Shrieking with Sheer Terror, the Monkeys Showered in Bubonic Plague; Revealed, 1952 Film of Horrific Scottish Germ Warfare Tests

Article excerpt

Byline: by Guy Walters

CRAMMED into small boxes, their heads wedged through tiny holes, the monkeys undoubtedly look terrified. Around them, men in rubber overalls and gas masks arrange a semi-circle of boxes containing guinea pigs on the deck of a sloping pontoon.

After the boxes have been laid out, the men disappear below the deck of a ship, and for a while, nothing happens.

Then, after several minutes, a small bomb placed on a boom a few feet out to sea detonates, and showers the animals in a deadly cloud of bubonic plague.

These scenes, which have just been released, appear in a gruesome film showing secret germ warfare experiments on animals carried out by British government scientists 60 years ago.

The experiments, which ran from May to September 1952 off the coast of Lewis, exposed nearly 3,500 guinea pigs and 83 Rhesus Macaque monkeys to deadly germs such as bubonic plague.

Codenamed Operation Cauldron, the secret experiments were part of our nascent biological warfare programme, which at the time was deemed as important as the development of nuclear weapons. Acting in the belief that the Soviets were producing bacteriological bombs, scientists from Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire were briefed to devise similar weapons that could be used in retaliation against a Russian germ warfare strike.

Although the existence of the 47-minute film has been known about for many years, it is now available for the world to see on the video-sharing website YouTube, thanks to the efforts of Mike Kenner, 58, an Open Government campaigner from Weymouth, Dorset.

'This is the only film like it in the world,' says Mr Kenner, who lobbied the Ministry of Defence to get the film released. 'As far as I know, it's the only film that shows animals being exposed to deadly pathogens.' The MoD was reluctant to release the film - and it is not hard to see why as it is disturbing viewing.

Many of the monkeys and guinea pigs exposed to the germs died within a few days, while any that survived were killed and dissected so their organs could be studied for the effects of the deadly germs.

Above all, it is the sight of the monkeys' almost human faces that make the film so shocking.

'Although we see the tests are being carried out on animals,' says Mr Kenner, 'when one sees the monkeys, one can't help but empathise, and realise these weapons were being designed to be used against people'.

Very few of those who took part in Operation Cauldron are still alive.

One of the men who can testify to the truth of what happened is Geoffrey Scarlett, 82, who was a petty officer on board the ship the Ben Lomond, which housed the animals and scientists.

As the ship's writer, responsible for sending back reports to the Admiralty, Mr Scarlett well understood the aims of the project. Many of the other sailors only had a vague idea of the experiments being carried out on the nearby pontoon.

'We were simply told we were going on a germ warfare trial,' says Mr Scarlett. 'But we were not told where we were going.' However, the men were informed that taking part was not compulsory. …