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Did Nazi scientist save Allies from Hitler's deadly gas?

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Shared with the usual caveats.  Interesting story, photos also at link.

Did Nazi scientist save Britain from Hitler's deadly gas that could have killed millions?
By Guy Walters
Last updated at 10:24 PM on 7th July 2010
Saviour: Did Otto Ambros wants to spare millions of soldiers?

None of the men of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Hampshires was surprised that the fight would be tough. As they doggedly advanced up 'Gold' beach on D-Day, every man knew that surviving the murderous criss-cross of machine-gun fire would demand a miracle.

The village of Le Hamel, although no more than a few hundred yards beyond the surf, never seemed to get any closer. The bullets mercilessly cut down their commanding officer as well as several middle-ranking officers, and as the day wore on, it looked as if the entire battalion would be slaughtered on the beach.

Fortunately, the arrival of the 2nd Devons helped turn the tide. The combined force managed to overwhelm the Germans at Le Hamel, and soon the attention of the British turned to the small town of Arromanches. On this sector of Gold, at least, it finally looked as if D-Day might be a success.

At around 4pm, the Germans responded with an artillery barrage, causing the troops to duck down inside the recently captured German fortifications. Nothing, the British thought, could penetrate the defences that thousands of slave labourers had built over the past four years.

But within minutes of the first shells raining down, something strange happened. A slightly fruity odour hung in the air. Many of the men soon began to tremble and sweat  -  in itself nothing unusual during such a relentless barrage  -  but most also found that their eyes were extremely itchy.

When the soldiers started looking at each in anxious bewilderment, some noticed that their pupils were also excessively small.

A minute or two later, noses started running, and mouths frothed with seemingly endless quantities of saliva. Soon, the troops had trouble breathing; many went into convulsions. Bowels and bladders became uncontrollable, and heart rates slowed to near standstills.

Unconsciousness overcame all but a few, and within 15 minutes of the start of the barrage, 967 members of the two battalions lay dead. By 5pm, a further 312 had died, leaving as the only survivors those who had been wounded on the beach, and the medics who were tending them.

The gas was quickly identified as one of the earliest nerve agents, which are deadly to mammals because they destroy the functioning of the nervous system

All along the Normandy beaches that day, tens of thousands of Allied troops met the same horrific fate  -  all poisoned by a nerve agent called Ethyl dimethylphosphoramidocyanidate  -  or, to give it its more punchy German name, Tabun.

At least, that's how it might have been . . .

Thankfully, this chilling scenario never came to pass. As we all know, DDay did not fail and the Allies went on to defeat Hitler. But if it had not succeeded, their only hope of seeing off the Germans would have been to fall back on the scientists who were working in New Mexico to develop a secret and unproven device, the atomic bomb.

All this leads one to ask the question that has vexed historians since 1945: why didn't Hitler use chemical weapons against the Allies? After all, he had shown no qualms against using gas on Jewish men, women and children, so why not against enemy troops as well?

Until now, many believed his reluctance to use these weapons on Allied soldiers stemmed from his own bitter experiences of being gassed during World War I.

As a young soldier, on the night of October 13-14, 1918, near Ypres, Corporal Hitler was exposed to mustard gas released by the British that left him temporarily blind. It ended his war, and apparently left him with a strong desire never to see gas used again.

As a young soldier, Hitler was exposed to mustard gas which left him temporarily blind

But now a startling new explanation has come to light. According to Frank J. Dinan, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York State, a scientist close to Hitler exaggerated the Allies' capability of hitting back with their own chemical weapons, which caused the Fuhrer to rethink his plans.

If Professor Dinan's extraordinary claim is true, it means that a German scientist, up until now regarded as a war criminal, might be one of the greatest unsung heroes of the 20th century.

That man was Otto Ambros. Born in 1901, he was a highly able chemist who earned his doctorate at Munich University in 1925. He initially worked for the German chemical company BASF, but by 1938 had risen to become a board member of the giant IG Farben, where he helped mastermind the firm's chemical weapons section.

Industrious and charismatic, Ambros was highly regarded by the Nazis, and he was given the use of concentration camp prisoners at Buna-Werk IV, a subsidiary of Auschwitz, to help produce his chemical weaponry.

Although Ambros later claimed that he had worried dreadfully about the conditions in which the prisoners worked, there can be little doubt that such sympathy was not overtly expressed during the war.

