German order for mouth protectors
16 April 1915
On Friday 16th April an information bulletin was received by French General Headquarters from the Belgian Army's Deputy Chief of Staff at 6.30pm. According to the bulletin, a Belgian agent had sent word that the Germans had placed an urgent order at a factory in Ghent for the provision of 20,000 mouth-protectors made of tulle, which soldiers could carry in waterproof packets measuring 10 x 17.5 centimetres.
“The mouth protectors, soaked with a suitable liquid, will serve to protect the men against the heavy asphyxiating gas which the Germans intend to discharge towards the enemy lines, notably on the front of the XXVI. Reserve Corps.
The men of that corps have recently received, at Roulers, special instruction to learn the handling of gas cylinders; these last will be placed on the ground, to the extent of one battery of 20 cylinders every 40 metres (prisoner's statement).” (1)
This information was subsequently published in the French Army's “Bulletin de Renseignements de la Détachement d'Armée de Belgique”. Copies were sent to the British General Headquarters and translations were circulated to the General Staff. (2)
This surely would add significant weight to the notion that there really was a threat of an attack from German gas. However, the Allied headquarters did not pay much attention to the warnings. No visible confirmation had been established about large numbers of German reinforcements being brought up, neither had the supposed attack on the night of 15th/16th April actually taken place.
Indeed, the experience of poisonous gas was as yet unknown and it was assumed that if gas was going to be used by the Germans that it might possibly cause minor irritation and would be localised on small pockets of ground.
(1) Les Armées Françaises dans la Grande Guerre, Annexe no. 1392