Anton Dilger

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Anton Dilger (1884 - 17 October 1918) was a German-American physician and the main proponent of the German biological warfare sabotage program during World War I. He was born in Front Royal, Virginia, and died in Madrid, Spain.


Dilger was born in Front Royal, Virginia, to German parents, and moved to Germany when he was nine years old. 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.

There are reports that Dilger served as a surgeon in the Bulgarian Army during the Balkan War (1912–1913), that he served in the US 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 One 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. 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 US 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 and eventually 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.


America was the only target of German biological sabotage to which Dilger travelled, but Romania, Norway, Spain, and South America were all wartime targets. 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 US 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 One, 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.


  • Erhard Geißler: Biologische Waffen - nicht in Hitlers Arsenalen. Bsiologische und Toxin-Kampfmittel in Deutschland von 1915 bis 1945. Lit-Verlag, Münster, 1999de:Anton Dilger

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