Chemical Corps (United States Army)

Chemical Corps (United States Army)

The Chemical Corps is the branch of the United States Army that defends against Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons. Founded as the Chemical Warfare Service in WW1, it became the Chemical Corps in 1946.


Early history

The use of chemical weapons in an offensive context by the United States military did not actually begin until World War I but discussion of the topic dates back to the American Civil War. A letter to the War Department dated April 5, 1862 from New York City resident John Doughty proposed the use of chlorine shells to drive the Confederate Army from its positions. Doughty included a detailed drawing of the shell with his letter. It is unknown how the military reacted to Doughty's proposal but the letter was unnoticed in a pile of old official documents until modern times. Another American, Forrest Shepherd of New Haven, also proposed a chemical weapon attack against the Confederates. Shepherd's proposal involved hydrogen chloride, an attack that would have likely been non-lethal but may have succeeded in driving soldiers from their positions. Shepherd was a well-known geologist at the time and his proposal was in the form of a letter directly to the White House.Miles, Wyndham. "The Idea of Chemical Warfare in Modern Times," ( [ JSTOR] ), "Journal of the History of Ideas", Vol. 31, No. 2. (Apr. - Jun., 1970), pp. 297-304. Retrieved 14 October 2007.] The earliest predecessors to the United States Army Chemical Corps owe their existence to the changing of military technology, through the use of poison gas, early in World War I. The United States War Department's first interest in providing individual soldiers with personal protection against chemical warfare came in 1915 and they tasked the Medical Department with developing the technology. Despite this early interest, troops were neither supplied with masks nor trained for offensive gas warfare until the U.S. became involved in World War I in 1917.Brophy, Leo P. "Origins of the Chemical Corp," ( [ JSTOR] ), "Military Affairs", Vol. 20, No. 4. (Winter, 1956), pp. 217-226. Retrieved 14 October 2007.] By 1917 use of chemical weapons by both the Allied and Central Powers had become commonplace along the Western, Eastern and Italian Fronts, occurring daily in some regions.van Courtland Moon, John Ellis. "United States Chemical Warfare Policy in World War II: A Captive of Coalition Policy?" ( [ JSTOR] ), "The Journal of Military History", Vol. 60, No. 3. (Jul., 1996), pp. 495-511. Retrieved 14 October 2007.] In 1917, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, directed the Bureau of Mines to assist the Army and Navy in creating a gas war program. After the Director of the Bureau of Mines formally offered the bureau's service to the Military Committee of the National Research Council, the council appointed a subcommittee on noxious gases.

Chemical Warfare Service

After World War I and before World War II, referred to as the "interwar period", the Chemical Warfare Service maintained its arsenal despite public pressure and presidential wishes in favor of disarmament. General Amos Fries, the CWS chief from 1920–29, viewed chemical disarmament as a Communist plot. Through his leadership, the CWS and its various Congressional, chemist, and chemical company allies were able to halt the U.S. Senate's ratification of the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Post World War II

During World War II, chemical warfare had become a must for either side to gain an advantage. However becuause of the more effective use of shells containing explosives instead of chemicals, the Allies and the Central Powers decided against using the bombs. Chemical agents were usually used in trench warfare, but since World War II was more widespread this time, artillery shells with explosives in them became more common then its chemical sister.

Vietnam War

Beginning in 1962 a program that would become known as Operation Ranch Hand was operated, in part, by the Chemical Corps. Ranch Hand was a defoliation program which utilized herbicides, the chemicals were color coded based on what compound they contained, an example would be Agent Orange.Neilands, J. B. "Vietnam: Progress of the Chemical War," ( [ JSTOR] ), "Asian Survey", Vol. 10, No. 3. (Mar., 1970), pp. 209-229. Retrieved 14 October 2007.] The Chemical Corps continued to support the force through the use of incendiary weapons, such as napalm, and riot control measures, among other missions. As the war progressed into the late 1960s public sentiment against the Chemical Corps increased. The sentiment was the result of the corps continued use of herbicides, criticized as against the Geneva Protocol, napalm, and riot control agents.

The late 1960s saw a continued rise in sentiment against the Chemical Corps. The Dugway sheep incident, in March 1968, was one of several key events which increased the growing public furor against the corps. An open air spraying of VX was blamed for incapacitating over 4,000 sheep near Dugway Proving Ground. The Army eventually settled the case and paid the ranchers. Meanwhile, another incident involving Operation CHASE (Cut Holes and Sink 'Em) was also exposed. Operation CHASE sought to dump chemical weapons convert|250|mi|km off the shore, spurring concerns over the damage to the ocean environment and risk of chemical munitions washing up on shore. The criticism of the Army culminated with the near-disbanding of the Chemical Corps in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Post Vietnam

Beginning during the war, in the late 1960s, chemical warfare capabilities of the United States began to decline, due, in part, to public opinion against the corps stemming from events such as the Dugway sheep incident. The decline of U.S. biological and chemical weapons continued as protests grew over not only the sheep kill but the use of defoliants in Vietnam as well. A 1969 incident, in which 23 soldiers and one Japanese civilian were exposed to sarin on the island of Okinawa, while cleaning sarin-filled bombs, created international concern while revealing the presence of chemical munitions in Southeast Asia.Bowman, Tom. " [ Fort Detrick: From Biowarfare To Biodefense] ", "NPR", August 1, 2008, accessed October 10, 2008.] The same year as the sarin mishap President Richard M. Nixon reaffirmed a no first-use policy on chemical weapons as well as renouncing the use of biological agents.

