'CHURCHILL AND GAS'

The Times – 13 September 2013

According to Ben Macintyre (Sept. 6),

"Churchill was dissuaded from unleashing gas on Nazi Germany"

in July 1944, because using it was

"a unique taboo".

This is incorrect. As I stated in the recent debate on Syria and chemical weapons, the 1925 Geneva gas protocol had virtually no effect on the decision by both sides to refrain from starting chemical warfare. That was entirely due to mutual deterrence. The Nazis gassed the Jews because their victims could not hit back. They did not use gas in battle for fear of retaliation.

Churchill's July 6, 1944 minute recognised this:

"the only reason they have not used it against us is that they fear the retaliation. What is to their detriment is to our advantage."

He therefore demanded that the matter be

"studied in cold blood by sensible people",

given the expectation of

"great [V2] rockets with far-reaching effects"

falling on London later that year. All moral considerations were excluded from the resultant report – COS(44)661(0) – produced on July 26. It concluded, entirely on military grounds, that the initiation of chemical warfare would be counter-productive.

It was those military arguments by the Chiefs of Staff which forced Churchill reluctantly to desist. As he minuted on July 29:

"I am not at all convinced by this negative report. But clearly I cannot make head against the parsons and the warriors at the same time. The matter should be kept under review and brought up again when things get worse."

As set out in Changing Direction, my study of British military planning during the 1940s, it was the warriors and the prospect of retaliation, not the parsons with their protocols and taboos, which kept gas off the battlefield in the Second World War.

Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA