Rare WWII “Rat Bomb” Sold at Auction

It is incredibly rare to come across one of these camouflaged bombs, but one has surfaced, along with a collection of other unusual weapons used by agents during WWII.

The items are going for sale at Bonhams Auction House, London, England. The bomb, described by the auctioneer as a “brown rat,” is estimated to be worth £1,500.

During WWII, Allied forces placed explosives, detonators, and fuses in the bodies of dead rats. They then provided French Resistance fighters and Special Operations Executive agents with them. The plan was for the agents to infiltrate German-run factories in occupied France and leave the hidden bombs in their boiler rooms.

When German workers discovered the dead rats, it was presumed they would toss them into the boiler furnaces, which would trigger massive explosions and cause chaos for the Germans. But the Germans sniffed out the plan and intercepted the first 100 rat bombs in 1942. The project was therefore abandoned.

Unintentionally, the failed plan did cause problems for the Germans. They assumed that the 100 rats they found were just the tip of the iceberg, and went on an all-out hunt for the thousands of others they were sure had already been placed by the Allies.

Boiler room – the target of rat bombs
Boiler room – the target of rat bombs

Jack Dickens was the original owner of the rat bomb in question. During the war, he went by the name of Maurice Ledain, while he worked behind enemy lines to sabotage the German war effort. The bomb was confiscated from him in 1942 and stored in a French police station. No one knows who discovered the bomb on Dickens.

Also included in the sale is a fountain pen, which reveals an “assassin’s metal spike” when uncapped. It was intended to be used by agents to overcome German guards. The estimated value of the pen is £3,000.

Another item on sale is a pocket-sized wooden coffin. The coffins were left on peoples’ doorsteps to warn them against collaborating with the Germans. This particular coffin contains garrote wire which was intended to be used to strangle someone.

An Army-issued razor pack is in the sale as well. It contains a hidden compass pointer on cotton thread and a silk map of Western Germany, Holland, France, Belgium and Switzerland. The tools were intended to be used to help captured soldiers escape. The estimated value of the pack is £1,200.

The SOE was created in 1940 on the orders of Winston Churchill. The organization was so secret that not even Parliament was aware of its existence. Among its successes were the destruction of the Nazi nuclear program and the capture of Nazis.

Audience in SOE demolition class, Milton Hall, circa 1944
Audience in SOE demolition class, Milton Hall, circa 1944

According to a spokesperson from Bonhams, the rat bombs are very rare due to so few having been made and those that were being confiscated by the Nazis. The Germans kept the few that are still in existence for training purposes. This particular bomb appears to have been used in training at the French police station after being found on Dickens.

The spokesperson described the disguised weapons as “chilling” but emphasized that they demonstrated the ruthless nature of SOE agents working behind enemy lines in occupied Europe.

Charles Fraser Smith was the man who organized Section XV of the SOE, and who developed the secret tools used by their agents. He is often mentioned as being the inspiration for the character Q from the James Bond novels and movies. Other creations of Section XV included the cat bomb, bat bomb, limpet mine and the clam mine.

Ian Harvey

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