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  • Deadly Sweets and Biological Warfare in WW1 November 10, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback


     ***dedicated to Marge and Filip***

    This is a very small post following up with comments from two readers on ‘dropped from the air’. Regulars of this blog will remember that Beach included the reference printed here below from the Great War about germ-infected sweets thrown into Italy by Austro-Hungarian pilots.

    Austrian aviators dropped packets of poisoned sweets. Several of these sweets picked up at Ravenna, Codigoro and Candra were submitted to a bacteriological analysis, as the result of which it was discovered that the sweets were composed of starch, sugar, and infectious germs.

    This story came from March 1916 and predictably enough there were echoes in the echo-box on the ‘enemy’ side of Europe.

    Slanderous fabrications. Lugano, April 9th. Slanderous allegations about Austro-Hungarian aircraft supposedly dropping poisoned or germ-contaminated sweets over Verona, Ancona and other cities were put in a peculiar light by the news from Bassano  reported by Popolo d’Italia. According to the news, after an Austro-Hungarian aeroplane dropped bombs on April 4th, two men trying to distribute sweets of suspicious nature were imprisoned. The two men were barely rescued from a lynch mob.

    This from Filip G who very kindly translated and sent the text above in from a Kracow paper, then part of the AH Empire: was it written in Polish, Filip? The original is here in a format that Beach cannot read, djvu. The whole thing about a lynch mob make this sound like a wave of hysteria and how was this supposed to work anyway? The pilots dropped the sweets to agents on the ground? Doesn’t cut up very well looked at from any angle. Perhaps this story deserves a little more research in the Italian archives, that of course have not yet been digitized. Sigh. For a history of justified sweet anxiety see this extraordinary story from 1858, though this was poison not biological warfare. There are also several tales about nineteenth-century icecream: making ice-cream next to latrine run offs etc. Death in a sugary bite… Strange as it sounds more like a modern legend than a legend from a hundred years ago, when the connection between sweets and health were less well understood.

    An interesting coda, instead, comes in this extraordinary piece from the New York Times in 1998 (courtesy of Marge) suggesting that the Germans were experimenting with anthrax spores in a sugar cube. It seems relatively well backed up too. Wth!

    Any other scattered threads about WW1 hysteria or biological weapons and thanks again to Marge and Filip! drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    23 Nov 2013: Brett from Airminded writes in: A couple of references on my blog to poisoned sweets being dropped from aircraft during the First World War (on Britain by Germany and on Romania by, presumably, Austria): (1) and (2). They sound very urban legend-like to me.’ I am sure that Brett is right and this is urban legend but a bigger study might turn up some interesting points of origin. Thanks, Brett!