On the 22nd April 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres began in Belgium. The battle has become most remembered for seeing the first use of gas in the First World War, but Second Ypres really marked its first effective use. A form of tear gas had previously been used by the Germans fighting the Russians at Bolimov in the east 3 months earlier, but it had proved wholly unsuccessful. The freezing temperatures meant that a lot of the gas failed to vaporize, and that which did got blown back towards the German trenches.
At Ypres, the situation was dramatically different. 5,700 gas canisters were released by hand, all of which contained highly poisonous chlorine gas. The Germans relied on the wind to blow the gas towards their enemy but, despite some German casualties due to the rudimentary system of release, the gas was terribly effective.
Over 5,000 French Algerian, Moroccan and territorial troops died within ten minutes of the gas being released. A further 5,000 were temporarily blinded, with nearly half of them becoming prisoners of war.
The Germans didn’t expect the gas to be as effective as it was, and so didn’t fully exploit their initial advantage. However, by the end of the battle on 25th May, the Germans had certainly scored a tactical victory. They had compressed the size of the Ypres salient and had demonstrated the effectiveness of chemical warfare. The Allies soon developed their own poison gas, making chemical warfare part of the offensive strategy for the rest of the war.
On the 8th June 1972 one of the most iconic photographs of the Vietnam War was taken of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, a nine-year-old girl from the South Vietnamese village of Trang Bang. In the photograph, she is shown running away from a napalm attack, having stripped off her clothes after being severely burned.
The photograph, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, was taken by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese photographer for the Associated Press. He was one of number of press photographers who were with the group of fleeing civilians after the village had been bombed South Vietnamese planes. He took Kim Phúc and other injured children to a hospital in Saigon before delivering the film to be developed, and maintained contact with her throughout her recovery despite being told that her burns were so severe she was unlikely to survive.
The photograph was initially rejected by Associated Press due to the full-frontal nudity. However, the image was deemed to capture such a powerful news story that these concerns were put aside. When the picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times four days later, it had such a dramatic impact that President Nixon discussed with his chief of staff whether the shot had been ‘fixed’.
Kim Phúc stayed in hospital for 14-months, and underwent 17 surgical procedures and skin transplants before she was able to return home. However she did survive and – having sought political asylum in Canada during an aircraft refuelling stop on her honeymoon – she now lives in Ontario.