Tabun is the first of the so-called G-series nerve agents along with GB (sarin), GD (soman) and GF (cyclosarin).
As chemical weapons, they are is classified as weapons of mass destruction by the United Nations according to UN Resolution 687, and production is strictly controlled and stockpiling outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.

Tabun was the first nerve agent to be discovered by accident in January 1936 by the German researcher Gerhard Schrader experimenting with a class of compounds called organophosphates, which kill insects by interrupting their nervous systems, in order to create a more effective insecticide for IG Farben, a German chemical and pharmaceutical industry conglomerate, at Elberfield. Instead of a new insecticide, he discovered tabun, a chemical enormously toxic to humans as well as insects.
During World War II, as part of the Grün 3 program, a plant for the manufacture of tabun was established at Dyhernfurth (now Brzeg Dolny, Poland), in 1939. Run by Anorgana, GmbH, the plant finally began production of the substance in 1942.[10] The reason that the plant took so long to get started was the extreme precautions used by the plant.[10] Intermediate products of tabun were corrosive, and had to be contained in quartz or silver-lined vessels. Tabun itself was also highly toxic, and final reactions were conducted behind double glass walls. Large scale manufacturing of the agent resulted in problems with tabun's degradation over time, and only around 12,500 tons of material were manufactured before the plant was seized by the Soviet Army. The plant initially produced shells and aerial bombs using a 95:5 mix of tabun and chlorobenzene, designated "Variant A", and in the latter half of the war switched to "Variant B," a 80:20 mix of tabun and chlorobenzene designed for easier dispersion. The Soviets dismantled the plant and shipped it to Russia

Sarin was discovered in 1938 in Wuppertal-Elberfeld in Germany by two German scientists attempting to create stronger pesticides; it is the most toxic of the four G-agents made by Germany. The compound, which followed the discovery of the nerve agent tabun, was named in honor of its discoverers: Schrader, Ambros, Rüdiger and van der Linde.
In mid-1939, the formula for the agent was passed to the chemical warfare section of the German Army Weapons Office, which ordered that it be brought into mass production for wartime use. A number of pilot plants were built, and a high-production facility was under construction (but was not finished) by the end of World War II. Estimates for total sarin production by Nazi Germany range from 500 kg to 10 tons. Though sarin, tabun and soman were incorporated into artillery shells, Germany ultimately decided not to use nerve agents against Allied targets.

Soman was discovered by Richard Kuhn in Germany in 1944, and represented the last wartime nerve agent discovery (GF was not found until 1949). Soman was given the identifier GD post-war (GC was already in medical use) when the information relating to soman was recovered by the Soviet Union from its hiding place in a mine.

Frank J. Dinan, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, shares his insight as to what would have happened if Hitler had chosen to use the deadly nerve gas Tabun, that he alone possessed, to oppose the D-Day landings. 

General Omar Bradley, commander of all of the American forces landing on D-Day, writing in his memoir, "A Soldier’s Story", commented on how relieved he was that the Germans did not use gas as a weapon on D-Day. "When D-Day finally ended without a whiff of gas, I was vastly relieved. For even a light sprinkling of a persistent gas could have forced a decision in one of history’s climactic battles".

If General Bradley’s fears were correct, the Allies could have been forced back into the sea with enormous casualties. The political repercussions of a D-Day defeat for Roosevelt, Churchill and Eisenhower, the three men most responsible for the landings would have been devastating. Would another invasion attempt be made? Surely not soon. The war would have been prolonged and could have resulted in the Allies using their still developing atomic bombs against Germany rather than Japan.

Seeing Tabun’s effectiveness as a weapon and the lack of an Allied response, Hitler certainly would have used it against the Russians. Would Stalin then, frustrated by Tabun’s use and by the loss of a long promised Allied second front, have sued for a separate peace? Now confident that no nerve gas retaliatory attacks were forthcoming, it is likely that Hitler would have launched his rapidly improving V2 rockets now filled with Tabun against Allied targets with devastating effect.

