Who's Who - Karl von Tappen

Dr Karl von Tappen (1879-1941) is often credited as the scientist who effectively started Germany's chemical weapons programme during World War One.

Tappen, a member of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin, made a suggestion in October 1914 - two months after the First World War had begun - that was to in some ways transform the manner in which the war was fought over the following four years.

Tappen had a brother who served on the German Army staff at HQ.  To him Tappen suggested that the incorporation of xylyl bromide into shells - tear gas - might have a useful military purpose.  Also intrigued by the idea was Fritz Haber, the Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and Tappen's colleague.

As a consequence of his idea both Tappen and Haber developed a keen interest in developing an active national chemical weapons programme.  Haber went on to become his country's most prominent exponent of the weapon (to the dismay of his wife who ultimately committed suicide), whereas Tappen's interest proved transitory.

The reason for Tappen's lack of ongoing interest was the failure of his own personal involvement in the chemical weapons programme.  He was given responsibility for overseeing the design and implementation of shells containing xylyl bromide.

The new weapon was first used again the Russians at Bolimov on 31 January with a conspicuous lack of success.  Owing to the freezing conditions the substance failed to vaporise as required.  It also proved highly corrosive and thus difficult to manage.

The experiment was repeated in March, this time against the British at Nieuport, but once again failed.  At this stage Tappen lost interest in the endeavour.  Haber pressed on however.

The following month, during the Second Battle of Ypres, chemical warfare made its mark on the Western Front, although on this occasion the gas was released from cylinders rather than inserted into shells: a temporary development.  The future of chemical warfare lay within shells rather than in cylinders, which were dangerously subject to the vagaries of the prevailing wind conditions.

"Lance corporal bacon" was the name used by Anzac soldiers to describe very fatty bacon with a sliver of lean meat running through it.

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