View Full Version : WW2 Poison Darts Revealed

06-26-2009, 11:22 PM
Britain’s WWII Poison Dart Plans Revealed
June 26, 2009
Associated Press

LONDON - Long before Ian Fleming dreamed up James Bond, the British military was planning to develop poison darts, lethal weapons that would have pleased 007 and his gadget man, Q.

Detailed proposals about the poison-laden darts, which were supposed to be dropped on enemy troops from Royal Air Force bombers, are contained in formerly top secret documents made public Friday by the National Archives.

The darts were seen by military planners as "a promising chemical weapon of a novel kind" that would have an effective kill rate against enemy forces in the open. Tests indicated that dropping them from planes would allow the darts to develop enough speed to penetrate clothing and inflict a fatal dose of concentrated poison.

Planning began in earnest just before Christmas in 1941 as Britain faced a possible Nazi invasion after the fall of France and much of mainland Europe.

The War Office file suggests the process began with a seemingly innocuous request from The Chemical Defense Research Department to the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The military sought, without explanation, large quantities of needles.

"From your remarks it would seem that the needles are required for some other purpose, other than sewing machines," came the Dec. 24, 1941 reply, which included a promise to help provide whatever was needed.

Singer executives did ask what the needles would be used for, but defense officials declined to provide the information.

The needles were intended to be part of the poison delivery system.

Military planners at the experimental biological warfare station at Porton, England, looked at several different types of poison, including synthetic urethane, and believed the darts would be able to kill victims within 30 minutes unless they were able to pluck out the dart's poison tip within 30 seconds.

Even then, the person hit by the dart would be disabled by the poison, planners said. And some believed the darts could not be safely removed because the knife-blade-shaped tip would remain embedded in the flesh.

"When released from bombs dropped from high altitudes (darts) will penetrate two layers of clothing and penetrate flesh for 6 inches or until stopped by bone," planners predicted in a top secret memo written on Jan. 25, 1945, the final year of the war.

Planners listed the gruesome symptoms victims would suffer before they died and said this would have a "demoralizing" effect on surviving enemy forces. Plans were developed to pack more than 30,000 darts into a single cluster bomb that could saturate a zone where enemy forces were exposed.

"To modern sensibilities it does seem a particularly vicious type of weapon," said Mark Dunton, contemporary history specialist at the National Archives. "But war brings its own imperatives. Given the monumental struggle, the allies had to consider every possible means of gaining an advantage in the battlefield."

The dart memos are contained in a file called "Research into the use of anthrax and other poisons for biological warfare." The file indicates the British were also studying ways to use anthrax bombs and other types of chemical weapons. Other files released Friday detail the pros and cons of using chemical weapons against urban targets in Tokyo.

Planners believed a concentrated poison dart attack could be used to "soften" enemy forces before an allied assault on a specific target and also be used against enemy troops at their bases and while they were in transit.

The poisoned darts were tested against sheep and goats at a biological weapons station in Canada, but were never used against humans for military purposes, said Dunton.

He said the file suggests similar research was under way in the United States but does not provide details.

Dunton said there were doubts about the cost-effectiveness of the darts, in part because helmets and other armor would keep many soldiers from being hurt.

But planners were convinced of their potential usefulness, even as the threat of invasion waned.

"Earnest consideration should be given to the possible utility of darts with a view to deciding whether development and exploration of this project should not be continued and intensified," said a senior official identified only as H.P.R.S.