The First World War happened in late July 1914 and it went until November 1918. It succeeded in pitting the armies and industrial might belonged to Central Powers especially Germany against that of Allied Powers, France, and Britain. The First World War or the Chemist’s war was the first industrial world war.
First World War
The conflict even though it began small later grew to an unimaginable scale. Over 10 million armies became belligerent nations, plus 6 million civilians died in the First World War. More than anything, the effect of the war along with prolonged shelling of opponents of Western front further destroyed towns, railways, factories, roads, villages, and farms. Hence, this war is also known as the war of destruction.
Chemists And First World War
However, the first World War resulted in devastation and industrial-scale slaughter and this would have not happened without the help of vast varieties of chemicals that were resulted from industrial-scale productions. This is one thing for which chemists sober even today.
For example, let’s consider the fourth year of the First World War. At this point, two armies engaged and spent most of their time in firing lethal chemical-filled shells with each other. This compound also included TNT or trinitrotoluene along with many other high explosives.
Some of the high explosives that were used are chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas along with phosphorus and similar incendiary materials. For propelling these chemicals into the air, they needed more chemicals. However, these are propellants. In the war, the British mainly used cordite. It was a mixture of collodion or guncotton and nitroglycerine in the form of petroleum jelly.
The propellants were ignited using a flash. This flash was generated by the explosions. For explosions, they used primary explosives like Hg(CNO)2 or Mercury(II) fulminate.
One surprising fact is, these chemicals that were used in the war were not evolved because of the war. They existed even before the war started. Their evolution was the result of enthusiasm. Civilians developed and discovered some chemicals that can be considered as highly enthusiastic about chemicals. However, they discovered these chemicals just out of curiosity. They were really innocent and had no idea about the usage of these chemicals for potential military applications.
At the beginning of the war, there were some chemists who were working with industries, government, and academic institutions. The belligerent countries mobilized all the discovered chemicals. So, they were the chemists who are responsible for bringing these chemicals into military purposes.
First World War: Final Thoughts
At the beginning of the war, chemists started examining the chemicals and they chose the ones that were suitable for war and military use. Later, the improvements have made for these chemicals production. Chemists even suggested alternative chemicals along with alternative processes when there were shortages in their countries.
So, chemists even came up with analytical techniques that are useful for establishing the purity or composition of the chemicals, they can use for war. However, they even started studying unfamiliar chemicals used by opponents or enemies.