Why didn't Germany deploy poison gas in WW2?

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stevieji

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The title speaks for itself, really. Britain issued gasmasks to every single one of its subjects, in what appears to have been a sincere expectation of gas attacks by the Luftwaffe on targets in the UK. You could argue that the war was too mobile for the use of gas on the battlefield, but what reason was there for not deploying it on static targets like cities? Is there any written policy statement from the time? Was a change of policy ever considered, especially in the Goebbels 'Totaler Krieg' period? I'm really asking if anyone really knows what the official policy was, and how it was arrived at, but I suppose speculation may be appropriate.
 

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Afaik - I have to search for sources - it was mainly because Hitler was injured in WW1 by poison gas and thus simply forbade its use despite some of his generals wanting to deploy it. Some did, in small amounts, regardless.

/edit: No source for my speculation above, but I found this one:

1614152668562.png


/edit2: Here's the story... The source however, has fallen into some discredit, you could say...
 
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pithorr

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Hmm, it is interesting issue indeed. While possible retaliation was supposedly main factor, the question is why the Germans could still be afarid of it when their cities were changing into piles of smoking ruins and people were dying in dozens of thousands every night, due to Bomber Harris efforts...
Also, why didn't they decide to use it against those Untermenschen in the east?
And vice versa BTW... With troops at Oder line Stalin rather could sleep safe of any retaliation from Germany...
 

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Military wasn't really willing to commit mass civilian attrocities and the political leadership (the moustache guy) wasn't keen on this idea at all. The idea that UK could retaliate was also what stopped them before (those who were willing to use it) and prior to 1944 it was important, after that it was pointless and they would risk facing physical extermination as a nation.

Germany, however, consider using it on Eastern Front. There were limited uses in local operations, like making partisans die in caves, but that was all. UK retaliation and some other issues did constrain them, as well as moustache guy not liking it that much.

And Stalin didn't need to. If he did, the mass atrocities against population would ruin his chance to seize control over much of Europe.

Japan, however, used it against China and didn't really care - but cared enough to not use it against UK, US and France. It could, however, make them a target for chemical weapons attack were US to indeed invade the main islands.

UK had Churchil wanting to use poison gas on Germany and effectively turn it into the mega-Auschwitz but military commanders didn't quite agree with the idea, he had to settle with bombing German cities into oblivion.
 

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I find this most recent video from the WW2 channel on Youtube to be of value here. This video is mostly about Japanese use of chemical/biological weapons but also includes relevant information on the various producers of these weapons and why they were largely not used against each other.

 

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One reason was the number of senior commanders and officials who had direct experience of gas use in WW1 and the widespread revulsion toward using it again.
Another was the uncertainty of use - winds could blow it in unintended directions - and the necessity of delivering very large quantities in order to have effect.
But the main reason was that everyone knew that everyone had gas stocks and was prepared to use them on a mass scale. The only cases where gas was used were where the victims could not respond in kind.
 

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It is not war winner, so they didn't use. But if it can win war for them, then certainly they will use.
 
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Easy-Kill

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Military wasn't really willing to commit mass civilian attrocities and the political leadership (the moustache guy) wasn't keen on this idea at all.

...

UK had Churchil wanting to use poison gas on Germany and effectively turn it into the mega-Auschwitz but military commanders didn't quite agree with the idea, he had to settle with bombing German cities into oblivion.
So Hitler and the Army didn't want to enact the mass extermination of civilians populations ... But Churchill did? Is this some strange alternate history?

I daresay that the vast majority of the German military was quite content with exterminating the civilian population, whether by gas or other means. My evidence for this is that they did exactly that ... until they were stopped by the same Churchill whose name you besmear here.

The main problem for Germany was the delivery of chemical weapons. I suspect that they didn't do use it because it isn't a hugely effective weapon. You have to be able to deliver it in sufficient quantities and over a sufficient area. It worked well on the Western front of WW1 due to the relatively static nature.
 
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diegosimeone

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Afaik - I have to search for sources - it was mainly because Hitler was injured in WW1 by poison gas and thus simply forbade its use despite some of his generals wanting to deploy it. Some did, in small amounts, regardless.
One reason was the number of senior commanders and officials who had direct experience of gas use in WW1 and the widespread revulsion toward using it again.

Is this a genuine reason though or just an urban legend?

I would assume that industrial capacity and priorities of making tanks, bullets and bombs made this a lower priority.
 

pithorr

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So Hitler and the Army didn't want to enact the mass extermination of civilians populations ... But Churchill did? Is this some strange alternate history?

I daresay that the vast majority of the German military was quite content with exterminating the civilian population, whether by gas or other means. My evidence for this is that they did exactly that ... until they were stopped by the same Churchill whose name you besmear here.

The main problem for Germany was the delivery of chemical weapons. I suspect that they didn't do use it because it isn't a hugely effective weapon. You have to be able to deliver it in sufficient quantities and over a sufficient area. It worked well on the Western front of WW1 due to the relatively static nature.
While I absolutely agree with you about ridiculousness of the statement about Churchill, actually the Germans had the best weapon for the delivery - V2. TBH those missiles were rather useless apart of it...
 
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elektrizikekswerk

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Is this a genuine reason though or just an urban legend?

I would assume that industrial capacity and priorities of making tanks, bullets and bombs made this a lower priority.
I cannot say more about this with certainty than that which is said in the sources I provided. Personally I'd assume that it is at least part of the reason, as I find it reasonable. The other being the fear of retalation of the other belligerents.
Especially as, according to my first source, Germany (and other nations) DID produce CB agents to be used for combat. And having something only in low quantities (80k tons according to the text), surely isn't something that prevented Germany from deploying a weapon.
And frankly, I have no idea if 80k tons actually is "low quantities"...
 
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fr-rein

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So Hitler and the Army didn't want to enact the mass extermination of civilians populations ... But Churchill did? Is this some strange alternate history?

I can play such game too and tell that UK started bombing first and did worst aerial bombing atrocities, disregarding the context.

I don't argue that however since the context of these events was rather specific and it's insensitive and dishonest to generalize it. And we do talk about it in context of gas weapons, where UK had intentions to resort to using it if needed and if battle would take place in Britain.

I daresay that the vast majority of the German military was quite content with exterminating the civilian population, whether by gas or other means. My evidence for this is that they did exactly that ...

The disregard for the civilian casualties and indifference (or in some cases direct and indirect participation) of military to the extermination of population and POWs wasn't the same as them wanting to exterminate civilian population, at least during the war. I am not going to talk about wehrmacht's guilt in the actions of Germany, but they clearly weren't ones committing the worst crimes.

Another thing is that in case of UK it was Luftwaffe carrying out the attacks and it switching to indiscriminate terror wasn't a well-thought plan to exterminate all civilians. Indiscriminate bombing started as terror, to spread fear and demoralization first and foremost - and it was largely a political decision, decision that was reliant on Hitler who wouldn't like to approve gas weapons and where they weren't necessary.

Retroactively it makes sense that they could consider using them, but from their decision-making logic in 1940-1941 they had little need to consider it.

Later they didn't commit needed air power to perform such action against UK, Allies in UK had enough air power to fight back as war went on and the missiles Germans had would be unlikely to really cause enough damage with poison gas. Instead they focused on other things and in case of UK switched to attacks on the convoys and supply lines.

until they were stopped by the same Churchill whose name you besmear here.

I exaggerated, but Churchill was the most willing leader to use poison gas in WWII on the battlefields. He advocated for it's usage before WWII. And while Churchill never had genocidal intentions to seriously speak of, the usage of poison gas would likely to get out of hand and end no better or much worse than the aerial bombings.

Now, this said, all sides deployed the chemical weapons and in a bunch of major operations and periods kept stockpiles available to be deployed to battle on a short notice. Everyone was ready to use these weapons - perhaps with exception of USSR which lacked capacity for defense against it. However, in most cases it was military that didn't suggest using it... and in Germany, in cases like Leningrad and such, there was no political will.

Churchill had political will to use it and unlike Hitler he had no personal experience to that. But he wasn't bent on doing it for sake of terror, he would do it to defend his homeland and bring the end to the war he didn't start, unlike Hitler and even Stalin. That's the context and I don't think it besmears him.

The main problem for Germany was the delivery of chemical weapons. I suspect that they didn't do use it because it isn't a hugely effective weapon. You have to be able to deliver it in sufficient quantities and over a sufficient area. It worked well on the Western front of WW1 due to the relatively static nature.

I don't think that it was the only case. There were plenty of weapons for it and there was enough aircraft capacity... and, as always, a lot could be delivered by artillery for more static objects. Probably the biggest issue is that retaliation would mean that advantages from using it would be similarly balanced.

Eastern Front was the prime place to use it, perhaps even with UK retaliation on the mainland Germany it could be worth it in 1941. But that may depend on the exact war plans and, as we know, Germany didn't have political will for that.

But again, chemical weapons were rather traumatizing thing for public. Germany lacked political will and many WWI officers would probably detest being ones to deploy poison gases first as it would make any side much more amoral. In first stages of war, in 1941 too it was very important. We must keep in mind that Nazi Germany wasn't perceived as "the bad guy" yet in many neutral places including US, a lot because of general public not knowing the extent of Nazi policies. If you look in 1941-1944, Nazis did a lot to cast shadow on Soviets for real and made-up reasons to win the public opinion, tried to undermine the Allied governements and etc which required active counter to that from their side. In that context, using poison gas would be severily harming to the public relations with no clear military advantages from it (unlike, say, atomic weapons today).

