New Forest East


Sunday Telegraph – 29 August 1999

In recounting the story of the discovery of deadly nerve gases by the Nazis, Jeremy Paxman surprisingly states:

"Why Hitler chose not to use the weapons is one of the enduring mysteries of the Second World War" (Comment, August 22).

It is nothing of the kind. Hitler did not use nerve gas for the same reason that he did not use poison gas (except against concentration camp victims, who could not hit back). He was deterred by the belief that using these weapons would lead to retaliation by the Allies. Had he known that the Allies did not possess retaliatory stocks of nerve gases, their use by the Nazis would have been highly probable.

In May 1943, in a discussion about tabun gas with Otto Ambros, his chemical warfare expert, Hitler was told that it was necessary to assume that tabun (like other chemical weapons) was also known abroad. Mr Paxman ought to realise that:

"From that moment on, no matter how tempted he felt to use his secret gases, Hitler had always to balance in his mind the conviction of his scientists that the Allies had them too."

That quotation is to be found on page 64 of a book about chemical and biological warfare, entitled A Higher Form of Killing and published in 1982. Its authors were Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman.

In his book Reflections on Intelligence, the late Professor R.V. Jones, Churchill's wartime Head of Scientific Intelligence, confirmed the role of deterrence in averting a nerve gas attack. From decrypted Japanese signals, Jones had learned that

"Hitler had told the Japanese ambassador in Berlin that he had some new and very effective gases, but that he was refraining from using them because he thought that we had equally deadly ones. Here he was wrong, because his chemists had discovered nerve gases and ours had not; that he thought that they had was in itself a deterrent, and neither side resorted to gas warfare".

Cadnam, Hampshire