21 August 2008

Weapons and Armies: Secret War, Secret Weapons

By Vicki Gaia

Many of us were raised on James Bond movies, especially loving all those cool weapons he had in his arsenal. There is always some truth to fiction, and in World War II, secret agents needed secret weapons. Weapons that were imaginative, easy to carry, easy to hide and use. For the OSS alone, scientist and inventors enthusiastically invented over 25,000 items, many successful.

From The Secret War: World War II from Time/Life Books, I've listed 13 of my favorites:

1. Guns that were silent and flash less were favored by OSS agents. Scientists muffled 90% of the noise of a standard issued .22 caliber pistol simply by adding a baffle of wire mesh to the barrel. This slowed the escape of gas released in the firing.

2. The "Woolworth" .45 gun was dropped to partisans in Axis-occupied Europe. Costing $1.50 each, they were parachuted by the tens of thousands. Small and compact, they were 'a great gun to get another gun with.'

3. "William Tell" was a crossbow intended to eliminate Japanese sentries and watchdogs in the Pacific.

4. One concoction, used to ignite oil, was named "Paul Revere" because it worked well for oil tanks on land, as well as oil slicks at sea.

5. Another device, a firecracker that stimulated the noise of a bomb, was used for distracting soldiers in a crowd, allowing for agents to escape. The inventor named it "Hedy" for the movie star, Hedy Lamarr...since she created a panic whenever she went.

6. There was the "Bushmaster," an eight-and-a-half inch tube clipped to a tree branch, set to fire a bullet at a specific moment. The purpose: to provoke the enemy to fire back and reveal his position.

7. There were many types of sharp objects invented. The "Smatchet" combined a heavy solid metal pommel with a machete-like blade of high tempered steel.

8. Another sharp object was a spike that an agent could strap to the arm underneath his clothing. One thrust to the eye or ear could kill the enemy.

9. The British developed a specially designed dagger for their women agents. It combined a pick-like blade with a contoured hand grip to add more power to the thrust.

10. A cool fountain pen (no ball point pens in WWII) was redesigned to fire a dart no bigger than a record-player needle. The dart's range was forty feet.

11. The OSS had the "Matchbox camera", a camera disguised as a Japanese or Swedish matchbox.

12. Specially designed latchkeys carried microfilm messages between Britain and German-occupied Denmark. Microfilm was sealed inside a hole in the key's oval handle.

13. Not all inventions made the grade. One of the craziest projects that backfired was to employ bats as arsonist by attaching walnut-sized bombs to their wings! During the testing process, several buildings were burned down to the ground!

Happy Reading!