TOXIC TIME BOMBS
Before Saddam Hussein blotted his copy book by invading Kuwait, Iraq possessed significant stocks of chemical and biological weapons, many of which were happily supplied by Britain, Germany, the USA, France and Russia up until 1989.
Eventually, when all the current hot air and rampant hypocrisy has blown over, if there really are remaining hidden caches of menacing weapons lurking in the Iraqi desert, what will the noble Allies do with them once they’re discovered?
No matter who made, bought or sold them, getting rid of WMDs – especially the CBWs (that’s Chemical and Biological Weapons) is a task no nation likes to face up to. This is a secret, sinister process which has been handled over the past sixty years with an incredible clumsiness and in consequence has turned parts of the globe into toxic time bombs.
Of course, there’s nothing new about this ‘dirty tricks’ department of war-making. In 400 B.C. the Spartans burned wood treated with sulphur and pitch to gave their enemies some serious breathing problems resulting from poisonous sulphur dioxide fumes. The Crimean Tatars in 1346 had the novel idea of catapulting plague-ridden corpses into Italian trade enclaves. In medieval times if your horse caught a disease its corpse became a handy weapon if dumped in your enemy’s well or stream. The Conquistadors both deliberately and involuntarily wreaked havoc with diseases among Native Americans. As one Spaniard, Francisco de Aguilar,
brutally records in 1525, ‘God saw fit to send the Indians smallpox’. By the time the British had gained a foothold
in the New World we see the likes of General Jeffrey Amhurst, in 1763, presenting the Indians with blankets
deliberately infected with smallpox, developing a nasty little ‘ethnic cleansing’
method which continued right into the 20th Century, gathering
momentum in the 1920’s when Britain
used chemicals against the Kurds in Iraq, with Churchill recommending the use
of gas ‘against uncivilised tribes’.
|Aquilar, who spent the last 40 years of his|
life as a Catholic monk,
with no South American Indians to worry about ...
|Winning a war with disease:|
General Jeffrey Amhurst
By December 2nd 1943, Allied forces had spent 85 days in Italy in their massive campaign, code named Operation Avalanche, to drive the German Tenth Army northwards and eventually out of Italy. By this time the fine Mediterranean weather which the troops had enjoyed at their September landing in the Gulf of Salerno and at Taranto had turned into persistent rain and icy winds.
Throughout the Apennine Mountains, Montgomery’s 8th Army and the US 5th Army under General Mark Clark spent the weeks up to Christmas locked in cold, wet battle with a stubborn and implacable foe. Yet even as the military casualties mounted on both sides, 100 miles behind the front line in what may have seemed the relatively safer haven of Bari on the Adriatic Coast, the hapless civilian population was about to suffer a grisly, unexpected blow.
|The SS John Harvey|
A ball of fiery, twisted metal, she rapidly sank with all hands.
Yet the SS John Harvey was much more than just another victim of war. Due to her horrific cargo, she was the epicentre of a grim outreach of death and injury. Although a restrained U.S. Government report later stated that 83 men had been killed and 534 civilians wounded, another source based on information collected in Bari suggests that the exposure to the exploding mustard bombs killed over 1,000 Italian civilians within a few days of the explosion, as well as causing over 630 serious military cases.
Our history of World War II tells us that the use of poison gas, namely Zyklon-B, was reserved by the Nazis in Europe solely for the destruction of the Jews.
Only one other nation resorted to chemical/biological agents between 1936-45 - Japan. The Japanese Army took great pains to keep this embarrassing episode
under wraps, but in 1989 British writers Peter Williams and David Wallace carried out extensive research which culminated in their book, Unit 731, which revealed a catalogue of grim experiments which included dropping bombs filled with disease-carrying fleas, various pathogens, plague, anthrax and cholera.
|From Hell: Japanese military 'know-how' in action|
These foul acts were carried out in China against not only communists and Allied prisoners, but on dense areas of civilian population. In a special ‘information exchange’ deal with the Allies at the end of WWII, most of the main Japanese perpetrators of these war crimes escaped punishment, and eventually landed good jobs in Japanese hospitals and medical schools. The dark end of the scientific community looks after its own.
