Considered inappropriate at the time, the following piece represents a chapter that was deleted in total, from the publication ‘U-Boat Alley’, by Roy Stokes, 2004. It has remained largely unchanged since then.
The book is an account of the U-boat campaign in Irish waters, and part in British. This campaign, reached a stage, were Germany gambled everything in 1917, in order to overcome the British, before America could make a difference to the outcome. Hence, the title, ‘All Measures Neccessary’.
The chapter attempts to piece together the various apsects of an attempt by Germany to wage a campaign of sabotage against, industry and man during WW1. The methods used, involved the use of agents concealing explosives with timers; and the not so usual and highly secret one, involving the infection of man and beast with desease cultures. It also extends to demonstrate how the use of such terribble weapons led to the unleashing of the ‘Genie from the Bottle’.
In some respects, the research and the sentiments expressed in this chapter, are technically out of date now. In others, they are even more relevant, as we discover almost daily, the unbelieveably insane chemical and biological weapons, some rulers will deploy against humans.
For my own part, depite all the investigations and scientific progress that has been reported since the book was published, I am still left wondering, what it was that caused unparalleled desease and death around the world, and earned for itself the simple description, ‘the flu’, in 1918?
The “Spanish” influenza pandemic of 1918–1919,
which caused ≈50 million deaths worldwide, remains an
ominous warning to public health. Many questions about its
origins, its unusual epidemiologic features, and the basis of
its pathogenicity remain unanswered. The public health
implications of the pandemic therefore remain in doubt,
even as we now grapple with the feared emergence of a
pandemic caused by H5N1 or other virus. However, new
information about the 1918 virus is emerging, for example,
sequencing of the entire genome from archival autopsy tissues.
But, the viral genome alone is unlikely to provide
answers to some critical questions. Understanding the
1918 pandemic and its implications for future pandemics
requires careful experimentation and in-depth historical
“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865.
(The above was written in 2006 by one of the world leading pioneers into the causes of the Flu Pandemic of 1918)
End of Author’s Note
[Apart from corrections to spelling and grammar, this piece will not be updated.]
“ALL MEASURES NECCESSARY”
In order to destroy their enemy, both sides diverted vast amounts of the world’s human and financial resources into the manufacture of new weapons.
In their attempts to force the other to surrender, millions died. Every single day for four years, servicemen and civilians died from bombs, bullets, disease or the effects of chemical poisoning.
Horrific as the situation had already become, was there an even more sinister weapon employed by minds of unparalleled evil?
The importance of a food supply to a country’s population, and its troops at the battlefront during war has always been a strategic consideration for militarists. Preventing the acquisition and distribution of these supplies was always amongst their goals. Contaminating and enemy’s food and water, was not an altogether new concept during WW1.
It is not generally known today, that WW1 was the catalyst for launching the first global attack with germs against animals and man.
The war was in its second year, when Germany realised it could not bring the Allies to their knees with conventional weapons and embarked on a secret campaign of germ warfare.
The sciences of bacteriology and virology have figured prominently in the search for a cause of the disease that was called ‘flu’ in 1918. It was a disease that plagued the earth, and killed millions of people.
As a layman, I have only dared to attempt a skeletal understanding of the relevant sciences, in so far as they concern this story. Even though some experts may have already identified the 1918 ‘flu’ virus, but not revealed their findings, they or we may never be able to say from where it came.
Amongst more notable works by others now, my deleted chapter may also help to provide some kind of clue as to the cause of this ‘flu’.
There will be a temptation to label it with the modern slang, ‘faction’, suggesting a compilation of fact and fiction. It has many facts, statements by well respected contemporaries, and for my part, it includes some clearly stated conjecture, but it does not contain fiction.
A Strange Case of the Flu.
When details of the horrifying events began to unfold, the reported descriptions of this disease and its symptoms, seemed in no way to resemble what we know as ‘flu’ today. But they did remind me of a time, when I was a very young boy.
It was in the 1950’s, I was a young boy when my father took me on this unusual outing to the country. We caught the bus in Dublin city, and after what seemed a long journey, we arrived in a country village called Blanchardstown.
I remember it was a lovely sunny day when we walked through the entrance of a large hospital, where my father said his brother was sick. After speaking to some nuns, we were admitted to his room.
Tom seemed glad to see us but also tired. While my father was speaking with his brother, he would occasionally reach for a stainless steel mug on his bedside locker. It had a hinged top on it that was activated open, by pressing with your thumb on a protruding edge
I vividly remember the large clots of blood that he spat into the mug. I had no idea what this meant, except that blood should not come from inside you.
We all shook hands, hugged and then parted.
Tom of course had TB, a disease rampant at the time, and he died of it.
The spectre of extermination by plague or pestilence has hung over mankind since time began. Amongst the many references to such horrible threats that appear in the Bible, the following is from the Book of Exodus 9:8. This example was supposedly only one of several equally abhorrent ‘attacks’ carried out by The Lord on Pharaoh’s Egypt, in order to force him to release the Israelites into the care of Moses and the Promised Land. The quote might prompt the uncomfortable questions concerning the first occasion on which lethal germs were used in anger against one’s enemy, and originating the well-known sentiment – all measures necessary, in ‘love and war’?
‘And the Lord said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes (or soot) of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust over all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.’
(The reference to soot, boils and their blackness, being loosely interpreted as the affects which result in man and beast, having being infected with anthrax. Or, as it has been suggested in more recent times – from an attack with glanders.
The posters boldly proclaimed that ‘FOODWOULDWINTHEWAR’. So it should not come as a surprise, that starvation and an ability to contaminate food became weapons, with which it was hoped a victory could be achieved. Regrettably, millions of ordinary citizens have been killed by the use of these barbaric weapons. In respect of this type of warfare, further researches will continue to reveal a dark and chilling side to man’s nature.
This chapter will demonstrate the critical role that food played at the turning point of the war in 1917, and will show that a campaign of unparalleled attacks took place against the basic necessities of life. The campaign (on both sides in respect of the deprivation of food) in all its forms, was a deliberate and reckless act, and may have contributed to the unparalleled global catastrophe that struck in 1918. The questions that will arise do not seem to have troubled anyone since 1937, and only once before in 1925. They are questions, which even now, despite being put to the relevant and more enlightened agencies, continue to produce no satisfactory answers.
Even after three long years of killing, there was no apparent or unusual increase of foreboding amongst the population. That is, over and above what was being expressed in the daily newspaper reports relating to progress or otherwise on the battlefields. (We have only to look at today’s global conflicts to see how quickly a fickle public can become disinterested in war news.) Few if any noticed the growing number of reported incidences of rubella, diphtheria, typhoid, and measles. Even the higher than usual rates of infanticide did not ring any alarm bells. The number of infections would rise suddenly in any given area, always catching a sizeable number of the population unawares. The deprivation and unsanitary conditions experienced by so many during the war, was a major factor in the sudden eruption and rapid spread of these diseases.
The world was experiencing a war like no other before, and for most, the conditions were harsh. Despair, induced by no visible end to the anguish, hung like a lingering mist, and refused to let the rays of hope shine through. So when another outbreak of ‘flu’ occurred in the Spring of 1918, there was no particular alarm or upset.
The only peculiarities that were first noticed, was the number of infections that were reported to have ‘risen rapidly’. A clear indication of the scale and the sudden increase in the number of cases that occurred throughout the British Isles, and elsewhere, was clearly chronicled in Palmer’s Index to The Times.
For the first quarter of 1918 and before, there was no classification at all for relevant articles under the heading, ‘Influenza’. By June, this new classification had appeared but references to it only occupied a few lines. This was followed by a modest increase during the following quarter. In the final quarter’s publication, references under the classification, ‘Influenza’, occupied five double-column pages. Quite extraordinarily, the references to articles under the classification, ‘inquests’, actually decreased for the same period.
Communications at the time bore no resemblance to today’s, and it was inevitable that in the early months of the pandemic, the situation would only be perceived in the isolation of one’s own community, town or country. So it is not surprising, that early on, nothing more sinister or alarming was suspected.
The earlier Spring outbreak of ‘influenza’, although mild by comparison to what was to follow, had already proved fatal for millions. The Summer of 1918 arrived, and again the number of infections began to proliferate. By October, it was rampant all over the earth, and the incidences were by then being described a lot more alarmingly. Plague, Black Death, Purple Death, Bubonic Plague, Mystery Plague, Swine Fever, Spanish Lady, ‘Influenza’, and La Grippe. German troops knew it as Blitzkatarrh and Flanders’ Fever, the Black Whip by Hungarians and the Coquette in France. Suspicions that the disease might have emanated from one’s neighbouring country were rife, and led Poles to call it The Bolshevik Disease.
Interestingly and quite differently, the celebrated German saboteur, Captain Von Rintelen, who had been captured by the British secret service, recalled it in his book, ‘The Dark Invader’ (1933) as something quite different. Von Rintelen was extradited from Britain and stood trial in America for espionage activities, and was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 1917. He recalled that in the Winter of 1918; ‘The “White Death” was Spanish influenza, and the prison became a cross between a madhouse and an inferno.’ This description of the disease may have been confused with a similar one given to tuberculosis, which was also rampant in America at the time. The treatment and protection afforded to ‘Whites’ suffering from the disease, as opposed to that which Negroes could expect, became an acrimonious issue.
Totally unsuspecting of what was to follow, the Illustrated London News, and The Graphic, reported the outbreak in a somewhat light-hearted fashion on July 20th. Stating that because the disease had attacked the nervous system, it had earlier been confused with botulism, but that, ‘it is by now known as Whatulism’. This was accompanied by an additional speculative swipe at the enemy, when it described the great defences that nature had endowed the body with, in order for it to resist infection from the ‘German-Huns in their trenches. Kill and (whisper it!) devour them bodily’.
No further reference to the ‘flu’ of any note appeared in these censored periodicals for the remainder of the year. The publication appeared almost oblivious to the disaster, from which thousands were dying every day, on the battlefields, in the streets, the workplace, and in their homes.
Despite early suspicions by health officials that the malady was something quite different, and by members of the medical fraternity who had also become alarmed by the strange sequence of events, everyone was completely overtaken by the rapid onslaught of the disease. Too late, there were those who also expressed regret in their lack of professional foresight. In a paper presented to the Royal Academy of Medicine on November 15th, 1918, by Captain John Speares R.A.M.C., then an assistant physician to the AdelaideHospital in Dublin, he stated that warnings were present, as early as 1916, and that:
‘Local outbreaks of influenza occurring during the past two years should have warned us of the approach of the present pandemic.’
Puzzled by the unusual direction, in which the disease had spread, he also remarked:
‘The course followed by the disease seems to have been from west to east and not east to west, as formerly.’
This early observation proved to be an astute one, and its accuracy is well supported to date. There had been several outbreaks of influenza in America, between 1915 and 1917, but it was believed by many, that this later and more virulent strain had arrived by way of its Atlantic ports, and had rapidly spread westward. Statistics compiled later would seem to have substantiated this conclusion.
Although most countries were blaming their neighbour for the spread of the disease to themselves, it was widely presumed that the origins of this disease were to be found in the U.S.A. Said by some to have entered through Boston, the exact place of origin remaining in dispute. The Head of Health and Sanitation Section of the American Fleet Corporation, Colonel Philip Doane, suggested the unusual if not popular source of the disease, when he said, that ‘the epidemic may have been started by men put ashore from U-boats.’ Further elaborating, he added:
‘It would be quite easy for one of these German agents to turn loose Spanish influenza germs in a theatre or some other place where large numbers of persons are assembled. The Germans have started epidemics in Europe, and there is no reason why they should be particularly gentle with America.’
What proof he had for this supposition or what epidemics the Germans had supposedly begun in Europe earlier, is unclear, (reports of infection in the east, Rumania etc) but there were many American newspaper reports about German agents operating in the U.S.A. at the time, and many of these were factually based. However, Doane’s suspicion of German activities in America, may have been prompted by the inaugural visit made by the large mercantile class submarine, Deutchland (U-155, 2100 tons) to Chesapeake Bay in June 1916. This submarine is understood to have carried the new German diplomatic code, known as 0075, for the German Embassy, which was sent to supersede the already compromised, 13040 code. Both codes were reported to have figured prominently in the ‘Zimmermann Telegram’ affair. This submarine was also reported to have carried dyes, precious stones and mail.
One can only speculate as to what other cargo she might have transported to America but the Deutchland was strongly implicated by the Head of British naval intelligence, Admiral Hall, in the delivery of sabotage material to the U.S. It is also understood, that the Deutchland returned with over a million dollars in donations from patriotic Germans, and a cargo of nickel, silver, zinc, tin and rubber. This submarine was representative of a small number of merchant U-cruisers that were privately constructed with investments guaranteed by the German government. The Deutchland’s mission was to have heralded the beginning of a commercial submarine service to the U.S.A. but the venture was discontinued after only two crossings. Her sister boat the Bremen, was lost mysteriously on her maiden voyage to Norfolk in 1916.
The construction of these huge mercantile submarines for cross Atlantic voyages, was provoked in great part by Britain’s blockade of Germany, and the declining imports of important raw materials reaching Germany. When the first of these docked in America, there was a palpable air of German triumphalism. The implications of such large boats being able to cross the Atlantic to America, unseen, did not go unnoticed by U.S.N. Admirals. These underwater cruisers had the greatest endurance capabilities of any submarine at the time (and for a long time after), and could cruise for three months without replenishing fuel.
Another one of these converted mercantile class submarines, U-151, visited the east coast of America, between May and June 1918 with intentions of a quite different nature. In the space of two weeks, commencing on the 25th, she sank thirteen ships. Twelve American, and one British vessel. Interestingly, only one vessel reported fatalities, the SS Carolina, which lost thirteen crewmen. Most of these vessels were sunk after the crews were ordered to abandon their ships, and bombs placed in the hold by the German submariners.
Whatever the reason for suspecting that the oputbreak of ‘flu’ or an attack with germs, might have been connected with the earlier arrival of the Deutchland, or any other German submarine for that matter, it was a suggestion not taken too seriously at the time.
In so far as anything of certainty can be said about the origins of this terrible disease, but conflicting with some other reports, its earliest manifestations are accredited at this time to one U.S. Army camp or another. The most recurring of these were, CampOglethorpe in Georgia during February, and Camp Funston, Kansas, in March 1918. These dates coincided with outbreaks of the disease amongst the U.S. expeditionary forces, the British army and in the French civilian population.
Another U.S. Army establishment, where the disease was suspected to have emanated, was Fort Reilly, also in Kansas. It was reported in the dramatised documentary, ‘Contagious’, shown on the History Channel U.K. that horse manure had been burnt there for some weeks during March 1918. While the fires burned, a great windstorm erupted, blowing its ash for miles around. Soon after, people began to get sick. No suggestion was made however, as to how the disease might have got into the horse manure.
The fears expressed then, I presume to be somewhat similar to those expressed by the general public in Britain in 2001, during the mass burnings of the diseased or potentially diseased livestock, after there was a widespread outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the national herd.
By what means the disease had supposedly developed in any of these places during WW1, is equally unclear, and the earliest records of its manifestation may only be attributable to these establishments, because of their military discipline in record keeping. There is nevertheless a very heavy weight of cases recorded from the Spring of 1918, in the southern border States of America.
Uncertainty and the unknown gave way to panic, and after the rapid geographical spread of the disease, there was almost no place remaining where it wasn’t suspected to have originated. The speed with which the disease spread, lead many to wonder if it was not flu at all, or that somehow, it might have been mysteriously present in the atmosphere. It was also suspected that the disease might have been contracted from contaminated fish or meat.
Reports from a small medical practice in England, indicated that the disease showed in some of its patient’s, symptoms of swine fever, for which they were successfully treated. Swine fever had not been eradicated in the British Isles, but cases were only being reported in small and varying numbers during 1918, as was anthrax, which was almost exclusively contracted by those working with animals or animal hide products.
Not nearly so minor an incident, and one, accounts of which considerable efforts were made to suppress, was an incident in the U.S.A. This was a ‘new disease’ or strain of Hog Cholera (Hog Flu, Swine Flu etc.), during late September-October, 1918, infecting millions of pigs.
This outbreak was reported to have originated or to have been first detected, at the Cedar Rapids Swine Show, Iowa, which began on September 30th, and ended on October 5th. The outbreak resulted in pigs and farmers over a wide area of the Midwest, being infected with the disease. Thousands of these animals died from a disease, which J.S. Koen, an inspector with the Division of Hog Cholera Control, described as ‘Hog Flu’. His outspokenness on the affair subsequently attracted strong criticism from the industry, and author Alfred Crosby, recalls his stubborn courage of conviction when he adhered to this unpopular description of the disease. His remarks were published in the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine. The following was his unshakeable conclusion:
‘It looked like ‘flu’,[Hog Flu] it represented the identical symptoms of ‘flu,’ it terminated like ‘flu,’ and until proved it was not ‘flu,’ I shall stand by that diagnosis.’
The U.S.A. had a poor record of controlling infectious diseases in animals at the turn of the century, and its failures were no more manifest than in the southern States. The enormity of this devastating outbreak of ‘Hog Flu’ was portrayed by some as not being a cause for undue concern, and seemingly nothing more was suspected. However, the question that has arisen since – is. Did the little piggies give it to those who brought them to market or was it the other way around? And when one wonders, what becomes of the little piggies, then surely one cannot help wondering in which direction did the disease subsequently travel?
Or, should we pay special heed to those experts operating in the world of biological warfare, who have declared, that one of the main indicators of being under an attack from bacteriological weapons, is an ‘unusual number of deaths of people and animals within an area or location’?
The Characteristics of this Strange Flu.
The characteristics of the pandemic were reported by some inspectors, as being typically ‘flu’, and recurred similarly during the immediate and subsequent years. Mr.W. R. Taggart of South King Street, Dublin, wrote to the Evening Herald on October 22nd, expressing the opinion, that the description ‘Influenza’, which had been given to the disease, was reported to him by members of the medical profession, to have been a ‘misnomer’. He was convinced that:
The peculiar feature of this disease is the suddenness with which it attacks its victim, and it is as merciless as the brutal Hun….’
The suddenness of the attacks was indeed striking. So much so, that during the latter days of October, people were literally falling down in the streets of London and being ambulanced to hospitals daily.
Although the war continued to be bitterly contested, by then the end was in sight. The populations may at this point, have been so preoccupied with the optimism of an imminent victory or the thoughts of returning loved ones from the battlefields, that they did not fully absorb the scale of the sickness that was besetting them. It was an unmerciful attack by an insatiable ‘grim reaper’, who only slowly and reluctantly retreated into obscurity during the 1920’s.
Many have probably become aware of this historic catastrophe event through some of the more recent publicity, but then, and up to only recent years, this global scar of biblical proportions was largely forgotten. It is described as being the greatest pandemic ever, and that its victims were only exceeded in number by The Plague of Justian and the Black Death. Totals quoted for the latter plagues however, covered a much longer time span. The 1918 ‘flu’, is now firmly accredited with infecting half of the world’s population, and killing in excess of twenty million people. More recently, the figure has even been put by some as high as 40 million, and its origin remains a mystery !
