A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and B

A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and B

Postby admin » Wed Oct 25, 2017 11:00 pm

A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare
by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman
 © 1982 Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman

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Table of Contents:

• Inside Cover
• Illustrations
• Acknowledgements
• Introduction
• ONE: 'Frightfulness'
• TWO: The Serpent and the Flower
• THREE: Hitler's Secret Weapon
• FOUR: A Plague on your Children
• FIVE: The War That Never Was
• SIX: New Enemies
• SEVEN: The Search for the Patriotic Germ
• EIGHT: The Rise and Rise of Chemical Weapons
• NINE: The Tools of Spies
• TEN: From Disarmament to Rearmament
• Epilogue
• Notes
• Index
• ILLUSTRATIONS
• 1. Casualties of one of the first German chlorine attacks, April 1915.
• 2. The first British respirators, May 1915.
• 3. The Livens Projector.
• 4. A burster of TNT releasing a dense cloud of gas on impact.
• 5. Ambulancemen drilling in the standard British gas mask, July 1916.
• 6. The Battle of the Somme, July 1916.
• 7. Scientists assembled near Gruinard, 1942.
• 8. Paul Fildes, leader of the British biological warfare team in the Second World War.
• 9. and 10. The production of anthrax-impregnated cattle cakes, Porton Down 1942.
• 11. German High School students are given a lesson in gas precautions.
• 12. A dance marathon in a bomb shelter in London's East End.
• 13. Windmill girls rehearse in gas masks, April 1941.
• 14. A child's gas mask.
• 15. The unprimed grenade recovered by the Nazis in May 1942 after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.
• 16. Heydrich's bomb-damaged Mercedes a few hours after the attack.
• 17. A Soviet soldier on exercise in anti-gas suit and mask.
• 18. Hungarian troops training against gas.
• 19. The effects of anthrax.
• 20. Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
• 21. Facial paralysis caused by encephalomyelitis.
• 22. An early symptom of plague.
• 23. A dog is injected with an LSD-type chemical at Edgwood Arsenal.
• 24. The effect of one drop of mustard gas administered to a volunteer at Porton Down.
• 25. Testing a suit and gas mask designed to resist nerve agents.
• 26. Decontaminating a casualty during British exercises in Germany.
• 27. Defoliation of the jungle in Vietnam.
• 28. A 'tunnel rat' emerges from a Vietcong bunker.
• 29. A CIA poison dart gun.
• 30. British soldiers training against gas attack, 1980.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 3:30 am

Inside Cover

President Reagan stands at the brink of a reckless decision to break a 12-year moratorium and produce a new poison gas weapon. He does not need it or the trouble it will bring.

The Pentagon wants a new nerve gas primarily for European defense. That could ignite another row with the allies, who have not been seriously consulted and do not want the gas on their soil. It could trigger a new chemical weapons competition with Moscow, ending what hope remains for the long-pending treaty to ban such weapons. It could lead to even more repugnant chemical weaponry. And it could spread the industry until many nations and even terrorists gain access to poison gas, now stocked only by the two superpowers and France.

A Higher Form of Killing begins with the First World War, when poison gas killed or maimed one and a half million men in the mud of Flanders. It tells of the Japanese use of mustard gas and biological weapons in the 1930s, the Nazis' discovery of nerve gas in 1937, and the huge arsenal of chemical weapons which Hitler, who used gas to kill millions in concentration camps, several times came close to using in battle. It tells of horrifying secret experiments with anthrax (in Great Britain in the 1940s), the development of the plague bacillus, and futuristic attempts to tinker with the genetic code. A Higher Form of Killing reveals that Churchill planned to use gas in 1940; that the British stored two million cattle cakes impregnated with anthrax for dropping on Germany; that the Americans made millions of biological bombs and debated plans to "drench" German cities with germs; and that anti-crop agents were used against Germany and Japan, causing widespread starvation. The United States used tons of chemical defoliants in Vietnam; there is strong evidence that has been widely debated that the Russians used chemical warfare in Laos, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.

Drawing extensively on American, British, European, and (where possible) Russian sources -- most of them previously classified or unavailable -- this timely book tells the secret history of chemical and germ warfare. Today the United States leads in the development of these weapons. Germ warfare has been outlawed, but the new and frightening prospect of a chemical weapons race is a subject of national and international concern. In writing this book, the authors have received wide support from soldiers and internationally renowned scientists.

Robert Harris was born in 1957 and was educated at Cambridge University (where he was President of the Union). He is a producer and reporter on the BBC television program Newsnight.

Jeremy Paxman was born in 1950 and educated at Cambridge before entering journalism. His assignments have taken him to many of the world's trouble spots of the last ten years, including Northern Ireland (where he lived for three years), the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. He has written extensively for a number of publications, and is now a correspondent with BBC television's Panorama.

Photograph abstraction on front of jacket by Peter Dorp
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 4:41 am

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This book grew out of a film we made for the BBC television programme Panorama, and we would like to thank Roger Bolton, Panorama's editor, for the encouragement and advice he gave us at that time, and for the understanding that he, and others at the BBC, have shown since.

Thanks are due to so many people who helped in the actual research of this book that we cannot list all of them here. Considerations of space aside, many felt free to talk only with a promise of anonymity.

Among those who can be mentioned, however, we must record our gratitude to the staff of the Public Record Office, the Imperial War Museum, Churchill College, Cambridge, the US Army Public Affairs Department, and Edgewood Arsenal, all of whom assisted with documents and advice. The Church of Scientology also made available to us documents they had unearthed in their campaign against chemical warfare. Among other individuals who gave us their advice and information thanks are due to General Allan Younger, Professor John Erickson, General T. H. Foulkes, David Irving, Lord Stamp, Air Marshal Sir Christopher Hartley, Professor Henry Barcroft and Paul Harris.

Nicholas Sims, Lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics, and Adam Roberts, Reader in International Relations at Oxford University, were both kind enough to read and comment on portions of the typescript for the publishers.

Additional research in Washington was carried out by Scott Malone.

We would also like to thank Jeremy Lewis of Chatto & Windus, without whose initial enthusiasm this book would never have been written; and Elizabeth Burke, who steered our battered manuscript into production.

Although it is invidious to single out particular individuals from the many who have helped us, two in particular deserve our special thanks. One is Dr Rex Watson, the Director of Parton Down, who, within the confines of the Official Secrets Act and with no guarantee of a 'good press', gave us invaluable assistance. With his approval, we also enjoyed the help and advice of Porton's information officer, Alex Spence.

Our other great debt is to Julian Perry Robinson of the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University. He helped generously, both with time and advice, and read the book in its early stages, making many valuable suggestions. All students in this field owe Julian Perry Robinson a debt for the work he did in pulling together the information contained in the first two volumes of the six-part study of chemical and biological weapons published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Where we have drawn upon this, and upon the work of others who have investigated this subject in the past, acknowledgement is made in the notes at the end of the book.

If, despite the best efforts of all the above, we have made errors of fact or judgement, responsibility rests with the authors.

Robert Harris wrote chapters one to five of this book; Jeremy Paxman wrote chapters six to ten.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 4:41 am

INTRODUCTION

One summer evening we were standing on the platform at one of London's major railway stations. A group of young soldiers pushed past, making for the only compartment with empty seats. They were laughing and joking and had obviously had a few beers, about to begin a period of leave in their home towns in the north of England. There being no other seats available, we joined them in their compartment.

They were, it transpired, on their way home after a period of what they cryptically referred to as 'NBC Training'. NB C, they explained, stood for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical. Their training involved them in wearing special protective suits, rubber gloves and gas masks for hours on end while they attempted to carry out all their normal tasks. As they broke open the case of beer they carried with them, they dismissed the final cataclysm of the nuclear battlefield with a cheery fatalism. Yet the prospect of biological and chemical war seemed to fill them with a particular dread. It was, one of them said, 'dirty'.

The image has stayed with us throughout the writing of this book. What is it about chemical and biological war, or as it is more popularly known, poison gas and germ warfare, that holds such a unique terror?

They are, first and foremost, indiscriminate weapons, somehow -- as the young soldier put it - 'dirty'. They rely for their effectiveness on taking their victims unawares. By and large they are invisible, and do their damage from within the body. One may not see the bullet or bomb that kills you, but that external threat is somehow more easy to comprehend than the malignant tumour, the paralysis or the suffocation inflicted by an unseen weapon.

Poison gas and germ weapons turn civilization on its head. Diseases are not fought, but carefully cultivated; doctors use their knowledge of the functions of the human body to devise ever more effective means of halting those functions; agriculturalists deliberately induce fungi and develop crop destroyers. The chlorine that poisoned our grandfathers at Ypres was available thanks to our grandmothers' desire for brightly-coloured dresses. Modern nerve gases were originally designed to help mankind by killing beetles and lice: now, in the hands of the military, they are, literally, insecticides for people. Chemical and biological warfare, as one writer has put it, is 'public health in reverse'.

Ever since the first gas attack during the First World War, man has attempted to come to terms with the impulse which led him to develop these weapons. And, largely, he has failed. Despite the efforts of the diplomats and the disarmers gas and germ warfare continues to exert a grim hold on the world's armies. Why this should be so, and why the attempts to rid the world of these weapons have failed, is one of the recurrent themes of this book.

Another is the secrecy which has always shrouded gas and germ warfare. Our experience has been that the story of their development is far more closely guarded than the history of nuclear weapons. Partly, perhaps, because of the moral dubiousness of their actions, governments have sought to conceal from their peoples the extent and the nature of their plans to wage war with chemicals and bacteria. It is only within the last few years that documents relating even to the use of gas during the First World War have become available. Almost all the papers detailing plans for the use of gas and germs during the Second World War will remain under lock and key until the turn of the century. Early in our researches we submitted a list of wartime files we would like to have declassified to the British Ministry of Defence. More than a year later, the Ministry and the Cabinet Office have yet to reach a decision: it seems likely that the material - now forty years old - will still be judged 'too sensitive' to be made public. It is perhaps because of the obsessive secrecy which cloaks the subject that no general history has yet been written.

We have attempted to break through the veil of secrecy, by obtaining previously classified information and by talking to many of the people who spent their lives working on what may with justice be called one of the most unknown areas of western military planning. In doing so, this book tries to explain why it is that a weapon developed seventy years ago should still induce terror in the soldiers of the 1980s.

In no future war will the military be able to
ignore poison gas.
It is a higher form of killing.
-- Professor Fritz Haber, pioneer of gas warfare, on receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1919.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 4:44 am

Part 1 of 2

ONE: 'Frightfulness'

The 22nd of April 1915 had been a warm and sunny day, but towards the end of the afternoon a breeze sprang up. It came from the north, from behind the German lines, blew across No Man's Land, and gently fanned the faces of the Allied soldiers in position around the village of Langemarck, near Ypres.

They were new to the trenches - French reservists and Algerians from France's north African colony. To them the fresh wind must have seemed a good omen, for a few seconds later, as if on cue, the German guns which had been bombarding them all day suddenly stopped firing. An abrupt silence descended over the front.

A few hundred yards away, four divisions - of the 23rd and 26th German Army Corps - crouched in their trenches. They had waited there since dawn, unable to move for fear of giving away their presence. Now, just as it had begun to seem too late, the moment had come. The wind had changed. An attack.

At five o'clock, three red rockets streaked into the sky, signalling the start of a deafening artillery barrage. High explosive shells pounded into the deserted town of Ypres and the villages around it. At the same time the troops sheltering near Langemarck saw two greenish-yellow clouds rise from the enemy's lines, catch the wind, and billow forwards, gradually merging to form a single bank of blue-white mist: out of sight, in special emplacements protected by sandbags and concrete, German pioneers were opening the valves of 6,000 cylinders spread out along a four mile front. The cylinders contained liquid chlorine - the instant the pressure was released and it came into contact with the air it vaporized and hissed out to form a dense cloud. At thirty parts per million of air chlorine gas produces a rasping cough. At concentrations of one part per thousand it is fatal. The breeze stirred again, and one hundred and sixty tons of it, five feet high and hugging the ground, began to roll towards the Allied trenches.

Chemical warfare had begun.

The wave broke over the first line within a minute, enveloping tens of thousands of troops in an acrid green cloud so thick they could no longer see their neighbours in the trench. Seconds later they were clutching at the air and at their throats, fighting for breath.

Chlorine does not suffocate: it poisons, stripping the lining of the bronchial tubes and lungs. The inflammation produces a massive amount of fluid that blocks the windpipe, froths from the mouth and fills the lungs. In an attempt to escape the effects, some men tried to bury their mouths and nostrils in the earth; others panicked and ran. But any exertion or effort to outdistance the cloud only resulted in deeper breaths and more acute poisoning. As the tide of gas washed over the struggling men their faces turned blue from the strain of trying to breathe; some coughed so violently they ruptured their lungs. Each man, as the British casualty report was later to put it, was 'being drowned in his own exudation'. [1]

Advancing cautiously behind the chlorine cloud came the German infantry, all wearing crude respirators of moist gauze and cotton tied round their faces. They passed through an unprecedented scene of horror. The dead lay where they had fallen, arms outstretched trying to escape the gas. Interspersed with the corpses, the wounded and dying sprawled gasping and choking as their agonized lungs coughed up mouthful after mouthful of yellow fluid. Any metal object the chlorine had come into contact with was tarnished. Buttons, watches, coins: all had turned a dull green. Rifles were rusted and looked as if they had been left out in the mud for months. Most of the breech blocks on the sixty guns the Germans captured that day were unusable.

Any of the French still capable of movement fled. The British suddenly found the roads and bridges of their sector clogged with retreating soldiers, many of whom could only point at their throats in explanation. By six o'clock, even as far back as ten miles, the chlorine cloud was still making men cough and their eyes smart. By seven o'clock, the few French guns which had been left in action were ominously silent.

The first large-scale gas attack had taken the Allied commanders so completely by surprise that it was not until the early hours of the morning that they began to appreciate the scale of the disaster that had overtaken them. The Germans had torn a hole four miles wide in the Western Front, smashing in an afternoon defences which had held for months. The German commander, Falkenhayn, was as startled as his opponents by the overwhelming effect of chemical warfare. He had seen gas merely as an experimental aid to his attack and had insufficient reserves ready to exploit his advantage. But for that he might have been able to drive right through the Allied line to the Channel ports: the gas attack could have won the war for the Germans. Instead, as night fell over Ypres, the German soldiers dug in. Falkenhayn's 'experiment', the Germans reckoned, had cost the Allies 5,000 men dead and 10,000 wounded.

Thirty-six hours later, while the British and the French were still struggling to fill the breach in their defences, the Germans struck again. At 2.45 am, shortly before dawn on the 24 April, Captain Bertram of the Canadian 8th Battalion noticed some greenish-white smoke rising from the German front line about 600 yards away. Travelling at eight miles an hour, the cloud 'drifted along the ground towards our trenches, not rising to more than seven feet from the ground when it reached our front line'. [2] The bank of high-density chlorine rolled over the Canadians, whose only protection was handkerchiefs, socks and towels which they urinated on and then stuffed in their mouths. Over the next few hours they were subjected to successive waves of gas so thick they blotted out the sun. Once or twice through the clouds they caught glimpses of German troops apparently dressed as divers, wearing large hoods with a single glass eyepiece set in the front.

There was the same panic-stricken scramble for the rear. On a small stretch of ground leading from the advanced trenches to the supports Bertram counted twenty-four bodies of men killed trying to outrun the gas; he himself collapsed with vomiting and diarrhoea, unable to breathe, with a feeling 'of great heaviness in the bottom of the chest'.

The German gas and artillery attack killed 5,000 men. Sergeant Grindley of the Canadian 15th Battalion was one of hundreds carried off the battlefield into the primitive medical posts. The doctors had no idea how to treat gas casualties and two days later Grindley died, gasping for breath. The surgeon who treated him called it 'air hunger'. In blue pencil he scrawled a post-mortem report:

The Body showed definite discolouration of the face and neck and hands. On opening the chest the two lungs bulged forwards. On removing the lungs there exuded a considerable amount of frothy light yellow fluid, evidently highly albuminous, as slight beating was sufficient to solidify it like white of egg. The veins on the surface of the brain were found greatly congested, all the small vessels standing out prominently. [3]


Of those who survived the gas attack, 60 per cent had to be sent home; half were still fully disabled at the end of the war.

Neither for the first time nor the last, men like Grindley - 'lions led by donkeys' - suffered for the blunders of their commanders who for weeks beforehand had been warned of what the Germans were planning. Although the facts were suppressed at the time, we now know that on 13 April, over a week before the first attack, a French patrol had captured a German soldier actually carrying a respirator. The soldier, a twenty-four year-old private called August Jager of Germany's 26th Army Corps, revealed the German plan to use gas and described the position of the cylinders (the existence of which had already been confirmed by aerial reconnaissance). Jager's information was passed to the French divisional commander, General Ferry, who in turn passed it on to the British and French High Commands with the advice either that the men threatened be withdrawn or the gas emplacements bombarded. Both his warning and his advice were ignored. As the official British report on the affair - classed 'secret' until almost sixty years after the attack - put it:

We were aware of the fact that the Germans were making preparations for the discharge of gas for several days previously ... Nobody seems to have realised the great danger that was threatening, it being considered that the enemy's attempt would certainly fail and that whatever gas reached our line could be easily fanned away. No one felt in the slightest degree uneasy ... [4]


Neither Ferry nor Jager profited when their predictions were proved correct. Ferry was dismissed from his post by the French High Command, furious at having their incompetence revealed. Jager's fate was grimmer. In a memoir published in 1930, Ferry imprudently named him as the source of his information. Jager, now a civilian, was promptly arrested, and at Leipzig in 1932 he was sentenced to ten years' penal servitude, the court deciding that his betrayal of German plans had helped cost them the war-the last and perhaps saddest casualty of the first gas attack.

The victims of Ypres were evacuated to the area around Boulogne, where they became the focus of intense scientific curiosity. What gas were the Germans using? What protection could be devised against it? The British ransacked their universities and hospitals for experts who might be able to provide the answers to these questions, and by the end of April the seaside town was filled to overflowing with wounded and dying men, attended by a small army of specialists and academics.

The largest hospital was housed in the famous pre-war Casino at Le Touquet, one of the great symbols of the Golden Era that came to an end in August 1914. Now - wrote one of Britain's leading physiologists, Joseph Barcroft - in elegant rooms which had once echoed to the sound of the roulette wheel, 'one simply wades through wounded'. Another hospital, in the Pleasure Pavilion at the end of the pier, was 'so full that it was almost impossible to move about. All the beds full and all available space on the floors. All the other hospitals are the same. Sometimes the beds are made and three cases pass through the bed in a day.' [5]

The feelings of shock and outrage were compounded by the fact that poison gas was specifically outlawed by international law. The Hague Declaration of 1899 had helped lay down the principle that there were certain methods of combat which were outside the scope of civilized warfare. The signatories, including Germany, had pledged among other things 'to abstain from the use of projectiles the object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases'.

To the gassed soldiers sixteen years later, this Edwardian gentlemen's agreement must have been as far removed from the realities of 1915 as the ornate chandeliers and paintings crated away at the Casino. With extraordinary cynicism, the Germans claimed that by not using projectiles but instead releasing the cloud of gas from cylinders, they had avoided breaking the Hague agreement. The German newspaper, Kolnishe Zeitung, went so far as to claim that 'the letting loose of smoke clouds, which, in a gentle wind, move quite slowly towards the enemy, is not only permissible by international law, but is an extraordinarily mild method of war'. [6] The British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, did not think so. On 23 April he telegraphed London asking for the means to retaliate. On the 24th, as the Canadians were enduring the second gas attack, Lord Kitchener, the War Minister, replied. 'Before we fall to the level of the degraded Germans,' he informed French, 'I must submit the matter to the Government.' It was clear, international agreements notwithstanding, that general chemical warfare could not now be far off. While the Cabinet considered the British position with regard to gas, news of the attack was spread to the general public.

There was a great spasm of anti-German feeling. The press fuelled the anger, printing vivid accounts of the suffering of the wounded. 'Their faces, arms, hands were of a shiny grey-black colour,' wrote The Times, 'with mouths open and lead-glazed eyes, all swaying slightly backwards and forwards trying to get breath.'? Lord Northcliffe's Daily Mail appealed to the women of England to make respirators using a simple pattern of cotton wool in a gauze envelope. The response to the Mail's call was enormous: a million of these embryo gas masks were made in a single day. Thousands unfortunately reached the front and were issued; they were useless when dry and caused suffocation when wet. A week after they arrived, the British High Command ordered them to be withdrawn; by the time the last one disappeared from the battlefield some days later, the Mail's respirator had been responsible for the deaths of scores of men.

Not that the official policy was much better. The army relied on the advice of two English professors, Haldane and Baker, who visited the front on 27 April. They recommended as protection the 'use of cloths etc moistened with urine, earth folded in cloth or enclosed in a bottle from which the base has been removed'.8 These stop-gap measures were all that the Allies had to carry them through three gas attacks on I, 6 and 10 of May.

The last and greatest attack of the summer came on the 24th. At dawn, under cover of a heavy artillery barrage, the Germans released chlorine along a two-mile sector of the front, between the Menin Road and Sanctuary Wood, south-west of Ypres. The men who held the line -- soldiers of the British 1st Cavalry, 4th and 28th Divisions - clutched hastily-issued respirators consisting of two layers of flannel (with tapes attached to tie over the mouth) which were meant to be dipped in soda solution before use, bottles of which were placed in the trenches.

The menacing cloud of greenish-white gas swirled over the British positions as it had over the French and Canadian, but this time at a totally unexpected density. The chlorine reached a concentration which proved fatal a mile and a half away; it was still strong enough to cause vomiting and smarting of the eyes nine miles from the front. Three miles back, at Ypres, houses and trees were completely blotted from view and the cellars of the hospital 'became filled with a fog'. In the trenches themselves - only a few hundred yards from the cylinders - the gas produced desperate scenes, as General Wilson recorded:

At first men used their respirators correctly, but as they became choked with gas the men re-dipped them in the solution which was distributed along the trenches.

As the gassing continued, the men became excited and could not be prevented from putting the respirators to their mouths without squeezing them dry, the result was that the men could not breathe through the saturated respirators and, thinking they were being suffocated by the gas, dipped them at shorter intervals, breathing hard between the dips instead of holding their breath, with the inevitable result that they were rendered unconscious by the gas. [9]


The attack lasted for over four hours. During the next few days, nearly three and a half thousand men were treated for gas poisoning; more than half of them had to be sent home to England. There were no figures for the number of dead.

Two days later, on 26 May, a strange figure clad in a uniform 'bearing tell-tale marks of long association with mud and barbed wire', a cap split by a shell splinter and a pistol strapped to his belt, appeared at the Advanced General Headquarters of the British Army at Hazebrouck. Major Charles Howard Foulkes of His Majesty's Royal Engineers had an appointment with General Robertson, Chief of Staff to Sir John French. It was an interview, Foulkes later recalled, of few words:

'Do you know anything about gas?' he asked, to which I replied quite truthfully, 'Nothing at all.' 'Well, I don't think it matters,' he went on; 'I want you to take charge of our gas reprisals here in France. Something is going on in London and you must cross over and find out all about it. Then come back here and tell me what your propose to do'; and with this I was dismissed. [10]


The British Army had, in Foulkes, appointed as 'Gas Adviser' a figure seemingly straight from the pages of Kipling or Rider Haggard. Foulkes was one of seven sons of a British chaplain in India, all of whom grew up to serve the Empire, and five of whom were buried overseas. By the time of his appointment in 1915 Foulkes was forty. He had spent twenty-three years in the Army, and had seen service in Sierra Leone ('The White Man's Grave' where he had twice nearly died of malaria), Gambia, the Gold Coast, South Africa, the West Indies, Nigeria and Ceylon. During the Boer War he had devised bicycle-mounted photo-reconnaissance equipment and several times narrowly escaped being shot while photographing Boer positions. In 1902, posing as a newspaperman and ostensibly covering the eruptions of the Mont Pelee volcano, he had secretly photographed the French fortifications in Martinique for the Secret Service. In the same year, travelling on horseback and by canoe, he penetrated deep into hostile and largely unexplored country to chart the boundary between Northern Nigeria and the French Sahara. A big game hunter, a First Division football player (for the Scottish side, Heart of Midlothian), a competitor at the 1908 Olympic Games, this remarkable, archetypal son of the Empire was to crown his career as AD C to the King and die in his bed - in the same year that men landed on the moon - at the age of ninety-five.

In 1915 the task facing him was to tax even his ingenuity to the utmost. The British High Command wanted gas ready to employ in their autumn offensive. Foulkes had five months to devise a gas weapon, get it into production, recruit and train men to use it, and work out how best to employ it. Fortunately for the British, these attempts would not be hampered by further German gas attacks. After the attack on 24 May, the wind began to blow from the west, and the Germans transferred their Gas Corps to the Eastern front, where it was employed with devastating results against the ill-equipped Russian Army. Apart from two attacks against the French in October, no more gas was discharged against the Allies in France until December.

The major problem confronting Foulkes was the one which he, as a soldier, could do least about: the weakness of the British chemical industry. There was nothing in the United Kingdom, or even in the rest of the world, remotely to match the productive capacity of Germany's eight giant chemical combines huddled together in the massive concentration in the Ruhr known as the Interessen Gemeinschaft - the I G.

To fight a war with poison gas requires highly efficient mass-production, a demand which the IG (then capitalized at an estimated $400 million) was ideally suited to meet. Most First World War gases could be manufactured in bulk using the methods and machinery normally employed in making dyestuffs. By the start of the war, Germany had a virtual world monopoly in the production of dyes; Britain on the other hand could produce only a tenth of what she needed. The imbalance was to be a serious handicap to the Allied chemical warfare effort, which right up to the end of the war lagged behind the efficiency of their enemy's. Indeed it was this unchallengeable superiority in chemical production, together with the fact that the British naval blockade was starving them of supplies of nitrate for making high explosive, that first led the German High Command to contemplate using gas.

They had introduced a form of tear gas (called T-Stoff after its inventor, Dr Tappen) on the Russian front in January 1915. T-Stoff, one of the precursors of modern riot gas, was considered just within the scope of weapons permitted by the Hague Convention. The Allies had similar weapons. In March, the French, on the initiative of a conscripted policeman, introduced tear gas cartridges and grenades. The British were developing a 'stink bomb' for clearing dugouts named 'SK' after South Kensington where it was invented. In the stress of war, it seemed but a short step from the use of gases which 'incapacitated' men by temporarily blinding or choking them, to the introduction of lethal agents.

