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Why No Poison Gas?

By Robert M. Citino 
Originally published under Front & Center Blog. Published Online: December 13, 2009 
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Hitler was a bad guy.

Talk about stating the obvious.  We can call Hitler many things.  Fanatic.  Megalomaniac.  Warmonger.  War criminal.  Mass murderer.  No one fits the bill like the Führer.
   
And yet, there was one rather obvious crime that this world-class criminal refused to commit.  And I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.  My students ask me the question every single semester, and after 25 years of college teaching, I have to confess that still don't have a really satisfactory answer.

Why didn't Hitler use poison gas in World War II?

He certainly did everything else.  Unprovoked aggression (multiple counts).  Terror towards civilian populations in occupied areas.  And the greatest mass murder of all time, the "Judeocide" that most people refer to as the Holocaust.

But he didn't drop poison gas on civilian populations during bombing raids by the Luftwaffe.  He didn't even use it tactically against enemy troop concentrations.  The conundrum becomes even tougher to explain when we remember that this is a man who himself fought in a war that featured the liberal use of poison gas.  Chlorine, mustard, phosgene:  World War I saw them all used in abundance, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers on all sides died a horrible choking death, or spent the next twenty years of their lives in the most painful suffering imaginable.  World War II, however, a war that dwarfed the previous one in virtually every category of cruelty, almost completely eschewed this particular variety of  horror.  It remains a puzzle.

I currently am privileged to have as a graduate student a captain in the US Army.  He's an interesting guy–as most of the officers I've met tend to be.  He currently works in military intelligence ("MI," I've learned to call it).  Like just about anyone in the army today, he's done more than one tour in our current Global War on Terror (that's "GWOT", sometimes pronounced ironically as a question, "G-what?"), and at one time in his career he was a specialist in nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare (and yes, that's usually referred to as "NBC").

The Good Captain's take on Hitler's tentativeness is this:  there was no "value added" for Hitler in using gas.  By the 1940s, just about any literate society could produce various forms of poison gas.  Thus, there was no real advantage to Germany in introducing it into the war.  Countermeasures would immediately follow, for which Germany had no more effective response than any other combatant.  And that went equally for the vesicants like mustard gas as well as the new "nerve" agent just discovered in Germany's Wuppertal-Elberfeld lab in 1939–the deadly compound that we know as Sarin.

When it came down to it, Hitler was a man who knew no limits, and who made his decisions relatively free of moral considerations.  Sarin didn't strike him as particularly inhumane or ghastly.  It just seemed… ineffective.

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63 Responses to “Why No Poison Gas?”


  1. 1
    Bill Nance says:

    ineffective, or perhaps a way of introducing an element to the war that he couldn't win.

    Also, I think Hitler was haunted by his WW I experiences. His decisions in France and the SU reflect him waiting for the proverbial 'other shoe' to drop. On both theaters, he seemed terrified of a 1914 'Miracle on the Marne'. Also, Hitler had been exposed to gas at the front, and in fact had been a gas casualty. As a combat vet myself, I can tell you that chemicals have their own special brand of horror in the imaginations of most soldiers – more so than explosives or bullets.

    So, while I agree with your overall comment, I think that there was also a deeply personal reason behind Hitler's non-use of chemicals in WW II. He didn't mind facing bombs, etc. He never wanted to face chemicals again, and you bet that's what would have happened if chemicals had been introduced. An Allied military that conducted the Dresden firebombing, would more than likely have had no compunctions against using chemicals on cities, especially if the Germans had used Chemicals against Allied civilian areas first.

  2. 2
    Luke Truxal says:

    I agree with Bill because it wasn't outside American thinking to respond with a couple of gas bombs. In fact that is what Billy Mitchell argued should be done in order to fight wars more humanely. In Mitchell's mind a couple of gas bombs over a city could disable the city and thus disrupt the war effort of an opposing country. I haven't looked at the primary source documents to know but I believe there may have been a handshake agreement between the countries participating in the war on the use of poison gas. According to one air force text book there was such an agreement on city bombing. It wasn't until two stray German bombers hit a London suburb that Britain began to start launching strategic bombing raids on Germany. Hitler in return thought Churchill took the gloves off and initiated the Blitz. Although, that theory may be flawed since Hitler did bomb Warsaw and Rotterdam. So I don't know if there was a handshake agreement but there does exist the possibility of one. Even if there was I doubt if Hitler thought he could get away with it he would use poison gas against his enemies in spite of a handshake agreement. He did have a non-aggression pact with Stalin.

  3. 3
    Cap'n Dave says:

    Forget about the Allies and look at the Russian Front. The prevailing winds, the massed infantry formations, the terrain, their inability to reach Berlin with Bombers early on, the set backs the Germans were facing at Moscow and Stalingrad, and Hitler's desire to kill the Russians, all combine to make me wonder why the hell he didn't use gas! Especially on Stalingrad. I might even use gas on Stalingrad!!
    There is a lot to be said for the idea of personal revulsion to chemical weapons, but I don't think that was Hitler's problem. He clearly had no compunction about using Zyklon-B. In a weird way I think he didn't want to become a World Pariah. I know that is laughable considering who I'm talking about, but I think, in his warped and twisted way, he didn't want to tarnish his image – to be "that guy" who had to resort to chem weapons to win – it would have gone against his master race idea, and been more of a dirty trick.
    That, and retaliation would have been much worse, since unlike Russians and Brits, the Germans had nowhere to run, what with their vaunted 'central position' and all.

