Authorized for wear with the Army Service Uniform during ceremonies and special functions, the ceremonial belt for officers in the Chemical Corps features both of the branch’s colors, with the first-named color (Cobalt Blue) in the center bounded by the secondary color (Golden Yellow) and gold piping on both edges.
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Although chemical warfare had been employed within the first few months of the outbreak of World War II—German forces fired three thousand 105mm shells filled with a tear gas-like substance called dianisidine chlorosulfonate at British troops at Neuve-Chapelle in October, 2014, but with no discernible effect—it was not until April, 2015 that the world was truly introduced to this new and horrifying type of battlefield technology.

In the opening salvos of the Second Battle of Ypres, the German army unleashed an artillery bombardment against a defensive line manned by French colonial troop while simultaneously releasing chlorine gas from nearly 5,800 hand-operated cylinders. The effect was devastating, with the heavier-than-air chlorine sinking into the trenches to kill and maim troops who had hunkered down; those who fled the trenches were cut down by heavy German fire.

It was the first effective use of chemical warfare Great War, and it was repeated on several more occasions not only over the next few weeks of fighting at Ypres, but also in other battles across several theaters of action, with phosgene and mustard gas joining chlorine as the principal types of poisonous gases deployed by artillery shells. By the time the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, chemical warfare was a known and expected threat.

In spite of this, the United States Army was woefully unprepared in terms of both offensive and defensive warfare capabilities, to the point that soldiers in the American Expeditionary Force were issued gas masks developed by the British and French. The British Small Box Respirator (S.B.R.), developed in 1916, used a nose clip in combination with a breathing mouthpiece to prevent inhalation of toxic fumes; the French M2 mask consisted simply of multiple layers of treated fabric.

American troops were issued both and told to use the S.B.R. for maximum levels of protection for a short period and the M2 for long-term wear, but their lack of training in the properties of poisonous gas meant that many of them switched masks (the S.B.R. was highly uncomfortable) while there were still toxic fumes all around.

Thankfully, the U.S. Army and the Chemical Corps learned many lessons from the World War I battlefields, and by the time that World War II erupted it had developed a lightweight and effective gas mask dubbed the M2. Over eight million of the M2 gask and subsequent variants were produced before the war’s end.

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