The introduction of chemical warfare was in fact actively canvassed by the IG cartel from the outset of the war, most notably by its head, Carl Duisberg. An 'imperious Prussian who would not tolerate dissent in either his personal or his business life', [11] a man who (specifically) spoke of and believed in the 'Fuhrer Principle' long before Hitler was ever heard of, Duisberg belonged to the scientific and industrial elite whose skill and unscrupulousness was to enable Germany to fight the world for ten out of the next forty years.

The chemical industry was the foundation of Germany's war machine. Without Duisberg's factories' discovery and mass production of synthetic nitrates, the Kaiser would have been forced to sue for peace in 1915. Now, the initiation of poison gas warfare promised both to strengthen further the I G's position in Germany, and to revive the moribund dye industry, which had been at a virtual standstill since the start of the war. Duisberg urged the employment of chemical warfare at a special conference of the German High Command in the autumn of 1914 and he personally investigated the toxicity of the various war gases. (Later he arranged for the offices of his own company, Bayer, to be decorated with a giant frieze depicting all the various aspects of the factory's war work: one panel showed gas being made, another shells being filled, a third gas masks being assembled. At the end of the war he proudly displayed this 'work of art' to a bemused Allied officer.)

To Duisberg's enthusiasm and the productive power of the IG was added the genius of Germany's leading industrial scientist. The man today generally credited as the 'father' of chemical warfare was the head of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin: Fritz Haber. Forty years old, a brilliant chemist, a future Nobel Prizewinner and a fervent patriot, Haber energetically set about the task of finding the world's first, practical, lethal chemical weapon. Work began in the autumn of 1914. 'We could hear,' stated a witness at the end of the war, 'the tests that Professor Haber was carrying out at the back of the Institute, with the military authorities, who in their steel-gray cars came to Haber's Institute every morning ... The work was pushed day and night, and many times I saw activity in the building at eleven o'cock in the evening. It was common knowledge that Haber was pushing these men as hard as he could.' [12] In one of these early experiments a laboratory was blown up killing Haber's assistant, Professor Sachur.

By January Haber had a weapon ready to show the Army. Instead of filling the chemical into shells, he proposed to discharge it from cylinders. The chemical he chose was chlorine, a powerful asphyxiating gas which could be easily stored in the cylinders in liquid form; on contact with the air it evaporated into a low-hanging cloud which, with a favourable wind, could be carried into the heart of the enemy's positions. In addition, there were large stocks of chlorine to hand. Even before the war, the IG was producing forty tons per day; British production was less than a tenth of this.

The shock of the new weapon, the scale upon which an attack could be mounted, and the ability of gas to penetrate even the strongest fortifications, gave the Germans great hope that chemical warfare might end the deadlock in the west. Haber himself went to Ypres to supervise the attack. Yet despite the fact that between 22 April and 24 May, 500 tons of chlorine were discharged from over 20,000 cylinders, the Allied line held. Gas could not win the war alone - it had to be backed by a powerful offensive, which at Ypres the Germans failed to mount. Haber was bitterly disappointed. The military commanders, he wrote later, 'admitted afterward that if they had followed my advice and made a large-scale attack, instead of the experiment at Ypres, the Germans would have won'. [13]

Haber returned to Berlin where his wife Clara pleaded with him to give up his work and stay at home. Haber refused. In May he left for the eastern front where in three devastating attacks forty miles west of Warsaw the Russians lost around 25,000 men killed and wounded. Throughout the war the poorly-protected Russians suffered the worst of all the countries engaged in the chemical war: by the end of the war they were said to have suffered almost half a million casualties. In just one of the early attacks the Siberian Regiment was literally decimated - it began with thirty-nine officers and 4,310 men; it ended with four officers and 400 men. [14]

In the west, however, it was the Germans who were about to suffer. Duisberg had made a fatal miscalculation about the Allies' inability to respond with chemical weapons. Far from breaking the stalemate as he and Haber had hoped, gas was to become a major part of it. A pattern was established which was to persist to the end of the war: the Germans would initiate the use of a new gas to try to break through; it would fail, be copied by the Allies, and the cycle would repeat itself. In the summer of 1915, as work began in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute on the next war gas - phosgene - Foulkes struggled to find the men and material for the Allies' first gas attack -- using chlorine.

Haber himself was left to mourn the personal cost of his work on chemical warfare. On the night that he left for the eastern front, Clara Haber committed suicide.

And so, by a combination of industrial might, military expediency, and the skill of a handful of patriotic scientists, the world drifted into chemical warfare. Britain's poison gas offensive was waged by an elite section of the army, raised by Foulkes and known as the Special Companies (later the Special Brigade). Everyone was given extra pay and all held a rank at least equivalent to corporal. Most of them were new recruits, science graduates or industrial chemists. After the war many of them became key figures in Britain's fledgling Imperial Chemical Industries. In 1915 they carried revolvers instead of rifles, were largely excused the discipline of the parade ground, and learned instead to handle the 'oojahs', the great 190 lb cylinders of chlorine which required two men to carry them and which were to be the basis of Britain's first chemical attack.

By 25 September, 5,500 of these cylinders, containing 150 tons of gas, had been manhandled into position at Loos in Belgium ready for the British offensive. They had been shipped across the Channel in the greatest secrecy, each in an unmarked wooden box carried at a cost of twelve shillings apiece. A patrol of aeroplanes ensured that the Special Companies were not observed as they prepared the attack.

The need for surprise was paramount. In all plans for the attack distributed to company commanders, gas was referred to simply as 'the accessory', and severe penalties were imposed on anyone who accidentally described 'the accessory' as gas. The attitude of most officers to 'the accessory', and to the ill-assorted soldiers in charge of it, was well summed up by the old-school Captain Thomas in Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That:

Thomas said: 'It's damnable. It's not soldiering to use stuff like that, even though the Germans did start it. It's dirty, and it'll bring us bad luck. We're sure to bungle it. Take those new gas-companies - sorry, excuse me this once, I mean accessory-companies - their very look makes me tremble. Chemistry-dons from London University, a few lads straight from school, one or two N C Os of the old-soldier type, trained together for three weeks, then given a job as responsible as this. Of course they'll bungle it. How could they do anything else?' [15]


Yet, for all the suspicion, Foulkes could, on the eve of the Battle of Loos, look back on a remarkable achievement. Five months after the German initiation of gas warfare had caught the Allies by surprise, he had 1,404 men, including fifty-seven officers under his command. As they moved into position at midnight on the 25th, Foulkes waited nervously at Sir Douglas Haig's battle headquarters at a nearby chateau, a large-scale trench map spread out on the table in front of him, with small flags representing each of his commanders. At 5 am Haig considered calling off the attack. The wind was so slight that stepping into the grounds of the chateau, he asked one of his officers to light a cigarette; the puff of smoke scarcely drifted in the still morning air. Nevertheless, the attack went ahead. At 5.5° am the cylinders were opened. One gas officer, in a sector where the wind was least favourable, refused to discharge the gas. His refusal was relayed to Headquarters who instructed him to do as he was told. A few minutes later he was horrified to see the cloud drift back, gassing hundreds of British troops.

Image

The original order given to Sergeant J. B. Moss of the Special Brigade's 'B Company' on 25 September 1915, instructing him to prepare for Britain's first gas attack (Imperial War Museum).

Graves was scathing about the efficiency of Foulkes's men in his sector of the front. The spanners they had been provided with for unscrewing the cocks of the cylinders were the wrong size and 'the gas-men rushed about shouting for the loan of adjustable spanners.' Only one or two cylinders were released. Warned of the attack the Germans opened fire: 'direct hits broke several of the gas cylinders, the trench filled with gas, the gas-company stampeded.'

Things went better elsewhere along the front. An aerial reconnaissance report handed to Haig shortly after 6 am reported that 'the gas cloud was rolling steadily over towards the German lines'. As the chlorine reached the first trenches, warning drums began to sound along the length of the German front. In the trenches themselves the scenes were a virtual replay of those at Ypres in April. Officers and men were equally unprepared. Masks had been lost or forgotten, most of the respirators they had were useless (after the attack one British sergeant reported burying twenty-three gassed Germans: all were wearing respirators). German commanders reported complete panic. Men who had been given no rations for four days as a result of the constant bombardment which had preceded the gas attack were already weak and quickly collapsed. Some men tried to crouch in dug-outs - these were at first free from gas, but gradually it accumulated and forced them out. Seventy Germans tried to come over the top to surrender but were mown down by their own machine gunners who were better equipped than the ordinary troops, with divers' helmets and oxygen cylinders. Eventually though even they succumbed: their oxygen supply lasted thirty minutes; by carefully interspersing the clouds of chlorine with waves of smoke, the British padded out the attack to forty minutes. The smoke had an additional psychological effect, blotting out the autumn morning with a fog so thick that as far back as four miles behind the German line visibility was less than ten paces.

An hour after the first discharge of gas, the British infantry charged the German line, penetrating a mile in the first rush. 'Behind the fourth gas and smoke cloud,' reported the war correspondent of the Berliner Tageblatt, 'there suddenly emerged Englishmen in thick lines and storming columns. They rose suddenly from the earth wear-ing smoke masks over their faces and looking not like soldiers but like devils. These were bad and terrible hours.'16 A soldier of the 1st Middlesex Regiment, in a letter which was stopped by the censor, wrote:

I don't want to see another scene like last Saturday morning. It was just Hell with the lid off ... The artillery bombarded them for four days and nights, never stopped, seven hundred guns behind us. At 5.45 on Saturday morning we turned the gas on the devils - it was an awful sight - and at 6.30 we climbed over the parapet and charged them. I carried a field telephone. Four of us started, I was the only one to reach the first German trench, which was full of dead, about three or four deep, all gassed. But they had the machine guns in the third-line trenches and they mowed us down, and everywhere was mud and blood. When they called the roll on the 1st Middlesex, 96 answered present out of 1020. [17]


British soldiers fought their way through German trenches that were a wasteland of dead. The 20th Brigade reported 'whole machine gun crews lying gassed to death'. Other troops described 'five men and two officers lying heaped in one place, blue in the face and undoubtedly gassed to death'. Men lay face down in the trenches; one officer reported a German still seated in his chair - gassed. Elsewhere, six dead Germans were found huddled together, as if trying to ward off the cold. Many of the dead were in the second and third lines, and in the communicating trenches where they had died trying to scramble to the rear. 'We saw the deadly effect of our gas,' wrote one officer to a London paper. 'The Germans had suffered as we too had suffered in the past.' [18]

In some places, the German line was penetrated by British troops to a depth of three miles. But, as in so many battles of the First World War, the gains were transitory and small, the sacrifices enormous. Although eighteen guns and 3,000 prisoners were captured, the Battle of Loos cost the British over 50,000 casualties. There was no breakthrough. As at Ypres, gas - unpredictable in its effects and heavily dependent upon the weather - had failed to achieve the decisive victory each side sought. Like Haber, Foulkes was left after the battle to sigh a series of 'ifs'. 'If fortune had been a little kinder, if the wind had been only slightly more favourable, there is no doubt whatever that Sir John French would have gained a smashing victory on this day.' [19] As it was, within a week the Germans had recaptured almost all the ground they had lost.

After Loos, gas was an even more unpopular weapon than it had been before. In the three weeks after the first discharge, 2,000 British troops reported as casualties of British gas; fifty-five cases were 'severe' and ten died. Pipes and cylinders often leaked, frequently they were damaged by enemy shells; and when a gas attack occurred, the wind often wafted the cloud over the wrong side. Even the commanders viewed it with distaste.

In the ordinary soldier there was born a hatred of gas that steadily deepened as the war progressed. For the next three years men were kept constantly on their guard. Allied anti-gas schools were set up at Havres, Rouen, Etaples, Abbeville, Boulogne and Calais. Every soldier was put through a standard course which included an hour immersed in a cloud of gas (to give him 'confidence in his respirator') and half a minute exposed to tear gas (to give him a fright and teach him to take anti-gas precautions seriously). Masks had to be put on in a regulation six seconds - but before being allowed to do so, and while still exposed to the tear gas, men had to repeat their name, number and battalion; sometimes they were made to do it twice. 'It was,' as one historian has put it, 'a brisk business, which sent men back to the front with an aggrieved feeling of the unfairness of gas.'20 It was believed that gas casualties were a result of slack discipline. Courts of Inquiry were held on the victims, and each gas case had to wear a 'wound stripe' - visible evidence of his neglect in allowing himself to be gassed. (This practice was only stopped after the introduction of mustard gas, when there were simply too many casualties for the system to cope with.)

The effectiveness of these stern measures is reflected in the statistics for gas casualties. Of the 180,983 British soldiers officially accounted as having been gassed in the First World War, only 6,062 are recorded as having died, giving a mortality rate of around 3 per cent [21] (although, as will be discussed later, this figure is almost certainly well below the true number).

Using these figures, advocates of chemical warfare later argued that gas was actually the most humane of the weapons used in the First World War, wounding far more than it killed. But the figures do not reveal either the horror or persistence of gas wounds. Nor do they show the psychological casualties. As the fighting dragged on, the constant state of gas readiness imperceptibly sapped men's strength and fighting spirit. Fear was omnipresent. Every few miles along every road, signs warned of the danger of gas. As far back as twelve miles you had constantly to carry your mask. In the event of a gas alarm a deafening racket arose along the front. Bells were rung, empty shell cases beaten, and the great Strombus horns - twenty-eight to the mile, powered by compressed air and audible nine miles away - let out warning screams. One eyewitness recalled:

With men trained to believe that a light sniff of gas might mean death, and with nerves highly strung by being shelled for long periods and with the presence of not a few who really had been gassed, it is no wonder that a gas alarm went beyond all bounds. It was remarked as a joke that if someone yelled 'gas', everyone in France would put on a mask ... Two or three alarms a night was common. Gas shock was as frequent as shellshock. [22]


In June 1915, 2,500,000 'Hypo Helmets' were issued - bags of flannel which had been chemically impregnated against chlorine. The bags were placed over the head and tucked into the collar; two eyepieces cut into the front and made of celluloid enabled the wearer to peer out at the scene around him. In the autumn the British added modifications - the helmet was better impregnated and a rubber exhaust tube was added. Nine million of these 'P Helmets' were issued by December.

The shapeless hood, the twin eyeholes, the elephant's trunk of rubber hanging down from the mouth - the respirators gave the men a nightmarish quality as they moved around in the dense clouds of gas. To wear, the masks were extremely uncomfortable. Often they leaked around the mouthpiece, or the eyepieces cracked and let in the gas. They produced a feeling of suffocation. A dangerous concentration of carbon dioxide was likely to build up inside. They made you sweat, and when that happened the eyepieces steamed up and the chemical solution the flannel had been dipped in began to run, stinging the face and dripping down the neck. And in a long attack, the effectiveness of the helmets could come dangerously close to exhaustion; with the chemical protection worn away, the gas was able to seep through.

The P Helmet had been hastily improvised to provide protection against phosgene, another chemical used in the dye industry, whose potential as a war gas had been noticed by the Allies in the summer of 1915. The helmet arrived at the front in the nick of time.

At 5.30 am on 19 December, the German Gas Corps broke their six month silence on the British front with an attack at Ypres using phosgene for the first time. Captain Adie of the Royal Army Medical Corps recalled a loud hissing sound. 'Almost at the same moment red rockets went up from the German lines ... I was at Headquarters drinking a cup of tea with the Colonel. At first I thought the water from which the tea was made had been over-chlorinated - a moment later I thought I smelt gas.' [23]

Travelling at great speed, the cloud - a mixture of chlorine and phosgene - outstripped the alarm system of gongs and klaxons and took hundreds of men unawares; one man was gassed five miles behind the front line. Panic set in on the dark winter morning as shell fire cut all the telephone wires to the front. It was mid-afternoon before Adie could reach the first trenches. Most of the chlorine victims were already dead, 'blue and puffed out', the wounded frothing from the mouth. The phosgene victims began to feel worse as the day progressed. Men who thought they had escaped being gassed suddenly found the slightest effort made them ill.

Some 30 or 40 men left the trench to report sick. To get to the road the men reporting sick had to go across about 100 yards of very rough muddy ground. The exertion, in heavy wet great-coats, and with all their equipment, caused great alteration in their condition, and by the time they reached the road they were exhausted and were quite unable to proceed any further. The road was strewn with exhausted men, and we did not get them all in until 7 am the next morning. The history of the men who remained at duty in the trenches was still more striking. One man, feeling fairly well, was filling sand bags when he collapsed and died suddenly. Two more men died in the same way that evening. [24]


One officer died suddenly in an ambulance, another collapsed while walking to report his symptoms. A third reported to a medical post at 8.30 pm. 'He said he didn't feel very well, but he did not look very bad. I gave him a cup of tea which he drank and we talked for a little while. Suddenly he collapsed in the chair he was sitting on. I gave him some oxygen but he died an hour afterwards.' 1,069 men were gassed that day; 116 died.

The appearance of phosgene greatly deepened the fear of gas. Like chlorine it haa quirky side-effects - for example it made pipe tobacco taste like hay. But it was, at a rough calculation, eighteen times as powerful as chlorine, practically colourless and odourless, and much more difficult to detect. Effective in concentrations of just one part in 50,000 it had a deadly delayed action. A victim who has inhaled a lethal dose at first feels nothing more than a mild irritation of eyes and throat which quickly passes off; for up to two days afterwards a man might actually feel mildly euphoric. Throughout this period his lungs are filling with fluid. Collapse comes quickly. The slightest action - turning over in bed for instance - can send the respiration rate rocketing to 80 breaths per minute, the pulse to 120. The 'drowning period' begins. Official reports describe 'an abundant flow of thin watery fluid, often streaked with blood, which simply flows from the mouth as the dying patient loses the power to expel it. After death, the foam from this fluid may dry to a white efflorescence around the mouth.'25 Victims were known to cough up four pints of this yellowish liquid every hour; it could take forty-eight hours to die.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 4:44 am

Part 2 of 2

The gas produced some of the most extraordinary stories of the war. Foulkes recalled a German taken prisoner after a British phosgene attack. At his interrogation, in high spirits, he ridiculed the ineffectiveness of British gas. Twenty-four hours later he was dead. One German died while writing a letter home to his family. Because of its delayed action, phosgene caused many casualties among the men of the Special Companies, unaware that they were being poisoned.

One sergeant got a slight dose of gas the day after an attack had been made, whilst disconnecting pipes from the empty cylinders: he paid no attention to it, did not even mention it at the time and carried on with his duties. He slept and breakfasted well on the following day, but an hour later he became very ill and died twenty-four hours after inhaling the gas. [26]


At the Battle of the Somme alone, fifty-seven of Foulkes's men died from the effects of their own gas.

It was at the Somme, in June 1916, that the Allies first used the new gas. In the biggest attack they had launched up to that time, chlorine and phosgene were released along a seventeen mile front, producing a massive cloud that penetrated twelve miles behind the German lines. The cloud wiped out men, horses, wildlife, insects, vegetation - virtually everything it touched. Three months before autumn, all the leaves on the trees in the nearby Monchy wood had fallen. The war correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung wrote of the hundreds of dead rats and mice that 'are found in the trenches after gas attacks. Owls are greatly excited. Behind the front, fowls and ducks are said to have become restless a quarter of an hour before the gas clouds approached; and the gas kills ants and caterpillars, beetles and butterflies. I found a hedgehog and an adder both killed by gas. The only birds that seem indifferent to the gas are the sparrows.'27 A few weeks later, in August, a German cloud of phosgene reached a height of sixty feet and passed through a wood near Ypres, killing thousands of birds nesting in the trees.

On the Somme, phosgene killed men in their hundreds. The Daily Chronicle enthusiastically reported that 'British wounded brought back from the German trenches by their comrades relate that the effects of the new gases experimented with are terrible. One soldier of the Highland Light Infantry, who took part in one of the principal incursions into the enemy trenches, declares that all the Germans occupying that particular sector were dead. Two hundred and fifty corpses were counted lying huddled together.' [28]

The story was the same as in previous gas attacks: men caught unawares, panicking, and spreading the terror and confusion which enabled the gas to do its work. 'Some men,' according to a report captured from the German 12th Division, 'were taken by surprise and put on their masks too late, others ran too quickly and tore off their masks because of the difficulty of breathing. Others, again, tumbled about during the alarm and either had their masks torn off or displaced.' [29] The dead were too numerous to bury: the dug-outs where they lay were merely blown up or filled in with earth.

In the first eighteen days of the Somme Battle, the Special Brigade carried out fifty gas attacks. Phosgene became the main British chemical weapon. Over the next nine months almost 1,500 tons of it were discharged.

To the British - the public, the army, even the men of the Special Brigade - gas was universally known as 'Frightfulness'. Even after years of war and atrocity which had seen the introduction of such terrifying new weapons as the tank, the Zeppelin and the U-boat, gas was still the most hated and feared of them all, with a complete demonology to itself. Chemical weapons came to epitomise all that was most disgusting and evil about the war, a mood captured best in Wilfred Owen's famous poem:

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Foulkes tried his best to play down this image. He was tireless in his efforts to promote gas. He acted as its ambassador, even to neutral nations not fighting the war but who wanted to know more about the potentialities of chemical weapons. He introduced 'Open Days' at the Special Brigade's HQ at Helfaut. There were regular demonstrations to convince the sceptical. 'On several occasions,' Foulkes recalled, 'there were more than 100 Generals present at a time, and 300 or 400 officers altogether.' Winston Churchill visited Helfaut and came away, according to Foulkes, powerfully impressed by chemical warfare - a conviction which was to be of crucial importance a quarter of a century later, when Britain was next at war. Other VIP visitors included the Duke of Westminster and George Bernard Shaw.

This public relations exercise was useful, but in the end Foulkes won the battle against the critics of gas warfare through simple military expediency. A chemical arms race developed, in the rush of which there was no time to worry about ethics. Soon, virtually every leading chemist in Britain was at work on some aspect of gas warfare. Thirty-three different British laboratories tested 150,000 known organic and inorganic compounds in an attempt to develop the most poisonous war gas possible, and in 1916 this massive research and development organization was given its focus when the British opened an installation whose name has been synonymous with poison gas ever since - the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down. Occupying a 7,000 acre site on Salisbury Plain, Porton (whose work is described in Chapter Two) employed over a thousand scientists and soldiers whose job it was to transform the theories of the laboratory into actual weapons.

In a short space of time, chemical weapons moved from the fringes of the war to its very heart. In 1915, 3,600 tons of gas were discharged. In 1916 that figure more than quadrupled, to 15,000 tons. Chemicals and aeroplanes vied with one another as the fastest-developing forms of warfare. Gas attacks ceased to be carefully-planned set-piece affairs: they became an everyday occurrence. For the British, the expansion was due in particular to two new weapons - the Livens Projector and the Stokes Mortar - which despite their prosaic titles were innovations as deadly as they were revolutionary. 'The heirs of the Livens Projector,' one expert has written, 'are the multiple rocket launchers and the aircraft cluster bombs.' [30]

Captain F. H. Livens, the inventor of the Projector, was marked by two key characteristics - a passionate hatred of the Germans, and unflagging energy. A former civil engineer and commander of 'Z' Company of the Special Brigade, 'Livens,' recalled Foulkes, 'had a strong personal feeling in the war connected, I believe, with the sinking of the Lusitania.' He was a 'go-getter', enthusiastically leaping in and out of gas clouds to test their effects, and prone to commandeer equipment he needed, if necessary, at the point of a gun.

His invention was crude, but so effective that it was still one of the army's main chemical weapons thirty years later. The Projector was a steel tube, generally between three and four feet long, and eight inches in diameter. It was simply buried in the ground at an angle of 45 degrees, and fired remotely by means of an electrical charge, generally in banks of twenty-five at a time. The charge sent hurtling from the tube a drum containing 30 lb of chemical, usually pure phosgene. The only warning the enemy received was the flash of the discharge. Seconds later a core of TNT burst the container over their positions, setting up an instantaneous, lethal concentration of gas. Rather than releasing the clouds of gas from cylinders which then placed them at the mercy of the wind, the Livens Projector was a means of virtually dropping the cylinders on the heads of the enemy. It was not particularly accurate, but it had a range of a mile, and was also cheap and easy to make. Livens calculated that if the Projector was mass-manufactured 'the cost of killing Germans would be reduced to only sixteen shillings apiece'.

The British first launched a full-scale attack using the Livens Projector at the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917:

The discharge took place practically simultaneously: a dull red flash seemed to flicker all along the front as far as the eye could reach, and there was a slight ground tremor, followed a little later by a muffled roar, as 2,340 of these sinister projectiles hurtled through space, turning clumsily over and over, and some of them, no doubt, colliding with each other in flight. About twenty seconds later they landed in masses in the German positions, and after a brief pause the steel cases were burst open by the explosive charges inside, and nearly fifty tons of liquid phosgene were liberated which vaporized instantly and formed a cloud so dense that Livens, who watched the discharge from an aeroplane, noticed it still so thick as to be visible as it floated over Vimy and Bailleul villages. [31]


The terrors of the gas cloud and the artillery bombardment were combined in a weapon which the Germans came to view with particular horror. A captured German document spoke of the 'violent explosion' of a projector attack: 'volcanic sheets of flame or the simultaneous occurrence of many gun flashes, thick black smoke clouds, powerful concussion, whistling and noise of impact up to 25 seconds after the flash of discharge ... the noise resembles that of an exploding dump of hand grenades.' [32] At Arras, the German gun crews were forced to wear their masks for hours on end; many ran out of ammunition as the gas killed hundreds of horses used to carry munitions up to the front.

It was virtually the only time the Allies took the Germans by surprise with a new chemical weapon in the entire war, and despite German attempts to copy it the Livens Projector marked a major shift in the chemical war in favour of the Allies. Its drawback was the amount of preparation which a successful projector attack required: installing, loading and camouflaging them was a risky business. Nevertheless, the British used them on an increasing scale, often in batteries of thousands at a time. New fillings of high explosive and incendiaries were developed, as well as 'stinks' like bone oil and amyl acetate whose obnoxious smell forced the enemy to don gas masks.

The Battle of Arras also saw the widespread use of the Stokes Mortar. Like the Projector, its design was extremely simple: a steel tube raised at an angle by two struts. It fired four-inch mortar bombs, each containing two litres of gas. A well-trained crew could fire fifteen bombs and have them all in the air before the first one hit its target, with pin-point accuracy, as much as 1,000 yards away.

In addition to mortars and projectors came the gas shell, whose whistling flight and thudding impact became familiar noises in the cacophony of battle. The French and the Germans used them early in 19I 6, and large-scale shelling by the British came in the following year. By 1918 between a third and a fifth of all shells were being filled with chemicals. The Germans actually named their gases after the markings on the shell cases: Green Cross for phosgene and chlorine, Yellow Cross for mustard gas, and White Cross for tear gas.