    Condolences to Army by the way…

  4. 4
    Cap'n Dave says:

    By the way, if you want to see funny videos, check out the ones on the British experiments with LSD as a chem weapon!

  5. 5
    Bill Nance says:

    Except that Gas on the Russian front is not a big force multiplier if both sides have it. Then it becomes a war of attrition, just with more weapons, and the Germans WILL (did actually) lose that contest. Not to mention, that without overpressure systems, the mechanized formations that Germany depended upon would have been completely blind. Trust me on this, MOPP 4 in a tank, your abilities are cut in half. Also, remember, most of Germany's army was also massed infantry, just as vulnerable as the Russians.

    I wasn't mentioning a personal revulsion to chemical weapons period, just Hitler didn't want to start an exchange where he would be exposed to them again. Zyklon B was done against those with no means of retribution, and its use was limited to 'domestic issues', thereby limiting any Allied counters. If he had used chemicals against the Allies or Russians, there is a good chance – and I think he knew it – that the next bomber raid over Berlin would be filled with Mustard gas. Imagine if the Allies had used Persistent chemicals on Berlin, Hitler would have been trapped, possibly without comms for a while until he could be brought out and de-conned.

    Was the personal revulsion the main reason? No, I think you and Dr. Citino hit it on the head at first with the fact that chemicals would have been introducing a weapon that would have put Germany at a disadvantage. However, you can't rule out his personal feelings for the decision either. Especially when we're dealing with Hitler, who let personal feelings dictate alot of his decision making.

  6. 6
    Luke Truxal says:

    I think every comment up to this point has been spot on. Who is the MI captain that Dr. Citino is referring to by the way? I wonder if he is the James Bond of the army? On a more serious note I think a better question is why did NOBODY use chemical weapons? Was it because we had moved to a more mobile style of warfare? Did the tank in fact phase out the use of chemical weapons as a method to create a breakthrough?

  7. 7
    zurab Abayev says:

    As far as I can remember, Germany considered using chemical weapons in 1944; new valves were designed for the gas masks which would protect Wermacht soldiers from the effects of Sarin. However, allied intelligence got wind of it, and those new valves were obtained by the Red Army's military intelligence; then Allies issued a united statement guarantying unrestricted chemical warfare in case the Germany would use it first. Given Allied air and industrial supremacy, that served as a sufficient deterrent. Unfortunately, I can't verify the sources of that information at present

  8. 8
    Bill Nance says:

    Sounds right, at least.

    As for Chemical weapons, they weren't really useful for anyone, even in WW I, or for modern uses. Chemicals require specialized equipment and training for delivery and operations in a chemical environment. If you use chemicals in the offense, you now have to fight through that same mess, and deal with decon efforts on the other side. Also, with relative parity in chemical technology, a force with any kind of warning will be able to employ countermeasures. Fighting in full chemical gear is VERY hard to do. The only real use for chemicals is permanent area denial, such as Soviet use against US POMCUS sites in Germany prior to an invasion of West Germany.

    This is one of the reasons that the US started getting rid of chemicals. Our policy became a chemical is a bug is a nuke, so we would respond to any use of these weapons with nukes, considering that nukes actually deny an area just as completely as chemicals, and are actually more efficient weapons in many regards. Also, this would have a chilling effect on nations using chemicals and bio weapons against the US.

  9. 9
    Jeff Cavin says:

    Expanding a little on something that Bill said, about gas not even really being effective in WW I, I wonder if at least to some degree Hitler viewed gas as an antiquated or outdated weapon. It seems to me that Hitler was obsessed with the idea of progression to some extent. There was the idea of the new man, the new soldier, and the new Germany. During the war Germany was also highly invested in technology and the creation of new and advanced weapons. Maybe poison gas did not really fit that mold, so to speak. In response to Luke, I know what book you were referring to about the bombing of cities. If I remember correctly, it was Hitler who originally insisted that bombing be limited to the battlefield. Perhaps this was why he relied so heavily on the use of dive bombers. I will look through my notes and see if I can find the title.

  10. 10
    Flyer says:

    I recall reading somewhere that that question was asked of a German general after the war. He answered that it was because they German Army used predominently horse-drawn transport and they were never able to design an effective gas protection for horses. Don't know whether that's true or not.

    The Allies were prepared to use gas. Remember one of the ships that blew up at Taranto was carrying gas.

