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AEF Gasmasks & Respirators 1917 to 1919

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British PH Helmet

Used as a reserve gasmask by AEF personnel

posted to the British sector from the summer of 1917 to 1918

In 1915, British gas officers realized that the Phenate or ‘P” Helmet was no longer able to offer the proper degree of protection to its wearer when the German Army began to deploy more lethal chemical agents in the form of phosgene and hydrogen cyanide gases. In early 1916, another hooded helmet type of respirator similar to the P Helmet, comprised of flannel that was soaked in a phenate-hexamine solution began to be issued. Although it was officially called the Phenate-Hexamine Helmet, it was generally referred to as the PH Helmet by the British Tommy. The PH Helmet was the principle gasmask used by the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) until it was replaced by the Small Box Regulator (SBR) in the spring of 1917. After which the PH was relegated as a reserve gasmask and the Tommy’s second line of defense should his SBR fail. It was officially withdrawn in February of 1918, but many soldiers continued to carry the “Gas Bag” as an emergency backup in what the British Army called the “Precautionary Zone” or the 5 to 12 miles immediately behind the front lines. The PH Helmet suffered from the following disadvantages:


  • The mask was claustrophobic to some users.
  • Maintaining good visibility was difficult.
  • Its effectiveness deteriorated when exposed to air.
  • It had an unpleasant smell.
  • When wet the chemical soaked flannel could burn the skin.
  • It provided little or no protection against the more powerful chemical agents used by the German Army in late 1917 and 1918.


Photo No. 25: British gunners operate their Vickers machine gun while enshrouded in the PH Helmet.


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Photo No. 26: Left, gas laden air was neutralized as it was drawn through the chemical soaked layers of flannel cloth of the PH Helmet when the wearer inhaled. In order for the mask to be effective, it was necessary that it be tucked under the neck of the service coat. Right, the PH Helmet covered the entire head and featured two glass eyepieces and a rubber mouthpiece connected to a tube through which air was expelled via a rubber flutter valve. Because of the tube through which the user breathed, both the ‘P’ and PH Helmets were sometimes referred to a “Tube Helmet”. In the painting the unconscious British Tommy is wearing the reserve PH Helmet instead of the SRB respirator.


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Photo No. 28: In 1917 any AEF unit operating with British and Commonwealth troops in or near the British sectors of the Western Front were issued a 1917 SBR as the primary gasmask and a British PH Helmet as a reserve mask. Here members of the 11th Engineer Regiment display their recently issued “Gas Helmets”. An American, who served in the British Army in 1916, recalled what it was like to wear a British PH Helmet:


A gas or smoke helmet, as it is called, at the best is a vile-smelling thing and it is not long before one gets a violent headache from wearing it … A gas helmet is made of cloth treated with chemicals. There are two windows, or glass eyes in it, through which you can see. Inside there is a rubber-covered tube which goes in the mouth. You breathe through your nose; the gas, passing through the cloth helmet, is neutralized by the action of the chemicals. The foul air is exhaled through the tube in the mouth, this tube being so constructed that it prevents the inhaling of the outside air or gas. One helmet is good for five hours of the strongest gas. Each Tommy carries two of them slung around his shoulder in a waterproof canvas bag. He must wear this bag at all times, even while sleeping. To change a defective helmet, you take out the new one, hold your breath, pull the old one off, placing the new one over your head, tucking in the loose ends under the collar of your tunic … A company man on our right was too slow in getting his helmet on; he sank to the ground, clutching at his throat, and after a few spasmodic twistings, went West (died). It was horrible to see him die, but we were powerless to help him.