Nixon nominated General Creighton Abrams for the post of Army Chief of Staff during summer 1972 and upon assuming the post the general and others began to address the reformation of the Army in the wake of Vietnam. As soon as Abrams was sworn in he began to investigate the possibility of merging Chemical Corps into other Army branches. An ad hoc committee, designed to study possibilities recommended that the Chemical Corps' smoke and flame mission be integrated into the Engineer Corps and the chemical operations be integrated into the Ordnance Corps. The groups recommendations were accepted in December 1972 and the United States Army Chemical Corps was officially disbanded by the Army on January 11, 1973.Mauroni, Al. " [ The US Army Chemical Corps: Past, Present, and Future] ", "Army Historical Founation". Retrieved 26 November 2007.]

To formally disestablish the corps, the U.S. Congress had to approve the move, because it had officially established the Chemical Corps in 1946. Congress chose to table action on the fate of the Chemical Corps, leaving it in limbo for several years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states, Abrams died in office in 1974. The results of the war demonstrated the desire of the Soviet Union to continue its pursuit of offensive chemical and biological capabilities.

Secretary of the Army Martin R. Hoffmann rescinded the 1972 recommendations and in 1976 Army Chief of Staff General Bernard W. Rogers ordered the resumption of Chemical Corps officer commissioning. However, the U.S. Army Chemical School at Fort McClellan, Alabama did not reopen until 1980. By the mid–1970s the chemical warfare and defense capability of the United States had degraded and by 1978 the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff characterized U.S. ability to conduct operations in a chemical environment as "not prepared."Hoeber, Amoretta M. and Douglass, Jr. Joseph D. "The Neglected Threat of Chemical Warfare", ( [ JSTOR] ), "International Security", Vol. 3, No. 1. (Summer, 1978), pp. 55-82. Retrieved 14 October 2007.]

Persian Gulf War

Beyond 1990

Organization and mission

The U.S. Army United States Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) School is the home of the Army's Chemical Corps, located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The school is currently commanded by Brigadier General Leslie Smith, with CSM Ted Lopez as the Regimental Command Sergeant Major. There are approximately 22,000 members of the Chemical Corps in the U.S. Army, spread among the Active, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard.

The school trains officers and enlisted personnel in CBRN warfare and defense; its stated mission is "To protect the force and allow the Army to fight and win against an CBRN threat. Develop doctrine, equipment and training for CBRN defense which serve as a deterrent to any adversary possessing weapons of mass destruction. Provide the Army with the combat multipliers of smoke, obscurant, and flame capabilities."


The Chemical Corps, like all branches of the U.S. Army, uses specific insignia to indicate a soldier's affiliation with the corps. The Chemical Corps branch insignia consists of a cobalt blue, enamel benzene ring superimposed over two crossed gold retorts. The branch insignia, which was adopted in 1918 by the fledgling Chemical Service, measures .5 inches in height by 1.81 inches in width. Crossed shells with a dragon head was also commonly used in France for the Chemical service. The Chemical Warfare Service approved the insignia in 1921 and in 1924 the ring adopted the cobalt blue enamel. When the Chemical Warfare Service changed designations to the Chemical Corps in 1946 the symbol was retained." [ Chemical Corps] ," "Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army", The Institute of Heraldry. Retrieved 14 October 2007.] The Chemical Corps regimental insignia was approved on May 2, 1986. The insignia consists of a 1.2 inch shield of gold and blue emblazoned with a dragon and a tree. The shield is enclosed on three sides by a blue ribbon with "Elementis Regamus Proelium" written around it in gold lettering. The phrase translates to: "Let us (or we) rule the battle by means of the elements". The regimental insignia incorporates specific symbolism in its design. The colors, gold and blue, are the colors of the Chemical Corps, while the tree's trunk is battle scarred, a reference to the historical beginnings of U.S. chemical warfare, battered tree trunks were often the only reference points that chemical mortar teams had across no man's land during World War I." [ Regimental Crest] ," "U.S. Army Chemical School", United States Army — Fort Leonard Wood. Retrieved 14 October 2007.] The tree design was taken from the coat of arms of the First Chemical Regiment. The dragon symbolizes the fire and destruction of chemical warfare. Individual Chemical Corps soldiers are often referred to as "Dragon Soldiers".

Awards and notable soldiers

The Chemical Corps Regimental Association operates the Chemical Corps Hall of Fame. The list includes soldiers from many different eras of the Chemical Corps history, including original CWS commander Amos Fries." [ Hall of Fame] ," "Chemical Corps Regimental Association", official site. Retrieved 27 November 2007.] The organization conducts annual inductions, and the honor is considered the highest offered by the corps.Whitacre, Kimberly S. and Jones, Ricardo. " [ 2006 U.S. Army Chemical Corps Hall of Fame Inductees] ," (PDF), "Army Chemical Review", July—December 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2007.]

ee also

* Chemical Warfare
* Combat support


Further reading

*Mauroni, Albert J. "Chemical-Biological Defense: U.S. Military Policies and Decisions in the Gulf War", ( [ Google Books] ), Praeger, Westport, Connecticut: 1998, (ISBN 0275962431).

External links

* [ United States Army Chemical Corps Museum Library] , includes several historical Army manuals.
* [ United States Army Chemical School] , official site, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri

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