  11. 11
    Mark Lewis says:

    As you guys have discussed fairly thoroughly. The answer is probably a combination of the chem weapons being pretty unpredicatable, certain over the top retaliation and personal experience. The japanese trials showed tactical delivery was at best haphazard. regards

  12. 12
    Mark Lewis says:

    As discussed in the forum. The reasons are probably a combination of factors: personal horror, certainty of over the top retaliation and the unpredictability of chem weapons. The japanese trials showed in a tactical battlefield situation the agents were just as hazardous to their own men if the weather changed. regards

  13. 13
    Lee says:

    How you are classifying the use of gas weapons during WWII? I am confused with the notion that Hitler, nor the Wehrmacht employed gas as a weapon. I disagree with the premise it was not used by the military-for the reason that Jews and others were rounded up by the military, were held by the military, and murdered by the military. The destruction of the Jewish population was a definite war aim of Hitler’s.The Nazi death camps used a couple forms of gas to aid in a hastier extermination of the Jews. Military men were convicted for war crimes that occurred in the camps. With this in mind, the camps appear to be non-traditional battlefields. If so, wouldn't the use of gas in the death camps constitute the use of gas as a weapon?

  14. 14
    jeannick says:

    .

    Hitler had been gassed himself badly enough to be hospitalized ,
    that's when the end of the war found him

    he hated gas , and that was personal , his generals wanted to use it at Stalingrad , but he refused , some irritant gas was used during the 1942 spring in Crimea to flush groups of remaining soldiers in caves there
    but that's the only instance I can found
    Churchill was quite enthusiastic about using it on cities , his generals were against it ,

    no first use was the position of all combatant but there were stocks
    kept in readiness behind each front .
    there was an incident , in Palermo I believe where a ship full of mustard gas shells sunk with some casualties and a lot of dead fishes

    There is no evidence Hitler knew anything about the use of ziklon B
    a compound widely used in the army , hospitals and prisons for delousing purpose , to stop typhoid epidemics
    as all things connected with the "final solution " the right hand didn't know what the left hand did ,
    it's use wasn't standardized , Treblinka used motor exhausts

    .

  15. 15
    Jeff Cavin says:

    I think you make a very good point, Lee. I believe that, under those circumstances, you could classify the use of gas against the Jews as a military use of gas. With one caveat. I think it depends on the context in which you look at the issue. If you are looking at it from a historical point of view, then I can certainly see the validity of your argument. If you look at it from Hitler's point of view, however, I think the argument can be made that its intended use was not as a weapon, as Hitler viewed the Jews as sub-human. In Hitler's eyes the Jews were neither enemy combatants nor civilians.

  16. 16
    Rob Citino says:

    Good points, everyone! Lee, you're right on the money about the use of gas in the camps, of course. I was talking about battlefield use, but we should never ignore the way Hitler's military and racial goals were intertwined. Perhaps, however, it might support the point I was trying to make. Hitler didn't see any advantages, and perhaps even saw some danger, to using gas in a tactical role against Allied military forces. Against the helpless Jewish population of the camps–a group who could not retaliate in kind–there was no such hesitation at all.

  17. 17
    Barbarossa says:

    I have read in a number of places that the mind-set of most German Generals was that if they could not win by conventional methods, they would prefer to lose. I believe it's well defined in Speers' book.

  18. 18
    Luke Truxal says:

    Lee I think what has happened is that we have like historians constantly do made generalizations about the use of gas by the Germans. We said the military didn't use but like you point out they did. However, I think the argument being made is the use of poison gas in a military operation. Which causes me to ask the question what qualifies as a military operation? Was the employment of gas and concentration camps against the Jews a military operation because the military participated or was the systematic killing of the Jews more of an domestic affairs issue that the military participated in because they were just a means to accomplish the goal?

  19. 19
    Luke Truxal says:

    Wow I just realized I made a mistake by not proof reading that last comment. You could take one line out of context and have a laugh "We said the military didn’t use but like you point out they did. "

  20. 20
    Finn says:

    The fact that the Allies were prepared to counter any Axis use of chemical weapons with unrestricted chemical warfare of their own is evidenced by the sinking of the USS John Harvey in Bari Harbour on December, 2nd 1943.

  21. 21
    Mike says:

    Like most modern people your clouding your own thinking process by prefacing your question with poplar opinion of Hitler and not looking at this question objectively. What you think of Hitler is not relevant to the question your asking.

    This often will cause you to reach a false conclusion. As an educator you should know better.

    These weapons are hard to use and often uncontrollable, You can never be sure your own weapon won't come back your way after it is released. The second point is that despite what people think of Hitler he was forced to deal with his own population which he knew would be subject to retaliation and his own military who would mutiny if he went too far. He had no real option to use a weapon he knew he could not defend against and whose own troops would not want to use in the first place. Despite being self appoints leader of the German people and Arny he was not as secure in his position as say that of the other leaders. He did have popular opinion to deal with and had to keep his own people in check to stay in power. If he used these weapons retaliation was sure to follow and the German people would not have allowed him to stay in power
    after a few city's were gassed. Open revolt would have followed.

    Much like the use of a nuke would have today these weapons had become more of a waste of time and money then an actual weapon.
    Using them just creates more problems then it is worth.

