Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century
Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century

Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century

Stephanie Schoppert - April 28, 2017

Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century
The Unit 731 Complex.

Second Sino-Japanese War

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japanese forced used biological and chemical warfare against several parts of China. The Japanese were known to be willing to do just about anything to defeat the Chinese and they even created their own biological/chemical warfare laboratory. Unit 731 covered six square kilometers of Pingfang, a district of Harbin in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo which is now Northeast China.

Unit 731 operated from 1935 until 1945 and it is estimated that up to 250,000 men, women and children were subjected to experimentation by the laboratory. The laboratory tested out both chemical and biological agents against Chinese, Russian, South East Asians, Pacific Islanders and a small number of Allied war prisoners. The vast majority of the victims were Chinese. Some of the prisoners would be given diseases and then dissected alive in order to determine how the disease affected the body.

The Japanese used the information to experiment with germ warfare. They would place plague ridden fleas and infected clothing and supplies in bombs and drop them on different targets. Cholera, anthrax and the bubonic plague were found to have killed as many as 400,000 civilians. Bubonic plaque fleas were also spread by airplanes over coastal Chinese cities. In addition to the fleas there was aerial spraying of the plague over cities which resulted in the deaths of thousands. The Japanese had planned a similar attack on San Diego, California in September 1945, but ended up surrendering five weeks earlier.

The Japanese were not opposed to the use of chemical attacks either. They were used up to 2,000 times in 77 different counties during the war. The chemical weapons attacks claimed the lives of tens of thousands. When the war ended, Japan abandoned much of their chemical weapons in China by burying them or dumping them in rivers. Many civilians were killed by the leaking containers and to this day not all of the canisters have been found or properly disposed of.

Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century
A woman visits the graves of her realtives who died during teh attack.

Halabja Chemical Attack

On March 16, 1988, the Iran-Iraq war was coming to a close. The Kurdish rebellion was largely extinguished by the mid-1980s, but the Ba’athist regime under Saddam Hussein wanted to remove all Kurdish resistance in the north. There was an order to strike down the Peshmerga rebels and Kurdish resistance by any means possible, including attacks on large civilian populations.

The Kurdish city of Halabja fell to the Iranians as part of Operation Zafar 7. 48 hours after the Iranians took the city the Iraqi forces retaliated as part of their Al-Anfal Campaign. For five hours, Iraqi MiG and Mirage aircraft dropped chemical bombs on the residential areas of Halabja. The bombs were dropped far away from the besieged Iraqi army base on the outskirts of the town. The attack remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian populated area in history.

Eyewitnesses reported a range of smells and colors of the gas. Some reported rotten eggs and others said they smelled apples. Rebel commanders in the area reported clouds of white, black and yellow smoke rising up from the city. Those who survived the attack reported that some people died instantly, others died laughing and some burned, blistered and coughed up green vomit. The ensuing panic caused many others to die as people tried to flee by car.

Between 3,200 to 5,000 people were killed in the attack. 7,000 to 10,000 were injured. Once the chemicals were dispersed, Iraqi forces were able to retake the city. Once Halabja was back in Iraqi possession, the entire town was systematically razed with bulldozers and explosives. Today people in the region suffer from increased rates of birth defects and cancer. Some doctors have become concerned that the chemicals used may have had lasting genetic effects on the population due to the increased rates of birth defects.