Listen to Charles Fraser-Smith’s story | True Spies: The Gadget Master
British and American spy gadgets were crucial in helping the Allies win WWII so the real-life ‘Q’ inventors - much like James Bond’s Quartermaster - were a crucial part of the team, fighting the enemy from their laboratories and workshops.
Intelligence operatives shipped out with gadgets disguised to look like everyday objects but with hidden compartments to stash intel and essential spy equipment. If they were captured and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, the spies could expect even more gadgets to arrive from HQ disguised as charity care packages.
Shaving brushes, Ping-Pong paddles, and cribbage boards were loaded with miniature tools, maps, and cash and then sent to PoW camps in Germany, Italy, and beyond. The tools allowed the Allies to escape while the money and maps helped them avoid being recaptured.
Captain (later Colonel) Robley E. Winfrey was America’s ‘Q’, overseeing a team at Fort Hunt that hid radio parts in baseballs and sewed tiny saws into clothing. Charles Fraser-Smith was Britain’s Q, hiding behind his elaborate cover as a junior civil servant in the clothing section of the Ministry of Supply in London.
SPYSCAPE HQ has a huge collection of ingenious spy gadgets. There’s no room to list them all so we’re sharing some of our favorites.
This briarwood pipe hid a concealed dagger with a detachable head and an opening at the shaft revealing the hidden blade. The escape-and-evasion dagger would have been used by Allied agents of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, Britain’s SOE, or resistance fighters in occupied territories.
The UK’s ultra-secret MI9 - the department that inspired Ian Fleming’s Bond gadget master ‘Q’ - designed the pencil dagger used by American and British agents from the OSS and SOE. The covert weapon operates as a real pencil but it has lead at only one end. The middle is hollowed out to conceal a dagger inside. The crafty design includes a small wooden cap to conceal the spike. Ingeniously, the weapon is wrapped in twine so it can be drawn out of the pencil.
Baseball grenade - T-13 Beano
These WWII grenades were designed to emulate the size, shape, and feel of a baseball on the assumption that American soldiers would instinctively be able to accurately throw a grenade modeled on the great American pastime.
The WWII T-13 was an experimental grenade developed by the American OSS and nicknamed the Beano. Once thrown, a length of nylon string unwound until it pulled the arming pin, priming the grenade to detonate upon impact with a hard surface. Several thousand Beano Grenades were shipped to Europe during WWII. US soldiers used them during the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 but the grenades were recalled and taken out of service after several of them prematurely detonated and killed US troops. Beano Grenades were ordered destroyed and files pertaining to the weapon were classified, making them a rare and highly prized artifact.
Beanos weren’t the only modified baseballs used during WWII. The F.W. Sickle Electronics Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts, manufactured specially designed miniature radio transmitters that were secreted in baseballs by the Goldsmith Baseball Company.
Kiss of Death Lipstick
This French lipstick holder was created for Britain’s female Special Operations Executive (SEO) agents during WWII. Beneath the fake wax lipstick lies a secret compartment designed to hold a small object such as a cyanide suicide pill or ‘L-pill’ (lethal pill) for use if the agent was captured by the enemy. The SOE - known as ‘Churchill's Secret Army’ - was officially formed in 1940 to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in occupied Europe and occupied Southeast Asia and to aid local resistance movements.
Christopher Clayton Hutton - another in a long line of British Qs - devised many escape maps at his secret Berkshire HQ to aid Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force airmen in enemy territory. Most maps were created with silk - and later rayon - which was easy to tuck away but a few were produced in tissue. MI9 shipped escape maps into PoW camps in charity parcels, with some hidden in the back of playing cards or rolled in the stems of tobacco pipes. Those maps were made from eucalyptus leaves that resisted soaking and wouldn’t tear.