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Subject: Why didn't Germany use Chemical Weapons in WWII? rss

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John Middleton
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I have never really found a real answer from my reading about why Germany didn't use chemical weapons in WWII. Maybe I just haven't found the right book yet.

I know they would have been impractical early in the war, when mobility was more important.

But later in the war, especially in city sieges like Leningrad, or Staligrad, or Warsaw, it seems they would have been considered.


Did they even have any manufactured and ready to go?

I also know Italy had no problems using them in Ethiopia and Japan in China. Which raises another question as to why Japan didn't use them in the Pacific against the US.


I know that they did use chemical agents for execution in camps, but we don't need to go there.

Thanks in advance for any info and insights!!
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Cameron Taylor
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They had a huge stockpile, but refused to use it out of fear of retaliation. Albert Speer and Otto Ambros convinced Hitler that the Allies certainly had the science to synthesise nerve agents, which means if Germany was to use them they would be used against them also.
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Bob Zurunkel
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The Germans had developed Sarin and Tabun, two deadly nerve gases for which there was no antidote or defense, both were available in large quantities. They were never used because Hitler would not allow it. Fear of possible retaliation may have been the reason.
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Nick Wade
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I thought Hitler was anti chemical weapons because he was gassed in WWI?
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Bob Zurunkel
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Hattusilis_III wrote:
I thought Hitler was anti chemical weapons because he was gassed in WWI?


That's another possible or companion reason. I am not sure whether he ever explicitly gave his reasons.
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John Middleton
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By the last year of the war, wasn't Hitler of the mind that Germany should go down fighting to the last man?


Seems they might have become an option then. It was likely the military and others in his staff that would stop their use at that point.
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Ivor Bolakov
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Quote:
"The two sides warned each other not to use chemical weapons at the risk of strong retaliatory action in kind; a general feeling of abhorrence on the part of governments for the use of CB [chemical/biological] weapons, reinforced by the pressure of public opinion and the constraining influence of the Geneva Protocol; and actual unpreparedness within the military forces for the use of these weapons."

A civilian expert working with the German military between the wars commented, "the German General Staff and the German general officers, with few exceptions, were not interested in chemical warfare. The lack of interest was not based on a lack of faith or on disbelief of its promises of success; the reason was simply that, chemical warfare was not understood, nor did the majority of generals try to understand it."

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare: A Study of the Historical, Technical, Military, Legal and Political Aspects of CBW, and Possible Disarmament Measures. (Stockholm, 1971). Vol IV. p. 21.


Germany also erroneously believed the broad restrictions of the Versailles treaty, which lasted until 1929, had left Germany significantly behind in CW research. German assessments were "predisposed to regard any foreign chemical warfare product as a sign of superiority." (Brown, Frederic Joseph, Chemical Warfare: A Study in Restraints (2005). p. 234.)

Germany did lag behind in providing civilians with gas masks.

Quote:
"In military circles there was certainly no one in favor of gas warfare. All sensible Army people turned gas warfare down as being utterly insane since, in view of your superiority in the air, it would not be long before it would bring about the most terrible catastrophe upon Germany cities, which were completely unprotected."

Speer. XVI Trial of the Major War Criminals 527. (1946).


General Ochsner was head of the German Chemical Corps during WWII:

Quote:
"It became increasingly evident to the responsible German authorities that Germany, restricted as she was in all spheres of armament, had probably been left father behind in the field of CW than in any other. It was also realised that it would be impossible for Germany within any reasonable time to catch up with foreign powers who had such a lead, either technically, in respect of producing capacity, or in the training of the Wehrmacht and the entire nation. This possibility was even more remote in respect of protection for the big cities for which the threat was most imminent. In view of all of these factors, the realisation was forced home that it was of vital interest to Germany that CW chemical warfare agents should not be used in war."

H Ochsner, History of German Chemical Warfare in World War II, Historical Office, Office, Chief of Chemical Corps, (1949).


The German Armaments Bureau concluded CW against even the USSR was unfeasabile even in 1942, even though they knew they had more CW materiel than the Soviets.

Quote:
"In the spring of 1943, Hitler asked several times about the progress on chemical weapons. The Fuhrer called a conference with Speer and Otto Ambros, a director of I.G. Farben. Ambros told Hitler that the Allies could produce more mustard gas than Germany because of a better supply of the necessary raw materials. More important, the Farben director informed the Fuhrer that contrary to previous information, Germany might not have a monopoly in nerve gases. Hitler ordered that the production of Tabun be doubled and Sarin quintupled, but immediate use was rejected, apparently out of fear that the opponent could retaliate in kind."

Legro, Jeffrey W., Cooperation Under Fire: Anglo-German Restraint During World War II (1995) Kindle Loc 4476.


Use of CW against the Soviets was raised again in 1944, to be objected to for a wide range of reasons, mainly industrial/logistical.
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Leonardo Martino
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This well-tought topic question deserves a thumb up!
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David Kershaw
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If the German's didn't use CW because they thought the Allies were much more advanced and had more stocks, why didn't the Allies use CW - specifically the Soviets?
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Colin Raitt
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It took prolonged static trench warfare to get WW1 protagonists to use poison gas. In WW2 the front was much more easily broken with tanks and artillery coordinated by radio. So there was less pressure to use it. It was against the 1928 Geneva protocol, internationally public opinion and most veterans were against it. Neutrals like the US, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil would have been outraged.
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John Middleton
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Ivor --- Excellent response. That's exactly what I was looking for. The citations will let me dig deeper as well.


Thank You!



I am curious about the Soviet side, as mentioned above.