Over the Top, by an American Soldier that Went, Arthur Guy Empey, 1918, page 188, 189

Photo courtesy of the Rusty Canteen collection


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Photo No. 29: The British PH helmet was carried in a khaki haversack with an adjustable shoulder strap. Initially the gas helmet’s haversack was made with one pocket to house the gasmask. Later in 1916, a haversack was issued with a second pocket intended to carry a set of gas goggles which were briefly issued by the British Army. Gas goggles were issued primarily to protect the eyes from the effects of smoke and tear gases. At left an AEF officer from the Medical Department displays both the HP Helmet and its carrier. To the right is an overall view of the HP Helmet’s khaki cloth carrier.


Doughboy photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Modèle 1916 Masque à Gaz M2-B

Officially used as a reserve gasmask by AEF personnel from

August 1917 until may of 1918, and unofficially until the end of the war

The most significant gasmask issued by the French Army during the Great War was designated the Modèle 1916 Masque à Gaz M2. Commonly known as the M2 Gasmask, it was adopted by the French Army on November 16, 1915 and was first used in the spring of 1916. The M2 was the French Army’s primary gasmask from April 1916 until August of 1918. The British Army also utilized the French M2 Gasmask, as more than 6,200,000 masks were issued to members of the BEF from May 1916 to as late as August 1918.


The M2 mask was similar in nature to the British PH Helmet. However, the biggest difference was the fact that it didn’t cover the entire head. When worn, it took on the form of a snout and looked not unlike the feedbag of a horse. The mask’s simple lightweight design consisted of twenty layers of muslin cloth chemically treated with sodium thiosulphate with an impermeable outer cover. The mask was much more comfortable to wear than the British SBR as it had no nose-clip or mouthpiece. Because of this, air had to be drawn in and exhaled through the pores in the chemical soaked fabric. Unfortunately, the M2 Mask was not strong enough to combat the increasingly stronger gases that were employed by the Germans on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918.


The first pattern M2 gasmask, produced only in one size, featured a single rectangular shaped cellophane eyepiece that was easily damaged when the mask was folded for placement in its metal container. The ‘B’ or second model was available in three sizes (petite taille – small, taille ordinaire – medium, and grande taille – large). The second pattern M2 mask was first introduced in April 1916. It included two round eyepieces made from special non-dimming celluloid, set in a metal frame. The separate eyepieces enabled the mask to be folded without damage. The lenses were made from a special non-dimming celluloid material that was both fragile and flammable. Because of this a spare set of replacement lenses were always carried. The date of the mask’s fabrication was stamped below the right cheek. The size and manufacturer was stamped below the left cheek.


The M2 was only designed to protect the wearer for up to five hours of exposure to the weaker chemical agents that were in use at the time it was devised. Because of this, French military doctrine called for troops to be rotated after several hours of exposure to any type of poisonous gas.


Photo No. 30: For many early arrivals to the AEF, like these U.S. Marines, the French M2 Gasmask was the only mask available in France until adequate supplies of the British SBR were obtained early in 1918. Note the M2 Gasmask’s integral suspension strap worn around the neck, and its half-moon shaped mussette bag. The inset showing how the M2 gasmask looked when it was worn makes it easy to understand why it was dubbed the ‘Duckbill’ by American soldiers.


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The M2 Gasmask in the AEF

Used by all AEF personnel from 1917

until it was banned at the front in May of 1918

The French M2 Gasmask was adopted by the AEF on August 22, 1917 as a “reserve” gasmask or “emergency” protective device. What this meant was that every Doughboy within five miles of the front had to carry the M2 mask in addition to a SBR. The French reserve mask was to be worn whenever a soldier’s SBR was unavailable or when it had become damaged. Due to a shortage of SBRs early in the war combat troops serving in the Gas Alert Zone were only issued M2 Gasmask until sufficient quantities of the British SBR arrived in January of 1918. Throughout the conflict, front line medical personnel and stretcher bearers were required to carry several extra M2 Gasmasks in addition to their personal SBR and reserve gasmask. The spare masks were to be used on soldiers with head wounds that were so severe that a SBR could not be worn, and on wounded soldiers who were unconscious and therefore unable to grasp the SBRs mouthpiece.