The Tabun story began on 23 December 1936, when a single drop of that newly-made chemical fell to the floor of a laboratory in Germany. The two men working there immediately suffered diminished vision, labored breathing and a loss of muscle control. Ironically, Tabun was made to be an insecticide that was toxic to insects but harmless to humans.

The Nazi government required that all discoveries of potential military value be passed along to them. The men’s employer, the giant I.G. Farben Corporation, complied, and its representatives were soon called to Berlin to discuss Tabun with the military.

Demonstrations of Tabun’s lethal effects at extraordinarily low concentrations made its potential as a devastating weapon obvious. Everything about Tabun was immediately classified as top secret and few were aware of its existence.

A weapon oriented Tabun research program began and construction of a plant designed for its production soon started. By mid 1943 thousands of tons of Tabun had been produced, loaded into artillery shells and bombs that were moved to storage sites throughout Germany. The secrecy that surrounded Tabun was so effective that the Allies had no hint of its existence and had no comparable weapons to retaliate with if the Nazis used it.

Nerve agents such as Tabun, are among the deadliest chemicals ever devised and are now classified as weapons of mass destruction by the United Nations. They exert their deadly effects by inhalation and absorption through the skin.

In the body they prevent the action of a key enzyme that regulates all nerve transmission processes. A nerve impulse is transmitted along a nerve pathway by a chemical called a neurotransmitter. Once it has done its job, the neurotransmitter must be immediately removed or the nerve transmission process repeats itself uncontrollably. Tabun prevents this removal and a victim’s ability to see, breathe and control bodily functions is rapidly lost. Death soon follows.

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, the largest invasion armada ever assembled assaulted the Normandy beaches of France. Allied troops stormed ashore and gradually overcame determined German resistance to establish narrow, tenuous beachheads. The invaders were tightly packed together and pinned on the beach with the sea at their backs and the German defenders before them. There was no going back; it was a clear case of advance or die. By nightfall, nearly 100,000 Allied troops had landed and about 10,000 of their comrades were either dead or wounded. Allied forces slowly fought their way inland. Within two weeks they had progressed far enough to allow a makeshift port to be built and soon 20,000 tons per day of supplies were being landed. At this point, although much fierce fighting and many casualties were still to come, the fate of Hitler’s Third Reich was effectively sealed. But did this have to be the case?

Allied confidence that Germany had not developed new war gasses of any significance was so great that General Bernard Montgomery, Commander of the British and Canadian D-Day forces, ordered that all gas protection equipment be left behind when his troops departed England on D-Day. American soldiers carried only a gas mask but no rubber protective gear to stop gasses from being absorbed through clothing and skin. They would have quickly become casualties to Tabun.

Earlier, in the summer of 1940, the British had formulated plans to use gas to repel what then seemed a likely cross Channel invasion of their island by Nazi forces. They recognized that gas would be a much more effective weapon than explosives to use against an invading army tightly packed together on a narrow invasion beach. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was so convinced that the use of mustard gas, much less effective than Tabun, would stop a German invasion and drive the invaders back into the sea that he urged the military to use its entire supply of mustard gas on the first day of an attack.

Why then didn’t Hitler, certainly no humanitarian, use the far deadlier Tabun, that he alone possessed, to defeat the Allies on D-Day? The answer to this question centers on one fateful meeting and an event that occurred in the closing days of World War I when then corporal Adolf Hitler was temporally blinded by gas and was hospitalized at the war’s end. This experience gave Hitler a life-long aversion to poison gas warfare.

By 1943, the tide of war had turned against Germany and Hitler came under increasing pressure from fanatical Nazi leaders to use Tabun. He resisted, maintaining that it would only be used in response to a nerve gas attack on Germany. But their pressure was unrelenting, and in the fall of 1943, Hitler agreed to discuss Tabun’s use with Otto Ambros, Germany’s leading expert on chemical warfare and Albert Speer, the Reich’s Minister for Armaments.

In his book, "Inside the Third Reich", Speer relates that at that meeting Ambros told Hitler that he doubted that Germany had a monopoly on Tabun. He stated that Tabun had appeared in the chemical literature as early as 1902, that I.G. Farben had patented Tabun in 1937, and that since 1939, no mention of phosphorus insecticide chemistry had appeared in the scientific literature of the Allied nations. Ambros argued that these facts indicated that the Allies had nerve weapons and had imposed strict censorship on them to prevent Germany from realizing their deadly nature. After hearing Ambros’ arguments, Hitler never again seriously considered Tabun’s use.