Some nationalities fared worse than others, but this rogue virus knocked on the door of almost every country in the world. India was probably the worst affected, with 12,500,000 deaths. Some of Europe’s countries suffered in the following proportions, Russia 450,000, Britain 228, 917, Germany 225, 230, France 166,000, and Ireland’s figures are given separately in the illustration of a report produced by the Chief Registrar in 1920. In the U.S.A., fatalities exceeded 548,000, and that country has the distinction of having over eighty percent of the fatalities amongst its servicemen in WW1 attributed to the ‘flu’. The total number of American servicemen killed in WW1, WW2, and in the Korean and Vietnam wars is exceeded by the number of those killed by the ‘1918 flu’.
Protection from the disease could not be afforded by God nor man, and even those said to have been under His direct influence did not escape. It is a little known fact, that two of the three young Children of Fatima, obtained no protection from their alleged encounter with the Mother of God, when they too were taken by the disease.
Most countries called it Spanish Flu, probably because of the early reporting from that country, which was neutral and didn’t suffer from heavy war censorship. But why it was known almost affectionately as the Spanish Lady, is still argued.
Whilst ‘Influenza’, ‘Influenza B’ or ‘Pfeiffer bacillus’ seems to have been the more popular technical description given to it by the medical community at the time, again there were those who were convinced that it was something else entirely. The Evening Herald of February 20th, 1919, reported:
‘There is also some evidence that horses, dogs, and cats may be a source of infection. If any of these animals are affected with colds or sneezing they should be isolated.’
For some strange reason, it has been said that, residents in the vicinity of slaughterhouses or petroleum works were mysteriously unaffected by it. And from France, in a not altogether unrelated report, it was stated that people there sniffed at eucalyptus or creosote products to stave off effects of the ‘flu’. Much later, but somewhat similarly, retired manager from the Dublin Gas Works, Kevin Bright (R.I.P.) remembered well the medicinal qualities that many Dubliners believed were to be had from the ‘cough hole’. This was situated in the company’s works on the South Quays, and consisted of a sump, into which many of the by-products from the production of town-gas flowed. Parents of children who were suffering from chest complaints, would travel with their offspring from the surrounding neighbourhoods, and hold the tearful wretches over the ‘hole’. This ‘cure’ was well recognised at the time and was recommended by many local doctors.
Doctors in Dublin are also reported to have been well aware of the unusual good health attributed to citizens who resided in the vicinity off ‘O’Keeffes the Knackers’, Newmarket. And for some equally unknown reason, folklore also has it, that the surrounding inner city area, known as, The Coombe, seems to have escaped the worst ravages of the ‘1918 flu’. Seemingly suggesting that the residents of these areas received some kind of immunity from dwelling in the proximity of dead and diseased animals.
Was this immunity? If that’s what it was, was it as a result of being in an area where germs were being constantly carried on the air from the rendering plant, or from carts laden with the carcasses of diseased animals being transported through the narrow streets.
Given a colloquial title by many communities, the people from Ringsend in Dublin, and Christy Barton, from the town of Kilmore in the county of Clare, called it the ‘Black Flu’. Christy’s story was related to me by his friend, Paddy Nash, an eighty-one year old crop picker from the same county. (There is no record of Kilmore in the county of Clare, but Kilmore in adjoining North Tipperary, may have been the town to which he referred.) Paddy left Ireland as a boy and finally settled in Uxbridge. He recalled that when Christy’s mother was struck with the ‘Black Flu’ in 1918, the doctor claimed he could do nothing for her. Believing in local remedies, Christy remembered how he had walked to the neighbouring county of Tipperary, a county that has maintained a long tradition for its superior production of an illicit whiskey called potteen. Christy purchased a bottle of the spirit and returned home with ‘the cure’.
Whilst passing through O’Connell Street in Limerick, he was stopped by a patrol of Black & Tan soldiers who detained him. Even though he informed the patrol of the urgency attached to his mission in order to save his mother, he was nevertheless arrested. He was not released until some hours after his story was checked. When he finally got home, it is unclear whether or not Christy’s ‘cure’ was taken orally or rubbed in, but upon the doctor’s return and following a favourable examination, surprise was expressed by all on the miraculous recovery of Christy’s mother.
Interpreting this little recollection of the power of alcohol to combat this deadly disease, as being only sentimental, would be hasty.
Rightly or wrongly, and probably not requiring a lot of encouragement, it was generally perceived by sizeable proportions of the populations of countries like America, England and Ireland, that the application or consumption of alcohol, played an important part in preventing the contraction of a disease that was killing millions.
The ‘cures’ were not just confined to the application of alcohol but as one might expect, these were nearly as prolific as the symptoms. Few companies took the risk of promoting their product as a ‘cure’ for the ‘flu’, but the mighty and well respected ‘OXO Empire’, was not found wanting in this regard. They boasted that the concentrated beef in their OXO cubes was effective in resisting the ‘influenza’.
Nonetheless, the perception of an alcohol cure, and more particularly whiskey, was very common. Not to be taken as just a fickle or convenient placebo, after several condemnations of the Government by MPs at Parliament, for ‘imperilling life’ of the population by not releasing additional stocks of whiskey from bond, the Government made this reply:
‘The War Cabinet is considering the question of the release of further supplies of spirits in view of the influenza epidemic.’
Unlike the greedy activities of some milk distributors at the time, who illegally contaminated milk supplies by dilution, a practice which continued for many years after the war had ended, the whiskey ‘remedy’ was not one which distillers obviously exploited. In contrast, it is particularly upsetting to read accounts of those milk distributors, who were accumulating ill-gotten pennies from the practice of diluting their product. The practice became rampant, and although most of the offenders were only small businesspersons, these were nevertheless a sight better off than many of their customers, most of who were in dire need of the nourishing liquid. Some of the names included in the lists of prosecutions, and found guilty, are quite surprising, and are to be found over popular stores and amongst the well-respected business community to this day.
These petty opportunists, were making hay at a time, when even the poorest governments of the world, were distributing milk free, in order to ease the plight of millions that were facing the most rapidly spreading disease the world had ever seen.
For those who could afford it, alcohol was a ‘cure’, which many members of the medical profession prescribed. Such was the demand created for the stuff that, doctors sometimes complained that they were issuing prescriptions for alcohol, which their suffering patients were later unable to fill, due to shortages.
The initial surprise of the distillers to the new level of demand for their products did not preclude some speculation, and an increased level of profit taking in the trade.
Having had their products diluted under previous government orders, distributors seized opportunities prior to official announcements on the release of additional stocks from bonding houses.
A contemporary similarity being made with the opportunism displayed in pre-budget speculation on the anticipated rise in government levies on fuel and tobacco. Similarly, the premature price hikes applied by distributors of petroleum products, immediately after the announcements in barrel prices but before the contents of that barrel gets to the pumps.
In the ‘land of opportunity’ however, the price of a gallon of whiskey in some States of America, reached the exorbitant rate of $52. Drug stores also shamelessly exploited the situation, by charging very high prices for drugs, such as quinine. Although the whiskey ‘cure’ is remembered in a fond way, it seems to have been taken very seriously by many at the time.
Prince Axel of Denmark was reported to have developed a strong faith in plenty of the ‘cure’. His faith in spirits was apparently evident during his trip to America, on the liner Leviathan. Alfred Crosby reminds us of the Prince’s bid to stave off the effects of the ‘flu’ before he reached New York on September 9th, 1918. During the passage, the Prince was reported to have ‘stayed in his cabin with his favourite prophylactic, whiskey’.
Just how the ‘cure’ is thought to have worked, is not altogether clear. If the malady had only been influenza, I presume the ‘cure’ was expected to act in much the same way as a few ‘hot-whiskeys’ one might take for a cold today. Or maybe, it was seen as a pleasant way to create a sterile atmosphere around what was thought to be the principal conduits through which the disease was contracted.
Then maybe not surprisingly, although the production of spirits distilled in Ireland actually increased by 40% between 1917 and 1918, exports actually halved.
Some of its victims.
Countless sufferers did not receive an alcohol cure, or any other for that matter. The stories of suffering filled the daily newspapers, and these included many harrowing tales of grief from the slum areas of Dublin’s inner city. Whole families were wiped out in as short a time, as two days. Mothers dropped dead suddenly from heart failure while they were tending their families, and some bodies were not discovered until days after they were missed in the street, at work, or by the rent-man on his rounds.
The testimony of devastation that appeared in obituary notices has never been repeated in Ireland. Almost daily, examples such as the following were printed:
THE LITTLE CHILDREN DIE
Cummins -Oct. 24,1918, at No.23 Lr. Buckingham St.,
Eileen, age 1 year,
May, age 3 years,
The beloved children of Joseph and Christina Cummins.
Jeffers-Oct. 24, 1918.
Mary, eldest daughter of the late Andrew Jeffers;
Also her sister Annie, same date.
THREE LITTLE SISTERS
Larmon-Oct., 1918, at Private Hospital, Dublin, of pneumonia, the three
youngest, darling, and dearly-beloved children of Christopher and
Kathleen Larmon, Beechmount, Merrion:
Josephine-Oct. 14, aged six months.
Lily-Oct. 29, aged 4 years.
Kathleen-Oct. 22. Aged 5 years.
Great disasters from fire, plague and drought have struck mankind in the past. Some of these historic milestones were recorded in song and rhyme, but are sadly now disappearing from memory. Children during street games recited rhymes like:
Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
This well known rhyme recalls the effects of the plague that struck Europe during the Middle Ages. The ‘Ring’, supposedly been the dark rings which appeared on the victims’ skin before death. These are said to have been similar to those found on the victims of anthrax. A rhyme, which does not seem to have reached Ireland in 1918 or after, was the one recited by the children in America, and went in part as follows:
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
The disease gave no quarter to social position or geography but some areas did suffer disproportionately. As you might expect, the likes of city’s and port towns were particularly badly hit. In Ireland, the effects were felt more seriously on Dublin’s north side than anywhere else. Coincidentally this is an area of the port containing the railway heads, where most livestock was loaded for shipping.
It was speculated at one time, that the earliest outbreaks of the disease had emanated in the harbour town of Howth. Men working in close proximity with one another, such as in mines, were particularly vulnerable, as were the thousands who died from it in the trenches. Closed communities, such as Eskimos and the Indians of Alaska, were almost wiped out in some settlements, after the disease got amongst them.
Influenza was not a notifiable disease, so public schools and places of congregation were not closed until it was too late in many cases. Institutions such as prisons, places that could easily have been isolated, were particularly badly affected.
Not unlike the serious threat of social disorder in America, after thousands had succumbed to the mysterious ‘flu’, when the number of deaths suddenly rose in Irish cities, anti-municipal demonstrations were threatened, and the authorities began to get worried. Alarm was fuelled when it was reported that burials at Glasnevin cemetery in north Dublin rose to 280 per week, and climbed soon after to 383.
Also a predominantly Roman Catholic cemetery, burials at Deans Grange cemetery in south Dublin, similarly reflected the course of the epidemic. Figures for July showed a sharp increase but receded during August and September. Combined figures for October and November suddenly showed a large increase of 128% over the same period in 1917. Figures receded once again in December.
Unexpectedly, the predominantly Church of Ireland cemetery at Mount Jerome in the southwest of Dublin, showed a similar trend for the number of burials but were higher in actual numbers than at Deans Grange. The figures for the same two months of October and November showed an increase of 160 % over the previous year.
There were 1814 deaths from influenza registered in Dublin between October 1st and December 31st, 1918.
Yet another peculiarity of the disease was the large number of cities around the world that experienced a peak in the number of deaths simultaneously, during the last two weeks of October 1918. One might imagine, that if the disease had emanated and been carried from a single source, that its climax would have been staggered throughout the countries to which it spread. Why for instance would a peak in the number of deaths occur in Puerto Rico, Paris and Dublin at approximately the same time?
The situation was approaching crisis, when the Archbishop of Dublin was moved in late October to write an urgent letter to his Parish Priests. In his address on the prevalence of the ‘present serious illness’, he advised prayers, Masses, and an appeal to the Throne of Mercy to deliver his followers from the dangers that threatened.
Some say it was this wave of death and disease sweeping over the battlefields of Europe that might have had more to do with the war ending just when it did. The end, being more than just a defeat of the German army with bombs and bullets, but a civilisation that had simply been ‘overcome’. A weary people that had been ravaged by four years of maim and destruction, had finally just given up through depression and exhaustion, brought on by the final weight of a plague that had beset them.
And animals too.
At the same time as the disease was rampaging through the civilian populations, this small news item from Johannesburg appeared on November 2nd, and described how the deadly virus may not have affected humans alone:
‘The extraordinary development in the influenza epidemic has been the mortality among monkeys, which are dying by hundreds. In certain cases whole troops of baboons have been found dead, apparently from pneumonia infection.’
In fact, there had been almost no reporting of how the disease had affected animals. A rare example was the baboons in Africa, but these were not the exception. Buffalo herds in Yellowstone National Park were affected by the influenza, and had caused haemorrhagic septicaemia amongst the animals. The journal of the American Medical Assoc., reported on April 4th, 1919, that during the epidemic, guinea pigs in a laboratory at Fort Cody, had all died unusually from pneumonia. Two more fresh batches of guinea pigs were experimented with, the second, from which there were no survivors. Monkeys too were experimented with. Although there were several recorded cases of monkeys being successfully infected with the virus, these did not produce any conclusive results. Experiments in America, which attempted to infect servicemen and prisoners with Pfeiffer bacillus obtained from victims, also produced the same uncertainty.
If it wasn’t Flu?
From the most learned to the most unintelligible, puzzlement prevailed. Despite experts old and young, many who had experienced the effects of influenza epidemics before, none had witnessed such human devastation brought on by disease. Medical orderlies who developed symptoms of the ‘flu’ knew the difference only too well, and knew they would die (‘The Killer Flu’. Discovery Channel programme 2004.). Humanity was alone, and ignorant of a disease that was unexplainably consuming it, and it spread like wild fire.
The symptoms of this ‘flu’ were not what we might associate with an attack of common influenza today. Neither were they consistent or straightforward. As already stated, the symptoms of this ‘flu’ were too numerous to list in total, but the following examples from ‘1918 Book Of Victory’ by Malcolm Brown, have been chosen in order to demonstrate some very special features, that were prevalent in victims of the disease.
In June of 1918 Lt. Harvard Brown (7th Sherwood Foresters.) wrote home from Calais:
‘I am down here for a few days with that new sort of influenza. I hope none of you will get it, it just sprang on me with a temperature of 104 one afternoon in the line, accompanied by all manner of things. It seemed to be spreading through the army like wild fire.” Later he continued. “The Influenza is going for everybody and a great number come down daily, for about ten days one feels simply dead.’
He was fortunate and recovered. And Mrs. Barnett of Surrey wrote to her husband in Mesopotamia on October 28th, 1918:
‘Things here are in a terrible state, this new flu as they term it, is quite a plague and taking people off as they walk along the streets, in fact the undertakers can’t turn the coffins out or bury the people quick enough. There’s families of six and seven in one house lying dead, it’s really terrible dear and makes one nervous of going out, nearly every house along here the doctors are on constant call but so far we have escaped and I do pray that we shall be spared it for your dear sake. I had a dose in July and don’t want it any more.’
Details of the disease that are contained in these two letters, were by no means isolated, and mark some of the distinct features of the 1918 pandemic. One was the reluctance of the general public to believe that it was just flu. Another was, that those who had received the earlier and milder dose in the Spring or Summer, were somehow ‘vaccinated’ against the more deadly excesses of the Autumn and Winter outbreak. (Once again, it may have only been coincidence but it wasn’t until June that Britain, France and America were able to train enough specialised units, and to manufacture sufficient stocks of chemicals in order to deploy them on the battlefield against Germany.)
The symptoms were reported to have been typically flu like, and most accounts of the period are generally unquestioning in this respect. However, some prominent citizens, who had seen influenza many times before, were puzzled. Never had they seen people dying from such harrowing symptoms as the ones displayed by those who contracted this ‘flu’.
David Nelligan, the famous ‘Spy In The Castle’, who gained so much notoriety because of his close relationship with the great military leader, Michael Collins, was none too uncertain about it either. Seemingly convinced, that ‘Whatever it was, it was not flu’. He described the familiar symptoms of high temperature, the aches and pains etc. that had been prevalent amongst some of his colleagues who had died from the disease. He also described the severity of the attacks, and their rippling effects throughout the community:
‘The older police were decimated. Gravediggers worked overtime. Undertakers did a thriving business’.
Nelligan was also overcome by the disease, and recalled his journey to the County Infirmary in a horse and cart:
‘I could not help noticing the mourning crepe on the doors in the poor streets and the continual processions of funerals passing by. It was like the Plague or the Black Death’.
Having arrived at the infirmary, Nelligan had to wait on a stretcher until a bed became vacant. He hadn’t long to wait, before a deceased victim was removed from one, into which he was promptly placed. He subsequently displayed all the familiar hallmarks of the infection but recovered after the familiar ‘nosebleed’, which Sir John Moore said, saved his life.
Nelligan was also impressed by the power of belief in the ‘alcohol cure’, which his staff sergeant believed was to be had from a ‘diet of stiff whiskey’.
A man, who was in just the right place to observe the progression of the ‘flu’ amongst the ranks of combatants, was stretcher-bearer, Frank Dunham of the R.A.M.C. Contrary to regulations, he kept a diary during WW1, and its contents were published in, ‘The Long Carry’. His first contact with the ‘flu’ or P.U.O., as it was known in the service, was on September 16th, 1917, when ‘he felt queer with a touch of the ‘flu’. There is no reference by Frank Dunham to another encounter with the ‘flu’, until five weeks after his Battalion was bombarded with phosgene, mustard and lachrymatory gas shells during the German’s big push towards Amiens on March 21st, 1918.
On May14th, he clearly noted a different type of ‘flu’ that was infecting the men in the trenches:
‘Just about this time, the army became acquainted with ‘The Flu’, which in our official terms was designated ‘P.U.O.’, meaning, ‘Pyrexia, unknown origin’. One by one, it caught hold of the troops, and there were very few who escaped its clutches during the following few months. It seemed to be a very dangerous enemy, and many of our finest soldiers were carried off by it, whilst many others were rendered unfit for active service for months.’
He also thought it important to note, that ‘curiously, one of the first to be stricken by the ‘flu germ’, was their Battalion M.O., Dr. C. Rowlands’. Dr Rowlands was one of the first U.S. servicemen sent to relieve the hard pressed British medical staff, soon after America had entered the war.
The last references to the ‘flu’ made by Frank Dunham in his diary, was on June 18th and 20th, when he said, that ‘it was continuing to spread’.
The precautions of staying indoors, disinfecting the streets and wearing masks were all eventually taken but the disease had already got a grip and continued its unmerciful rampage undiminished. As yet unexplained, the crisis was reached almost simultaneously in Ireland as it did in Britain, and in most of the U.S.A., during the last two weeks of October and the first week of November, 1918. It ebbed in ferocity during winter but erupted for a third time in February 1919, with particular severity across several States in America.