Since the M2 gasmask didn’t have a mouthpiece or the hated nose-clamp, it was much more comfortable to wear over a long period of time. Because of this, many Doughboys chose to wear the M2 mask instead of the SBR when in the presence of smoke, tear gas, and weaker concentrations of more potent chemical agents. While the M2 offered more comfort to the wearer, it was not nearly as effective as the British or American made SBRs. According to the AEF Gas Service, the M2s faults included the fact that:

  • Its design made it difficult to fit properly.
  • It was susceptible to water damage.
  • It was only effective for up to five hours of continuous use.
  • Its facepiece did not provide adequate protection against chloropicrin and stronger chemical agents.
  • It offered absolutely no protection against mustard gas.

In addition to the M2 mask’s shortcomings, the combat division’s gas officers, after moving into the line realized that carrying a second mask of inferior quality was not a wise thing to do. Reports routinely turned up at GHQ stating that numerous men shifted from the uncomfortable SBR, to the much more comfortable M2 mask during lengthy gas attacks. Without fail, nearly every case of doing this resulted in an unnecessary gas casualty. The M2s collective faults combined with the fact that the Doughboys couldn’t resist changing masks in the midst of a gas attack resulted in AEF, General Orders No. 78, dated May 25, 1918. The order expressly forbid any soldier who entered the Gas Alert Zone (five miles from the front) to carry the M2 Gasmask. The discomfort, which the SBRs were notorious for, and the reason why so many Doughboys risked swapping masks during a gas attack, was described thusly in America’s Munitions:


In long-continued wear the mouthpiece would irritate the gums and lips of the soldier, and the face-piece band would cause excruciating headaches after a few hours. It had now become frequently necessary for the men to wear their masks for eight hours at a stretch. The word discomfort is a weak description of the feelings of a man wearing one of our masks for that period [of time].


America’s Munitions 1917-1819, Benedict Crowell, 1919, page 428

Photo No. 33: After the M2 Gasmask had been banned for use at the front in May 1918, it continued to be carried by reserve and service troops serving on the edges of, or outside of the Gas Danger and Gas Alert Zones. Here men of the 93rd Infantry Division employed as a labor battalion in the rear carry the M2 mask in its distinctive half-moon shaped mussette bag.


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Photo No. 34: The M2 Gasmask was initially carried in an oval and then in a rectangular shaped metal tin that was painted horizon blue or covered in horizon blue wool. By 1917, a half-moon, pancake shaped khaki cloth mussette bag, whose pointed flap was secured by a single button had replaced all of the previous carriers. Each khaki cotton mussette bag featured an adjustable shoulder strap and an internal pocket to carry spare eyepieces.


Two of the four types of M2 Gasmask Carriers are visible in this photo of French infantrymen. The left hand Piolu’s mask is housed in the rectangular tin and the soldier on the far right’s mask is carried in the oval shaped tin. Both tins are suspended from their belts. The engraving shows the four styles of the M2 Gasmasks carriers used by the French: oval, kidney and rectangular shaped tins, and the half moon mussette bag.


Engraving from La Guerre Des Gaz 1915-1918, Gerard Lachaux & Patrice Delhomme, 1985


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Photo No. 35: Most of the Doughboys who drew a French reserve mask received it inside the half-moon shaped mussette bag. In this photo taken in March of 1918 somewhere in the Toul sector, officers from the 1st Division carry their M2 masks in rectangular shaped tins covered with horizon blue cloth. Note that each officer also wears an eagle snap pistol magazine pouch.


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Photo No. 36: Close up of a khaki cloth M2 Gasmask mussette bag named to an American officer. The half-round khaki mussette bag was the most common M2 Gasmask carrier issued to American Doughboys. Even though the M2s mussette bag was waterproof, during inclement weather Doughboys found it necessary to carry the mask inside their service coats to prevent the rain from diluting the potency of its chemically soaked facepiece. It was rare to see a Doughboy anywhere on the Western Front without either an SBR or reserve mask. This soldier wears his SBR in the alert position and carries his M2 mask in the carry position.