For the so-called ‘civilised’ West, by WWII chemical weapons on the battlefield simply weren’t cricket. Even Hitler, who had no qualms about gassing millions of innocent civilian victims with carbon-monoxide and Zyklon-B, had pale reservations over the use of mustard gas and other nerve agents in the European theatre of war, following his own trench experiences in WWI. Never the less, the Nazi military-industrial complex went into overdrive with a massive CBW production programme.
Although the Hague Convention of 1907 had outlawed chemical weapons, the Generals of 1914-18 had ignored it. The more determined Geneva Protocol of 1925, ratified by 33 nations, also sought to make chemical warfare illegal, yet even then Winston Churchill was willing to consider the prospect of gas warfare as late as 1944., when Britain had enough mustard gas stockpiled to kill off almost 1000 square miles of the Reich.
The prevailing attitude to these horrendous weapons over eight decades can best be illustrated by the very nation which originally abstained from supporting either the Hague Convention or the Geneva Protocol – the U.S.A.
In 1977 a study carried out by the Stanford Arms Control Group declared that
“the Geneva Protocol is essentially a no-first-use agreement, and in no way prevents the development of chemical weapons as deterrents…”
Although they did finally agree to ratify in 1935, the American military complex, just like the Asian and European arms industries, continued to forge ahead with chemical weapons manufacture.
But the mid to late 20th century has been the CBW’s golden age of research and development. More horrific ways to die in agony have been invented by the men in white coats since the late 1930’s than during any other period in history.
There is, however, an obstinate and inconvenient problem to all this.
If, as has been the case, you try and out-do your potential enemies by manufacturing many thousands of tons more of this stuff than they do – (which, of course, being ‘civilised’, you would never dream of using) – where do you put it? And as soon as you replace that unfashionable lung-rotting, brain-strangling microbe with a brand-new vein-bursting, skin-eating instant killer, once you’ve stopped celebrating, what do you do with your old stock? Sell it off? Maybe. Give it to the dustmen? Hardly. You could try burning it, but it’s an extremely expensive process, and the first rule of weapons development is profit.
Underground? That’s costly and can be hard work. No. There’s an easy place to dump your horrors. The same destination man has chosen for his garbage, effluent and everything else he wanted to forget for centuries – the ocean.
When Marshal Konev’s 1st Ukrainians of the Red Army rumbled across Poland in January 1945, they were about to make a grim discovery just outside the town of Breslau (now Polish Wroclaw) on the River Oder. The village of Dyernfurth-am-Oder was dominated by a spectacular, self-contained industrial compound. It covered an area 1.5 miles by 0.5 miles and at its peak employed no less than 3,000 German nationals, all equipped like some denizens of Hell with rubber suits and respirators.
Since 1940, Dyernfurth’s speciality had been the mass production of some of the most toxic nerve agents known to man; Tabun, Sarin, Soman and VX. To go into the separate effects (on the bronchial tubes, lungs, eyes, skin, blood and vital organs) each one of these virulent killers has on the human frame in any depth here would make for sickening and pointless reading. Rest assured that any one of these Nazi nasties left mustard gas in the shade. Tabun, for instance, was so toxic that the production rooms had to be lined with double glass walls, with a stream of pressurised air running between the glass panes. Frequent decontamination took place with ammonia and steam, yet between 1942-45 there were still 300 serious accidents and ten horrific deaths at the plant There was a large, high-security underground facility where shells were filled and sealed with these deadly compounds ready for storage.
What astounded Allied Intelligence and the Soviets was the sheer volume of production of these agents in wartime Germany.
In the Summer of 1944, Tabun alone was being produced at 1,000 tons per month,
whilst the old favourite, phosgene, was being stockpiled at 3,100 tons per month. The basic building blocks for these weapons, such as methanol, was being produced at 10,900 tons per month by October 1944, and cyanide at 336 tons.