  22. 22
    Jim Frost says:

    Excellent arguments have been made here concerning Hitler's reluctance to use gas. The Allies suspected the Germans were making gas for combat purposes, and in 1943, Roosevelt publicly warned the Germans that should they use gas, they could expect "full and swift retaliation in kind." However, the Allies were actually the ones prepared to use gas. In late 1943, a U.S. Liberty ship carrying a cargo of mustard gas was bombed by a German air raid in Bari, Italy. More than 600 casualties were attributed to the released chemicals, and although the Germans were initially blamed for using gas, a secret Allied investigation determined the true source. These findings were not made public until the 1960s, although Eisenhower acknowledged the incident in his memoir. He claimed the wind swept the gas out to sea and the episode "caused no casualties." Rick Atkinson addresses this event succinctly in his book "The Day of Battle."

  23. 23
    John F. Duncan Jr. says:

    Just a query from an armchair Lt. Jg. (Although during rare times of grandeur I feel like a General). I wonder how the time-line of Hitler's development of nuclear weapons lines up with progress of the war in general. He may have kept the chemical weapons at bay waiting for a working A-bomb. Near the last half of the war, his scientists were probably telling him they would have a working weapon "tomorrow". They probably weren't telling him they were 2 years out.
    As all respondents have pointed out, aside from a personal aversion to chem weapon use, if he had thought at one point that their use would give him total victory in the entire war, he probably would have gone down that path. He was, after all, looking to conquer the entire world.
    Had the Germans been able to complete their A-bomb program in time, you can bet he would have used them. It wasn't just an academic experiment to develop the weapons.

  24. 24
    Alx says:

    Correct spelling and the use of the correct word is important in written communication, as in this discussion.
    It is a common mistake, and may reflect only mispelling, or maybe the confusion with the entirely wrong word, but it appears constantly.
    THAN and THEN have their own separate meanings and uses.
    THEN is a temporal conjunction, like "first this and THEN that"
    THAN is a comparative word, like "better this THAN that."
    They are not the same word, and THEN should not be used as a replacement for THAN.

  25. 25
    Steve Pody says:

    The first use of gas was in WWI on the Eastern Front. It didn't get much notice or notoriety because of the cold which, ineffectively enough, made the gas lie on the ground. Even on the Western Front poison gas would sink and fill all of the hollows – though if you are thinking about clearing out trenches, that is a positive military attribute. But its use at Stalingrad in WWII would have been impractical for the same reason — the bitter cold would keep it from doing much. The physical properties of the three WW I gasses made this weapon impractical as a mass killer for half of the Russian year. As for the West, where the sophisticated British, French, Canadians and Americans collectively faced 25% of the German Army, I truly think that Hitler could expect to get as good or better than he gave out — on the field of battle and in the cities. His personally haunting experience in WWI was undoubtedly a major factor in his holding back from using weaponized gas. Its use in concentration camps was industrial usage – something those killers were proud of for its great efficiency in processing human beings.

  26. 26
    Bernard F. Byrne says:

    My father was a chemist who worked for WestVaCo (now a part of Union Carbide) in South Charleston or St. Albans, West Virginia during the war. (That's why I was born in W. Va. during the war) When pressed about what he did (twenty years later), he said that he had worked on Poison gasses. When asked why, he said "In case the Germans used them." From this exchange I believe that the U.S. was prepared to use them.

  27. 27
    Lettlander says:

    After reading all the well thought out statements and this is about why Hitler did use the chemical weapons let's remember to keep it simple and not over think why he did not use them (chemical weaons). Gas attacks affect both sides of the conflict so whatever one uses on their enemy they must protect their own troops for the same attack one only gains a limited suprise but both sides suffer the affects of the gas. So simply put using gas does not give you an advantage after it is used the first time it is only a hinderance and escalates the use of the weapon.

  28. 28
    Lettlander says:

    After reading my post it should read "why Hitler did not use Chemical Weapons"

  29. 29
    Al Tse says:

    Hitler was tied to his Blitzkrieg tactics which meant that poison gas did not meet his tactical needs. He did not see the need for trench warfare as it was an archaic approach to war. With an air force that was ahead of the rest of his European neighbors, with armor and weapons that were technologically superior. Gas would be considered a crude or backward weapon without the elegance of design. He was highly aware of the PR and how it is used to shape people's opinion and judgment. The use of gas would be acceptable if it was used in a contained environment like the concentration camps, but not in the open field as it would have been viewed as a crude and cruel weapon that maims as well as kills, running counter to what Hitler have in mind with his message that Aryans were the
    "superior race". Thus, Hitler would not take the first step to use poison gas simply because of the PR effect, he would prefer that the Allies would 'blink' first as to justify his counter use of such a weapon. Needless to say, Hitler was on a winning streak, like a gambler, he had almost all the chips except for Britain and Russia. However, with the decaying effectiveness of his airpower, there was no real advantage to having gas weapons as Allied troops were not a threat before D-Day. The storage of gas weapons would have been a logistical nightmare in the field especially once he realized that the Allies owed the skies over Europe. Having gas behind the lines would have presented more of a hazard to his own troops than the armies he was fighting. HItler would have needed huge stockpiles all over Europe if he wanted to use it tactically against the Russians and Allies. As his front line collapsed around him, the cross continent fronts made it impossible for him to set up a killing zone where the combatants would be pooled in a area perfect for the use of gas, such as trench lines.
    As a man who had such great visions for his empire, Hitler underestimated the enormity of the military forces that would gather to demolish his Orwellian dreams.

