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(1939-1945) WWII
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17thfabn
Ohio
OH USA
Posts: 77
Joint U.S. / German chemical attack leads to a cancer treatment
Posted on: 11/1/2020 10:33:39 PM

In December 1943 the U.S. Liberty ship SS John Harvey was in the Italian harbor of Bari. It was carrying a secret cargo of mustard gas bombs. These were in theater in case the Germans used chemical weapons the Allies would have the capability to retaliate.

On December 2nd a German air raid caused heavy damage to the port and ships at Bari. Among the ships that were hit and sunk was the SS John Harvey. The bomb damage caused a release of mustard gas.

Large numbers of Allied sailors and other service members were killed and injured in the attack. As would be expected their injuries were wide ranging. Including blast, fragmentation and burns.

There was a large number of those injured whose injuries did not fit what would be expected from such an attack.

EXTRA medical experts were called in. Among them were Lt. Colonel Doctor Stewart Alexander. The pattern of injuries led Dr. Alexander to suspect mustard gas had been used. Further investigation led him to suspect that it had come not from the German bombs but from one of the ships. A diver found fragments from a U.S. M47 bomb. Further investigation showed they had contained mustard gas.

The U.S. had placed the SS John Harvey in the harbor with its' cargo of mustard gas filled M47 bombs. German Luftwaffe bombs set them off.

A strange findings was that many of the injured who suffered from mustard gas exposure had white blood cell counts that went to or near zero.

Doctor Stewart and others hypothesized that perhaps a derivative of mustard gas could be used to treat leukemia and lymphomas. After the war this led to one of the early treatments for cancer.

An American cargo of mustard gas struck by German bombs caused a large number of deaths and injuries. But also led to a cancer treatment.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/bombing-and-breakthrough-180975505/

https://www.history.com/news/wwii-disaster-bari-mustard-gas

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_John_Harvey
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Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.
17thfabn
Ohio
OH USA
Posts: 77
Joint U.S. / German chemical attack leads to a cancer treatment
Posted on: 11/5/2020 11:45:14 AM

I wonder how common it was to have chemical warfare weapons in theater for retaliation use? Did all the major combatants do this?

If it was U.S. policy to have chemical weapons in theater it would seem it would have been better to not have them within range of enemy tactical bombers.


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Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.
Brian Grafton
Victoria
BC Canada
Posts: 3301
Joint U.S. / German chemical attack leads to a cancer treatment
Posted on: 11/8/2020 10:52:17 PM

17th, I’m surprised at the lack of response to your question. This is not a field I have studied, so I’m just drawing from “stuff” I’ve bumped into in my rather erratic readings.

In general, I sense that every major combatant in WW2 had chemical weapons available. Not to have done so would have been a strategic error of great significance. We know that Italy used chemical weapons against Ethiopian troops, and that Japan used similar agents in the Sino-Nipponese conflict.In each case, these were I believe pre-1939. We know Nazi Germany developed toxic chemicals, but to my knowledge only used them within their extermination camps. So it is hard to suggest Germany did not have stores of military chemical weapons. It must be said, however, that chemicals such as Zyklon-B would probably have been only minimally effective in the field. IT was designed to be lethal in an enclosed space; the broader mustard-type toxins were designed to incapacitate in outdoor weather conditions.

Somewhat peevishly, probably – I have no evidence to support this – I cringed at your comment: “chemical warfare weapons in theater for retaliation use?.” Chemical weapons were banned after WW1, and – except for some two or three instances that I’m aware of – the prohibition held. That suggests to me that both major “sides” in the ETO were prepared to maintain the ban, but were prepared to add chemicals to their active arsenals at a moment’s notice.

Your second point is interesting. YOu say: Quote:
If it was U.S. policy to have chemical weapons in theater it would seem it would have been better to not have them within range of enemy tactical bombers.