If Churchill had got his way, and used gas on the Reich, the obvious German preparedness for retaliation would have resulted in unspeakable mass horror and death on the British mainland.
|The remains of the Sarin factory of death at Falkenhagen|
Yet the Soviets were far from horrified by this factory from Hades; they were fascinated. The Nazis, preparing to blow the place up, had already dumped thousands of tons of Tabun and Sarin into the River Oder. But Dyernfurth was saved. Throughout the decades of the Cold War the USSR enhanced its CBW skills and worked hard to devise suitable weapons delivery systems which might carry virulent new strains of smallpox or plague to wherever it might be needed.
Once the iron curtain had fallen, a veil of mystery covered not only this but several other poison plants throughout the former Reich. Within months of the Red Army’s discovery, both Dyernfurth and another Sarin plant at Falkenhagen were back in production, this time under Russian control. Yet their ultimate quest was for newer, even deadlier gases – and their growing problem was disposing of the thousands of tons of defunct yet deadly shells already in storage.
Elsewhere in Germany the Allies were also discovering massive stockpiles of chemical and poison gas shells. In Berlin, Munster, Luneberg and other locations the tonnage was mounting – within months almost 300,000 tons of nerve agents were awaiting destruction. There was only one way to go - out to sea.
Between October 1945 and August 1948 up to 40 German merchant ships were commandeered by the victorious Allies, filled to the gunwhales with CBW shells and explosives, sailed out into the North Sea, the Skagerrak of and the Bay of Biscay, and deliberately sunk. Disposing of over 175,000 tons of this vile material was a thankless, secret and extremely hazardous job and at this stage little is known about the volunteer Merchantmen and Royal Navy Reserves who carried out these operations. The majority of the commandeered vessels were loaded in Hamburg, by German dockers, in the main totally unaware of the ton upon ton of death which was being lowered into the holds. At least the Allied sailors were afforded protective gear when preparing these vessels for destruction, but the German dock workers rolled up their sleeves and with little else than leather gloves as defence, allowed the breath of hell to pass through their hands.
With 21st century environmental hindsight, such ecological irresponsibility over four decades later appears outrageous. But in 1945 Europe was in a physical and political mess. Disposing of the detritus of war was just another tedious task, to be completed in any way possible.
Every combatant nation had a similar problem. Despite the Italian tragedy of the SS John Harvey, the Americans never the less chose the beautiful Adriatic near Bari to dump large quantities of Phosgene, cyanogen chloride bombs, hydrogen cyanide, etc. shortly after WWII ended. The result has been a toxic time bomb which frequently wreaks its revenge on innocent Adriatic trawler men, who often bring deadly, glutinous clusters of mustard gas up in their nets. Neither were the Americans afraid to use their own ‘back yard’, either. 32,000 tons of captured chemical weapons were sent down in US coastal waters. The Japanese sank unspecified tonnages of CBW’s in the Pacific and Sea of Japan. Many land burials also took place; secret chemical dumps abound all over North America. In Britain, especially in counties such as Wiltshire, gas shells from both World Wars are scattered beneath the surface, and still lie in wait for hapless ploughmen. (The Ministry of Defence has destroyed all records of such burials older than 25 years…)
|Dumping poison gas into the Atlantic in the 1960s. It's still down there ....|
But perhaps the greatest horror story of WWII CBW dumping has yet to be fully told. It has remained hidden from the West by four decades of the Cold War. Fifty five years after WWII ended, Swedish fisherman still annually report CBW accidents in the Baltic Sea. Danish fishermen are said to pull up 2,500 tons of chemical bombs every year.  In some areas of the Skagerrak, where gas wrecks are known to exist, large numbers of dead starfish have been found floating on the surface.
Since the fall of Communism and the Berlin Wall, the records of both the Stasi in East Germany and the KGB in the former USSR have become subject to scrutiny.