Gas-filled artillery weapons overcame much of the initial antagonism felt for chemical warfare among military planners. Gas could now be more easily integrated into an attack, there was less dependence on the wind, and leaking cylinders - which often gave warning of an impending attack by sending hundreds of rats fleeing across No Man's Land - were largely banished from the trenches. By 1918, 94 per cent of all the gas used was being delivered by the artillery: an over-all total for the war of 66 million gas shells. Shelling on this scale meant that chemical warfare, once an unexpected and terrifying experience, was now an ever-present threat. For in July 19I 7 the Germans began to use a gas weapon whose power dwarfed anything which had gone before and which was only made possible by the development of the gas shell: dichlorethyl sulphide.

Mustard gas.

The scene was once again Ypres. At 10 pm on the warm summer evening of 12 July, the British 15th and 55th Divisions came under heavy bombardment. The enemy was using 77 and 105 mm gas shells in massive numbers. But what they delivered was not 'gas' in the sense that the soldiers were used to. It was a brown liquid, rather like sherry, which gave off a smell variously described as 'unpleasant', 'oily', 'like garlic' and 'like mustard'. Apart from a slight irritation to the eyes and throat, there were no initial effects, and few men even bothered to put on their gas masks. Most quickly went back to sleep. But in the early hours of the morning they began to wake up with 'intolerable pain' in the eyes, which felt as though sand or grit had been rubbed into them. Then they began to vomit uncontrollably. As the night wore on, the pain in the eyes became so intense that many had to be given morphia. The following day the sun rose over an army that looked as if it had been stricken by some biblical plague.

When some of the milder cases were evacuated each man had to be led like a blind man by an orderly to the ambulance car.

The face was frequently congested and swollen, especially in the more severe cases, and small blisters were visible in many cases on the lower part of the face and chin, and sometimes on the neck.

A few cases had painful patches of blisters on the backs of the, thighs and buttocks, and even on the scrotum, with oedema of the scrotum and penis. The vesication of the buttocks and oedema of the genitals would appear to be probably due to men sitting on the ground contaminated with the toxic substance. [33]


The hours passed and the symptoms grew worse. Moist red patches of skin affected by the vapour became massive yellow blisters up to a foot long. The gas could easily penetrate clothes, attacking the skin wherever it was most sensitive: at the bend of the elbow, the back of the knee, the neck, between the thighs. The Chemical Adviser to the Fifth Army, trying to retrieve fragments of the mustard shells for analysis, developed blisters on his wrists and on the backs of his hands. He tried to carry a portion of a shell under his arm and developed blisters on his chest, the mustard working its way through several layers of clothing. 'Owing to its high boiling point,' reported the War Office expert Sir Harold Hartley, 'some of it is scattered on the ground and continues to give off gas for some time. It could be smelt in Ypres on the day following the bombardment.'  [34]

The field hospitals were choked with casualties. Two days after the attack, the first deaths occurred. Dying was a slow and agonizing process. It was not necessarily the burns that killed, but the havoc the gas wrought in the throat and lungs. 'On entering a ward full of cases gassed during the recent attack,' reported Captain Ramsay of the RAM C 'one is struck by the incessant and apparently useless coughing of the patients.' [35] The men's bronchial tubes were stripped of their mucous membrane by the gas. 'In one case,' wrote another medical officer, 'the mucous membrane formed apparently a complete cast of the trachea.' [36] The victim had died with his windpipe clogged from top to bottom.

There is no record of the precise circumstances in which Sapper Guest of the Royal Engineers was gassed on 12 July. We know only that he was admitted to hospital nine days later and 'complained of difficulty in breathing and pain in both eyes'. The following day, 'during the early morning the difficulty in breathing became more marked. He rallied slightly but relapsed in the early forenoon and died at 10 am.'

The body was examined four and a half hours after death. It was that of a well-developed man, and showed externally a slightly dusky discolouration of the skin of face and neck and vesicles on the scrotum and penis but no wounds of any kind. On opening the body, distinct irritation of the eyes, mouth, throat, nose and skin of the face was noticed by several people who were present and a faint sweetish taste was noticeable, comparable with the effect of a weak carbolic solution. [37]


Here was a gas so powerful that men standing around the dismembered corpse of a victim at an autopsy could still feel its effects ten days after the initial poisoning. And as the post mortem continued, the full extent of the damage wrought by the gas lay revealed before the doctors. The larynx and vocal chords were 'swollen and very red', the windpipe filled with 'thin frothy fluid', and 'six ounces of blood stained fluid in the left lung'; the lung itself, which was more than double its normal weight, 'felt very firm and solid', and 'portions of the lobe sank in water'; the heart weighed twenty ounces instead of the normal ten, and the veins over the surface of the brain 'contained innumerable small bubbles of gas'.

Another victim, thirty-nine year-old Lieutenant Collinge of the King's Liverpool Regiment, took ten days to die:

Brownish pigmentation present over large surfaces of the body. The forearms showed the same pigmentation, except at a place where a wrist watch had been situated, a white ring of skin being present there. Marked superficial burning of the face and scrotum. The whole of the trachea and lower part of the larynx, including the vocal chords, were covered by a yellowish membrane. The bronchi contained abundant pus. The right lung showed extensive collapse, and on section numerous patches of bronchopneumonia, some as large as a five-shilling piece. These patches were grey in colour, and in many of them the pus could be seen to have extended beyond the limits of the bronchi to form definite absesses. Liver congested and somewhat fatty. The brain substance was unduly wet and very congested.


Collinge and Guest were only two of hundreds. The Germans had delayed their attack until they had built up enormous reserves of mustard gas and were in a position to mount a bombardment on a giant scale. In ten days Allied positions were pounded with more than a million shells containing 2,500 tons of gas. Within three weeks of introducing Yellow Cross shell, the Germans had caused as many gas casualties as had resulted from the entire gas shelling of the preceding year. By the end of the first week, the number of gassed men admitted to British Medical Units was 2,934; by the end of the second week, a further 6,476 had been added; by the end of the third week, another 4,886.

In all, from July 1917 to the end of the war, British casualties from mustard gas amounted to at least 125,000 - 70 per cent of the total number of British gas casualties for the whole war. A conservative estimate of the number of deaths was 1,859. Although the mortality rate was therefore only around 1-1/2 per cent, the severity of the effects was enough to keep a man away from duty for two to three months, if not longer. There were frequently secondary infections of the respiratory system and the skin. First World War doctors noted that healing skin could often erupt in fresh blisters, or inflammation could occur in an area which had been previously thought not contaminated. Ramsay gave an instance of a man who 'had burns of the scrotum on the second day, and on the eighth day the skin of his back became inflamed for the first time.' [38]

Thousands of men were drawing disability pensions at the end of the war as a result of mustard gas poisoning. It was, declared a secret British assessment of gas casualties prepared in 1919, 'in a class by itself so far as casualty producing power is concerned'. It was not simply a matter of deaths and numbers wounded, it was the time it took for them to heal. 'To put the matter bluntly, mustard gas on several occasions accounted during a week or two for the prolonged removal from the sphere of active operations of casualties equivalent in number to the combatants of two or more Divisions.' [39] Thanks largely to mustard gas, in the last eighteen months of the war, one casualty in every six (16-1/2 per cent of the total) was a victim of chemical weapons. [40]

Long after the initial bombardment had occurred, an area which had been contaminated by mustard was liable to remain dangerous. The liquid formed pools in shell craters and in the corners of dugouts ready to trap the unwary. It polluted water. In cold weather it froze like water and stayed in the soil: mustard used in the winter of 1917 poisoned men in the spring of 1918 when the ground thawed. In this way, mustard could be used to 'seal off' whole areas of a battlefield; the only way to cross a contaminated section of ground was by laying a road of bleach. To survive in such conditions, men not only had to wear masks, but also leggings, gloves and goggles. To continue to fight it was necessary to decontaminate equipment constantly. Gas became a weapon of attrition: its military effectiveness was not to be measured merely in casualty lists. If gas never killed a man, wrote General Fries, head of the infant United States Chemical Warfare Service, 'the reduction in physical vigour and, therefore, in efficiency of an army forced at all times to wear masks, would amount to at least 25 per cent, equivalent to disabling a quarter of a million men out of an army of a million.' [41]

For the average soldier, the strain of living in this alien, chemically- polluted environment was scarcely bearable. Even the well-disciplined made mistakes. Among the rest - the shell-shocked, the careless, the raw and frightened conscripts - gas mopped up casualties. 'After July 1917,' wrote Lord Moran, 'gas partly usurped the role of high explosive in bringing to a head a natural unfitness for war. The gassed men were an expression of trench fatigue, a menace when the manhood of the nation had been picked over.' [42]

Mustard went under a variety of different names. To the Germans it was 'Lost', to the French 'Yperite', after Ypres, where it was first used; the British also code-named it HS ('Hun Stuff'). Its chemical name was dichlorethyl sulphide - a substance the British had actually turned down when it was suggested as a weapon on the grounds that it wasn't sufficiently lethal. They now had cause bitterly to regret that decision. It had taken the Germans only six months to get the gas into production. It took the French until June 1918 - almost a year. The British encountered even more difficulties in setting up bulk production. Not only was the chemical process required extremely complicated, it also proved highly dangerous.

The main English plant - capable of producing over twenty tons a day - was eventually sited at Avonmouth. Among its 1,100 workers, its Medical Officer reported in December 1918 that there had been over 1,400 illnesses directly attributable to the work. [43] In addition there were 160 accidents and over a thousand burns; three people were killed and another four had died of related illnesses in the six months that the factory was in operation. There were a vast number of complaints - blisters of the hands, scalp, shoulders, arms, abdomen, buttocks, genitals, thighs, legs and feet; erythema, iritis, scrotal dermatitis, leukodermia, conjunctivitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, tracheitis, gastritis, pleurodynia, purulent bronchopneumonia, aphonia, acute rhinitis (bleeding from the nose); debility, gastric pain, mental inertia, chronic cough, breathlessness, memory weakness and defective eyesight. Many of the workers were old, many were women - some pregnant. There were thirty resident patients in the factory hospital, tended by a doctor and eight nurses. All in all, it added a new meaning to the phrase 'the Home Front'. Yet despite the frenzied efforts to produce British mustard gas, no supplies reached the battlefield until September 1918, two months before the Armistice.

Instead the British responded with a series of major cloud gas attacks - the last of the war - using cylinders of phosgene mounted on the backs of railway engines. Foulkes, who dreamt up the idea, called them 'beam' operations - concentrated clouds which drifted in thin columns over the enemy positions, bleaching vegetation for distances of up to 12,000 yards; at Ypres the clouds accumulated in the river valleys for hours.

The attacks caused panic among billeted soldiers in villages and towns many miles behind the lines. When a cloud was detected approaching (invariably at night) alarm bells were rung and troops and civilians, all clutching respirators, made their way to the top rooms of the houses, closing all the windows and doors. The cloud swirled by below, killing all the flowers and vegetables in the gardens. These attacks, reaching far behind the lines and for the first time affecting large numbers of civilians, were greatly feared. The Germans were so anxious to avoid revealing the casualties they incurred that - according to Foulkes - 'the greatest secrecy was always observed ... and all burials and evacuations were carried out at night.' [44]

They were dangerous and difficult attacks to mount. Captain A. E. Hodgkin, commander of the Special Brigade's 'A' Company, left behind in his diary a striking account of what life was like in the closing months of the war: working close to the front line in the early hours of the morning, in a 'very cold and high wind', the night moonless and pitch-black, trying to manhandle tons of liquid phosgene 'brought up the line by light railway which is never repaired much and which is consequently jerky, to say the least of it. Each truck goes up separately being pushed by five or six men: every 100 yards or so it hops off the line and has to be unloaded, replaced on the line and loaded up again. My vocabulary has been improved wonderfully by the exercise, but that of the men is becoming rather threadbare.' [45]

Night after night, the men of 'A' Company would stand by to release the gas - Hodgkin by a field telephone in a tunnel full of a 'multitude of fungi and rats' - only to be told as dawn was breaking to forget about it until the next night. Often the German sentries a few hundred yards away heard them moving about and passed word to their artillery. On one occasion, Hodgkin was stranded at the front in a heavy bombardment:

The night was still uncannily quiet Until 2 am when we started our return journey. When halfway down the light railway the enemy began shelling with gas shells. I have never heard so many in the air at once. So we took shelter in one of the reserve lines for about an hour and a half, by which time he seemed to have finished with Cambrin through which we had to pass. Just at this time we saw our S.O.S. signal go up and a battle begin to the north of the Canal. Then down came a barrage of gas and high explosive all along the La Bassee road. I don't know how any of us ever got back at all: we had to march all the way back to Sailly in respirators as the whole area was soaked with gas, and were pursued the entire distance with shells of all calibres.


Eventually, after weeks of waiting, Hodgkin was given the order to release the gas. The cylinders were mounted on the backs of ten 10 ton trucks, towed by four engines to within 700 yards of the German front line. At I am, in bright moonlight, Hodgkin watched apprehensively as the first waves of the gas drifted towards enemy positions where the night before a patrol had reported that 'loud talking and laughing could be heard at 4 am'. The discharge lasted over three hours. Hodgkin had little idea - apart from 'a good deal of promiscuous shelling for retaliation' - of what effect the attack was having. The only accurate casualty report he received was when he returned to base to be told that he had 'killed three of our own men, poor devils, who hadn't been warned by their officer to be clear of the danger area by zero time.'

Despite the riskiness of railway-mounted operations from behind the front lines, in March 1918 Foulkes was putting the final touches to what would have been the biggest cylinder discharge of all time, so great that, in his opinion, 'trench warfare would have been converted into open warfare in a day'. 200,000 cylinders of phosgene were to be opened from the backs of dozens of railway trains, releasing 6,000 tons of gas in a chemical offensive which would last for twelve hours. Few respirators - even twenty or thirty miles behind the front line - would be able to withstand such an onslaught. Casualties were estimated to be likely to be 50 per cent. In the ensuing confusion the British High Command planned to launch a mighty offensive, spearheaded by tanks, which would punch its way through the front and end the war. The sector of the front provisionally selected for the attack was that held by the 3rd Army, between Gavrelle and Gouzeaucourt.

But Foulkes's dreams of triumph were overtaken by events. In March 1918, having concluded peace with Russia, a much-strengthened German army was able to launch its own great offensive in the west. The Allies were subjected to a hurricane bombardment from over 4,000 guns. With the IG producing a thousand tons of mustard gas a month, the Germans were in a position literally to drench the British and French with gas.

On four successive nights, from 10 to 13 March, the Cambrai Salient was blanketed with 150,000 rounds of Yellow Cross shell. Later, 20,000 shells were fired in the course of fifteen hours into the village of Armentieres: liquid mustard ran like rain water in the gutters of the streets. Trying to survive for hours at a time on the stale air of the respirator was almost unendurable. The gas was everywhere. It evaporated quickly in the warm spring weather and penetrated every crevice. It waited until sweating men loosened their clothing or wiped the perspiration from their eyes - and then it struck. In the week ending on 16 March, 6,195 gas cases were admitted to medical units; the following week saw the admission of a further 6,874; and during the week ending on 13 April, the British suffered what was possibly their worst ever period, as 7,000 gassed men flooded into the field hospitals. [46]

It was the week of Field Marshal Haig's famous 'Special Order of the Day' of 11 April: 'There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.' Over the next few weeks, 200 German divisions advanced over forty miles, capturing 80,000 prisoners and 1,000 guns. Hodgkin, retreating day after day, wrote that he felt as though he was 'living on the side of a precipice'. An enemy attack could come 'at any moment of the day or night. The bombing season has begun again with the new moon and the air has been full of enemy aeroplanes all this evening.'

The success of the attack owed much to mustard gas. Ammunition dumps later captured by the Allies were revealed to be as much as 50 per cent stocked with chemical weapons. The Americans alone suffered 70,000 casualties from mustard gas - more than a quarter of the US Army's over-all casualties for the entire war.

In advancing so far, however, the Germans had sown the seeds of their own defeat. In July and August the Allies were able to strike back at the over-extended German positions. Their armies too were heavily dependent on chemicals. By August the British and Americans were increasing the proportion of gas-filled munitions ordered from the factories to between 20 and 30 per cent of total ammunition supplied. That ratio was planned to be increased still further. By 1919 it is possible that chemicals would have come to rival, even in some cases outstrip, high explosives. In June the French acquired mustard gas, and in September, in the dying days of the war, the first significant supplies of British-charged mustard shells reached the battlefield. By then it was all nearly over.

Yet the British use of mustard gas is significant for one incident alone. On 14 October, during the final Allied offensive, British mustard shells rained down into a shattered Belgian village called Werwick, causing heavy casualties among the exhausted 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry. A few days before the Armistice, a trainload of the men wounded in the Werwick attack were shipped back to Germany. Among them, blinded and humiliated, was a twenty-nine year-old corporal, whose injuries helped determine him to avenge the German defeat: Adolf Hitler. [47]

Fearing that he would be tried as a war criminal, Fritz Haber donned a false beard and as the war ended took off for Switzerland: so too did Carl Duisberg, head of the German chemical industry. Neither in the end was tried. Indeed in 1919 Haber was honoured with the Nobel Prize for his work on the synthesis of ammonia, a decision which outraged the scientific world, the New York Times asking - if Haber got the Chemistry Prize - 'Why the Nobel prize for idealistic and imaginative literature was not given to the man who wrote General Ludendorff's daily communiques?' [48]

Between them, Haber and Duisberg had changed the history of warfare. At least 1.3 million men had been wounded by gas; 91,000 of them had died. Germany, France and Britain had all suffered around 200,000 casualties, and Russia more than double that figure. An estimated 113,000 tons of chemicals had been used. [49]

Had the war gone into a sixth year, there is no doubt that these figures would have been vastly increased. All the belligerents had new weapons about to come into service. In the spring of 1918 a team based at the Catholic University, Washington DC, discovered Lewisite: faster acting than mustard gas it caused 'immediate excruciating pain upon striking the eye, a stinging pain in the skin, and sneezing, coughing, pain and tightness in the chest on inhalation, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting'. [50] The first batch of 150 tons of Lewisite was at sea, on its way to Europe when the Armistice was signed. The British had the 'M device', which generated an 'arsenical smoke' code-named D A, capable of penetrating even the most effective German gas mask within fifteen seconds. Within a minute the victim would be in agony. Haldane described the pain in the head 'as like that caused when fresh water gets into the nose when bathing, but infinitely more severe. These symptoms are accompanied by the most appalling mental distress and misery. Some soldiers poisoned by these substances had to be prevented from committing suicide; others temporarily went raving mad, and tried to burrow into the ground to escape from imaginary pursuers.' [51] For their part the Germans had perfected a new projector - the Gaswerfer 1918 - capable of hurling cannisters filled with phosgene-impregnated pumice granules over a distance of up to two miles. Chemical warfare had come a very long way from tear gas grenades and simple cylinders of chlorine. Weapons which four years before had been beyond the pale of civilized warfare now employed vast numbers of scientists, technicians and soldiers in large research and development installations.

At Edgewood Arsenal in the United States, the Americans had 'probably the largest research organisation ever assembled for one specific object'; [52] 1,200 technical men and 700 service assistants researching into more than 4,000 potentially poisonous substances. It was a scientific project on a scale unrivalled until the Manhattan Project twenty-five years later. The entire arsenal had cost around $40 million, and within its walls were 218 manufacturing buildings, seventy-nine other permanent structures, twenty-eight miles of railway, fifteen miles of roadway and eleven miles of high tension electrical transmission lines. Its factories were capable of producing 200,000 chemical bombs and shells per day.

Institutions on this scale are not easily disbanded. The Americans in particular, having suffered such a high proportion of gas casualties, were not keen to turn their backs on the potentialities of chemical warfare. Victor Lefebure recorded landing in America early in 1920 to 'find New York plastered with recruiting posters setting forth the various reasons why Americans should join their Chemical Warfare Service'. [53] The strength and skill of the US pro-chemical warfare lobby in resisting disarmament, first shown at the time of the Armistice, has continued to overcome the periodic hostility of successive Presidents, senators, Chiefs of Staff and peace groups ever since; its influence is undiminished to this day.

In Britain, the Government appointed the Holland Committee to report on chemical warfare and suggest what the country's future policy should be. Its members - who included Foulkes, now promoted to General - met in May 1919 and agreed 'with no shadow of doubt' that 'gas is a legitimate weapon in war ... and that it will be used in the future may be taken as a foregone conclusion'. [54] This decision was not accompanied by any American razzmatazz or propaganda campaign. On the contrary, British gas warfare became subject to a policy of strict official secrecy. Carefully 'weeded' files about chemical warfare in the First World War were not released to historians until 1972. An eighteen-year-old wounded in the first phosgene attack would have had to wait until he was seventy-five before he could read about it. War memoirs were also stringently vetted, and even titles were censored. Foulkes had wanted to call his account of the work of the Special Brigade either Frightfulness or Retaliation. Both were considered too provocative by the War Office and the book - which was eventually published in 1936 - was called simply Gas!

At the same time there appears to have been a deliberate campaign to underestimate the number of men killed and wounded by gas, possibly by tens of thousands. Officially, 180,983 British soldiers were gassed, of whom just 6,062 were killed. However the list of categories these figures do not include is staggering. They do not include the number of men gassed in 1915 (estimated at many thousands) for which no records exist; nor any gas victims - alive or dead - captured by the enemy; nor any who may be among the quarter of a million British soldiers described as 'missing' in the First World War; nor any of the men who died outright on the field of battle and were later recorded as having been simply 'killed in action'; nor any of the men with relatively minor injuries retained by the Field Ambulances until fit to rejoin their units; nor any gas casualties who later died after being evacuated to the UK; nor any casualties dying of illnesses brought on by their exposure to gas, etc, etc ... One gets the impression that becoming an official gas casualty required roughly the same amount of verification as winning a medal.

Apologists for gas warfare used the statistics to argue that gas was 'humane', that it wounded rather than killed. Haldane attacked the 'group of sentimentalists who appear to me definitely to be the Scribes and Pharisees of our age' [55]who made a distinction between gas and conventional weapons. It was, he argued, certainly no worse, and possible more civilized, to kill or wound a man with chemicals rather than with shrapnel or bullets.

And what of the victims of these 'civilized' weapons? In Britain in 1920, 19,000 men were drawing disability pensions as a result of war gassing. [56] A report drawn up by the Physiology Department of Porton in June 1927 examined a group of eighteen pensioners:

[quote]In the summer time these patients are not so bad, but with early winter, their symptoms are aggravated. These patients seldom improve, but gradually get worse . . . it is only a matter of time till a cardiac condition develops in addition ... It should be mentioned, also, that such patients have a very poor prognosis should pneumonia or other severe pulmonary conditions supervene ... Some of these have chests like men of over sixty, chests definitely and permanently damaged. The evidence suggesting that Mustard is the cause appears to be conclusive. These pensioners, young and fit before the war, have a definite history of having spent some weeks or months in hospital with conjunctivitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and in some cases skin bums in addition ... [57]

In 1929, Porton investigated a further seventy-two cases of mustard gassing and found evidence of fibrosis, TB, persistent laryngitis, TB of the spine, anaemia, aphonia, conjunctivitis and pulmonary fibrosis. [58]

These, of course, were secret reports, only recently declassified. In public, Porton maintained that the popular press 'scare-mongered' about the long-term effects of gas poisoning. Porton physiologists sat in on Medical Boards which judged the records and examined the bodies of men laying claim to war pensions. The criteria for granting them, not surprisingly, were made exceptionally harsh. A definite causal link had to be established between disability and the actual gassing - an increased susceptibility to TB or bronchitis (though admitted) was not in itself sufficient grounds upon which to claim a pension.

Many thousands of men continued to suffer from the effects of gassing in the First World War for the rest of their lives. One survivor of a phosgene attack, Fred Cayley, [59] admitted in 1980 that he had been seeing a doctor every week since 1917. [*] Britain is still awarding pensions to gas victims to this day. How many have never claimed but suffered and died in ignorance is not known. Modern investigations have revealed that munitions workers who are employed in the manufacture of mustard gas are ten times more susceptible to cancer than the average; [60] there are no figures for men actually gassed on the field of battle. In 1970 the World Health Organization reported that 'an examination of the mortality data on 1,267 British war pensioners who suffered from mustard gas poisoning in the 1914-18 war, and who were still alive on 1 January 1930, showed that almost all (over 80 per cent) had chronic bronchitis at that date. In subsequent years an excess of deaths attributed to cancer of the lung and pleura was observed amongst them (twenty-nine deaths found compared with fourteen expected).' [61]

Such grisly after-effects were neither foreseen nor understood in the 1920s. Porton merely admitted that 'ten years after gassing there are patients who exhibit definite residua both anatomically and clinically that are definitely due to either one or a combination of gases.' [64] The wounded and disabled were largely forgotten except in so far - as one expert put it - they provided valuable data 'which it would be impossible to obtain elsewhere'. Gradually the image of the line of blinded mustard gas victims, each with his hand on the shoulder of the man in front, shuffled away into the folk memory of the First World War. Poison gas, the once-forbidden weapon, now took its place in the world's arsenals. It has remained there ever since.

_______________

Notes:

* Mr. Cayley died in July 1981 of chronic bronchitis. At a subsequent inquest he was recorded as having been 'killed by the King's enemies'. 'Let this be a warning,' added the Coroner, 'to anyone who plans using gas or bacterial warfare. This man suffered for more than sixty years as the result of First World War gassing.'
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 6:50 am

TWO: The Serpent and the Flower

... To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like th'innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't.
-- Macbeth. Act I, Scene V


The world's oldest chemical warfare installation occupies 7,000 gently rolling acres of countryside on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain, known as Porton Down. Over 700 men and women work there in labs and offices scattered through 200 buildings. There are police and fire stations, a hospital, a library, a branch of Lloyds Bank, a detailed archive with thousands of reports and photographs; there is even a cinema to screen the miles of film taken during experiments. They are the residue of more than six decades of research, generally at the forefront of contemporary scientific knowledge. Though there have been many political storms, and several attempts to close it down, Porton has survived them all - proof of the military's enduring fascination with poison gases, even in a country which now officially has no chemical weapons.

