by Sophie Dewees
The years leading up to World War II saw an increase in the use of biological and chemical warfare in Japan, spearheaded by Major-General Ishii Shiro. BW most commonly took the form of anthrax, glanders, and plague, while chemical warfare included tear, smoke, and other poison gases. The proliferation of these two tactics in Japan, outlawed by the 1929 Geneva Convention, was enabled by the mechanized nature of the project. Shiro had great factories built in Manchuria and other areas of China. These “factories of death” included the infamous Unit 731 and were developed for research and human experimentation revolving around chemical and biological warfare.
Facilitated by well-organized Chemical Warfare Units, Japanese troops employed a diverse profile of chemical warfare on Chinese forces before the outset of the war. Beginning in 1937 with attacks on Shanghai and Woosung, the use of poison gas totaled to over 1,100 from March 1938 to January 1943.
“Red candles” were widely-issued and employed by Japanese combat troops, containing diphenylcyanoarsine, which rendered them vomit-inducing. In October 1941 in Ichang, Japanese soldiers used gas shells for four hours and dropped more than three hundred gas bombs. The Japanese also deployed the toxic candles in an attack on Chinese troops at Tungyao, Honan Province, Central China, on April 29, 1943. Beyond vomiting, other chemical warfare bombs were reported to cause severe blistering and burns.
In 1943, Japanese prisoners of war said that as soldiers, they were supplied with poisoned gas, and in Central China, Japanese “frequently” armies used tear gas as a tactic against Chinese troops. Soldiers were also stocked with anti-gas clothing. In the 39th division, each platoon had four cylinders of tear gas and four of sneezing gas. In addition, the armies were equipped with cylinders containing suffocating and blister gas. The use of gas was left to the discretion of each Japanese Company Commander.
In 1944 in Hengyang, Japanese troops used “a great number of gas shells,” including mustard and lewisite gas, as investigated by a United States Army Chemical Warfare officer. The gas victims were left with burns and blisters on exposed skin.
Here are some documents about chemical warfare during the time.