That time the Nazis used mosquitoes as biological weapons

As times got tough for the Axis during the Second World War, both Germany and Japan considered — and in some cases used — biological warfare. New research reveals details about one of these plans — a scheme that saw malaria-ridden mosquitoes released into enemy territory.

It's no secret that the Nazis tried to halt Allies in Italy with a malaria epidemic attack. According to historian Frank Snowden, the Germans flooded the marshes that lay on the path into Rome by reversing the pumps that drained them. They then introduced millions of larvae of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. British and American soldiers survived the biological attack because they were given anti-malarial drugs. Regrettably, the Italian population didn't fare so well; malaria cases rose in the area from 1,217 in 1943 to 54,929 in 1944 in a population of 245,000 (the actual numbers might have been higher). Malaria remained rife in the area until 1950 when the marshes were drained.

But now, science historian Klaus Reinhardt has uncovered some details about what happened behind the scenes, providing proof that an offensive warfare research program did in fact exist in Nazi Germany.

Back in late 1942, the leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, ordered the creation of an institute to find new remedies against diseases transmitted by lice and other insects. This was a serious problem during the war, as Wehrmacht troops were plagued by typhoid. The Nazis were also concerned about a developing typhoid epidemic at the Neuengamme concentration camp.

But according to Reinhardt, the Dachau entomological institute also conducted research into biological warfare. As Reinhardt shows in a new Endaeovour article, by 1944 the Nazis had created malaria-infected mosquitoes that could be kept alive long enough to be transported from a breeding lab to a drop-off point behind enemy lines. In fact, the Nazi scientists involved even managed to identify the particular mosquito to be used, the anopheles mosquito — a genus known for its capacity to transmit malaria to humans.

More: "The Entomological Institute of the Waffen-SS: evidence for offensive biological warfare research in the third Reich."

[ Guardian ]