Churchill's 1944 Planning for
Bacteriological Warfare against Germany
Public Record Office files]
A sneak preview of
materials collected for Churchill's War, vol.
CONCERN still existed
that the Germans might have prepared extensively for
bacteriological warfare; had they, for example, already
inoculated their troops against any specific virus?
In August 1943 George
Merck, director of the War Research Service (the
controlling body for bacteriological warfare in the United
States) had proposed to the British experts at Porton that
RAMC medics and American medical officers collaborate in
sampling the blood of German prisoners of war.
warfare effort at Porton was advised that the
appropriately-named Lieutenant-Colonel R S Muckenfuss
had been ordered by the highest level to conduct such
Dr Paul Fildes, the
head of the Biology Section, Experimental Station, Porton,
near Salisbury, who was almost entirely responsible for the
work, replied on September 8 that he thought nothing useful
would come of such an investigation. As Fildes pointed out,
there were twenty-four possible microbes for use in such
warfare; only very few could not be inoculated against,
while 'N,' the one most likely to be used, had no known
remedy; suppose the Nazis deliberately inoculated their
troops with the wrong antidote, to deceive the Allies about
which microbe they intended to use? The proposal did not die
Early in 1944 the Combined
Chiefs of Staff in Washington stated a renewed requirement
for sampling the blood of a cross-section of German
prisoners captured in Commando raids.
selected - Aachen,
Wilhelmshaven, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin . .
The British raised
immediate legal objections. General Hawley, chief
surgeon at ETOUSA, then wrote to Major-General Poole,
agreeing to these niceties but pointing out that they could
use the opportunity presented when prisoners of war
consulted their medics for trivial complaints: 'These can
well be hospitalised, and a sample of blood taken as a
routine procedure in hospital. Hawley continued that 'a
really ingenious medical officer' could always create a
'temporary medical disability' such as diarrhoea 'which will
hospitalise any given number of patients.'
Dr Fildes, the head
of Britain's bacteriological warfare effort at Porton,
dismissed the idea as without merit.
On May 21, 1944
Churchill wrote to Ismay reminding him that
great progress had been made in bacteriological warfare, and
Britain had ordered half a million bombs from American for
use should this mode of warfare be employed by the
'I think we should be in a
position to make and fill these bombs here,' he suggested,
but was concerned that putting this before the chiefs of
staff would widen the circle of those in the know.
Ismay responded that so far
the Joint Intelligence Staff had not been let into the
secret. On April 21, 1944 Fildes submitted a report on the
operational tests with the four-pound 'N' bomb. These trials
had produced in part catastrophic results - 'Even in our
operations with N,' he would report some months later, 'we
did not succeed in keeping our agents within bounds and have
created conditions which will require consideration after
The bomb would be scattered
in clusters over a two hundred yard square patch releasing
their toxin as an odourless aerosol cloud which would cause
death by inhalation of half the human beings up to a mile
downwind from it, or up to two miles if they were running
(the risk increasing with exertion).
After only a few seconds,
the unsuspecting victims would have inhaled a lethal dose
and be beyond salvation. Since death would occur from two
days to a week or so after the attack, it would have no
immediate effect on combat: 'It should be applied to attacks
on cities of areas remote from the site of direct
hostilities,' recommended the scientist, 'or on lines of
communication or areas of assembly closer to the scene of
He warned of possible
political reactions in highly developed countries in Europe
which were to be occupied by the Allies, though not in the
relatively undeveloped localities in the Pacific.
He also recommended that BW attacks delivered with
conventional air raids should wait until the HE bombing had
ended - so that the cloud of anthrax spores was still
airborne as the population was emerging from their
'As a bonus,' fresh clouds
of anthrax spores would arise as bulldozers went in to clear
up. 'In all cases the initial use of BW should be on an
adequate scale and without warning.'
He recommended a daylight
attack on an overcast summer's day.
Taking the city of
Stuttgart as an example, the scientist assessed that a BW
raid would need nearly two thousand clustered projectiles
(each one being a five hundred pound container of the
four-pound anthrax bombs); these could be carried by 83
Stirlings, 142 Lancasters, or 166 American B-17s and B-24s,
and ideally be released simultaneously at the end of a
conventional HE attack.
'An operation of this
short,' promised Fildes, 'should kill a considerable number
of people, either rapidly by inhalation or ore slowly by
The Americans were working
on the toxins, X, N, W and yellow fever.
In late May 1944 the chiefs
of staff expressed concern that stocks of the corresponding
antidotes (toxoids) were not yet available apart from Toxoid
X, of which small stocks were now on hand in England; but
since X was only a small part of the potential threat the
decision was taken to inoculate nobody at all at this
In June 1944, the War
Cabinet appointed an inter-Service sub-committee on
Biological Warfare. They learned that no definite order had
yet been placed in the United States for the manufacture of
'N' bombs; further trials were still being conducted on
these frightful weapons. Churchill had however authorised
top priority for all counter-measures to BW, and possible
collaboration with SOE on BW operations.
It was no coincidence that
the Cabinet's committee on BW met on July 6 (Bottomley as
chairman) and resumed on July 8, 1944.
After reviewing the
progress of Churchill's instruction that half a million 'N'
bombs be ordered from the USA at once, they committee
'agreed that General Gubbins should be invited to the next
meeting to explain what the relationship of SOE to BW work
had been in the past, and what interest, if any, on this
work they had as regards the future.'
Fildes now (July 21)
reported again on BW. On August 14, he re-evaluated the
half-million bomb order, and decided that the saturation
figures needed revising.
At that time (January 6,
1944) they had believed that ten clusters would saturate one
square mile, and that the six cities selected - Aachen,
Wilhelmshaven, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin -
would have 538 square miles of built up territories. This
would require 570,280 anthrax bombs. The air flow conditions
in built up areas had been re examined since then, and on
April 21, 1944 the figure to achieve saturation was
Since then tests had shown
that the bombs from clustered projectiles would fall
vertically, instead of at the assumed angle of 15 ; this
doubled the figure again, to three million, or say four
million assuming a twenty-five percent failure rate.
The order should thus be
increased to four million anthrax bombs, he
Related file on this website:
Australian newspaper, Oct 14, 2001:
UK planned to wipe out Germany with anthrax: Allies World
War Two shame
Churchill's preparations for
poison-gas and anthrax warfare against German cities. And
the later controversies over this