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

By Jeanne Guillemin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

THE UNITED STATES IN WORLD WAR II:
Industrial Scale and Secrecy

The 1940 establishment of the Biology Department at Porton was an organizational innovation that pointed the United Kingdom toward a retaliatory biological weapons capacity of strategic proportions, a goal espoused by no other nation at that time. Producing five million anthrax cattle cakes was the program's first response, to be ready for retaliation should Germany attack with any kind of germ weapon. The prototype anthrax bomb tested at Gruinard and Penclawdd was the next, more serious effort. That seemingly small success opened the door to Frederick Banting's vision of biological weapons on an industrial scale, which the United States then pursued, using its ample resources to advantage. After the war, the US biological weapons program became larger still.

Although the Gruinard anthrax bomb tests spelled progress, serious technical obstacles stood in the way of biological weapons being integrated into Allied war plans. Large volumes of anthrax spores had to be produced to fill bombs; the spores had to be freed from unsporulated bacteria and other debris, with their virulence intact, and be dispersed in the air in the small particle sizes that would allow inhalation deep into the lungs to cause infection. Calculating dose responses for human victims was the toughest problem. Dose response had to be estimated from animal experiments in order to calculate the number of munitions required to mount an effective strategic attack, but the estimates were not necessarily accurate. The design of the agent fill and the explosive charge for various anthrax bomb models also posed persistent problems. Once the early bombs were developed and field tested, it was soon realized that they had to be manufactured in the hundreds

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