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Thread: WWII Poison Darts Secret Emerges

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    Default WWII Poison Darts Secret Emerges

    An interesting article in this morning's papers here in London reminds me of a thread a while back on strange weapons. Here's something new, just released by the NA (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8119653.stm)

    Regards
    Steve


    WWII poison darts secret emerges

    Top secret War Office papers have revealed a strange and macabre weapons project tested by the Allies during World War II.

    Lethal clouds of tiny poisoned darts were to be tipped with mustard gas to kill enemy troops without damaging nearby buildings or equipment.

    The file has been released by the National Archives.

    Test results were inconclusive and although the scientists remained enthusiastic, the project was shelved.

    The concept was developed between 1941 and 1945 at the Porton Down research base in Wiltshire.

    Horrible death

    Research scientists thought clouds of poison darts, blasted from canisters high above the battlefield, could be even more lethal against enemy troop concentrations than high-explosive shells.

    Mustard gas compounds in the needles would ensure anyone whose skin was broken would die a swift and horrible death, or at least have terrible injuries.

    Assessing the effectiveness of the darts one report notes: "If penetrating into the flesh, will cause death if not plucked out within 30 seconds.

    "If plucked out within this time, will cause disablement by collapse.

    "Collapse occurs within one to five minutes, and death within 30 minutes."

    A hand-written comment written next to this observed: "I doubt whether the darts can be plucked out. The paper tail would come off."

    The scientists later pooled their knowledge with Canadian and American research teams.

    In one experiment, the Canadians had dressed sheep and goats in two layers of battledress material and positioned them across a wide area, some in trenches, to be exposed to the killer darts.

    Scientists predicted that symptoms displayed by the animals would be similar to those affecting humans.

    "The pulse becomes very slow and the blood pressure falls. The subject collapses and lies on its side with twitching muscles.

    "Where the dose is lethal, death occurs on 30 minutes, usually preceded by convulsions."

    Confusion

    Despite some initial success, the project did not always run completely to plan.

    When the scientists came to procure the needles needed for their experiments - it seems they caused not a little confusion.

    An exchange of letters between Singer Sewing Machine Co. Ltd in Bristol and the Biology section at the experimental station in Porton Down illustrates how the need for secrecy stopped scientists explaining exactly what they needed the needles for.

    One letter from Singer, dated December 24 1941, begins: "In reply to your letter of the 23rd instant, we are afraid we do not quite understand your requirements.

    "From your remarks, it would seem that the needles are required for some other purpose, other than sewing machines."

    Historians looking at the files today said they provided a "fantastic insight" into what the Allies were prepared to do to win the war.

    Mark Dunton, a contemporary history specialist at the National Archives, said: "I have never heard of poisoned darts being used as a weapon of war in this way before.

    "To our modern sensibilities it seems shocking and there's a real sense of viciousness about this weapon.

    "But it shows the Allies were prepared to consider anything - no matter how gruesome - to secure a victory."

    The file shows the darts were never used because they were a "highly uneconomical weapon" and only a small proportion of people would have been killed.
    41 (F) Squadron RAF at War and Peace, April 1916-March 1946
    http://brew.clients.ch/41sqnraf.htm

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    A final conclusion that could have been reached well in advance of spending any significant amount of money and time on research and trials. Operational Research was only in its infancy in those days, of course.

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    One wonders what would happen about those darts that missed their targets. Presumably they would just lay about the ground as a lethal hazard to anyone for years after the war finished?
    Bill.

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    Certainly an interesting story. It is worthwhile recognising the fact that Porton Down was operating under conditions of such secrecy that it was even cut off from the rest of scientific intelligence, which is astounding in light of the previous war, where gas had been used and there was hard evidence that the German plans to use anthrax as a weapon had only been foiled by British Naval Intelligence (NID).

    RV Jones, who seems to have been involved in everything that came even vaguely under the heading of ‘Scientific Intelligence’ in WW2, admitted after the war that he had met the RN officer (un-named) who was the official liaison with Porton Down and seemed satisfied at the time that this man had things well covered. This initial meeting came at the time when Britain was threatened with invasion. Although Jones found it surprising that this RN officer had no scientific background, he accepted the situation and, for the rest of the war, dutifully forwarded any and all tidbits connected with Axis biological or chemical subjects to the appointed officer at the Admiralty, as did all other sections of the information gathering service. It was only much later that he realised Porton Down was kept isolated from mainstream intelligence, and that the scientists there were unaware of any developments by the Axis and as a result were pursing their own experiments and theories, not preparing defences and countermeasures against reported possible threats (this was in fact the most common way the Germans approached research: let the specialists predict the potential threats based on their expert knowledge, rather than giving them outside guidance). So it seems that the brains at Porton Down were left in the dark about evidence of German biological research and allowed to use their own initiative. It is the historic link with the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) that I believe was responsible for the division of responsibility that produced this blind spot and one of the most alarming chapters in recent history, the ‘Anthrax’ scare and coverup. Both sides were prepared for biological warfare and both sides (in Europe) shied away for the same reason: fear of retaliation. It would also seem that Lady Luck played her part.

    I look forward to reading the newly released files.

    Bruce

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