History A History Of The Uk's Public Area Biological Warfare Experiments

Discussion in 'History' started by zero lift, Dec 4, 2004.

  1. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    A History of the UK\'s Public Area Biological Warfare Experiments

    UK Public Area Biological Warfare Experiments

    This historical review records the experiments carried out in public areas by Porton Down (the UK’s chemical and biological warfare research centre). It is by no means a complete list of the many experiments that were conducted by Porton during the period 1949-2004, as research is ongoing. New experiments are being discovered with every new release of official documents to the National Archives at Kew, London.

    Important information has also been obtained through the 1994 UK Code of Practice on Access to Government Information Act.

    Porton Down

    Porton Down is one of the most secretive Ministry of Defence establishments in the UK. Situated in the county of Wiltshire, a few miles from the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge, Porton laboratories have, for over 80 years, researched the possibilities of chemical warfare (CW).

    In 1940, the UK took it’s first tentative steps in biological warfare (BW) research by setting up a small unit at Porton Down under the direction of a senior microbiological scientist, Sir Paul Fildes. This unit, the Biology Department Porton (BDP), is mostly remembered for it’s work on weaponising anthrax; in particular the 1942-43 anthrax experiments that were conducted on the Scottish island of Gruinard, in Ross and Cromarty. These infamous experiments resulted in the contamination of Gruinard Island for decades after the end of WW2.

    As WW2 ended the need for continuing research on BW was discussed by various Government committees. It was decided that a new department should be set up at Porton Down under the supervision of Dr DW Henderson, the scientist responsible for conducting many of the Gruinard Island anthrax experiments. This new organisation was given the title of the Microbiological Research Department (MRD).

    By 1951, the MRD moved into the most modern (and probably largest) microbiological laboratories in Europe. These purpose built laboratories were situated in an area of Porton Down that was separate to the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment. The cost of the new MRD building was £ 2.5 million, a phenomenal amount of money in 1951, and an amount that signifies the UK Government’s view of the importance of biological warfare research.

    In 1957, the MRD gained establishment status, and a new title, the Microbiological Research Establishment (MRE). The Chief Superintendent, Dr Henderson, became Director of the new establishment. No longer was the BW research centre at Porton the smaller organisation to it’s CW sibling. BW research now had the same status at Porton as CW research. This continued until the closure of the MRE in 1979. The main laboratory complex was taken over by the Public Health Laboratory Service and became the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research.
    Biological warfare studies were transferred to the Chemical Defence Establishment and operated under the title Defence Microbiology Division (DMD).

    In the ensuing years, the Ministry of Defence reappraised the growing role of BW research, in particular the field of recombinant DNA research. In 1991 the CDE became the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment. Four years later it became part of the Defence Evaluation Research Agency, gaining a new title of Chemical and Biological Defence sector of DERA. Since 2001, upon the break-up of DERA, it has gained yet another title, Defence Science and Technical Laboratories, Porton Down.

    Porton Down organisational titles.

    Chemical Warfare organisations

    War Department Experimental Ground

    Royal Engineers Experimental Station 1916-1929

    Chemical Warfare Experimental Station (CWES)

    Chemical Defence Experimental Station (CDES)

    Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment (CDEE)

    Chemical Defence Establishment (CDE)

    Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment (CBDE)

    Chemical and Biological Defence (CBD) sector of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA)

    Defence Scientific and Technical Laboratories (DSTL) Porton Down

    Biological Warfare organisations

    Biology Department Porton

    Microbiological Research Department (MRD)

    Microbiological Research Establishment (MRE)

    When the MRE closed in 1979, the CDE became responsible for both chemical and biological warfare research.
  2. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    Sabotage Experiments.

    Post war UK biological warfare public area experiments can be divided into two distinct topics; The first, Sabotage, appears to be a continuation of clandestine BW work first conducted by BDP during WW2 for the Special Operations Executive.

    This clandestine WW2 BW research is rumoured to have resulted in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich during Operation ANTHROPOID in May 1942. The assassination was hoped to inspire an uprising against the Nazis in Czechoslovakia.

    The head of BDP, Paul Fildes, is said to have prepared two specially modified British anti-tank grenades by filling them with BTX (Botulinum toxin). These grenades were then given to the SOE who passed them to the ANTHROPOID team.

