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A Japanese friend of mine claimed that Allied forces used poisonous gas during the Battle of Okinawa. I asked for a link to such a claim, and got a link to this section of the Japanese language Wikipedia article on the Battle of Okinawa.

The paragraph that mentions chemical weapons is

長周新聞によると、「沖縄本島に上陸した米軍は宜野湾市の嘉数で激しく抵抗された。ここは丘陵が重なり天然の防塁だったため毒ガスを使用。壕に潜む非戦闘員まで殺害した。嘉数では住民の半数以上を殺し、浦添村の前田、南部の島尻などは人口の3分の2を殺した。前田丘陵四日間の戦斗は「ありったけの地獄を1つにまとめた」と米陸軍省が表現するほどすさまじいものだった。国吉では470人前後の住民のうち210人以上が戦死。ここは米軍司令官バックナーが戦死した報復として猛攻撃を加えた。国吉で捕虜になった住民のうち男子は全員銃殺された。南部の東風平村の小城(こぐすく)は戦前の人口が約750人だが戦死者は440人以上で全住民の約6割にのぼった。」[76]

The paragraph in question mentions Kakazu (嘉数) and that poison gas 毒ガス (Japanese language Wiktionary entry, jisho.org translation - neither entry mentions flamethrowers) was used.

Did Allied forces use chemical weapons in Okinawa during World War II?

I'm skeptical because I hadn't heard about Allied forces (especially non Soviet Union Allied forces) using chemical warfare in World War II, and because denial of Japanese atrocities, and false claims of Allied atrocities, is fairly mainstream in Japan.

While searching for information on this, I came across pages stating that after the war, the United States stored chemical weapons in Okinawa. I am not asking about this in this question.

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+1, excellent question, but for sure Japanese largely used chemical weapons in China during World War II, though. –  Carlo_R. Jan 16 '13 at 10:09
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1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is unclear and may depend on how you define chemical weapons.

Battle of Okinawa, 1945

The weapons used include

  • flame-throwers
  • chemical smoke mortar rounds
  • white phosphorus grenades

An hour later another infantry assault was attempted, supported by 105-mm. artillery, light tank fire, antitank guns, heavy machine guns, 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars, 4.2-inch chemical mortars, and bazookas; but the attack was again stopped by Japanese who hid underground during the heavy fire and then rushed back to their firing positions to meet the oncoming Americans.

From Okinawa: The Last Battle, Appleman, Burns, Gugeler and Stevens

It is unclear whether the chemical mortar rounds were designed merely to produce smoke to hide troop advances or were intended to harm enemy troops. From the text it seems they were probably intended to produce smoke through which US troops could move without being seen.

The 4.2-inch chemical smoke on the south side of Kakazu West was interspersed with high explosive artillery shells to keep the enemy pinned down. Under cover of the smoke the survivors of Company L pulled back off the hill to the gorge, carrying their wounded with them.

As well as flamethrowers and "chemical smoke", according to this account, the US army used phosphorus grenades

Colonel Maybury directed supporting fire in front of Company C, which quickly moved to the top without losing a man. It then proceeded leisurely and methodically to destroy the remaining Japanese with white phosphorus grenades and flame throwers. Only 20 of the 110 defenders escaped to the south.

It isn't 100% clear but this account can be interpreted as meaning that phosophorus grenades were used in an anti-personnel role.

The account doesn't identify the type of grenade, A more recent type is described as

The M15 White Phosphorous grenade is a bursting type grenade used for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes.

and

The M34 chemical smoke grenade is the most versatile of all hand grenades. The grenade can be used for signaling, screening, or incendiary missions, or for producing casualties ... The filler has 15 ounces of white phosphorous.


Geneva Protocol, 1925

According to several sources 1, 2

The 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in war. The Protocol was drawn up and signed at a conference which was held in Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations from 4 May to 17 June 1925, and it entered into force on 8 February 1928.

...

a sizeable fraction of its parties have reserved to themselves a right to retaliate in kind if chemical and/or biological weapons should ever be used against them by enemies or allies of enemies.

The protocol states

the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world; and

...

this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations;

...

extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration


Chemical Weapon

According to ORGANISATION FOR THE PROHIBITION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

The general and traditional definition of a chemical weapon is a toxic chemical contained in a delivery system, such as a bomb or shell.

The Convention defines chemical weapons much more generally. The term chemical weapon is applied to any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action. Munitions or other delivery devices designed to deliver chemical weapons, whether filled or unfilled, are also considered weapons themselves.

The toxic chemicals that have been used as chemical weapons, or have been developed for use as chemical weapons, can be categorised as choking, blister, blood, or nerve agents.

However this is a modern definition and the Convention referred to is a more recent one.

Chemical Weapons Convention 1992

Although produced 47 years after the date of the events in the question, this convention defines chemical weapons and so has some relevance.

White phosphorus does not appear in schedule one of CWC

1991 US View re phosphorus

A Declassified report mentions

POSSIBLE USE OF PHOSPHOROUS CHEMICAL WEAPONS BY IRAQ IN KURDISH AREAS ALONG THE IRAQI-TURKISH-IRANIAN BORDERS

Some commentators have suggested that this phrase illustrates that WP is regarded as a chemical weapon by US intelligence.

Conclusion

According to the account given above, the US army did use flamethrowers, chemical smoke and white phosphorus grenades. These were probably not considered chemical weapons by the standards of the time. Nor by a strict interpretation of current conventions.


Speculation: A soldier defending his homeland against foreign invaders might take a different view if the invaders are using flamethrowers and white phosphorus grenades against him or her. Perhaps, literally in the fog of war, the unpleasant and potentially harmful smoke from white phosphorus grenades was described by Japanese soldiers as "poison gas".


(my emphasis throughout)

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They also used CS(also known as tear) gas which while not normally deadly is an irritant and would fall into the category of chemical weapons though it is not in the prohibited class. As of 2007 I know the US ARMY used CS gas in basic training. –  Chad Jan 17 '13 at 18:18
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