After what was by then a prolonged epidemic of the disease, when added to a growing awareness of the most horrible effects it was having on its victims, the public began to suspect that something was not quite right with its description – ‘flu’. Despite reassurances, fear amongst the public began to escalate. Denying that there was an increasing number of corpses showing signs of premature discoloration, and that their decomposition, ‘was not rapid’, did nothing to allay fears. The public mood soon began to swing towards panic as the unknown disease continued to spread.
Referring to the large amounts of frothy blood found in the lungs of many victims, the physician and poet, William Williams, described it this way:
‘They’d be sick one day and gone the next, just like that, fill up and die.’
It was not only the general public who felt there was something wrong with the description, ‘flu’. Yet another eminent member of the medical profession also harboured a similar fear. He too was in doubt, and suggested in the Evening Herald on October 28th that there might have more than one disease on the rampage:
IS IT INFLUENZA?
‘Some doubt is felt, not only among the public, but by some doctors, that the epidemic now raging is solely influenza. There is no question but that we have veritable influenza among us, and that the majority of cases are of that disease, but the violence of attack and high mortality in many households gives colour to the suggestion that combined with influenza is a deadly malady not yet identified.
Writing in the ‘Lancet’, Dr. William Collins of Oxford, says – “Surely we are seeing a type of influenza quite different from anything we have seen before. I well remember the severe epidemic of 1889-90 and attended a large number of cases, but the signs and symptoms which have been exhibited by patients I have attended during the past few days are quite new to me.”’
The same issue carried a letter from a ‘Dublin Doctor’ describing the urgency of enlisting the help of all available medical personnel. His appeal included the release of Irish doctors who had been incarcerated on suspicion of harbouring republican sympathies. As doctors and nurses had no special immunity, shortages caused in the profession by the spread of the sickness, became critical. Speaking from his ‘personal professional knowledge’, this doctor submitted:
‘That the need for doctors which at present exists in most of our civil hospitals and public institutions has had no parallel in medical history since leprosy in the Middle Ages attacked the human race without distinction.’
The Dublin Corporation also made a special appeal for the release of the doctors, McNab and Cusack, who along with the medical officer for the South Dublin Union, Doctor Hayes, were ‘lying in English jails’. Alderman Thomas Kelly ‘didn’t care what might be said’, and added that a champion of the poor, Dr Kathleen Lynn was ‘on the run, and could not stop in her house’.
The malady was confusing even for the most illustrious experts. Correspondence between Dr. F.W. Twort of the Browns Institute in London and Sir Walter Fletcher, both members of the high-powered ‘Medical Research Committee’ that had been established early in 1919 to investigate the pandemic, attempted to throw some light on frustrations that were experienced by these experts. (It may have been the case, that this committee operated completely separately from other similar ones, whose findings were included in the historic 600 page report by Britains Chief Medical Officer, Dr. G. Newman, ‘Report on the Pandemic Influenza 1918-1919’, as none of its members were referenced in it.)
Frustratingly, while scientists all over the world were desperately trying to identify the cause of the unknown disease, an element of discord seemed to have existed amongst some of the committee’s experts. Contained in some of the committee’s correspondence, held on record at the Public Records in London, is an unexplained and clear lack of co-operation amongst a number of these professionals.
An example was the incident that arose, when an offer of autopsy samples from enlisted men was made to a fellow committee researcher. A u-turn on the offer was made when the Chairman of the Medical Research Committee, Major General Sir William Leishman, subsequently refused Dr. Twort permission to obtain from the British Military establishments at Caterham and Millbank the necessary autopsy samples for his experiments . (March 5th, 1920.)
Was this a case of professional jealousy or was it something else? Dr. Twort, who had achieved a considerable reputation for his research into how animal diseases affected man, communicated to Sir Walter on January 31st, 1920 that; from the samples he had been receiving from the Autopsy Dept., of the London Hospital, he had very little to report that was conclusive. His letter also described some of the frantic efforts that were being universally made at that time, although unfortunately, none of these were successful.
‘I have succeeded in getting a fairly marked increased virulence of Influenza B culture by growing them on media containing (living tissue)[crossed out] fresh unheated tissue. The best of which I have found to be liver and kidney. I have some evidence that it is particularly marked when the tissue is obtained from the same specie of animal and from one that has previously received one or more doses of vaccine of Influenza B.’
(Dr. Twort’s underlining.)
His experiments if successful were hoped ‘…to obtain a more toxic culture for the preparation of a vaccine.’
A fatal disease of biblical proportions had descended on the population from the unknown. Although the germ showed signs of being closely related to the ‘bacillus influenza virus’, many felt that it belonged to some other, still undiscovered virus. Results from tests varied, and the virus was never identified. Struggling to produce a vaccine that would halt the spread of the disease before total annihilation of the world’s populations, (Deaths in Ireland actually outstripped births in 1918.) cocktails of vaccines were hurriedly produced in many laboratories. It is not fully understood how useful, if at all, any of these experiments were, or how many complications or even deaths that might have been caused by these efforts, but the vaccines were generally felt at the time to have been useless.
In a paper delivered to the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, by George Peacock, M.D., and F.R.C.P.I. on November 15, 1918 he stated:
‘The influenza prepared in the Laboratory of Trinity College I have used in some cases, but I cannot say I have noticed any particular effect from its use. Its value as a prophylactic is a burning question at the present time.’
A similar view was also expressed by another ‘prominent Dublin bacteriologist’ in the Freeman’s Journal, on November 1st:
‘The Influenza bacillus is not the cause of it. He gave it as his opinion that the value of the vaccine was very questionable. He also made the following observations:
(1) This epidemic corresponds with what has been called influenza in the past.
(2) The exact causal organism of that influenza as distinct from the microbes usually
found in association with the complications is still, perhaps, undetected.
(3) So long as that second remark holds true the problem of preparing a prophylactic
vaccine presents serious difficulties.’
These views were supported in another letter from ‘1918 Year Of victory’. In it, Captain Charles Carrington, writing to his mother from his training camp in Northumberland on October 13th, 1918, described the following attempts at vaccination:
‘We’ve have had a rather tragic week. They sent us three or four hundred boys from Cornwall and Devon to train in this Arctic climate and they began as usual by being very well and truly vaccinated. Then another epidemic of the ‘Spanish Influenza’ came and caught them. It was precious cold and damp after Devonshire and they all got flu. Four of the poor kids have died and they are continually being seized with it.’
A week later he reported two to three hundred cases in his battalion and eighteen deaths.
In contrast, Reuters in Vienna reported that Dr. Leitner of Austria claimed great success in diagnosing ‘Spanish sickness’, as being due to streptococcus bacillus. Following its destruction with injections of ‘mercury…chloride’, a new serum was invented which gave excellent results.
The questions were never answered and doubts were not allayed. Although the investigations continued, no conclusion was ever reached and mention of them petered out in the press during the summer of 1919. Distinguished people throughout the world had offered all kinds of theories, including the following report, which appeared in the Evening Herald, April 11th, 1919:
‘Major F.B. Bowman, dealing with the causation, concluded that a minute organism, capable of passing through a filter, which had been grown from tissues from infected animals and from filtered sputum of influenza cases, was in all probability the cause of the disease as seen today’
Another deadly feature of the disease was its virulence. It spread like ‘wild fire’ through communities, some faring worse than others and almost no exceptions. The Moslem and Jewish populations of India were probably the worst affected. Staggering figures were published in this letter from a correspondent in Barcelona to the Times (London), dated October 24th, 1918:
‘Wherever one goes he is disinfected. Music halls and theatres advertise they disinfect twice daily.’ He also reported that there was a great reluctance by many there to believe that ‘it really was the flu’ and that the ‘number of deaths were reported by the newspapers as being 300 per day, by the Governor at 600, and by the medical profession at no less than 1200’. Not unlike the remainder of the world he stated that the disease nearly always became pneumonically complicated and that death occurred between seven hours and four days in the most recurrent age range of ‘between twenty and thirty eight years’.
The situation must have been worsening as he wrote, adding that there was ‘panic in places’ and that ‘dancing was forbidden.’
The figures given for Ireland in the illustration show an unusual exception for the county of Clare. An interesting speculation for that county’s least number of ‘flu’ cases, mentions the special qualities of the soil. It has been suggested, that when passed through the livestock, and into its inhabitants, these may have bestowed a certain but unknown resistance to the disease. Or another; due to that county being very pro republican during the war, less volunteers went abroad to fight, so less returned to contaminate the county. Indeed, it has been suggested, that of those who did enlist, the majority would probably never have returned because of the shame they would face.
The figures for the Western Counties, such as Mayo, also produced very low numbers of cases, and might also suggest that the further west from the busy cities and towns you where, the less likely was the chance of infection, at least in Ireland. But just like many of the theories attempted with this pandemic, figures belied the trend, and showed a dramatic rise in the county of Galway.
Then what was it?
Despite the most impressive and significant advances made in all of the relevant sciences, a disease which wiped out inestimable millions of people during the final months of WW1, and one which may have threatened the very existence of mankind, has never been identified.
Probably an important catalyst for the spread of the flu epidemic in Ireland, was the deplorable living conditions that existed amongst the working classes in the cities. In many of these places, acceptable standards of sanitary hygiene were non-existent, or at best, were only basic. The prevalence of bad standards in health and hygiene were compounded by the fact, that meat and dairy produce was in short supply and over-priced.
Families had lost sons and fathers in the war, mothers and children to disease, and death had knocked on almost every door in the nation, before its dues were paid. The figures for those lost in battle numbered in millions, but this was over a period of four long years.
There was a huge sigh of relief when an end of the war hove into view but just then, the mysterious ‘plague’ struck. Making its greatest impact in the space of only a few weeks at the close of the war, a horrific pandemic of ‘flu’ beset the world in 1918 and continued into1919. In that time, it was responsible for twice the number of deaths that occurred in the previous four years of conflict.
Faced with the growing realisation of being engulfed by the disease, it is understandable how one might quite easily have become nervous or depressed? Well, if one had the good fortune to recover from the trials of the previous four years of conflict, and then the ‘flu’, he might still not have been out of the woods.
Not a concern of the medical profession at the time, or receiving any noticeable comment in the Press, was the number of lingering after-symptoms of this ‘flu’, and it is only in recent years that society has come to terms with an understanding of the malady, ‘depression’. Then, it snaked amongst the weakened populations that were recovering from the ‘flu’, and struck with a deep and dark torment.
This was a feature of the influenza, which was not totally unexpected, as it had been observed during previous bouts of the disease. Lingering with its victims for months on end, many sufferers who could not recover from the torment of this depression committed suicide.
The cases one reads would seem to describe symptoms very similar to those who suffered from being infected by the earlier ‘flu’. Fever, sweats, pains etc. The effects would also seem to be very similar to those we recognise today in the victims of brucellosis. Those who contract the disease from eating infected meat or by direct contact with infected animals. These victims are also well known to suffer very similar and lingering bouts of depression.
Wherever it came from, or what ever caused it, the Virol Corporation was able to recommend elixirs to combat ‘depression from flu’ for many years to follow.
Then with no warning the mist lifted, and the sun shone through. Without explanation to this day the ‘horseman’ rode on. Families buried their dead, healed their wounds and forgot. How this horrible nightmare did not figure more prominently in our history is now difficult to understand.
Because of the extreme form of the disease in many cases, the simple description of ‘flu’ continued to prove unsatisfactory for a wide variety of casual and professional observers. Critics considered descriptions such as Plague, or Black Death, to be more appropriate. Were these sufferers, spectators and scientists mistaken? It must be almost certain, that given the world-wide reaction to the outbreak of this disease, and as more is revealed about the utter confusion and ignorance which surrounded its devastating effects, it was not a disease anyone had seen before.
Was the Belfast Corporation mistaken when they announced on January 1st, 1919?
‘Medical men were agreed that the disease was not influenza. ….They [Health Authority] were deceiving themselves by applying to the disease the term – “Influenza” and “Pneumonia.” As a matter of fact, the members of the medical profession admitted that they knew nothing about it, and that they did not know either the cause or the cure.” Annoyed at their Health Authorities slowness to act, Councillor Sterling berated: Were the public health authorities asleep? Why was the matter not brought before the Council at their ordinary meeting in November, or even October? Even then influenza was killing not thousands, but millions of people, and it was estimated that the toll made by it last year  accounted for the loss of more lives than were lost in the war.’
Or what lay behind Viscount Wolmer’s question to the House of Commons, in November, 1918. When he asked for a ‘…table to be drawn up showing the percentage of mortality occurring during the recent epidemic in the British Army on the one hand and among the civilian population on the other from influenza and pneumonia during the last three months?’
This ‘noble friend of the House’ was told that he had been given ‘…all the figures relating to the Army which are available.’ And that it was not thought that ‘…any useful purpose would be served by instituting a special inquiry as suggested at the present time.’
The disease was not defeated but simply disappeared. Nevertheless, many governments did achieve measures of success in the fight against its spread by introducing simple standards of hygiene. In America for example, fines were introduced for not turning one’s head when coughing or sneezing in a public place, and it was also made compulsory in some States, under pain of fine or imprisonment, for masks to be worn.
Before we come to the reason for the forgoing observations on the ‘flu’, it is also necessary to make some brief observations on some of its unusual symptoms and the course of the disease. It will also be noticed in the illustration of the figures for Ireland, compiled by the Registrar General in 1920, another peculiar hallmark of the disease. The group affected most, was young men between the ages of 25-35 years. (Between 20 years and 40 years in the U.S.A.) The cause of this very unusual aspect of the disease, an attack on healthy robust men of service age, is yet another feature of this pandemic that has never been explained.
The early symptoms were primarily connected with the respiratory tract. Flu type symptoms, ones which we are all familiar with today; headaches, sore throat, muscle pains, malaise and so on. But in 1918, these innocent sounding symptoms often developed into secondary infections, and produced much more sinister and acute conditions. Observations in this respect, are again to numerous to recount in full, but it is important to mention that frequently, practically all of the body’s major organs were affected.
In order to understand just what victims and the medical profession were up against from this ‘flu’, the symptoms described in the following cases could be considered to be fairly typical. These were outlined in Dr. Peacock’s address to The Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland on ‘Influenza’, in November, 1918. Quite surprisingly, and even self contradicting, he also stated that the public were ‘unduly alarmed’ at the recent newspaper reports, even though there was….‘a great frequency of':
‘Cyanosis, extremely common and painful laryngitis, mania and delirium, high and fluctuating temperature (103-104), albuminuria, vomiting with sometimes alarming symptoms in many cases, bronchopneumonia and jaundice. More seriously were cases of bleeding from the mouth and gums, chest pain, coughing up of frothy blood rapidly passing into coma and death.’
I have a strong feeling, that even today, faced with a similar frequency of these symptoms in the population, most of us might also be ‘unduly alarmed’. Captain John Speares R.A.M.C., also made a number of similar observations, and presented these to the Academy on the same date. These included:
‘Incubation 2 – 6 days. Striking feature of the presence of epistaxis and a tendency to haemorrhage of various kinds, toxaemia, grossly irregular temperature, cyanosis and excessive watery nasal discharge, albumeria, &c.’
If the reader finds that he must pinch himself in order to be reminded that this was a malady that was considered to be influenza, you might be further disturbed by the following post-mortem findings on seven cases by Captain Speares:
‘Lungs.- Two cases had a definite recent extensive fibrinous pleurol exudate on section. Broncho pneumonia, …with grey patches… nodular and peribronchal areas of consolidation, purulent material exuded from bronchioles…. Haemorrhaging areas… swollen …etc.
Spleens.- showed congestion friability.
Kidneys.- Acute nephritis and somewhat boiled appearance of cortices.
Livers. – Congested and areas of haemorrhaging.
Streptococci and pneumococci were grown in a majority of cases from samples taken.’
Might we look elsewhere?
At this point one might expect to have a grasp of what people were actually dying of, after contracting the disease. You may imagine for instance that if someone had said; “I have a friend who shows the following symptoms; high fever, headache, and pains in the limbs, what do think he is suffering from.” The reply might well have been. ‘They probably have the ‘flu’. This might have been correct, and then again, these are exactly the symptoms that manifest themselves when a sufferer contracts the animal disease of glanders or anthrax. (Similar confusion arose, and mistakes were made by doctors, when they misdiagnosed some patients as having influenza instead of anthrax, during the terrorists attacks in the U.S.A., in October, 2001.)
Chief Veterinary Officer for London, William Hunting F.R.C.V.S, comprehensively described the affects that glanders had on man in, ‘Glanders’, by H&W Browne in 1908. This brilliant work describes the onset of visible ulcers from the disease, (These might not always appear.) and occur on the skin just before death from acute septicaemia. The concern he felt in 1908, for the frequency which glanders in man was either misdiagnosed or overlooked, prompted him to include an appendix to his book, entitled, ‘Glanders In Man’. From the remarkable studies contained in it, I have extracted the following interesting examples:
‘An inquest was held at Westminster, on August 15th, 1903 on Albert Allen, a horse-keeper in an omnibus yard. Dr. Cope saw the patient first on June 12th, when he showed symptoms of an ordinary cold, with aching of the limbs. He was treated for a rheumatic attack. On the 19th. There was a nodule on the leg, and some inflammation of the limb. On July 12th other nodules appeared on the right arm, and on the 13th. The man was taken to Westminster Hospital.
Mr. Frank Mott saw him on the 14th, and as there was a suspicion of glanders. Some puss was examined, and the bacillus mallei discovered. The man died August 11th. An autopsy revealed eleven abscesses scattered over arms and legs. There was pus in the knee-joint. Nothing was found in the nose, throat, larynx, or trachea; but in the lungs some small nodule, about the size of a pea, were discovered.’
‘Inquest on Charles Nicholls, a horse keeper, at Westminster, May 19th 1905. On May 1st. The man complained of illness, and saw a doctor, who said he had pleurosy. Two or three days later he was taken to St. George’s Hospital, where he died on the 16th. Dr. Hunt said he diagnosed the case as rheumatic fever. Dr. Ethrington, house physician, said the deceased, on admission, seemed to be suffering from rheumatic fever. The day before death it was thought to be glanders, and a post-mortem examination verified the diagnosis.’
‘On May 14th 1903, an inquest was held at the Town hall, Chelsea, on Charles Ford, an organ grinder. The man kept his organ in a mews, but lived in a street some distance off. A case of glanders existed in a stable opposite in which the organ was kept, about a month previous to the man taken ill, and the mews had frequently contained glandered horses. The widow said, “ It was about a month since he first complained of pains in his head and all over his body.” Dr. Cope was called in, and treated the case as one of influenza…. He was admitted for debility after influenza. He had high temperature but no local symptoms until three days before death. Then a small sore developed over the left eye. The next day there was suppuration of the nose. The post-mortem disclosed several small nodules on the skin of the face and nose. The nasal membrane was intact, as was that of the larynx and trachea. Thick tenacious pus was found under the dura mater.’
