The first world conflict gave rise to many horrifying battle tactics, including the use of poison gas. One of the most unsettling WWI fights was the battle at the Osowiec Fortress, where Germans fought what looked like real-life zombies. On August 6, 1915, the Germans released gas on Russian and Polish soldiers, effectively destroying their enemies' lungs and throats. Many soldiers expired from the devastating effects of the gas.
Yet somehow, a group of fighters managed to live through the initial strike and hold down the fortress. When the Germans reached the tower, they saw dozens of disfigured and bleeding combatants coming at them. "The Attack of the Dead Men," as it was known, spawned legends about Russian soldiers rising from the grave to fight.
Poisonous Gas Burned Victims From The Inside Out
In WWI, the Germans released bromine and chlorine gases. Bromine by itself acts as a respiratory irritant, but when combined with chlorine gas, it becomes a lethal cocktail. Chlorine gas turns into a form of hydrochloric acid when it binds to the moisture in a person's lungs. The acid then eats through the soft flesh and mucous membranes of the body. Eyes can be damaged and even rendered permanently blind, the nasal cavity bleeds, and even moist skin can show signs of chemical burns and deterioration.
The most devastating harm happens to the lungs, as they burn from the inside out, the tissue dissolving as the victim inhales. With prolonged exposure in high quantities, a victim perishes from the inability to breathe. Once someone breathes in enough of this gas, it can cause a very painful demise in as little as minutes.
Russian Soldiers Reportedly Covered Their Faces With Urine-Soaked Rags
The Germans knew their gas would be incredibly effective because they realized the Russian and Polish soldiers did not have protective gas masks. They may have had some cloth masks, but in all, they were ill-equipped to fend off a chemical strike.
When the cloud of gas spread, men rushed to find anything they could to keep from inhaling the toxic substance. At first, they may have used water-soaked cloths - as other Allied armies had done in the case of a surprise gas strike - and items of clothing, but they were short on water because they were under siege for so long. It left them with few options, and according to some sources, they soon began soaking their undershirts in urine to make improvised breathing masks.
Some Russian Soldiers Coughed Up Pieces Of Their Own Lungs As They Fought
Blood drenched the Russian and Polish soldiers' uniforms. Urine-soaked rags covered their faces as they coughed up gory bits. The mixture of chlorine and bromine gas started to melt away their flesh, destroy their eyes, and dissolve their lungs.
The German soldiers thought they would be entering a nearly lifeless area, but instead, they met men foaming at the mouth and spitting up chunks of their own lungs. The chemical burns ate the soldiers from the inside out, and to the Germans, it looked like they were about to battle the undead.
The Russian Soldiers Refused To Surrender, Even As They Perished
After the Germans unleashed the lethal gas, all seemed lost. There were so few Allied soldiers left, and all of them were close to their mortal end. Many could barely stand, most were bleeding internally, and their breathing was painful and ragged.
Headquarters had instructed the dying men to hold the line at all costs. Rather than just staying put, they decided to mount a counterattack. They quickly formed a plan on how to approach the German line, knowing they would probably fail. The Germans marched forward, assuming the gas either rendered their enemies incredibly weak or ended their lives.
They guessed wrong. The Russians charged toward the Germans with their bayonets.