  30. 30
    Bob Simpson says:

    I agree with much that has been mentioned in these statements. Hitler thought of himself as a military expert. He felt so strongly on this, and contempt for WW1 tactics, that he would hate to see a return to trenches and poison gasses. Not only was he a gas victum himself, but he received notice through Switzerland that any use of gas by the Luftwaffe would result in unrestricted usage by the Allies.
    My mother lived through the Blitz. All of the families were given gas masks waiting for the first gas bomb to fall. Bomb Disposal units checked for it first. Allied secrets of WW2 include the fact that each Theater of war had a stockpile of chlorine and phosgene gasses ready to be used by the Allied forces. In 1943, 2 JU-88s bombed allied ships in a small harbor in Italy sinking several ships. 10-30 casaulties total. Then the medical hospitals were overwhelmed with 2-3000 casualties. They didn't know that one of the ships hit was carrying about 7000 tons of chemical agents for the allies.
    Personally, I also think that german chemical production such as it was, was dedicated to munitions and concentration camp gasses. Germany never went on a full war footing until late 1943.

  31. 31
    paul Blythe says:

    I think that all the comments point that the reason Hitler did not use poison gas on the battlefields or against citiesis and will remain unknown.There was definite occassions when poison gas would have made tacital sense like against Leningrad or at the battle of Kursk yet no use.To say Hitler was afraid that the Soviets would have return gas for gas is to overlook the fact that the Nazis thought of Soviets as subhuman incapable of revenge gassing. To try to guess a personal reason why Hitler was aversve to poison gas is to try to logically deduce what a truly insane man could must less would reason think. So the reason Hitler didnt use poison gas on the battlefield or against cities is and will remain unknown.

  32. 32
    Tankie2 says:

    Once again we find a member of the US armed services arguing from a position of surprising ignorance.
    For, example is the author aware the The "Jdeocide"/SHOA also included 95% of the Gypsies of Continental Europe – this is in contrast to (we're told) 75% of European Jewry? I'm sick and tired of the millions of other WW2 victims being ignored by the current media controllers:not to mention being PC propagandised into viewing WW2 as involving only the Jews and their(I DON'T deny it BTW) suffering. How many people are aware that there were also many other non-jewish prisoners in Sobibor undergoing the same treatment from guards. Not many I'll wager…
    As to the Bogey Man par excellence – kept alive by the same propaganda machine- there was no mention here that he ended WW2 in a hospital recovering from a (British) Phosgene Gas Attack. Having gone through one, few were as aware of its incapacitating qualities as Adolf Hitler. Until Churchill forstalled him, making Hitler attack the Soveit Union even though Britain remained undefeated, Nazi Germany fought with the gloves on. Occupation however was a different story…
    Incidentally both Dr. Heisenberg and Speer convinced Hitler that Atomic weapons were both economically unfeasible and a long way down the road…just as the Jet engine was initially seen as a low priority since victory with existing weaponry seemed certain…

  33. 33
    Abebe says:

    Just for your information: Eventhough not recognized by WW II historians and excluded from WW II study research, my country, Ethiopia was the first victim of WW II and the Italians have used extensively poisen gas on Ethiopian army and peasant patriotes all without any protection.

    • 33.1
      sagesource says:

      That was mustard gas, a vesicant, or blistering agent. It has horrifying effects against unprotected victims (many of whom drown when huge blisters form and burst in their lungs), but is pretty useless against trained troops. My father was in World War I on a machine-gun crew with 3rd Division of the Canadian Army and he thought that gas was no more than a nuisance weapon, even though he went through some very heavy attacks.

  34. 34
    Lee says:

    I apologize if it seems I am being deliberately obtuse, or misinterpreting the intended argument of the blog post and additional comments. What I am trying to argue here, and hopefully convince you of, is that it is credible to view the Jews, Romas, Slavs, and others interned in the ghettos and camps as a non-traditional battlefield onto themselves.
    Traditional weapons considered: the belief that the Jews, and others forced into ghettos and concentration camps, did not resist and did not fight is not entirely accurate.
    There were uprisings and large escapes at most of the camps, as well as incidences of armed resistance in the ghettos and camps- including Treblinka where the prisoners broke into the armory (2 August 1943) and turned the SS weapons back on the guards. Take Sobibor where 11 SS guards where killed, during the rebellion prisoners set fire to the camp (14 October 1943). Even Auschwitz witnessed rebellion when the prisoners working at Crematorium IV found out they were to be killed (7 October 1944).
    They did fight back, they did resist-they viewed themselves at war with the Nazis. A war for survival, of not just themselves, but also their families: their race. Granted, there is no single organizer I can point to, no General moving his tanks and battalions across rivers and ravines- but this absence of traditional soldiers on one side of the war should not classify the camps as non-battlefields and the prisoners as non-combatants.
    The prisoners believed they were at war for survival; the Nazis believed these “sub-humans” were prisoners to serve their present war needs and ultimately die.
    Another weapon, and the one I believe was most utilized in the camps was passive defense.
    To give in, and take a bullet to the head, or whatever means of death would rain down upon the person provoking the guards would have been easier than the torture of a sort of passive defense. The prisoners were enemy combatants that chose to fight with the only weapon they were left with–the most basic weapon known to man: the will to survive. This weapon is invisible and the most difficult to defeat.
    If magically placed upon a traditional battlefield, would the prisoners have suited up to fight? I believe the answer to be most certainly yes. I respect the view that chemicals need to be weaponized to be considered a weapon in the traditional sense, but I sincerely believe they were used as a weapon on a non-traditional battlefield, on non-traditionally thought of soldiers. These people were at war, and when traditional weapons were at their disposal they employed them, but even in the absence of guns and bombs, they did fight back. So, I guess what I am trying to articulate in a far to long post, is the possibility of expanding what we think of as a “soldier” and a “battlefield.”

