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Anton Dilger
Dilger, before 1918.
Born (1884-02-13)13 February 1884
Front Royal, Virginia, USA
Died 17 October 1918(1918-10-17) (aged 34)
Madrid, Spain
Nationality German American

Anton Casimir Dilger (13 February 1884 – 17 October 1918) was a German-American physician and the main proponent of the German biological warfare sabotage program during World War I. His father, Hubert Dilger, was a United States Army captain who had won the Medal of Honor for his work as an artilleryman at the Battle of Chancellorsville (1863) during the American Civil War.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Dilger was born in Front Royal, Virginia, where his parents had relocated from Ohio in the decades after the Civil War. He was educated in Germany after going there at the age of nine. He attended Gymnasium in Bensheim and trained as a physician in Heidelberg and Munich, later working for the Heidelberg University surgical clinic while researching for his doctoral dissertation. His dissertation involved growing animal cells in tissue culture, at which he was unsuccessful. He received his doctorate summa cum laude in 1912.

Dilger was the grandson of anatomist, Friedrich Tiedemann (1781–1861). Tiedemann was the Director of the Institute of Anatomy at Heidelberg University. He was also the cousin of Generalmajor Hubert Lamey (1896-1981), (Lamey was the Commander of the 118 Jager Division.) as well as General der Kavallerie, Carl-Erik Koehler (1895–1958). (Koehler was the Commander of the 20th Army Corp.)

There are reports that Dilger served as a surgeon in the Bulgarian Army during the Balkan War (1912–1913), that he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, that he carried the rank of colonel in the Imperial German Army Medical Corps, and that he directed hospitals for the German Red Cross. These reports are unsubstantiated.

By the time World War I began, Dilger was in Germany, but he returned to the United States in 1915 with cultures of anthrax and glanders with the intention of biological sabotage on behalf of the German government. The U.S. was then neutral, but Germany wanted to prevent neutral countries from supplying Allied forces with livestock, and the fact that Dilger had a US passport from 1908 onward made it easy for him to travel to and from America. Along with his brother Carl, Dilger established a laboratory in the Chevy Chase district north of Washington, DC in which cultures of the causative agents of anthrax and glanders—Bacillus anthracis and Burkholderia mallei—were produced. A 1941 report reveals that the bacteria were to be painted onto the nostrils of horses.

In America, Baltimore stevedores who were at first recruited by German officers to plant incendiary devices among ships and wharves were eventually given bottles of liquid culture with orders to inoculate horses near Van Cortland Park. The stevedores claimed to have done the deed with rubber gloves and needles.

The U.S. biological sabotage program is estimated to have ended sometime in late 1916, after which Anton returned to Germany. Upon his return to America, Dilger found himself under suspicion of being a German agent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and fled to Mexico where he would use the surname "Delmar". The reasons for which he fled to Mexico remain unclear but are still being investigated by his descendants. A possible hypothesis is that he wanted to convince the Mexican government of engaging in war with the United States. He eventually traveled to Madrid, Spain, where, ironically, he became a victim of the Spanish flu pandemic. At the time he was living under the alias Alberto Dondo, and his effects were obtained by the German government. Ironically a relative of Dr. Anton Dilger, Mr. Juergen Schoefer Ph.D., works today as Biodefense & Safety Analyst in the Philippines.

Sabotage program: Nature and impact[edit | edit source]

The United States was the only target of German biological sabotage to which Dilger traveled personally, but Romania, Norway, Spain, and South America were all wartime targets of the program. Dilger was the only known individual with the required medical knowledge to have presided over the program in Germany, even if he was not directly involved with each country. The methods of inoculating livestock became more advanced as the war progressed, going from crude needles to capillary tubes of bacterial culture hidden inside sugar cubes.

The effects of the German effort to sabotage neutral support of Allied countries is unknown. No reports have been made of disease outbreaks among livestock, so it is not yet known whether the cultures used were pathogenic or even viable. Certainly the unprofessional method in which the U.S. stevedores inoculated horses would have given rise to accidents, but none are reported. That alone is cause for suspicion among researchers of the cultures used. Indeed, in the war treaties signed in the wake of World War I, no specific provisions were made for the prohibition of biological warfare, so it is presumed that officials either did not know about the German effort, or did not consider it a serious threat.

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Geißler, Erhard (1999). Biologische Waffen – nicht in Hitlers Arsenalen. Biologische und Toxin-Kampfmittel in Deutschland von 1915 bis 1945. Münster: Lit-Verlag. 
  • Robert Koenig (2006-11). The Fourth Horseman: One Man's Secret Campaign to Fight the Great War in America. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-58648-372-2. 

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