- The Second World War: A Short History.
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- World War II.
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Many countries sign the treaty with reservations permitting them to respond in kind if attacked with chemical weapons. Despite Italy being a signatory of the Geneva Protocol, the League of Nations does not stop its use of chemical weapons. German chemist Gerhard Schrader completes the synthesis and purification of tabun, a potent nerve poison. His intention is to build a pesticide, not a chemical weapon. The chemical he creates is so potent that army researchers call it taboo, or Tabu in German, from which it takes its name. Nerve agents are stockpiled by the Nazis, but chemical weapons are not used on European battlefields.
The Nazis force prisoners at the Dyhernfurth concentration camp to produce tabun. Laborers are often denied medical treatment when exposed to lethal doses of the poison. British serviceman Ronald Maddison dies of sarin poisoning after being purposefully exposed to the toxin at Porton Down military facility. The United States uses napalm and the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, sparking national and international protest.
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is completed. Combined with the Geneva Protocol, the new accord bans the development, production, and possession of biological weapons. The accord has no mechanism to ensure compliance. Iran initiates its own chemical-weapons program in retaliation. The Chemical Weapons Convention is signed.
Beginning in , the disarmament agreement bans the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. The Syrian military uses sarin gas against civilians during the Syrian Civil War; hundreds are killed. In the early evening of April 22, , a greenish-yellow fog wafted across the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, terrifying and asphyxiating unprepared French troops.
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This opening act of chemical warfare had been in planning for months and was carried out by many people: installing the nearly 6, gas cylinders alone required scores of German hands. Yet Fritz Haber—and he alone—is the person we most identify with these weapons, and rightly so. Although many have invented, developed, or deployed chemical weapons throughout history, Haber used his considerable intelligence to militarize chemistry in World War I; in April at Ypres he witnessed the first fruits of this labor, the first large-scale use of chemical weapons in contemporary warfare.
He remained an unfailing ambassador of such weapons, arguing until his death in that they are a more humane form of weaponry than modern artillery. After World War I the Allies deemed Haber a war criminal for his work, and he lay low briefly in Switzerland until his name was removed from the wanted list.
Haber continued to research and to promote chemical weapons after the war. As Dietrich Stoltzenberg describes in his comprehensive biography of the man, after World War I, Haber helped improve a one-step process for making mustard gas; aided Russia in developing its first chemical-weapons plant by recommending a colleague to Russian emissaries looking for advice; and until helped the German military in its secret chemical-weapon armament and research program, in direct contravention of the peace treaty signed in His discovery of the Haber-Bosch reaction underpins the green revolution: the Nobel Prize—winning strategy for synthesizing ammonia paved the way for inexpensive fertilizers, with enormous benefits to agriculture.
He also helped lay the foundations of 20th-century electrochemistry and physical chemistry. To some he was a great friend. During his travels he wrote Einstein postcards in rhyme—as he did for many of his close friends—that were often humorous, ironic, or both.
Their son, Hermann, discovered his mother in a pool of her own blood, but Haber left the boy soon after for the eastern front to help deploy the chemical weapons he invented. In such ways Haber often prioritized his intellectual progeny over his biological offspring. It is perhaps no surprise that according to historian Ute Deichmann, years later Hermann and his wife declined an invitation to attend a scientific memorial for Haber.
The father-son relationship never recovered. Haber obeyed, but the two simply could not get along. He deeply identified as a German and used his skills and intelligence to benefit his country in war and in peace. His Nobel Prize gave him fame, and he took pride in his status as a war hero. Yet by the end of his life his country saw him as little more than a dispensable Jew, even though Haber had converted to Christianity as a young man.
In Hitler ordered Jews removed from positions in the civil service. After trying but failing to help many of his Jewish colleagues, Haber stepped down from his founding position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. He spent the last year of his life wandering around Europe heartbroken—both literally and figuratively.
He died in Basel, in , of a heart attack. The German soldier with the worrisome tale was captured by Allied forces in Tunisia on May 11, Yet British intelligence officials doubted the truth of the report and did nothing—a blunder that could have had lethal repercussions for the Allies in World War II.
The Nazis also had reconfigured the Dyhernfurth forced-labor camp in present-day Poland to produce thousands of metric tons of tabun. Although many senior military officers encouraged Hitler to deploy their powerful new chemical weapon, he waffled, likely for two reasons. First, as a victim of gas poisoning during World War I, Hitler recoiled from using chemical poisons on troops—though he had no qualms about deploying poisons on concentration-camp prisoners.
Second, German military intelligence was unsure whether the Allies had also discovered nerve agents since some of the foundational research had been done in England.
Any Allied retaliation on German civilians could have been catastrophic. President Franklin D. Yet the Germans overestimated Allied capabilities: the Allies had no nerve poisons at their disposal. The Germans had only acquired the new family of chemical weapons by serendipity. He was aiming to create an insecticide that would allow Germany to increase its food production. But after Schrader nearly poisoned himself and his lab mates with mere drops of his newly synthesized insecticide, the company realized that tabun was better suited to military applications and forwarded the discovery to German military researchers.
Schrader experienced eye irritation, pupils constricted to pinpoints that dimmed the surrounding world, a runny nose, and shortness of breath. Luckily for him he avoided the next stage of nerve-agent poisoning: intense sweating, stomach cramping, muscle twitching, a loss of consciousness, and asphyxiation.
By a team of German military scientists developing tabun had also designed another nerve agent called sarin that was six times more potent than tabun.
World War II
The German Nobel laureate Richard Kuhn was called on to help discern why the new poisons were so deadly. He soon discovered that these nerve agents interfere with a critical enzyme, cholinesterase. In the process Kuhn also discovered a third nerve agent: soman. Dyhernfurth prisoners also were forced to travel alongside train shipments of the nerve agents—effectively used as human canaries to detect leaks of the poison gas.
At the end of the war, after two-and-a-half years of production, the factory at Dyhernfurth had produced almost 12, metric tons of tabun. Some 10, tons were loaded into bombs for the Luftwaffe, and another 2, tons were encased in artillery shells. In February , as the Russians marched toward Berlin, the Nazis quickly abandoned the Dyhernfurth factory. Hundreds of forced laborers were transferred by foot and in open wagons to another concentration camp, Mauthausen. Two-thirds of them died from exposure to freezing temperatures.
A brief history of war and drugs: From Vikings to Nazis
The Gestapo tracked down the survivors at Mauthausen and killed them to get rid of witnesses. Desperate to prevent the Red Army from capturing nerve-agent know-how, the Luftwaffe tried and failed to destroy the Dyhernfurth factory from the air. British and U. They hunted down German scientists familiar with nerve-agent production and used their know-how to create and stockpile these new weapons. Thus began a chemical arms race that for decades would parallel the nuclear arms race.
I believe it to be rather unlikely that any man in his right mind would have volunteered for such an experiment. View all 4 comments. Surprisingly, it seems to be out of print, but I found several old hardcovers [not the one pictured here:] at the Strand. The book is long, but well organized and rather readable, with the exception of several instances where the volume of units and geographical landmarks become too dense to follow.
The Second World War - History - Remembrance - Veterans Affairs Canada
The plentiful maps are generally very good—I found myself referring to the them constantly while reading the text—but, inevitably, they are occasionally not quite detailed enough. Perhaps unexpectedly, Liddell Hart devotes an undue amount of time to the matters he most familiar with, those involving the British Army. As a result, probably too much of the book is devoted to North Africa and Burma. Conversely, the book skimps on much description of the strategic outlook from the Soviet perspective; the chapters dealing with the Soviet offensives in and 45 are notably brief.