Gadgets used by British spies in WWII: Collection of tools given to SOE agents by MI9 now for sale

A collection of James Bond-style gadgets which were used by British spies in World War Two are going under the hammer.

The fascinating array of deadly weapons and navigational tools were disguised as everyday items from the 1940s.

The items, which were collected by a spy fan over the last 40 years, are expected to fetch hundreds of pounds at Hansons Auctioneers. 

A collection of James Bond-style gadgets which were used by British spies in World War Two are going under the hammer (pictured, an incendiary device disguised as a matchbox)

The fascinating array of deadly weapons and navigational tools were disguised as everyday items from the 1940s (pictured, a disguised camera in a matchbox)

The fascinating array of deadly weapons and navigational tools were disguised as everyday items from the 1940s (pictured, a disguised camera in a matchbox)

The spy collection, including this Swiss Army knife containing a blade, three saws, a lockpick and a wire cutter (pictured), will go under the hammer on November 20

 The spy collection, including this Swiss Army knife containing a blade, three saws, a lockpick and a wire cutter (pictured), will go under the hammer on November 20

Other useful gadgets include compasses concealed inside buttons (pictured)

Other useful gadgets include compasses concealed inside buttons (pictured) 

The items, which were collected by a spy fan over the last 40 years, are expected to fetch hundreds of pounds at Hansons Auctioneers (pictured)

The items, which were collected by a spy fan over the last 40 years, are expected to fetch hundreds of pounds at Hansons Auctioneers (pictured)

One of the gadgets included in the collection is a mini-incendiary device cleverly hidden inside a fake box of matches.

There was also a tiny covert camera which was designed to fit inside a matchbox which was given to secret agents working behind enemy lines.

A Swiss Army knife containing a blade, three saws, a lockpick and a wire cutter was ingeniously disguised as a pipe.

Other useful gadgets include compasses concealed inside buttons and a razor-blade which would point north when placed on water. 

The spy collection will go under the hammer on November 20. 

Militaria expert Adrian Stevenson said: ‘The ingenuity of the British can’t be faulted when it comes to thwarting the enemy.

A Swiss Army knife containing a blade, three saws, a lockpick and a wire cutter was ingeniously disguised as a pipe

A Swiss Army knife containing a blade, three saws, a lockpick and a wire cutter was ingeniously disguised as a pipe 

A box of battledress compass buttons (pictured). The gadgets were given to Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents to carry out espionage

A box of battledress compass buttons (pictured). The gadgets were given to Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents to carry out espionage

‘The items include an incendiary device disguised as a matchbox, hidden compasses galore, a camera in a ‘matchbox’ and a multi-purpose knife containing razor-sharp cutting blades.

‘The utility knife is equipped with three small hacksaw blades, a tyre slasher blade and a wire cutter tool.’

Militaria expert Adrian Stevenson said: 'The ingenuity of the British can't be faulted when it comes to thwarting the enemy' (pictured)

Militaria expert Adrian Stevenson said: ‘The ingenuity of the British can’t be faulted when it comes to thwarting the enemy’ (pictured)

He added: ‘Compasses were essential tools to direct agents parachuted into enemy territory during conflict.

‘Consequently, hidden compasses are found in all manner of everyday items in the collection.

‘They are tucked away in pencils and hidden in collar studs and buttons. Escape compasses could become part of a serviceman’s uniform.’

The gadgets were built by real-life Q characters in the top secret MI9 department of the war office between 1939 and 1945.

They were then given to Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents to carry out espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance missions in Nazi-occupied countries.

Mr Stevenson added: ‘MI9 agents were parachuted into occupied Europe.

‘These would link up with a Resistance cell and organise escape-and-evasion efforts, usually after being notified by the Resistance of the presence of downed airmen.

Items for sale include this razor blade knife (pictured). The gadgets were built by real-life Q characters in the top secret MI9 department of the war office

Items for sale include this razor blade knife (pictured). The gadgets were built by real-life Q characters in the top secret MI9 department of the war office

Collar studs where compasses were concealed (pictured). Many spy gadgets were based on the ideas of Christopher Hutton, a Birmingham-born soldier, airman, journalist and inventor

Collar studs where compasses were concealed (pictured). Many spy gadgets were based on the ideas of Christopher Hutton, a Birmingham-born soldier, airman, journalist and inventor

‘The agents brought false papers, money and maps to assist trapped service personnel.’

Many escape or spy gadgets were based on the ideas of Christopher Hutton, a Birmingham-born soldier, airman, journalist and inventor.

Hutton, who died in 1965, proved so popular he built himself a secret underground bunker in the middle of a field so he could work in peace.

He printed maps on silk, so they would not rustle, and disguised them as handkerchiefs, hiding them inside canned goods.

For aircrew he even designed special boots with detachable leggings that could quickly be converted to look like civilian shoes, and hollow heels that contained packets of dried food.  

What was the Special Operations Executive? 

Most of the sneaky espionage tactics used to outwit Brtiain’s opponents were devised by a division known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Formed on July 22 1940 by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton following cabinet approval, the SOE was largely kept top-secret and was also known as The Baker Street Irregulars, because of the location of its London office, and Churchill’s secret army.

The SOE operated in every nation in Europe and south-east Asia that was under the rule of an Axis power.

As well as the quirky inventions it came up with, the unit was also responsible for other key, more conventional items that were commonly used in the war.

One of these was a time pencil, which was a timer that allowed troops to detonate a bomb with a controlled delay to allow them to clear the area – timings typically ranged from 10 minutes to 24 hours.

The SOE commissioned several types of silent pistol, such as the Welrod, which were key for agents trying to keep a low profile.

They also produced two submarines, the Welman and Sleeping Beauty, to place charges on U-boats, but neither were successful. 

After the war, the organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009

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