Friday, August 22, 2014

Sewing Machine's Needles: lethal weapons in World War II

You know that old Singer sewing machine that used to be in grandma's house?

Well, the needles of these contraptions have been used as lethal weapons.

       On December 23, 1941, the factory of Singer sewing machines, located in Bristol, England, received a strange request: the largest order of sewing machine needles in the whole story. But they were no ordinary needles.The request was full of specifications and conditions. An executive of Singer, intrigued, asked.

     "We do not know exactly what they want. According to the specifications, it seems that they need needles for another purpose other than sewing machines."
      He was right: the same request had REALLY nothing to do with sewing. To begin with, the request was made by the Research Center of the British  Ministry of War, where they did experiments with chemical and biological weapons.

     Researchers there led by British bacteriologist Paul Fildesy, working with Canadian and American scientists - developed a kind of "non-destructive" weapon. Meaning, not in the sense of big explosions. They wanted a highly lethal weapon to be used in open field against enemy troops, but that would not destroy the location as conventional bombs and mustard gas did.

     The idea was to develop darts with needles – ordered at Singer – with antrax or ricina. The needle had a small compartment with the toxin and it would be sealed with cotton and wax.
To calculate the percentage of hits, tests were conducted on animals. The results impressed:
     90% of enemy soldiers, in horizontal position, and 17% of those in the trench would be hit.
The effects of a dart were fatal.

       If the soldier plucked the needle out after 30 seconds, he would be dead in less than 30 minutes. If the dart was withdrew before 30 seconds after the hit, within five minutes the victim would collapse incapacitated
      Despite the proven destructive effectiveness and low production cost, the Ministry of War aborted the project. The justification was that this weapon was ineffective when it came to hitting targets in buildings or vehicles, something that would be no problem with conventional bombs.

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