‘Soldier, 26, groomed several glandered horses. Malaise, ‘ague’, abscesses of extremities, cough, diarrhoea, caries of head bones, gangrenous ulceration of throat and larynx, phlegmon. Three horses inoculated developed glanders. Died with Lobular abscesses of lungs, spleen, liver, ulceration of trachea, purulent thrombosis of saphene vein.’
‘Soldier, 34, washed noses of glandered horses, Rheumatic pains, phlegmon and gangrene of face, pustular rash on forehead, arms and leg; offensive nasal discharge. Seven weeks. Died. Gelatinous masses in tissues (thymus region), abscesses in muscles.’
His case studies are considerable in number and detail, and the few selected above are for the purpose of demonstrating some of the striking similarities between glanders in man and the ‘flu’, with which he was infected in 1918. The relevance of this comparison will become obvious a little further on.
These similarities are especially not dissimilar in the early stages of both diseases. Post-mortem results on man and animals show the large organs being similarly affected. The incubation period would seem to be the same but the disease could linger in animals for a number of years. The obvious difference being the manifestation of external ulcers on animals, which are only sometimes present on man, and almost not reported at all during the ‘flu’ pandemic. The only similarity in this regard, is the reporting of external spotty or ‘mahogany’ coloured areas, and ‘swollen areas’ on the skins of some ‘flu’ victims.
Another well documented difference, was the ability of glanders to spread from man to man. Not insignificant, but by comparison, this was far less frequent when compared to the ease with which the ‘flu’ spread.
The early symptoms of glanders in man is also described in ‘Zoonoses’ by J.H.Steele in 1979 in a very similar fashion:
‘Within a few days following infection, pro-romal constitutional disturbances develop and are manifested by fever, malaise, fatigue, loss of appetite, jaundice, nausea, headache, and rheumatic pains in the legs.’
The description goes on to describe the advanced stages of the external rupturing or ulcers of the skin, poisoning of vital organs, and concludes with:
‘Glanders in man can best be described as an intensely painful and loathsome disease, which few survive.’
Glanders in man is not the only disease, which manifests such traumatic symptoms. Swine Flu, and infection with anthrax, also display a considerable amount of similar symptoms to those of influenza, and are diseases that are more easily spread in the air than glanders.
The pulmonary form of anthrax, (Woolsorter’s Disease) principally affects the lungs and pleura, and generally resulted from inhaling anthrax spores in areas where animal hair and wool was processed. That is, up to now. This form of the disease usually runs a rapid course, and until the development of modern medicines, almost always terminated fatally.
The intestinal form of the disease, which can result from the consumption of contaminated meat, is characterised by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract, vomiting, and severe diarrhoea. And according to the publication Britannica;
‘Anthrax is occasionally transmitted to humans by spore-contaminated brushes or by wearing apparel such as furs and leather goods.’
(The dangers of infection from anthrax spores present in contaminated ‘brushes’ or animal hairs, receives mention further on.)
Nothing conclusive can be drawn from these comparisons, for in humans and animals alike, there are many similar conditions present in anyone suffering from a whole variety of respiratory infections and diseases. These examples are only included here at this point, in order to give the reader some insight into the symptoms and affects that humans often display when infected with these germs. Again, the relevance of these comparisons will become obvious further on.
One of the biggest hurdles that experts faced in the search for a cure, was an inability to achieve sufficient magnification of specimens. This was a crucial requirement in order to identify the minute elements of these diseases. Although the isolation and research of these viruses was in the early stages of development, it was not in its infancy, and was being vigorously pursued by several prominent scientists before the outbreak of WW1. The author, Eric Croddy, summed up the advances being made about this time:
‘Nevertheless the biological sciences were advanced enough for the identification of certain pathogens to lead to their being isolated and cultured.’
Despite numerous obstacles many scientists excelled in this branch of medicine, and persisted with their brilliant work in the service of humanity. Most notable of his time, was Robert Koch (1843), who had been a German field surgeon in the Franco Prussian war of 1870-1871. He subsequently became one of the worlds leading authorities in the science of bacteriology. A Nobel Prize winner in 1905, one of his many and finest achievements, was his work on the cultivation and study of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis). He died in 1910.
It is worth mentioning, before these viruses were fully understood, bacteriologists sometimes inadvertently contracted infection from their work, and died prematurely.
A working colleague of Koch in latter years, Friedrich Loffler (1852.), with Wilhelm Schultz, identified the causative organism of glanders in 1882. (Pfeifferella mallei.) With Edwin Klebs, Loffler discovered the organism, which causes diphtheria, and the cause of Swine Plague, in 1885. He was also prominent in the identification of Foot and Mouth disease.
Son of an army surgeon, he studied at Berlin before he too served in the army during the Franco-Prussian War. He became director of the Robert Koch Institute of Infectious Diseases, Berlin in 1913 but died after an operation in 1915. He was later decorated for his service during the Great War.
However hard they all tried, they never succeeded in overcoming the mysteries of the ‘flu’.
As already stated, the disease of 1918 was sometimes reported as being Pfeiffer bacillus or flu, which it wasn’t. The confusion arose from the conclusions reached by another well known army surgeon and bacteriologist, Richard Pfieffer, also a contemporary of Koch, who did extensive work on influenza. He also worked at the Institute for Infectious Diseases at Berlin and identified elements of the ‘flu’, but not its cause. Pfieffer was professor at Breslau 1909-1926, and died in 1945.
It is generally accepted today that a human strain of influenza was not isolated until the 1930’s.
Although the origin of the influenza pandemic of 1918 is now presumed to have originated from the contraction of an avian or and a ‘swine like’ flu virus, a combination of both swine and human strains of influenza is also suggested. A definite conclusion has not yet been reached. Amongst the world’s leading experts, Dr. Taubenberger, and Dr. Ann Reid, of the Armed Forces Institute in America, are(were) both vigorously pursuing the origins of this mystery disease. They are said to be nearing a conclusion, but as yet one has not been published. Despite the availability of preserved samples of infected tissue that were taken from soldiers who died from this ‘flu’, and from civilian corpses preserved in permafrost conditions, the identity of this particular strain of influenza or ‘mystery virus’ remains elusive.
Disease in swine however, continues to infect humans, and at the time of writing (April 1999) there are ninety-nine deaths attributed to an outbreak of ‘Swine Plague’ in Kuala Lumpur. The customary and only acceptable ‘cure’ today, of slaughtering the entire pig population, is being carried out. The report also indicates the worrying development that the disease has spread to other domestic animals. A later outbreak of ‘swine fever’ in Britain during August 2000 also necessitated the slaughter of another entire pig farm. The same news reports comfortingly proclaiming that ‘there is no danger to humans’.
Returning briefly to William Hunting, and the appendix to his book, ‘Glanders In Man’, he concludes with this interesting comment:
‘Finally, I would suggest that Glanders should be included in the list of human disease, which are subject to compulsory notification. Glanders has recently been scheduled as an industrial disease, and payment of compensation to infected employees by the owner of diseased horses follows. This ought to be more widely known, and the fact would lead to greater care.’
If it were possible that glanders had in some way been partly responsible for infecting half of the world’s population during and after WW1, such a revelation might have made for many interesting cases of petitions for compensation. And if it ever could have been proved, the scale of the liability would almost certainly have been so overwhelming as to have been considered ridiculous. Yet, who might have believed then, that cigarette manufacturers might one day be sued on a similar scale?
A record of diseases makers.
Following more recent threats of terrorism that supposedly resulted in a number of victims being infected with anthrax, the whole world became acutely aware of the threats posed by biological weapons. Over fifty countries are involved in the development of biological weapons or developing strategies for combating attacks from them. One country doing it, in fear of a march being stole on it by another. Most notable are Japan, Russia, America and the British experiments with anthrax at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down, Salisbury and on the Scottish Island of Gruinard in 1942.
Considered to be more conventional battlefield tactics, the science of weapons has produced almost clinical and remote approaches to military engagements. These were evidenced in Iraq, and in particular, during the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Considered to be politically more favourable methods of prosecuting a war ‘remotely’, these are expected to achieve a victory by bombing an army or country into submission or by reducing an enemy’s military capacity from ‘three miles high’. Or from missiles launched by warships hundreds of miles away. Such strategies are designed to delay committing troops on the ground until the odds are heavily in their favour or hopefully not at all. From the military commanders’ point of view, politicians, and a soldier or his family at home, or even cold budgetary considerations, it is a strategy, which might appear to be a very desirable one. Weapons are launched from ships at sea, hundreds of miles from their targets, guided by unseen satellites their effective kill rates are calculated by cameras and computers. These new arsenals contain an ever-increasing variety of weapons, designed for minimal risk deployment, whilst achieving maximum effect.
Meant to indicate restraint and concern, references to the use of these weapons are always accompanied with the customary declarations by the military, of their ability to ‘minimise collateral damage’. The arsenals include cruise missiles, exorcet, tomahawk, soft bombs, dumb bombs, cluster bombs, smart bombs, daisy cutters, depleted uranium shells, and the list is endless. The latest addition being the biggest conventional bomb constructed, the ‘Mother Of All Bombs’. The policy is one of delivering pummelling ‘precision’ attacks on an enemy from afar. It is also ideally suited for masking the use of biological weapons.
The burning question is seen to emerge. Just when did the race to obtain modern biological weapons begin and was there any connection between it and the spread of the ‘flu’ during the Great War?
Consider the following for a moment. If a country was degraded to the extent that its power, water, medical and sanitary services were severely reduced, would anyone notice or consider it unusual if the population began to get sick? It is in fact, this very scenario, which is often flagged by medical experts during the early stages of large military engagements, and of course such a situation can easily occur when sanitary services, public hygiene and food supplies are eroded. Alternatively but at the same time, a similar result could easily be achieved, by deploying a lethal mixture of germs within artillery rounds or bombs fired on a city. It sounds demonic and ridiculous, but not a bit of it.
The cold war is over, the atomic arms race is all but obsolete, but the race for superior biological weapons is alive and flourishing. Most major countries have biological programmes ongoing in their military. The Internet is full of it. The 150mm shells said to have been primed for detonation with a biological agent, were displayed for the cameras by U.N.S.C.O.M. in Iraq. Terrorists were believed to have acquired some of it and used it on America. Fearful of an attack with biological weapons by Saddam Hussein, Britain was reported to have shipped thousands of anthrax vaccines to the Gulf region during the war with Iraq in 1991. The hunt for these weapons is now being carried out in Iraq by British and American troops. (Update)
It would all seem beyond our control and unstoppable. One of the reasons why these weapons are now more sought after, is their simplicity. They can be manufactured more easily, are inexpensive and relatively easy to deploy. Veterinary, medical and pharmaceutical students are quite capable of producing germ cultures that can cause untold misery and pain to millions. There is no need for large research facilities or the vast expense of nuclear engineering. It has also been shown, that in order to strike terror into a population, there is no need to develop sophisticated delivery systems. Otherwise more innocent operations of say, a pharmaceutical establishment, or even a university laboratory can easily mask the manufacture of deadly germ cultures. Very recently it was demonstrated how easy it was to infect hundreds, and possibly thousands of people in the U.S.A., by sending the vile stuff through the post.
The use of these horrible ‘new’ weapons can be traced back through the centuries to a time when drinking wells were contaminated, and infected animal carcasses were used to sicken the inhabitants of cities under siege. But because of their repugnant and long-term affects on animals and humans, the widespread proliferation of these weapons has been stunted by our instincts for self-preservation. Instead, we have chosen self-imposed standards to restrict the spread of this evil. However, the seemingly unanswerable still remains. How do we prevent the deployment of such deadly weapons, when a perpetrator has no regard for any life, including his that of his own?
We know, or we have been told that Iraq has such a capacity, and has used it on the Kurds and Iranians. Where else, and what other horrible weapons have already been deployed? Many other countries we consider to be civilised have eagerly traded large amounts of armaments with Iraq, Russia, Germany, Britain, America. What number of other countries or groups of malcontents maintain ongoing biological weapons research programmes? Week ending Sunday, June 13th, 1999, newspapers printed some biographical sketches of the N.A.T.O. Generals who were liberating Kosovo. These included one of the U.S. Brigadier General John Craddock, who was reported to have seen service in the Gulf War where he was christened with the nickname ‘Mr. Anthrax’, supposedly as a result of his experience in biological weapons. The advantages of incapacitating your enemy with a lethal cloud, a fine mist, a virulent virus, spread by man or animal, or as a contaminant in a water supply, can be easily grasped.
The Daily Telegraph, August 25th, 1999, reported in an obituary of Bertie Blunt that he supposedly had experience with a WW2 application of the same dreaded disease. Seconded to the S.O.E. (Special Operations Europe.) from his position as head of medical research at Glaxo in 1939, he is said to have taken part in secret operations that helped to defeat Germany during the war. One of the operations was said to have been a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, and that this included permission to employ chemical or bacteriological agents. That same department was responsible for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who was one of the main architects of the ‘final solution’, and along with others, was responsible for the torture and deaths of S.O.E. agents.
The operation, which is still suspected to have employed anthrax, was essentially an ambush, after which Heydrich was reported to have died after being struck with shrapnel. His death supposedly resulted from an exploding grenade, which embedded some of its fragments into his back. It was reported that two of these grenades were specially prepared with anthrax in Britain and dispatched with the assassination team. Alternatively, shrapnel from an ordinary grenade is alleged to have first passed through the car seat that contained horsehair, introducing the infection from which it is said he died. Either way, Heydrich’s grenade wounds were not thought at the early stages to be life threatening but quite mysteriously he soon began to exhibit symptoms of being infected with anthrax, and unexpectedly succumbed from his injuries. The subject of dangerous germs lurking in animal hairs seems to have been a pet theory suggested for some unusual deaths from time to time. (Another similar claim is addressed further on.)
Up to the present time, there has been almost no public debate on the morality or dangers inherent from the stockpiling or use of biological and bacteriological weapons. Except, when the ‘bad guy’ is said to have them. The reality of this threat has suddenly become abundantly clear, and some minds have very noticeably become focussed on it. Who might remember the attempt by the British to wipe out the North American Indians by giving them blankets doused with smallpox? Who cares about the blanket spraying of Agent Orange on Vietnam and Cambodia by the U.S.A.? Or about the new wonder bacteria, which if unleashed is promised will only destroy pre-designated and harmful crops such as opium? Not unlike the tit-for-tat atomic weapons race, the spectre that has proved to be the most effective deterrent against the use of these unimaginable weapons called, nerve gas, toxins, agents, plague, anthrax, ricin, glanders etc., has been the possibility of retaliation in kind. The apparent disinterest by the general public in the deployment of these weapons is disconcerting and should not continue. The absence of debate and challenge in democratic countries to the prospect of such horrors is extremely undesirable. There is almost a mental block in the minds of the ‘too busy majority’, who wish to shut out the possibility that their government might be capable of unleashing a weapon that could spread disease and death across continents. At the same time, we seem comfortable with the idea that our protectors are developing defences against the possibility of similar threats by others. Acts of wreaking pain and destruction against his fellow man in such unthinkable ways must surely mean there is no God?
One might suggest that the military arm of governments have an obligation to keep abreast with the twisted science involving the development of these horrible weapons, in order that they might protect its citizens from attacks with them by others? The insidious nature of such attacks will be their use on nations not necessarily ‘at war’, and their inability to differentiate between a clandestine infection, and just a ‘normal’ unexplained epidemic. The key to reducing the effects of these attacks will be an ability to quickly identify the virus, and the prompt distribution of suitable vaccines in sufficient quantities. And just who benefits? This quotation by the author Allan Chase will indicate at least one beneficiary.
‘…During the four years of [WW1], and the two or three years of acute disruption and reconstruction which followed it, military and military-linked priorities alone determined who would benefit the greatest, or even at all, from the most effective of the vaccines and antitoxins developed between 1880 and 1914…’
When the Japanese biological weapons research UNIT 731 was destroyed by its masters before the end of WW2, few of its scientists stood trial during the subsequent war tribunals. This unit was established in occupied China, and experiments using diseases such as plague and anthrax were carried out on its inmates, who were known as ‘logs’. These were so cruel that all four hundred of the Chinese prisoners held there, were put to death in order to hide the extent of these experiments before the liberating troops could reached the camp. The data amassed by the Japanese scientists who worked in this facility was later traded to American Intelligence for immunity and safe conduct. The Japanese staff from the camp was subsequently subsumed into prominent positions within the pharmaceutical and academic communities.
As American scientists had only previously been able to amass data from experiments held on animals, the biological research unit at Fort Detrick was more than pleased with the Japanese data. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million Chinese people were killed directly by the actions of the biological weapons developed at UNIT 731. Surviving relatives are now in the process of suing the Japanese government, and have recently met one of the few surviving staff members from UNIT 731. This man made a public apology to the relatives and said:
‘These were deeds which should not have been committed by any human being’.
Additional beneficiaries might be traced with the help of the ever-relevant quote from a popular movie. ‘Follow the money’.
Much of the forgoing refers to a scenario, which would involve what we might call ‘conventional enemies’. These are clearly identifiable opponents with well-defined geographical boundaries. The threat presented by small groups or offshoots of extreme radical organisations, those caring nothing for their own lives, compound the problem of defending against biological attacks. Attacks against a water supply, the infestation of a city’s vermin population, or the contamination of food, crops or milk supplies with germ cultures, are potentially far more dangerous, and could be very difficult to prevent or combat. Such concepts have been confined to the extreme but are a growing worry for security agencies throughout the world. This paragraph has remained unchanged, since it was written almost two years before the attacks with anthrax that occurred in America during October 2001.
If one is tempted to theorise, that the air which surrounds the world is so vast that it could not be seriously or even widely contaminated, then he should look at recent examples that indicate the contrary. Examples such as the poisonous effects that industrial pollutants are having on our oceans, or from the effects of nuclear accidents on our pasturelands, the catastrophic results from ‘global warming’, which threatens our very existence. Or the less well-known and unpredicted harmful affects that experimental programmes using biological warfare simultants, have had on the atmosphere and on the general public. One might cling to the belief that its own government would not sanction the development of a weapons policy, which might include the use of germs such as anthrax, ebola, plague etc. The contrary is sadly the case, and there are now a growing number of governments involved in the race for these weapons. These are comprehensively documented in the work, ‘Chemical and Biological Warfare’ by Eric Croddy, or in ‘Biohazard’. The latter was written by the ex-top U.S.S.R. scientist, Dr. Ken Alibek who defected to the West after being heavily involved in this ‘dirty business’. Both these authors leave no room for any doubt nor give any impression that somehow their work is embellished to affect sales figures. At this time, mankind’s future in respect of these weapons seems bleak.
More recently, the world was suddenly shocked at the enormous loss of life when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Centre in New York. The event was soon followed by some government reports that expressed fears of biological attacks that might be mounted by similar terrorists. Some also described how easily it might be to kill millions of civilians with germs, such as anthrax. Again the use of deadly diseases delivered in fine sprays from aeroplanes were suggested. US and British troops now occupy Iraq, and the search for these weapons has begun. What will they uncover?