I agree, though I don’t see why the US should be singled out. If you have a toxic agent, it could at the time be delivered by bomber or by artillery. And if we talk delivery by artillery, even the shortest-legged enemy bomber is going to be within range. I expect that there would have been a plan to get these weapons into hardened storage, but an enemy raid intervened. Liberty ships were not hardened.

Just some ramblings, 17th. I encourage any members to provide better information and to correct my error of fact or reasoning.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G



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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
17thfabn
Ohio
OH USA
Posts: 77
Joint U.S. / German chemical attack leads to a cancer treatment
Posted on: 11/9/2020 11:27:10 AM

Quote:
17th, I’m surprised at the lack of response to your question. This is not a field I have studied, so I’m just drawing from “stuff” I’ve bumped into in my rather erratic readings.




Seems like all the history forums are slowing down.

The Armchair History forum may be dead. It has been offline for about a month. I wish if they were closing it down they would at least give notice. Some off the forum members might have came here or to other sites if invited.
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Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 11184
Joint U.S. / German chemical attack leads to a cancer treatment
Posted on: 11/9/2020 12:20:32 PM

I was interested in this post and I knew that the US and the UK had chemical weapons programmes during WW2. Hedging their bets that the "agreement" not to use such weapons could be violated, I suppose.

I did read that the British had chemical weapons stored at various air bases in the country. But I could not find any information indicating that they transported them closer to the action. As well, I believe that the UK is trying to locate all of the locations of these, "chemical warfare legacy sites" to clean them up.

Quote:
The 65 Ib Light Casing (LC) bomb was deemed to be one of the most potentially successful weapons in the CW arsenal. As of 1 April 1945 the total number of 65 Ib LC bombs manufactured for use in Northwest Europe was 389,937 of which 388,800 were available for use by the RAF and 1,137 were transferred to the USAAF. The study describes the problems of leakage especially with the Mk 1 variant and its associated Mk 1 wooden crate. It is highly likely that leaking weapons were buried on RAF sites and that by the end of the war a considerable quantity of mustard gas agent has potentially leaked into the ground. Mustard gas is likely to remain on stations. American weapons, distribution and potential storage sites have also been discussed.
.

The source of the quote is from an investigation in the UK by Timothy Farmer, with the rather long title of:

An investigation of the Royal Air Force’s World War II chemical weapon legacy sites in the United Kingdom : the development of a spatial hazard assessment tool & a novel screening method for detecting mustard gas breakdown products using dogs

So the weapons for delivery by aircraft did exist in the UK and given the short distance to the battlefield, could we consider those weapons to be "on site"?

The Canadian Army tested chemical weapons during WW2 on its own soldiers at a base on the prairies. (Suffield??)
In 2004, the government apologized to those men and paid $50 million ($24,000 per soldier) to any person who had been used as a guinea pig.

Canadian chemical war preparations were extensive and completed in co-operation with the UK.

I tried to determine whether the Royal Canadian Artillery carried shells with chemicals to the storage dumps near the battle fields but I had no luck at all.

As to the problem with a lack of response to the actual history sections of the forum, it has been going on for a long time.

Michigan Dave has provided admirable service in his "this day in history" approach but I do wonder whether we should take some of the ideas presented there and then tee up a more in depth discussion in the appropriate site. Of course, one of us would have to take the initiative and I am as guilty as anyone of letting these ideas slide away.

Cheers,

George

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17thfabn
Ohio
OH USA
Posts: 77
Joint U.S. / German chemical attack leads to a cancer treatment
Posted on: 11/9/2020 1:17:04 PM

Quote:

Michigan Dave has provided admirable service in his "this day in history" approach but I do wonder whether we should take some of the ideas presented there and then tee up a more in depth discussion in the appropriate site. Of course, one of us would have to take the initiative and I am as guilty as anyone of letting these ideas slide away.

Cheers,
George


I have generally posted the same new thread on 3 the sites I frequent. It is interesting to see how much response I get from them. Sometimes the slower site gets the most responses.
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Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

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