As Ambros himself was to write to an IG Farben director in April 1941: 'On the occasion of a dinner given for us by the management of the concentration camp, we furthermore determined all the arrangements relating to the involvement of the really excellent concentration-camp operation.'

Ambros's hard work earned him much prestige as well as the War Merit Cross, and the 1st and 2nd Class and the Knight's Cross of the War Merit Cross. Designated as a 'military economy leader', Ambros was considered essential to the war effort, and he soon mixed with the elite of the Third Reich.

One of the chemicals on which Ambros invested most time and energy was Tabun. It was first manufactured on December 23, 1936, when Dr Gerhard Schrader of IG Farben was preparing compounds he could use as insecticides.

Schrader discovered that Tabun was extremely effective against leaf lice, but it was not until the following month that its toxicity towards humans was established.

In fact, it was Schrader himself who, along with a laboratory assistant, were the first to suffer Tabun's effects. While working on the chemical, they were exposed to its fumes, and rapidly found themselves short of breath. After swiftly seeking fresh air, the two men recovered, but they were extremely lucky.

Had Hitler instructed the use of Tabun, tens of thousands of Allied troops may have met horrific fates on the Normandy Beaches

Tabun was quickly identified as one of the earliest nerve agents, which are deadly to many mammals because they destroy the functioning of the nervous system.

Once Tabun is absorbed, it prevents the action of a key enzyme that regulates all nerve transmission processes. Victims suffer blindness, lose control of bodily functions and suffocate. Death follows in a matter of minutes.

But Tabun is particularly dangerous as it can be absorbed through the lungs, the skin and even the eyes. Even one millilitre absorbed through the skin can be fatal.

It was hardly surprising that the Nazis quickly identified Tabun as being a promising new weapon. Indeed, they even kept it secret for fear the Allies would also be able to manufacture it.

After more tests and investigations, it was decided to develop a plant to produce the poison on an industrial scale. Progress was slow as the work was complicated and dangerous. Despite extreme precautions by the 3,000-stong workforce, more than 300 accidents took place, and ten workers suffered horrific deaths when Tabun was accidentally spilled.

Nevertheless, by mid-1943, the Germans had managed to manufacture 12,500 tons of Tabun, much of which was loaded into munitions such as shells and bombs. At the time, the Nazis had without doubt the deadliest weapon of the war.

In May that year, a meeting took place at Hitler's Wolf 's Lair headquarters in East Prussia that would have far-reaching ramifications for the whole of history. The Germans had just been defeated at Stalingrad, and Hitler had summoned both armaments minister Albert Speer and Otto Ambros to discuss the use of chemical weapons.

Many senior Nazis had been imploring Hitler to use Tabun against the Russians, but he had refused, partly because he feared the Allies also had access to similar weapons.

Hitler asked Ambros whether his fears were justified. Ambros told the Fuhrer the Allies would be able to produce vast quantities of mustard gas, but this didn't bother Hitler.

He wanted to know if the British and Americans also had access to much deadlier nerve agents, such as Tabun.

'I understand that the countries with petroleum are in a position to make more mustard gas,' Hitler said, 'but Germany has a special gas, Tabun. In this we have a monopoly in Germany.'

Hitler then enquired whether the Allies could make Tabun and a similar nerve agent, Sarin.

And it was at this point that Ambros made the claim that Professor Dinan believes may well have changed the course of the war.

'I have justified reasons to assume that Tabun, too, is known abroad,' he said. 'I know that Tabun was publicised as early as 1902, that Sarin was patented, and that these substances appeared in patents.'

It was an extraordinary answer, as it was completely untrue. And he knew it. What's more, Professor Dinan argues that it was when Hitler realised that the Allies might be able to retaliate with Tabun or similar chemicals that he expressed deep disappointment and abandoned the meeting.

For the rest of the war, many in Hitler's entourage continued to press him to use nerve agents such as Tabun.

In the autumn of 1944, for example, Robert Ley, the head of the German Labour Front, implored Albert Speer to convince Hitler of the merits of nerve gases. 'He must use it!' he pleaded. 'Now he has to do it! When else! This is the last moment!'

The appeals fell on stony ground, however, and Hitler never changed his mind.
But the fundamental question remains. Why did Ambros mislead Hitler, and did he do so deliberately?

Professor Dinan and other experts have made extensive searches of the scientific literature between 1896 and 1911 to see whether, as Ambros suggested, Tabun had indeed been mentioned in 1902. So far, nothing has been found, which shows Ambros was certainly misleading his leader.