Words come with difficulty to describe man’s capacity in this respect, an otherwise most admirable and most wondrous creature might create the most horrible weapons threatening the destruction of his own kind.
A case of the flu or a crime of incomprehensible proportions?
Through the ages there have been many recorded incidences of ‘germ warfare’, but it may come as a surprise for many to learn, that the most profound affects to have ever resulted from any act of biological warfare, may have occurred during the First World War. If this is true, it was an act that knowledge of has either been deliberately buried or was generally unknown about. Or it may only be that any references to it have just fallen out of interest and into obscurity. I do not refer to the use of ‘gas’ or poisonous chemicals in the battlefields, but a more lethal and demonic concept. All of the plot’s details are not available to me, and much of the accusation for it emanates from a common source, the one time Head of British Naval Intelligence, Admiral Hall.
Most of what he claims is very difficult to substantiate, and the trail of paper records goes cold at just the wrong (or right) time. But references by several highly respected writers and acquaintances of Admiral Hall are too many and consistent for the possibility of this being just another ruse, a talent for which he became very well known. The difficulty in exposing the existence of such a plan is made clear in the Admiral’s own words, when he referred to another government agency. He said, “….when you come up against real secret service, it becomes almost an impossibility to unravel things and bring any particular incident home to an individual.”
Infecting animals with diseases was by no means the only method suggested by Admiral Hall, to have been used by German agents in their campaign against food and humans during WW1. By June 1917, there were nearly a half million beasts of burden in the battlefields of Western Europe alone. Their mortality rate rose to 28% that year, which was an almost identical and universal average figure for the mortality rate amongst victims of the ‘flu’ during the same year. By mid 1918, there were virtually no reserve replenishments of animals remaining. It would seem almost inevitable, that amongst the arsenal of sinister weapons that were deployed during WW1, direct attacks against beasts of burden would also be included. Horses, mules and reindeers, which were critical elements in the prosecution of the war, eventually became the targets of the desperate.
Attacks mounted against these helpless animals were carried out with germs of a most vile nature. Admiral Hall also indicated that mutton and beef were also targeted. It is a matter of record, that prior to the war, glanders in animals was practically eradicated in the British Isles, but only after reaching an all time high of 3,000 cases in 1904. The spread of such diseases was commonplace, during and after large-scale conflicts, such as the British African wars. And after WW1, glanders also became rampant in such places as, Russia, the African countries, and South America, where the disease is still endemic today. (After the war thirty million people were affected by typhus in Russia, killing three million between 1918-1922.) Although WW1 was a time when man still maintained a close relationship with animals, few champions were vocal in support of humane treatment for them. And given the huge numbers of beasts employed during the war, it is surprising that more was not published by animal rights groups in support of their humane treatment. Not escaping censorship, the periodical, ‘Animal’s Defender’, was nevertheless able to make the following criticism of an unusual allocation of Red Cross funds for animal experiments, in their June edition of 1918:
‘Considerable public and private criticism has been made of an appropriation of the Red Cross in August, 1917, for medical research work in France, because partly involved in this work is the experimentation upon living animals for the purpose of finding methods of prevention and remedies for new and strange soldiers diseases…’
The American Red Star Animal Relief organisation were also able to state in the New York Herald on April 8, 1917 that 90% of the 70,000 National Guard mounts that were in service on the border during the previous Fall, were incapacitated due to some contagious disease. ‘Strange soldiers diseases,’ ‘some contagious disease’ and respiratory afflictions amongst animals in the field, rose dramatically during 1917/1918. Alfred W. Crosby, in his book, ‘America’s Forgotten Pandemic’ commented:
‘In April (1918) the doctors at a veterinary hospital of the French army began noticing an influx of horses with a respiratory illness, called gourme, that had symptoms like flu. Coincidentally, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of very early cases of flu among the personnel at the French veterinary centres. Veterinarians of the American army also saw what must have been gourme at Bordeaux that Spring and simply called it horse influenza. Several eminent bacteriologists concluded that gourme and human flu where the same, caused by a filterable virus.’
Crosby also repeated the observations made by U.S Major, George A. Soper, on the influenza, in the New York Medical Journal, 1919. A disease that was besetting animals and man, both of which had ‘many clinical and epidemiological similarities of the disease in the two species':
‘Sudden onset, fever, cough, indications of muscle and joint pain, explosive spread over whole continents on occasion etc.’
Soper also concluded with similar reservations as those made by William Hunting:
‘Owing to the striking parallelism between influenza in horses and influenza in man it would seem probable that a more thorough knowledge of the disease in horses would yield facts of great value.’
Curiosity at this point might easily encourage the question. What exactly was going on amongst animals on and off the battlefields during WW1? The implications contained in the foregoing references give rise to even further questions:
Was there any connection between the unusual diseases occurring in animals and those in man at about the same time?
Was there any connection between glanders, anthrax, Swine Plague and the ‘flu’?
Had one or more, or a concoction of these diseases, spread alongside or on the ‘back of’ the ‘flu’ in 1918?
Did ‘two or more separate diseases’ somehow come together to, ‘make Spanish Influenza’? The common influenza, providing the contagious agent or carrier for the spread of the more deadly anthrax etc.?
If there was a connection, then the conclusion is not a very pleasant one, and one which was only ever alluded to many years after. But once having read the references to the following accounts of unusual operations, these ‘suggested links’ (Evidence being too strong a word at this point.) become more than just compelling. They are in a word, frightening.
The links are woven like a thread through various well-respected works on British Naval Intelligence and its head. They are contained in reports on that department’s undercover activities in Spain, North and South America during WW1. Head of the department was Admiral Hall, and he claimed that water sources, cattle, sheep, reindeer, beef and grain stores were all targets for biological attack by German agents. The idea of spreading disease to troops or anyone else in this way, if true, was one that could only have been fermented in a mind of unparalleled evil, and may have resulted in the most devastating incident of germ warfare the world has ever known.
A welcome irony of the awful devastation that it caused is the rapid spreading and indiscriminate nature of the disease, which might have been responsible for deterring a further use of it for many years. All of the belligerents suffered from the ‘flu’ germs that spread throughout the globe.
Not so welcome, is the probability that the use of germ cultures in this evil way may have begun the race for the perfect weapon. A race in which some militarists harboured the perverted notion that an advantage was to be gained over their enemies by the acquisition of the ultimate threat.
However way you look at these events, biological warfare is now another evil man has summoned into his arsenal of destruction. One must also exercise extreme caution if suspecting only Germany of using these weapons during WW1. (With some conviction, France has also been accused of biological warfare against Prussia in 1870-1, and again during WW1.) By no means is there an unmistakable direction in which to point a finger, but only one, which the reader must decide for himself. Intelligence agencies where then, and are now, a breed of misinformants, beyond even the ordinary meaning of the word, but arguably arising from necessity. The material presented here is as I found it, to which I have added some additional primary research from the scant records available. It is a compilation of historic facts and quotes from various respected works, for which I hope the authors or their representatives, will forgive me for so much verbatim. They appear in this way, only to convince the reader that I am in no way attempting to extract a different meaning than what was originally implied.
The threads of a story.
There is almost nothing you cannot query on the Internet, and although this subject is quite obscure, it is referenced on several sites.
Site: BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS FAQv.0.44
Heading No.3: Have biological weapons ever been used in warfare or terrorism? Yes.
(And amongst several mentioned the following appears.)
Incident.1915:…the case dating back to 1915, of German-American physician Dr. Anton Dilger, who…established a small biological agent production facility at his Northwest Washington, DC home. Using cultures of bacillus Anthracis (Anthrax) and Pseudomonas Mallei (Glanders) supplied by the Imperial German Government, Dilger processed an estimated litre or more of liquid agent. Reportedly, the agent and a simple inoculation device were given to a group of dock workers in Baltimore who used them to infect a reported 3,000 head of horses, mules and cattle destined for the Allied forces in Europe. Allegedly, several hundred military personnel were also affected.’
Source: Canadian Intelligence Service. (probably needs updating)
This reference to biological weapons may have its origins in the intercepts of German messages that were supplied by Admiral Hall to Amos Peaslee during the ‘Black Tom’ case, post WW1. One of the judicial umpires in this historic legal case, Owen Roberts, of the Small Claims Commission, also made the following reference to the same operations in 1932:
‘…as are Kingsland, Savanah (where acts of sabotage against horses and mules are shown by claimants’ evidence to have been committed), and Tony’s Lab. (the name of Anton Dilger’s laboratory for producing toxic germs, all as explained in other evidence in the record.).’
[Details of the Black Tom case and the American lawyer, Amos Peaslee’s connection with it, are explained a little further on in this chapter.]
Another relevant publication on this activity is by Captain Landau of the British Service, ‘The Enemy Within’ 1937. In this work the following references are made to the activities of the ‘Dilger family’ (Father and sons, Anton and Carl, resident in Virginia.):
‘In addition to blowing up factories and starting incendiary fires, he (Saboteur named Frederick Hinsch.) organised a band of agents to inoculate with anthrax and glanders germs, mules, horses and cattle which were waiting shipment to the Allies. His germ supply was received from Anton Dilger, a special agent who was sent out from Germany.’
‘The raw cultures were sent from Germany and in ‘Chevy Chase, near Washington, he installed a laboratory; and assisted by his brother Carl, he started in on his work of propagating germs.’
The first to know of Germany’s involvement in a campaign of germ warfare during WW1, was probably Admiral Hall. It is unclear how long the campaign remained unknown to the other Allies, and only entered the public domain in a very limited way many years after the events. The suggestion that there might be a connection between the most infamous pandemic of ‘flu’, and this case of germ warfare in 1918 began for me, as it had for Major Amos Peaslee, after reading British reports compiled in 1925. These suggested a number of unusual coincidences. Before we look at what Peaslee wrote on the subject in 1944, we must first jump forward to 1982. This was the year in which Patrick Beesly outlined the plot, which Admiral Hall had uncovered on the use of germs by German agents, in the now famous book on the mysterious operations of ‘Room 40’. Essentially Room 40 was known to be the centre for British Naval Intelligence in the Old Building, at the department of the Admiralty during WW1. And although Patrick Beesly did not serve within Room 40, he later served in the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty. He also wrote with the privilege of access to several primary sources not available to the general public, including Admiral Hall’s personal papers. These revealed:
‘The Germans, for their part, strove ever more desperately to strike back at Britain and her Allies. Having been the first to resort to poison gas as a weapon against men in uniform, it was scarcely to be expected they would refrain from attacking animals which, either as beasts of burden or as a source of food, were serving the Allied cause. If Britain prevented fodder and fertilisers reaching German farmers, Germany would retaliate by the use of germ warfare against livestock in neutral countries. Sometime in 1916 the General Staff decided to attack three targets which they thought they could reach; the reindeer which were sledding British arms from Norway to Russia; the Roumanian sheep being supplied to southern Russia; and the Argentine sheep, beef and mules (The last named for the use of the Indian Army in Mesopotamia) which were shipped every week from Buenos Aires. The animals were to be infected with glanders or anthrax in tiny ampoules concealed in cubes of sugar beet.
These plans were, however, betrayed as usual by German over confidence in the security of their communications. The glanders germs to be used against the reindeer were sent to Christiana (Oslo) in the German diplomatic pouches, but this was detected by Room 40. Hall informed the Norwegian Government, which, unlike that of Sweden, was not prepared to act as a German stooge. Ignoring diplomatic protocol, the Norwegians seized a German diplomatic bag, opened it and confronted an embarrassed German Minister with yet another example of his Government’s abuse of neutrality.
When Roumania suddenly, but rashly, declared war on Germany in August 1916, the German Military Attaché in Bucharest had to get rid of his incriminating evidence in a hurry; he buried it in the Legation’s garden. Unfortunately, he was seen in the act by the Roumanian under-gardener who told the American Charge d’Affaires, Brand Whitlock, as soon as the Americans took over German interests in Roumania. Intrigued to find out just what the German had been trying to conceal, Whitlock had the gardener dig up the airtight container and a large supply of ampoules and papers, making clear the purpose for which they were to be used, were revealed.’
Admiral Hall had his sources well placed, and he soon learned of German plans to use biological weapons during WW1. Beesly maintained that Hall’s ability to intercept German intelligence, similar to the following extract from an intercepted message on June 7th, 1916, when Madrid cabled Berlin, was Britain’s most valuable weapon against Germany:
‘In order to close the Spanish-Portuguese frontier and to make communications difficult between Portugal and the Allies. I (Krohn or Prince Ratibot?) suggest contaminating at the frontier, with cholera bacilli, rivers flowing through Portugal. Professor Kleine of the Cameroons considers the plan to be perfectly feasible. It is necessary to have two glass phials of pure culture, which please send when safe opportunity occurs.’
‘To be fair. Berlin replied the next day declining the proposal, but if the German authorities still had some scruples about employing germ warfare against humans, they had none about attacking animals in this way.’
This next passage from Beesly’s book also reveals some of the methods, and the difficulties, which were experienced by German agents during their attempts to transport the dangerous germs to agents in South America:
‘However, to supply germs to South America was less easy. It was decided to ship them by U-boat from Pola to Cartagena in Spain where the luckless Krohn would arrange for their onward transport to the Argentine. The U-boat concerned was almost certainly U-35. In June 1916 she is known to have reached Cartagena with a personal letter from the Kaiser to the King of Spain (although to Prince Ratibour’s annoyance she did not bring him the new codes which he had requested.) Four months later U-35 was back again to collect Leutnant zur See Wilhelm Canaris, the future head of Hitler’s Abwehr, who had been trying to establish U-boat refuelling points in Spain. We do not know if U-35 carried supplies of anthrax and glanders germs on these two trips, but on February 14, 1918, when she landed two agents off Cartage, she almost certainly did so. Hall had alerted the Cartagena Chief of Police, who was pro-British, and the consignment was seized, but had to be sent up to Madrid. However, the policeman arranged with Hall’s men that one of the twelve cases which contained the sugar and the germs, should be thrown off the train at a given point. It reached Hall not long afterwards, and when he considered the moment most suitable he sent Herschell with some of the sugar cubes to show them personally to the King. Hall claims that this led to the recall of prince Ratibor, but it was more probable that it contributed to the downfall of the wretched Krohn, whose responsibility it was.’
The essence of secret operations is that their purpose and methods remain secret from the enemy until the strategy has been accomplished and victory achieved. Or, as in the case of some operations, measures are taken in order that the secret strategy is never revealed. In order to insure that such secrets are not uncovered, it is often the case that no written record remains or that unusual lengths are pursued in order to conceal the threads of the operations. That is, such secrets were often only given verbally, and only to trusted officers.
The log of U-35 (Typed version.) does not place its most famous commander, Von Arnauld de Periere off ‘Cartage’ or ‘Cartagena’, on February 14th, 1918, but patrolling off the coast of Malta. At that time he received several messages from both Nauen and Oran, after which he moved to patrol off Sicily and Sardinia. Commander Perrier continued a military career with Cannaris in the Abwehr during WW2 and died in a plane crash outside Paris.)
Continuing to receive constant radio messages, U-35 moved to patrol off the coast of North Africa, and remained there for several days. A constant stream of messages were received from Nauen, after which he again crossed the Mediterranean to patrol the Bay of Lion, and the east coast of Spain, from the 19th until the 20th. After patrols in this area, Commander Von Arnauld returned once again to Africa’s north coast on the 25th. He operated there and off Sicily and Malta until he returned to the German base at Pola on March 13th.
Other than the references to customary operational duties in his log, there are no entries indicating operations involving agents or cargoes. His numerous communications with Oran and Nauen, nevertheless demonstrate an important aspect of Von Arnauld’s and other U-boat commanders’ considerable successes in the Mediteraean, i.e. naval intelligence and communications. To suppose that their enemies’ capabilities were any the less was another cornerstone of the arrogance, which contributed to their defeat.
On return to base, a U-boat’s log entries were summarised by a station officer. Additional station intelligence was added, and this formed an official report of the particular cruise or patrol. Attached to U-35’s log there is such a summary, which contains a comment of some curiosity. At a point in the cruise, after a radio message was received from Nauen, Commander Periere apparently decided on the ‘9th day of the patrol’ (February 18th.) to ‘leave’ his area of operations to seek out targets in the ‘most important part of the Mediterranean, the east coast of Spain’. Even if this had been an unscheduled action resulting from the radio communication, such a change in patrol areas by an experienced commander would not have been too unusual. The phrasing of the translation would seem to indicate that it was an unscheduled departure from the north coast of Africa, which is worth a mention, but nothing more.
Any assumptions made on the foregoing or about the neatly typed record of U-35’s voyage, can only be purely speculative. They thus provide no confirmation for the contents of the intercepts said to have been in Admiral Hall’s possession, purporting that the smuggling operations by U-35 with germ cultures took place off the coast of Spain on the 14th. This was Commander Periere’s last cruise in U-35, the most successful U-boat in naval history. He then took command of the larger and latest in her class, U-139, in May 1918.
Despite exposing blatant abuses of neutrality by German agents, there were some ‘neutrals’, which Hall could not persuade to act against Germany. Argentina was apparently one of these difficult cases, and its obsession for neutrality at apparently any price, is demonstrated in another quote from Beesly:
‘Sir Reginald Tower, the British Minister, took a sample cube to the Argentine President, Hipolito Irigoyen, and dissolved it in a cup of water before the President’s eyes to reveal the ampoule. Irigoyen refused to take any action, with the specious excuse the British could not prove that the mules had been infected on Argentine soil rather than at sea. Arnold and his merry men were therefore able to continue this clever if very unpleasant campaign for some time longer, until finally checkmated by combined British and American action.’
The germ cultures had reached South America, and one of the routes used, is outlined here by Beesly:
‘Paymaster Lloyd Hirst, head of the Intelligence Division’s South American desk, recounts that Krohn, who could not take his French mistress with him to Germany, persuaded her to carry a supply to Buenos Aires; she sailed in the Spanish liner Reine Victoria Eugenia, but Krohn must have reported the arrangements by wireless to Berlin before he left. Hall knew exactly what was happening and even the lid of the particular trunk in which the germs were concealed. Unfortunately, although HMS Newcastle was detailed to intercept the Spanish ship, she missed her in a fog, and Marthe Regnier was able to hand over her lethal consignment to Herr Arnold, Germany’s most dangerous agent in South America. Arnold lost no time; he managed to infect two hundred mules, which were being shipped on board the SS Phideas, and they all died. A second shipment was similarly lost.’
The alleged incidents of mules dying on board the steamer Phideas, as a result of being infected with germ cultures, were also impossible to confirm. The Phideas was owned by the Brazil & River Plate Steam Navigation Co., which was a subsidiary of the well known Lamport and Holt Line. The company did lose many beasts on voyages to France but these were not in sufficient numbers to match those reported to have occurred after infection by German agents. Instead, these other incidences were reported to have resulted from ‘rough passage’.
