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The question of why Hitler didn't is always being asked but I've never heard a good answer.

Before the war the British seem to have assumed poison gas cannisters would be dropped from bombers. In the late thirties they made provision for huge quantities of easy to produce caskets for London but gave no thought to increased medical aid!

Later in the war Hitler and most of his inner circle were already criminals and knew it; what did they have to lose by adding poison gas to their offenses? Canisters delivered in V-2s, or even V-1s as it made little difference if they were shot down over the countryside and the gas was still released. British civilian casualties would certainly have been drastically higher. As for moral issues, how much less ethical is poison gas as oppossed to wiping out an entire city with a thousand bomber induced firestorm -- a different version of the old A-bomb arguement.

In the Pacific the Japanese developed plague techniques transferable through infected fleas and stockpiled a huge amount of the stuff. In 1945 the researchers involved, their stockpile, techniques and the non-use of the same were quietly used as bargaining chips in Japan's surrender.

The scientists involved developed their techniques on human subjects; prisoners of war and Chinese civilians, who they sprayed in some cases and infected with contaminated fleas in others. They used an entire large town and it's inhabitants for this purpose, observing the results from afar. None of them were ever even mentioned as war criminals.

Getting back to the Third Reich part of this, it's an excellent question and, though I've read the question several times in articles on the war, I've never seen a qualified answer.

It could be that Hitler, having seen it first hand in the trenches, simply didn't approve of using it.

This sounds strange, but there were certain things he was dead against, such as the assasination of enemy war leaders. On the other hand, assuming he knew what was going on in the death camps, how can anyone explain the use of Cyclon B? According to his personal secretary, he didn't allow the details of such atrocities to be discussed in his presense. Maybe he didn't know the details at all, which isn't to say he didn't unofficially order it all to happen.

Sorry for that last detour and hope it doesn't derail the forum, but it's part of the overall subject and I wanted to deal with it sooner rather than later.

Great topic, Kurt. smile.gif

[ February 08, 2003, 05:11 PM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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As I understand it Hitler had a tour of the WWI and did´t like gas on bit. As such Hitlers experience in WWI shaped a large part of his understanding of command in WWII and he was against the use of gas even if it could have been useful from a military point of view.

However the topic is good as it poses guite alot of "what if's".


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Just wanted to update your excellent thread with something more specific than what I entered earlier.

According to the BBC World at War episode A Distant War , the British anticipated 1.5 million civilian casualties from poison gas attacks in the first two months of the war!

[ February 13, 2003, 03:05 PM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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With such figures both sides would think twice before using it.

Saw some pictures today of German cavalary units operating in gas-offensives.The sight of a horse with a gasmask on in the middle of moon landscape full of craters and barren treetrunks comes right out of a nightmare.

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There's another piece of footage from the sixties of Soviet Mongolian cavaly in a similar getup, horse and rider of course. The horses are going full tilt with the crack troops hitting bullseyes on targets despite their fast galloping steeds and having to look through goggles.

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Originally posted by kurt88:

The sight of a horse with a gasmask on in the middle of moon landscape full of craters and barren treetrunks comes right out of a nightmare.

Right you are. Phucking Nightmare. Seems to me the use of gas was one of the last ethical barriers that German High Command didnt want to exceed. As mentioned, the fear of allied revanche was too weighty.
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  • 1 month later...

Bringing this back as relevant to current discussion on Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Atomic Bomb.


"Yes Boris, is Great Secret Weapon and now we develop the Delivery System."

[ March 25, 2003, 12:24 AM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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I just put a bit of this over in the a-bomb thread, but it's more on topic here:

I have read that Hitler was eager to use poison gas toward the end of the war for several reasons:

[This comes from a German history of the war I read some years ago; I can't remember the title at the moment. The information came from interviews with surviving military men. They make sense to me]

1. The 'revenge' factor against the Allies (who had gassed him in WWI)--this is directly opposed to the theories above, and I believe it comes from a German staff officer (I'll have to look for that citation).