It was in January 1916 that the War Office compulsorily purchased an initial 3,000 acres of downland between the tiny villages of Porton and Idmiston, and began to clear a site for what was then known as the War Department Experimental Ground. Within two months the first scientists had arrived. At night they slept in the local inn; during the day they worked in a few ramshackle wooden huts housing a gas chamber, a laboratory and some cylinders. They were pioneers, bringing a scientific knowledge then in its infancy into a new era - and in the rush of events in the middle of the Great War seem to have been free of any ethical worries about the nature of their work. The head of the Physiology Department, Joseph Barcroft, was actually a Quaker - probably the only member of the Society of Friends ever to have had a prototype bomb named after him. [1]

In the early days there was little understanding of the long-term hazards of gas, or even of how it affected the body. A complete set of experimental procedures had to be worked out from scratch - a dangerous business, and one which produced its heroes. Barcroft himself wanted to settle a dispute between the British and French about the effectiveness of hydrogen cyanide (HCN). The French had tested HCN gas on dogs, all of which died, and believed as a result that it would make an effective chemical weapon. The British conducted their tests on goats, which survived. One night Barcroft waited until everyone else had gone to bed, found a corporal to act as a witness, and without putting on a mask stepped into a gas chamber with a 1 in 2,000 concentration of hydrogen cyanide. He took a dog in with him. He recalled:

In order that the experiment might be as fair as possible and that my respiration should be relatively as active as that of the dog, I remained standing, and took a few steps from time to time while I was in the chamber. In about thirty seconds the dog began to get unsteady, and in fifty-five seconds it dropped on the floor and commenced the characteristic distressing respiration which heralds death from cyanide poisoning. One minute thirty-five seconds after the commencement the animal's body was carried out, respiration having ceased and the dog being apparently dead. I then left the chamber. As regards the result upon myself, the only real effect was a momentary giddiness when I turned my head quickly. This lasted about a year, and then vanished. For some time it was difficult to concentrate on anything for any length of time. [2]


The affair of Barcroft's Dog became one of the most famous incidents in the early history of chemical warfare. The Prime Minister, Lloyd George, wrote to Barcroft that he felt 'the most intense admiration for the gallantry and devotion which you have shown ... I desire to express personally, and as Head of His Majesty's Government, my high appreciation of your brave action, which obtained information of quite exceptional value.' [3] 'Good God,' said King George V when he heard of it, 'what a wonderful plucky thing to do.' [4]

Barcroft's phlegmatic attitude typified the early days of chemical warfare research. There were hair-raising stories. On one occasion, one of his female assistants travelled by train from his laboratory in Cambridge carrying a canister of poison gas. The canister began to leak in the compartment. She attached it to a piece of string, hung it out of the window and completed her journey to Porton.

Working methods were rough and often highly dangerous. A circular system of trenches was dug, from the centre of which cylinders of gas were discharged. Human guinea pigs ('observers' in Porton's terminology) would station themselves in trenches and - for as long as they were capable of standing it - take detailed notes of the symptoms they felt. Indoors, the effects of chemicals were studied in the gas chambers. Ten minutes was found to be about the maximum most men could take exposed to a non-lethal gas. Observers were expected to stand in clouds of killer gases for hours wearing prototype masks to test their reliability. Later, when mustard gas made its first appearance, they rolled up their sleeves and allowed their arms to be contaminated, in order to study the progression of the terrible blisters that developed. The work, wrote Foulkes (who was himself offered the job of Commandant of Porton after the war, but turned it down) was 'unpleasant' and 'dangerous':

. . . but volunteers were always to be found who exposed themselves fearlessly in the chamber tests. In the case of experiments with mustard gas, experience showed that a man's skin became more sensitive after one exposure and the only satisfactory course was to use 'virgin skin'. There was, of course, no scarcity of this commodity in the country, even late in the war, but provision had to be made for a constant supply of newcomers among the experimental staff. [5]


According to Porton's own, recently declassified 'in-house' history, the demand for human beings needed in tests often far exceeded supply, 'and cooks, orderlies and clerks were frequently pressed into service for experiments'. [6] Foulkes himself made a point of personally being exposed to every war gas considered for adoption by the British.

Not all the early scientists survived. Colonel Watson, head of the Allies' Central Laboratory in France, died as a result of experiments he had conducted on himself. So too, in the final days of the war, did Colonel Harrison, Deputy Controller of the British Chemical Warfare Committee. Many more must have appreciably shortened their lives by their work. 'Risks were taken,' runs Porton's internal history, 'and sufferings were endured in a manner which was only possible by men of high morale under the urge of war.'

In their investigation into the effects of gas, the scientists at Porton had other sources of information apart from the experiments they conducted on one another. In 1917 a farm and breeding colony was added to the Establishment to provide the vast numbers of animals used in experiments. Thousands of reports of experiments made in these early years have now been released to historians. [7] They give some idea of the scale and substance of the grim research which has made Porton a top target for anti-vivisectionists. Cats, dogs, monkeys, baboons, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats and mice were variously tethered and caged outdoors in the trench system and indoors in the gas chambers for exposure to gas clouds. Chemicals were squirted into their faces and injected into them, and bullets, sprays and bombs fired into, over and at them. With the discovery of mustard gas, bellies and backs were shaved and the chemical rubbed in; some animals were opened up and their organs smeared with mustard, the wound then stitched back together and the symptoms which developed noted. The Establishment became such a prominent centre of vivisection that it later developed its own strain of 'Porton mice', now a standard laboratory animal in use throughout the world.

These animal experiments were as unpopular among most nonscientists then as they are today. Haldane records that the physiologists at Porton 'had considerable difficulty in working with a good many soldiers because the latter objected so strongly to experiments on animals, and did not conceal their contempt for the people who performed them'. [8] And Sir Austin Anderson - at that time a junior member of Porton's staff - recalled 'a highly intelligent and friendly little monkey that the men loved so much that they gave him a little khaki coat with corporal's stripes, christened him the APM, and gave him the free run of the animals' quarters. He never went into the gas chamber and I think survived the war.' [9]

The hours at Porton during the First World War were long, the number of experiments almost more than the system could cope with. 'It was not uncommon for the Officer-in-Charge to spend four to six hours each evening, seven days a week, in writing up and assessing accumulated results.' [10] And always, a few hundred miles away in France, was the pressure of battle, the scientists' main source of raw data. 'We had,' wrote Foulkes, 'in the theatre of war itself a vast experimental ground ... Human beings provided the material for these experiments on both sides of No Man's Land.' [11]

The bodies and organs of gassed soldiers were regularly shipped back to Porton for microscopic examination by the physiologists of the Royal Army Medical Corps - 'the body snatchers' as they were known at Porton. For the scientists' records, oil paintings were made of organs taken from post mortems. In some cases the bodies themselves were preserved: a scientist's report of October 1923, five years after the end of the war, speaks of 'a score of human cases gassed by HS in France, which I have recently had an opportunity of studying.' [12]

As the war progressed and work intensified, Porton underwent rapid expansion. Its testing ranges were doubled in size. The early collection of huts grew into a small village, housing five separate sections. Eight rows of barracks accommodated more than a thousand troops, ballistics experts, army doctors and scientists. These were backed up by a civilian workforce of five hundred. To the system of trenches and dug-outs was added a new firing range, a mile and a half long, manned by wounded artillery men; they claimed that with their pay topped up by Porton's 'danger money', they earned more carrying out test shoots on Salisbury Plain than they did under fire from the Germans on the Western Front.

The outbreak of peace in Europe in 1918 was only a minor hiccup in Porton's routine. On Armistice night the animal keepers got drunk and released the monkeys who spread considerable alarm and confusion in the Salisbury area; apart from that it was business as usual. Professor A. E. Boycott, an ardent pacifist who had decided to work at Porton only as long as the war lasted, was one of the very few to leave: 'the day after the Armistice he flatly refused to have anything more to do with gas warfare'. [13]

At the end of the war, Porton was not closed down. Instead, in 1919, the Government set up the Holland Committee. They unanimously recommended that Porton continue in action, and went on to lay down many of the principles upon which the Establishment is run today. In view of the 'large degree of risk' entailed in the work, 'a very liberal allowance of leave' - three months a year - was granted to the staff. Everything possible was done to attract 'the best brains in the country' to Porton. As long as 'secrets of national importance' were not disclosed, the scientists employed were given the right to publish their work and to attend the meetings 'held by the Learned Societies'. Salaries were generous, particularly for the senior positions, and the Committee 'expressed the feeling that nothing under £2,000 a year could be relied upon to induce a man of the first rank to accept the post of Director of Research at Porton' - making it one of the most highly paid scientific jobs in the country. The Committee also concluded:

... that it is impossible to divorce the study of defence against gas from the study of the use of gas as an offensive weapon, as the efficiency of the defence depends entirely on an accurate knowledge as to what progress is being or is likely to be made in the offensive use of this weapon. [14]


This was a crucial admission. No matter how loudly the British, or any other nation, renounced gas warfare in public, in secret they felt bound to give their scientists a free hand to go on devising the deadliest weapons they could, on the grounds that they had first to be invented, before counter-measures could be prepared.

Porton Down made use of this logic between 1919 and 1939 to carry out a mass of offensive research, developing gas grenades and hand contamination bombs; a toxic air smoke bomb charged with a new arsenic codenamed 'DM' was tested; anti-tank weapons were produced; and Porton developed an aircraft spray tank capable of dispersing mustard gas from a height of 15,000 feet. At the same time the weapons of the First World War - the Livens Projector, the mortar, the chemical shell and even the cylinder - were all modified and improved.

There was extensive human testing, often involving scores of men at a time. Some of the tests were so drastic, one wonders what could possibly have motivated men to go through with them. In 1922, for example, twenty 'observers' were placed in a gas chamber for ten minutes' exposure ('the limit of tolerability') to the arsenic gas 'DA' and suffered

... a disagreeable sense of pressure over the head, dull aching in the roots of the teeth and sense of pressure in the ears; salivation is also marked. Gnawing pain at the back of the face, numbness and cold of the fingers and feet. Dryness of the throat, pain and cough. Retching and nausea are observed. On removal from the chamber all symptoms increase in intensity at once. The men feel definitely ill: in the higher concentrations they lie down, sigh and roll about: in the lower concentrations there is a tendency to keep moving, in both an attempt to find a place of relief ... [15]


Mustard gas, 'the King of Gases', employed the most human volunteers. Just one experiment in 1924 involved forty men. In April 1928 large numbers of human observers were contaminated in five separate aerial spray tests. In the same year bricks were coated with mustard; after a fortnight men handled them and the vapour given off was found to be still powerful enough to cause burns 'of a severe character'. In October 1929 'two subjects received copious applications of crude Mustard which practically covered the inner aspect of the forearm. After wiping the liquid mustard off roughly with a small tuft of grass the ointment (seven weeks old) was lightly rubbed with the fingers over the area ... ' [16]

This is just a random selection of the sort of work which was done in Britain. Similar research was being carried out throughout the world. Italy established a Servizio Chemico Militare in 1923 with an extensive proving ground in the north of the country. The main French chemical warfare installation was the Atelier de Pyrotechnie du Bouchet near Paris. The Japanese Navy began work on chemical weapons in 1923, and the Army followed suit in 1925. In Germany, despite the fact that Haber's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute had been closed down in 1919, limited defensive work continued, later to form the basis of Germany's offensive effort. And in 1924 the Military-Chemical Administration of the Red Army was established and Russian chemical troops were stationed at each provincial army headquarters.

Chemical weapons were not merely researched and developed - they were used. At the beginning of 1919 the British employed the 'M' device (which produced clouds of arsenic smoke) at Archangel when they intervened in the Russian Civil War, dropping the canisters from aeroplanes into the dense forests. The anti-Bolshevik White Army was equipped with British gas shells, and the Red Army are also alleged to have used chemicals.

Later in 1919, Foulkes was dispatched to India, and in August urged the War Office to use chemicals against the Afghans and rebellious tribesmen on the North-West Frontier: 'Ignorance, lack of instruction and discipline and the absence of protection on the part of Afghans and tribesmen will undoubtedly enhance the casualty producing value of mustard gas in frontier fighting.' [17] Many of the Cabinet were dubious, including the Secretary of State for India. Foulkes had little time for their scruples:

On the question of morality ... gas has been openly accepted as a recognised weapon for the future, and there is no longer any question of stealing an unfair advantage by taking an unsuspecting enemy unawares.

Apart from this, it has been pointed out that tribesmen are not bound by the Hague Convention and they do not conform to its most elementary rules ... [18]


Foulkes had his way. Stocks of phosgene and mustard gas were sent out, while in the scorching heat of the Khyber Pass in midsummer, British troops trained in anti-gas suits. Large supplies of smoke shells were stored at Peshawar near the Afghan frontier for use in flushing-out rebellious tribesmen from their mountain hideouts. Major Salt, Chemical Adviser to the British Army in India, wrote that after 'the usual talk about "clean hands" and "low-down tricks against the poor ignorant tribesman" ... the Government have decided they will adopt a policy of using gas on the frontier.' [19] The RAF is alleged to have used gas bombs against the Afghans. It would have been a murky episode in Britain's imperial history, and records were either not kept or were destroyed: there are today no operational accounts in the British archives.

Used against poorly-armed and trained insurgents, the imperial powers rapidly learnt that gas was a devastating weapon. Persistent agents like mustard could make favourite ambush positions untenable for weeks. Tear gas and smoke weapons, especially if used from the air, forced the enemy into the open where he could be more easily picked off. By 1925 the French and Spanish were employing poison gas in Morocco, and it had become clear that chemical warfare had found a new role, as a tool by which major powers could 'police' rebellious territories.

Yet despite its widespread development and use in the years following the First World War, gas warfare was still technically illegal. The Allied Powers described it as a 'prohibited' form of warfare at Versailles in 1919 and banned the importation and manufacture of poison gas in Germany for all time. Three years later, the Washington Treaty went even further: the 'civilised Powers' decreed that the banning of chemical warfare should 'be universally accepted as part of international law binding alike to the conscience and practice of .nations.

Finally, in May 1925, under the auspices of the League of Nations, a conference on the international arms trade was convened in Geneva. Led by the United States, the delegates agreed to try and tackle the problem of poison gas, 'with,' as the Americans put it, 'the hope of reducing the barbarity of modern warfare.' After a month of wrangling in legal and military committees - during which the Polish delegation far-sightedly suggested that they also ban the use of germ weapons, then little more than a theory - the delegates came together on 17 June to sign what remains to this day the strongest legal constraint on chemical and biological warfare:

The undersigned Plenipotentiaries, in the name of their respective Governments:

Whereas the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world; and

Whereas the prohibition of such use has been declared in Treaties to which the majority of Powers of the world are Parties; and To the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and practice of nations;

Declare:

That the High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration ... [20]

Thirty-eight powers signed the Geneva Protocol, among them the United States, the British Empire, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada; the fledgling USSR did not attend.

'The signing of the Geneva Protocol of 1925,' as one expert has put it, 'was the high-water mark of the hostility of public opinion towards chemical warfare.' [21] Unfortunately, the anti-gas lobby had underestimated the strength of the interests ranged against them. Merely signing the Protocol was not enough to make it binding - individual governments had to ratify it. In many cases this meant a time lag of at least a year, and it was in this period that the supporters of chemical weapons struck back.

The United States Chemical Warfare Service launched a highly effective lobby. They enlisted the support of veterans' associations and of the American Chemical Society (whose Executive declared that 'the prohibition of chemical warfare meant the abandonment of humane methods for the old horrors of battle'). As has often happened since, the fight for chemical weapons was represented as a fight for general military preparedness. Senators joined the CWS campaign, among them the Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs who opened his attack on ratification in the Senate debate with a reference to the 1922 Washington Treaty: 'I think it is fair to say that in 1922 there was much of hysteria and much of misinformation concerning chemical warfare.' Other Senators rose to speak approvingly of resolutions which they had received attacking the Geneva Protocol - from the Association of Military Surgeons, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the Reserve Officers Association of the United States and the Military Order of the World War. Under such heavy fire, the State Department saw no alternative but to withdraw the Protocol, and reintroduce it at a more favourable moment. It was not to be until 1970, forty-five years after the Geneva conference, that the Protocol was again submitted to the Senate for ratification; it took another five years for this to be achieved.

Japan followed America's example and refused to ratify (they finally did so in May 1970). In Europe, the various countries eyed one another cautiously. France ratified first, in 1926. Two years later, in 1928, Italy followed suit and a fortnight after her, the Soviet Union declared that she, too, considered herself bound by the Protocol. Only after Germany ratified in 1929 did Britain feel able at last to accept the Protocol: on 9 April 1930, five years after the Conference, Britain at last fell into line.

Many of the states which ratified the Protocol- including France, Great Britain and the USSR- did so only after adding two significant reservations: (1) that the agreement would not be considered binding unless the country they were fighting had also ratified the Protocol; (2) that if any other country attacked them using chemical or biological weapons, they reserved the right to reply in kind.

'Justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world' chemical weapons might be; abandoned they certainly were not. The Geneva Protocol was, effectively, a ban only on the first use of poison gas or germs. There was certainly no ban on researching and stockpiling chemical weapons. While the British Government stressed that Porton Down was only concerned with defensive work, full scale research into new weapons actually accelerated. A Brief History of the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment Porton, the slim, forty-four page house history of Porton, is quite frank about the cynical way in which the public were deceived:

On the offensive side of chemical warfare, the Government's pronouncement following ratification of the Geneva Protocol meant that any actual development of weapons had to be done 'under the rose'. As a gesture, the Offensive Munitions Department at Porton changed its name back to 'Technical Chemical Department' and in 1930 the term 'Chemical Warfare' was expunged from official language and titles and 'Chemical Defence' was substituted. Thereafter all offensive work was done under the heading 'Study of chemical weapons against which defence is required'.


This 'defensive' work included 'improvements to many First World War weapons, including gas shells, mortar bombs, the Livens Projector and toxic smoke generators' and the development of 'apparatus for mustard gas spray from aircraft, bombs of many types, airburst mustard gas shell, gas grenades and weapons for attacking tanks'. The various inventions were tested in north Wales, Scotland, and in installations scattered throughout the Empire, notably northern India, Australia and the Middle East.

The commitment by most of the world's governments never to initiate the use of poison gas did not stop research: it simply made the whole subject that much more sensitive, and thus more secret. In 1928, the Germans began to collaborate with the Russians in a series of top secret tests called 'Project Tomka' at a site in the Soviet Union about twenty kilo metres west of Volsk. For the next five years, around thirty German experts lived and worked alongside 'a rather larger number of Soviet staff', mainly engaged in testing mustard gas. The security measures surrounding Project Tomka 'were such that any of its participants who spoke about it to outsiders risked capital punishment'. [22]

In Japan, experimental production of mustard gas was begun in 1928 at the Tandanoumi Arsenal. Six years later the Japanese were manufacturing a ton of Lewisite a week; by 1937 output had risen to two tons per day. Extensive testing - including trials in tropical conditions on Formosa in 1930 - resulted in the development of a fearsome array of gas weapons: rockets able to deliver ten litres of agent up to two miles; devices for emitting a 'gas fog'; flame throwers modified to hurl jets of hydrogen cyanide; mustard spray bombs which released streams of gas while gently floating to earth attached to parachutes; remotely-controlled contamination trailers capable of laying mustard in strips seven metres wide; and the 'Masuka Dan', a hand-carried anti-tank weapon loaded with a kilogram of hydrogen cyanide. Defensive preparations were equally thorough, and ran right down to masks for horses and camels (two feet long and eight inches in diameter) and masks, leggings and shoes for dogs. [23]

The Japanese set about the study of chemical warfare with a dedication that at times bordered on fanaticism. The Army Chemical Warfare School was established in 1933 at Narashino, twenty-one miles east of Tokyo. It had a forty acre site and impressive facilities. The School Commandant, Major General Yamazaki, promised 'just and severe punishment' for those who failed to adhere to its code:

1. The training must give the students skill in combat, tactics and conducting warfare, so as to bring the war to a final victorious conclusion.

2. The school must build up in the students an unfailing spiritual power and firm conviction in final victory.

3. Students will practice thoroughgoing obedience and complete execution of their duties. [24]

The students were all carefully selected officers. Most took an eleven month course. In twelve years the school turned out 3,350 chemical warfare experts.

There is now little doubt that from 1937 onwards the Japanese made extensive use of poison gas in their war against the Chinese. In October 1937 China made a formal protest to the League of Nations. In August 1938 they accused the Japanese of using mustard gas, and produced a variety of witnesses, including a British surgeon who had treated nineteen gas casualties wounded while fighting on the Yangtze front. Chinese peasants are said to have been driven from caves and tunnels by gas and then massacred by waiting Japanese troops.

Like the British and French before them, the Japanese discovered that gas was a superb weapon when used against poorly trained and largely ignorant opponents. Operations in China became text book examples of the use of chemical weapons - so much so that the Japanese actually turned the accounts of their gas attacks into a series of pamphlets entitled Lessons From the China Incident, and distributed them among the students at the Narashino school. One Soviet authority estimated that a third of all Japanese munitions sent to China were chemical, and that 'in several battles up to 10 per cent of the total losses suffered by the Chinese armies were due to chemical weapons'. [25]

The Italians made use of chemicals in their invasion of Abyssinia in much the same way. In 1935 and 1936, 700 tons of gas were shipped out, most of it for use by the Italian air force. First came torpedo-shaped mustard bombs. Then, in early 1936, the Italians tried out the new technique of aerial spraying. In a speech to the League of Nations, Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie described how 'groups of nine, fifteen and eighteen aircraft followed one another so that the liquid issuing from them formed a continuous fog . . . soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain.' [26] According to the British, the Italians were using 500 lb 'spray type' bombs filled with mustard gas. They functioned by means of a time fuse. When the bomb was 'about 200 feet above the ground' it burst open - 'the liquid contents were scattered in the form of spray over a considerable area'. [27]

Reports filtering out of Abyssinia gave some idea of the appalling suffering which mustard gas was capable of inflicting on defenceless natives. The liquid lingered on the ground and on foliage, contaminating not only troops but peasants passing through the bush. Walter Holmes of the London Times wrote of men 'injured in the legs and lower parts of the body. In several cases, large areas of skin had been removed from the legs and thighs; some of these men had also suffered extremely painful burning of the genital organs.' Italian planes, Holmes reported, flew low over the countryside spraying mustard in a 'fine rain of corrosive liquid'. There was no protection and no escape, and large numbers of natives 'received ghastly injuries to the head, face and upper parts of the body', [28] Blinded victims could not make their way into the hills where the Red Cross had first aid posts; untreated skin wounds were infected with gangrene. Dr John Kelly, Head of the British Red Cross in Abyssinia treated 150 cases of 'severe burns' from mustard gas in three days at the end of February 1936: 'many of the patients were women, children and infants'. In the course of two weeks in March he treated a further 200-300 victims, many too blind to make their way to his ambulance. 'A large number of the burns treated were of a terrible nature.' [29] The reports of Holmes and Kelly - including photographs of the victims - joined the bulging file on Italian use of gas held by the League of Nations.

This was not war, but slaughter. Abyssinia was little more than a proving ground for the murderous modern gas weapons which had been developed (in Parton's words) 'under the rose' of the Geneva Protocol since the end of the First World War. Just as the German bombing of Guernica a year later warned how the bomber could be used against civilians, so Abyssinia showed how effective gas warfare had become. Around 15,000 Abyssinian soldiers were killed or wounded by chemical weapons - almost a third of the total casualties for the entire war.

In the disintegrating peace of 1936, the Italian use of gas was described by the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, as a 'peril to the world' and he voiced the question which was now in the minds of most of the world's governments: 'If a great European nation, in spite of having given its signature to the Geneva Protocol against the use of such gases, employs them in Africa, what guarantee have we that they may not be used in Europe?' [30]

The answer, obviously, was none. After Abyssinia British Intelligence was in no doubt about Italian intentions. 'It may be concluded,' wrote MI3 in August 1936, 'that in a future war she would employ the gas weapon unless special circumstances render such a course inadvisable.' [31] Three months later, in November, the British Government announced that everyone in the United Kingdom was to be issued with a gas mask. In September 1938, at the time of the Munich crisis, over thirty million were issued to the public. There were 'cot respirators' for babies, and specially designed 'invalid hoods' for the sick and elderly. Official Government films warning of the dangers of gas were shown in cinemas, while signs in buses and on underground trains exhorted the population to carry their masks at all times. In homes throughout Europe the same scenes were repeated as families tried on gas masks. The French even developed protective measures for pigeons.

While their civilians trained in defence, the world's major powers embarked upon large-scale chemical rearmament. In 1936 the French built a factory to produce phosgene at Clamency, at a cost of eighteen million francs. [32] A year later, First World War mustard gas and phosgene plants at Edgewood Arsenal in the United States were put back into action. New factories were opened by the Soviet Union at Brandyuzhsky, Kuibyshev and Karaganda. The British - with the 'whole-hearted co-operation' of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI)- began building a new mustard gas factory at Sutton Oak near St Helens in Lancashire in 1936; two more factories were planned. On 2 November 1938, the Cabinet ordered the creation of an industrial productive capacity of 300 tons of mustard gas per week and a reserve of 2,000 tons.

British Intelligence conjured up a frightening picture of a Europe swarming with scientists and chemists at work on war gases. German research on chemical warfare was said to have 'been pursued unremittingly' since the First World War. Laboratories were at work in Berlin and in the Ruhr, and three experimental centres were said to exist - one near Munster and two others at Wunsdorf and List. Six aircraft at a time, flying 'simultaneously or in relays' were believed to take part in low-altitude spray trials. Over-all, capacity was estimated to be greater than that attained during 1918. The Italians were reported to be capable of producing twenty-five tons of mustard and five tons of Lewisite a day, as well as possessing an 'unstated capacity for phosgene, chloropicrin and DM'. In the USSR training of chemical troops was said to be pushed to 'almost fanatical limits': 'Of all countries, Soviet Russia appears to devote the greatest effort to developing the chemical arm.' (The Germans shared British misgivings, and estimated the number of Soviet scientists directly involved in chemical warfare at over 6,000.) The report concluded: 'Massive bombardment may be anticipated with concentrations of all available supplementary chemical weapons and close co-operation of aircraft. In retiral, use will be made of large-scale contamination of areas by chemical lorries and low flying aircraft, together with heavy contamination by mines, etc, of bridges and traffic centres. Aerial attack with HE [high explosive] and incendiary bombs may be followed by gas.' [33]

Faced with this alarming assessment, and with war only a few months away, in May 1939 the British and French began to collaborate on a joint chemical warfare policy. According to a 'Most Secret' report [34] by the head of the British delegation, the attitude of the two governments was broadly similar. 'The French think that the chemical industries in Germany and Italy are so highly developed that the use of gas by these countries may be regarded as certain. Their delegation had not considered the possibility that either Germany or Italy might refrain from using gas in the early stages to avoid retaliation in kind.'