Mules were not the only victims that were said to have contracted disease aboard the Phideas. On a voyage from New York to Le Havre in August 1918, most of the 800 nurses aboard the Phideas were ‘laid low’, eight of whom died from the ‘flu’
Another of Britain’s great strengths, was her network of global merchant shipping companies. These sailed vessels in every ocean, and Lamport and Holt was but one of them. They assisted their nation in the struggle against Germany not only by shipping much needed supplies to Britain but they also provided important radio links between their ships and ports of call for the Royal Navy, in such places as the east coast of South America. I have been unable to confirm Admiral Hall’s accusation, that the infection of mules aboard the Phideas actually occurred, so once again, this aspect of the accusations of the ‘germ warfare’ claim, will have to remain a subject for further research.
Marthe Regnier was not apprehended on the occasion mentioned above, which was presumed to have occurred in March 1918. However, the following outline of events during the interception of the SS Leone XII in the same area that month, might have been related to the events that were anticipated for the Eugenia. This incident demonstrates the usefulness of a far-reaching and powerful navy, and the extent to which Admiral Hall’s influence could reach. The following incident began when HMS Newcastle, was said to have received a radiogram, after which it hurriedly weighed anchor in her station port of Rio de Janeiro, and sailed to intercept an unknown steamer on March 4th, 1918. According to the Newcastle’s log, there was no particular hurry indicated that morning, and the crew even had time for prayers prior to the raising her anchor at 9.52.
Events were soon to come to the attention of the Press, creating a minor diplomatic incident and raising eyebrows amongst the ‘International Law abiding citizens…’ in Brazil.
After leaving the harbour, HMS Newcsatle’s course steered her Southeast. She later stopped and examined several steamers before intercepting the SS Leon X111, on March 5th. The following extracts from her log show what occurred next.
04.05.AM..Reduced (speed) to 180 revs.
04.20.AM..Reduced to 100revs. Altered course N20’W
05.30 AM..Increased to 240rev. Altered course SSE. [A sudden reversal of course and urgent increase in speed.]
05.45.AM..Course and speed as required for closing steamer.
05.55.AM..Stopped. Boarded SS Leon X111.
06.00.AM..Lit fires in steam cutter. Hands employed cleaning ship.
[The intercepted steamer was then rummaged for over two hours with some result.]
08.30.AM..Boarding party returned on board with one suspicious personage.
08.38.AM..Proceed N4’W at 340revs. [An infrequent turn of speed for this vessel.]
09.25.AM..Course and speed as required for entering Rio harbour. [A distance travelled of 15 miles.]
Both vessels had in fact entered the harbour together, indicating an arrest or an ‘escorting’ of the Leon. When the two vessels came to a stop, a detachment from the Newcastle was dispatched to the Leon, and removed another ‘passenger suspected of espionage who was bound for Argentina’. This man was described as being of ‘medium height, stout build, very black beard, and a fringe of black hair surrounding his very shiny bald head.’ He was also reported to have been able to speak several languages, and held papers and a French passport that were false. The Marine Police arrived at the Leon, and yet another gentleman was escorted from the ship, but this time to the police station. This second gentleman had ‘red hair’, was ‘very fair’, and it was reported that because of his accent, he too was suspected by his fellow passengers of being a spy. His name was give as Mr Daisant, and his bona fides were later confirmed, when he was claimed by an agent from the Casa Pernambucana Coffee Manufacturing Co., to where he was bound. The ‘black bearded’ gentleman had by this time disappeared into the Newcastle.
When it was discovered that a man had been arrested by a ‘foreign power’, from a steamer belonging to neutral Spain, in a Brazilian harbour, the diplomatic fallout erupted. The concern for democracy and fair play was short lived however, and the exigencies of war prevailed. The curious thing was, there seems to have been no subsequent mention made of the ‘suspicious personage’ that had been arrested earlier from the Leon in international waters. This might have meant that there were two persons detained by Captain Smith on the Newcastle.
What became of the detainees is a mystery for the time being, and I can’t help wondering about Admiral Hall’s reference to the man who he considered to be the most dangerous agent in South America, Dr. Arnold (alias). His very unpleasant campaign of infecting animals in Argentina, was said to have been brought to a halt about this time, when he was ‘finally checkmated by combined British and American action.’
Admiral Hall had missed the trunk on the Reine Victoria Eugenia but if the report that follows was factual, he would most probably have been instrumental in the interception of another trunk. It was reported to have contained much the same type of material. After the Zimmermann Telegram affair, there were many stories circulating that speculated on just how the intelligence of the incriminating telegram was obtained, and neutral Sweden’s complicity in the handling of the illegal German communications. It is very unlikely that this next report could have appeared in any British newspaper without Admiral Hall’s approval, and may have been a timely piece of reporting by the Freeman’s Journal, two days before America’s declaration of war against Germany.
Contents of Swedish Baron’s Luggage.
‘The luggage of the Swedish baron, Von Rosen, who was arrested in Finmark on January last, and after a short time in prison was deported, has been brought to Christiana. According to the “Tidens Tegn,” the Baron’s hand luggage contained a number of articles of diabolical character intended to cause fires, explosions, poisoning or disease. These included pencils, containing little glass tubes of some kind of acid, which would break when the pencils were sharpened. Other articles contained another acid, which on contact with another substance would develop great heat. There were also a quantity of poisoned lump sugar, and several small phials containing anthrax cultures.
(The firebombs were left in factories and in the holds of ships. These would not ignite until sometime after they had been prepared and hidden by agents. A drawing of such a device is included in the illustrations.)
The extent of the sabotage in America had reached alarming proportions by 1917, and it continued well after she entered the war. Below, Beesly clearly outlines how German efforts in this regard did not diminish until well after America’s declaration of war:
‘After the American declaration of war, the Germans redoubled their efforts to involve Mexico and to stir up trouble in South America by propaganda and sabotage of all sorts, including the planting of bombs on ships carrying supplies for the Allies, by infecting stored grain and spreading disease among cattle, horses and mules.’
‘German agents were another matter, and the activities of a certain Dr. Delmar, a naturalised U.S. citizen but in fact a representative of the German General Staff, who had reached Madrid en route to Mexico, were followed with considerable interest. [This is the same Dr. Dilger referred to by Canadian Intelligence earlier.] The Germans refused to abandon their ideas of involving Mexico, convinced that this would prevent the United States from taking any active part in the war in Europe. Delmar had plans for running arms to Mexico in four blockade-runners, and for the supply of equipment for a wireless station, which was essential after the collapse of the Swedish Roundabout. It was hoped to sabotage the Mexican oil wells and to organise extensive sabotage in the United States by Irish-Americans. All this came to light because of Delmar’s subordinate in Mexico, Dr. Gehrman, who managed to get to Spain in a Spanish ship. He requested onward transport to Germany by U-boat, but this could not be arranged, and a great deal of information flashed to and fro between Berlin and Madrid by wireless in VB code, the only available code now believed to be safe by the German Embassy in Madrid. There were frequent alurms and excursions on the British and American side concerning the proposed movements of the two Germans, including the information that Dr.Gehrman had ‘concealed about his person or baggage one or more phials containing germ culture for the purpose of poisoning cattle or human beings.’ In the end it all came to nothing. Dr. Delmar died of influenza before he could put his rather grandiose plans into operation.’
Dr Dilger and Dr Delmar, are claimed by the British secret service operative and author, Captain Landau, to have been one and the same person. Dilger was a man who was most eagerly sought out by both sides before he passed away in Spain during the final months of the war. His death was considered to have been sudden, and occurred after refusing ‘very urgent’ orders from Germany. It was later whispered;
‘…..that he knew too much. It was a deadly poison that removed him – at least so it was later intimated by a former German agent’.
The German agent known as Arnold, in South America, was a man who Admiral Hall seemed to have a healthy respect for. He was described by Hall in Beesly’s book, as;
‘a nice quiet fellow who for the past two years has been engaged in the Argentine in sabotage work against shipping; introducing fungus in stored grain; inoculation of mules with glanders, and the promotion of strikes harmful to Allied interests….’
The contamination of stored grain with ‘fungus’ is a particularly interesting reference in this context. The biographical study of Admiral Hall, ‘The Eyes of the Navy’, written by a contemporary of his, Admiral Sir William James, contains several more references to this nefarious work. It also contains a great wealth of material on the activities of Room 40, much of which I have already described from the earlier book, ‘Three Wars With Germany’ (1944). In order to lend further weight to the accusation of Germany’s ability, and her willingness at that time to target food, I have extracted from James’s biography of Hall, the following intercept of a message sent by Zimmermann to the German Minister in Buenos Aires:
‘It would be desirable to render useless certain particular cargoes of corn, an operation which can be effected, without danger to human beings, by means of doses of KOKODYL or MERKAPTAN contained in GELDORANT capsules. Experiments made here have demonstrated that the capsules can be made to look like grains of corn. They would for this purpose be mixed with the corn when the latter is being shipped from the silos. Two or three capsules would suffice to render 100kgs of corn offensive to the smell. You should report whether it is possible to get supplies of the above and to carry out the project.’
The reference to ‘not being harmful to humans’ would seem to indicate that the contrary had been on someone’s mind at the time. The almost casual reference to the contamination of grain, demonstrates the dangerous ease with which it was possible to infect a basic food ingredient consumed by millions world wide, and is coincidentally, an excellent medium for the spread of the disease anthrax. These issues all point to the fact, that the battle to win the war at this time was being firmly focused against food, both at sea and on land.
The reader will by now be aware of the chilling implications unfolding from the possibility, that a campaign of spreading infectious and deadly diseases existed during WW1. For the final and most startling revelation in this respect, we must return to some earlier references to Major Amos Peaslee, and one of the most famous compensatory international lawsuits of the twentieth century. This was an extremely lengthy endeavour, which began after the war’s end, and became known as, the ‘Black Tom’ case. With the full support of the U.S. Government, the case was essentially one for the recovery of damages caused by German agents to various industrial establishments in the U.S.A. These were illegal operations carried out by Germany against America while it was neutral. An agreed special assembly of ‘umpires’, known as the Mixed Claims Commission adjudicated on the petitions.
Amongst some almost boastful German claims, that at least twenty-one ammunition factories were blown up, it was estimated that there was at least $150,000,000 worth of damage caused to U.S. property by sabotage, during this period. Litigation in the case spanned a period of seventeen years, alternating between New York, The Hague, and the Supreme Court in Washington. It was not finalised until the year that the whole thing began again, in 1939.
The action was not one taken directly by the U.S. Government but by the claimants, Lehig Valley Railroad Company, at New York, in alliance with the Kingsland Assembly Plant, New Jersey. The Leigh Valley dock side loading facilities, where known as the Black Tom factory, and thus the case got its name from the coloured workers who suffered most, when the works were obliterated by the huge explosion, which shook New York on July 30th, 1916. Both plants produced munitions and military supplies, and had been greatly affected by the illegal sabotage activities of German agents, at a time when America was still neutral.
Despite repeated efforts by a whole raft of officials and private detective agencies, the case against the alleged culprits could not be secured. In order to help prove the case, it was essential to locate and interview the suspects, and to show that the saboteurs were in the employ of the Imperial German Government at the time the crime was committed. In 1924, Major Amos Peaslee, a prominent member of the New York Bar, was recommended to the claimants. A Quaker, Major Peaslee had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, as head of the ‘Silver Greyhounds’. This was a department of messengers, which were somewhat equivalent to Britain’s, ‘Kings Messengers’, and operated between America and Europe. After the war ended, he attended the Peace Conference in an official capacity, and served again in WW2 as a commander in the U.S. Navy.
The prospective claimants petitioned him successfully to act on their behalf, despite the fact he considered the case to be extremely uncertain. In a bid to pursue and obtain the evidence which would incriminate Germany, he was recommended by Admiral W. Sims to the then retired Head of British Intelligence, Admiral Hall. The resulting meeting was fortuitous, as the two men discovered in one another similar spirit and ideals, and remained lifelong friends from the time they first met in 1925, until the day Admiral Hall died, in October 1943.
Admiral Hall’s illustrious career began as a young man in the Royal Navy, and he was long remembered with fondness for the improvements he made to the morale and conditions of HM sailors, and particularly for his command of HMS Queen Mary. He moved not unexpectedly into Naval Intelligence and his father’s shoes in 1914, and assumed the role of Director of Naval Intelligence, a position his father first occupied, when it was established in 1887. It is said by historians, and by some of Hall’s contemporaries that the task, which he accomplished during WW1, while head of British Intelligence, was unparalleled in history. His mind was said by many to have been exceptional, continually active, anticipating, bursting with moves and counter moves, the level of which was sometimes said to have reflected in his eyes, and to have been responsible for his nickname, ‘Blinker Hall’.
The case against Germany lasted until 1939, when after many setbacks it ended in victory for the claimants. The victory was said to have been an even greater one for Hall and Peaslee. However, before the long drawn out victory was achieved, Major Peaslee had made countless journeys to many countries in order to gather the vital evidence. This was no mean feat, when you consider that Trans Atlantic travel took many weeks to complete. When he finally met Admiral Hall in London, an ‘Aladin’s Cave’ containing thousands of secret documents, locked away since 1919, was revealed to him. These were the same documents, which Ambassador Page had expressed to President Wilson in March 1918 a burning desire to read at some future date. He had no idea that he would never live to satisfy his burning curiosity when he wrote:
‘He lock’s up certain documents not to be opened until twenty years after this date. I’ve made up my mind to live twenty years more. I shall be present at the opening of that safe!’
Peaslee was staggered by the sheer volume of the intercepts which Hall and his department had been responsible for deciphering during the war. Luckily for historians, Peaslee persuaded Hall to break his twenty-year promise of secrecy, and permission was obtained for him to examine and copy a number of these records. (It seems unusual that such documents, amounting to over 10,000 sensitive and secret cable intercepts, radio messages etc. were kept at Admiral Hall’s private residence in London, and not under lock and key in some government establishment.)
After a dogged pursuance of German accomplices who were still living, and the pairs’ unwavering determination to make Germany pay for its previous misdeeds, the victory was ultimately accomplished. Their pursuit of justice, a crusade for the benefit of generations to follow, was one to which they both devoted themselves, until it ended in 1939.
The following extracts from their book, ‘Three Wars With Germany’, includes correspondence between the two men, and some of the relevant messages and intercepts which were produced in evidence. Once more, I regret exact copying of their work, but as before, it is only to present the relevant passages and quotes in context. It is particularly important to get a sense of Peaslee’s surprise, when he first learned of the ‘nefarious’ work by German agents in his country.
Note: The texts of the intercepted messages are in ‘bold’, and their editor’s summary remarks are in ‘Italics’. My comments are in normal type.
“E AND B CULTURES”
The cable showed that not only had Germany financed and organised saboteurs to destroy factories and supplies, but that she had systematically distributed anthrax and other germs – known in the cables as “E and B Cultures” – in the Argentine and the United States. A cable regarding the work in South America, read:
February 14, 1918
The person in question reports that owing to his work the export of horses to France and Italy has for the time being completely ceased. Since September four ships with 5,400 mules started for Mesopotamia; all were thoroughly treated.
More than forty of the 264 cables chosen for the case against Germany were said to have dealt with disease cultures, including the following:
[ General Staff To Military Attache, Madrid]
February 8, 1918.
*** a female agent of the naval Attaché who had brought the cultures to B’Aires had fallen under suspicion in the meantime*** he now requests permission for the continuation of this work which has hitherto been very successful and which he regards as relatively free from risk. I request decision. He asks for the Iron Cross for his most valuable collaborator Dr.Herman Fischer.
Further messages read:
[General Staff to Military Attaché, Madrid.]
February 11, 1918.
Please instruct Arnold to continue his successful activity against cattle. His work directed against grain is to be suppressed as it promises little success. If it is possible to do so without attracting attention please send personal details to Fischer.
[General Staff, Berlin, to Naval Attache, Buenos Aires.]
***You are to continue your activities with the cultures.
A German agent in charge of disease cultures in South America who used the alias “Arnold” sent one his men to the United States shortly before the outbreak of the great influenza epidemic in the Spring of 1918. A cable read:
[German Ambassador, Buenos Aires, to German Foreign Office, Berlin.]
Arnold had dispatched a confidential agent, Julio Rico, to the States and requests that the Military Attaché at Stockholm should be informed that this confidential agent will perhaps announce himself as dispatched by Miller of Buenos Aires.
One of the cables stated, that while the use of the cultures was to be continued with horses and cattle, where there was comparative ‘freedom of detection’, their use in ‘meat factories’ was to be ‘held in abeyance.’ How long the abeyance lasted is not known.
America was already a melting pot of diverse races and cultures. A fact that was reflected in the diversity of non-nationals employed by Germany in sabotage operations. Almost certainly as a result of their history under the British Crown, the Irish seem to have been easily encouraged in this regard, and were eager to seize any opportunity to strike a blow at Britain. An example of the German penchant for recruiting the Irish for this type of work, is demonstrated in the next message, which was sent from Berlin to Von Bernstorff in Washington on December 12th, 1914:
‘Secret: The transportation of Japanese troops through Canada must be prevented at all costs if necessary blowing up Canadian railways. It would probably be advisable to employ Irish for this purpose in the first instance as it is almost impossible for Germans to enter Canada……..’
nother interesting example of how far some ‘Irish-Americans’ might have gone, in their ambitions to liberate Ireland from British rule, is revealed in the next message.
[German Foreign Office and General Staff, Berlin, to German Ambassador, Washington]
January 26, 1915.
For Military Attaché. You can obtain particulars as to persons suitable for carrying on sabotage in the U.S. and Canada from the following persons: (1) Joseph MacGarrity, Philadelphia, Pa.; (2) John P. Keating, Michigan Avenue, Chicago; (3) Jeremiah O’Leary, 16 Park Row, New York.
One and two are absolutely reliable and discreet. Number three is reliable but not always discreet. These persons were indicated by Sir Roger Casement.
In the U.S. sabotage can be carried out in every kind of factory for supplying munitions of war. Railway embankments and bridges must not be touched. Embassy must under no circumstances be compromised. Similar precautions must be taken in regard to Irish pro-German propaganda.
The ‘Joseph MacGarrity of Philadelphia’, referred to by Zimmermann above, was the same J. McGarrity reffered to in the ‘McGarrity Papers’, by Dermuid Ryan, and in Robert Fisk’s book, ‘In Time of War’. He ‘had been a close associate of de Valera in the 1919-1920 American fund raising expedition, and a friend of Sean T. O’Kelly’. This association continued for many years afterwards. McGarrity was a prominent leader of Clann na Gael, and continued to actively support the campaign of ridding all traces of British rule from Ireland until he died in 1940. He appears to have seized another but brief opportunity to collaborate with German officials against Britain during WW2.
The implications contained in these revelations, and especially the emerging possibility that meat and grain destined for human consumption was being considered for contamination with germs such as anthrax, can only be described as astounding. (After research carried out on the Scottish Island of Gruinard during WW2, it was reported that Britain developed a plot to infect Germany’s national herd with anthrax contained in soap cakes, which were to be dropped from aeroplanes. The plan did not take effect but one wonders what subsequent effect the poisoned meat might have had on the German population.) These are issues which most historians and medical research faculties seemed to have overlooked, and do not seem to have given any serious consideration to. And even when brought to their attention, do not consider them to have been linked with the ‘flu’ of 1918.