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British Small Box Respirator

Used by the AEF from August 1917 until the End of the War

In early 1916, the British developed a two piece gasmask that was known as the “Tar Box” or “Large Box” Respirator (LBR). The LBR consisted of a large filter canister connected to a rubberized facepiece, which covered only the chin, mouth and nose, by means of a flexible rubber hose. The eyes were protected by a separate pair of gas goggles. Distribution of the LBR in the BEF began in February 1916 and was discontinued in June of that year. While effective at neutralizing the strongest chemical agents then employed by the German Army, the LBR was deemed unsuitable for use in the trenches because its large filter box interfered with the regulation infantryman’s equipment. According to the following account written by a British tanker during the third battle for Ypres in 1917, the LBR was still being used by soldiers unencumbered with the infantryman’s equipment:


The enemy now began to interfere, to add to our discomfort, by bombarding the whole neighbourhood fairly heavily with gas shells. There was a battery of 4.5 howitzers firing in the open close to our route, and possibly this was his target. Very fortunately we had been issued with a special type of box-respirator, in which the goggles and mouth mask were separate, and thus were still able, at a risk to our eyes, to see our way – more or less. With the ordinary fixed eye-pieces it would have been impossible to see anything at all. As it was, we were merely extraordinarily uncomfortable and anxious. The Germans threw over little or no lachrymatory gas [tear gas] and no mustard-oil, which then was just coming into fashion; but we could not be certain about the latter, as it has no smell; and it was the reverse of pleasant to have to stumble along in the dark with our eyes exposed to what might have been doses of this atrocious decoction.


The Tank in Action During the First World War, D. G. Browne, 2009

Photo No. 37: Despite the fact that it was never used by AEF troops, the LBR led to the advent of both the British and the U.S. versions of its diminutive counterpart – the Small Box Respirator. In April 1916, a British artillery officer penned his thoughts regarding the worthiness of the LBR:


We’ve been issued with a new type of anti-gas helmet. It consists of a metal box, which is carried in a haversack and contains chemicals. There is a face-pad that goes over the mouth, with a clip that closes the nose. A thick white tube connects the chemical box and mouth-piece. The goggles are separate. I don’t like the thing and shall trust the old-fashioned flannel bag that goes right over the head.


The War Diary of the Master of Belhaven 1914 - 1918, R.G. A. Hamilton, 1924, page 179

British Sponge Goggles and the LBR and Sponge Goggles in use.


Left hand photo courtesy of the Dan-Retro on the forums collection


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By April of that year, the Large Box Respirator had been both perfected and resized. The Small Box Respirator (SBR), so named because of the box shaped filter canister’s reduced size, was introduced in August 1916 to replace the inefficient PH Helmet. By the spring of 1917, the SBR became standard issue for all British and Dominion forces. Made in six sizes, 0 through 5, the following description of the British SBR was made by Major S. M. J. Auld of the British Military Mission to the United States:


The principle of the respirator is to have a box filled with chemicals and attached by a flexible tube to a face piece or mask, which fits closely to the face. All air breathed by a man must therefore pass through the chemicals, and these are so chosen so that they will absorb any and every poison that may be present in the atmosphere at the time. In order to keep the air pure in the mask and to have a double line of protection a man breathes through a special mouthpiece and has his nose clipped. So even if the face piece, which is made of rubber cloth, should be torn or damaged in any way the soldier is perfectly safe so long as he does not attempt to talk – that is, if he keeps his nose clipped and does not remove the mouthpiece from his mouth … it can be put on in six seconds from the word “go,” and once a man is practiced in wearing it he can walk, run, shoot, dig, speak or do anything but eat and smoke in it; and this for long stretches of time.