Against this certainty, the French had ready a considerable arsenal, including four and a half million grenades oeuf - grenades resembling large eggs filled with mustard gas to be dropped in clutches of fifty at a time; they had no fuses, being designed simply to break on impact. The French were shown to have placed far greater reliance than the British on phosgene, using it as a filling 'for projectors, for artillery shell and for large aircraft bombs'. One ingenious device was 'a 200 kg bomb filled with phosgene. This contains a bursting charge designed to blowout any earth which may have fallen in behind the bomb after penetration.' [35]

On their side, the British offered the French an unrivalled expertise in a method of chemical warfare which Porton had made its own: high altitude spraying of mustard gas. British bombers were now able to accurately release spray from a height of 15,000 feet, out of danger from anti-aircraft guns. With no warning, enemy troops could be drenched in a drizzle of mustard gas which the British calculated would contaminate '100 per cent of the personnel in the area affected who are not under cover'. [36] The secret was a variant of conventional mustard (HS): three times as powerful, it was codenamed 'HT', and had a very low freezing point. The French were greatly excited by the discovery: it was regarded as of 'the first importance'. The British gave the French one of their 250 lb spray tanks and a series of joint trials was arranged - first with a harmless substitute for mustard gas at Bourget in France, and then with the real thing at the vast French proving ground in the Sahara.

French scientists were invited to Porton, and their British counterparts permitted to visit France's gas factories 'to witness manufacture'. After a 'complete and frank pooling of information' the two sides parted on 12 May. A variety of sub-committees were established; offensive weapons were dealt with on Sub-Committee E. By the time its members met again in September, the war with Germany had already begun. Few doubted that general chemical warfare would take place and that - as a Secret Intelligence Summary put it- 'if the Germans deem it expedient to introduce gas warfare it will be pursued with their characteristic vigour, ingenuity and ruthlessness'.  [37]

Even fewer are likely to have questioned another of the Summary's conclusions: 'it is not thought that any important new war gas has been discovered'. In fact the Germans had secretly developed a new series of gases dozens of times more deadly than anything the Allies possessed. Had Hitler known of his enemies' ignorance, the Second World War might well have taken a different course.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 6:54 am

THREE: Hitler's Secret Weapon

Towards the end of 1936, Dr Gerhard Schrader, a German scientist researching into possible new insecticides, made a remarkable discovery. He had been methodically working his way through an enormous range of organic phosphorus compounds when he suddenly stumbled upon a series of poisons of extraordinary power. On 23 December he managed to prepare some of the chemical for the first time, and tested it by spraying a concentration of just one part in 200,000 on some leaf lice. All of the insects were killed. A few weeks later, in January 1937, Schrader began the first manufacturing trials. Immediately he discovered that what he had at first considered a promising insecticide had side-effects upon man which were 'extremely unpleasant'.

'The first symptom noticed,' he later recalled, 'was an inexplicable action causing the power of sight to be much weakened in artificial light. In the darkness of early January it was hardly possible to read by electric light, or after working hours to reach my home by car.' [1] The slightest drop of the substance spilt on the laboratory bench caused the pupils of his eyes to contract to pin-points, and he suffered acute difficulty in breathing. After a few days of this, Schrader and his assistant were forced to stop work for three weeks in order to recover. They were lucky to escape with their lives. Inadvertently they had discovered, and become the first victims of, the world's most powerful chemical weapon, the original 'nerve gas': tabun.

It was obvious that there could be no question of using Schrader's discovery as an insecticide: in tests that spring almost all the animals exposed to even tiny quantities of it were dead within twenty minutes. Instead, under a Nazi decree of 1935 requiring German industry to keep secret any invention with military potential, Schrader was summoned to Berlin to demonstrate tabun to the Wehrmacht.

Its value as a war gas was quickly recognized. Dogs or monkeys poisoned by tabun seemed to lose all muscular control- their pupils shrank to dots, they frothed at the mouth and vomited, they had diarrhoea, their limbs began to twitch and jerk; finally, within ten or fifteen minutes, they went into convulsions and died. In addition to its potency, tab un had other advantages. It was colourless and practically odourless, and it could poison the body not merely by inhalation, but also by penetrating through the skin. The so-called nerve gases were as great an advance over the chemical weapons of the First World War as the machine gun was over the musket.

It was not until the early 1940S that the Nazi scientists began to understand exactly why tabun was such a lethal agent. Unlike the gases of the First World War, which have a general effect, the nerve gases inhibit the action of a specific chemical in the body called cholinesterase. Cholinesterase's function is to control the muscles by breaking down the chemical which causes muscular contraction, acetylcholine. If this is not done, the level of acetycholine in the body builds up to a disastrous level, sending all the muscles of the body into contraction. The body thus poisons itself, as it loses control of all its functions. The muscles of the arms and legs along with those which control respiration and defecation go into a state of violent vibration. Death comes as a result of asphyxiation.

The Wehrmacht was impressed. Colonel Riidriger, head of the Army's poison gas installation at Spandau, ordered the construction of new laboratories to produce sufficient quantities of tabun to begin field trials. Schrader, who worked for the IG Farben chemical conglomerate, was moved to a new factory at Elberfeld in the Ruhr 'to pursue the study of organic phosphorus compounds undisturbed'.  [2]

A year later, in 1938, he discovered a compound related to tabun -- isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate - whose potential 'as a toxic war substance' he found to be 'astonishingly high'. The new agent was named sarin, a title invented by Schrader as an acronym of the names of the four key individuals involved in its production: Schrader, Ambros, Riidriger and van der Linde. In June 1939 the formula for sarin was passed on to the Wehrmacht's laboratories in Berlin. Tests on animals showed it to be almost ten times as poisonous as tabun.

In September 1939, as scientists in Berlin prepared the first samples of sarin, the German army launched its invasion of Poland. For the second time in a generation, German chemists were at the heart of their country's war effort. On 19 September, after almost three weeks of uninterrupted victory, Adolf Hitler rose to address a tumultuous audience in Danzig. He told them - in a speech clearly designed for Allied ears - of fearsome new German weapons, against which his enemies would be defenceless. It is conceivable that he had in mind the new nerve gases. At any event, that same month the German chemical industry was ordered to put in hand plans to build a new factory capable of producing a thousand tons of tab un a month.

Construction work began in January 1940 in the forests of Silesia in western Poland. The factory was built close to the Oder River, forty kilometres from Breslau, at a place called Dyhernfurth. Its Wehrmacht code-name was 'Hochwerk'. By 1943 it had cost 120 million reichsmarks. The money came in the main from the Wehrmacht and was funnelled through specially-created companies with only a nominal connection to IG Farben (one of 'the many ruses attempted and plans entered into for the purpose of enabling the company to disclaim in the post-war period any responsibility whatsoever in providing these outlawed instruments of war' [3]). The companies included Anorgana, Luranil, Monturon and Montana. Anorgana was the largest, and its managing director, Otto Ambros, one of the most powerful industrialists in Germany, with direct access to Hitler. Six years later at Nuremburg he was sentenced to eight years in prison for 'slavery and mass murder'. Through Anorgana, Ambros provided the chemists and technicians needed to build and run the Nazi war gas plants.

Dyhernfurth was one of the Third Reich's largest and most secret factories. It covered an area over a mile and a half long and half a mile wide. Had they won the war, the Nazis planned to turn it into Europe's largest chlorine factory. It had a monthly capacity for producing 3,000 tons of nerve gas - 500 tons from each of its six separate units. The factory was completely self-contained. It made the intermediate products needed in the manufacture of tabun; it made the tabun itself; and it had a cavernous underground shell-filling plant, where the liquid nerve gas was loaded into aircraft bombs and shells. This last area was one of the most closely-guarded parts of the site. It was artificially ventilated and 'in the charge of one Dr Kraz'. Under his supervision 'the shells were sent out from Dyhernfurth in trucks and by train. The cargoes were always secreted under coverings so that specific markings were not easily detected'. [4] The charged munitions were stored in a subterranean arsenal at Krappitz in Upper Silesia. Altogether, the factory employed a workforce of 3,000 - all German - who were housed in a vast barracks built in a clearing in the forest.

From the outset the Nazi nerve gas project was beset by difficulties, and it took over two years, until April 1942, to get the factory operational. Many of the chemicals needed to make the liquid nerve gases were found to be exceptionally corrosive and all iron and steel equipment had to be plated with silver. The nerve gas itself was so highly toxic that the whole of the plant 'was enclosed in double glass-lined chambers with pressurized air circulating between', [5] and all apparatus had to be decontaminated with steam and ammonia. The workers wore respirators and special protective suits made of cloth sandwiched between two layers of rubber which were discarded after every tenth wearing. If anyone was suspected of having been contaminated, their clothes were torn off and they were immersed in large baths of sodium bicarbonate solution.

Being drafted to work at Dyhernfurth was a grim prospect. The experience of Dr Wilhelm Kleinhans, a young IG Farben scientist, was fairly typical. In August 194 I he was one of a team of chemists and engineers assembled by Ambros in Ludwigshafen. They were, he informed them, to work for the Reich, in return for which they would be exempted from military service. Before leaving for Dyhernfurth in September, Kleinhans was let into the secret of tabun and sarin by Schrader himself, who told him that the gas mask was not much protection against agents which could penetrate through the skin. Life at Dyhernfurth itself, far from home and in the oppressive forests of Silesia, was both unpleasant and dangerous:

All members of the staff working in the Dyhernfurth plant were never free at one time from the effects of tabun; some of the members were labouring to a greater or lesser degree under the influence. Those affected could be easily recognised because of the contracted condition of their eyes' pupils and at varying intervals each member found it necessary to remain outside the plant for two to three days in order to throw off the effects of the tabun. [6]


It was discovered that resistance to low concentrations of tabun 'was increased by a higher than average amount of fats' and all the workers at Dyhernfurth were given extra rations of milk and fatty foods.

Even before production got underway at the factory there were over 300 accident cases. In the two and a half years that it was operational at least ten men were killed. Kleinhans recalled four pipe fitters who died when a large quantity of tabun drained onto them from pipes they were trying to clean. 'These workmen died in convulsions before the rubber suits could be torn off.' Schrader knew of a man who had half a gallon of tabun poured down his neck; death occurred in two minutes. In one of the most serious accidents, seven workmen were hit in the face by a stream of liquid tabun which forced itself between the face and the respirator. 'They became giddy, vomited, and so then removed their respirators thus inhaling more of the gas. On examination they were all unconscious (one or two were still excited but not conscious) had a feeble pulse, marked nasal discharge, contracted pupils and asthmatic type of breathing. Involuntary urination and diarrhoea occurred.' [7] Despite intra-muscular injection of atropine and heart drugs, artificial respiration, cardiac massage and the use of oxygen masks, only two of the seven survived: the moment they both recovered consciousness they had a second bout of convulsions and had to be sedated for ten hours. The bodies of the dead men were autopsied and their organs sent back to Berlin, where their brains and lungs were found to be thickly congested.

If the Germans had any doubts at all about the potency of their nerve gases, the Dyhernfurth accidents must have completely dispelled them. If this was the effect of tabun in a factory, with every modern medical facility to hand, what might its effects prove to be on the battlefield, against unprotected and unsuspecting Allied soldiers? By the middle of 1943, as the rush of German victories began to turn into an ebb tide of defeats, Hitler started seriously to consider employing his Siegwaffe: his Victory weapon.

By the middle of the war, the Nazis had acquired a vast, hidden armoury of chemical weapons. Despite all the other burdens involved in fighting the war, the Wehrmacht still found hundreds of millions of marks to pump into the production and testing of poison gas. According to a team of experts from Porton Down who investigated the German chemical warfare programme after the war:

The total effort put by the Germans into chemical warfare research was considerable, the scientific staffs employed as far as can be ascertained being about double the numbers employed in Great Britain. The buildings and equipment provided were on a lavish scale, and it was clear that not only was no expense grudged in providing laboratory space and apparatus ample for the immediate programme, but that reserve stocks and space were available for accommodating a large expanse of research staff. [8]


The Germans had a score of factories capable of producing around 12,000 tons of poison gas every month. The British and Americans believed around 70,000 tons to have been stockpiled; the Soviet estimate was 250,000 tons. In addition to tabun, the Germans had two types of mustard gas (Somer-Lost and Winter-Lost) for warm and cold climates, and a terrifying incendiary gas, N-Stoff (or chlorine trifluoride) produced exclusively by the 55, which could cause clothes, hair and even asphalt to burst into flames. There was also small-scale production of sarin - the second nerve agent di~ covered by Schrader - in a closely-guarded compound at Dyhernfurth known simply as 'Building 144'; by the end of the war a whole factory devoted to the manufacture of sarin, with a capacity of 500 tons a month, was nearing completion at Falkenhagen, south-east of Berlin.

Research and testing was carried out at laboratories at Spandau and at the Truppenhubuengsplatz or training area at Raubkammer, fifty square miles of forest and heath just north of Munster. Between them, the two installations employed around 1,200 people.

The Germans developed a series of ingenious weapons and devices which give some idea of the way Hitler might have been able to use his chemical arsenal. To slow up an enemy advance, for example, Raubkammer produced various methods of ground contamination. One was

[quote[to pour mustard into a hole in the ground lined with paraffin wax, cover the top over and wait for the advancing enemy to break the crust ... A second method consisted of glass bulbs holding approximately 250 cc of mustard which were painted half yellow and half green. These were emplaced in shallow holes in the ground and lightly covered if necessary. It was stated that troops passing over an area mined with these Bodenkugeln broke 80 per cent of them ... A chemical mine which acted like a concertina was also being considered. The pressure of the foot ejected mustard from a nozzle into the air and, it was hoped, onto the unsuspecting walker. [9][/quote]

A separate team of scientists at Raubkammer known as 'Group X' worked specifically on anti-personnel weapons.

Important industrial premises were to be protected by means of a grenade filled with hydrogen cyanide which would function when the wire fence was cut ... Hand grenades filled with cyanide solution would be given to guards ... Some experiments had been carried out on the introduction of gases into narrow openings by means of a hand spray of 5-10 litres capacity. The weapon proposed had to be actually introduced into the opening, and there was no question of any attack being made from a distance. The gases considered were lachrymators, hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, mustard and chlorine trifluoride. [10]


A machine gun was tested capable of firing 2,000 rounds of ammunition a minute charged with tabun or sarin 'with the object of attacking tanks by creating a concentration of gas round the air inlets'. Another anti-tank weapon was the gas grenade. Tests on captured tanks produced good results: 'it was thought that even if death did not take place, the crew would be rendered unconscious for sufficient time to enable the tank to be captured intact or destroyed.' [11]

The Luftwaffe had almost half a million gas bombs, ranging from 15 kg anti-personnel devices up to 750 kg phosgene bombs. Copying the design of captured Russian spray tanks, German pilots learnt to spray columns of marching men so effectively that 50 per cent of the troops were contaminated, even if they managed to get into their gas masks and capes in time - 'this was found even with troops who had been attacked and knew they were likely to be attacked again.' [12] Hydrogen cyanide, mustard and tabun were the best agents. The Germans also tried spraying concentrated acids and alkalis: 'fuming nitric acid was thought to be of some value in a low spray owing to the painful burns produced'. [13]

The Nazis carried out a successful series of tests, charging their flying bombs and rockets with poison gas. In 1939, Hermann Ochsner, the General in command of all German chemical troops, advocated the use of gas 'against industrial concentrations and large cities' as a weapon of terror. 'There is no doubt that a city like London would be plunged into a state of unbearable turmoil which would bring enormous pressure to bear on the enemy Government.'  [14] Now, in the V-weapons, the scientists had the means to deliver the terror which Ochsner - and Hitler - desired. According to the Porton scientists, 'plans were in hand to fill the V-I with phosgene in place of the normal 800 kg of hexa-TNT'. [15] The Raubkammer experts had also made plans to use the V-weapons to deliver nerve agents into the very heart of London; the British standard civilian respirator would have offered little protection against tabun. Considering the fact that on some days during 1944 the Nazis were able to send flying bombs over the English coast in waves of 200 at a time, Hitler had here a terror weapon of horrifying dimensions.

Like the British and Americans, the Germans made extensive use of animals and human 'observers' in their testing of poison gases. Men crawled over contaminated ground on their hands and knees; others, wearing bathing costumes and oxygen cylinders, sat in gas chambers filled with hydrogen cyanide. 'Chemicals were fired into woods and human subjects entered the area to see how long they could remain there without adjusting their respirators.' For testing mustard gas rabbits' ears were used, as was shorn horse skin; 'the skin between a dog's toes' was found to be particularly good 'for comparison with humans'. [16]

The Allied investigators' most grisly find at Raubkammer was a Black Museum whose exhibits included the organs of animals gassed with tabun, and 'some 4,000 photographs mounted in albums and folders'. The photographs were of men wounded or killed by gas in accidents or experiments. 'Due to the gruesome appearance of some half-dozen fatal cases,' reported the Allied scientists, 'political prisoners might have been used in these experiments.' [17]

They might indeed. Although thousands of files on chemical warfare were destroyed by the Nazis between 1944-5, enough survived to show that with the start of the mass-extermination programme in the middle of the war, drastic experiments using lethal agents had begun to be carried out directly on human beings. At Natzweiler Concentration Camp, for example, in 1943, Professor Wimmer of the University of Strasburg 'contaminated the forearms of twelve habitual criminals' with mustard gas.

The men were then put to bed. The next day, there were deep areas of necrosis on the forearms, and also burns on the side of the body where the contaminated arms had come into contact. The men also suffered a severe conjunctivitis and about three days later bronchitis, which developed into broncho-pneumonia. [18]


Each of the victims was photographed daily; three of them died. Later in the same year at Natzweiler, a second Strasburg scientist, Professor Picker, carried out tests on a further ten 'habitual criminals', exposing them in gas chambers for periods of three minutes at a time to ever-increasing concentrations of phosgene. [19]

Three scientists, led by SS Oberfuhrer Dr Mrugowsky, tested poison bullets on 'five persons who had been sentenced to death'. The chemical was aconitine, a substance closely related to the nerve gases, which had already been considered as a possible agent by the British and Canadians. Mrugowsky's account of the experiment, stamped top secret and dated September 1944, was sent to the Reich- Surgeon of the SS:

Each subject of the experiments received one shot in the upper part of the left thigh, while in a horizontal position. In the case of two of the persons, the bullets passed clean through the upper part of the thigh. Even later no effect from the poison could be seen. These two subjects were therefore rejected ...

The symptoms shown by the three condemned persons were surprisingly the same. At first, nothing special was noticeable. After 20 to 25 minutes, a disturbance of the motor nerves and a light flow of saliva began, but both stopped again. After 40 to 44 minutes a strong flow of saliva appeared. The poisoned persons swallowed frequently; later the flow of saliva is so strong that it can no longer be controlled by swallowing. Foamy saliva flows from the mouth. Then, a sensation of choking and vomiting starts ... One of the poisoned persons tried in vain to vomit. In order to succeed, he put 4 fingers of his hand, up to the main joint, right into his mouth. In spite of this, no vomiting occurred. His face became quite red.

The faces of the other two subjects were already pale at an early stage. Other symptoms were the same. Later on the disturbance of the motor nerves increased so much that the persons threw themselves up and down, rolled their eyes and arms. At last the disturbance subsided, the pupils were enlarged to the maximum, the condemned lay still. Massetercramp and loss of urine was observed in one of them. Death occurred 121, 123 and 129 minutes after they were shot. [20]


Tabun and sarin were also almost certainly tested on the inmates of the concentration camps. As the British investigators put it at the end of the war: it was extremely unlikely that the Nazi leadership 'would have agreed to the diversion of considerable effort, in difficult circumstances, to the production of a chemical warfare agent which had not been shown unequivocably to be capable of killing men.' [21]

The experiments on human beings were not the isolated acts of a handful of SS sadists. After the war, Baron Georg von Schnitzler, a leading Nazi supporter and a prominent member of the board of IG Farben, swore that Ambros and other board members were aware of what was happening. British Intelligence reported that one of the IG Farben directors was said to have 'justified the experiments not only on the grounds that the inmates of concentration camps would have been killed anyway by the Nazis, but also on the grounds that the experiments had a humanitarian aspect in that the lives of countless German workers were saved thereby.' [22]

Most of the scientists working on poison gases loudly protested that they knew nothing of the experiments. Their denials were frequently unconvincing: some certainly had proven links with the SS As the Allied interrogators drily observed, 'The profession of such complete ignorance, advanced with wholly unnecessary vehemence left us with some doubts regarding their veracity.' [23]

In the 'night and fog' of Hitler's Germany, where any slight suspicion of disloyalty might lead to arrest by the Gestapo, few scientists seem to have had the will to resist such perversions of their profession.

By the end of 1944, Germany had a formidable nerve gas arsenal dispersed around the country. Poison gas shells were stored at Krappitz in Upper Silesia; others were said to have been hidden in old mine shafts in Lausitz and Saxony. In all, the various top secret munitions dumps contained around 12,000 tons of tabun - 2,000 tons loaded into shells, 10,000 into aircraft bombs.

As greater and greater tonnages of nerve gas weapons were stockpiled, the temptation to use them was correspondingly increased. Hitler himself - wounded by mustard gas in the First World War - was known to have a marked aversion to using chemical weapons: Raubkammer was the only major military trials ground he never visited. [24] Nevertheless, as Germany's military plight became more desperate he began to hope that the nerve gases -like the V-weapons and the Nazis' prototype jet engine - would ultimately turn the war in his favour. Shortly before D-Day, in 1944, he boasted to Mussolini of secret weapons that would 'turn London into a garden of ruins' and referred specifically to a deadly new war gas being developed by German chemists. [25] At the same time, stocks of tabun were moved south into Bavaria in case - as was at one time planned- Hitler should leave the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin and put up a last-ditch stand amid the natural fortresses of the Alps.

Three of the most fanatical Nazi leaders, Bormann, Goebbels and Ley, repeatedly urged Hitler to unleash nerve gas. Goebbels wanted to use it against British cities in revenge for the destruction of Dresden. Albert Speer, Minister for Armaments in the Third Reich, recalled a secret conversation with labour leader Robert Ley 'by profession a chemist' held in his special railroad car. Ley's 'increased stammering betrayed his agitation: "You know we have this new poison gas - I've heard about it. The Fuhrer must do it. He must use it. Now he has to do it. When else! This is the last moment. You too must make him realise it's time.'" Speer remained silent.

Hitler, to be sure, had always rejected gas warfare; but now he hinted at a situation conference in headquarters that the use of gas might stop the advance of Soviet troops. He went on with vague speculations that the West would accept gas warfare against the East because at this stage of the war the British and American governments had an interest in stopping the Russian advance. When no one at the situation conference spoke up in agreement, Hitler did not return to the subject. Undoubtedly the Generals feared the unpredictable consequences. [26]


By 1945 it would have been suicidal for Hitler to have embarked upon chemical warfare. Even though there were thousands of tons of tabun available, there were simply not enough bombers left to deliver it. If he had issued the necessary orders Speer, aware that Germany would court massive retaliation, was fully prepared to sabotage them. Already, according to his testimony at Nuremberg, Speer was going to great lengths to divert raw materials and supplies of intermediates away from Germany's chemical warfare factories: a claim which was corroborated by Karl Brandt, the head of chemical warfare defence in Germany. According to Brandt, he, Speer and General Kennes (Assistant Chief of the General Staff) 'had an agreement that, if some order had been forthcoming to start gas warfare against the Allies, they would themselves ensure that the initiation would not occur, as they proposed to hold up transport of supplies.' [27]

A year earlier, however, and things might have been very different. The British were so certain that the Nazis had no new war gas that during the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, Montgomery left all his troops' anti-gas equipment behind in England; none of his men even carried gas masks. [28] Used against the fragile beach-heads, tabun might well have stopped the D-Day landings in their tracks. 'When D-Day finally ended,' wrote General Omar Bradley after the war, 'without a whiff of gas, I was vastly relieved. For even a light sprinkling of persistent gas on Omaha Beach would have cost us our footing there.' Gas, in Bradley's view, could have 'forced a decision in one of history's climactic battles'. [29] With the extra six months that such a successful attack might have brought him, Hitler's V-weapons might have seriously crumbled British commitment to the war; at the same time, the absence of the long-promised second front could have led Stalin to seek a separate peace. Had Hitler ordered its use, tabun could conceivably have saved Germany from defeat.

The reason he failed to do so probably had much to do with a conversation at the Wolf's Lair, his headquarters in East Prussia, back in May 1943. After the collapse at Stalingrad, both Speer and his chemical warfare expert, Otto Ambros, were summoned to a special conference by Hitler to discuss using gas to stem the Russian advance. Ambros began by saying that the Allies could out-produce Germany in chemical weapons. Hitler interrupted to say that he understood that might be true of conventional gases - 'but Germany has a special gas, tabun. In this we have a monopoly in Germany.' Ambros shook his head. 'I have justified reasons to assume that tabun, too, is known abroad.' [30] According to Ambros, the essential nature of tabun and sarin had been disclosed in technical journals as long ago as 1902, and like many other German scientists he could not believe that the chemical warfare experts of Porton Down or Edgewood Arsenal had failed to develop them. Whether Ambros genuinely believed that the Allies had their own nerve gases, or whether he was merely trying to put off Hitler, the result was the same: Hitler turned on his heel and abruptly left the meeting. From that moment on, no matter how tempted he felt to use his secret gases, Hitler had always to balance in his mind the conviction of his scientists that the Allies had them too.

Had he known how flimsy the evidence was which supported these convictions he might have thought again. Nazi scientists, for example, read great significance into the fact that references to compounds related to nerve gases suddenly ceased to be mentioned in American scientific journals at the beginning of the war. They correctly deduced this was a result of censorship by the US authorities. What they did not know was that this was to protect the secrecy of the insecticide DDT then under development, not the secrecy of any new war gas. In other words, the Fuhrer had been misled. Neither the Americans nor the British possessed a chemical weapon remotely capable of matching nerve gas.

Although it is generally the British who are hailed as the masters of secrecy and deception in the Second World War, the Germans must take a great deal of credit for the skill with which they deceived the Allies over nerve gas. It was one of the greatest secrets of the Third Reich, known only to a handful, and it was protected by labyrinthine security measures. Both the main nerve gases were given code names. Tabun was initially known as 'Le 100', then as 'Gelan', then as 'Substance 83'; sarin as 'Stoff 146'. Just as the Allies code-named the atomic bomb 'Tube Alloy' after a relatively innocuous war material, so eventually the nerve gases came to be known respectively as 'Trilon 83' and 'Trilon 146' after a common German detergent.

