Inside Monopoly’s secret war against the Third Reich


The board game Monopoly comes in many editions with various themes, but probably the least well-known is that which was used to aid escaping POWs during the Second World War. Created by Christopher Clayton Hutton, a master of designing escape devices, the game was sent out to several prison camps. Even StalagLuft III, site of the Great Escape, received copies of the special edition of Monopoly, though unfortunately they were intercepted by the guards.

MI9 acquired Hutton’s services in 1939, looking for someone who was interested in creating escape devices that could not easily be discovered by their captors. During his interview, Hutton told MI9 leader Norman Crockatt about the time he had challenged Houdini to escape from a box made on a stage in front of him. Hutton lost, but the story struck a chord. The Monopoly wartime edition was well on its way to being made once Hutton landed his position as a technical officer. He was not by far the only eccentric officer at MI9, which liked to hire stage magicians and other people with a penchant for sleight of hand.

Hutton started small, making maps and compasses and tins for rations. His compasses, of which he made nearly two and a half million, were among his first notable inventions. He made them compact enough to fit behind buttons. Sometimes he made them out of unexpected objects such as shaving razors. By the time he worked on his Monopoly game, his skill in making his gadgets as small as possible came in handy. Every version of his board game contained within the board a map, a compass, and two files.

The maps were made of silk to ensure that they would hold up while being folded and unfolded, and would not rustle while the escapee was hiding from soldiers. Also important to avoiding detection once out of the camp would be money, one of the easiest things to hide in Monopoly games. The most clever disguise for all of the goods, however, was the game itself. Most German soldiers at the camps figured that, once their POWs had something to occupy their time, they were certain not to spend their time trying to figure out how to escape, the reports.

The covert Monopoly game are still something of a mystery, as Hutton’s own autobiography does not go into much detail about their use or manufacture. Much of Hutton’s work was classified at the time of writing, and not long after the end of the war, MI9 was shut down. He died only 20 years later, making it quite possible that some of his greatest inventions besides the escapist Monopoly board might go unknown for all of time.

Ian Harvey

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