Amos Peaslee did. He said so in a letter, which he wrote to Admiral Hall, on August 30th, 1925, while he was staying at the Ritz Hotel in London. His suspicions, recorded in his book, are as follows:
‘My dear Admiral Hall:
… There are grave indications in the cables that the Germans were responsible for the terrible epidemic of disease which occurred among soldiers in America and on shipboard in the Spring of 1918. I note that disease cultures were sent to Arnold in South America, and that he forwarded them by a secret agent to the United States in January 1918. Do you know whether that theory has ever been developed and whether any study was made by any medical authorities to determine whether the disease among cattle and mules which Arnold was “treating” bore any resemblance to the disease among our soldiers? It seems significant that the dates coincide. Of course, we were exporting men, not mules, as they were from South America.’
Peaslee’s last sentence was a simple but sharp observation, on what he believed might have been the targets selected for infection. Animals were essential for the prosecution of the war, as Americans soldiers were for winning it.
There was a ‘resemblance’ as he put it, and Peaslee had seen the significance in the contents of some of these intercepts, their timing, and the implications of what Hall had revealed to him. But quite extraordinarily, as if there had been no possible connection or similarity between the effects of the ‘flu’ on civilians, with those that it had on the military, he only referred to the effect the disease had on soldiers. He was writing seven years after the event, and made no reference to any connection between this disease and the same one that had plagued the rest of the world.
Admiral Hall replied to Peaslee’s question on September 6th, 1925, in a manner, which appears to have been nervously cautious. He enlarged on the possible number and type of victims by referring to them, not only as soldiers, but ‘men’.
‘Dear Major Peaslee:
… I do not think that any study has been made on the lines you suggest. It did occur to me at the time that there might be a connection between the disease in animals and disease in men. The two types of “ treatment” used by Arnold were anthrax and fungus in wheat –
these two were known for certain but there may have been more.’
It was not only Peaslee and Hall who saw the terrible implications of the suggested ‘treatments’ that were ‘certain’. Captain Landau also referred to it in ‘The Enemy Within’ (1937), and expressed his concern in another telegram, which also mentions the agent Julio Rico, a man who had been subsequently imprisoned in the United States for the poisoning of mules. He made the following reference to the actions of the man who he considered might have been responsible for the deaths of ‘thousands of American soldiers from ‘flu’’:
‘This was six weeks before the mysterious influenza epidemic, which carried off thousands of American soldiers had broke out in military camps in the United States. Although there is no evidence that Germany was responsible, yet in view of the above telegram and the one, which follows, there is certainly room for conjecture in this direction.’
Donhoff has sent some remarks of the Director of the Bacteriological Institute at Buenos Aires, Dr. Kraus, concerning the prevention of serum diseases by the substitution or admixture of horse serum with bovine serum.
Kraus comes to the following conclusions which have been tested in practise:
1. If Bovine serum is heated twice 56 degrees (half hour) it causes hardly any serum disease even if administered in very large quantities 9300 cases of anthrax, 40 of typhus.)
2. The diphtheria and tetanus serum obtained from cattle causes hardly any serum disease in cases of diphtheria and tetanus in man.
3. If a preliminary injection of diphtheria bovine serum is made, a subcutaneous injection without running any risk of producing serum disease.
If the procedure is reversed serum disease occurs.’
The above telegram intercept caught Captain Landau’s attention especially, and more so, when he related it to notes discovered in a German agent’s notebook sometime later. These showed a very large ‘expenditure of $82,109.08 for a consignment of tetanus germs up to November 30th, 1915.’
Again, and almost unbelievably, Captain Landau makes the very same presumption, as to the possible connection between the ‘spread of germs’ and the deaths of American soldiers from the ‘flu’. And again, just as with Peaslee, he specifically omits to mention the millions of civilians that had died from the same disease, at the same time as soldiers!
In addition to the ‘cubes of sugar’ method already mentioned, a more direct method of infecting animals and foodstuffs, was supposedly employed by German agents. This was described in the following way by Captain Landau:
‘In the fall of 1915, on Hinsch’s instructions, Felton organised a band of a dozen Negro assistants to travel round the country. They carried the germs in glass bottles. Each of these was about an inch and a half long and three quarters of an inch in diameter and stoppered by a cork through which was struck a long needle extending into the liquid culture.
Felton and his band did their work by walking along the fences which enclosed the horses and mules and jabbing the animals with the needles as they came alongside. The germs were also spread on the food and in the water they drank.’
Was it possible then, that men such as Hall, Peaslee and Landau were somehow mistaken in their presumptions concerning the actions of German agents, and their use of new biological weapons? And what if they were not? Had any other investigators ever been given access to the same hoard of documents kept at Hall’s residence? Hall never seems have suggested such an event took place. So a puzzling question remains. Other than these men, has no one previously investigated the implications and the coincidences contained in these documents? And if not, then why not? There are a number of scattered references to the activities of German saboteurs with germ cultures, in a variety of works on WW1, but many of these are repeats of those already presented here.
Without reference to any further accounts or telegrams, the reader will probably agree that there is already quite enough presented here to give grounds for considerable suspicion. There is however, as I have already stated, one aspect of all this material which remains somewhat of a bother. The vast bulk of it originates from Room 40 and Admiral Hall, and his collection of British intercepts of German messages. However, German government servants and its agents, later admitted to much of this evidence. Germany also conceded to a large bulk of evidence presented on their espionage activities, which was upheld by an internationally respected court of law. There is nevertheless, as there was with the ‘Zimmermann Telegram’, an inclination to suspect subterfuge, concoction, or a ruse by Hall. Notwithstanding this, and given the opportunity to refute the authenticity of the intercepts produced during the ‘Black Tom’ case, Germany could only reply:
‘The statements by Admiral Sir Reginald Hall will not be disputed.’
And the German side also added;
….‘however, that if any sabotage had actually occurred, it was the ‘error of a subordinate who misconstrued the orders.’
If Hall, Peaslee and Landau were correct in their suspicions, then the affects of the attacks with germs and the course that the infection took through its victims, may have been outlined unwittingly in another case taken from the publication, ‘1918 Year Of Victory’.
Early in February 1918 Lt. Charles Bennet, who had been in France for at least a year, and distinguished himself during the fighting in the previous April, set off to go home on leave. The weather was at its worst on the Western Front, and the transport system at its most inefficient. After a series of hazards and delays, Bennet finally reached his home in Northam, Devon in such a condition, that his father, himself a retired Colonel, Royal Engineers, wrote to Major Russell the next day, February 9th.
‘My son wishes to let you know that he arrived home safely yesterday (Saturday) after 5 days travelling. Whether he wishes me to add that he arrived with a temperature of 104 degrees and went straight to bed where he now lies I don’t know, but so it is, a sharp attack of ‘flu’. And no wonder after 7 hours in an open cattle truck from 3.30 AM. to 11.30 in a snow storm and then 24 hours on board ship from Dieppe to Tilbury with the men on the deck all the time. I fancy he was not fit when he started and so was liable to catch the ‘flu’. I don’t expect he will be fit to return at the end of his leave, but I know he will be anxious to get back as soon as the Dr. allows. His temperature still keeps at 104 degrees and he is rather restless but I hope for an improvement tomorrow. The Dr.’s have had lots of practise with the epidemic.’
Colonel Bennet might well at this point have harboured doubts of his own about the description ‘flu’ given to the disease. A disease, which he helplessly witnessed delivering a slow and painful death on his son. Nine days later he wrote:
‘My son is still alive but I fear cannot last much longer, he has had a terrible time of it the last 10 days, his wandering mind constantly dwells on his battery, the horses, etc., he seems to be talking on the telephone: “All right then I will send up 82 pairs of horses and 82 men.” Etc.,etc. Constant Oxygen, Strychnine, etc., keep him alive, but as I said it cannot continue.’
Before he penned an article of protest to The Times, Colonel Bennet wrote to Major Russell on February 25th:
‘My poor boy died this morning after 17 days suffering. I am writing to The Times about it as it is scandalous that so many valuable lives should be lost by exposure in cattle trucks in the journeys home and out.’
Colonel Bennet’s young son died from the illness, which was commonly called the ‘flu’, and death certificates recorded as pneumonia. For one to loose a son in battle must be difficult enough. To see him survive a terrible war for four years, only to suffer from prolonged illness brought on by an unknown disease, and then, not unlike many others, to finally waste away in a parents arms, must surely have been heart wrenching.
The Colonel’s account is filled with emotion but contains an element, which may provide an explanation, as to how such mysterious germs might have spread so easily and rapidly. Although a lot slower than the speed with which diseases can move around the globe by aeroplane today, a common factor in the spread of the ‘flu’, might also have been transport. Ships, trains, trucks, carts and animals, all of which were used to transport both animals and man at the time. Confinement in totally unhygienic proximity with large numbers of beasts or in compartments occupied by them only a short time before, in wagons etc. might seemingly have been fatal. This theory of contracting the infection from animals would nevertheless seem inadequate, when attempting to explain the narrow time frame in which the pandemic erupted in many countries. (Quite recently Dr Oxford outlined a somewhat similar possibility for the origins and spread the ‘flu’ during WW1. When he suggested it might have originated in the poultry and pig pens established behind the battle lines in France)
Admiral Hall appears to have been an extremely clever man when it came to presenting a ruse or the laying of false trails. The staff of Room 40, not only made an enormous contribution to the defeat of Germany with their industrious intelligence gathering but also gained for themselves, many enemies within their own government services. Although Hall entered public life for a brief period after retiring from the navy, he seems to have maintained a deep mistrust of civilians, and had been accused of delaying or withholding intelligence from them unnecessarily. (An accusation which continues to be made by politicians today.) It was also said, that he felt justified in doing so, ‘for the good of his country’.
A phrase, which has been repeated many times, in respect of his brilliantly executed manoeuvrings in the ‘Zimmermann Telegram’ affair, and one for which he has been well remembered, might indicate a character trait in the man. “Alone I did it.”
The aftermath, and the evidence.
The course of WW1 had many twists to it, none of which has troubled historians more than the mystery of President Wilson’s decision to abandon his policy of pacifism and non-interference, at the moment that he did. How this was ultimately influenced by the work of German agents in America, the unrestricted U-boat campaign, the political uncertainty of the war in Russia, or by Britain’s tactics of persuasion, may never be fully understood. But a chance remark by a senior head of British intelligence, made many years after both world wars had ended, may indicate the extent of the intrigue which pervaded the intelligence community at the time. The gist of this remark, which was made to the notable researcher of the Lusitania disaster, John Light, during his examinations of previously unreleased intercepts from Room 40, is as follows:
“If all of the intercepts from WW1 had been released, the history of the war would have to be re-written.”
(Courtesy of author and diver, Paddy O’Sullivan, Cork.)
Summing up in his book, ‘The Enemy Within’, Captain Landau sounded a shrill warning in 1937, on what war might hold during the next ‘Great’ conflict. Once again, arrogant supremacists in Europe were already testing the waters, and his words from so long ago, seem to have been prophetic and make grim reading even today.
‘Furthermore, germ warfare was in its infancy twenty years ago.  But tremendous strides have been made since, both in developing more deadly and concentrated strains of disease bacteria and in perfecting super and easier methods of disseminating them. It would be too late to start organising a counter-espionage defence after the outbreak of hostilities, for in a few days a handful of agents could initiate a nation-wide epidemic of plague, cholera, or other deadly diseases. A grim portent of this coming form of attack is the recent news from Spain that several secret agents have been sentenced to death for spreading sleeping sickness and typhus behind the Insurgent lines.’
The words were indeed prophetic but it could never have been anticipated that the world’s postal service might one day be used to deliver these diseases.
WW1 was unusual insofar as there were so many marked contrasts in weapons’ development. From the age-old strategy of mounted cavalry charges, to night time bombing raids by aeroplanes, sophisticated submarines, which had very little restriction to their range, and the introduction of biological weapons. It is clear that the war began with the use of conventional weapons but desperation soon led to the use of chemicals, and germs. Was the use or threat of an unrestricted application of these new biological weapons the reason why President Wilson finally agreed to enter the war? Did he need to prevent the war turning into one, which might finally prove to be a threat to all of mankind? Had the weapons race got out of hand when the likes of the weapons mentioned in this small article in the Irish Times, on the 28th May, 1919 were being prepared for use?
The Deadliest Poison
‘Details of the deadliest poison the world has ever known, which, at the time of signing of the Armistice, was being manufactured at the rate of three tons a day for use against the Germans, have says the The Times, New York Correspondent, just been revealed to the New York Times. Its name is Lewesite, [‘A blister gas’] after the discoverer, Professor Lee Lewis, of the United States Bureau of Mines. It is stated that ten aeroplanes could have carried sufficient Lewesite to have wiped out every trace of animal or vegetable life in Berlin, or a single day’s output would kill every human being in New York. Even a drop poured on the hand, it is said, would penetrate to the blood, reach the heart, and cause the victim to die in awful agony.’
(It is interesting to note that up until recently, America maintained the largest arsenal of Lewesite in the world.)
In an attempt to qualify the suspicion that there was a ruse by Hall in respect of the accusations made against Germany, compelling testimony from a most unexpected source has been selected. Already a topic covered by Captain Landau in his book ‘The Enemy Within’ in 1937, this additional evidence (Probably not too strong a word in this instance.) enters the public domain in the form of an ‘affidavit’, and appears to confirm all that Hall and Landau had previously claimed. It takes the form of a sworn statement made by a man who almost certainly would have come to the notice of British Intelligence, and a man who one might expect to have held completely opposing ideologies to those of Admiral Hall.
We are drawn to the giant Irish Labour figure, Jim Larkin. The historic and violent Irish labour dispute of 1913-1914 ended when James Larkin and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union were defeated by the establishment. A totally dejected Larkin later sailed for America, in October of 1914. He joined the Socialist Party of America, and was closely linked with the radical movement, Industrial Workers of the World, and formed the ‘Four Winds’ Fellowship of socialists and trade unionists. Amongst his and their declared aims, was one to oppose the British Empire in the world war, and to achieve economic and political freedom for Ireland. His connections with workers generally, and dockside workers in particular, were extensive and influential. These were developed during his earlier socialist activities, and his very persuasive oratory and debating skills. His powerful qualities and connections, were ones, which were not long coming to the attention of German agents in America. These were the same men who were responsible for the elaborate campaign of sabotage directed against the production of munitions, animals and food in North and South America. Because of his activities with the former groups, Larkin was imprisoned at Sing Sing in 1920 for criminal anarchy. He was later unconditionally pardoned in 1923 by Governor Smith. It was reported that Smith held the view that he believed in the right to freedom of speech, and could not keep a man locked up for only being accused of having such beliefs. Larkin nevertheless came to the attention of the U.S. authorities once more, and was subsequently deported from the U.S.A. Unable to obtain a visa for Germany or Russia, he returned to Ireland the same year.
After Peaslee had failed on two occasions to get a favourable judgement for the Lehig Valley Railroad Co. against Germany in the ‘Black Tom’ case, he spread his investigative net even wider. Bolstered by new laws in the U.S., he left no stone unturned, and travelled extensively throughout the world in search of witnesses, whose direct evidence might prove Germany’s complicity in the attacks against neutral American property. It turned out that Larkin was one such witness, and in 1933, Peaslee sent the lawyer, J.J. McCloy (McCloy became President of the World Bank in 1947, the year that Larkin died, and later, U.S. Military Governor and High Commissioner in Germany.) to Ireland in order to interview him.
Larkin and his ‘attorney’ met with McCloy in Dublin, where he freely made a lengthy statement on January 21st, 1934. This ‘affidavit’ has remained in the National Archives of the U.S.A., and has only recently been published in, ‘Lion Of The Fold’ by Donal Nevin. His full statement reveals a detailed knowledge of agents and officials involved in this German campaign of sabotage in the U.S.A., and lends considerable weight to Admiral Hall’s accusations in these respects. Although Larkin refused to go on the German espionage payroll, it is claimed, and not unreasonably, that he had no objection excepting monies for fermenting labour disputes. Where this fine line of morality wove, is difficult to determine but he clearly stated that he;
‘…would have nothing to do with such an organisation or such methods, that I was working in co-operation with my own people upon lines agreed upon and in accordance with my own views of life; that I had no regard for the German Government as such, nor was I desirous of its successes in the World War except that it might result in forcing England to accept Irish Independence.’
And that he;
‘…would not be a party to any proceedings [acts of sabotage] where human life was involved.’,
Larkin was party to several meetings, were such plots were discussed, and had to make a hasty exit to Mexico, after the ‘Black Tom’ explosion rocked New York City. It would appear from the sources consulted, that Larkin only participated with the Germans to some lesser degree, and probably only then, to suit his own ends. One can nevertheless not help wondering, why he had to have so many meetings with persons he so vigorously refused to help? It is claimed, that despite persistent cajoling, the Germans could not get Larkin to commit to any further extent in their schemes, and after failing to persuade him to organise acts of sabotage, it is thought that they tried to kill him on at least two occasions. This may have been as a result of the detailed and dangerously secret information revealed to him by the Germans. An example of this is contained in the request made of Larkin by the German Consul, Von Bopp, when he met him in San Francisco in 1916. Larkin’s words on this are the crucial confirmation of Hall’s accusations:
‘He [Von Bopp] asked me whether I would not engage in a sabotage of munitions plants, that there was no danger to human life since the means they had were so safe. He also wanted me to become concerned with the stoppage of mules and horses, especially mules, where the concentration shipping point was St. Louis. He said they had plenty of Germans living and around St. Louis but they would not take any risks. It was necessary he said to inject disease cultures into the animals, which would bring on fever in a space of time and make utterly incapable of working. It was a slow developing culture, which was to affect the animals during the voyage. I told him I would have nothing to do with any such methods…’
One might be tempted to conjecture that McCloy put the words into Larkin’s mouth in return for payment of some kind, and this was exactly what Germany later claimed. However, I can only assume, and the reader might concur, that American industrialists and the British secret service, were the last people in the world that Larkin would wish to dig out of a hole by providing such a convenient affidavit. The same accusations on the use of ‘germ cultures’ are thus submitted by two distinctly and diametrically opposing sources, and the questions remaining are:
(1) Were Germany’s agents capable of infecting animals, meat and grain with dangerous ‘germs’ over a wide area? Or is it likely that such operations were infrequent and only perpetrated by ‘rogue’ agents ‘out of control’?
(2) Was Admiral Hall responsible for an enormous ruse of deceit during his battle against Germany, in the ‘Black Tom Case’, when he conveniently produced the intercepted messages for Amos Peaslee? Could, or would he have lied to the man who became his lifelong and ‘devoted friend’ during their fight against German war crimes?
(3) Were the U.S. claimants and their legal representatives concocting a ‘cock and bull’ story in 1930, when they wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State about their ‘entire dissatisfaction’ with the result of the Mixed Claims Commission. Stating that: ‘It is found and admitted that agents were sent by Germany to the United States during neutrality equipped with disease “cultures” to spread disease in the United States during the period of neutrality, and that such acts were actually accomplished.’
