Spy Gear and Weapons of the OSS
The fictional Major Boothroyd – Q of the James Bond series – had real life counterparts in the OSS and the SOE, with some of their schemes and devices every bit as outlandish as those employed by 007. The Research and Development branch of the OSS was headed by a Boston chemist named Stanley Lovell, personally selected for the task by William Donovan. One such device they developed was a rebreather for working underwater which had been rejected by the Navy before the war. After seeing the device demonstrated the OSS hired its designer to run the development program, leading eventually to the creation of the OSS Maritime Unit.
The Research and Development unit created the means of hiding maps within playing cards, which were useful for both OSS agents in the field and as escape aids for prisoners of war, after they were smuggled into POW camps in care packages from fictitious charities in the United States and England. Compasses were hidden in buttons and hollowed out pencils were created for the concealment of microfilm. Early stun grenades and a device called the Hedy (after Hedy Lamarr and her ability to distract men) were developed for the purpose of distraction of their victims. Many of the devices were received with derision by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but proved their value in the field when deployed by agents.
Silencers for pistols were developed. Explosives were designed to resemble inert items, with those resembling lumps of coal being called Black Joe and Aunt Jemima the moniker attached to explosives which looked like a sack of flour. Grenades designed to detonate on impact once armed were delivered to OSS operatives and resistance fighters. The OSS spiked cigarettes with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, with the hope that the smoking of several would cause the user to develop a loose tongue. Other so-called truth serums were prepared for use in interrogation. The OSS also developed wiretaps and a locating beacon.
The possibility of using anthrax in synthetic manure to spread the disease via flies was studied and discarded. Devices which utilized mustard gas were considered, as was a plan in which Hitler’s food was to be laced with estrogen. These schemes were for the most part considered and discarded without the knowledge of General Donovan and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for whom the OSS worked. The adaptation of several devices which were already in use by the SOE was also the responsibility of the Research and Development branch, and several weapons were issued to agents of both, to contribute to compatibility in the field.
The OSS Office of Research and Development was in the counterfeiting business, creating German (and other nationality’s) identification cards, passports, ration books and cards, money, military identification, letters from non-existent families, friends, and lovers, and all the other papers which were likely to be carried by people in all walks of life. Whatever was believed to be of potential use to operatives in the field or to agents operating spy networks was considered and if possible produced, from hidden weapons to surveillance devices to suicide pills. All agents in the field were issued suicide pills, which were reportedly quick and painless.