All chemicals needed in the manufacture of nerve gas were transported under false names, names which were often changed a second or third time on arrival at their destination. The shipments were recorded in cipher in the so-called 'Black Book', a volume the size of a warehouse ledger, an inch and a half thick. At the end of the war it was secretly buried by the Nazis.

The result was records which would be largely unintelligible if captured. Even senior scientists were kept in ignorance of the various stages of nerve gas manufacture; they knew the details only of the particular part they worked in. Schrader himself was kept away from certain vital areas of research. In Nazi Germany even the most intellectually curious were too intimidated to ask questions. 'It was,' concluded an Allied report at the end of the war, 'safer to know little ... Many of the technically-trained plant operators wore "blinkers" and dared allow their gazes to sweep only in the most restricted arc.' [31]

By such methods the Germans kept the secret of their nerve gases intact for more than eight years - one of the greatest triumphs of Nazi counter-espionage. The security precautions were breached only once, by complete accident, and so successful had the Nazis been in disguising the existence of tabun, that the British apparently refused to believed what they heard.

Throughout the war, unsubstantiated rumours did circulate between Washington and London of a new German poison gas. In 1941, United States and British chemists held a series of top-level talks. Did the Americans, the British asked, believe in rumours of a new Nazi gas? The Americans said that they did.

Stories of the German nerve gases have had such wide circulation from so many sources, some of which appear to be reliable that it is judged that the Germans do have some gas which can be used in this manner. [32]


The intelligence coup which should surely have finally convinced the Allies came two years later. On I I May 1943, the British Army in Tunisia captured an important German prisoner. The man - whose name does not appear in the official records - was a chemist from the main Nazi chemical warfare laboratory at Spandau. He told the British everything he knew of a super gas called 'Trilon 83'. The information was passed back to London by MI 19 (the branch of Military Intelligence responsible for the interrogation of prisoners) where it formed the basis of a 'Most Secret' report dated 3 July 1943. [33]

The unknown informant told of a 'clear colourless liquid with little smell' which 'cannot be classed with any of the other war gases as it is a nerve poison' causing the eyes to shrink 'to a pin-head and asthma-like difficulties in breathing. In any heavier concentrations death occurs in about a quarter of an hour.' The prisoner, continued the report,

... when engaged on research work on these chemicals was under continued treatment ... One chemist lost his life in spite of constant injections of lobelin to excite the respiratory centre. Tests with this gas are extremely dangerous as there is no perceptible threshold of irritation as is the case with other gases ... by the time one is aware of the gas through its physiological effects (the only means of detection) it is too late to put on the respirator ...

The gas does not lend itself to spraying but will be used in gas shells etc especially against fortified positions and towns. In the latter case panic will be caused by its blinding effect without its being necessarily in fatal concentrations.


The chemist passed on details of the chemicals involved in manufacture and advice on defensive measures. All his information, advised the report, 'may be classified as reliable'. Twenty-five copies were produced and circulated throughout Whitehall and Porton. Astonishingly, nothing happened.

The failure to act on the M I 19 report is all the more remarkable considering that the British, in their development of D DT, had tested compounds similar to tabun as potential war gases. They actually had a small production plant making a chemical called 'PF-3' which had similar effects on the body to tabun. Nerve gas had been accepted as a theory. Now, faced with the evidence that the Nazis had turned it into a workable weapon, the men at Porton chose to dismiss it. While German stocks of tabun mounted, they continued to concentrate their energies on time-consuming and futile attempts to produce a better version of mustard gas.

April 1945 was Porton's moment of truth. A German ammunition dump was captured and a mysterious shell shipped back to the United Kingdom. Gingerly dismantled with the help of a nearby American field laboratory, the scientists discovered Hitler's secret weapon. It was a terrible shock. Thirty-five years later it is still a source of embarrassment. 'The one time we were really caught with our trousers down,' says one senior Porton man today.

In classic bureaucratic manner, Porton at once tried to shift the blame on to someone else: it was not their fault, but the result of a failure in intelligence. The dismantled shell, claims Porton's internal history, 'was our first intimation that the Germans had this gas ... no Intelligence Report from the year 1937 when Germany started working on it as a war gas had given any tangible clue to its existence.'  [34]

This has remained Porton's excuse ever since. The yellowing MIl 9 report - discovered amid a pile of recently declassified Government documents entitled 'Chemical Warfare Intelligence 1939-44' - enables this part of the record at least to be set straight. The British were 'reliably' warned of the existence of nerve gas almost two years before the end of the war. If Hitler had decided to use tabun in 1944, the decision to disregard the report might have gone down in history as one of the costliest intelligence blunders of the Second World War. Thanks in part to the Allied chemists' stubborn belief in their own superiority, Hitler's secret weapon stayed a secret till the end.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 6:57 am

Part 1 of 2

FOUR: A Plague on your Children

The noise of fourteen thousand aeroplanes advancing in open order. But in the Kurfurstendamm and the Eighth Arrondissement, the explosion of anthrax bombs is hardly louder than the popping of a paper bag.
-- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)


The history of chemical and biological warfare has thrown up some strange stories, but few are as bizarre as those which surround a small island off the north-west coast of Scotland. It lies in its own well-protected bay, close to the fishing village of Aultbea - an outcrop of rock, well-covered with heather, three hundred feet high, one and a half miles long and a mile wide.

It takes about twenty minutes to reach by fishing boat from Aultbea. As you draw closer it's possible to make out the shapes of hundreds of sea birds nesting on its craggy shore-line. Their calls are the only sounds which break the silence. Once upon a time the island is said to have supported eleven families. Today, the only sign of human habitation is the ruin of a crofter's cottage.

This utterly abandoned island is Gruinard. Thanks to a series of secret wartime experiments - the full details of which are still classified - no one is allowed to live, or even land here.

In 1942, the hillsides around Aultbea bristled with military activity. It was here that the Russian convoys used to form up, prior to making the dangerous and terrifying run to Murmansk. It was a restricted area. There were military checkpoints on the roads. The local population - mainly crofters and fishermen - had to carry special passes. They grew used to the sight of uniforms, and avoided asking questions. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the summer of 1942, few paid any attention to the arrival in Gruinard Bay of a new military contingent. In a sheltered spot, just half a mile from Gruinard, on the mainland on the farthest side of the bay, they pitched camp. A couple of Nissen huts were built. Lorries arrived carrying fuel and food and cases of scientific instruments. Finally, the soldiers - perhaps twenty-five in all, commanded by Captain Dalby of the Royal Artillery - were joined by a party of nine civilians. They carried with them, and handled with great care, a set of large glass flasks, which were taken straight into one of the huts.

The new arrivals seemed distinctly ill at ease in these primitive surroundings. A photograph, taken at the time, shows a group cf them standing stiffly in front of the camp. One of them, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets, is Dr David Henderson, a brilliant bacteriologist and a leading member of the Lister Institute. To his left stands Donald Woods, a long way now from his usual location in the unit for bacterial chemistry at London's Middlesex Hospital. Next to him is another leading bacteriologist, W. R. Lane. Standing closest to the camera, arms akimbo and with a pipe clamped (as usual) between his teeth is the most scientifically renowned, and in many ways most significant member of the party - Graham Sutton, normally in charge of all experimental work at Porton Down.

Their leader does not appear in the photograph. Dr Paul Fildes, at that time in his early sixties, was arguably Britain's top bacteriologist: a Fellow of the Royal Society, founder of the British Journal of Experimental Pathology and editor of the great nine-volume System of Bacteriology published by the Medical Research Council in 1931.

The presence of these famous scientists at Gruinard Bay in the summer of 1942 was a closely guarded secret. They had been given orders by the Highest Authority - a euphemism for the Prime Minister - to investigate the practicability of a biological bomb. Supervised directly by a top secret Whitehall committee chaired by a member of the War Cabinet, Lord Hankey, the tests this little group conducted on Gruinard were the beginnings of a massive research project, costing millions of pounds and employing thousands of people, which would ultimately give the Allies a weapon with a destructive power equivalent to the atomic bomb.

Its first victims were to be sheep. Porton's agents had scoured the local hillsides, paying the crofters good prices for their highland sheep. Around thirty were collected and set to graze in a field close to the scientists' base camp. As the date for the experiment approached, they were herded into a landing craft and ferried across the half mile stretch of water to Gruinard.

In one of the Nissen huts, Dr Henderson prepared the weapon itself. It was a 25 lb chemical bomb, eighteen inches high and six inches in diameter; normally it contained mustard gas. To help him prime it, Henderson called in the Porton team's young explosives expert, Major Allan Younger. Neither man wore a gas mask, as Henderson uncorked one of the flasks. 'I was asked to hold the bomb,' recalled Younger, 'whilst he poured this mixture in. It turned out to be a brown, thick gruel, and with great trepidation I held on to the thing making sure I wouldn't spill it, as he poured this thick stuff in.' [1]

The 'thick stuff' was a slurry of concentrated anthrax spores.

After the bomb had been filled, it, too, was ferried across to Gruinard. With it went Sutton, Henderson and Younger. Each man was now clad like some science fiction monster, in a rubberized suit, gas mask, high rubber boots and thick gloves. The anthrax weapon was placed on a small mound of earth. Around it, tethered in concentric circles, were the sheep. An explosive charge was carefully attached to the bomb and a fuse laid. While the sheep grazed unconcernedly, the scientists retreated to a safe distance down wind.

Anthrax had long been considered the most practicable filling for a biological weapon. A decade earlier, Aldous Huxley had predicted a war involving anthrax bombs. Even before that, in 1925, Winston Churchill wrote of 'pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast ... Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle, Plague to poison not armies only but whole districts - such are the lines alone which military science is remorselessly advancing.' [2]

Anthrax is an acutely infectious and deadly disease. In nature it generally occurs in cattle or sheep, but it can be equally deadly to man. If contaminated meat is accidentally handled it can produce coal-black malignant skin ulcers which lead to blood poisoning. Inhaled it is even more deadly. The tiniest of doses can produce, in a matter of hours, a choking cough, difficulty in breathing, and a high fever; in nine cases out of ten, death will follow soon after. It was this latter form of the disease which most interested Porton.

Its other advantage as a weapon was its exceptional toughness. Left for two hours at a temperature of 20° centigrade, the bacteria of anthrax turn into spores - virtually indestructible organisms which can lie dormant for years, waiting to infect any living tissue with which they may come into contact. The technique for cultivating the spores, once mastered, could be harnessed for mass-production. At Porton the anthrax was prepared in metal containers resembling milk churns. [3] Henderson's development of a kind of refined vacuum cleaner which could then suck the spores off the cultures where they had been grown was the breakthrough which enabled the Gruinard test to take place. The 'harvested' anthrax had been filled into flasks and driven north to Scotland. Now the scientists had to wait to see whether the weapon would work in practice as well as it promised to in theory.

The bomb exploded. Billions of spores formed an invisible cloud which wafted over the terrified sheep and gradually dispersed over the testing site and the sea. Then silence returned once more to Gruinard. At the end of the test, the scientists made their way to a nearby beach where each was stripped to his underpants by an army sergeant (who burnt the contaminated suits) and given a thorough shower. They then gathered their everyday clothes and were rowed back to the camp.

A day later, the sheep began to die. The pile of carcasses grew steadily throughout the week. They were incontrovertible proof that biological warfare was no longer just a nightmare science-fiction fantasy: it could be made a reality. The Gruinard tests proved that germs could be produced, transported, loaded into munitions and exploded over target areas without necessarily destroying the fragile living organisms which spread the infection.

In further tests that year, and in the summer of 1943, more bombs were exploded. The climax came when a Wellington bomber made a low-level run over the island and neatly deposited the world's first biological payload in the target area. 'The bombs exploded,' remembers Younger, 'with a sharp crack, quite unlike the "crump" of high explosive.' [4] At the end of each round of tests the sheep were dragged to the edge of some nearby cliffs and flung over. Younger dug a trench, filled it with 1,000 lb of explosives, and brought the hilltop crashing down on the carcasses.

There was little regard for safety. At the end of one year's experiments, Younger was entrusted with the job of transporting the flasks of anthrax from Gruinard to Porton for winter storage - a journey of six hundred miles. He was given an eight hundredweight van, a driver, a road map and instructions to avoid major highways and at all costs not to stop if confronted by suspicious circumstances.

In southern Scotland, we drove around a corner and found a woman lying apparently dead on our side of the road just ahead of us. She'd probably been run over. It was a tremendous moral dilemma, but I felt I couldn't afford to stop. I knew just how dangerous this stuff was, and that it was top secret. It was my responsibility to ensure that things didn't go wrong. That's why I passed by. Ever since, I have had it on my conscience. [5]


Further south, Younger was less cautious. When his driver suggested they stop for the night he agreed. They chose the large industrial city of Leeds. Younger headed for the central police station and handed over the van and its cargo to the bemused station sergeant for safekeeping. 'I told him it was a top secret war material and had to be guarded overnight. He didn't ask any questions.' [6] Relieved of their responsibility, Younger and his driver went off in search of the nearest pub, while the world's first biological bomb lay in the back of a van in the centre of one of England's most densely populated towns. Fortunately for Younger there was no air raid on the centre of Leeds that night.

Younger's final visit to Gruinard was equally eventful. There was an outbreak of anthrax on the Scottish mainland when a dead sheep floated across to the mainland in a heavy storm. Younger now believes that he used too high a charge of explosives and that one infected carcass was thrown clear by the force of the blast that brought down the clifftop. A government scientist was installed at a hotel in Aultbea to handle compensation claims.

The anthrax outbreak, and the possibility of a security leak, sent a collective shudder running down the spines of the members of the Bacteriological Warfare Committee in London. Younger and Fildes immediately took off from Porton in a Beaufort torpedo bomber to fly to Gruinard. It developed an oil leak half way and crash landed in a ploughed field near Liverpool. The two men were taken to hospital, but the only injuries suffered were some cuts to Dr Fildes's hand, which he sustained from a bottle of whiskey he was drinking from as the plane skidded across the ground. They completed the remainder of the journey by train and car.

Once on Gruinard, they donned protective suits and decided to try to rid the island of contamination by burning off the heather, which in some parts of the island was chest-high. Gruinard went up like tinder. One of Younger's most vivid wartime memories is of overlooking Gruinard Bay from a hotel on the mainland that evening, and watching as 'a line of fire ate its way up the side of the island'. The huge cloud of dense black smoke, heavily contaminated with anthrax, drifted out over the sea, while the fires made a spectacular display in the gloomy northern night.

Fildes's apocalyptic attempt to rid Gruinard of contamination was a failure. The charred island was sealed off. Today dramatic warning signs still ring its beaches at 400 yard intervals:

GRUINARD ISLAND
THIS ISLAND IS
GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
UNDER EXPERIMENT
THE GROUND IS CONTAMINATED
WITH ANTHRAX AND DANGEROUS
LANDING IS PROHIBITED


Porton's scientists make regular pilgrimages back to Gruinard in the hope that one day they may be able to re-open it to the public. It is an exercise in good public relations Porton would desperately like to perform: 'Anthrax Island', as it is popularly known, is a grave embarrassment, a reminder of a past the scientists would prefer to play down.

For Fildes's successors at Porton Down, the problem is now beginning to look insoluble. As Rex Watson, the present Director of Porton Down, put it in an interview in 1981: 'The attraction of anthrax when it was used was that it was thought to be sufficiently resistant an organism to withstand being dispersed by a munition ... I don't think at that time perhaps they understood as much as we do now about its persistence over very long periods.' [7] Porton 'would expect there to be an area of contamination for the next tens, perhaps even hundreds of years.' Until that area is clear, Gruinard will remain closed to the public. At the moment, to be sure of being safe, the Porton men who go back still have to wear protective suits and take a seven and a half month course of injections. 'I doubt,' added Dr Watson, 'that we would do such an experiment now if we had to in those conditions.'

Schemes to render Gruinard safe have included plans to remove thousands of tons of top soil, and even to encase it in concrete. In the meantime the island has reverted to nature. The heather which Fildes and Younger burnt off has now returned and is six feet deep in places. Rabbits are said to have turned black as genetic changes have rendered them immune to the anthrax spores, now estimated to lie buried nearly a foot underground.

The wartime testing of anthrax did not end with the burning of Gruinard. The final experiment on the island - in which the bomber dropped the anthrax bomb - was a failure; the bomb fell into what proved to be marshy ground, making it impossible to measure the spread of the spores. This experiment was subsequently repeated on a beach in Wales. The precise location of this test site is still classified. [8]

Gruinard is the most startling reminder of the power of biological weapons, and of the high priority which their development was given in the 1940s. The exact nature and extent of that wartime programme remains one of the last great secrets of the Second World War. Now, with the recent release of some vital official documents, and the increased willingness of some of the participants to reveal at least a little of their work, that secret can at last begin to be told.

Mankind has practised primitive forms of biological warfare for thousands of years: the poisoning of enemy wells with the bodies of dead soldiers and animals in order to spread disease is a practice as old as war itself. In the fourteenth century the Crimean town of Kaffa was captured when the besieging Tartar army catapulted the bodies of plague victims into the city; the Russians are said to have used similar techniques against the Swedes in the eighteenth century. The British used blankets infected with smallpox in an attempt to wipe out whole tribes of North American Indians.

There were a number of allegations of germ warfare during the First World War. The great strides in medical knowledge of the previous fifty years enabled individual types of bacteria to be identified and isolated. The Germans were accused of having innoculated horses and mules with glanders (a highly infectious animal disease), cattle with anthrax, and German spies were caught supposedly trying to spread plague bacteria in Russia in 1915 and 1916. These were not necessarily just propaganda stories. A top secret American report describes accounts of German biological warfare sabotage as 'confirmed and undoubted'. [9] Foulkes paid a visit to the Lister Institute in 1915 when he was casting around for means of retaliating against the German chlorine attacks, but quickly dismissed germ warfare as a practicable possibility. The nations of Europe had difficulty enough in fighting off the natural ravages of disease without deliberately introducing it onto the battlefield.

Nevertheless, by 1925 it was considered sufficiently feasible for the prohibition of 'bacteriological methods of warfare' to be included within the scope of the Geneva Protocol. No nation at this time is recorded as having had a biological weapon, or even a single laboratory researching into the possibility of developing one. But the search for a new gas to replace mustard inevitably edged scientists towards the consideration of the possibility that the next generation of 'indiscriminate' weapons might be biological rather than chemical. At the same time, the development of mass-immunisation techniques offered the chance of overcoming the major disadvantage of using disease as a weapon: the 'boomerang' effect on your own troops and civilian population. 'CBW' - military jargon for Chemical and Biological Warfare - gradually began to enter the vocabulary of war. It was natural that the two types of weapon should be lumped together: they were 'unconventional', relied upon highly sophisticated scientific and medical skills, were abhorrent to the majority of the population, and had to be developed in conditions of great secrecy.

Ironically it was the Geneva Protocol's ban on biological warfare that led to the start of the biological arms race. In 1932, a Japanese army major, Shiro Ishii, returned home from a European tour convinced that biological weapons were an effective means of fighting a war: with flawless logic he concluded that they must be, otherwise the statesmen at Geneva would not have gone to the trouble of banning them. Major Ishii's conviction became an obsession. A small, thin, bespectacled man in his early forties - his outwardly scholarly appearance belied a powerful personality. 'This individual,' wrote the Americans in 1946 'was the compelling force behind the scenes throughout the whole period of Japanese investigation into the field of biological warfare.' [10]

Despite receiving little official encouragement, by 1935 Ishii had persuaded the Japanese authorities to let him set up a germ warfare research centre at the Harbin Military Hospital. Bombs were designed and tested and cultures of germs prepared and evaluated. In the same year, the Japanese military police, the Kempai, arrested five Russian 'spies' in the Kwangtung region of China. All were said to be carrying glass bottles and ampoules containing biological agents - dysentery, cholera and anthrax - for sabotage missions. After the war, Ishii claimed that the Russian attacks were successful: according to the Kempai, 6,000 Japanese soldiers died of cholera in the Shanghai area, while 2,000 of the army's horses were killed by anthrax.

True or not, the allegations spurred the Japanese War Ministry into taking a far keener interest in biological warfare. In 1937, with his work at the Harbin Military Hospital yielding promising results, Ishii was given permission to build the world's first major biological warfare installation.

The site chosen was near a small village called Pingfan, about forty miles south of Harbin, close to the South Manchuria Railroad. By 1939 when it was almost completed, Ishii was a general. The Pingfan Institute, as it was known, had a garrison of 3,000 scientists, technicians and soldiers, and was completely self-supporting. The Institute raised its own vegetables and livestock; it had a flock of 50,000 hens. Within its closely guarded walls was a school and a hospital, and a separate compound for plague research. An attached air base provided lavish transport facilities for the senior scientists as well as aircraft for field trials. 'Perhaps no better indication of the magnitude of the Pingfan project', wrote American Intelligence after the war

can be gained than consideration of the fact that in addition to various offensive activities, the vaccine production capacity of the plant was of the order of twenty million doses annually. Furthermore, the spectrum of vaccines ranged from typhoid to typhus. [11]


For offensive use, Pingfan opened a Pandora's Box of disease: typhus, typhoid, anthrax, cholera, plague (the ancient Black Death), salmonella, tetanus, botulism, brucellosis, gas gangrene, smallpox, tick encephalitis, tuberculosis, tularemia and glanders. The bacteria were grown in vast numbers in aluminum tanks designed by Ishii. Each strain had its own 'growing time', at the end of which it was 'harvested' by being scraped from the surface of the tank with a small metal rake (Ishii demonstrated the technique to the Americans a few months after the end of the war). Diseases of the intestine, like dysentery and typhoid, were harvested after a growth period of twenty-four hours; plague, anthrax and glanders took forty-eight hours; anaerobes (bacteria which can live without oxygen), a week.

In August 1945, with the Russian army only a few miles away, the Pingfan Institute was destroyed: every piece of machinery systematically smashed to bits, every scrap of incriminating paper burned. There are therefore no records of just how much biological agent was made at Pingfan. Colonel Tomosada Masuda, head of 'Section Three' at Pingfan, claimed after the war to have 'no figures on this'. The quantities were almost certainly huge. His American interrogators calculated that for each set of bomb experiments, 900 tanks were used, each yielding a harvest of 40 grammes of bacterial scrapings. [12] In 1949 Russian investigators put the productive capacity of Pingfan at eight tons of bacteria a month. [*]

Like the British a year later, Masuda quickly came to the conclusion that anthrax was the most practical bomb filling. Its spores were found to live for three months in Pingfan's carefully prepared suspensions. This compared with a mere three days for cholera, and a week for dysentery and plague.

The Japanese spent at least seven years trying to perfect an anthrax bomb. Over 2,000 'Uji' bombs were filled with anthrax and tested experimentally. It was a substantial programme: the Uji bomb was one of nine types of aircraft bomb which had been tested at Pingfan by 1940. The deadliest munition developed was the 'Ha' bomb, designed to shatter into thousands of pieces of shrapnel, spreading the anthrax spores to murderously good effect. A single scratch wound from a piece of contaminated shrapnel was estimated to cause illness and death in 90 per cent of its victims. The standard Japanese heavy bomber could carry twelve Ha bombs.

In just two years, in addition to thousands of guinea pigs and mice, at least 500 sheep and 200 horses were killed in biological tests. By 1939, over 4,000 bombs had been produced. Other weapons tested included shells, aerial sprays and sabotage devices for poisoning wells.

As in every chemical and biological warfare installation throughout the world there were stringent safety precautions. All workers wore a completely rubberized anti-plague suit, together with a respirator, surgical gloves and rubber boots. After every experimental trial they were required to strip completely 'and bathe themselves in 2 per cent creosol or mercuric chloride'. [13] All enlisted men received extra rations of food; officers were given danger pay of an extra 60 yen ($25) a month.

But there were accidents and deaths. At least twenty men a year working in the laboratories contracted infections from the material they handled. In 1937, two died from severe cases of glanders. In 1944 there were two deaths from plague. Anthrax was a constant source of danger. Masuda recalled the example of two soldiers:

... one of the two individuals had been ordered to cut the grass at the experimental site a day after an anthrax trial. He contracted pneumonic anthrax and passed away after a short course of the disease. The second fatality was the first soldier's room mate and he died from anthrax septicemia, the result of contact infection. [14]


At Pingfan the Japanese also devoted considerable time to perfecting sabotage techniques. Scientists devised one particularly unpleasant poison for contaminating foodstuffs: christened 'fungu toxin', it was made of an extract from the livers of blow fish. Masuda himself supervised experiments in the poisoning of water supplies using cholera, typhoid and dysentery in over a thousand wells in Manchuria. Evidence later collected by the Russians suggested that the Japanese also cultivated the plague-infected flea as a biological weapon. Pingfan was said to be capable of producing 500 million fleas a year. In 1941 these were tested by being dropped in porcelain aircraft bombs; later the Japanese carried out successful experiments in spraying the fleas from high altitudes.

Like the Nazis with their nerve gas programme, the Japanese struggled to restrict the secret of the Pingfan project to the tightest possible circle. Each scientist laboured in his own particular field and was refused access to other areas. Despite the large capital investment in Pingfan - it cost between six and twelve million yen (up to $5 million) a year to run - even the Emperor was not informed of the existence of the germ warfare programme: 'Biological warfare,' Ishii told the Americans in 1946, 'is inhumane and advocating such a method of warfare would defile the virtue and benevolence of the Emperor.'

Radiating out from Pingfan were eighteen other biological warfare out-stations, each staffed by around 300 people; many were on mainland China. 'Ishii,' wrote the Americans, 'developed a biological warfare organisation that at its height extended from Harbin to the Dutch East Indies and from the island of Hokkaido to the Celibes.' [15] The whole programme was administered by an organisation called Boeki Kyusuibu, whose innocuous title is translated as 'Anti-Epidemic Water Supply Unit'.

When the war ended and the Americans began to piece together the scale of the Japanese germ warfare project, Ishii topped the list of scientists they wished to interrogate. It took U.S. Intelligence almost five months to locate him, living in seclusion at his country home and suffering from chronic dysentery - an unpleasant legacy of his career in germ warfare. He was taken to Tokyo and grilled solidly for a month.

At the end of that time he was still denying any knowledge of what the Americans suspected was the criminal aspect of his work: the use of human guinea pigs in biological warfare experiments. It was to be almost two years before the full story emerged; the US Government promptly suppressed the facts for the next quarter of a century. (The story of the immunity from prosecution granted to Ishii, and the subsequent cover-up is told in Chapter Seven.)

Pathological material and specimens from five hundred human victims were turned over to the Americans. The number of people actually experimented upon was far higher, and almost certainly ran into four figures.

