
    – jwenting
    Apr 2 '13 at 6:30
  • They are trying to cause trench foot. I think this is biological warfare. All sides would have known very quickly that standing water in the trenches caused the disease. This is why the engineers are trying to pump the water out.
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 19 '14 at 11:05

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