The Vault

Nifty Methods for Smuggling Contraband, From a Manual for WWII-Era British Spies 

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The Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, used by British spies sent to the Continent to track Nazi movements and aid resistance fighters during World War II, has been recently reprinted by the Imperial War Museum. These pages from the back of the two-volume catalog, which was published in 1944 and 1945, show a few of the ways that the Special Operations Executive (the name for the secret British agency charged with training and deploying these agents) managed to sneak arms and ammunition to its operatives.

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As historian-author Sinclair McKay writes in the introduction to the new volume, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) trained many volunteers and recruits with no previous experience in the field. The recruits underwent crash courses, with SOE personnel bringing them quickly up to speed on the use of weapons and explosives, the maintenance of communications equipment, and the cultures of the places they were to infiltrate.

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The two volumes of the manual are packed full of explanations of the many devices SOE operatives might encounter, or choose to use, in their operations. The first volume covers more conventional supplies—underwater breathing equipment; guns, bombs, and knives; dehydrated rations in the style of the MRE.

The second volume describes the wireless radio equipment that would be essential to the missions of many of the spies, and then devotes half of its space to explain camouflaging techniques like the ones below. This section includes advice on personal camouflage—makeup and costuming—as well as explaining the many devices that the SOE had evolved for transporting illicit goods through occupied Europe. 

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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First published in Great Britain, 2014 by Aurum Press Ltd. Copyright © Imperial War Museum 2014.

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