2. To make it impossible for Germans to surrender in the West (because of fear of retribution). They were scared to surrender in the East because of the terrible treatment of Russian POWs; Hitler chafed at seeing soldiers surrendering en masse to the British and Americans.

3. To slow down the Allied advance in the West and to prolong the war. (sort of a chemical Battle of the Bulge).

Interestingly, the discussions of gas in the German command (at least that I've read) always centered on the use of gas against British/American troops.

The German military men talked Hitler out of using these weapons largely because:

1. Gas is not good if you're sitting in a hole in the ground or in a city and the other guys are moving around. It's much better used against immovable targets (airfields always seem to be high on the gas target list), and the Germans were much less mobile than the Allies by that time.

2. Late in the war Germany had lost control of their air and their population was compressed into a small geographic area. This made them extremely vulnerable to retaliation attacks against civilian targets. Their greatest fear was of a mass gas attack on the Ruhr which would have dropped armaments production to just about zero.

There are also some references to the gas discussion is the Goebbels diaries (I think they're in the "Final Entries" volume). Unfortunately, my books are at home (in the US), and I'm here (in Europe) for some time so I'm operating entirely by memory. I hope some of this is useful, at least for further discussion.

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Very good points. The only time the use of gas by Germany would have made sense to me was after the French surrender. If they truly wanted to make further fighting intolerable for the British population that was the time to use it as a terror weapon, and as you mention, on their airfields. Having passed on that option using it late in the war made little sense.

I think the book you're referring to was edited by Lidell Hart and the generals interviewed were Warlimont, Ewald von Kleist, Bodo Zimmerman, Hans Spiedell, Sepp Dietrich, Heinz Guderian and several others. If it is, it came out in several formats during the fifties and sixties, I think one title was "The German Generals Speak."

There were a number of books along those lines after the war, most made possible through deals cut by Lidell Hart.

The only negative point about some of them, for example Guderian's book "Panzer General," are occaisional inserts obviously not written by the German aurthors. Guderian, for example, credits Fuller and Hart for inspiring his armored warfare concepts. This is blatantly untrue. His book from the mid-thirties, "Achtung Panzer" came out of a study he'd made of Germany's 1914 cavalry advances in Belgium and it's subsequent use in early 1915 before the entire front became totally entrenched.

Aside from that occasional corruption I think nearly all of the entries did truly represent statements made by those German commanders.

Hitler's reasoning was, to say the least, difficult to fathom. After ranting endlessly about wanting Lenningrad destroyed, made uninhabitable, etc., he refused to allow the Finns to open Lake Ladoga (which was higher than the city) and flood the place early in 1942.

[ March 26, 2003, 08:39 AM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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In 'The 42 Days' the author (the name escapes me right now) indicates that Guderian had a contact in London who made sure that Guderian received translations of English books on Tankwarfare as soon as they were published,to further expand his ideas on the use of panzers.

Glad to see you still VERY active JerseyJohn ;)

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Good to see you posting. Thanks for that piece of info, perhaps Guderian was more influenced by them than I realized and just didn't mention it when writing in the thirties. Although I think his concepts far exceeded anything Fuller or Hart wrote prior to that time. smile.gif

[ March 27, 2003, 11:18 AM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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Thanks for the info. The book I read was in German and by a German historian...though "The German Generals Speak" sounds like a "coming home" present for myself!

I'm assuming that book was originally in English and was written by BL Hart, yes?

The book I'm thinking of cites comments by the officers, but doesn't quote them at length. I'll see if I can get a title on my next call home.

Thanks again for the info!

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Thanks for making me remember that old relic. It's probably out of print but these things have a way of being revived. The book I was thinking of had individual chapters for each general with a brief bio of each. Lidell Hart wrote the introduction and added footnotes. I was a teenager when I read it and for years the idea lingered in my head that Sepp Dietrich had been a pretty decent guy, I mean, he seemed likable enough in his chapter! smile.gif

Another good book you can probably get easily in Germany, if you haven't already read it, is Albert Kesselring's memoirs.

[ March 26, 2003, 03:47 PM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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Well Gentlemen.

