Operation Vegetarian: Churchill almost wiped out all Germans in WWII

By: Lyn Kelly

During World War II when the Nazi forces were invading majority of Europe, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain had to take drastic action to protect his country. He organized Operation Vegetarian — even got the resources together to make it happen —  which was a plan to pour anthrax over German pastures to poison their food supply.

Anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a germ that lives in soil. It is rare and affects animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. Humans can get infected by contact with the infected animals’ wool, meat, or hides. Considering that the anthrax can be easily cultured and can survive in harsh conditions, it is an ideal biological weapon

Operation vegetarian

The plan was to create cattle cakes packed with anthrax that would be dropped by British bombers all across Germany, particularly on cattle feeding grounds. The intent was for the cattle to consume the anthrax-laden cakes, contract the deadly disease, and eventually kill the Nazis who would consume the meat of the infected cattle.

By 1944, five million cattle cakes with anthrax had been produced and were mobilized to be dropped on German soil. Apart from seriously affecting the Nazis, the operation would also leave the poisoned area unlivable for many centuries.

Luckily, British pilots shot down German bombers which caused Hitler to turn his attention to Russia. Churchill didn’t push through with Operation Vegetarian. At the end of the war, all five million infected cakes were destroyed in an incinerator at Porton Down.

While the anthrax cakes were never delivered to Nazi, Germany, the British did tested its effects on the tiny island of Gruinard in Scotland. The island was firebombed and disinfected after the testing, but it remained uninhabitable for nearly half a century because of anthrax spores still surviving in the soil. It wasn’t until 1990 that the island was declared safe after being treated with a solution of formaldehyde and seawater.