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would germ warfare work in naval combat?

Discussion in 'Naval Warfare in the Pacific' started by UncleJoe, May 9, 2016.

  1. UncleJoe

    UncleJoe Member

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    This might sound like a naive question from an unscrupulous techie, but would biological warfare have been effective in naval combat in the Pacific theater? After all, a ship packed with 1000 or more sailors could allow infectious diseases to spread like fire. And unlike on land, there would be no risk of unwanted infection of civilians. So why not fire anthrax shells instead of the normal HE and AP?

    From what I've read, Japan didn't have any aerosol deliver capability (using fleas and porcelain shells - pretty low tech), nor mass produced biological agents. Or could it be that they purposely didn't use them militarily by principle? After all, they didn't use subs against enemy merchant shipping, thinking they would be an unworthy opponent. The US seemed to had no interest in biological weapons at the time.

    It seems since the allies had the ability to mass produce Penicillin, that would've discouraged Japan from using germs along with the threat of severe reprisals. But what about viruses which Penicillin won't stop?

    So if Japan or the US did manage to deploy anthrax shells or something similar, how would they defend against them? Issue gas masks to all AA personnel? Filter incoming air and maintain positive pressure inside the hull?
     
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Biologicals have a number of serious draw backs:

    If stored for any length of time they become less reliable.

    They are rather sensitive to heat and some to high acceleration loading (such as a shell impact would produce).

    They are not very quick acting. If some one is hitting you with explosive loaded shells the fact that several days from now you may have had some impact on the crew of the opposing vessel isn't particularly satisfying.

    The main reason to use germ warfare is the potential of producing an epidemic if it's confined to a ship or a few ships no epidemic. You may however have triggered a response that will target your cities though.
     
  3. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Yes, in short, they train for that. I'm a retired Coast Guardsman and all the larger cutters I was on had to to go through warfare training with the Navy every two years. In my day the acronym for that training was "REFTRA" though they call it something else now. Anyway, one of the more fun drills (only fun because all the REFTRA I went through happened to be in tropical waters) was this weird thing where an elaborate sprinkler system was deployed along the upper works and deck to cover the entire ship with a deluge of pumped seawater, while at the same time all the ventilation and openings to the deck were sealed. It's quite a display, like a big water show covering the entire ship. There are other things going on in conjunction with that inside the vessel; auto-injectors for various chemical weapons are parceled out, respirators, etc.

    They had a name for this particular operation and perhaps one of our Navy people can jump in with that, but the entire point was to protect the vessel from Nuclear fallout, chemical and biological weapons.
     
  4. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    True, but the water washdown system was invented after WWII, mainly because of the expected use of nuclear weapons, but of course it would be effective against chemicals or biologicals. It was pretty spectacular to watch!

    In the aftermath of WWII it was thought that tactical nuclear weapons might be used rather freely, and there was a similar expectation after WWI that gas would be part of future wars. In the interwar period there was considerable concern about gas attack and decontamination; Friedman's design history of US battleships cites fears that a thoroughly gassed ship might not be salvageable.

    On the other hand, naval warfare is a difficult environment for gas. Winds would rapidly disperse clouds of chemicals, and ships can maneuver to avoid them. Most of the gas from a shell or bomb topside would be swept away by the ship's own motion. The main danger would be a projectile penetrateing the interior of a ship, which might be equally or more effective if simply filled with explosive.
     
  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    All of that is true, but it was still seen as a possibility and this (rather silly) drill was part of the training. You're right also, that this was all cold war stuff and not WWII related. Perhaps they still do it? I don't know. The main fear was fallout, yet we still had these auto-injectors to block various chemical agents. I think one was atropine for nerve agents, but there were several others that I no longer recall.
     
  6. UncleJoe

    UncleJoe Member

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    Maybe for live bacteria, but not for spores. By forming spores, anthrax from diseased cattle can survive in soil and continue to infect 70 years later (Wikipedia).

    But the main problem seems that neither anthrax nor bubonic plague is not too contagious between people. According to this excellent article, https://www.vaccines.mil/documents/library/AMAreview.pdf, not only is it not very contagious, people < 20 years old are largely immune. Bubonic plague is also rarely spread from person to person. Smallpox is highly contagious from air, but most people would've had already been vaccinated against it.

    And after surviving the outbreak (probably a large majority of enlisted personnel by being young), a person would be immune for a long time and by that time countermeasures (issuing gas masks) would make future attacks ineffective. So, I guess this rules out using biological weapons at sea.

    It seems to use them effectively, it would have to be in a one time, massive all out offensive on land. You'd better be ready to exploit the initial mayhem caused by illness (like at the battle of Hattin from poisoned wells) to completely surround the enemy and force a surrender. I suppose field grade officers (O4 - O6) would be hit the hardest. That would cause quite a massive wave of promotions. Maybe such an opportunity might have presented itself at the battle of Berlin or the hypothetical battle of Tokyo when the Soviets and Americans would've been heavily concentrated in attack formation and envelopment would've been possible?
     

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