Cyanide in pilots' escape kits? -1 reply

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jumjum

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#1 10 years ago

I just read an article stating that WWII pilots carried government-issued "escape kits" which contained cyanide pills. Huh? I've never heard this before, and it seems the kind of thing I would have read before now had it been true. My take is it sounds like bar talk or something to impress the babes.

Has anyone read a credible source about any WWII US pilots, on operational status flying standard combat ops, who were issued cyanide pills? I wouldn't be surprised to hear that in certain highly classified missions with an intelligence value pilots may have requested, or even been issued, some sort of tablet to give them a suicide option. And I'm almost certain that some Jewish US combat pilots flying in Europe may have taken steps on their own to have a way to take their own lives instead of being captured by German armed forces or civilians. I've never heard that any Tuskegee airmen did this, although it's conceivable they would have thought they were at some added risk if shot down over German-controlled territory.

But I've certainly never heard of any WWII government policy* sanctioning the issue of cyanide or pother poison to any combat pilots, whether Jewish, black or other. It would seem to me the assumption was that if a pilot couldn't face being taken alive, there were simple enough ways to accomplish it without the government issuing anything specifically for that purpose.

*I'm pretty sure that spy missions during the Cold War were different matters. IIRC U2 and SR-71 pilots were issued some lethal compound to kill themselves. President Eisenhower was supposed to have been flabbergasted that downed U2 pilot Gary Powers did not kill himself to avoid the very spectacle his capture turned into, which connotes some sort of poison pill being issued at that time. But I don't think it ever happened in the US in WWII with combat pilots.




MrFancypants Forum Admin

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#2 10 years ago

I could imagine that such pills would make sense for pilots shot down over Japanese territory, but I haven't heard about it either.




jumjum

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#3 10 years ago

Yeah, it's the kind of thing I would have expected to have heard and read about many, many years ago if there was anything to it.




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#4 10 years ago

I know they were issued to SOE and OSS agents but I haven't heard of them being issued to pilots.




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#5 10 years ago

In general, how often were those who were issued them use them? Not sure that I would have the guts to commit suicide, just like that.




McGibs

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#6 10 years ago

If its the choice between a pill or Japanese hospitality (especially towards pilots), I'd imagine the pill would be an easy choice.




jumjum

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#7 10 years ago

But I'm unaware of any issue of any poison to any US combat troops, pilots or sailors. As Mega mentions, I think it was not uncommon for "suicide pills" to be made available to OSS and SOE agents - and I think certain agents with critical info, such as identities of other agents, cells, codes, etc., were expected to use the pills and not become prisoners. I don't know of any cases in which that actually happened though.

But to the original question, has anyone ever heard of there being a cyanide pill or any kind of poison issued in any "escape kits" to US pilots? I'm sure there were individual cases where pilots obtained poison for just such an eventuality (some Jewish pilots for example) , but nothing the government issued or offered to US pilots in the ETO.

McGibs;4775050If its the choice between a pill or Japanese hospitality (especially towards pilots), I'd imagine the pill would be an easy choice.

Putting myself in that position, I just don't know if i would have let myself become a prisoner of the Japanese. it took a tremendous amount of guts to stand up to the hell of being a prisoner of Imperial Japan, and on top of that it had to be endured for so very long in many cases. I've often marveled at the Bataan and Corregidor POWs, and how they could survive for almost 4 years under those inhuman conditions. I think if I had had a cyanide pill i would have used it in the Pacific.




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#8 10 years ago

If I was a downed pilot, I would at least pull out my pistol and fight. That is a better way to die.




[130pz.]Kading

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#9 10 years ago

psh, enough idle talk of bravery and "i would rather go down fighting" talk. you dont know what you would do in that situation til you are in it.




jumjum

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#10 10 years ago
'[130pz.Kading;4775111']psh, enough idle talk of bravery and "i would rather go down fighting" talk. you dont know what you would do in that situation til you are in it.

I know what you mean, but it's the exact opposite of bravery which would have me reaching for the jagged little pill. It take guts to endure suffering, and I am afraid I would have taken the "easy way". It's very, very hard to persevere in circumstances where to survive means you're extending your suffering. Like the Bataan Death Marchers, the sailors from the Indianapolis who hung on for several days without water or shelter in shark-infested waters; virtually any POW of the Japanese, particularly the British and Austrailian prisoners who were put to work on the Bangkok-rangoon railway (the real-life "Bridge Over The River Kwai"). The US POWs in North Vietnam are an excellent example where it would have been so much easier to die, but almost all those men hung tough. It ake smore guts to live in those circumstances.




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