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Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 21:29 GMT 22:29 UK


Britain's secret WWII weapons revealed

More than a pest: Exploding rat

Mini-submarines, exploding rats and time bombs disguised as bottles of Chianti were all part of a James Bond-style armoury used by British agents during the Second World War.

Documents just released by the Public Records Office detail a range of devices more outlandish than anything ever dreamt up by Bond gadget-man, Q.

The documents also confirm the British had plans to assassinate the commander of the German forces in Africa, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

The previously secret files shed new light on the work of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose agents agents were parachuted behind German and Japanese lines to help local resistance movements carry out sabotage and subversion.

150 weapons created

Equipment specially created to help SOE agents outwit the Germans included papier-mache logs used to conceal grenades, cigarette lighters that hid messages and bombs disguised as sugar beet or cow dung.

[ image: Bark with a bang: Grenades hidden in a log]
Bark with a bang: Grenades hidden in a log
The elaborate and inventive forms of camouflage and weaponry were the product of research conducted at Station XI and Station XII based at Aston House, Stevenage.

By 1942, 150 different articles had been produced.

The one-man submarine had a range of 400 miles and was capable of carrying an explosive charge large enough to sink a German destroyer.

Exploding rats

Dead, skinned rodents were stuffed with plastic explosive.

Chianti bottles were half-filled with explosives and topped up with wine to allay suspicions.

[ image: Quite a kick: Exploding wine bottle]
Quite a kick: Exploding wine bottle
Itching powder, composed of minute seed hairs, came disguised in foot powder tins.

"The greatest effect is produced by applying the powder to the inside of the underclothing," according to the archived instructions.

An Electrolux vacuum cleaner was doctored to conceal a wireless. Aerials were disguised as rope clothes lines or window sash cords.

Neck ties could conceal a secret code on a piece of silk. Microprints were fitted inside the hollowed out shaft of a door key and the back of a collar stud.

Plastic surgery

Even skin dyes lasting up to four days, wrinkle creams which aged the skin and plastic surgery performed by an "eminent plastic surgeon and his staff" were used by the SOE to help make agents blend in.

[ image: Surprise package: Incendiary briefcase]
Surprise package: Incendiary briefcase
Once in the field, raiding parties in the Far East could use a sandal built with a human footprint on its sole.

One record said: "They are easy to wear and the track left by the wearer leaves faithful imprints hiding all traces of the intruders having been other than Japanese or local natives."

Not all the devices considered went into production. Incendiary cough mixture and guns made out of fountain pens or bicycle pumps were among the ideas rejected.

Plan to kill Rommel

Confirmation of the plan to assassinate Rommel comes as little surprise. The plot has been the subject of several books and films.

The records say that the information on which the plot was based was "so inadequate that to base a plan upon it would merely be the murder of the four agents concerned."

There were also fears of possible retaliation.

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