  35. 35
    Bill Nance says:

    Lee,
    Really great thoughts. Just a consideration. Although I agree with you that there was resistance in the death camps, do you think it plausible that the Germans (read – Hitler) really feared chemical retaliation from those in the camps? That was really the thrust between what people called battlefield and non-battlefield use of chemicals.

  36. 36
    Lee says:

    Bill,
    Well…that is very different then. No I don't believe the Germans feared a counter stroke with chemical weapons. I didn't realize that the perception/ viable threat of a retaliation in kind was required for a battlefield classification, thank you.

  37. 37
    Bill Nance says:

    Well, I actually agree with you that there was a battleground – of sorts – in the camps. It's just that the Germans probably didn't see them as such. The Germans used chemicals in the camps because they didn't fear retaliation from the inmates or the groups representing those inmates. They themselves saw the chemicals as merely 'industrial' use (sickening as that may be). The inmates may have seen themselves in a battle, but the only battle the Nazis saw was a fight against logistics and timetables. So, the battleground in the camps was more individual than the standard interpretation as such.

    Actually, to hit an earlier post, it's the same reason that the Italians used chemicals in Ethiopia. The Ethiopians had no means to retaliate in kind, and – at the time – the nations that could, didn't want to get involved, as pacificism was still rampant, and no one wanted to get involved in a big war over Ethiopia (no offense to Ethiopians, just that was the strategic calculus of the time).

    To sum, the Axis used chemicals against those that could not protect themselves or retaliate in a like manner. For the Italians, that was the Ethiopians. For the Germans, it was the inmates of the camps. Additionally, the camps may have been a battleground for the inmates, but in most estimations, they weren't really.

  38. 38
    Henrik says:

    The topic are Hitler and hes strategical considerations about poison gas.
    People seem to consider Hitlers moral and experiences on his own body.
    On the other hand Churchill in many situations tried to get his generals to use poison gas and they had a big time for getting him to forget it.
    One of the biggest opponents to Churchills strategical considerations was Bomber Harris.
    The public still believe that the bombing of the civilian in Germany was the main reason for hes was not nobeled. The true story was that it was Churchills revenge for not using poison gas on German civilians.

    And if you on the other hand look into Churchills own experiences he was blaimed and did feelt responsible for the slaughing of the english forces in Turkey duing first wold war. That haunted him for the rest of his life and if you ask me, it was the main reason for using strategicaly metods rather than operational methods.

  39. 39
    Macist says:

    The winners write history. Churchill was a war criminal too.

  40. 40
  41. 41
    David Fortsch says:

    Have we considered the effect of filling V-1and V-2's with gas? They were pretty inefective as a "terror" weapon in '41 and after, with just conventional explosives. I am sure Hitler could have delivered FAR greater amounts of chemical weapons to his enemies than they could deliver to him using the V weapons.

    • 41.1
      sagesource says:

      The V-weapons did tie up very considerable amounts of Allied weapons in countering them — shooting down V1s and attacking V1 and V2 launch sites. But the V-weapons could only be aimed in a very approximate way. They could not have been used to establish a useful concentration of gas in an area, and the V2, which hit at faster than the speed of sound, might not have been usable for gas delivery at all (unless you believe that gassing the English subsoil was a worthy endeavor). The V1, for its part, was a noisy beast that would have taken very few people by surprise and so would have been largely ineffective as a delivery means for gas.

      There was nothing the Germans could have done for themselves at that point in the war anyway. The failure to take Britain out virtually guaranteed their eventual loss, and the twin insanities of attacking the USSR and declaring war on the United States meant that the inevitable would come quickly rather than slowly. Gas wouldn't have done them any good.

  42. 42
    Rob says:

    "And the greatest mass murder of all time, the "Judeocide" that most people refer to as the Holocaust." — Umm, 13 million people died in the Holocaust including homosexuals, Romas, Poles, the handicapped, and dissidents. 6 million of the victims were Jews. Next time you speak on a topic, you should really know what you're talking about first.

