Monday, June 7, 2010
DISCAOVER OF NERVE GAS IN GERMANY AND WORLD WAR II
This first class of nerve agents, the so-called "G-Series", was accidentally discovered in Germany on December 23, 1936 by a research team headed by Dr. Gerhard Schrader. Since 1934, Schrader had been in charge of a laboratory in Leverkusen to develop new types of insecticides for IG Farben. While working toward his goal of improved insecticide, Schrader experimented with numerous fluorine-containing compounds, eventually leading to the preparation of tabun.
In experiments, tabun was extremely potent against insects: as little as 5 ppm of tabun killed all the leaf lice he used in his initial experiment. In January 1937, Schrader observed the effects of nerve agents on human beings first-hand when a drop of tabun spilled onto a lab bench. Within minutes he and his laboratory assistant began to experience miosis (contraction of the pupils of the eyes), dizziness, and severe shortness of breath. It took them three weeks to recover fully.
In 1935 the Nazis leadership had passed a decree that required all inventions of possible military significance to be reported to the Ministry of War, so in May of 1937 Schrader sent a sample of tabun to the chemical warfare (CW) section of the Army Weapons Office in Berlin-Spandau. Dr. Schrader was summoned to the Wehrmacht chemical lab in Berlin to give a demonstration, after which Schrader's patent application and all related research was classified. Colonel Rüdiger, head of the CW section, ordered the construction of new laboratories for the further investigation of tabun and other organophosphate compounds, and Schrader soon moved to a new laboratory at Wuppertal-Elberfeld in the Ruhr valley to continue his research in secret throughout World War II.
In 1939, a pilot plant for tabun production was set up at Munster-Lager , on Luneberg heath near the German Army proving grounds at Raubkammer . In January 1940, construction began on a secret plant, code named "Hochwerk ", for the production of tabun at Dyernfurth-am-Oder (now Brzeg Dolny in Poland), on the Oder River 40 km (24.9 miles) from Breslau (now Wroclaw) in Silesia.
3,000 German nationals were employed at Hochwerk, all equipped with respirators and clothing constructed of a poly-layered rubber/cloth/rubber sandwich that was destroyed after the tenth wearing. Despite all precautions, there were over 300 accidents before production even began, and at least 10 workers were killed during the 2.5 years of operation.
In mid-1939, sarin was invented, and the formula for the agent was passed to the Chemical Warfare section of the German Army Weapons Office , which ordered that it be brought into mass production for wartime use.
Estimates for total sarin production by Nazi Germany range from 500 kg to 10 tons.
During that time, German intelligence believed that the Allies also knew of these compounds, assuming that because these compounds were not discussed in the Allies' scientific journals information about them was being suppressed. Though sarin, tabun and soman were incorporated into artillery shells, Germany ultimately decided not to use nerve agents against Allied targets, fearing a potentially devastating Allied retaliatory nerve agent deployment (in actuality, the Allies didn't learn about these agents until shells filled with them were captured near the end of the war.)
The follwing extract from Joseph Borkin 's book The Crime and Punishment of IG Farben, makes an interesting read on why Naazi's changed their mind about using nerve gas as chemical warfare, and a potential disaster was averted.
Speer, who was strongly opposed to the introduction of tabun, flew Otto Ambros , I.G.'s authority on poison gas as well as synthetic rubber, to the meeting. Hitler asked Ambros, "What is the other side doing about poison gas?" Ambros explained that the enemy, because of its greater access to ethylene, probably had a greater capacity to produce mustard gas than Germany did. Hitler interrupted to explain that he was not referring to traditional poison gases: "I understand that the countries with petroleum are in a position to make more [mustard gas], but Germany has a special gas, tabun. In this we have a monopoly in Germany." He specifically wanted to know whether the enemy had access to such a gas and what it was doing in this area. To Hitler's disappointment Ambros replied, "I have justified reasons to assume that tabun, too, is known abroad. I know that tabun was publicized as early as 1902, that Sarin was patented, and that these substances appeared in patents. (...) Ambros was informing Hitler of an extraordinary fact about one of Germany's most secret weapons. The essential nature of tabun and sarin had already been disclosed in the technical journals as far back as 1902, and I.G. had patented both products in 1937 and 1938. Ambros then warned Hitler that if Germany used tabun, it must face the possibility that the Allies could produce this gas in much larger quantities. Upon receiving this discouraging report, Hitler abruptly left the meeting. The nerve gases would not be used, for the time being at least, although they would continue to be produced and tested.