Were chemical/biological weapons used in combat during World War 2?

If not, why not?

The Geneva Protocol of 1925.

There was also a bit of mutually-assured-destruction idea going on. With the advent of long-range bombing, nobody really wanted to see cities gassed. But it was definitely considered–there were gas-mask drills at least in England.

A 1943 German air raid on American ships in the harbor of Bari, Italy caused the release of mustard gas when one of the freighters was hit. My guess is that the gas was there in case the Axis began using mustard gas. In any case, the only casualties in WWII caused by mustard gas were Americans killed by American gas.

Not really a part of World War Two, but worth considering perhaps was Italy’s 1935 campaign against Abyssinia. The Italians used mustard gas in combat in spite of internatinal law.


Japan made extensive use of chemical and biological weapons in its war against China. Google “Unit 731” for more information.

Wikepedia on Unit 731

Not used, but both sides were developing and manufacturing them in great quantities throughout the war.


Is there any truth to the story that because of the gas attacks he underwent as a soldier the German military in WWI, Hitler refused to allow the use of chemical weapons?

While usually forgotten when talking about chemical warfare, lachrymators (“tear gas”) were used during World War II. Along with flame throwers they were used by Germans in Warsaw against guerrillas (and civilians) during both Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Warsaw Uprising. Use of poison gas was also reported, although I don’t know if it was ever confirmed. There were also experiments and at least small-scale use of lachrymatory smoke grenades, including against armored vehicles (the idea being that it would get inside through vents and cause crew to abandon vehicle). Effects were unsatisfactory.

Most hilarious example of that idea was using small quantity of lachrymatory agent in Panzerbüchse (anti-tank rifle) bullets. Because of small quantities and all the usual smoke and other effects accompanying penetrating armor of vehicle by anti-tank bullet Allies vehicle crew members never realized that they were supposed to be incapacitated by these. It was only at the end of war, when Allies captured German munition factory when they discovered that there was something inside.

Part of the reason why I asked was that my dad told me that when he was a child in the 1940s in Northern Ireland that he used to play with a baby’s gas mask that was issued in 1939 to his family along with adult gas masks.

I don’t know if this is true or not but apparently if the Germans had gained a foothold on the UK mainland; plans were afoot to gas the invading troops.

What I do know is that pipelines were fed into the ocean and again in the event of invasion petrol would be pumped through and set alight

Given that Germany is said to have stockpiled enough sarin gas to wipe out a large city, I’d say that’s probably true. Hitler spent something like a month recuperating from the gas attack, and it was while he was in the hospital that Germany surrendered, so certainly poison gas used in warfare would have been seen as something traumatic to him. No doubt he also saw other victims of poison gas attacks who were in worse shape than him. WWI was pretty horrific, not only in terms of how many people died (60K in one battle, IIRC), but also in how people were wounded and killed. There was a great anti-war effort afterwards (which is one of the reasons why Hitler was able to run roughshod over Europe for so long before anyone decided to do something about it), and it produced numerous anti-war books, one of which was illustrated with graphic photographs and called *War Against War*

Despite those horrific photos in Tuckerfans link mankind still goes to war.

FFS, will we ever learn?

Professor Barton J. Bernstein of Stanford University gives a comprehensive account of the reasons such tactics were not used. It’s worth noting that an awful lot of people wanted to deploy chemical weapons and that both the US and Britain were prepared for the eventuality:

That said, there seems to be a grey area concerning the use of white phosphorus by US troops during the invasion of Normandy in 1944:

Wikipedia opines as follows on the subject of white phosphorus:

Since the MOD, via Bernstein, was unsure of the legality of using white phosphorus and since Wikipedia also implies equivocation on the matter I would appreciate an informed view from a chemical weapons expert.

Or, failing that, from anyone else.

The Nazis used poison gas to kill several million people. I’d say that counts.

You missed that “in combat” part of OP.

I’ve read that in several reputable sources, too. If the British really had their backs to the wall during Operation Sea Lion, I’m sure Churchill would have authorized it. I believe the Japanese were also planning to use various poison gases if the Allies invaded the Japanese home islands.

German infantry routinely trained for gas attacks; you can often see the gas-mask cannisters on the belts of Nazi troops in WW2 photos. On the other hand, one of Bill Mauldin’s cartoons showed his two world-weary GIs walking down a muddy road littered with discarded equipment. Willie says idly, “I see Third Platoon just got issued gas masks.” Most American troops regarded them as needless weight.

Wasn’t the Panzerbüchse pretty ineffective under the best of circumstances? I seem to recall it being nicknamed “Heeresanklopfgeraet” (“Army doorknocking device”) by the unfortunates who were issued one.

The Japanese used it, both on the Chinese Military & on civilians.
Both Chem & Bio.

The Japanese Balloon Bombs were originally intended to carry bioweapons, as I recall.

I have no cite, just something I remember from a documentary. A German officer recounted that the advance and retreat happened too quickly for the German’s to make sufficient quantities of the weapons and put them into use. It always seemed strange that they didn’t use them on the Russian cities they intended to besiege.

Another uncited memory, Churchill asked for sufficient mustard gas to be made available in the case that Germany used something similar on a British city, he was told that it would be extremely difficult to make that much and deliver it successfully during war time.