Wartime Spy Gadgets: Then and Now

Wednesday, 11 May 2016  |  Admin

Spy gadgets are an incredible popular modern phenomenon, and many may consider them to be more of a recent invention. But British soldiers in World War II found themselves offered an incredible array of Bond-esque spy gadgets while they served, many of which helped to save lives. A catalogue detailing the objects, what they did and how they worked recently went to auction and was sold for incredible amounts, showing the public appreciation of all things gadgetry, especially where spying is involved.

Christopher Clayton-Hutton was a real life ‘Q’ for many of the soldiers who fought in the war. An intelligence officer, Clayton-Hutton’s designs ended up being life-saving pieces of equipment which were masquerading as normal objects. If captured, the enemy would never suspect the solider of having such items on them, especially when disguised as such mundane items as fake teeth or coat buttons. Cloth maps were printed in silk, which was able to be folded up so small that it would fit inside a chess piece, a pencil, a pipe or a pack of cards and go unnoticed. Uniforms could be tucked and folded into business suits to help getaways, infiltrations and information-gathering exercises. Tiny hacksaws were hidden inside dartboards, and miniature cameras, advanced technology for the time, were hidden within cigarette lighters, similar to the spy cameras we use today.

MI9 was a government department set up specifically to help British prisoners of war escape captivity in WWII. They sent along food packages to all prisoners, and every sixth packages contained one of these gadgets which would eventually help them to flee their captors. The British way of using these covert spy gadgets was such a revelation that after the war had ended, US intelligence services were sent to acquire information from London regarding these inventions.

Nowadays, spy gadgets are used for tasks much more trivial than escaping captors during wartime, but this doesn’t make them any less inventive. Gadgetry is secreted within watches, clocks and pens, while spy cameras masquerading as burglar alarms help to improve security. Bugging devices and telephone monitoring systems can be fitted entirely in secret with means such as fake phone handsets, and body-warn cameras can be used to capture a whole manner of footage without anyone guessing. Though aspiring modern-day spies might not have any prison camps to escape from, their arsenal of gadgetry is as impressive as the kits used by their predecessors. 

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