British Spy Manual Reveals Secret WWII Tactics

The notion of a spy manual which details covert tactics such as concealing bombs inside of dead rodents may sound to some people like something out of a high-octane film filled to the brim with unrealistic action and espionage sequences. In reality, however, a real British spy manual from the Second World War details a number of such covert tactics that were used by real British agents during one of the most major wars in history.

Many of the tactics revealed by this guide, which was memorized by members of the Special Operations Executive in 1944 and 1945, sound fairly outlandish. The guide details a number of deadly gadgets, such as the aforementioned hidden bombs as well as cyanide cigarettes. The spy manual also outlines other items that could be outfitted with explosives, such as handbags and bottles of wine. Some of the gadgets also had more practical uses, including buttons and stilettos tailored specifically to carry microfilm. There were also instructions on how to hide radio equipment in items such as clocks and gramophones.

Of course, there was more to the Special Operations Executive than simply creating gadgetry. Their operatives often needed to work under the cover of secrecy, meaning that it was important for them to remain unidentified. The SOE’s spy manual included information on disguise tactics such as women’s clothing and make-up, as well as a basic form of spray tan. In addition, agents could have their dentition altered to help make identification more difficult, and they could also have any identifying tattoos removed. In extreme circumstances, they had access to a plastic surgeon to help change their appearance, the Mail Online reports.

While the guide given to operatives may have detailed all of the above tactics, that is not to say that they were all necessarily used. For instance, the Germans discovered the first of the explosive dead rats, and this entry in the SOE’s spy manual quickly became obsolete. Had the concept come to fruition, the rodents would have been left in boiler rooms used by German soldiers, where they would presumably be shoveled into the fire.

While the spy manual was used in 1944 and 1945, the SOE was actually formed in 1940. Its existence was kept from the majority of the British government to ensure utmost secrecy, enabling them to capture multiple Nazi officials while also putting an end to the Germans’ nuclear research programs. The spy manual detailing many of their early tactics is currently ready for public release.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE