Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World's Deadliest Weapons

Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World's Deadliest Weapons

by Theo Emery


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This explosive look into the dawn of chemical warfare during World War I is "a terrifying piece of history that almost no one knows" (Hampton Sides).

In 1915, when German forces executed the first successful gas attack of World War I, the world watched in horror as the boundaries of warfare were forever changed. Cries of barbarianism rang throughout Europe, yet Allied nations immediately jumped into the fray, kickstarting an arms race that would redefine a war already steeped in unimaginable horror.

Largely forgotten in the confines of history, the development of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in 1917 left an indelible imprint on World War I. This small yet powerful division, along with the burgeoning Bureau of Mines, assembled research and military unites devoted solely to chemical weaponry, outfitting regiments with hastily made gas-resistant uniforms and recruiting scientists and engineers from around the world into the fight.

As the threat of new gases and more destructive chemicals grew stronger, the chemists' secret work in the laboratories transformed into an explosive fusion of steel, science, and gas on the battlefield. Drawing from years of research, Theo Emery brilliantly shows how World War I quickly spiraled into a chemists' war, one led by the companies of young American engineers-turned-soldiers who would soon become known as the "Hellfire Boys." As gas attacks began to mark the heaviest and most devastating battles, these brave and brilliant men were on the front lines, racing against the clock — and the Germans — to protect, develop, and unleash the latest weapons of mass destruction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316264082
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 565,022
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.75(d)

About the Author

Theo Emery is a journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Tennessean, and other publications. He has appeared on NPR and WBUR in Boston. He graduated from Stanford University in 1994, and earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College in 2014. He was a 2015 Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

Table of Contents

Characters ix

Introduction: January 5, 1993 xv

Prologue 3

Part I Catalyst

Chapter 1 Holy Week 11

Chapter 2 An American University 37

Chapter 3 Diabolical Instruments 57

Chapter 4 Technical Men 71

Chapter 5 Amos and Goliath 88

Chapter 6 "Fiendish Work" 108

Part II Flash Point

Chapter 7 "A Hotter Fire" 141

Chapter 8 Over There 176

Chapter 9 "A Constant Menace" 197

Chapter 10 "Science and Horror" 224

Chapter 11 "He Who Gasses Last, Gasses Best" 249

Part III Retort

Chapter 12 First Gas and Flame 277

Chapter 13 The Meuse and the Mousetrap 303

Chapter 14 "All to the Mustard" 331

Chapter 15 "War to the Knife" 355

Chapter 16 "Fight the Devil" 385

Epilogue: "The Devil's Perfume" 415

Acknowledgments 435

Notes on Sources 443

Notes 447

Selected Bibliography 509

Index 521

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