Anthrax Island, the failure of Operation Vegetarian

Hyperaxion Jul 13, 2020

Just about 1 km (0.6 mi) off the northwest coast of Scotland, lies one of the most infamous islands in the world. Approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) long by 1 km (0.6 mi) wide, Gruinard Island, as it is officially known, is popularly called Anthrax Island.

The name is a reference to the anthrax biological weapon, widely tested by several military forces, especially during World War II.

Anthrax Island, the failure of Operation Vegetarian
Gruinard Island. (Credit: CC Kevin Walsh).

According to some historical reports, found in very old books and tales, the island was seen as a perfect place for thieves and rebels during the 16th century, since it was quite easy and practical to hide there. However, since it came under close scrutiny by Scottish authorities in 1920, no one has officially made the island their home.

In 1942, the Allied forces decided to travel to Gruinard in the hope of creating a biological bomb to be used against German troops. For that, “Operation Vegetarian” was created. The idea was to spread deadly bacteria in the meat supplies of Axis troops, spreading the disease among the soldiers themselves and also among the animals on the farms.

Hazardous material teams on Gruinard Island. (Credit: Creative Commons).

The bomb that was developed used a bacterium known as Vollum 14578, which became increasingly lethal to each host it affected. Among the symptoms caused by the disease were gastrointestinal infections, bleeding, abscesses in the throat and skin, and other digestive complications.

To start testing, 50 men were sent to Gruinard along with 80 sheep, which would serve as research subjects. Within a few days, however, the animals were all killed, and the researchers realized that the weapon they had created was too strong and virtually uncontrollable.

(Credit: Creative Commons).

After releasing a cloud of anthrax in the direction of the sheep, the scientists ended up contaminating not only the animals, but the entire soil of the remote Scottish island, rendering the territory uninhabitable for decades.

Immediately after realizing the scale of the tragedy, those responsible for the tests disinfected all equipment and incinerated the sheep’s corpses, but there was no way to reverse the damage caused. Although they managed to spare Europe from devastation, nothing could be done about Gruinard Island, which had to undergo a severe quarantine.

Gruinard Island. (Credit: Creative Commons).

The island was removed from the vast majority of maps, and visiting the region was prohibited. For a long time, authorities around the world feared that international terrorists could go to the island in search of traces of the deadly bacteria, but fortunately, it seems that the biological weapon was never used again.

In an attempt to “clean up” the island, more than 300 tons of formaldehyde were dumped on the site in 1986. To test the island’s safety, a new flock of sheep was brought there. After four years, the authorities declared the island safe. However, this was not enough to convince people to visit or live in the region, which to this day remains completely uninhabited.

Related topics:

World War II


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