But was he doing so deliberately? Well, it is extremely unlikely that Ambros was simply mistaken. He was one of the most renowned chemists in Germany, if not the world, and there was little about chemical weaponry that he did not know. As a senior figure in IG Farben, he had access to all the relevant scientific information, and it seems implausible that he could have confused 1937  -  the year of Tabun's actual patent  -  with its supposed publicity in 1902.

Instead, Professor Dinan's startling conclusion is that Ambros was quite possibly lying to save the lives of millions. As a man who had spent most of his life working for the Nazis and using slave labour, it appears uncharacteristic that Ambros would suddenly have an attack of conscience  -  but it cannot be ruled out.

Ambros, more than anyone else in that room in May 1943, was able to envisage the devastating consequences of both sides launching a chemical war.

And if this really was the case, then Ambros was a truly extraordinary figure, around which the future of the war pivoted. For that small lie would appear to have changed the course not only of the war, but of the whole of human history.

Of course, it is also conceivable that the meeting between Hitler and Ambros never actually took place. The chemist recounted details of the conversation during his trial for crimes against humanity at Nuremberg from August 1947 to July 1948.

Casting himself as a white knight may have been an attempt to curry favour with the court  -  in the end, he was sentenced to eight years. Twenty years after his death in 1990, we may never know.

What is certain, however, is that if Professor Dinan is right, then Otto Ambros is that rarest of breeds  -  a war criminal and a hero.




Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1292877/Did-Nazi-scientist-save-Britain-Hitlers-deadly-gas-killed-millions.html#ixzz0t5LLPDVh
 

mariomike

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I think Hitler did not use poison gas because the threat of retaliation was very real.
 

Colin Parkinson

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It would have sped up the building of the Nukes and many German cities would have been flattened. Now if that had happened I wonder if Japan would have sued for peace earlier?
 

mariomike

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Colin P said:
It would have sped up the building of the Nukes and many German cities would have been flattened. Now if that had happened I wonder if Japan would have sued for peace earlier?

From what I have read, the U.S. was developing A-bombs as fast as they could.
In the meantime, the Allies were dropping everything they had on Germany and Japan. The only time they stopped was when they ran out of bombs.
Germany was working on nukes of their own. In a 1971 interview, Albert Speer said that the Allied bomber offensive "created an armaments emergency in Germany which ruled out a major program to develop the atomic bomb."
"Battlefields in the Air: Canadians in Bomber Command" page 172.

By the time the Allied A-bombs were ready to drop, Germany had surrendered. By then, 3.37 million dwellings in Germany had already been destroyed by prosaic bombs. ( Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden ).
Even if Germany ( or Japan ) had used poison gas, bombing was already at Maximum Effort by the Allies from 1942-45.

Even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan did not surrender.
"More than 800 Marianas-based B-29 Superfortresses dropped 5,900 tons of demolition and incendiary bombs on Japan on 14 August and in the early hours of 15 August." ( 1945 )
Gen. Carl Spatz, Commander of United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific.

 

a_majoor

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Similar stories suround the Nazi atomic bomb project (did Werner Heisenberg really not know and understand the principles of fission, or was he leading the staff on a wild goose chase?), but the only answers that can be made are from inference of self serving narratives by the interested parties.

I believe that the real answer lies in a combination of ignorance, incompetence, bureaucracy and a certain amount of "fear of the unknown". Chemical weapons had a horrific reputaion from the Great War, but were also known to be wildly unpredictable and almost as dangerous to the user as the target. Certainly any chemical warfare unit would suffer a very high casualty rate from leakage, accidents and enemy action that damaged the chemical tanks and equipment, and the fear of Allied retribution was also high (even if the Allies had no nerve agents of their own, they had the industreal capacity to generate huge quantities of blistering, choaking and blood agents, and the means and will to use them to destroy entire cities in the manner prescribed by airpower theorists. A thousand bomber raid with chemical weapons hardly bears thinking about.
 

mariomike

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Thucydides said:
A thousand bomber raid with chemical weapons hardly bears thinking about.