I've been studing the effects of gas, whichever type, and it doesnot do what you read in the news media.

To kill off the City of London you would have to drop more gas (tons)on the city than explosives (tons) to destroy the population. It does not work that well. Even mustard gas is only effective if a gas shell explodes right next to you, or you get in a low pocket where the heavier than air gas would collect.

Anthrax is very hard to spread and only works well on animals that breath next to the ground (like sheep and cows).

The really only truly weapon of mass destruction is a nuke!

The other weapons only work if you are right next to the source. The PPM (parts per million) of most bio/chem weapons is very high, more than 1000 ppm's. Thats a lot.

H2S is a very good gas to kill with and it work well above 500 to 700 ppm's. To flood an area with gases take a huge volumn of fuel, you would have to fly a freigth train full to kill 10,000 people. Hitler probibly wanted to use the gases, but knew how ineffective they were. He probibly tried it out on the Russians or Jews in captivity to see how it would work.

[ March 27, 2003, 11:05 AM: Message edited by: SeaWolf_48 ]

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Great post.

That ends the subject for me.

I'd thought maybe bomber loads might be effective, but if even that wouldn't do it explains very well why Hitler didn't use it as a weapon and would kill the subject as a game area. When you think about it even Zyclon-B had to be used under very controled conditions to be effective; tragically controlled I have to add, in respect for the victims.

[ March 26, 2003, 07:24 PM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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I believe that Hitler's exposure to poison gas in WW1 was a big factor in Germany not using gas. But the WW1 gas experience turned the whole world away from poison gas.

The German high command, ironically, could be very humane in many matters, until their enemies used nasty tactics first. eg trying to avoid bombing civilians and not using gas (and yes I realise this was very selective humaneness considering other activities of nazi Germany).

Don't forget, pre-Nuclear Bomb, there would have been similar "deterrent" scenarios for gas. If you use it you know you would get it right back at ya.

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  • 3 months later...

Just came upon this by accident and wanted to post it here. I'm sure there's still some interest in the subject although it's been a while since it has surfaced.

Historical News and Comment

Churchill Wanted to 'Drench' Germany With Poison Gas

Mark Weber

In a secret wartime memorandum recently made public, Winston Churchill told his advisers that he wanted to "drench" Germany with poison gas. Churchill's July 1944 memo to his chief of staff Gen. Hastings Ismay was reproduced in the August-September 1985 issue of American Heritage magazine.

"I you to think very seriously over this question of poison gas," the four-page note began. Britain's wartime leader continued; "It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it [gas] 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."

Churchill's directive bluntly stated: "I want a cold-blooded calculation made as to how it would pay to use poison gas ... One really must not be bound within silly conventions of the mind whether they be those that ruled in the last war or those in reverse which rule in this." Specifically he proposed: "We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention ... 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 the particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here now here now there."

Churchill's proposal, which would have meant violating the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing the use of poison gas, was never adopted. His military advisers argued that gas warfare would divert Allied war planes from the more effective strategy of bombing Germany's industries and cities. Gas attacks would not be decisive, they feared, and Germany would very probably retaliate with devastating effect against Britain. Churchill complained to an associate that he was "not at all convinced by this negative report," but he reluctantly gave in. "Clearly I cannot make head against the parsons and the warriors at the same time," he complained in private.

The American Heritage article, written by Stanford University history professor Barton J. Bernstein, also reported that top American military officials urged the U.S. to begin gas warfare against Japan. Maj. Gen. William N. Porter, chief of the Chemical Warfare Service, pleaded in mid-December 1943 with U.S. Army superiors to initiate gas warfare against the Japanese, and on several occasions in 1945 Gen. George C. Marshall, U.S. Army chief of staff, urged using gas in the Pacific. There was some popular support for this view. The New York Daily News declared "We Should Gas Japan," and Washington Times-Herald agreed, explaining "You Can Cook `Em Better with Gas." But this was a minority view. About 75 percent of Americans reportedly opposed initiating gas warfare. After the war Gen. Marshall said that the main reason that gas wasn't used was opposition from the British, who feared that a desperate German might then use it in Europe.