What they will eventually reveal about Soviet dumping in the Baltic will only confirm Scandinavian suspicions; that this beautiful, mainly shallow, enclosed sea, noted for its clear water, has probably suffered from more CBW dumping than any other stretch of water world wide. According to a Russian document released on the Internet in April 1999, munitions taken from Peenemunde, (Hitler’s V1 and V2 rocket plant on Germany’s Baltic coast), alone offer just the tip of a terrifying Soviet iceberg of Baltic dumping;
408,565 Mustard gas shells
71,469 250-kilogram mustard bombs
17,000 Adamsite/diphenylchlorarsine bombs
1,004 one-and-a-half tonne containers of mustard gas
189 tonnes of cyanide (in rubber bags)
10, 420 chemical 100mm mortar shells
7,860 barrels of Zyklon-B.
This harvest of horror – only a small example - currently languishes on the sea bed somewhere between the Swedish Island of Bornholm and the Latvian port of Liepaja. Because of the prevailing cold war secrecy of the time (dumping, apparently, went on well into the 1960’s) full records of exact positions of these dumps remain to be found. But a great many vessels were commandeered, loaded and sunk before the new masters of Eastern Europe could get to grips with their deadly legacy.
The search goes on; and as yet, no-one knows what eventual effect these decomposing shells might have on the marine environment.
Throughout history, white coated Boffins have burned the midnight oil to come up with formulae which have changed the world, eradicated diseases and made humanity’s burden lighter. But, like Jekyll and Hyde, every enlightened chemist has his dark counterpart, crouched like one of Macbeth’s three witches over the cauldron, hell bent on destruction. In the end, designing death is a fast track to profit.
Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, the Project Leader of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Chemical Warfare Project, regards ocean chemical dumps, even five decades after WWII, as a dangerous, hidden legacy which the international community has yet to face up to. The Stockholm Institute (SIPRI), which works in partnership with the University of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies, monitors all evidence of possible zones of pollution and regularly issues reports and documents. After years of secrecy no-one can really say how much of this toxic weapons material is still stockpiled in Russia. Saddam Hussein was just one moustachioed madman capable of using such horrific devices – it is estimated that he killed 60,000 Iranians this way in the Iran-Iraq War, in addition to using poison gas against the Kurds in his own country. CBWs are arms of sheer temptation to those governments with little or no regard for humanity – and that’s a long list. Apart from our own piece of chemical hell real estate, HMG’s Porton Down research Establishment, we only need to look back a few years to Vietnam and the use of Agent Orange and that most disgraceful weapon, napalm.
Yet as the science of war and the study of biology make ever larger advances, new, more subtle strains of microbes, germs and chemical compounds come onto the market, making some of those old favourite snot, blood and blisters varieties obsolete. That’s when the dumping starts. Tread with caution in Wiltshire, keep your eyes open down on the beach – and be careful where you swim.
Notes / Sources
 Grossman, Zoltan The Pot Calling The Kettle Black – A History of Bio-Chemical Weapons
 Wright, Ronald; Stolen Continents – The Indian Story John Murray, London 1992
 Grossman, Zoltan see also Blum, William,
Killing Hope; U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since WWII’.
 Various, Ed. Pimlott, John L. The World at Arms Reader’s Digest, London 1989.
 Compton, J. A. Military Chemical & Biological Agents. Telford Press, New Jersey 1988.
 Grossman, Zoltan. (See note 1).
 See Speer, Albert Inside The Third Reich Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, London 1970.
On August 5th 1944 Churchill called for a report on England’s capability for gas war against Germany.
 Warren Howe, Russell Weapons Abacus, London 1981.
 Werth, Alexander; Russia at War 1941-1945 Barrie Books, London 1964.
 Paxman, J. & Harris, R. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Hill & Wang, New York 1982.
 Speer, Albert Inside The Third Reich.
 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute The Problem of Chemical & Biological Warfare
Humanities Press, New York 1971.
 List of gas ships supplied by Bjorn Axel Johanssen, Kalmar, Sweden and checked/verified by
Professor Theodor Siersdorfer , Essen, Germany, 1999.
 BBC Radio 4 Costing The Earth documentary, June 1997.
 Philip Facius, Chairman, Danish Environment Council in Green Left Weekly October 1999.