    On 23 May 1942, the SOE trained ANTHROPOID team ambushed Heydrich’s staff car as it drove through Prague. After some confusion (a jammed Sten gun prevented one of the team from shooting Heydrich at almost point blank range) one of the two specially prepared BDP grenades was thrown at the now stationary staff car. The powerful explosion shattered the windows of a nearby tram, and although it had missed the car it still ripped off one of it’s doors. Heydrich, although hit by splinters from the explosion, gave chase to his attackers but suddenly collapsed and was rushed to Bulovka hospital.

    At first he appeared to be recovering from his injuries, but after a day or so he lapsed into a progressive paralysis. Seven days after being attacked he died.

    Reprisals were terrible. Ludice, the town suspected by the Germans of aiding the SOE teams, was razed to the ground. All the men were shot, women and children incarcerated. Although the operation had resulted in the death of the man that many thought of as Hitler’s successor, the hoped for Czech uprising never materialised.

    According to a US biologist, Alvin Pappenheimer (Professor of Microbiology at Harvard) Paul Fildes later told him that Heydrich’s death “was the first notch on my pistol”.

    No official BDP reports have been declassified which detail the development of the X grenade but a recently obtained 1999 Porton internal review does contain a paragraph that at least proves that such a weapon was produced by BDP for use by the SOE. The extract reads:

    The X-grenade trials: 1944
    During W.W.II, BDP pursued occasional research on behalf of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). One such topic was the feasibility of ensuring the lethality of otherwise non-lethal injuries from munitions such as grenades, by the incorporation of some toxic material e.g. coating metal fragments within grenades with X, the W.W.II code for botulinum toxin. In April 1944 a trial was held in a pill box on the Porton Range. Several goats were exposed to the explosion of an ad hoc grenade containing a mass of contaminated grub screws. Results indicated that the lethality of minor trauma could be assured by the use of X. No further work was done on this topic. No persistent contamination resulted.
  3. pineappleupsidedown

    pineappleupsidedown Premium Member

    alright, so basically if you got this "X" into your bloodstream you were in trouble?

    Not trying to be sarcastic, i just am trying to clarify.

  4. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    pineapple, oops...perhaps it would have been a good idea to have posted what BTX does to the human body. Apparently BTX or to give it it's Porton codename, X, causes the following symptoms;

    a combination of extreme weaknes, malaise, dry skin, dilated and unresponsive pupils, blurred vision, dry coated tongue and mouth, and dizziness when upright. As the patient becomes worse, he develops a progressive muscular weakness with #@!&% paralysis, and weakness of arms, legs, and respiratory muscles. He may die of respiratory failure unless respiratory respiration is applied. There may be associated cardiac arrest or complete vasomotor collapse. (source World Health Organisation)

    Basically the X granade was used as a fail-safe method of assassination. Should the explosion not kill the target outright, BTX coated splinters from the grenade should ensure death within 7 days. As Porton have recently revealed, the X grenade contained masses of BTX contaminated grub screws. This would have ensured a large cloud of "splinters" from the grenade explosion.

    zero lift:D
  5. Zsandmann

    Zsandmann Premium Member

    Wow Zero that is both very interesting and very disturbing. It seems the same thing could be done with other agents such as smallpox, ricin, ebola, etc to create a 'dirty bomb'. It is most disturbing however in how simple it is to concoct.

  6. Mark

    Mark ♤♡◇♧ Staff Member

    zero lift has just been awarded 10 Iggies for his thread here by smirkley.
  7. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    Thanks for your time and support everyone, it's much appreciated.

    If you found the above of interest, read on. The next post details the first of a series of post WW2 UK BW Sabotage Experiments.

    UK Biological Warfare Sabotage Experiments

    The Westwood Quarry Trials 1950-1951

    In early 1950, Dr Henderson, the Chief Superintendent of the MRD Porton Down, received the results of a series of BW sabotage experiments that had been recently carried out in the US.

    The Special Operations Division, Camp Detrick, had carried out a series of tests to determine the vulnerability of large governmental office buildings to sabotage attacks with BW agents.

    In one of these tests an aerosol of live bacteria, Serratia marcescens, was released into the hallway of the third floor of a large office building. This aerosol passed from the hallway into the return air duct through the air conditioning system and returned to the rooms on different floors. It was estimated that occupants in the fourth floor of the building would have inhaled a minimum of 1.6 million organisms. Viable (live) bacteria were recovered from building air samples up to 8 hours after the aerosol was first released.