On Churchill's orders, several squadrons were specially trained to carry them out in retaliation for the V-rocket attacks. I have posted photos of Lancasters with gas patches.: http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1985/5/1985_5_40.shtml
 

Dennis Ruhl

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Gas, not nerve gas, but pretty deadly stuff was routinely used by both sides in WWI.  Once everyone was prepared it is doubtful any outcomes were changed through its use.
 

a_majoor

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Perhaps the biggest what if in history (besides the fate of Anastasia) is how close or far away from completion the Germans were in building an atomic bomb. A recent article demonstrates that the Allies were very concerned with the potential progress the Germans were making (but in hindsight we know they were short of the resources needed to finish the project).

This is somewhat at odds with the idea that the German program had been accidentaly or deliberatly sabotaged by Werner Heisenberg, an idea which had some currency back in the 90's. I suppose the truth will come out in small drips, but it should also serve a s a cautionary tale. After all, what do we really know about conditions in the DPRK or Iranian program?

http://blogs.knoxnews.com/munger/2011/07/alvin-weinbergs-post-war-evalu.html

Alvin Weinberg's post-war evaluation of Hitler's nuclear program
http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/munger/weinberg2.jpghttp://blogs.knoxnews.
com/knx/munger/weinberg2.jpg

I interviewed Alvin Weinberg many times over the years, including a couple of times for a profile, "Reflections of a Nuclear Trailblazer," that was published in The Miami Herald on Oct. 3, 1984. We talked a lot about his early work at the University of Chicago and the circumstances of how he joined the Metallurgical Laboratory to help design reactors for the wartime A-bomb effort.

"We were under enormous pressure," he said. "People were dying. Americans and others were being killed at an enormous rate. We knew if
we succeeded, then the war would be over. I never worked so hard in my life."

Fear was a motivation. Fear of losing freedom. Fear that Nazi Germany might be first to develop an atomic weapon.
"I will never forget a meeting we had in Arthur Compton's office," Weinberg said. "This was in 1943. It was probably around November. The
war wasn't going very well at that time, and we had word then that the Germans were working on the uranium bomb."

He added: "The meeting was attended by Compton, who was head of the Metallurgical Project, Eugene Wigner and Enrico Fermi -- all three Nobel
Prize winners -- and Alvin Weinberg. I was Wigner's assistant at the time, and I was just a kid, really. The issue was when can we expect the
German atomic bomb.

"Wigner went up to the blackboard and said, 'Well, it'll take three months for them to design and build their reactor. It'll take two months for them to run it. It'll take two months extracting (plutonium) . . . We had rumors they were working on it, and Wigner was always very pessimistic in his assessment. So, he estimated that by Christmas of 1944 we could expect the German bomb."

Fortunately, Weinberg noted, Wigner was wrong.

But what was Weinberg's assessment of the situation a few months afterWorld War II ended?
Tim Gawne, who's spent a considerable amount of time researching ORNL's archives and the Weinberg papers, recently came across a declassified
Nov. 8, 1945 memo from Weinberg and L.W. Nordheim, the first physics director at the Oak Ridge lab (then called Clinton Laboratories), to Compton. Weinberg, who later directed ORNL for 18 years, died in 2006. "We are writing in order to correct what we believe to be a very revalent misconception concerning the state of the art as known to the Germans in 1945," Weinberg and Nordheim wrote in the three-page memo
<http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/munger/germanyatomic.pdf> , noting they had read a few of the relevant German documents.

There has been a lot written, of course, regarding Germany's work on the atomic bomb and various analyses. I'm no scholar on the topic, by any
stretch, but the Weinberg/Nordheim memo seems to offer a more generous assessment of Germany's progress than some other post-war reports and
subsequent analyses.

They addressed multiple questions in the memo, including a concluding one, "What bearing does this have on the general question of our 'secrets'?"
Here's part of their answer: "On this we can presume to speak only as individuals.
"The general impression from the German reports is that they were on theright track and that their thinking and developments paralleled ours to
a surprising extent. The fact that they did not achieve their chain reaction is primarily due to their lack of sufficient amounts of heavy water.
"In one of the reports a vivid description is given of the German efforts in this respect. The heavy water factories in Norway were designed for a capacity of 3-4 tons a year and were successfully operating during part of 1942 and 1943. This capacity would have been sufficient for the construction of a pile (reactor). However, the production was interrupted by sabotage and finally the main factory was destroyed by a bombing attack. Toward the end of 1944 plans were made to initiate production of heavy water in Germany and to use enriched uranium in order to reduce the material requirements.
"It is also fairly clear that the total German effort was on a very considerably smaller scale than the American effort. This may be due to the strained German economy or to the less favorable attitude of their government. The fact remains that an independent group of scientists, of much smaller size than ours, operating under much more adverse conditions achieved so much.
"We must proceed therefore on the basis that anyone knowing what is in the German reports can establish a chain reaction, provided he has sufficient materials. The Smyth report will give additional very helpful hints. The time when others can establish a chain reaction is therefore no longer a matter of scientific research but mostly a matter of procurement. The policies of our authorities must, it seems to us, be formulated with a clear realization of these facts."

