By popular demand. A thread on Nazi Germany and Nerve agents (1 of x)
Nerve agents, as a category of weapon, were developed by Nazi Germany. Before the war, the agents Tabun and Sarin were discovered by Gerhard Schrader at IG Farben. Schrader, I am convinced, wasn't actually a bad guy. He worked on pesticides and his work was coopted by higher-ups
Once the war started, this guy, Otto Ambros, a real shitbag, convinced Hitler and Albert Speer to let him build a massive industrial complex to make large quantities of these new secret nerve agents.
Sarin proved to be too difficult to manufacture. Soman was not just difficult but too expensive. But the first military nerve agent, Tabun, could be mass produced
Otto Ambros and other IG Farben experts set up a massive web of deceit, money laundering schemes, cover companies, shell companies, joint ventures, etc. to execute a Tabun manufacturing programme.
By the way, Ambros and others got very rich, personally, off of this whole scheme. They laundered a lot of money and evaded a lot of tax.
Under a dodgy shell company called Anorgana, Ambros built a factory in Dyhernfurth, in Silesia (now in Poland) to mass produce the nerve agent Tabun and fill it into aerial bombs and artillery shells. Here's an aerial photo
The production plant was plagued with delays of many types... financial, operational, technical, logistical. Initial production was quite delayed.
Although the Nazis, in theory, had nerve agents at the beginning of the war, actual mass production did not begin until 1942, and it was not until Sep 1942 that the FIRST shipment of weapons to the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe occurred.
Full production did not occur for some time after than, and there were technical problems with the formulation. The Dyhernfurth factory had to shift to producing "Tabun B" in 1944 to ensure quality control.
The production at Dyhernfurth was, by formula agreed in the original contract from 1939, divided up between Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. 20% went to the Wehrmacht, mostly in the form of 105mm artillery shells. Some 150mm shells too. Pictured, German Tabun shell.
80% of the Tabun was put into 250kg aerial bombs for the Luftwaffe. Generally of this size and shape.
So, where was Sarin in all of this? Sarin's a much deadlier weapon than Tabun. The thing was, they could make Sarin in the lab, but they had HUGE problems trying to make it in any quantity
IG Farben and Otto Ambros set up another company, through cutouts and tax avoidance schemes, called Monturon. They set out to build a Sarin plant in Falkenhagen, East of Berlin.
However, they never got to mass production of Sarin. They were following the wrong path and made a lot of costly mistakes. By the end of the war, the Nazis were still at least a year or two (or longer) away from Sarin mass production.
Soman was a non-starter. It was way too expensive. Also, incidentally, this is why the USA never made it in batches larger than a coffee pot.
By the end of the war, the Nazi regime had made something like 12,600 tons of Tabun and maybe a dozen tons of Sarin. You will find other figures, but they'd be misleading or outright wrong.
It is a common misunderstanding to mix up "agent weight" and "munition weight"
In any case, by 1944, and certainly by 1945, the Germans had a massive stockpile of nerve agent weapons. Nobody else had them.
This leads to various myths, mistruths, and conspiracy theories. I debunk them at length in my book, but I will summarise here.
I will address the half-arsed ideas in turn. Many of these, I should say, are arguments that were made in good faith, but were made by people not privy to my knowledge or the vast trove of archival information I have unearthed in Kew.
1. "The Allies had no idea this was happening". I give this a 80% true/20% false rating. The Allies had captured a Germany chemist in Tunisia. He'd somehow lost his job in the chemical warfare lab in Spandau and lost his conscription deferment.
This German infantry lieutenant... I have 80% identified him, but have not fully confirmed his identity to my satisfaction... gave a HUGE amount of information to the British about the nerve agents, and even revealed the antidotes (atropine and scopolamine)
However, this report, while detailed and mostly very accurate (I read the whole thing - I have a copy now) was filed into oblivion and clearly not taken seriously by the chain of command.
Half-arsed claim 2: "Nerve agents would have defeated Allied gas masks". This turns out to be untrue. At the end of the war, the US Army, with a sense of urgency, sent samples to a lab in the US. 2 US Army chemists tested both Tabun and Sarin against all of the allied masks.
The allied masks worked. As did the various decontamination kits and the admitted primitive detection methods at the time.
Myth 3: "If the Nazis used Nerve Agents at Normandy, they'd have won the war."
This myth falls into the all too common category of "Nazi wishful thinking" theories.
There's a lot of reasons why "Nazis dropping nerve gas on the Normandy beaches" isn't really a thing. First of all, 80% of the nerve agent was in aerial dropped bombs. By June 1944, the bombing capability of the Luftwaffe was mostly gone, particularly over the Normandy beaches
Due to allied air superiority, the Luftwaffe couldn't drop conventional bombs on the allied beaches, let alone chemical bombs.
In theory, the other 20% of the nerve agent arsenal was in artillery form. It could have been used... but.... None of the nerve agent was forward deployed, nor were any artillery units trained in using the Tabun shells, except for literally 3 crews at the proving ground.
None of the Nazi nerve agent arsenal was forward deployed. The bombs and shells were stored at depots in Germany itself. See diagram:
The Nazi transportation network was heavily degraded by allied bombing. It's questionable whether shells and bombs could've been moved from storage to the front, at a time when the network was under stress and there were competing demands.
That, and the allies spent a huge amount of effort convincing Hitler that the invasion would be in Pas de Calais, not Normandy, so even if artillery shells were moved, they'd have gone to the wrong place.
Also, the Allies were in fear of Mustard gas use (remember, it's not actually a gas) at D-Day. Everyone went ashore with PPE. The postwar testing showed that this PPE would have saved a lot of lives.
Rather a lot of the defenders at D-Day did not have adequate chemical PPE. A lot of Germans would have died from a nerve agent attack.
So, I consider this theory debunked.
I should say that these same arguments have some applicability to the Eastern Front as well. The Red Army was not terribly well equipped with PPE. But there were a lot of them. And 80% of the Tabun arsenal was in the form of bombs that few had trained to drop.
Another myth: "Albert Speer tried to kill Hitler with Tabun" - that's just bunkum, but read my book for that one.
Despite the existence of horse protective masks, the ability to protect the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of horses from chemical warfare was dubious.
There's a LOT more on this subject and I literally have thousand of pages of captured Nazi documents and declassified Allied documents on this stuff.
Now. I will entertain your questions.
I could also comment on nerve agents and V-rockets: TLDR; the liquid sloshes around and leaks out
And there's the whole "Zyklon B" thing. This goes along the line of "If Nazis had nerve agents, why didn't they use them in the death camps" - the answer to this is three-fold
1. Zyklon B doesn't leave residual contamination
2. Tabun was WAY MORE expensive
3. The nerve agent projects were kept away from the SS.
I also find that the people making these odd claims about Tabun and Zyklon B are usually holocaust denial cnuts.
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