Gas and Flame in Modern Warfare, 1918, Major S.M.J. Auld, page unknown

The British SBR was a tremendous improvement over the old “Gas Bags”, as the ‘H’, ‘P’, and ‘PH’ Helmets were known. Its primary advantages were:

  • The internal mouthpiece and nose-clip prevented the user from inhaling gas that either seeped in through the gap of an ill-fitting mask or entered through a rip or tear in the facepiece.
  • The exhaust valve was so designed to ensure that only the inhaled air would pass through the filter canister. On other types of respirators that utilized an integral filter, both inhaled and exhaled air had through the filter, which shortened its life by nearly half.
  • The fact that it was easier to clear poison gas trapped within the facepiece by deeply inhaling purified air through the mouthpiece, releasing the nose-clip, and then forcefully exhaling through the nose. This effectively forced the tainted air out through the edges of the facepiece.


When the SBR made its debut on the Western Front in late 1916, the Germans, eager to examine Tommy’s new respirator, encountered great difficulty in obtaining a sample to study. As a result a reward of 10 marks was offered to any German soldier who could deliver an intact British respirator.


Photo No. 38: American personnel try out their brand new British SBRs in a practice trench somewhere in France. The inset is of an Australian made SBR.


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The British SBR in the AEF

In the absence of an effective American made gasmask, the British SBR was adopted by the AEF as its primary gasmask as it was considered by GHQ to be the most advanced respirator employed by any army on the Western Front in 1917. Over the course of the next year, many American Doughboys would become well acquainted with the intricacies of the British made breathing apparatus, because they would not see an American made gasmask until the late spring or early summer of 1918.


As soon as the English mask was adopted the Chief Quartermaster, AEF placed an order for 100,000 British SBRs, with a minimum of 75,000 masks to be delivered no later than December 1, 1918. That date was selected because it was the date projected date when the first contingent of Doughboys would enter the line. In October of 1918 the initial order was expanded to 300,000 masks. With no SBRs in hand, and with the December 1st deadline rapidly approaching, a telegram was dispatched to England inquiring when the SBRs would be delivered. Surprisingly, the English reply stated that the British SBRs would not be forthcoming. This was because they had been informed that the U.S. had been producing a new gasmask to be used by the AEF.* Further cables prompted another unexpected response which partially read:


English Government could not deliver the masks because they did not have enough for their own use … and that no masks could be expected from there [England] for 3 to 5 months.


Chemical Warfare, 1921, Brigadier General Amos A. Fries & Major Clarence J. West, page106

*At the time the British Government didn’t realize that all of the gasmasks made in the U.S. during 1917, were classified as “experimental”, and therefore not suitable to be worn in combat.


After a flurry of cablegrams, followed by a visit to the British Royal Engineers’ officer in charge of Britain’s entire gasmask production, the minimum quantity of SBRs needed were delivered between December 1917 and January 1918. All of these masks were issued to the 1st and 42nd Divisions. Unfortunately, a large portion of them consisted of size No. 2 and smaller, which were far too small for the average Yank to wear! A member of the ‘Rainbow’ Division recalled the day his company was marched to a British supply depot where British SBRs were issued:


Sunday morning a hike was made to a British supply depot some 8 km away, where we were presented with steel helmets and gasmasks. Entering a large tent, and English soldier who seemed to be somewhat of an expert at judging the faces, shouted out the mask sizes. It was no. 4, no. 2, no. 3 as fast as the men filed in, and with few exceptions, he seemed to hit it right off.


Corporal William Shoemaker, Company A, 168th Infantry Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division, AEF

A soldier serving with one of the U.S. divisions, that at one time was loaned out to the British Army took note of the day he was given a dead man’s gasmask that had been salvaged and refurbished. He also recalled the following words uttered by the English NCO, whose duty was to instruct the company in the use of the masks they had received:


The sergeant in charge left these parting words, “These are all good masks, every one of em’s seen service. The fellows who ad em all ‘went west’ some owe ort other and now they’ve been fixed up for you un’s.