Here's a link to the full Weinberg/Nordheim memo
<http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/munger/germanyatomic.pdf> .
 

mariomike

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Thucydides said:
Perhaps the biggest what if in history (besides the fate of Anastasia) is how close or far away from completion the Germans were in building an atomic bomb.

In 1971, Albert Speer said in an interview that the bomber offensive created "an armaments emergency in Germany which ruled out a major program to develop the atomic bomb."
"Bomber Harris" by Dudley Saward
page 308

http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/posters/book_brave.pdf
Produced for the Canadian Defence Academy Press:
"Had Germany not been so diverted by the bombings and been free to mobilize its manpower and technological resources in a total war environment,
chemical, biological, and even atomic weapons might well have been in store for the Allies."

“The increasing air raids had long since created an armaments emergency in Germany which ruled out any such ambitious enterprise."
Speer

"Specifically, the wholesale evacuation of much of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics research facility’s infrastructure from the Dahlem suburb of Berlin to Haigerloch in the Black Forest, due to intimidation generated by the Berlin air raids, undoubtedly forced considerable delays and confusion upon the German atomic program and disrupted its focus."

 

Dog Walker

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My understanding was that Hitler himself had opposed the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield. He had served in the trenches during WW1. When the war ended he was in hospital recovering from gas exposure.

If the Germans did use poison gas the allies were prepared to do so also. They had stocks of gas in Italy in 1943 which led to the disaster in Bari 

http://fhp.osd.mil/CBexposures/ww2mustard.jsp


 

SOES_vet

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Thucydides said:
Perhaps the biggest what if in history (besides the fate of Anastasia) is how close or far away from completion the Germans were in building an atomic bomb. A recent article demonstrates that the Allies were very concerned with the potential progress the Germans were making (but in hindsight we know they were short of the resources needed to finish the project).

This is somewhat at odds with the idea that the German program had been accidentaly or deliberatly sabotaged by Werner Heisenberg, an idea which had some currency back in the 90's. I suppose the truth will come out in small drips, but it should also serve a s a cautionary tale. After all, what do we really know about conditions in the DPRK or Iranian program?

http://blogs.knoxnews.com/munger/2011/07/alvin-weinbergs-post-war-evalu.html

There has been quite a bit written about the German A-Bomb program, and I believe the consensus, within the physics nerd community, is that, regardless of Germany's broken industrial capacity, they were fairly far away from developing and producing atomic weaponry. This can be attributed to several reasons.

1) From a physics standpoint, they did not have all the details properly developed, and furthermore, they had several key fundamentals, of atomic physics, incorrect. This is the origin of the Heisenberg affair, where people have speculated that Heisenberg purposely made mistakes to delay or sabotage the weapons program. It is also a real possibility that Heisenberg simply had made an honest error. It is important to keep in mind that it took the vast majority of the best atomic Physicists in the world, working on the Manhattan project, to develop the whole suite of physics required to build the bomb. Ironically many of these Scientists were German or European Jews. Go figure.

2) Germany was years away from developing a Uranium and Plutonium production, and refining capacity required to build a bomb. The Manhattan project invested 10's of thousands of people and hundreds of top level engineers and Physicists to develop the first generation of nuclear material refining facilities, which were still plagued by many problems. Also, it should be noted that because of Germany's incomplete knowledge of nuclear physics, their calculations required much more nuclear material to create a nuclear explosion. To put this into perspective, the American's, with all of their efforts could only produce about 50kg of weapons grade material, for 3 weapons, by wars end. The Germans, by their own calculations, would have required hundreds of kg of weapons grade Uranium or Plutonium for one bomb.

As for Iran... That is still an open question but it should be noted that: 1) They have an active and modern nuclear material refining capability. 2) Nuclear weapons technology is over 60 years old. A kid with a solid undergraduate in physics and a bit of skill should be able to figure out all the physical parameters needed to build an atomic bomb.

It's all a bit scary if you ask me.
 
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