We know now that Ambros was wrong. The Allies knew nothing about nerve weapons until the war ended. But what we can never know with certainty is whether Ambros deliberately mislead Hitler as a result of his own misgivings about Tabun’s use, or if he believed the information that he gave to Hitler was correct. However several facts indicate that, whatever the reason, Ambros may have deliberately misled Hitler.

Ambros was a Director of I.G. Farben Industries and knew that although Tabun had been patented, the patent was held in complete secrecy. It did not issue publicly until well after the war ended and was not available to the Allies. An extensive search of the scientific literature over the period 1896 to 1911 recently conducted by experts failed to reveal any report of Tabun’s existence or mention of any such highly toxic chemicals. Ambros’ claim that nothing about phosphorus chemicals appeared in Allies’ scientific literature was correct, but this was a result of their efforts to prevent Germany from considering the use of these materials as insecticides.

Disease has always been a major enemy of armies during wars and Allied policy dictated that all information on insecticides was classified as secret. This caused the lack of publication that Ambros reported to Hitler.

We can never be sure what might have happened if Tabun had been used but we know this: what the little known chemist, Otto Ambros told Adolf Hitler at their fateful 1943 meeting saved countless lives, shortened history’s most horrific war and may have prevented a tragic D-Day defeat.

A History of Chemical & Biological Warfare


German Poison Gas (1914 - 1944)
By Richard A. Widmann

When the public thinks about the topic of German or Nazi poison gas development and usage throughout the years leading up to and including the Second World War, images of vast extermination programs and the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other concentration camps immediately leap to mind. The Holocaust story however suggests that the Nazis utilized methods, equipment and gas that were put to use in a way and for a purpose other than for which they were designed. It is suggested that, in a rather primitive way, the various Concentration camp personnel developed different methods to put into effect what is argued was a coordinated extermination program for Jews.

The traditional Holocaust story suggests the importance of adapting equipment and methods to put into effect a centrally organized program for mass-murder. It will be argued that had the Nazi leadership designed a program for the mass extermination of Jews that the weapons of such mass destruction were already developed and could have easily been used. Nazi chemical warfare development was the most sophisticated in the world. The poison gas developed during the years leading up to the Second World War make the traditional Holocaust story absurd. There is no reason whatsoever that the Nazis would have needed to adapt Soviet tanks or divert the use of Zyklon B from delousing programs designed to keep inmates alive to programs of extermination.[1] The weapons required for an extermination program not only existed but were manufactured in quantities that would have supported such a program had one been ordered.

To understand German poison gas capabilities during World War Two, it is important to consider briefly the use of poison gases during World War One. During the First World War both sides used large quantities of poison gas. Over 1.3 million tons of chemical were used throughout the war in agents ranging from simple tear gas to mustard gas. [2] At the time that the war began, Germany had the leading chemical industry of any of the combatants; in fact, they were the leaders in the entire world. The major chemical factories were situated in the Ruhr and were known as the Interessen Gemeinschaft Farben or I.G. Farben.[3]

The introduction of chemical warfare was actively lobbied by I.G. Farben and by its head, Carl Duisberg. Duisberg not only urged that the German high command use poison gas at a special conference in 1914, he personally studied the toxicity of the various war gases.[4] Duisberg also supported Fritz Haber, Germany's leading scientist at the time and head of its premier scientific laboratory, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin. In his studies of the effects of poison gas, Haber noted that exposure to a low concentration of a poisonous gas for a long time often had the same effect (death) as exposure to a high concentration for a short time. He formulated a mathematical relationship between the gas concentration and necessary exposure time. This relationship became known as Haber’s rule. [5]

During World War I, the Germans and the Allies both used several types of poison gas rather effectively. These ranged from chlorine gas early in the war to phosgene gas which was introduced by I.G. Farben. Phosgene was about 18 times as powerful as chlorine gas. Concentrations as low as 1/50,000 were deadly.[6] Throughout this period, the Germans would develop and initiate the use of several new gases only to have them copied by the Allies. In July 1917, I.G. Farben created a new gas initially called “Yellow Cross” by German artillerymen. Yellow Cross was more lethal than anything that had come before. This gas, dichlorethyl sulphide came to be known as “mustard gas.”

