Prophet of Poison Gas

Yakov Fishman and the Soviet Chemical Weapons Program, 1924–1937

Ian Johnson

This article explores the formation and growth of the Soviet chemical weapons program from 1924 to 1937. Seen as a symbol of modernity by the Soviet government, the Red Army’s chemical weapons directorate became a priority area of research and development. Initially, however, the Red Army’s investment in chemical weapons production encountered a variety of difficulties exacerbated by early Soviet policies, such as the lack of capital and skilled labor. But thanks to Stalin’s broader political aims, Yakov Fishman—the head of the chemical weapons directorate—managed to draw in vast resources to achieve his vision for the Soviet chemical weapons program. In the end, Fishman’s success in building huge chemical weapons production capacities for the Red Army would have a major impact on the course of the Second World War. Drawing from Russian and German military archives, this article offers new insight into a long-hidden, top-secret military program of colossal dimensions.