Codename: ‘Why Me?’ – The Second World War Project to Create the Mother of all Stinkbombs

Smelly weapons for Nazi officers.  <a href=>Photo Credit</a>
Smelly weapons for Nazi officers. Photo Credit

Mary Roach was undertaking research for her book “Grunt – The curious science of humans at war” when she uncovered letters in the OSS archives about detailed attempts by both the British and Americans to create a weapon during WWII that would have been dear to any small boy’s heart; the stink bomb to end all stink bombs!

A letter dated, August 4, 1943, from a British intelligence officer, Wing Commander TR Bird, to his American counterpart, Stanley Lovell of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), tell how the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was developing a weapon known as ‘S liquid’, where the ‘S’ stood for stench! The liquid was to be hidden in perfume atomisers or small grenades made of gelatine, and the intention was “to provide civilian populations with … liquid … that will produce unmistakable evidence of extreme personal uncleanliness.”

Bird wrote, “Up to the present, our employment of evil-smelling substances has been mainly for the purpose of contaminating individuals’ clothing.”

“Since the air in any ordinary public meeting room is generally free from smell, almost any strange smell which cannot readily be accounted for would arouse suspicion which might easily culminate in fear or even panic.”

You can read more about Mary’s book on her website.

The British plan for their ‘S Liquid’ was to have it handed out to Norwegian agents who would spill the liquid onto the greatcoats of Nazi officers. The objective was to create confusion among Nazi officers by making them the object of mockery and contempt.

Bird included sketches of the deployment device for this nasty liquid.  The OSS was very enamoured with the idea of a smelly weapon and launched their own development under a code name “Why Me?”  They spent two years manufacturing a product with “the revolting odour of a very loose bowel movement.”

OSS worked with a chemical consulting company, Arthur D Little Company, and they thought long and had about their smelly weapon exchanging ideas on “evil-smelling substances,” with particular emphasis on strange odours that could be used to frighten and sew alarm amongst both military and civilian populations or to effectively contaminate enemy food supplies, The Telegraph reported.

By the start of 1944, the OSS had their first smelly weapon ready for deployment against the Japanese.  It was a mixture of Butyric acid, Valeric Acid, Caproic acid, and Skatole (a mildly toxic organic compound belonging to the indole family and naturally occurring faeces and coal tar). Reports state that this had a “powerful and lasting” faecal odour.  This weapon was never deployed as Japan surrendered after the deployment of the atomic bomb.

Ian Harvey

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