Is this a genuine reason though or just an urban legend?

I would assume that industrial capacity and priorities of making tanks, bullets and bombs made this a lower priority.

Poison gases were manufactured during the war. In fact, both Allies and Axis delivered them near the frontlines on number of occasions in order to be ready to use them. Nor chemical factories that made them would be really taking away from tanks or bullets.
 

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While I absolutely agree with you about ridiculousness of the statement about Churchill, actually the Germans had the best weapon for the delivery - V2. TBH those missiles were rather useless apart of it...
I think that the main challenge here is that the V2 doesn't really have a large payload, isn't very accurate and still doesn't have a delivery mechanism other than letting out a small amount of gas in a field? I genuinely don't know why Germany didn't use poison gas, but as a weapon, it just isn't very effective.
 

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And I give you herein the number of victims of War Crimes by the 'moustache guy' and his Military.

You lump together atrocities of administrative brunch, SS and other special non-military branches and some more.

My point is: military, despite turning blind eye and often having questionable relationship with atrocities which was never pure, wasn't one doing absolute majority of this. It mainly solved problems of, well, military kind and actual fighting enemy military. Even management in occupied territories wasn't fully theirs, although military did collaborate with Nazi government enough to enable atrocities (not mentioning the fact that war itself enabled it). I ain't gonna argue Wehrmacht's role further as I don't see them as innocent - they were aware of atrocities on occupied territories and allowed it to happen, as well as SS and SD and others manage the terror on the occupied territories, they enabled them and cooperated at times.

So military command didn't have the motivation to do it against UK as terror wouldn't be effective to their goals. In fact, there were quite conflict views on Blitz and indiscriminate bombing happened a lot due to political will - and political leadership didn't have political will to use poison gas. Military was more willing to use it on Eastern Front, but it didn't for different reasons.

Unless you deny it and tell that everyone was a Hitler with same intentions, I hope that it makes my point clear - the opinions of people in command about using poison gas weren't that willing to use it in battlefield for different reasons, not necessary noble or humane - military in particular was practical in their attitude and didn't shy away from using it in a limited scope against partisans in cave systems.
 
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pithorr

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I think that the main challenge here is that the V2 doesn't really have a large payload, isn't very accurate and still doesn't have a delivery mechanism other than letting out a small amount of gas in a field? I genuinely don't know why Germany didn't use poison gas, but as a weapon, it just isn't very effective.
1T warhead is not enough?
Chemical strategic attack doesn't need so much accuracy. Just to cover area using some missiles.
 

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@fr-rein and @Easy-Kill :
Gentlemen, this conversation has wandered over the forum guidelines. Please, for your own sake, stop talking about civilian deaths, atrocities and the 'G' word.
 
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Andre Bolkonsky

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There is a very simple answer to this question.

Adolph Hitler was blinded by gas and absolutely hated it and refused to use it on human beings.

Jews, who are not truly human according to the esoteric beliefs of The Party*, were fair game and gassed like rats using a variety of delivery techniques.

(* Before someone misunderstands, my position on the Shoah and Judaism is well established on this forum)
 
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Easy-Kill

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@fr-rein and @Easy-Kill :
Gentlemen, this conversation has wandered over the forum guidelines. Please, for your own sake, stop talking about civilian deaths, atrocities and the 'G' word.
Thanks for the reminder!
 

Andre Bolkonsky

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They seem pretty willing to commit mass civillian attrocities to me?


"We are obligated to depopulate as part of our mission of preserving the German population. We shall have to develop a technique of depopulation. If you ask me what I mean by depopulation, I mean the removal of entire racial units. And that is what I intend to carry out… Nature is cruel, therefore we, too, may be cruel…. I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin!" - Adolph Hitler
 

Herbert West

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1T warhead is not enough?
Chemical strategic attack doesn't need so much accuracy. Just to cover area using some missiles

The myth of combat effectiveness of poison gasses vastly outstrips their actual bettlefield performance. Poison gasses, nerve agents, etc are unpredictable, easily dispersed, and just not a great weapon of war, especially if your enemy has preventative measures.

So, let's say you have that 1T warhead. On paper, one ton of sarin can kill a hell of a lot of people.

But you need to disperse that sarin (more likely tabun) over an area, or you are just hypersaturating a living block. Then you have to factor in wind dispersal, occlusion in buildings, etc,etc, and in the end, you have not killed significantly more people than just a cheaper and more reliable warhead.

Factor in as well that rockets explode. A big fireball from everything flammable in a rocket (and in the target), and your nerve agent probably burns into much less harmfull compounds.
 
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