(4) If answers to the above indicate that biological warfare was carried out by Germany, did the germs, or any cocktail of the viruses, contribute to the ‘flu’ of 1918, or become present alongside of it?
(5) Was the intercepted ‘Zimmermann Telegram’, which was indirectly revealed to President Wilson by Admiral Hall, followed up by other transcripts of intercepts about germ warfare? And if so, did these help influence Wilson’s decision to declare his country at war with Germany? (Additional intercepts were reported to have been provided by Hall at the time, and may have related to the considerable espionage conducted by German agents in Mexico, and on the Southern Sates of America during 1916/1917.)
Finally, having asked prominent experts on the ‘flu’ pandemic of 1918, Dr Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute, and Dr John Oxford of Royal Hospital London, had they known about these practices, their answers were, “no”. When further asked, would they consider that there was any likelihood that such practices might have contributed to this pandemic? The answer was again, “no”. In the light of such expert opinion the theory would then seem to fall flat on its face. It nevertheless remains difficult for a layman like myself, to understand how experts, who had not previously known of these practices, could dismiss the possibility of a connection, and not give the subject some further investigation. Will pure science resolve the mystery of the unknown disease, which swept through mankind at the same time as another was infecting animals and food?
I cannot supply conclusive answers to the above, and it only remains for me to make some observations, and to recall the words of two prominent and universally respected men. Firstly, editor J.P. Sims, in his foreword of Admiral Hall and Amos Peaslee’s book, ‘Three Wars With Germany’, when he said:
‘They wondered whether their fellow countrymen, or anyone, would believe all that they had learned at first hand about Germany.’
Secondly, the tantalising words by the author Alfred Crosby, in the concluding chapter of his brilliant account of the disease that plagued the world in 1918, ‘America’s Forgotten Pandemic’:
‘If flu is almost always a mild illness, then perhaps the Spanish influenza wasn’t flu at all.’
An observation on this final quote by Crosby, may connect with another extract from the ‘The Eyes Of The Navy’. A gentleman by the name of A. E. Mason, author and playwright before and after the war was said to possess unique qualities, which Hall had recognised early on, before he ‘cut him out’ for special intelligence work. The accounts of Mason’s missions for Hall on both sides of the Atlantic during WW1, are extremely colourful, and appear to have been most dangerous. This following reference by its author, Admiral James, the relative content of which is accredited to Mason, is not considered on its own, to be a dramatic uncovering of vital information, but it does re-introduce once again, the interesting threat perceived in many quarters, from ‘animal hairs’.
‘Another exploit which Mason refers to in his notes was the interception of anthrax, conveyed in shaving brushes, which was to be used for injecting mules which were being imported in large numbers from South America for the French Army.’
The idea of contracting infection from germs secreted in shaving brushes has been around for some time. When put with the definition given for anthrax contained in Encyclopaedia Americana, and the commonly known human type of this disease, ‘Woolsorter’s Disease’, then a different light is shed on the ‘shaving brush’ attacks. And Crosby’s suggestion that this disease may not have been ‘flu’ at all, or the conjecture here that the disease called ‘flu’ in 1918, might have been connected with germ warfare directed against humans, animals and food, should suggest a need for further investigation. The relative portion of the definition is as follows:
‘Widespread human infection approaching epidemic proportions, which occurred in England and the United States during and just after World War 1, was traced to contaminated horse hair imported from Siberia and China for making shaving brushes.’
What near epidemic was that? The only reported widespread ‘human infection’ in America or Europe at the time, was the epidemic of ‘flu’. Or was the whole idea of German agents contaminating and inoculating animals, and whatever, the hallucinations of twisted minds? Did the fatal diseases contracted by these animals or half of the human race for that matter, accidentally arrive from Siberia or China? Coincidences!!! There were too many of them! The month of March in 1918 figures prominently everywhere.
It is clear, that in order to a achieve victory over the Allies, one of Germany’s tactics was to prevent food supplies from reaching Britain. It is also clear, that this strategy was not only adopted by her U-boats at sea but also by her agents in major ports and areas of food storage throughout America and other countries. Germany had not only fought the war with submarines against ships, but against men and food. April 1917 was their zenith in the destruction of shipping, but their defeat did not begin until after the Russian question was settled, and U.S. troops began to arrive on European battlefields in large numbers. It was March 1918, and it was the month of Germany’s most successful but final offensive. Their final gasp.
The hope that the U-boats would prevent the American convoys reaching Europe had faded, and the writing on the wall had became ever so clearer to Germans. But could they still kill or prevent enough American troops from reaching France and entering on to the battlefields, in the hope that a decisive victory might be snatched at the last moment or that more favourable terms might be won in an armistice?
American soldiers suddenly began to get sick in thousands! They went on getting sick, and the sickness spread through what seemed like all of the combatants and then civilians. There was no discrimination, and hundreds of thousands began to die on both sides. This disease spread to all branches of the armed forces, and detrimentally effected their efficiency. It is argued correctly that German forces were also stricken with the disease, suggesting that Germany could not have been responsible. (German U-boat production in the Summer of 1918 was said to have been reduced as a result of workers contracting the ‘flu’.) But it did spread from the west, and several commentators on the German offensive that began in France in March 1918, have stated that the ‘flu’ did have more serious affects on allied soldiers, and earlier than on German ones. In chapter ten of Eric Croddy’s, ‘Chemical and Biological Warfare’, he refers to the thousands of German soldiers who died from the ‘flu’, which might have led to her capitulation in July 1918. He closes the paragraph with the following remark, which seems to mirror his own doubt about the disease, by referring to the doubt of others at the time:
‘(For a short period of time after the war, some even suspected Germany of deliberately unleashing the virus that killed 20-50 million people world wide.)’
In any event, the resolve of the Yanks was not for turning. Was the outcome inevitable or only timely? Or was Vice-Admiral Sims just being a little colourful with his choice of words, when he concluded in his book, ‘The Victory At Sea’ (1920), that they had achieved ‘one of the greatest victories against the organised forces of evil in all history’?
The widespread contraction of the unidentified virus may have been nothing more than the world catching some new strain of influenza, or it may have been the result of the greatest act of desperation in the history of warfare. It is uniquely ironic, that as science today, crosses the remaining thresholds in its search for the mystery of human creation, it has never been able to uncover the origins of this disease. One that threatened, and may still threaten its very existence. The inability to determine the cause of this terrible disease only contributes to the uncertainty that languishes in the burning question that it suggests. If the U-boats were not going to be able to prevent
American troop carriers from reaching Europe, then perhaps American soldiers might have been prevented from arriving?
It went as it came, mysteriously. If Crosby’s seemingly out of hand suggestion is correct, and this disease was not ‘flu’, and as it was said by many, to have resembled something quite different, then what was it, and where did it go? Why did it not return? Influenza had appeared before then, and has ever since.
The ‘Irish Question’, and the threat from a weapon that didn’t go away?
The Great conflict was over but the fight to free Ireland from British rule became more intense and bloody. The hated Auxiliaries and Black and Tans had become rampant in Ireland, and there were murderous reprisals on both sides, driving men to what were described as ‘immoral’ extremes. The war was taken to the British mainland. There were threats and attacks against ships and shipping, public utilities, including water reservoirs. Plans were also drawn up to murder and kidnap senior politicians. The strategy of bringing the war to British soil during this period, has been described since, as similar to ones carried out much later against the commercial heartland of London at ‘Canary Wharf’, and members of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
An admirer and direct successor?? to Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, was allegedly connected in some degree, to a plot of quite a different sort. Tim Pat Coogan, in his book, ‘Michael Collins’, describes how the details of this plot were uncovered during a raid by the Auxiliaries on the house of Professor Michael Hayes, on November 15th, 1920 (Also reported as being on the 10th, and the 17th.) where he had been in hiding. Michael Hayes joined the Irish rebels and fought against the British in the Easter rebellion of 1916. He later became a substitute lecturer for colleagues from University College Dublin. (U.C.D.) who had been imprisoned. Professor Hayes received his B.A. in modern Irish history in 1920, and became a senator after the War of Independence. The raid on his residence at 49 Longwood Avenue, Dublin, occurred just prior to Bloody or Black Sunday during which a number of British agents and officers were assassinated by Collin’s men. Mulcahy was said to have been lucky to escape in his night shirt across the roofs of adjoining houses but his two leather attaché cases, reported to have been full of papers, were captured.
Amongst the documents, which the authorities said were of ‘immense importance’, were details of a strange plot to infect horses’ feed with the disease, glanders. What possible military gain was anticipated by infecting horses or even their human handlers in such a way? Where did such an idea come from? Even though Mulcahy had been a medical student at U.C.D., how could he or any other freedom fighter hope to identify a phial of glanders given to him, from one of say, anthrax? Indeed, it was Richard Mulcahy’s son, the prominent heart specialist, Professor Risteard Mulcahy, who thought the germs to have been anthrax. He also stated categorically to me, that these were operations that his father was set against, and had not supported or agreed with them. And who was the man described by Tim Pat Coogan as ‘an eccentric’? Was the intended use of these diseases on animals only meant to be a psychological attack against the British aristocracies’ love of race meetings and horses, or the minds of the general British public?
Introducing my own namesake at this point, and contained in the study, ‘The Impact of Terror’ in the book ‘Revolt to Revolution in the 19th & 20th Century’ by Michael Eliot-Bateman, is a possible implication of two, supposedly agents of the Crown, (although there is no record of either appearing on British Military Lists) the Irish born vetenarian Captain P. McCormack, late of the RAVC, and Lt. A. Wilde. It was reported that both were spies and could have been under technical advice of Professor Adrian Stokes and Professor Michael Hayes on how best to spread such diseases with which to infiltrate the IRA and to judge reactions. A skirmish of accusations between Dublin and London broke out, with the IRA appearing to discredit London with the accusation of it all being a propaganda plot. Although both McCormac and Wilde appear to have had no connection with the other members of the British Intelligence operations in Dublin, or the ‘Cairo Gang’ (a number of British intelligence officers who dined at a café of this name in Dublin’s Grafton Street.) Like the others assassinated on Bloody Sunday, they were singled out by Collins but were the only two officers killed in the Gresham Hotel. After representations by Captain McCormack’s mother, Collins later made an admission of mistaken identity in his case. Nothing more was proven against Wilde, except that it was reported that he had acted as an intelligence officer for the British in Spain.
In a more recent publication, ‘Last Days of Dublin Castle’, being the diaries of Mark Sturgis, a senior British civil servant posted at Dublin Castle during that period, a more sinister light is shed on the incident. He stated, that contained within Mulcahy’s ‘amazing’ documents, were plans to ‘murder individuals and to poison troops, horses, etc.-blow up the Manchester Ship Canal etc., and Liverpool docks.’ Sturgis continued to record entries through November, extolling the value of the documents to the British intelligence community, and to the propaganda war. If genuine, the revelations within the captured documents were damning, and particular effect was anticipated against the pro Irish in Britain after they were published. To this end, an important ‘bit about typhoid and glanders’ was leaked early, in order to shock MPs.
On November 18th, The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, revealed in the House of Commons, some of the details concerning the recent capture of Mulcahy’s papers. He read from them, what he considered to be some ‘horrifying and remarkable’ statements. The text of his statement, printed in the illustrations, refers in detail to a plan to infect milk with typhoid in order to kill soldiers, and the insertion of glanders into sacks of grain destined for army horses. It was suggested by the mysterious architect (claimed to have been Chief of Staff, Richard Mulcahy) of the plan that the operations would be none too difficult to achieve. How he imagined the spread of disease might only be confined to the military, in Ireland, is either a measure of the sheer stupidity of the perpetrator, or the work of another very evil mind.
And once again, as it was with the timely revelations of the Zimmermann cables, a ruse was suspected by some members of the House of Commons. Revelations of dastardly deeds at this time being all too convenient, and without evidence of even ‘one horse’ being harmed in such a way. The Sturgis diaries did not indicate who had promoted the idea, but Greenwood indicated that this document was addressed to Mulcahy, and was written by the ‘Commander in Chief of the Irish Republican Army’. (The confusion of calling both Collins and Muclahy, ‘Commander in Chief’ persists in many accounts of this period.) Was the ‘eccentric’ none other than Michael Collins or was it someone else?
Amongst the surviving documents at the Public Records Office, Kew, there is one available from the Chief Secretary’s Office, which refers directly to the plot of using germs. A copy appears in the illustrations, and is clearly a briefing document, resulting from the revelations made to and printed in some newspapers, and subsequently used by Greenwood in the House on the 18th. It has an official stamp but it is not signed or addressed to anyone. One week later, it was proclaimed that Sinn Fein was to be suppressed all over Ireland. Bloody Sunday occurred on November and went a long way to concentrate minds and a truce was soon negotiated followed by a Treaty.
Differing aspects to ‘germs’ claim.
There are a number of aspects regarding this suppose threat of germ warfare that do not sit well together. Firstly, the claim that this was ‘dirty tricks’ or black propaganda. The British claim that the documents indicate milk bound for military barracks was to be infected with typhoid cultures. Straightforward enough, the obvious result being the death of British soldiers but also suggesting that it was an evil attack which could not be contained and thus affecting innocent others. But accompanying this claim with one of infecting horses feed with glanders, thus killing horses and forcing a mass type of clean out of mounted cavalry operations and buildings, does not make sense. Was Britain and Ireland places of such animal loving that attacks on animals might offend supporters of Freedom for Ireland to the extent of relinquishing their support? Having to kill a number of horses and fumigate buildings would have been a gross inconvenience but would not have influenced the intelligence war nor have prevented British army mobilisation in cities such as Dublin or Cork which by that time had become considerably mechanised.
On the other side of the coin, did Richard Mulcahy seriously think affecting British troops and their horses in the manner outlined could have been contained within the walls of military barracks and Dublin Castle? Glanders is an animal disease primarily associated with animals and horses in particular, but can spread to humans with fatal consequences. The disease was responsible for the deaths of large amounts of the military’s horses during WW1. And so too, typhoid can also spread from human to human, a fatal disease which the Corporation of Dublin were ill-prepared for at that particular time.
Or was it an even more clever ruse? Knowing perhaps that if such a plan was captured from one of the leading lights of the IRA, that it would suggest to those who knew, what the consequence of such attacks with these germs might be? Having had the terrible experience of it at the hands of the Germans during WW1. Or equally, the threat of such a plot against ‘mainland Britain’ might well have had a significant effect on public opinion, not least in England. This may be a situation desirous of one seeking a truce, even though the documents were discovered just prior to the assassinations on Bloody Sunday.
Despite very strict orders been given to IRA volunteers repeatedly, regarding the destruction of incriminating intelligence documents, if flight or capture presented, Mulcahy had an unusual propensity for abandoning valuable and incriminating documents when his position was tumbled.
Clearly, some criminal lunatic had perceived that an advantage might be had from the illicit use of these germs. Where did he or they get the notion? Where did they hope to get the germs? Reference to the same germs, glanders, anthrax, typhoid, all mentioned earlier by Admiral Hall in connection with German activities in Spain and Portugal, South America and the U.S.A., had surfaced once more. Was the earlier use of these germs, admitted to by Germany, testified to by Larkin, and suspected by Hall and Peaslee to have been connected in some way with the awful disease called ‘flu’ in1918, now being considered for use once again?
It must be remembered, that the proposition of adopting germ warfare against British troops in Ireland, occurred soon after WW1, and well before Peaslee and Hall corresponded their suspicions about German biological sabotage having had some connection with the disease ‘flu’ which soldiers had died from.
In 1920, influenza had almost returned to its relatively harmless pre war status, but was the implication of a similar threat from another spread of ‘flu’ discovered in the Mulcahy papers? If such a plot was discovered, was it enough to warn Lloyd George that something unimaginable might be unleashed against Britain? It was not long before British troops began to withdraw from Ireland, and Lloyd George transmitted his wish to advance negotiations for a lasting peace.
Not unlike many of the accusations by Admiral Hall, supporting evidence relating to the foregoing is hard to come by. The seized Mulcahy papers were destroyed during air raids on Britain in WW2, leading one to frustratingly exclaim; that wars might sometimes seem to be designed to wipe out memory of misdeeds committed during previous ones. It must also be said, that to my knowledge, the claim that such a plot purported by an unknown ‘visitor’ with members of the I.R.A, details of which were said to have been contained in the captured Mulcahy papers, have never been denied. Most of the details that were said to exist in Mulcahy’s papers, seem to have emanated from a report by the Chief of Police, Intelligence Branch, Dublin Castle, and from surviving documents of the Chief Secretary’s Office, housed in the Public Records Office in Kew. Richard Mulcahy’s own papers at University College, Dublin, have also supplied a rich source of material.
In order to reduce the threat from these ‘new weapons’, bio-weapons were later banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925. That is, their deployment was banned, research and stockpiling was not affected. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 specifically addressed the issue of non-proliferation of chemical weapons but did not include biological ones. Treaties between the wars were virtually ineffective, in that they did not prevent the hunt for and the development of new biological and chemical weapons but interest in them certainly receded in the U.S.A. However, as the prospect of another world war began to manifest itself, a new urgency was adopted by the military, and research into old terrors like cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox etc. was reactivated. Interestingly, our old friend, ‘influenza’ was to be found amongst them.
More recent events have again raised the terrible spectre of a renewed interest by government agencies, and terrorists, in biological weapons. Recent meetings of the Biological Weapons Convention have ended without consensus on a way forward. America and other countries again proving reluctant to sign up to treaties, which would require them to open their doors for inspection, revealing their own progress in the development of biological weapons. It is hoped that the increased access which terrorists are gaining to these weapons will instil some sense of urgency into future negotiations. (Update)
An article, which appeared in the Irish Independent on July 30th, 2001, warned of the growing global concern with the increasing research into biological weapons. Amongst others, the article relies on another published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which claimed that Germany used anthrax and glanders against animals and man in several countries during WW1. The basis for this article, centred on the contraction of glanders by a microbiologist at Fort Detrick, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases. (Previously known as Camp Detrick, and was the U.S. Army’s first biological warfare laboratory.) However, the accusations made against Germany in the article, relied on research published by Mark Wheelis, in ‘Biological Warfare from the Middle Ages to 1945’, and his letter to the journal, ‘Nature’ (395), in 1918. In these articles, Wheelis includes some additional research, which is not referenced here, and confirms all of what Admiral Hall had accused Germany of. Wheelis concludes in his letter to ‘Nature’:
‘The Argentinian programme appears to have ended in 1918, a victim of the increasing difficulty of international transport of microbes and agents. So ended the first modern use of microbes as weapons and the only documented instance of deliberate attack on neutral countries with microbial agents. Its effect has yet to be adequately evaluated.’
It might easily be concluded, that the instruction given by the German High Command to its secret service during WW1. Namely, that ‘all measures necessary were to be taken’, in order to prevent the shipment of men and war materials to the Allies, may at best, have led to a horrific legacy of germ warfare. At worst, who knows?
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