Troops that were attacked by mustard gas initially reported only mild irritation to the eyes. It appeared to do little or nothing and many troops did not bother to put on their gas masks when they encountered the gas. Within a day, however, they would be in terrible pain. Troops developed moist red patches on their skin that grew into large yellow blisters up to a foot long. Those hit with mustard gas would die a slow agonizing death. In a ten day period the Germans used over a million shells containing 2,500 tons of mustard gas against Allied positions. [7] As a side note, the British too would use mustard gas in the final days of the war. In one attack on October 14, 1918 Adolf Hitler would be temporarily blinded by a British attack against the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment.[8]

The Interwar Years

In the years following the First World War, the major combatants announced their opposition to the use of chemical warfare. In Geneva in 1925 representatives of the major powers signed a legal constraint against the use of chemical warfare. Still, during the “interwar” years, various European powers did in fact use poison gas. Among them were the British (against the Soviets in 1919), the Italians (against the Ethiopians in 1935), and the Japanese (against the Chinese in 1937). [9]

Throughout these years I.G. Farben continued to expand its scientific base. From the laboratories of Bayer, one part of the I.G. Farben cartel, a scientist, Gerhardt Schrader, made a major breakthrough. On December 23, 1936 he prepared a new chemical as part of a part of a study of potential pesticides. During the test, Schrader used his new compound on lice in a concentration of 1 / 200,000. All of the lice died within a few seconds. [10]

By January of 1937, Schrader discovered that his new agent had unpleasant side effects on humans. The compound that Schrader developed was Tabun, the worlds’ first nerve gas. Tabun represented an exponential leap in toxicity level of poison gases. Even in very small amounts, the inhalation or absorption through the skin of Tabun affected the central nervous system and resulted in almost immediate convulsions and death. [11] Tabun was so lethal that it quickly became clear that it could not be used as an insecticide. Schrader, however contacted the war ministry and tests were carried out for the Wehrmacht.

By 1938, Schrader was moved to a new location to develop new compounds for the Wehrmacht. He discovered yet another compound, isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate which he named Sarin. In the initial tests of Sarin gas on animals, it was discovered that Sarin was ten times as lethal as Tabun. [12] At the close of the war, German chemists were actively engaged in the development of Soman gas. Soman, another organic chemical related to Tabun, was estimated to be 200 times more deadly than Tabun.

Poison Gas and the Holocaust Story

Despite the toxicity and huge stores of these lethal nerve gases, the Holocaust story developed around the use of two gases, carbon monoxide and Zyklon B. Zyklon B was developed during the 1920s when scientists working at Fritz Haber’s institute developed this cyanide gas formulation to be used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant for grain stores. [13] I.G. Farben, interestingly would sell the production rights of Zyklon B right before the war to two private firms, Tesch and Stabenow, of Hamburg and DEGESCH, of Dessau.

As the story goes, four out of six of the principal “killing centers” used carbon monoxide gas, which allegedly was generated through the use of rather disparate equipment. In Chelmno, according to Arno Mayer prisoners were “herded into the vans in which they were asphyxiated with carbon monoxide fumes.” He goes on to note, “There was nothing particularly modern or industrial about either the installations or the operations at Chelmno-Rzuchow.” [14]

The second alleged killing center was Belzec. There we are told that after using bottled carbon monoxide, the operatives switched to using exhaust fumes from trucks.[15] In Sobibor, we are told that the gas was generated through an engine. If we are to believe Kurt Gerstein, Zyklon B was delivered there for sinister purposes as well. [16] At times we have also read of a submarine engine at Sobibor used to generate CO to kill Jewish inmates. [17] In Treblinka we read of carbon monoxide pumped into a chamber from the diesel exhaust of a captured Soviet tank. Even the orthodox Holocaust story contains an episode in which Auschwitz Commandant Höss visits Treblinka and concludes that the killing method there is inefficient. [18]

