gas mask horse

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Horse, Dog and Soldiers With Gas Masks

Though many filtering masks existed for both mining operations and chemical exposure before the First World War, they were not widely known, and many of their designs could not have stood up to the chemical attacks that were perpetrated on a scale never before seen by humanity.

The first mass use of poison gas (chlorine, specifically) at the Second Battle of Ypres was a massive failure - though many Canadian soldiers were exposed, the prevailing winds shifted, and the German troops that deployed the gas were overcome. Still, this battle showed the Allies that the Germans were serious about using chemical agents, and both sides began to develop gas masks not only for themselves, but for their combat animals.

Dogs and horses both had specially-fitted gas masks, and while the canines learned quickly to work with theirs, horses had the significant problem of mistaking their breathing-boxes for feed bags, since the shape and feel was so similar. This was overcome by training and lengthening the gas masks, so that the filter boxes did not touch their lips.

National Museum of Health on Flickr. USA Army Signal Corps, ca. 1915-1918.

Two German soldiers and their mule wearing gas masks in WWI, 1916.  Horses, mules, dogs and pigeons were vulnerable to poison gases so that special protection was necessary for them.Of the million British horses sent overseas to help with the war effort, only 62,000 returned home. This is the forgotten tragedy of the Great War.