    The Special Operations Division, Camp Detrick quickly passed this unexpected information with their UK counterparts at MRD Porton Down. Spurred into action by the US test results, in March 1950, the Chief Superintendent of MRD, Dr Henderson, suggested that the UK should carry out a series of studies on the behaviour of bacterial clouds inside buildings “especially such buildings as have controlled ventilation systems. If the American experience was corroborated and extended it was evident that attempts to control the risk by specific means would be essential.”

    Dr Henderson was to soon realise that no suitable empty buildings were available where such experiments could be readily carried out; indeed senior civil servants were reluctant to allow the experiments to be carried out in large occupied government offices. It was suggested to Dr Henderson that government wartime citadels might suit the experimental requirements and a search for such premises was carried out with the cooperation of the Ministry of Works.

    Amongst the plans inspected was one for Westwood Quarry, near Corsham, north Wiltshire. This was an underground WW2 repository belonging to the British Museum and was used to protect the UK’s priceless art treasures from aerial bombardment. Although by 1950 the art treasures that had been stored there for safety during WW2 had been returned to the British Museum, the Repository was still maintained with conditioned air and accurately controlled temperature and humidity. After a site visit by members of the MRD Porton and Ministry of Works staff, it was agreed that, with a few minor structural alterations, this location might prove suitable for the kind of ventilation experiments being considered. Permission to use the British Museum Repository at Westwood Quarry was obtained from the Director of the British Museum (Sir T D Kendrick), on the advice of Dr Plenderleith, the Scientific Adviser to the British Museum. (Dr Plenderleith took the opportunity to ask the MRD to investigate the presence or absence of moulds in the Repository, largely on account of their importance in the presence of stored treasures)

    pic source Secret Underground Cities Nick McCamley

    The British Museum Repository was located in the disused workings of an underground stone quarry in the village of Upper Westwood, near Trowbridge. The Repository area of the quarry comprised a storage area of over 25,000sq ft with an average height of 10 ft. A large are of the old workings was set aside for air conditioning plant, small workshops, etc.
    In 1937, before the British Museum conversion work started, the workings were exceedingly wet and the supporting pillars and roofs dripped water. Extensive air conditioning plant was installed, the floors were levelled and concreted and the walls were cleaned and sealed with a special compound.

    The air was not drawn from the surface atmosphere, but from old quarry workings where the temperature was constant at 53 degrees F and saturated throughout the year. The air was heated and circulated by pumps through plenum ducts. The air temperature was maintained within one degree of 68 degrees F with a relative humidity of 53%.

    pic source Saving Britain's Art Treasures Nick McCamley

    It is important to note that the air in the Repository was under positive pressure and found it’s way back to the surface largely through the main entrance tunnel.

    Trials Procedure


    Simulants are substances used in experiments that mimic the actions of a more dangerous substance but are themselves harmless to humans. They are generally used in BW experiments where the use of pathogenic organisms is prohibited. BW simulant bacteria are normally of the same size as a “hot” or pathogenic BW agent, between 1-5 microns.

    The main bacterial simulant used in these ventilation experiments (trials) was Serratia marcescens, a bacterial strain that emits a red pigment when incubated.
    The Serratia marcescens was originally obtained from Camp Detrick in the US and had been used in similar SOD experiments. The use of an identical strain of bacteria enabled comparison between the results from both the US and UK ventilation tests. The strain was tested for virulence against mice using doses of up to 10,000 organisms by injecting the mice intraperitoneally. MRD Porton recorded no deaths at 7 days at this dosage.

    Nowadays, Serratia marcescens is acknowledged to be an opportunistic pathogen, an organism that causes disease in people with suppressed immune systems. It is known to cause endocarditis and meningitis.

    A second organism used in later trials was the sporulating bacteria, Bacillus globigii (aka BG). BG forms spores in the absence of nutrients. In it’s spore form BG becomes a tough, almost “armour plated” organism, immune to the effects of ultra-violet light (which kills most non sporulating bacteria).

    BG is still widely used as a BW simulant and tracer, although concern is growing over it’s use as a BW simulant in public area experiments. In 1999, widespread public protest caused a cancellation of proposed BW detection experiments at Los Alamos. These experiments were to have used BG as a simulant.

    Even the US Army has decided that BW detection training exercises should use irradiated BG in it’s BW detection training. A fact sheet published in the last few years by the US Department of Defense lists BG as a possible cause of severe infection in persons whose health was already compromised.


    In the UK, the Health Protection Agency website lists species of Bacillus subtilis (aka Bacillus globigii, aka BG) as causing food poisoning).