  43. 43
    martin braun says:

    I am always surprised that so few people have read the most basic data about Hitler and what we now refer to as "weapons of mass destruction": poison gas, nerve agents and toxins, biological disease agents and nuclear weapons.
    The fact is that for all his aggressive faults; Adolf Hitler was a "green dictator"
    He had been exposed to a dose of poison gas during the great war and, though he recovered from it, it's horror and his feeling of total helplessneess induced by the very air he breathed turning traitor and trying to kill him, caused him to become temporarily blind. Upon his recovery and the war's end; hitler had become a vocal opponant of such horrible weapons. He considered them beneath the dignity of the German Volk and never wanted to be one who ordered the agony death of the gas attack on German soldiers. IOf this meant that Germans must deny themselves the use of these weapons to prevent their adoption by Germany's enemies; Gernans had better be tough enough to win their wars without the reliance on such unclean and unworthy tools of war. Similarly, he felt this way about the use of Bio weapons such as Anthrax and other disease weapons which were still in their infancy and were (and still are), difficult to control.
    As for why the Fuhrer refussed permission to create or seriously experiment with nuclear weapons, his eco-friendly side triumphed again. When told that the weapon might set the nitrogen in the Atmosphere on fire and destroy the entire planet, Hitler was flabbergasted and ,(I believe), outraged that anyone, German or English or American, could be so insane as to put the whole planet and all life at risk, just to see if a new weapon could be made!
    Hitler and all German policy then ceased to allow German scientists to study atomic power except at a low level, the Reich post office was in charge of the project by wars end.
    He,(Hitler), was so sure that no sane government among the allies would do similar research that it never seems to have entered his mind.
    Nevertheless, if there is one person who can be said to be responsible for ensuring that Germany and hence, the world, would not resort to use of poison gas , Biological weapons or nuclear arms, that person was Adolf Hitler.
    No other Allied leaders felt this way and the US supplied England with hundreds of thousands of doses of Anthrax to be dropped from bombers over Germany in the event that the Germans did so to England.
    Allied and German soldiers were all able to throw away their heavy Gas masks only because Adolf Hitler had decided before the war that Germany would not obtain a tainted victory by taking advantage of these inhuman and ultimately self defeating weapons.(The Japs used them in limited and experimental ways on the CHinese but not against the Allied troops , as a weapon of war.
    The nips did torture Allied POW's horribly and killed many using the most barbaric and infantile tortures. While Germans who were found to have tortured or systematically abused POW's were given trials and , if found guilty, were hanged. In Japan, however, the japs cut a deal with the USA and the red-scare in America made our new government willing to forget the horrors and cruelties which occurred during the war as a result of general Japanese racist sentiments and racialist propaganda that allowed that since Japanese,(not Germans) were the Master Race, that it was a legitimate way to punish the inferior Allied prisoners who, according to Japanese military practice, ought to have already killed themselves before they surrendered, and were thus already "dead".
    In Japanese "Bushido" or warrior's code, the soldier and all Japanese placed in the position of being near surrender to kill themselves first, preferably killing some enemy soldiers while dying as well.

    • 43.1
      sagesource says:

      The idea that Hitler was "eco-friendly" is a bad joke at best. He had a certain glutinous sentimentality about animals common among fascists, but that was about it. His lack of interest in atomic weaponry was driven not by love of the Earth but by his racism — he thought that nuclear research was "Jewish science." On top of that, Speer sabotaged the German nuclear program by releasing German stocks of uranium to be used in anti-tank ammunition in place of tungsten (much as it is used today). Or perhaps "sabotaged" is a bad word. Speer was merely being realistic. Germany did not have nearly the industrial reserves needed to make an atom bomb — at that point in time, such reserves could only be found in the United States. There would never have been a German atomic bomb under any circumstances whatsoever, and that fact has nothing to do with Hitler's presumed "greenness."

  44. 44
    sagesource says:

    One factor that I don't think has been mentioned is that the Germans had no idea how advanced their best gases were. They assumed that the Allies and Russians had more or less kept up with them and couldn't see what an exchange of nerve gases would do for them in a positive way.

    Churchill's fairly casual attitude towards gas as a weapon was undoubtedly influenced by his own experience with it. Don't forget that he had commanded troops on the ground in the First World War at a time he was out of the Cabinet. It would have appeared to him as just another weapon.

    Finally, there was a well-developed plan to use gas and biological warfare against Japan in the Pacific. This, incidentally, would have been perfectly legal since Japan had used both types of weapon against our ally China. One option if the atomic bombings had not been carried out was to starve out the Japanese home islands, gas fortified areas, and use biological agents to destroy food and industrial crops — they even had viruses picked out to wipe out the Japanese tobacco harvest. The starvation part of the plan was happening anyway, as Allied aircraft destroyed all Japanese coastal shipping and ground communications, disrupting the production of food. At the end of the war, stockpiles of rice and projected harvests were running 14 million tons below even near-starvation levels of rationing. It is odd that blockade is sometimes advocated as a superior alternative to the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, since in all likelihood it would have resulted in millions of Japanese casualties by disease and starvation, and quite possibly the use of chemical and biological agents as well.

  45. 45

    [...] link to a very short article on the subject which was posted online in the WW2 Magazine. Goto: Why No Poison Gas? Happy Trails, Clint. Reply With [...]

  46. 46
    Brandon says:

    So that proves the point right there the axis didn't use chemical weapons because they would have them used on them. That's the most logical answer.

