Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jonathan Petropoulos

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Very little historical scholarship specifically analyzes or explores the absence of chemical weapons in World War II. This thesis seeks to fill the gaps in the historical narrative by providing insight into the personal and external factors that influenced Hitler’s chemical weapons policy. This thesis also touches upon the wartime violence perpetrated by both the Axis and the Allies, thereby offering a neutral, unbiased historical account. From 1939-1941, Hitler did not deploy chemical weapons because his blitzkrieg of Europe was progressing successfully – chemical warfare was unnecessary. With the failure of Operation Barbarossa from 1942-1943, Armaments Minister Albert Speer oversaw a massive increase in the production of the lethal nerve agent tabun, indicating Hitler’s desire to deploy chemical gas on the Eastern Front. However, by the request of Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill threatened to retaliate against Nazi Germany with chemical strikes on German cities in May 1942. Hitler backed down because of the inadequacy of German air defense and his desire to protect the “Aryan” people – based on his own trauma with gas in World War I. However, in the final years of the war in 1944-1945, the stress of the Allied advance on Berlin caused the deterioration of the German dictator’s mental and physical state. Hitler’s thoughts became suicidal and destructive – the German people deserved extinction for their failure in World War II. Thus, Hitler issued the Nero Decree in March 1945. However, the architect turned Armaments Minister, aware of the war’s foregone conclusion, sought to obstruct Germany’s path to catastrophe. Likewise, Hitler sought to initiate chemical warfare. Again, Speer prevented unnecessary civilian casualties by shutting down chemical production plants. The German dictator did not take matters into his own hands because following the failure of the Ardennes Offensive in January 1945, Hitler also grew increasingly apathetic to governing the Third Reich. By April 1945, with Hitler a ghost of his former self, his subleaders fought for control of Nazi Germany, and their inability to cooperate led to a crisis of leadership. Thus, World War II concluded in Europe without chemical warfare. Ultimately, this thesis promotes an awareness of the legacy of violence ushered in by “modern warfare,” a contemporary issue yet to be adequately addressed.