    Aerosol Production

    The most effective size for bacterial particles in a BW cloud is recognised as being between 1-5 microns in size. This enables the particles to evade the body’s natural defences and reach the deepest part of the lungs, the alveoli. From there infection soon spreads throughout the body causing illness.

    As MRD wished to examine the effects of bacterial aerosols of differing sizes, two types of spraying devices were used. For aerosols of 1micron size, a large Collison sprayer was used.
    A “spinning top” apparatus was used for generating particles greater than 1 micron in size.

    The photograph shows the spraying apparatus in situ in the air conditioning system. During the trials the open hatch was sealed shut with the aid of butterfly nuts.

    Sampling Apparatus

    The sampling devices were set up in the target chamber, the Repository “Carpet Room”. Four types of samplers were used; because different aspects of the aerosol cloud were to be investigated the types of samplers varied.

    Protection of personnel

    The official MRD scientific trials document, MRD Report No2-The Westwood Trials, only details measures undertaken in order to protect MRD Porton staff from any health hazards presented by the aerosol clouds of live bacteria.

    MRD Report No 2 makes no mention of the presence of 200+ workers in the neighbouring underground Royal Enfield factory or even whether the tests could possibly have any adverse health effects on these workers. As was mentioned previously, the air exiting the Repository largely made it’s way to the surface through the main entrance tunnel. This main tunnel was the main entrance for both the British Museum Repository and the Royal Enfield underground factory. During each trial massive amounts of live bacteria, of an optimum size to enable deep penetration of the lungs, travelled down this tunnel. Any worker present in the tunnel would have inhaled very large dosages of Serratia marcescens. Why the possible dangers to these workers health was not examined by MRD Porton is not known. What is known is that the scientist in charge of the tests expressed doubts as to how “safe” this organism really was. In MRD Report No2 he wrote;
    “Also, it was demonstrated that workers outside the chamber were exposed to a much higher bacterial content of the air than was considered advisable even for a so called non-pathogenic organism.”
    (my italics)

    This remarkable sentence shows that even as far back as 1950, senior scientists were expressing concerns about the status of Serratia marcescens as a non-pathogen (a non disease causing bacteria).
    The “workers outside the chamber” is a reference to MRD staff participating in the tests.[/b]

    Such was the concern caused by the levels of bacteria in the air produced by the tests, that, according to a Ministry of Works report, “a crude air filter has been fitted to the exhaust connection of the extract fan, and the Carpet Room partition has been sealed to render it airtight”.

    Protection of MRD Porton Staff

    MRD Report No2 details the protective clothing worn by MRD staff during these tests.

    In view of the fact that personnel were liable to be exposed to massive dosage of bacterial aerosol twice weekly over a period of several weeks, it was considered necessary to provide the fullest possible degree of protection. Personnel undressed completely and donned cellular type under-vests and pants, and woollen socks. On top of this was worn a gaberdine overall with double flapped legs and sleeves. Rubber Wellington boots and surgeons rubber gloves were worn. Respirator with bacterial filter complete with hood was used.” See next photograph.

    The site of experiment was sub-divided into a clean (laboratory) area and the chamber (dirty) area. Personnel were not allowed to move from clean to dirty areas or vice-versa until completion of an experiment without taking proper precautions, eg dressing or undressing.

    Personnel operating either inside the chamber itself or round that area wore the complete protective clothing. On undressing, boots, gloves, and respirator were wiped with antiseptic; clothing was placed in large paper containers which were sealed and returned to the main laboratory for auto-claving before reuse.”

    The first preliminary trial was undertaken at Westwood during the autumn of 1950. Trials results show that air samples taken in the Carpet Room indicated a level of 5 million organisms per cubic foot.
    Unfortunately for MRD, the first trial highlighted an unforeseen problem. MRD had been using the room marked BM Room as a post experiment laboratory. Fluids taken from the Carpet Room sampling devices were plated out onto petrie dishes prior to incubation in this room. It was found that the level of bacteria present in the air of the BM Room masked accurate assessment of the trials samples.
    This discovery led to the removal of the laboratory from the BM Room to the furthest reaches of the Repository. Here it was found that the bacterial aerosol did not penetrate in any significant quantity. MRD Report No2 notes;

    “It should be noted, however, that the room originally selected for purposes of assessment was in theory isolated from the air system of the test chamber (the Carpet Room).
    The dramatic degree of contamination with the test organism in this isolated area supplements the evidence of our American colleagues concerning diffusion of bacterial aerosols across artificial air-conditioning barriers.”

