British Intercept German Anthrax Shipment in S…


February 14 1918, Cartagena–The First World War had seen the first use of chemical weapons in combat; the Allies were worried that the Germans might try to deploy biological weapons, as well.  Most of these fears concerned biological agents that would target crops and livestock, as retaliation for the Allied blockade of Germany; the Americans, in February 1918, took action to safeguard against about a far-fetched scheme to destroy their wheat crop with a fungus.  The Germans were considering some similarly elaborate plans, however, and put some of them in motion.  The primary means considered was anthrax, which would be concealed in small ampules inside sugar cubes, which could be fed to livestock and quickly eradicate entire herds.

The Germans had been preparing to use them in Romania, but she entered the war before they could be used; a similar plan to use them against reindeer in Lappland (in an attempt to cut off sledge routes to the Russians) was foiled by the Norwegians.  One attempt was possibly seen to completion, however, targeting Argentina’s large supply of livestock which were used as draft animals and for food by the Allies.  On February 14, U-35 (which had extensive experience with such clandestine missions) landed two German agents near Cartagena in Spain, along with twelve shipments of the anthrax-laden sugar cubes.  Room 40 knew of the plans and was able to get the shipment briefly seized by the local police.  They were not able to seize the whole shipment permanently without arousing German or Spanish suspicion, but were able to sneak away one of the boxes from a moving train, and presented the Spanish King with evidence of the Germans’ plans.  

The remainder of the anthrax shipment did make it to South America, despite Room 40′s best efforts; an attempt to intercept the shipment again when it left Spain failed due to fog.  German agents in Argentina were able to poison several hundred mules bound for use in Allied armies during the last year of the war.

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