Saturday, August 05, 2006

Churchill's 'N'

In 1975 former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's secret wartime (WWII) papers were made publicly available at the Public Record Office, and the following concerns were revealed for the first time — from a paper written by Churchill on July 6th 1944 which he sent to service chiefs during the period when German V1 doodle-bug flying bombs (and shortly thereafter Scud-like V2 ballistic missiles) were hitting London, also at a time when Germany was secretly leading the field in newly-discovered nerve gas research.

From the paper:

"I want you to think very seriously over the question of using poison gas. I would not use it unless it could be shown either that (a) it was life or death for us, or (b) that it would shorten the war by a year."

"It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint from the moralists or the church. On the other hand, in the last war the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course. It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts for women."

It continues to discuss the reasons for Germany not using gas at Normandy when they certainly had the capacity to do so. Churchill put this down to a fear of retaliation.

The paper ends:

"I quite agree it may be several weeks or even months before I shall ask you to drench Germany with poison gas, and if we do it, let us do it one hundred per cent. In the meantime, I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here now there. Pray address yourself to this. It is a big thing and can only be discarded for a big reason. I shall of course have to square Uncle Joe and the President, but you need not bring this into your calculations at the present time. Just try to find out what it is like on its merits."

In response to this paper the Vice Chiefs of Staff passed the matter on to the Joint Planning Staff (JPS). Their instructions were clear:

"The Prime Minister has directed that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken of the military implications of our deciding on an all-out use of gas, principally mustard gas, or any other method of warfare which we have hitherto refrained from using against the Germans in the following circumstances:

(a) As a counter-offensive in the event of the use by the enemy of flying bombs and / or giant rockets developing into a serious threat to our ability to prosecute the war; or, alternatively,

(b) as a means of shortening the war or of bringing to an end a situation in which there is a danger of stalemate."

On July 25th Churchill hastened the response to this with a further curt letter to the Chiefs of Staff:

"On July 6 I asked for a dispassionate report on the military aspects of threatening to use lethal and corrosive gases on the enemy if they did not stop the use of indiscriminate weapons. I now need this report within three days."

Late on the evening of July 27th 1944, Churchill got his reply. It was a fourteen page paper detailing a complete and chilling review of the precise ways in which using chemical and biological weapons would affect the course of the war. For the first, and probably the only time during that war, the use of biological (anthrax) weaponry was then contemplated for use against Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Part of the report read:

"'N' is the only allied biological agent which could probably make a material change in the war situation before the end of 1945. There are indications which lack final scientific proof that a 4-lb bomb charged with 'N' used on a large scale from aircraft might have a major effect on the course of the war."

The 4-lb bombs were to be loaded in multiples of 106 into 500-lb cluster bombs. The enemy would be helpless against this, there being at that time no known prophylactic measure against 'N'.


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