Gas-Detection Brassard

A reproduction of a WW II gas-detection brassard.
from the Webmaster's collection

   For the Normandy invasion, American troops were provided with a variety of chemical warfare equipment, as it was still unknown whether Hitler would employ poison gas on the battlefield in an effort to prevent the breaching of the Atlantic Wall. One measure taken was that all Allied invasion clothing was saturated with CC-2, an oily, smelly gas repellent that made GI uniforms stiff and uncomfortable (scenes of GIs boiling their uniforms in iron pots to soften them and get rid of the smell were captured on film taken after D-Day). Another was the issue of special assault gas masks in water-resistant black rubberized bags to be used by the troops that were part of the initial landings. Yet another was the gas-detection brassard, which was an armband much like a military policeman's armband that was made of chemically impregnated light brown paper (resembling waxed paper) designed to be worn on the shoulder. After sliding the armband up the sleeve, a small loop was threaded through the epaulette on the wearer's jacket to secure it in place. These brassards would turn red from a chemical reaction if they were exposed to mustard gas, thus warning the soldier of its presence (though rather late to do much about it!). The brassard was fragile and easily torn in combat. It was intended to be worn on the left shoulder so as not to be shredded during the firing of a weapon (most soldiers were right-handed). Soldiers were issued two brassards: one to be worn into combat, and a spare that was stored along with the soldier's gas mask in a gas mask bag, which was almost universally discarded as soon as possible. Both the brassards and gas masks would prove unnecessary, since the Germans, themselves afraid of retaliatory gas attacks on their own troops and/or people, did not deploy such weapons during the invasion or afterward.

Top, actual WW II gas-detection brassard, front and back; bottom, in a scene from Saving Private Ryan,
both the Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks, left) and Sgt. Horvath (Tom Sizemore, right) characters
wear a gas-detection brassard on their right shoulder.