  47. 47
    Brandon says:

    These Germans on this blog kill me. After all these years they still stick up for Hitler. Hitler was a madman and the Germans that tried to kill him that's who you should stick up for. Meanwhile the officers that tried get called traitors. Typical German pride

  48. 48
    RAW says:

    correction: The SS John Harvey was loaded w/ mustard gas bombs and was destroyed at BARI, Italy:"The Second Pearl Harbor"

  49. 49

    [...] Frank A Churchill [...]

  50. 50
    D. Laurence Rogers says:

    Hitler says very clearly in Mein Kampf that he would never use Mustard Gas because of fear of retaliation from the enemy. –D. Laurence Rogers

  51. 51
    D. Snow says:

    I have been helping WWII Veterans file medical claims. The hardest one was exposure to Mustard Gas. The VA has a central file location for vets exposed to Mustard Gas. Trying to work with these people is VERY DIFFICULT.

    I also do WWII research and here is what I know as fact. The US Liberty Ship John Harvey was loaded with canisters of Mustard Gas and being positioned if needed to push/kill the Germans from Italy. Documentation shows that Allies believed the Germans already positioned their Mustard Gas there. The US John Harvey entered the Port of Bari under British control. Only two men on board the US John Harvey knew the gas was there and the British Harbor Master was also aware of the cargo. Not only was the harbor full with ships to be unloaded, other ships were anchored outside the harbor.

    Because of its cargo the US John Harvey was moved up on the list to the number #3 slot to be unloaded. Research shows that a British LT (doctor) is the person who figured out why the US John Henry blew sky high and why so many men died on the ships on either side. He wanted to know why so many military and citizens of the village were ill. After examining soldiers in the hospital he went and spoke to those men who were still alive and reported to the Harbor Master. They told him what the manifest said. He then took this information and his diagram to his Commanding Officer and reported what he had discovered. The next day this doctor was gone, never to be heard from again. Churchill immediately sealed all information about this and convinced Eisenhower to do the same. They did not want the world to know about the Allies willingness to use gas if necessary.

    Recently two Doctors have made public what soldiers were exposed to and how those still alive suffer. One is from the CDC and the other is a US Army doctor with a specialty in Toxicology.

  52. 52

    [...] The only problem with this is that Hitler never used poison gas. From historynet.com [...]

  53. 53

    [...] other reasons have been offered. Poison gas is scary (here). Poison gas is ineffective (here and [...]

  54. 54
    bob says:

    Read the first two answers to the question I was looking for and as usual the winners write the history books. Go on and say I support or believe in someone like Adolf Hitler but read about between both wars and you will see why Germany took on the world again. We are no better and we deserved everything we got. Especially the French and British. We ruined the most advanced country in the world twice for the money. Hitler definitely screwed up declaring war on the United States but there were reasons for that too. Poison gas is inhumane and Hitler knew it.he didn't use it because it was used on him. He tried making peace with the world wide slave owning British empire several times but they are the bloodthirsty scum of the earth. Anyway, Germany may have lost the war but they DID succeed in taking down that blood soaked British empire no one seems to have a problem with. Thank you Adolf Hitler. The world owes you thanks for that

  55. 55
    Alexandro Meza says:

    Actually, the Germans relied on Buna rubber made from synthetic petroleum, since they no longer had the rubber from the African colonies as they did in WW1. Buna Rubber does not defend against gasses of any sort, as they slip through microscopic tearing which occurs naturally. They had almost no gas masks because of this, except for what they could get from Romania, and therefore were putting themselves at risk whenever they used gas.

    I learned through reading extremely old issues of The War Illustrated, it was an issue from 1940.

  56. 56
    D. Laurence Rogers says:

    See "The G-34 Paradox: Inside the Army's Secret Mustard Gas Project at Dow Chemical in World War I" for the story of how gas warfare began.
    (Amazon.com)

  57. 57
    Professor Alexander R Lee says:

    Upon initial response, if the downright decision was to come down to Hitler and nobody else, (and I'm sure the thought of chemical warfare was commonly suggested to Hitler) then I would it could relate in a psychological matter, as insane and inhuman as he was, he was still a human being, I wouldn't pass the thought that maybe he was against chemical warfare due to the effect it had on world war 1 of which he was a messenger during, messengers see a lot, from the frontline to the back, the horrific effects of chemical warfare would be clearly seen, no doubt he would have lost many a friend or acquaintance to the inhumane war tactic. So in world war two, being the head guy, he probably personally sought out there to be no chemical warfare unless deemed mandatory, which never came about

  58. 58
    D. Laurence Rogers says:

    That is if you call a megalomaniac a human being.

    It wasn't just his messenger role that created his fear of gas, it was the fact that he was gassed and needed extensive recovery time.

    Mandatory? Everything would be mandatory in all-out war.

    But the key factor in German non-use of gas was that Hitler feared retaliation by gas and he knew that the enemy (us) had it and would use it if he did.

  59. 59

    [...] was so scarred by the incident that he banned the use of mustard gas on the World War II [...]

  60. 60

    [...] was so scarred by the incident that he banned the use of mustard gason the World War II [...]



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