- Agents working for
the Special Operations Executive behind
enemy lines during the war
carried out sabotage missions equipped with
exploding rats, folding
motorbikes and suicide pills...
- A top-secret report on the SOE's research and
section, which included a department for camouflaging
agents and their
sabotage equipment, was among files released yesterday
by the Public Record
Office in Kew.
- The SOE, an offshoot of MI6 set
up initially to help
the Resistance in German-occupied countries,
expanded into a covert organisation
of about 10,000 men and women, of
whom about two thirds were "in the
field". Thirteen of the
courageous female agents, attached to the
First Aid Nursing Yeomanry,
were executed by the Germans, some in gas chambers.
Violette Szabo, one
of the best known, was only 24 when she died.
- The latest declassified SOE
files consist of headquarters
papers recounting the methods used to
recruit, train and deploy the secret
agents. Located in six buildings
in Baker Street under the cover of the
Inter-Services Research Bureau,
the SOE employed a plastic surgeon to alter
some agents' appearance
permanently and someone from the film industry
to seek out props for
the undercover operators.
- On an average day, the film man would be asked to find
150 rat skins "to be cured, filled and armed as explosive
100 types of coal, to be hollowed out and packed with
explosives; and German
toothbrushes. The exploding rats were hidden in
piles of coal next to boilers
at German facilities. When they were
thrown into the boilers, the flames
set off the fuse. Fake bottles of
chianti, made of celluloid, were split
into two sections; each was
filled with plastic explosives. A raffia cover
- The camouflage section of SOE's research department hid
and ammunitions for the secret agents inside fake logs made of plaster
and "garnished" with moss, green lichen and other tree fungi.
Ammunition was also concealed in plaster and papier mâché
fruit and vegetables.
- At first, this type of subversive operation was not
seriously by the top brass. The chiefs of staff, and the War
Ministry and Admiralty all thought "it was a cloak-
which did not amount to any real force in the field of
the enemy". Gadgets and gizmos for the SOE were
given low priority
when the research and development section was set up
- But Churchill had no doubts about the SOE's potential,
a celebrated remark urged the agents to "set Europe ablaze".
By the end of 1940, production of certain devices, such as
time fuses had risen significantly.
- Among the
experimental gadgets supplied to the agents
were: a one-man submarine
carrying an explosive charge capable of sinking
a capital ship; a
long-range motorised submersible canoe for dropping agents
called the Sleeping Beauty; and a foldaway motorbike that could
in a parachute container. Incendiary items included briefcases and
shaving brushes. Balinese "wood carvings" made entirely from
explosives were sold to Japanese troops embarking on ships.
- Noxious liquids could
be inserted into food supplies,
"rendering them unfit (not
poisonous) for human consumption".
Face cream could be used to
sabotage optical instruments.