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The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was an organisation set up by the British in 1940. Its objective was to send agents into foreign countries under axis control during World War II, to encourage local revolt against those forces through the means of guerrilla warfare. It took a special sort of person to be chosen for the Special Operations Executive. You would have to be exceedingly brave, most would say to the point of stupidity. You had to be able to keep secrets. You also had to be able to act out the role of a person you were not, sometimes for years without relent, and often under the pressure of Nazi questioning.

The Special Operations Executive was supplied with many different types of inventions, all designed to help them in their task of guerrilla warfare. They were produced in England, often at the rate of one invention per week. They were tested in England before being sent out to SOE or the regular army.

An important invention used by SOE was the time-operated detonator, which looked like a thin pencil. It was dependent on temperature; it took longer to work in colder weather. This device gave agents the advantage of being able to plant a bomb in a factory, and escape from the factory before it blew up.

Not all the inventions were of such a technical nature however. One man, who had served as a killing instructor for SOE, designed the commando knife. This was a double-edged steel blade that was sharpened until razor sharp. A smaller 3-inch version was also designed to sew onto the reverse of a coat lapel. It could be used as a last resort, the agent feigning to go for something in his pocket.

It was important for members of SOE to be able to give foreign locals some weapons. They did these by providing them with Sten guns. They were extremely cheap to produce, but misfired a lot. They also had the unfortunate habit of going off when they weren’t supposed to.

The Special Operations Executive agents were adept at sabotaging vehicles. For cars they used caltrops, which punctured the tyres. The engines of trains were sometimes filled with abrasive grease, causing them to seize up. A thick wire laid across the road at either waist or neck height often took out motorcyclists.

Some of the inventions are the stuff of Hollywood films. They included the exploding turd, laid out on a road in the hope that a German would derive pleasure from squashing it. Also itching powder, which was given to washerwomen at the local launderette, was used, much to many German soldiers irritation and annoyance!

As you can see the methods used by the SOE were ingenious and varied. But we should not forget one thing – it was only the extreme bravery of these men and women that made such attacks possible.