Dr. Benjamin Garrett with this historical profile on Dr. Gabriel Bertrand, continues in his very well conceived and received series on our fellow professionals that have influenced the direction and course of history across the convoluted arena of chemical warfare.

Profiles in CW History:
Gabriel Bertrand & The Bertrand No. 1

Benjamin Garrett Ph.D.

French biological chemist Gabriel Émile Bertrand (1867-1962) is noted for his pioneering studies on enzymes. He is credited as the first person to suggest that oxidizing enzymes contain metals. He is also credited with suggesting the terms oxidase for an oxidizing enzyme (1894) and co-enzyme for a generally low molecular weight organic substance that attaches itself to a protein to form an active enzyme (1897). In the context of chemical warfare, Bertrand performed various services immediately prior to and throughout World War I for the French government.

Bertrand was educated in Paris, as a student of Émile Frémy (1814-1894) and Pierre-Paul Dehérain (1830-1902) at the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History), beginning in 1886. From 1890, he was an assistant to Léon-Albert Arnaud (1853-1915), who chaired the department of applied organic chemistry at the Museum. Bertrand spent 1897-1900 touring chemistry laboratories in Germany at the request of the Institut Pasteur (Pasteur Institute), returning to serve as the Institute's inaugural chair of biological chemistry. Bertrand would remain associated with the Pasteur Institute until his death in 1962, although he retired from teaching in 1936. He is the eponym of the Bertrand reagent for alkaloids and, along with two others, of the Bertrand-Desaint-Rat reagent for copper.

Bertrand's contributions to chemical warfare appear to be less well known than are his contributions to biological chemistry. He is the eponym of the Bertrand No. 1, the French code-name for a chemical hand grenade, most likely containing chloroacetone. Order No. 781, Grand quartier général, dated April 3, 1915, advised French military authorities of the availability of this chemical munition, which was being placed at the disposal of the armies. This munition either replaced or supplemented one containing ethyl bromoacetate whose availability had been announced in French ministry of war circular “Notice sur les engins suffocants,” dated February 21, 1915.

The timing of the issuing of these munitions is important in that their availability in early 1915 suggests the French had access to chemical munitions prior to the German release of chlorine on April 22, 1915, at Ypres. The timing also shows that Bertrand's association with chemical warfare predates his official appointment to the chemical weapon subcommittee of the Commission des Études Chimique de Guerre (Commission for the study of chemical warfare), which took place in mid-1915.

In addition to using his name for the Bertrand No. 1, the French military took the initial letter of his surname and that of his close friend and colleague, Marcel Delépine, to form “BD1,” which it used as the code-name for an artillery shell containing perchloromethyl mercaptan. The French tested this shell on July 29, 1915, at Vincennes and used it during the battle of Champagne in September, 1915, making it the first chemical-filled artillery shell to be used by the French in combat.

When Germany introduced use of sulfur mustard in July 1917, Bertrand succeeded in developing a production method so that the French might retaliate in kind. One reason he was selected for this task was the extensive study tour of German chemistry laboratories he conducted from 1897 to 1900. That experience was imagined as providing him insights into German methods that might be applied to the problem of sulfur mustard production.

Bertrand received many honors during his lifetime, acknowledging his contributions to science. Chief among these honors were his election as a member of l'Académie des sciences le 5 mars 1923 (section de chimie) (French Academy of Sciences, Chemistry Section) (1923), de l'Académie nationale de pharmacie (French National Academy of Pharmacy) (1926), and l'Académie nationale de médecine (French National Academy of Medicine) (1931).

Gabriel Bertrand Picture

Suggestion for additional reading:
Marcel Delépine, “Gabriel Bertrand (1867-1962),” Ann. Pharm. Fr. 20 (1962): 930-934 [in French].

Ulrich Trumpener, “The road to Ypres: the beginnings of gas warfare in World War I,” J. Modern History 47 (3) (Sep 1975): 460-480.

Patrice Bret, “Managing chemical expertise. The laboratories of the French artillery and the Service des Poudres,” in Frontline and Factory. Comparative perspectives on the chemical industry at war, 1914-1924 (Roy MacLeod and Jeffrey Allan Johnson, eds.) (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2006), 208.

“La Guerre des Gaz,” http://pageperso.aol.fr/guerredesgas/lesgaz/irritants/irritants.html, accessed June 27, 2007.

Augustin M. Prentiss, Chemicals in war (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1937).

Bret, 209-2

Ed. Note: ASA and the ASA family of professionals thank Dr. Garrett for his always very interesting pieces on those that have come before and that have had direct influence on where we are today. Without the historical perspective as chronicled by our well known authors and experts across the field, i.e., Ben Garrett, John Moon, John Hart and other noted contributors, we would not really understand where we are and where we should be today in order to be where we need to be - tomorrow.

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