Unknown AEF Doughboy

In total, the AEF purchased nearly 700, 000 British SBRs during the course of the Great War. With the exception of the eight AEF divisions that served for various lengths of time with the U.S. II Army Corps under the control of the British 3rd Army from February 1918 until the end of the war, the majority of American Doughboys received an American made gasmask beginning in May of 1918.


Wearing the SBR whether it was of British or U.S. origin universally provoked an unfavorable reaction from all ranks. After wearing a respirator for the hour long hike back to barracks and ambulance driver came to the following conclusion:


They seem beastly devices to us. Many resolved to die of poisonous gas rather than wear such atrocious coverings.


1st Lieutenant Harry L. Smith, Ambulance Company No. 21, 4th Sanitation Train, 4th Infantry Division, AEF

The commanding officer of the 30th Division’s engineer regiment confessed his personal feelings in regard to wearing the SBR in his personal diary:


The gasmask almost gets the best of me. I nearly suffocate with it, and can hardly control myself from tearing it off. This is the worst phase of the war to me.


Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hyde Pratt, CO 105th Engineer Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, AEF

Finally, an artilleryman serving with the 2nd Infantry Division could think of nothing more to say about the dreaded SBR than:


Drew gasmasks, some doohickeys.


Sergeant Joseph J. Gleeson, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, AEF

While effective at filtering out all of the chemical agents used by the German Army, the British SBR was still less than perfect. During its tenure with the AEF, American gas officers compiled this list of the mask’s shortcomings:

  • The mask’s unnatural method of respiration, which could only be accomplished by inhaling air through the mouth, was difficult to become accustomed to. This method of respiration also caused the throat to become exceptionally dry.
  • The use of a mouthpiece greatly increased salivation. Swallowing the excess saliva became a difficult task when the nose was held closed by the nose-clip.
  • The exposed flexible rubber hose was vulnerable to damage.
  • The lack of ventilation within the mask’s rubberized facepiece trapped both heat and moisture, which collected on, and fogged up the eyepieces.
  • The mask caused extreme discomfort which became intense when the mask was worn for a long period of time. This was primarily caused by the snug fit of the facepiece; the tight nose-clip, and by the stiff rubber mouthpiece which had to be firmly clamped between the user’s teeth.

Photo No. 39: The flutter-valve guard was only present on the first pattern British SBR. For reasons unknown the valve guard was unpopular in the field and had completely disappeared by early to mid 1917. This series of photos show the first pattern British SBR with a flutter valve guard.

Photos courtesy of Dan-Retro on the forums collection


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Photo No. 40: Left, it is presumed that the model of SBR with the flutter-valve guard was the type that was sent to the American gasmask design committee in 1917. It has been suggested that this is why all American made masks featured the flutter-valve guard. On the right is a second pattern British SBR without a flutter-valve guard. This style was issued from mid 1917 until the end of the war. The numerals stamped onto the front of both gasmasks represent the mask’s size.


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Photo No. 41: Based on the fact that the British opted to include all of their unwanted small sized gasmasks in the first shipment made to the AEF, it stands to reason that they may have also sent obsolete SBRs that lingered in their storehouses. Based on that assumption, it’s entirely possible that either one of the following pre 1918 British SBR models were included in the initial shipment of SBRs delivered to the Yanks early in 1918:

  • Filter Extension Box: Early in 1917, British chemical experts realized that the SBRs filter was not capable of removing every chemical agent then employed by the German Army. To rectify this, approximately one million canisters were modified with a special “extension box” which contained additional layers of cotton wadding. Made from the same material as the filter, the extensions were fastened onto the base of the filter canister using adhesive tape. The emergency filter extensions were used from early 1917 until the improved ‘NC’ filter canister became available in the summer of that year (no available photo).