The final two “extermination centers” Majdanek and Auschwitz are said to have used Zyklon B as the agent of extermination. The killing process described at Auschwitz requires that someone climbs a ladder above the “gas chamber” opens the can of Zyklon B with a special can opener and shakes out the solidified pellets of hydrogen cyanide into a special shaft in the supporting column of the chamber where the pellets would over time turn into a gaseous state. [19] The absurdity of the Zyklon B story is that even orthodox Holocaust historians like Jean-Claude Pressac and Robert Jan van Pelt have admitted that typhus epidemics experienced at the camps required that everything be deloused and that “tons of Zyklon B were needed to save [Auschwitz].” [20] So, the story goes, that on one hand, the Nazis were using Zyklon B to delouse the camps and thereby prevent the spread of typhus, while on the other hand they were using the same agent to kill the very inmates whose lives they were attempting to save.

The Holocaust gassing story suggests a lack of coordination by the Nazi government. There is a simultaneous adoption of varied methods, which would have yielded varied results to carry out what is typically described as a centralized industrial “genocide.” In fact, the official Holocaust story itself suggests that the program was anything but centrally organized and the methods were evolved in a rather chaotic manner in the field.

Based on the development of sophisticated poison gases including Tabun and Sarin, and their manufacture in huge quantities, the official Holocaust story appears absurd. [21] Holocaust historians have yet to answer the question why the Nazis would not have used Tabun or Sarin had they wanted to carry out an extermination of the Jews. Furthermore, even in the final days of the war, when the Nazi leadership sought out new-sophisticated weaponry, they did not use their stockpiles of poison gas on either front. This stands in stark contrast to the popular image of Nazi methods and thinking.

There is little doubt that the Soviets discovered significant quantities of Zyklon B when they arrived at Auschwitz and Majdanek that were there to combat typhus rather than to kill the inmate population. Similarly the tales of submarine engines and captured Soviet tanks pouring out diesel exhaust for mass murder appear to be nothing more than the result of wartime propaganda. Had the Nazi leadership wanted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, they had far more sophisticated and lethal means to carry out such a plan. The official Holocaust gassing story requires a suspension of reason and a belief in the absurd.


1. Jean-Claude Pressac and Robert-Jan van Pelt, "The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz." Chapter 8 of Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, editors. Indiana University Press. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Pressac and van Pelt recount the incredible story of the Nazi SS utilizing 95% of Zyklon B shipments to Auschwitz for delousing purposes in order to keep inmates alive, while siphoning off 5% to operate the alleged gas chambers to execute the same inmate population.
2. David Tschanz, "A Whiff of Death: Chemical Warfare in the World Wars." Command Issue 33, Mar-Apr 1995. XTR Corporation, San Luis Obispo, CA 93403
3. The Empire of I.G. Farben.
. Tschanz
. Tschanz
7. Tschanz
8. William Moore, Gas Attack! Chemical Warfare 1915-18 and afterwards. Leo Cooper, New York, 1987
9. Tschanz.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. M. Szöllösi-Janze (2001). "Pesticides and war: the case of Fritz Haber". European Review 9: 97–108
14. Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The "Final Solution" in History. Pantheon Books, New York, 1988.
15. Mayer
16. For a thorough analysis see Henri Roques, The 'Confessions' of Kurt Gerstein, Institute for Historical Review, Costa Mesa, CA, 1989.
17. Friedrich Paul Berg, ;The Diesel Gas Chambers: Myth Within a Myth'. Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1984. Institute for Historical Review
18. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1967
19. Pressac and van Pelt
20. Ibid, p. 215.
21. In a reworked version of his classic article on the diesel gas chambers, Friedrich Berg made exactly such a claim. In fact he renamed his article, "The Diesel Gas Chambers: Ideal for Torture - Absurd for Murder." See Ernst Gauss, Dissecting the Holocaust, Theses & Dissertations Press, 2000.

Nazi Gas Vans and the Magirus "Black Raven" Death Van Debate