The Japanese infected prisoners - mostly Chinese, but possibly including American, British and Australian POWs - with the full range of diseases under study at Pingfan. Ishii admitted feeding five prisoners with a two-day old culture of botulism; another twenty were injected with brucellosis. Bombs designed to produce gas gangrene were exploded next to tethered prisoners - an experiment confirmed by a witness at the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial two years later:

In January 1945 ... I saw experiments in inducing gas gangrene, conducted under the direction of the Chief of the 2nd Division, Colonel Ikari, and researcher Futaki. Ten prisoners ... were tied facing stakes, five to ten metres apart ... The prisoners' heads were covered with metal helmets, and their bodies with screens ... only the naked buttocks being exposed. At about 100 metres away a fragmentation bomb was exploded by electricity ... All ten men were wounded ... and sent back to the prison ... I later asked Ikari and researcher Futaki what the results had been. They told me that all ten men had ... died of gas gangrene.


There were similar experiments with anthrax bombs. Victims were injected with tetanus, smallpox, plague and glanders, as well as being exposed to aerosol clouds of disease in gas chambers. The infections were not always allowed to run their full course: victims would be killed with massive doses of morphine, and then dissected to check the progress of the disease up to the point of death. Of the human remains studied by the Americans in 1947, anthrax accounted for 31 deaths, cholera 50, dysentery 12, glanders 20, mustard gas 16, tetanus 14, plague 106, salmonella II, tuberculosis 41, typhoid 22, typhus 9. [*]

Concurrent with these human experiments, there is strong - almost conclusive - evidence to suggest that the Japanese were also waging actual biological warfare in China.

On 4 October 1940, according to the Chinese Ambassador in London, a Japanese plane visited the town of Chuhsien in the province of Chekiang. 'After circling over the city for a short while it scattered rice and wheat grains mixed with fleas over the western section of the city', [16] and the resulting plague epidemic killed twenty-one townspeople. Three weeks later 'Japanese planes raided Ningpo and scattered a considerable quantity of wheat grains over the port city'. Ninety-nine people were killed by plague. [17]

On November 4th 1941 at about 5 am a lone enemy plane appeared over Changteh in Hunan Province, flying very low, the morning being rather misty. Instead of bombs, wheat and rice grains, pieces of paper, cotton wadding and some unidentified particles were dropped. There were many eyewitnesses, including Mrs E. J. Bannon, Superintendent of the local Presbyterian hospital, and other foreign residents in Changteh. After the 'all clear' signal had been sounded at 5 pm, some of these strange gifts from the enemy were collected and sent by the police to the local Presbyterian hospital for examination which revealed the presence of micro-organisms reported to resemble P. pestis (plague bacteria). On November 11th, seven days later, the first clinical case of plague came to notice, then followed by five more cases within the same month, two cases in December, and the last to date on January 13th 1942 ... Changteh had never been, as far as is known, afflicted by plague. [18]


In another attack on Kinghwa, three Japanese planes

... dropped a large quantity of small granules, about the size of shrimp eggs. These strange objects were collected and examined in a local hospital. The granules were more or less round, about 1 mm in diameter, of whitish-yellow tinge, somewhat translucent with a certain amount of glistening reflection from the surface. When brought into contact with a drop of water on a glass slide, the granule began to swell to about twice its original size. In a small amount of water in a test tube, with some agitation it would break up into whitish flakes and later form a milky suspension. [19]


Traces of plague bacteria were found. Finally there were another 600 cases of plague in three other Chinese provinces which the Chinese ascribed to an 'inhuman act of our enemy'. The detail certainly suggests that the incidents were more than mere propaganda stories. Whether they were isolated events or part of a systematic biological attack on China is unknown.

In July 1942 the Chinese allegations were passed on to Winston Churchill. Two days later he had them placed on the agenda of the Pacific War Council.

The growing alarm in London and Washington that the Japanese were on the verge of initiating biological warfare gave an added urgency to the first anthrax bomb tests on Gruinard that summer. Up to then the Allied germ warfare effort had lagged significantly behind the Japanese, but from 1942 onwards the Anglo-American biological programme began to vie with the Manhattan Project for top development priority.

The British biological warfare project was born on 12 February 1934 at a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff. For two years, a Disarmament Conference in Geneva had been discussing means of finally ridding the world of chemical weapons. Germ warfare had also been included, and in view of this, Sir Maurice Hankey told the Service Chiefs, he 'was wondering whether it might not be right to consider the possibilities and potentialities of this form of war'. [20] The Chiefs of Staff agreed, and authorized Hankey to put out discreet and 'very secret' feelers to the Medical Research Council to see if they would help. Like the Japanese, the British were prompted to begin work on germ weapons as a result of a peace initiative aimed at banning them.

For Hankey it was the beginning of a long involvement with biological weapons. At the age of fifty-seven this doyen of civil service mandarins was cast as the unlikely counterpart to General Shiro Ishii: just as the Japanese owed their venture into the field of biological warfare to Ishii, Britain owed hers to Hankey. He was entirely suited, both in character and position, to the task. 'Short, spare of figure ... a dedicated dietician, almost a non-smoker and teetotaller, he lived, and enjoyed, a spartan existence,' recalled a subordinate. He had 'little or no sense of humour' and was 'too intense and taut to be a social success, and had no "small talk"'. [21] In 1934 he was a uniquely powerful Whitehall official, Secretary to both the Cabinet and the Committee of Imperial Defence, 'a man whose advice, over a period of 25 years, no Prime Minister or Service Chief could afford to disregard in matters of Defence.' [22] His career and temperament are neatly summed up in the four word title Stephen Roskill chose for his official biography: Hankey: Man of Secrets.

Amid the prevailing policy of appeasement in the 1930s, Hankey at first made little progress. Edward Mellanby, the secretary of the Medical Research Council, refused to have anything to do with a project which used advances in medicine for destructive purposes. Hankey had more success with Paul Fildes, the pugnacious head of the MRC's Bacteriological Metabolic Unit, who agreed to take up a watching brief on the subject. In September 1936 Hankey proposed to the Committee of Imperial Defence that 'an expert official body' should be set up to 'report upon the practicability of the introduction of bacteriological warfare and to make recommendations as to the counter-measures', [23] In October the CID approved, and Hankey became Chairman of the newly-created Microbiological Warfare Committee.

In March 1937 the Committee submitted its first report, specifically on plague, anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease. Though they concluded that 'for the time being ... the practical difficulties of introducing bacteria into this country on a large scale were such as to render an attempt unlikely' they urged that stocks of serum be built up to meet any potential threat. [24] From 1937 to 1940, Britain began to stockpile vaccines, fungicides and insecticides against biological attack.

In April 1938 the Committee produced a second report, and in June Hankey circulated 'Proposals for an Emergency Bacteriological Service to operate in War': the emphasis was on defence, the tone still low-key. It was only in the following year, with the outbreak of war, that the tempo began to quicken. An emergency Public Health Laboratory was set up; linked to the normal laboratory services it covered the whole of the country. Its primary function was to investigate suspicious outbreaks of disease, and to act as the distributing centre for the stocks of vaccine and sera.

In September 1939, Hankey - now with a seat in the House of Lords - was brought into the War Cabinet as Minister Without Portfolio. His influence over Neville Chamberlain had never been greater, and to Hankey the Prime Minister 'confided' the job of Britain's biological warfare overlord with the proviso, recalled Hankey, 'not to authorise any preparations for the offensive use of bacteria without his approval'. [25] But within a matter of days - as the Wehrmacht smashed through Poland's defences and Hitler at Danzig warned of his 'secret weapons' - the brief changed. The Chiefs of Staff met on 25 September and heard from Sir Cyril Newall, the Chief of the Air Staff, that attention had been drawn

to a form of attack which cannot be regarded as beyond the bounds of possibility - namely, the deliberate and indiscriminate dropping of bacteria with the object of spreading disease. The fact that the German Government have notified us of their intention to observe the Geneva Protocol is, of course, no reason to imagine that they will in fact observe those provisions a moment longer than is necessary. [26]


A sabotage attack by enemy agents using bacteria was 'not impossible in the very near future'. The matter was referred to the War Cabinet and within a few days Hankey had been ordered to step up research into germ warfare.

Towards the end of September [wrote Hankey in 1941] Mr. Chamberlain gave his approval to a proposal that I should authorise experimental work in order to discover what are the possibilities of infection being transmitted by various forms of micro-organisms through the air, so as to give us greater knowledge as to how to protect ourselves against such methods. The work was to be conducted in this spirit and not with a view to resort to such methods ourselves. [27]


Whatever the 'spirit' in which the work was conducted, Britain now began researching in earnest into offensive biological weapons.

A new and highly secret laboratory was established at Porton Down in 1940. It was, one of its early members has recently said, 'a primitive affair -little more than an old wooden army hut'. The tiny biological warfare team, never more than a few dozen strong, was presided over by Paul Fildes. He was detached from the Medical Research Council, which was 'reluctant to associate itself with even defensive work on what was regarded as a morally indefensible perversion of medical knowledge', [28] and 'by an informal compromise' placed on the staff of Porton. Throughout his life Fildes had no qualms about his work. The Times, in its curiously unsympathetic obituary of him in 1971, described him as 'by nature and upbringing conservative in outlook' and 'a little vain' about his achievements:

Some found him difficult; to most he was reserved and rather uncompromising in manner, with a quiet, ruminative way of speaking that never varied, even in anger or when, as sometimes happened, he was being devastatingly rude. Those who got to know him had for him a lasting, if occasionally rueful, affection ... [29]


In 1940 he was fifty-eight and a confirmed bachelor. Allan Younger, the young explosives expert who accompanied him to Gruinard in 1942, recalls him as small in stature, with a powerful sense of purpose and a passionate belief in the work he was doing.

He gathered around him men with a similar determination. The eminent British biologist Lord Stamp, for example, joined the team in 1941: earlier, in April of that year he succeeded to the family title when his father, mother and brother were all killed in the Blitz. 'I felt useless where I was, at the Public Health Laboratory,' he remembers today, 'and I was determined to pay back the Germans for what they did, and to see that our country was not left defenceless as London was when my family was killed.' [30]

All Fildes' team were convinced - and repeatedly reminded in briefings - that they were in a desperate race against the Nazis. In November 1939, R. V. Jones - in a memorandum after Hitler's Danzig boast - put 'bacterial warfare' first, 'new gases' second and long-range rockets only fifth on his list of German secret weapons 'which must be considered seriously'. [31]According to British Intelligence ' ... the Germans and Russians appear to have carried out considerable research on bacteriological methods of attack. Spraying of the virus of foot and mouth disease, dispersal of anthrax spores, and pollution of water supplies by enemy agents are specifically mentioned.' [32]

In 1940-41 these fears were greatly increased by the threat of invasion. Hankey and the Bacteriological Warfare Committee actually went so far as to recommend the compulsory pasteurization of milk and the chlorination of all supplies of drinking water. Only after the Ministry of Food pointed out the massive cost and administrative difficulties involved were the schemes dropped. [33] Later in the war, the Allies feared that the Germans planned to use the V-weapons to deliver biological agents into the heart of London: the Canadians sent the British 235,000 doses of an antidote to botulinus toxin, the most feared of biological weapons. 'When the V-I attack was launched in June, 1944,' recalled a Canadian general, Brock Chisolm in 1957, 'and the first flying bomb went off with a big bang, showing that it only contained normal high explosives, the general staffs all heaved an immense sigh of relief.' [34] 117,500 British, American and Canadian troops were issued with self-inoculating syringes to protect them against biological attack during the Normandy landings. [35]

In fact in this, as in so many of its evaluations of German chemical and biological warfare, Allied intelligence was hopelessly wrong. According to evidence presented at Nuremburg, the German decision to investigate biological warfare was not taken until a secret conference of the Wehrmacht High Command in July 1943:

It was decided that an institute should be created for the production of bacterial cultures on a large scale, and the carrying out of scientific experiments to examine the possibilities of using bacteria. The institute was also to be used for experimenting with pests which could be used against domestic animals and crops, and which were to be made available if they were found practicable ... aircraft were to be used for spraying tests with bacteria emulsion, and insects harmful to plants, such as beetles were experimented with ... [36]


The German biological warfare programme was literally years behind that of the Allies. Work centred on the Military Medical Academy at Posen, under the supervision of a Professor Blome. Experiments were carried out on concentration camp inmates at Natzweiler, Dachau and at Buchenwald, where prisoners were deliberately covered with typhus-infected lice.

Horrific though the experiments were, the Nazi biological project itself never got very far. There is no evidence to suggest that in two years' work at Posen the Nazis ever managed to produce a feasible weapon. In March 1945 the Military Academy was evacuated in the face of the oncoming Red Army, and Blome attempted to have the whole site destroyed in a Stuka attack. All he salvaged were some plague cultures, which in the event proved unusable: the Russians were already on German soil, and the Germans themselves - none of whom had been inoculated - would have suffered as much as the enemy.

At the end of the war, the Soviet Union pressed for the death penalty for one of the Nuremburg defendants, Hans Fritzsche, on the grounds that he had first suggested the possibility of germ warfare to the German High Command. For Britain and America it was an acutely embarrassing moment. By 1945 they were aware that they had invested vastly more time and effort in producing these 'forbidden weapons' than the Nazis. They insisted - to the fury of the Russians - that Fritzsche be acquitted. To avoid tarnishing their wartime honour, all American, British and Canadian records on their wartime biological weapons programmes remained in the 'Most Secret' category; the British closed their archives to historians until the end of the twentieth century. [37]

Since the war, Britain has categorically stated that she has never possessed any biological weapons. As recently as 1980, at the Review Conference of the Convention on Biological and Toxin Weapons, the British delegation firmly stated: 'The United Kingdom has never possessed and has not acquired microbial or other biological agents and toxins in quantities which could be employed for weapon purposes.' [38] On at least two other occasions in 1980 - on 5 March and 11 March - the same assurance was repeated.

The United Kingdom's declaration is hard to reconcile with the facts.
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Re: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical a

Postby admin » Thu Oct 26, 2017 6:58 am

Part 2 of 2

Although the bulk of the official records are closed, even a department as efficient at 'weeding' out embarrassing secrets from the public archives as the Ministry of Defence lets the odd paper slip through. Documents now show that it was the British who mass-manufactured the West's - probably the world's - first biological weapon.

The breakthrough was made by Dr Fildes and his team after a series of open air experiments at Porton in the autumn of 1941. The information went first to a seven-man 'Sub-Committee' (of whose records there is today no trace) consisting of Air Vice-Marshal Peck and representatives from the Army, the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council, Porton, the Lister Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Sub-Committee's composition suggests that at this stage British interest was confined largely to anti crop and livestock weapons, and this is further confirmed by a 'Most Secret' memorandum to Winston Churchill from Lord Hankey, dated 6 December 1941: [39] 'Most of the work,' he wrote, 'has related to diseases of animals and is continuing.' After three paragraphs giving the background to his involvement in germ warfare, Hankey went on:

The Sub-Committee reports that if ever we should desire, e.g. for purposes of retaliation, to take offensive action, the only method technically feasible at the moment is the use of anthrax against cattle by means of infected cakes dropped from aircraft. The experiments which have been made for the Sub-Committee give good ground for supposing that considerable numbers of animals might be killed by this method if it were used on a sufficient scale at the time of the year when cattle are in the open ... There is, as yet, no satisfactory experimental basis for other methods, although the possibilities of certain virus diseases of animals are being actively examined.

5. Readiness to use anthrax as a weapon would involve the following preliminary preparations:-

(a) The production of adequate quantities of bacteria and their storage in the laboratory ...

(b) The manufacture of two million cakes. These would be made ostensibly for an ordinary agricultural purpose without risk of leakage of information, and then delivered to Porton by an indirect channel for storage until required.

(c) The provision of machinery for filling the cakes with bacteria ...

(d) Determination of the method of discharge of the cakes from aircraft and other details for operational use. No special difficulty is expected in this.

6. The above preliminary preparations would take about six months from the date of authority to proceed. At the end of six months it would be possible to take offensive action at short notice if that should be decided upon, e.g. as a measure of retaliation.

7. At the outset of the war both the Allies (French and British), and the Germans, re-affirmed their intention to abide by the terms of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibiting the use in war of asphyxiating or poisonous or other gases and bacteriological methods of warfare. Nevertheless, I would not trust the Germans, if driven to desperation, not to resort to such methods. It is worthy of mention that a few specimens of the Colorado Beetle, which preys on the potato, were found in some half a dozen districts in the region between Weymouth and Swansea a few months ago: although these are not important potato districts and no containers or other suspicious objects were discovered, there were abnormal features in at least one instance suggesting that the occurrence was not due to natural causes.


'I ask for permission to authorise the preparatory measures mentioned in paragraphs 5 and 6 above,' concluded Hankey, 'as an essential preparation for possible retaliation.'

Churchill received Hankey's memo on Sunday, 7 December - the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Two weeks later he flew to the USA for the first Washington Conference leaving the whole subject in the hands of the Chiefs of Staff. On 2 January 1942 the Defence Committee met in Churchill's absence and discussed biological warfare. The minutes are a model of official discretion: 'Lord Hankey was authorised to take such measures as he might from time to time deem appropriate to enable us without undue delay to retaliate in the event of resort by the enemy to the offensive use of bacteria.' However, the Defence Committee ruled, there were conditions: 'There must be no operational resort to this method of warfare for purposes of retaliation, or otherwise, [authors' italics] without the express approval of the War Cabinet or Defence Committee.' In addition, Hankey was to make sure that the stockpiling of biological weapons 'would not recoil upon ourselves or our Allies' or 'lead to an appreciable diversion of scientific or industrial effort'. The Defence Committee also directed that 'all possible precautions must be taken to avoid publicity on the subject'. [40]

In the event the British did not produce two million anthrax-filled cattle cakes, but five million. [41]

The scale of the project is startling. To have been capable of filling five million cakes, Porton must have been producing anthrax on a large scale. Half a dozen filling machines were installed, operated by female munition workers. The cakes were not the large blocks we are used to today, resembling instead large pellets. Each had a small hole bored into it which was filled with anthrax spores and then sealed; they were all stored at Porton.

It was by any standards a crude weapon. It appealed to Fildes's sense of humour, and one of his favourite jokes was to picture the RAF strewing millions of cakes over the moonlit German countryside, with thousands of them ending up in gardens and streets and 'rattling on the Burgomeister's roof'.

Bizarre though the project was, it would certainly have caused widespread suffering if it had been used against Germany. In addition to the serious food shortages which an anthrax outbreak would have caused, there would also have been human casualties. Cutaneous anthrax, which produces skin ulcers and can lead to septicaemia, is caught by handling contaminated animals. Intestinal anthrax results from eating contaminated meat and is fatal in 80 per cent of cases. British policy on biological weapons had moved a long way since Chamberlain had initially 'confided' it to Hankey. It was to move much further.

According to his own account, Paul Fildes made his most spectacular contribution to the Second World War on 27 May 1942 on a street corner in Prague in Czechoslovakia.

Ever since the establishment of the biological warfare wing at Porton, Fildes had been working on 'BTX' - the botulinal toxins, recently described in a World Health Organization report as 'being among the most toxic substances known to man'. 42BTX, more commonly known as botulism, generally appears as a particularly virulent form of food poisoning, with an average mortality rate of 60 per cent. Although there is no official confirmation, by 1941 it appears that Fildes had succeeded in turning BTX into a weapon; the British code-named it 'X'.

Chemical and biological weapons have long been favourite tools of spies: the ties between Porton, Camp Detrick in America, and the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services were extremely strong (see Chapter Nine). Both Polish and Russian partisans used biological weapons in sabotage operations against the Germans. [43] In December 1942, for example, the Gestapo discovered a germ warfare arsenal in a four-roomed Warsaw house used by the Polish underground. They reported to Himmler the discovery of 'three flasks of typhus bacilli, seventeen sealed rubber tubes presumably containing bacteria, and one fountain pen with instructions for use for spreading bacteria.' 20 lb of arsenic had also passed through the house. [44] A few days later, Himmler showed Hitler a captured NKVD order instructing the Russian partisans to use arsenic to poison German occupation troops. [45] The raid on the Warsaw house apparently failed to prevent the Poles from continuing to use germ weapons. The Combined Chiefs of Staff learned from the Polish Liaison Officer in Washington, Colonel Mitkiewicz, that in the first four months of 1943426 Germans had been poisoned by the Polish underground; that seventy-seven 'poisoned parcels' had been sent to Germany; and that 'a few hundred' Nazis had been assassinated by means of 'typhoid fever microbes and typhoid fever lice'. [46]

Against this background it is therefore not surprising that the British Secret Service should have turned to Fildes for help when, in October 1941, they began to plan Operation Anthropoid. Its object: the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

It was an almost suicidal mission for those who undertook it, but one which the British regarded as of overriding importance. Heydrich had already acquired a fearsome reputation as the ruthless head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Nazi security service, through which he ran the counter-intelligence operation against British agents in occupied Europe. He was said to be Hitler's personal choice as the man to succeed him as Fuhrer, and in September 1941 he appointed him Reiehsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia.

Heydrich was remarkably successful in his new job. By means of the stick and the carrot he turned the Protectorate, with its extensive arms industries, into an important component in the German war economy: with the stick he broke the back of the resistance movement, terrorizing its supporters and eliminating its leaders; with the carrot he enticed the Czech workers into greater productivity by increasing their rations and shortening their working hours. As General Frantisek Moravec, head of Czech Intelligence in London, put it, the autumn of 1941 'was a triumph for Heydrich: the armament industry hummed, a bumper crop was harvested and, with the elimination of the heroes of the resistance, peace and prosperity reigned in Bohemia and Moravia. ' [47] The British Secret Service, in conjunction with the SOE and the Czech exiles in London decided to have Heydrich killed.

At ten o'clock on the night of 29 December 1941, a four-engined Halifax bomber took off from Tempsford aerodrome. To help it make the long, hazardous flight over occupied Europe, the RAF laid on a diversionary bombing raid to draw off German radar and fighter squadrons. Four and a half hours after take-off, seven Czechs, in semi-moonlight, parachuted into the snow-covered hills near the small Bohemian town of Lidice.

The men had all been trained at Cholmondely Castle in Cheshire and in an SOE Special Training School in Scotland. With them they carried British arms, wireless and cipher equipment. Two weapons in particular were handled with extra care. They were British No. 73 Hand Anti-tank grenades. Normally these were 9-1/2 inches long and weighed 4 lb. The grenades the Czechs carried were special conversions, consisting of the top third of the grenade, with adhesive tape thickly binding the open end. The grenades each weighed just over 1 lb. It now seems likely that they had been personally prepared by Fildes at Porton, and each contained a lethal filling of X.

The 'Anthropoids', led by Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik, went to earth with the help of the Czech underground for five months, building up a detailed picture of Heydrich's movements. Astonishingly for so high a Nazi leader he rarely travelled with an armed escort. On 23 May 1942, by a stroke of great good fortune, the Anthropoids learned where Heydrich would be in four days' time. At 9.30 am on the morning of the 27th they took up positions on a hairpin bend near the Troja Bridge in a suburb of Prague on the busy route to Heydrich's fortress H Qat Hradcany Castle. Precise details of what followed differ, but in all there were probably six assassins: four men armed with sub-machine guns and grenades, one with a mirror to flash a signal when Heydrich's car rounded the bend, and Rela Fafek, Gabcik's girlfriend, who was to drive a car ahead of Heydrich: if he was coming along unescorted she would wear a hat.

At 10.31, complete with hat, she drove round the corner. Seconds later came the mirror signal. Gabcik strode into the middle of the road and aimed his sub-machine gun at the bend. Heydrich's open-topped green Mercedes came sailing round the corner, but as Gabcik tried to open fire his gun jammed. As the car slowed, Heydrich screamed at his chauffeur to put his foot on the accelerator, but the driver, a last-minute replacement, kept slamming on the brakes. It was at this point that Kubis hurled one of Fildes's grenades.

Heydrich had just risen to his feet in the now-stationary car when the grenade exploded with a force powerful enough to shatter all the windows in a passing tram. Although it missed the Mercedes, the blast tore off the door. Splinters from the grenade embedded themselves in Heydrich's body. Like 'the central figure in a scene out of any Western' [48] Heydrich leapt into the road, shouting and screaming, then suddenly dropped his revolver. Clutching his right hip he staggered backwards and collapsed. The gunmen escaped.

Heydrich, in considerable pain and bleeding from his back, was driven, fully conscious, in a commandeered van to the nearby Bulovka Hospital. The doctor on duty in the surgery department was Vladimir Snajdr.

Heydrich [he recalled) was alone in the room, stripped to the waist, sitting on the table where we carry out the first examination.

I greeted him in Czech; he raised his hand but did not answer. I took forceps and a few swabs and tried to see whether the wound was deep. He did not stir, he did not flinch, although it must have hurt him. Meanwhile a nurse had telephoned Professor Dick, a German, asking him to come to the theatre.

At first sight the wound did not seem dangerous ... Professor Dick hurried in. He was a German doctor whom the Nazis had appointed to our hospital.

'What's the matter?' he asked. It was only at that moment that he caught sight of Heydrich. He cried 'Heil!' clicked his heels and began to examine him. He tried to see whether the kidney was touched: no, all seemed well for Heydrich. And the same applied to his spinal column. Then he was put into a wheelchair and taken off to the X-ray room. Heydrich tried to behave courageously and he walked from the chair to the X-ray machine himself.

The X-ray showed something in the wound, perhaps a bomb splinter. Or a piece of coachwork. In short, there was something there inside. Dr Dick thought the splinter was in the chest wall and that it could be extracted by a simple local operation. We had a theatre in the basement for operations of that kind. Dick tried it, but without success. The patient's state called for a full-scale surgical operation: one rib was broken, the thoracic cage was open, a bomb splinter was in the spleen, the diaphragm was pierced.

'Herr Protektor,' said Dick to Heydrich, 'we must operate.'

Heydrich refused. He wanted a surgeon to be brought from Berlin. 'But your condition requires an immediate operation,' said Dick. They were speaking German, of course.

Heydrich thought it over and in the end he agreed that Professor Hollbaum, of the German surgical clinic in Prague, should be called in. He was taken to the aseptic theatre: I was not there; I had to stay in the room where the instruments were sterilized. Dr Dick was the only one who helped Professor Hollbaum during the operation. The wound was about three inches deep and it contained a good deal of dirt and little splinters ...

After the operation Heydrich was taken to Dr Dick's office on the second storey. The Germans had emptied the whole floor, turning the patients out or sending them home; and they transformed the dining room into an SS barracks. They set up machine guns on the roof and SS, armed to the teeth, paced about the entrance below.

