Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism

By Jeanne Guillemin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

THE UNITED KINGDOM AND BIOLOGICAL WARFARE:
The Remorseless Advance of Military Science

In 1940, the British government embarked on a biological warfare program that began serendipitously and yet established an enduring organizational model of laboratory research and field tests of munitions. The UK initiative pioneered the way for the American effort, which then greatly surpassed it in size but not in ingenuity. The British program presents an example of “inadvertent escalation” under circumstances of war, with high officials initially unaware that research on a new type of weapon had been authorized.1 British dread of Germany's destructive power motivated the decision to prepare retaliatory biological warfare capacity. Earlier suspicion of Germany's capacity and intent had already aroused British concerns about the threat of biological weapons.


SPIES AND SABOTAGE

German attempts to infect the Allies' pack animals with glanders and anthrax in World War I were minor exploits compared to the implications of the 1934 revelations of British journalist Henry Wickham Steed. According to secret documents Steed said he had received, German agents had investigated the potential impact of aerial attacks of chemical and biological weapons on London and Paris.2

The German use of airplanes and airships (especially the zeppelin) in World War I had caused dread among the British population. These German bombings killed 1,400 British civilians, a small number compared to British

-40-

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