Pilzkrieg: the German wartime quest for penicillin

2012-11-29T16:26:46Z (GMT) by Gilbert Shama
The last 15 years or so have seen the appearance of a number of articles and biographies that have attempted to dispel many of the myths surrounding the discovery of penicillin and its development as a useful antibiotic. The story of this remarkable compound is invariably presented as a triumph of Anglo-American collaboration at a time of need. However, attempts to produce penicillin during the Second World War were not confined to Britain and the USA. Parallel efforts were also taking place in Germany. It is, however, only in the last 10 years that historians have turned their attention to this particular twist in the story of penicillin. The fact that their story is not more widely known about is because the events have only been recounted by German historians writing in their own language. Yet, paradoxically, the first accounts of German attempts to manufacture penicillin were written in English in intelligence reports which were compiled immediately after the defeat of Germany in May 1945. The reports were prepared under the auspices if the British Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (BIOS) and the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS). They were originally given security classifications, but those reports dealing with purely industrial or commercial information were rapidly declassified and were published by the HMSO from 1946 until well into the 1950s. This account draws both on the BIOS and CIOS reports as well as on more recent German studies in order to present a portrait of the research carried out and its principal participants.