US Army Chemical Corps History

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps traces its history back to World War I. The German use of chemical weapons led General John J. Pershing to urge the creation of a specialized gas unit so that the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) would have the same capability as both allies and enemies. The War Department created the Gas Service, but quickly changed the name to what it really did – the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) on June 2, 1918. The CWS trained and equipped the AEF for chemical combat. Also created as the chemical offensive arm of the AEF, the First Gas Regiment was formed and trained to provide the chemical offensive punch, and did so in the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel campaigns.

During the early 1920s the Army came very close to eliminating the CWS, but realized that having a chemical capability was useful, and made the CWS a permanent branch of the Army. During the inter-war years, although on a very lean budget, the CWS continued to experiment in offensive and defensive chemical operations.

When the war clouds gathered over Europe, Congress funded the rapid expansion of the CWS. Just before the war, Colonel Lewis McBride developed a high explosive round for the 4.2 mortar giving Chemical Mortar Battalions the ability to closely support the infantry. Chemical Smoke Generator Battalions provided smoke to protect cities and harbors from air attack, and to cover river crossings and other type of offensive operations.

Flame weapons were provided by the CWS for combat in the Pacific, and they were instrumental in destroying Japanese fortifications. Although not used in WWII, the CWS was given the lead for the development of biological weapons, and as a result, then-Camp Detrick was created exclusively for biological warfare experimentation.

In 1946, the CWS was re-designated the Chemical Corps and became a branch of the U.S. Army, and true to its mission from the start, the corps continued improving chemical and biological offensive and defensive capabilities as well as smoke and flame systems.

During the Korean War, CWS units provided smoke to hide operations from the enemy as well as flame and incendiary weapons. The Vietnam Era saw the corps develop “people sniffers” to find the enemy, better thickened fuel flame devices to clear large areas of mines and booby traps, and to prepare helicopter landing fields. The Corps deployed herbicides to deny cover to the enemy. The famous “tunnel rats” went down into the tunnels of Cu Chi to find the enemy.

With the post-Vietnam demobilization, there was a move within the Army to again abolish the Chemical Corps. The corps was partially demobilized and much of its function shifted from Fort McClellan,Alabama to Aberdeen, Maryland. But, the realization of the scope of Russian chemical and biological research and development resurrected the corps and set it on its unchanging mission of protecting the force.

This was put to the test during the Gulf War where the U.S. Army faced a foe that had a demonstrated history of using chemical weapons. Through hard work and diligence, the corps ensured that the troops deployed to the Gulf were trained and ready for any chemical attack 

Having prepared for OPERATION DESERT STORM, the Chemical Corps built on that experience to develop and field improved smoke and better individual protection systems. The corps also developed a capability to detect biological attacks with the fielding of the Biological Integrated Detection System or BIDS.

As a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Fort McClellan was closed, and the corps moved its entire assets and personnel to new facilities at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The corps is now part of the Maneuver Support Center along with the Engineer and Military Police Corps. Since 1918, the Chemical Corps mission has not changed, nor will it change into the foreseeable future. The threat remains high. PROTECT THE FORCE!

The Army Regimental System

The regimental system exists to drive a feeling deep into the gut — a sense of the past, of those soldiers who served before. And it’s supposed to reinforce a sense of the present, making service a soldier’s turn on watch to preserve a legacy for those who follow.

It’s a big system that manifests itself in little ways, like looking at the symbolism of the regimental crest and realizing that soldiers just like those of today made those symbols important. It is more than just wearing that unit crest over your right pocket. That hunk of metal was bought and paid for long ago. The regimental system may affect home basing and assignments. But it will give soldiers something that will help them when times get hard, something that will endure for the rest of their lives — PRIDE.

The Chemical Corps Regiment

When today’s Chemical Soldiers become affiliated with the Chemical Corps Regiment, they take on the spirit of the Dragon Soldiers who fought on the fields of France more than seventy-five years ago. The establishment of the Chemical Corps Regiment on June 28, 1986 gave each of our soldiers the opportunity to realize how important it is to keep the spirit of the regiment alive.

Key to the Regiment are soldiers: brothers and sisters in arms who today serve from the cold of Alaska to the jungles of Panama; from Korea to Germany; each of them sharing pride in their country and a dedication to the defense of freedom that the Chemical Corps has fought for since its birth. They include all who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Southwest Asia. The Chemical Regiment should, every day, remind each one of us that our country and Corps exist because soldiers gave their last full measure of devotion to the country and the Corps.

World War II Chemical Units