6 July 1944
Writing a memo to General Sir Hastings Ismay on 6 July 1944, Winston Churchill urged the Chiefs of Staff to urgently consider the use of poison gas against German towns and cities. The memo came one month after British and American soldiers had landed in France and as Germany clearly faced imminent defeat, with the rapid retreat of its forces on all fronts.
Churchill asked the Chiefs of Staff to consider ‘very seriously’ a plan ‘to drench Germany with poison gas,’ informing them that ‘I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by… psalm singing uniformed defeatists.’ He ridiculed the concern over civilian casualties, claiming that ‘it is absurd to consider mortality on this topic… in the last war the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course. It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts of women.’1
When the Chiefs of Staff expressed their reluctance, not on principle, but because it might provoke German retaliation, Churchill fired off another memo declaring himself ‘not at all convinced’ by their opposition. In the end, the only obstacle which prevented Churchill from insisting on the implementation of the plan was that the weapons ordered from the United States were not ready in sufficient quantity for another year, by which time the war in Europe was over.2
- Winston Churchill cited in Graham Farmelo, Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Britain’s First Nuclear Weapons Programme, Faber and Faber, London, 2014, p. 269 and also http://www.ppu.org.uk/war/environment/e_chemical/e-chemical03.html
- Winston Churchill cited in Graham Farmelo, op. cit., and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 43, January/February 1987, p. 49.
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