No Czech doctor and no Czech member of the staff was allowed on the floor where Heydrich was. I tried to go up there to ask how he was doing; I said I was on duty and that I was looking for Dr Puhala, but they told me openly that I had no business there.

So I have no exact information on Heydrich's condition after the operation. Perhaps they had to remove his spleen. I did not see him again. But Dr Dick said that he was coming along very well. His death surprised us all ... [49]


Heydrich's sudden collapse - from apparently only minor injuries to coma and subsequent death - may have baffled the doctors, but in retrospect matches completely the symptomatology of BTX poisoning. After an initial period of calm, lasting perhaps for a day or so, the victim lapses into a progressive paralysis which fails to respond to treatment. As X went to work on Heydrich's central nervous system, the doctors could only stand by helplessly as their famous patient succumbed to the classic symptoms of poisoning by BTX:

a combination of extreme weakness, malaise, dry skin, dilated and unresponsive pupils, blurred vision, dry coated tongue and mouth, and dizziness when upright. As the patient becomes worse, he develops a progressive muscular weakness with facial paralysis, and weakness of arms, legs and respiratory muscles. He may die of respiratory failure unless artificial respiration is applied. There may be associated cardiac arrest or complete vasomotor collapse. [50]


The patient generally either dies or recovers within seven days. A week after the ambush, on 4 June 1942, Heydrich died. Dr Snajdr recalled that the official diagnosis of the cause of Heydrich's death was septicaemia.

Blood transfusions could do nothing. Professor Hamperl, head of the German Institute of Pathology, and Professor Weyrich, head of the German Institute of Forensic Medicine, drew up a joint report on their medical conclusions. Among other things it said, 'Death occurred as a consequence of lesions in the vital parenchymatous organs caused by bacteria and possibly by poisons carried into them by the bomb splinters [authors' italics] and deposited chiefly in the pleura, the diaphragm and the tissues in the neighbourhood of the spleen, there agglomerating and multiplying.'

That is all I can tell you. [51]


Heydrich's coffin was borne in state in a black-creped train into Berlin, escorted by Adolf Hitler's SS guard. The Fuhrer laid a wreath on the grave of 'the man with the iron heart'. 'The German intelligence service,' one historian has written, 'would never really recover from the murder of Heydrich.' [52]

Even so, the mission failed in one of its most vital objectives: to awaken Czech resistance to the Nazi regime. The Germans launched a period of terror. The entire town of Lidice was razed in reprisal: its male population shot, its women and children carried away in trucks. 10,000 Czechs were arrested. The Anthropoids were hunted down and eventually trapped in the crypt of a Greek Orthodox Church in Prague. Kubis and Gabcik were both killed. Yet, wrote General Moravec, one of the planners of the mission, 'our hope that the Czech people would react to the German pressure with counterpressure did not materialise. Indeed that had been our problem throughout the war and we were never able to solve it.' [53] On the day that Heydrich died 'fifty thousand Czech workers demonstrated against the British-inspired act in Prague.' [54]

Why would the British have sanctioned the use of a biological weapon? Partly they must have wanted to ensure that the assassination of Heydrich, once embarked upon, would be almost certain to succeed: what they knew of X must have convinced them that it was the perfect fail-safe weapon. Certainly there would have been few moral qualms. Those in MI6 who plotted the killing probably felt that making Heydrich the first victim of a poisoned weapon was a fitting end for so despised an enemy. And it was, also, an opportunity for Fildes to see whether X really would work as a weapon.

There is no written evidence of Fildes's involvement in Heydrich's death. The relevant official files are still closed. When asked to comment, Porton Down could only reply that they had no record of this incident; if Fildes was involved, they added, they thought it highly unlikely that any record would have been made. [55] We have therefore only the circumstantial evidence which points to the use of a biological weapon - and the claims of Fildes himself.

The secret of X in Heydrich's murder might have died with the Anthropoids themselves had it not been for Fildes. The Times was right when it spoke of a streak of vanity in his character: he made a point of telling a number of colleagues what he had done. Two senior scientists involved in Allied germ warfare have privately confirmed that Fildes told them he 'had a hand' in the death of Heydrich. To a young American biologist, Alvin Pappenheimer -later Professor of Microbiology at Harvard - Fildes was even more melodramatic. Heydrich's murder, he told Pappenheimer, 'was the first notch on my pistol'. [56]

The development of X and its use in Operation Anthropoid was little more than an adventurous interlude in the routine of Fildes's work. The centre of the British germ warfare programme was still anthrax, and how best it could be turned into a weapon of mass-destruction. Tests continued at Porton throughout the spring of 1942, and it was in that summer that Fildes and his team first went up to Gruinard Island in northern Scotland to test the prototype anthrax bomb.

Other biological warfare work continued in Canada. In 1941 a former Superintendent of Porton together with three scientists travelled to Canada to advise on the setting up of a joint gas and germ weapons testing area. The site chosen was at Suffield in Alberta - a vast, bleak tract of prairie between Medicine Hat and Calgary. The cost of opening up and running Suffield was shared by the British and Canadians.

The work of the two countries was to be transformed by the entry into the war of the United States. Ever since the mid-1930s American intelligence had been aware of the growing world interest in biological warfare. In 1940 the US Health and Medical Committee of the Council for National Defense began to consider 'the offensive and defensive potential of biological warfare'. In August 1941 a 'Special Assignments Branch' was formed at Edgewood Arsenal to pursue researches further: in November, with the attack on Pearl Harbor less than a month away, the War Department formed the WBC Committee headed by Dr Jewett of the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the threat of germ warfare. Its report, still classified today, eventually landed on the desk of the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, in February 1942. It spelt out clearly that America stood in serious danger of biological attack. Stimson felt obliged to act, and on 29 April 1942 he wrote to President Roosevelt outlining the committee's findings:

This committee has made an extensive study and a very thorough report in which it points out that real danger from biological warfare exists for both human beings and for plant and animal life. The committee recommends prompt action along a number of lines, some involving the development of vaccines, some dealing with scientific techniqt1es of defense. Others involve protective measures such as water supply protection, and still others require further research. The matter which the committee considered as requiring the most immediate attention is the great danger of attacks on our cattle with the disease 'Rinderpest' which has been at times most destructive in the Philippines.

Biological Warfare is, of course, 'dirty business' but in the light of the committee's report, I think we must be prepared. And the matter must be handled with great secrecy as well as great vigor ...

Some of the scientists consulted believe that this is a matter for the War Department but the General Staff is of the opinion that a civilian agency is preferable, provided that proper Army and Navy representatives are associated in the work ... Entrusting the matter to a civilian agency would help in preventing the public from being unduly exercised over any ideas that the War Department might be contemplating the use of this weapon offensively. To be sure, a knowledge of offensive possibilities will necessarily be developed because no proper defense can be prepared without a thorough study of means of offense. Offensive possibilities should be known to the War Department. And reprisals by us are perhaps not beyond the bounds of possibility any more than they are in the field of gas arrack for which the Chemical Warfare Service of the War Department is prepared ...

Having asked for the report and having now received the disturbing warnings to which I have made reference and especially in view of the recommendation for immediate action, I should appreciate it if you would advise me of your wishes in order that such action as you wish may be promptly taken. [57]


Two weeks after receiving Stimson's letter, on 15 May, Roosevelt gave his approval to the creation of a biological warfare research organization. The following month, Stimson appointed George W. Merck as Director of the War Research Service.

Like Britain, the US feared that enemy agents would use biological weapons in sabotage operations. The scientists at Edgewood Arsenal told their opposite numbers at Porton in a secret meeting of their worry that botulism, for example,

might be used by sabotage agents for the wholesale poisoning of foods ... Mosquitoes and other insects impregnated with bacteria which produce communicable and infectious diseases is another possibility which has caused some argument in this country. [58]


From 1942 onwards the British and the Americans pooled their resources on biological warfare in much the same way as they did on the atomic bomb. In the spring of 1942, for example, an American liaison officer arrived at Porton Down. American officers attended the trials on Gruinard and even made a film of the successful experiment. (The film is still held in Porton's archives.)

The war-strained British economy could probably never have withstood the massive investment in raw materials and scientific skill that a full-scale biological weapons programme would have entailed. The American economy could. Between 1942 and March 1945 the US invested over $40,000,000 in plant and equipment. Almost 4,000 people were eventually employed in biological warfare research, testing and production.

Lord Stamp, who had an American wife he had not seen for three years, was chosen by Fildes as Britain's representative on germ warfare in the United States. Stamp entered Canada and visited scientists working on biological weapons at Ottawa and Kingston before travelling south and crossing into the US in March 1943. He went straight to the National Academy of Science in Washington, avoiding the normal channels of scientific liaison, and joined 'the inner circle of bacteriological warfare'. For the next two years he had a unique opportunity to move across wartime America, travelling between the numerous university laboratories at work on germ weapons, and the four great American centres of biological warfare production: the parent research and pilot plant at Camp Detrick in Maryland (known as 'The Health Farm'); the Field Testing Station at Horn Island, Pascagoula, Mississippi; the large-scale production plant at Vigo, near Terre Haute, Indiana; and the Field Testing Station at Granite Peak near Dugway in Utah.

Churchill was fond of quoting the words of Edward Grey, a former British Foreign Secretary, who once described the United States as a 'gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.' So it was with biological weapons. In October 1943, the cloud chamber project was begun at Camp Detrick, in which small laboratory animals had concentrations of biological agent passed over them. For the first time a mass of data began to be obtained about the spread of disease by inhalation: as one expert has pointed out, 'at this time in history, it was not yet widely accepted that the airborne transmission of pathogens was an important factor in the spread of natural disease.' [59]

Like the Gruinard tests, the cloud chamber project proved that a biological bomb or aerosol was perfectly feasible. Among the potential agents studied at Camp Detrick were anthrax, glanders, brucellosis, tularemia, meliodosis, plague, typhus, psittacosis, yellow fever, encephalitis and various forms of rickettsial disease; fowl pest and rinder-pest were among the animal viruses studied; various rice, potato and cereal blights were also investigated. [60] Large-scale freeze-drying methods were pioneered in order to dispense with the less easily stored forms of liquid suspensions. At one point there is said to have been a flourishing Entomological Warfare Department, producing Colorado Beetles, fleas and other insects for use as possible weapons.

America provided the money and resources; Britain provided the brains. One of the best examples of this partnership in action is the little-known story of the development of anti-crop warfare: the destruction of the enemy's food supply by either chemical or biological agents.

In 1940 researchers at Britain's great chemical combine, ICI, discovered a number of substances 'showing powerful growth retarding properties'. [61] Extensive aerial spray tests were carried out over the east of England, and eventually two chemicals were chosen as anti-crop agents. One, codenamed '1313' acted against cereal crops like wheat, oats, barley and rye; the other, '1414', destroyed sugar beet and root crops. They laid waste everything they touched. '1 lb per acre of either substance would result in almost complete destruction of the vulnerable crops under ideal conditions,' reported the scientists.

'In 1941,' according to a highly secret Cabinet paper written after the war, 'their use by aerial distribution over Germany was envisaged. The size of such an operation was however in terms of our resources at that time rather formidable and for this reason and because of the early extension of the war into the corn growing areas of South Eastern Europe, active development was discontinued.' [62] Churchill turned the scheme down because it would have taken the RAF 7,000 sorties 'all made within a month, to reduce the German home-produced supplies of food by one-sixth'. [63] The British chemical industry was under such strain that it would have taken three years, until 1945, to build up sufficient stocks to enable operations to be launched against Germany.

Two years later the merits of 1313 and 1414 were re-examined by Sir John Anderson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister responsible for anti-crop warfare. By this time the Americans were also at work on similar compounds; 'but,' wrote Anderson to Churchill in March 1944, 'so far as we know, they do not realise that they can destroy crops, such as clover and sugar beet (with 1414) under ordinary farming conditions'. Nor did they appreciate 'that laboratory trials indicate that 1313 has some action on rice'. Anderson recommended that ICI hand their factory designs and flowsheets over to the Americans to enable them to use anti-crop warfare against the Japanese. British research, meanwhile, should continue. In an ominous aside, which foreshadowed the American 'defoliation' of Vietnam by twenty years, he suggested that 'these substances may have a part to play later on, in connection with arrangements for keeping world peace'. [64]

Churchill agreed. In April 1944 Britain turned over all her technology to the United States. The following year she went one stage further and allowed the Americans to use Porton's tropical research stations in Australia and India for large-scale testing.

A top secret paper prepared for the Joint Technical Warfare Committee in November 1945 on 'Crop Destruction' reveals just how far the American programme eventually progressed. 'In addition to the substances already examined (in the UK) approximately 800 chemical substances have been examined in America'. The weapons eventually produced by pooling the two countries' work were code-named 'LN' - LN8, LN14, LN32 and LN33. LN32 was the only agent produced in Britain; later, in very low concentrations, it was marketed as a weedkiller. One low-flying aircraft loaded with LN could destroy six acres of crops. A large cluster bomb was developed which burst at a height of 3,000 feet and rained down a concentration of 5 lbs of agent per acre. Within twelve hours all the contaminated crops would be utterly destroyed. With 20,000 tons of LN8 the Americans reckoned they could destroy the entire Japanese rice crop; 10,000 tons of LN33 would destroy the corn crop; 1,000 tons of LN32 would destroy all roots.

The American authorities had actually built up a stock of material and were planning an attack on the main islands of Japan early in 1946, calculated to destroy some 30% of the total rice crop. Expert opinion had confirmed that there is no bar under international law or agreement to the use of these substances in war in this way. [65]


By 1945 the Americans also had a range of biological anti-crop agents which they were capable of mass-producing: exotic-sounding fungi like Sclerotium rolfsii (Agent C) which rots the sterns of tobacco plants, soya beans and sugar beets, sweet potatoes and cotton; Phytophtera infestans (Mort) de Bary (Agent LO) which causes 'late blight' in potatoes; Piricularia oryzae (Agent IE) a fungus which attacks rice; and Helminthosporium oryzae van Brede de Haan (Agent E), the cause of 'seedling blight' and 'brown spot' on young rice plants. [66]

In little over a year, incorporating British discoveries, the Americans were in a position to launch a potentially catastrophic attack on their enemies' food supplies. On a couple of occasions the US may have employed some sort of anti-crop agent. In Germany in the autumn of 1944 there was a widespread plague of Colorado Beetles so severe that Schrader, the inventor of nerve gas, was pulled off war work and put on a project to find an insecticide to save Germany's potato crop. From the dock at Nuremburg Goring accused the Allies of deliberately dropping the insects over Germany. In 1945, the Japanese rice harvests were stricken with blight after attacks from American aircraft, and they were forced to design an ingenious scheme of plot rotation to salvage something of their crops.

The idea of bringing a country to its knees by inducing wholesale starvation was not original. The British, for example, had used a naval blockade against the Germans in the First World War with just such an intention. But, as the authors of the post-war paper pointed out, here was a weapon 'which would be more speedy than blockade and less repugnant than the atomic bomb'. They also foresaw' ... their possible use for the purposes of internal security within the Empire, e.g. for the destruction of food supplies of dissident tribes in order to control an area ... ' [67]

Britain did indeed employ anti-crop weapons in Malaya soon after the war, but as the Empire dissolved, the opportunities for the British to use them declined. In the post-war world, the use of anti-crop agents as a weapon of world policing would fall increasingly to America rather than the United Kingdom. The story of the Anglo- American biological programme is part of the wider picture of an enfeebled and failing imperial power reluctantly giving way to a rising one: anti-crop agents were one of the tools of the job Britain bequeathed to America.

In the winter of 1943, a year and a half after the first sheep had died on Gruinard, the Allies began to manufacture a biological bomb. It weighed 4 lb and was filled with anthrax spores which were given the code-name 'N'. Its design was largely British, its manufacture exclusively American.

At the time, N was probably the greatest Allied secret of the war after the atomic bomb. All documents connected with it carried the highest security classification: 'Top Secret: Guard' (which the Americans jokingly translated as 'Destroy Before Reading'). In February 1944, when Lord Cherwell, Churchill's scientific advisor, wrote the Prime Minister an account of N, the official typist left blanks in the typescript which Cherwell went through and filled in by hand.

N spores [he told Churchill] may lie dormant on the ground for months or perhaps years but be raised like very fine dust by explosions, vehicles or even people walking about ... Half a dozen Lancasters could apparently carry enough, if spread evenly, to kill anyone found within a square mile and to render it uninhabitable thereafter ...

. . . This appears to be a weapon of appalling potentiality; almost more formidable, because infinitely easier to make, than tube alloy [the code-name for the atomic bomb]. It seems most urgent to explore and even prepare the counter-measures, if an there be, but in the meantime it seems to me we cannot afford not to have N bombs in our armoury. [68]


From its small beginnings in a wooden hut at Porton, the biological warfare programme - only four years old - now promised to produce the most potent weapon of mass-killing yet devised. N obviously carried enormous implications for the future of the war, and Churchill immediately invoked security procedures similar to those which surrounded the Manhattan Project. Instead of raising the subject with the full Defence Committee, the Prime Minister initialled Cherwell's minute and passed it on to his trusted liaison officer, General Ismay, instructing him to keep it 'in a locked box' and to raise it personally with the three Chiefs of Staff.

One day later, on the morning of 28 February, Ismay read Cherwell's paper to a secret session of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. 'They feel', he told Churchill that afternoon, 'that Hitler would not hesitate to indulge in this form of warfare if he thought that it would pay him to do so, and that the only deterrent would be our power to retaliate. The Chiefs of Staff accordingly agree with Lord Cherwell that we cannot afford not to have N bombs in our armoury.' [69]

Lord Hankey had by now left the chairmanship of the Bacteriological Warfare Committee (although he would return to it after the war). In his place was Ernest Brown, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. On 8 March, after what he described as 'the most secret consultations with my military advisors', Churchill ordered Brown to place an order with the Americans for half a million anthrax bombs: 'Pray let me know when they will be available. We should regard it as a first instalment.'

I should also like [continued Churchill] to have an early report from you as to what would be involved in producing the material on a considerable scale in this country. It might be preferable to fill our bombs over here. [70]


Image
Lord Cherwell's minute to Churchill about the 'appalling potentiality' of anthrax. As a security precaution, the typist left blanks in the text which Cherwell filled in by hand (Public Record Office).

PRIME MINISTER.

N.

Any animal breathing in minute quantities of these N_____ is extremely likely to die suddenly but peacefully within the week. There is no known cure and no effective prophylaxis. There is little doubt that it is equally lethal to human beings.

N_____ may lie dormant on the ground for months or perhaps years but be raised like very fine dust by explosions, vehicles or even people walking about. Apparently it is extremely difficult to get rid of once it has been scattered. Its use would consequently be well behind the lines, to render towns uninhabitable and indeed dangerous to enter without a respirator.

We have developed what we believe to be effective means of storing and scattering N_____ in 4 lb. bombs which go into the ordinary incendiary containers. Half a dozen Lancasters could apparently carry enough, if spread evenly, to kill anyone found within a square mile and to render it uninhabitable thereafter.

The ...


It was clearly galling for the Prime Minister to see what had once been a British project swamped by the larger American one. Yet there was no alternative. In May Brown wrote back to tell him that a full-scale biological programme was simply beyond the scope of the British economy:

The existing small pilot plant in America requires 500 men (bacteriologists, laboratory assistants, chemical engineers and skilled operators), so that we should require not less than 1,000 men for a plant of even moderate size. Even if enough skilled workers capable of handling the highly dangerous work could be obtained, there would be serious interference with existing work on medicine and the fermentation industries. Also, any plant erected in this country would be susceptible to danger of air attack, with the particular risks likely to result from a dispersal of the product. [71]


Britain would have to take whatever the Americans chose to give her.

In May 1944 an initial batch of 5,000 anthrax-filled bombs came off the experimental production line at Camp Detrick. In July the first full-scale production is believed to have got under way at a factory whose precise location has not been disclosed. It had a capacity for producing 50,000 Porton 'Type F' 4 lb bombs a month, and its entire production was turned over to the British. This would mean, estimated Brown 'that up to a quarter of a million bombs should be made and filled on our behalf by the end of the year.'72The bombs were to be shipped to Britain for storage in case they were needed quickly for 'operational use' in the European theatre. It was a project with obvious hazards. 'Consideration,' wrote Brown to Churchill, 'is being given to the questions of what information as to the contents of the bombs should be given to transport authorities; what instructions should be given to those who will have to handle the bombs; and also what information should be given to certain categories of Intelligence Officers and to the Medical Services.' [73]

The main centre for the production of the Americans' biological bombs was at Vigo in Indiana. Built at a cost of $8,000,000 it employed around 500 people. The disease organisms were designed to be cultivated over a four-day cycle in twelve 20,000 gallon tanks, harvested and then filled into the Americans' own modified version of the Porton 'Type F' bomb, the 'E48R2'. Vigo was capable of producing over 500,000 anthrax bombs a month,74 or 250,000 bombs filled with botulinus toxin. 'Both of these agents,' wrote one US expert, 'store well and could be stockpiled on a large scale.' The raw materials required for a month's output at Vigo were 300,000 lb of glucose or cerelose, 625,000 lb of corn steep liquor, 1,000,000 lb of yeast, 50,000 lb of casein, 20,000 lb of peptone and 190,000 lb of phosphates. The Vigo plant was highly dangerous to operate and although it was ready to go into production early in 1945 it was never actually used. At the end of the war the factory was leased to an industrial concern for the production of antibiotics. It could, however, have been put back into production in an emergency within three months, although 'only with great hazard to the operators'. [75]

Biological warfare as envisaged during the war would have had one simple aim: to wipe out such a huge proportion of the enemy's population that his whole war machine would cease to function. Accordingly, as Paul Fildes put it in a top secret memo after the war, N was 'designed for strategic bombing', [76] Individual 4 lb anthrax 'bomblets' were loaded - 106 at a time - into 500 lb cluster bombs designed to burst in mid-air and scatter the spores over as wide an area as possible.

A contingency plan to use N against Germany was drawn up by the British during the war. Rough calculations based on 'results from actual field trials and experiments on monkeys' suggested that if six major German cities - the ones selected were Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Wilhelmshafen and Aachen - were simultaneously attacked by a heavy bomber force carrying 40,000 500-lb bombs, '50 per cent of the inhabitants who were exposed to the cloud of anthrax might be killed by inhalation, while many more might die through subsequent contamination of the skin'.

The terrain will be contaminated for years, and danger from skin infection should be great enough to enforce evacuation ...

There is no satisfactory method of decontamination. There is no preventative inoculation ... [77]


It would have taken the Americans eight months to have built up the stock of four and a quarter million 4-lb bombs necessary to mount the attack; 2,700 heavy bombers would have been used in the operation. The death toll in Germany would have been around three million.

We cannot be sure when this plan was drawn up. As one of the target cities - Aachen - fell to the Allies in October 1944 it is reasonable to assume that it was composed before then, possibly in the summer of 1944. We now know that if the war had gone badly for the Allies N might well have been used.

The development of biological weapons was accelerating as the war ended. Attempts were made to develop a method of spraying anthrax from aircraft. Anti-personnel mines were designed. 'The mines,' according to Fildes, 'would contain preformed pellets coated with some suitable biological agent.' [78] Looking ahead, he foresaw a role for germ weapons in the rocket age.

According to another British expert, Brigadier Owen Wansbrough- Jones, in evidence to a top secret sub-committee of the Chiefs of Staff shortly after the end of the war, anthrax 'was 300,000 times more toxic than phosgene'. He predicted that germ weapons would be a hundred times more efficient within ten years. [79] In confirmation of his view, in December 1945, Dr Henderson, Fildes' deputy, reported 'that as a result of continued research the potency of N has been stepped up to the order of ten times. In Dr Fildes' judgement this confirms his statement that continued research by good men may produce important improvements.' [80]

Judged by today's standards, anthrax is a crude weapon. It not only destroys populations wholesale, it renders the cities in which they live uninhabitable for generations. The conquerors would inherit little more than a poisoned desert. According to the Director of Porton Down, speaking in 1981, if anthrax had been used against Berlin in the war, the city would still be contaminated today. [81]

Near the end of the war, the Americans, aware of N's limitations, went on to develop 'US', a weapon designed to spread brucellosis. Like mustard gas, brucellosis has the attraction of a low mortality rate (around 2 per cent) but at the same time a tremendous capacity to inflict casualties. It causes 'chills and undulating fever, headache, loss of appetite, mental depression, extreme exhaustion, aching joints and sweating'. [82] In severe cases, it can put a man out of action for a year. It is also highly infectious: whereas only 200 workers were claimed by the Americans to have been affected by their work on anthrax during the war, virtually everyone associated with the brucellosis programme is said to have felt its effects for a time. The bomb-load required to attack a city was found to be less than one-tenth that of anthrax; the target itself would be contaminated for only a matter of days. By 1945, according to Fildes, US was 'in an advanced stage of development'. [83] As the war ended, the stocks of anthrax-filled cattle cake stored at Porton Down since 1942 were incinerated. [84] From its crude beginning, the Allied biological warfare programme had, in three years, reached a position in which it was being considered in the same breath as the atomic bomb. In his evidence to the Chiefs of Staff Technical Warfare Committee in December 1945, Wansbrough-Jones described the two types of warfare as 'complementary' and suggested that in future germ weapons might be used 'in minor wars on which it was not worth using atom bombs; or major ones in which they were being barred'. The development of brucellosis in particular offered a role for germ warfare in the future.

Biological warfare need not remain a method of warfare repugnant to the civilised world. The further development of types such as US coupled with a certain amount of informed guidance of the public [authors' italics] might well result in its being regarded as very humane indeed by comparison with atom bombs. [85]


There was no longer any talk of a weapon which had been acquired 'solely for defensive purposes'. By the end of the war, the programme to develop germ warfare had picked up a momentum of its own: work went on long after it was obvious that Hitler and the Japanese were in no position to mount such an attack. The result was a hidden arsenal of anti-crop sprays, poison gas and germ weapons which the British and Americans have been at pains to play down ever since. On at least one occasion, in 1944, the British very seriously considered using them. Far from being 'a study in restraints' as one writer has described it, [86] the story of chemical and biological warfare in the Second World War is one of massive stockpiling, subterfuge, blundering, bluff and secret preparation. The world was spared the horrors of germ and gas warfare not by any noble desire to obey international law, but by a chapter of historical accidents.

_______________

Notes:

* The main American germ warfare factory, at Vigo in Indiana, would - at peak production - have been capable of producing twelve times this amount: 100 tons of bacteria per month.

* Taken from a 'Summary Report on BW Investigations' submitted to the Chief of the US Chemical Corps in Washington on 12 December 1947. Released in 1981 under the Freedom of Information Act.
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