And the Japanese vs US.
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Jason Cawley
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Cameron basically had it in one.

Early on they didn't need them. By the time they might consider then useful during the war in Russia, they feared Allied retaliation, especially by air gas attack. They didn't want British and US heavies unloading tons of gas instead of HE over Germany.
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Bill Eldard
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polate wrote:
It took prolonged static trench warfare to get WW1 protagonists to use poison gas. In WW2 the front was much more easily broken with tanks and artillery coordinated by radio. So there was less pressure to use it. It was against the 1928 Geneva protocol, internationally public opinion and most veterans were against it. Neutrals like the US, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil would have been outraged.


Agreed. And handling/employing CW is tricky stuff. Optimal weather conditions are necessary to be effective.

Nonetheless, the US Army was prepared for chemical warfare should it be initiated. In addition to equipping soldiers with gas masks (often discarded by veterans), the order of battle included chemical mortar battalion -- large caliber mortars being a preferred delivery system. Those units were used to provide conventional mortar support.

I will close by adding that in my Army training (1973-1976), chemical ordnance was considered "area denial" weapons. Contaminated areas aren't defended; they are denied to both sides,save for possible rapid transit through them.
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Bob Zurunkel
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The Japanese definitely experimented with biological warfare (the infamous Unit 731), and may have used it against the Chinese. The problem with BW, of course, is protecting your own troops.

The US shipped some mustard gas to Italy, where the ship carrying it was bombed in an air raid by the Luftwaffe on the harbor (Naples, I think) leading to friendly (US) casualties.
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Chemical warfare was studied in northern Queensland in 1942-4, mainly in bases near Proserpine. I presume they concentrated on defense, but there was quite a lot of aerial bombing practice too. It is hard to imagine an invasion of Japan that didn't involve the use of gas.
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Jason Cawley
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Not many people know it, but the way flamethrowers actually kill in enclosed spaces is carbon monoxide poisoning. They not only suck all the molecular oxygen out of the air to fuel the flame cloud, that burning leaves behind the CO molecule, which binds to red blood cells and prevent transport of oxygen to the cells of the rest of the body to power normal ATP production aerobically. Flamethrowers killed people even in tunnels 20 yards away in this manner; bodies were found without a scratch or a scorch on them. This is very fast when the CO concentration gets high enough; the person so afflicted is unconcious in seconds (2-3 breaths are sufficient at CO concentrations above one part in 80 in the air) and dead in a few minutes. Also, no one's masks would keep out CO, nor even could have had any way to replace the missing O2. It was basically a short range, confined spaces only chemical weapon. If you see one coming, hold your breath, get to open air - and surrender immediately.
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John Middleton
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Gez Jason....

Describe how blister agents kill next...
 
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L. SCHMITT
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The question could be addressed to all belligerents. Countries using phosphorus or atomic weapons against civilians could hardly have been discouraged by moral considerations when it came to chemical warfare.
WW1 surely demonstrated to everyone that gaz warfare was'nt efficient and risky for everybody.
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Quylthulg
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JasonC wrote:
Not many people know it, but the way flamethrowers actually kill in enclosed spaces...


A fellow viewer of Forgotten Weapons?
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Tony Doran
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santino el cato wrote:
The question could be addressed to all belligerents. Countries using phosphorus or atomic weapons against civilians could hardly have been discouraged by moral considerations when it came to chemical warfare.
WW1 surely demonstrated to everyone that gaz warfare was'nt efficient and risky for everybody.


You make a good point, but I don't think it was the inefficiency that made folks hesitate. Look at your example, and to the example of post wwii atomic weapons. I think that after they had actually been used, folks were horrified at their effects, and unwilling to be involved in "first use" again. And I think this applies to both chemical weapons during wwii, and atomic weapons afterward.
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Mike Toot
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The Germans *did* use chemical weapons in WWII. Ask the million victims gassed in concentration camps, sealed vans with exhaust hoses connected to the back, etc. Google "Zyklon B" for more information.
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John Iverson
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Cause once the British discovered the Germans had manufactured Sarin and Tabun, they quickly developed biological agents of their own. Then, fearing it was not Hitler they had to worry about, but Himmler instead, they snuck a couple spies into Germany and released their new gas into a concentration camp so Himmler would get the message. Fascinating stuff. All kept secret until one of the spies died, and some rabbi who knew the other spy told the dead guy's son "the rest of the story".

At least this is according to a mediocre novel by Greg Iles I slogged through.

But interesting to this conversation, the opening chapters of the book do ponder the question of why not used (the premise of the book is they might use them on the D-day invasion beaches, so the British had to put a stop to it). He brings up the Hitler was gassed in WWI idea, among others.
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Jim Patching
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As far as I'm aware chemical weapons are more of a terror weapon rather than something that's all that useful tactically. I guess during WWII there was already more than enough terror for everyone without resorting to chemical weapons?

I listened to an interesting programme on Radio 4 recently that revealed that Churchill had considered using chemical weapons as a response to the V weapons that were hitting London in 1944. Fortunately the V weapon launch sites were dealt with before that idea got very far.
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Jason Cawley
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Quylthulg - Indeed, Ian (of Forgotten Weapons, on full30.com, YouTube, and his own site) covered this well across several videos earlier this year. But the bit about how flame weapons kill wasn't news to me (plenty of other bits he covered were...)
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B. Marsh
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It is reported that Germany used chemical agents in the siege of Sevastopol, I believe it is referenced in Sevastopol 1942: Von Manstein's triumph by Robert Forczyk, been a few years since I read that book.
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