  • Filter Canister Cover: In anticipation of stronger chemical agents that were likely to be utilized by the Germans, during the winter of 1917, the Anti-Gas Department of the British Army devised and produced over a million “emergency filter jackets”. Composed of layers of cellulous wadding, each filter jacket was meant to enhance the mask’s filtration capabilities when it was slipped over the outside of a standard filter box. Clockwise from upper left, the British SBR haversack, an SBR stamped size No. 2, filter canister fitted with the emergency filter jacket, the cardboard box containing the mask’s anti-dimming compound, and the mask’s log booklet are all shown.


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Photo No. 42: Here a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service instructs British recruits on the finer points of wearing the SBR. Opposite is a second pattern British SBR with a discolored filter canister and attached regulation log booklet. The only item missing is the small cardboard box containing a tube of anti-dimming compound, as well as the mask’s rubber flutter-valve.


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Photo No. 43: When the British SBR was in place under the “tin hat”, it was said that the wearer took on “a particular beetlelike appearance”. Among the troops who wore the SBR it was generally regarded that the mask did little to improve one’s appearance. Nevertheless, the following verbal exchange was alleged to have been overheard by a British officer entering a front line dugout: “Ere, mate, take yer gas mask off” – “It is off.” – “Then for Gawd’s sake put it on!”


The insets show the interior of the British SBR, as well as a close up of its gauze padded nose-clip. One of the primary differences between British and U.S. made respirators was that the padding on the British nose-clip was comprised of cloth, as opposed to rubber, which was used to pad all but the very first pattern (ASBR) of U.S. made gasmasks.


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Photo No. 44: The neutralizing agents within the British filter canisters underwent continuous development throughout the war. By 1918, the English filter box afforded complete protection against all of the gases that the German Army used on the Western Front. British filter canisters can be dated based upon their color. They were painted as follows:

  • Black until July of 1917.
  • From July of 1917 until the introduction of an improved filter canister very late in the war, the corrugated iron ‘NC’ filter canister was not painted. Instead it received a thin wash of clear varnish.
  • Near the end of the war the ‘XY’ filter canister replaced the varnished ‘NC’ filter. It was painted black and had a green vertical band (no photo available).
  • It was not uncommon for British SBR filters, especially those used by the AEF, to be replaced with American made filters which were approximately the same height, but slightly wider, and painted either yellow or green*.

*For information on the color of U.S. made gasmask filter canisters, see photo number 22.


A British SBR attached to an early black filter canister is shown on the left. The more common varnished iron ‘NC’ filter canister is attached to the gasmask on the right. Note that this mask’s size No. 3 has been stamped on the bottom of the haversack, rather than the more typical location, the front flap.


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Photo No. 45: Over time the clear varnish applied to the ‘NC’ filter canisters darkened, leading to the false impression that they had been painted with a shade of either yellow or red-brown paint. Note how the varnish on two of the three filter canisters shown has discolored. From left to right: a varnished canister as it came from the factory, followed by two varnished canisters that have aged to a yellow tint and a darker shade of red-brown.


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Photo No. 46: Each British SBR came with accessories in the form of a log booklet (upper left), which was tied onto the filter hose, and a tube of anti-dimming compound (lower left), housed inside a cardboard box on which instructions for its use were printed. Soldiers were instructed to record the length of time the mask was worn during both drill and in actual combat. Each man was further required to identify the types of gas that he encountered whilst wearing the mask.


The purpose of the log booklet was to ensure that the filter canister was replaced at the proper interval, which was approximately every 50 to 100 hours depending on the strength of the chemical agents filtered. Immediately upon removing the respirator, the interior of the mask was to be wiped down, paying particular attention to the eyepieces. Each eyepiece was then to be lightly coated with the soap-like anti-dimming paste which was designed to prevent condensation from forming the next time the mask was worn. An Australian made SBR is shown to the right of the accessories.


