Mr Churchill's 1944 Planning for Bacteriological Warfare against Germany

[From Public Record Office files]

A sneak preview of materials collected for Churchill's War, vol. iii

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.
Britain's bacteriological 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 tests.
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 however.
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.

'SIX CITIES 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 Germans.
'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 war.'
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 combat.'
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.

* BW(P)(44)1: 'Proposals to take Samples of Blood from German Prisoners of War,' Mar 3, 1944 (PRO file CAB.121/103). It was subsequently denied that the CCS had authorised such an investigation.

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 shelters.
'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 skin infection.'
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 stage.
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 tripled.
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 suggested.[...]


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

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