The United States produced about 135,000 tons of chemical warfare agents during the war, while Germany turned out about 70,000 tons, Britain about 40,000 and Japan only 7,500 tons. Although the Allies had larger stockpiles of traditional chemical agents, Germany developed far more advanced and lethal nerve gasses, most notably the devastating agents Tabun, Sarin and Soman. They were never used.

After the war a British Army chemical warfare expert concluded that Germany could have delayed the June 1944 Allied cross-channel invasion by six months if it had gas. "Such a delay," he noted, "could have given the Germans sufficient time to complete their new V-weapons, which would have made the Allies’s task all the harder and England's long range bombardment considerably worse." Even in March and April 1945, when German military resistance was rapidly collapsing, Germany kept to it’s pledge not to use gas. Hitler reportedly refused to consider using poison gas in part because of his recollection of the horror of his own gassing during the First World War, which temporarily blinded him.


Bibliographic information Author:

Mark Weber


Churchill Wanted to 'Drench' Germany With Poison Gas


The Journal for Historical Review (http://www.ihr.org)


Winter 1985-6


Volume 6 number 4


p. 501



Attribution: "Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA. Domestic subscriptions $40 per year; foreign subscriptions $60 per year."

Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.

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It's weird that Hitler refused to use gas,I mean he didn't mind using gas in the camps.On other matters he would show no mercy and he would tolerate no retreat,in any circumstances.Also many decisions he made on impuls,completely ignoring his general's advice.

Then again he was a vegetarian.

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What I find funny is our original consensus was he didn't use it because of his own WW I experience on the receiving end. We went away from that premise as being too simple, the it comes back as part of actual history. smile.gif

Hitler can't be rationally explained. As you say, he was kind to animals and all that, yet thought nothing of having millions of human beings treated hideously and then put to death. I'm convinced he became a little unhinged in childhood with his brothers death, then snapped completely during the First World War. His psychotic racist views seem also to have emerged after his soldiering days.

[ July 08, 2003, 05:31 PM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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This is a very interesting subject. Why didn't Hitler use gas? Or is it: Why didn't Germany use gas?

Here are some takes:

1) Hitler may have wanted to use gas, but maybe his "regular Germans" didn't want to. Maybe he didn't have all the control. Remember, Hitler had alot of help. Maybe some military nazi dudes had more say then we may know. Hitler needed to keep his people "happy & hating", so if he "showed his gas card" early in the madness, maybe he wouldn't have gotten as many followers & the "Regular Army" (non-SS types).

2) In trench warfare gas was effective or at least useful in a combat situation. But Blitzkrieg changed things. Dropping canisters on London or Stalingrad would have killed thousands, but wouldn't help the combat results? The defensive units may have been more prepared for gas after the experiences of WW-1. What am I saying? No effective use of gas since trench warfare was less. If you use it on cities to kill civilians, you're not getting the military targets if they have the protective gear. This is sort of a guess, because I don't know how the gas works.

3) The Germans didn't need gas (at least early in the war), so why piss the enemy (UK, Russia) off after the agreement not to use it? Remember my classic take: Anybody can kill sleeping farmers with tanks. Tanks & planes crossed the plains of Europe quickly. Where would gas have been effective (at least against military targets) I'm sure they thought about it when the tide had turned in the war, like blowing up the bridges across the Rhine.

4) Why did they use gas in the concentration camps & not combat? They thought nobody knew, so why advertise the fact. On the counter-argument, some say the Allies knew about the camps but it wasn't a priority. Going to leave that alone.

5) Since Blitzkrieg was the new & "best" warfare at the time, why spend money on gas. Put the MMP's in tanks & planes.

6) Maybe the Germans did use some gas in certain areas & it's just wasn't widespread. I'm sure they dumped some down tunnels somewhere.

Bottom line regarding Hitler. I don't give a rat's ass about his childhood, family dying, or getting expelled from art school. He was Demon possessed, a perfect picture of the Anti-Christ. Damien had to come from somebody's family & country.


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