British nerve gas death tests ‘had Nazi scientists’
By DAVID WILLIAMS and TOM RAWSTORNENAZI scientists were involved in the nerve gas research that led to the ‘suspicious’ deaths of at least 25 ex-servicemen at the top secret Porton Down base, it can be revealed.
At least three German germ warfare specialists, who played key roles in the development of Hitler’s chemical and biological capability — the most advanced at the time — were secretly brought to Britain just after the war to work alongside Porton’s scientists.
They provided details of Nazi research into the nerve agents sarin and tabun, suspected of being responsible for the death of at least one of the British servicemen. One of the scientists is said to have advised Hitler to use the agents in rockets fired on London in the war.
The revelations of the importance placed on the Nazis’ information by British scientists and Intelligence officers will add to the sensitivity of a police probe, launched two months ago, into the death of an airman in 1953.
Families of ex-servicemen believe they were ‘conned’ into taking part in potentially high risk experiments at Porton. Some were told they were helping research into the common cold. Mick Roche, of the Porton Down veterans Association, said it was ‘sheer hypocrisy’ that while German scientists were facing war crimes trials at Nuremburg for experimenting on human guinea pigs with nerve agents, the Allies were using their research. ‘It is natural that most people feel repugnant to nerve agents and when your previous enemy contributes to the programmes involving our servicemen it is hard to take,’ he added. The Daily Mail revealed last Monday how the inquiry is now focusing on 25 ‘suspicious’ deaths after relatives of the dead men, who had volunteered to be guinea pigs at Porton, told police they too may have been the victims of nerve gas. The police probe was triggered by allegations surrounding the death of Porton volunteer Ronald Maddison, a 20-year-old RAF air-craftsman, in 1953. It was claimed that 200mg of sarin was dripped on to a swatch of uniform draped on his arm.
Porton documents allegedly show that he died because scientists wanted to find out how much nerve agent it took to penetrate a military uniform and kill.
Police are expected to interview at least 300 surviving ex-servicemen who claim their health has suffered after they volunteered for the Porton trials without being warned of the risks.
The inquiry has been widened to cover the period from the end of World War II up to the Seventies, during which more than 20,000 servicemen volunteered for trials.
Victims claim they have respiratory illnesses, skin problems, heart and lung ailments and poor eyesight. Many have endured terrible depression.
The contribution of the German chemical warfare experts to Porton research has always remained a closely guarded secret.
Documents relating to it are still classified more than half a century after the scientists were spirited out of Germany with the promise of immunity In return for their knowledge.
Extensive archive Investigations in Britain, Germany and the United States show how Nazi scientists Eric Traub, Max Gruber and Fredrich Hoffman were debriefed by both Porton scientists and the intelligence services and then sent to continue their research into nerve gas in America. All three spent time in England.
Traub was one of Hitler’s leading biologists specialising in sarin and tabun and was based at the chemical research establishments near the Nazi underground factory in Nordhausen in Westphalla and at a secret laboratory outside Munich.
Gruber, an ardent Nazi who marched with Hitler and his early followers in the ‘Blood Putsch’ against the government of Bavaria in 1923, was an expert in chemical warfare specialising in sarin.
Hoffman, a former professor of physics and chemistry, was considered the most important of the trio and subsequently was to become a consultant on psychochemicals to the CIA. It is unclear whether the men worked with British scientists at Porton or whether only their research and expertise were used. All three spent many weeks being questioned by Porton officials about their knowledge of nerve agents. Although they then moved to America, Hoffman and Traub were to return to Britain to work again with Porton scientists.
Details of their presence in Britain remained secret and none of the three are listed among scientists working at Porton at the time in recently declassified files held at the Public Records Office in Kew, West London.
Their flight from Germany was orchestrated by the intelligence services against the background of a frantic race between the West and the Russians in the immediate aftermath of the war for details of the Nazi’s scientific programmes. In particular, both sides wanted the details of Hitler’s nerve gas, and even before the end of the war Porton sent teams of specialists and military officers to Germany to ensure it did not lose out.
In addition to the scientists, men from Porton were to collect details of their research.
This was to include records of a concentration camp where there had been allegations of experiments on inmates.
Among the scientists brought to England were the men who invented Zyklon-B, the poison gas used in concentration camps.
The British ran Operation Matchbox under which lists of German specialists useful to the West were drawn up.
Immunity from prosecution for war crimes was offered in some cases in exchange for knowledge and assistance.