Upper and lower photos courtesy of the Welshman collection


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Photo No. 47: The British SBR Haversack was fabricated from waterproofed khaki canvas. Its front flap was secured by two brass snap fasteners. A russet leather tab with a button hole was stitched onto the upper right hand side. The tabs purpose was to shorten the haversack’s adjustable shoulder strap when it was engaged with the brass stud embedded into the shoulder strap. Two D-rings were provided on the front of the haversack so that it could be anchored to the torso by a waxed body cord. The right hand image shows a Yank with a British SBR haversack slung from his right shoulder. The inset shows the ink stamp under the front flap composed of: the British “Broad Arrow”, the haversack’s manufacturer, and the date 1917.


Doughboy photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

Inset courtesy of the Rusty Canteen collection


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U.S. Corrected English Gasmask

Used by the AEF from the spring of 1918 until the end of the war

Of the 5,250,000 gasmasks of all types produced by the U.S. during the war, 1.6 million of them were the improved version of the British SBR. This mask was officially known as the U.S. Corrected English Small Box Respirator or the U.S. Corrected English Model (CEM). Produced in six sizes (1 through 6) from January to March 1918, the CEM was one of the two most commonly worn American made gasmasks used by the AEF. The second most common mask was its successor, the U.S. Richardson, Flory and Kops Respirator (RFK).

Despite complaints from France regarding the British SBRs uncomfortable mouthpiece and its despised hated nose-clip, American gas experts determined that this type of respirator provided the best protection. Ever since the failure of the ASBR, American gasmask designers toiled to modify, improve, and ultimately make the American version of the SBR more comfortable, more reliable and stronger than the English mask that it mirrored. After numerous revisions, by October of 1917, the design had been perfected. Upon passing a comprehensive battery of field tests, the CEM respirator went into full scale production in January of 1918. It would be the very first U.S. made gasmask to see service in the gas soaked trenches of the Western Front.


Although its outward appearance remained similar to that of its English cousin, the CEM mask incorporated the following improvements:

  • The facepiece was cut much fuller to make it more comfortable to wear.
  • The rubberized sailcloth from which the facepiece was fabricated made the mask more durable.
  • Unlike the British gasmask’s facepiece, the CEM mask’s facepiece was impermeable to every chemical agent used by the German Army.
  • The nose-clip was redesigned in attempt to reduce discomfort, and its padding was now comprised of cloth, not rubber.
  • Initially, the eyepieces were made from celluloid, but later they were upgraded to an experimental material called “Triplex Glass”. Triplex consisted of a thin strip of celluloid laminated between two layers of glass. It was said that the gas-seal of an eyepiece made from Triplex Glass would not admit any gas into the facepiece even after it had been cracked or splintered.
  • The height of the filter canister was made shorter than the training filter used on the ASBR and ATG. It was also made slightly wider than that of the British SBR filters, making its filtration capabilities stronger than that of the ‘NC’ filter which was the most common filter used on the British SBR.

Major S.M.J. Auld of the British Military Mission to the United States was convinced that the U.S. CEM mask was superior to all other gasmasks used on the Western Front. He wrote the following:


In the American modification of the box respirator the absorptive powers of the chemicals used is even greater than the British box, and this makes it the best respirator in the world, which is very reassuring to those who have to make use of it.


Gas and Flame in Modern Warfare, 1918, Major S.M.J. Auld, page unknown


Photo No. 48: This photograph depicts a 3rd Division infantryman wearing an American box respirator. The inset shows how the CEM mask was worn in combat. Despite the fact that the size stamp on the front of the mask gives the illusion that the photo is printed backwards, it is not. The number has merely been stamped onto the mask upside down.


Background image courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 49: On the left is a CEM respirator satchel and its contents, which is comprised of a respirator affixed to a yellow type ‘H’ filter canister, a record book and a tin of anti-dimming compound. To the right is a remarkably well preserved U.S. CEM Gasmask. The eyepieces on the CEM masks were originally not yellow or amber in color. They appear that way because the once transparent layer of celluloid sandwiched between the two layers of glass has yellowed with age.


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