    (my italics)

    Following the early tests, research was then done to investigate the penetration of buildings by bacterial aerosols through air-conditioning systems in different ventilation conditions. These experiments were conducted with 1 micron sized SM. Next, in order investigate to what extent the “die away” rate of the 1 micron SM cloud depended on the mortality of the organism sprayed, it was decided to carry out comparison trials using spores of BG (Bacillus subtilis). Finally, tests were done using clouds of SM in the size 6-7 micron.

    Having proved the ease with which a bacterial aerosol can penetrate a building when introduced through an air conditioning ventilation system, MRD Porton set about investigating methods of decontaminating affected buildings.

    To investigate methods of decontamination MRD used a chemical, hexylresorcinols, as a smoke. This was generated by being placed in a commercially available generator , the Aerovap. Staff from the device’s manufacturer, Shepherd’s Aerosols assisted the MRD with these final experiments at Westwood. The method proved to be a very successful technique for sterilising a room that is contaminated with a vegetative bacteria.
    In 1951, the MRD there was no need to continue with experiments at the British Museum Repository, as it was decided that further experiments could be carried out at the soon to be completed Porton Test Sphere.

    Workers in the neighbouring Royal Enfield factory could breath again, Westwood Quarry’s days as a Top Secret BW test area were over.


    At the same time that the first Westwood Quarry experiments were being carried out, across the Atlantic, another, much larger series of BW sabotage experiments was taking place.

    In the autumn of 1950, a US Navy ship disseminated massive bacterial clouds that were carried onshore to San Francisco. The bacterial strains used were Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii (also known as Bacillus subtilis). In some of the tests a particles of Zinc Cadmium sulphide were sprayed with the bacteria. Much has been written about the San Francisco tests. After the clouds had passed over the city doctors in one hospital noticed a rise in the incidence of Serratia marcescens infections. One patient, Edward Nevin, died as a result of the acquired infection. The US Government still denies that the Serratia marcescens infection that caused the death of Edward Nevin was related to the US Navy BW experiments carried out in San Francisco.

    Coming Soon

    How MRD Porton Down "attacked" a regular passenger train with BW live simulants as it travel through a railway tunnel in the south of England:o

    zero lift:D
  8. Bleys

    Bleys Phoenix Takes Flight Staff Member


    Sorry for the post Zerolift - but I had to express my appreciation for all your hard work here. Absolutely fascinating and frightening subject matter.

    Kudos to you my friend,
  9. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    Thanks Bleys, don't worry about interupting. Jump in whenever you feel like it. That goes for everyone. This can appear to be a complicated subject at first, so if anyone has questions, feel free to ask.

    As you say this story is both fascinating and frightening; it gets even more scary when I cover the story of the LAC and the Lyme Bay Trials:wow:

    It's going to take a while to post up my research so every now and then patience will be needed until the next instalment is posted. Don't worry, it will be worth it


    zero lift:D
  10. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    While you're waiting for me to tell how Porton sprayed a UK passenger train in the 1950s, why not skip forward a decade and examine a couple of Porton public area experiment docs.

    Two Porton Down documents that detail biological warfare experiments that were carried out in Norfolk (mainly centred on Norwich) during the years 1963 and 1964 can be viewed and downloaded on the following website.


    Porton Field Trial Report No 610 The Penetration Of Built Up areas at night - 1963

    CDEE Porton Programme Report 2 64 The Penetration of Built Up Areas By Aerosols At Night

    Please take a look- even if you don't live in Norfolk, the docs make very interesting viewing. The second doc would never normally have seen the light of day as it is not MOD policy to place Porton Programme Reports in the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office).

    zero lift:D
  11. zero lift

    zero lift New Member

    Another Government document is now available for viewing and download at;


    DOC Secretary of State Briefing Memo Public Area CW BW Experiments May 1963

    This one is a sort of smokin' gun

    It's a briefing memo sent by the MOD Chief Scientist to the Secretary of State for War (the Secretary of State for Defence in todays money).

    Apparently the SoS had asked an awkward question at a previous meeting re Porton Down's public area experiments and this was the reply.

    If you've ever questioned why these experiments were conducted in such a high level of secrecy, it wasn't all about not letting the Soviets know- a major part of the answer's on the first page.

    zero lift:D