Fort Leonard Wood

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps History

US Army Chemical Corps

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps History

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps traces its history to the European battlefields of World War I. The European use of chemical weapons to break the deadlock of trench warfare led General Pershing to the creation of a Gas Service. It trained and equipped the American Expeditionary Force for defense against gas attacks. The First Gas Regiment was formed and deployed to make our defense more robust and to deliver retaliatory strikes. On June 28, 1918, the War Department established the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) to manage chemical offensive and defensive programs. Recognizing that chemical warfare was a likely threat in any future conflict, Congress made the CWS a permanent branch of the Army in 1920.

During the interwar years, the CWS conducted research and development to ensure that the Army had a credible chemical offensive capability as well as an effective defensive posture. The success of these programs helped prevent the use of chemical weapons by our adversaries in World War II. In that conflict, the CWS deployed chemical munitions stocks and delivery means in all theaters. The CWS expanded its battlefield capabilities with implementation of the 4.2-inch chemical mortar and an arsenal of smoke generators, which delivered smoke and high explosive munitions in support of the combat arms missions. The CWS also developed and deployed a family of flame and incendiary weapons systems that still exist today. In 1942 the CWS undertook the responsibility for managing developments in biological as well as chemical warfare. After World War II, the CWS, redesignated the Chemical Corps in 1946, continued its work on improving chemical and biological offensive and defensive capabilities as well as its smoke and flame programs. During the Korean War, the Corps mechanized the production of napalm, developed the M30 mortar and continued to provide smoke screening operations.

The Vietnam Era saw the Corps develop and use aerial "people sniffers" to find the enemy, thickened fuel flame devices to clear large areas, herbicides to deny cover to enemy forces, and tunnel clearing teams equipped with tear agents. With the post-Vietnam demobilization, the Chemical Corps found itself in danger of abolishment; however, in light of the ever-increasing global chemical threat the move never came to fruition.

Over the past thirty years the United States pledged to destroy its stocks of Chemical and Biological weapons and renounced their use for retaliatory strikes. Despite the change in our offensive policies, it was necessary to maintain a substantial defensive posture for weapons of mass destruction. In an effort to bridge this gap the Chemical Corps began a revitalization during the early 1980’s which included creation of an extensive chemical infrastructure throughout the Army, activation of numerous chemical troop units, and the quest for development of new and innovative equipment all in the name of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense.

With the terrorist attacks on America on September 11th, 2001, the original Chemical Corp’s mission of “Protect the Force” expanded to include a new role in Homeland Security. The Corp’s mission is supported by modern facilities for chemical training at Fort Leonard Wood; research, development, and engineering at Aberdeen Proving Ground; materiel testing at Dugway Proving Ground; and equipment production at Pine Bluff Arsenal. As Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom vividly portray, the Chemical Corps continues to stand as a staunch deterrent to the use of weapons of mass destruction by those who would choose them to further their aggressive goals. Today, the Chemical’s Corps role to provide CBRN defense through contamination avoidance, CBRN protection and decontamination has evolved into supporting the Joint Forces with combating Weapons of Mass Destruction capabilities in the areas of Non Proliferation, Counter-proliferation and Consequence Management.

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