by Justin Black
Although it could be said that a spy or case agent has failed in their mission if they have to resort to violence, intelligence agencies worldwide have prepared their people for any eventuality. Some incredibly creative weapons and gadgets have come out of research laboratories and been placed in the hands of spies, saboteurs, and guerillas all over the world. Here is a sampling of ten of the most unique weapons from the world of spycraft.
10. Smoking Pipe with Concealed Blade – British Special Operations Executive
This pipe was just one of a vast array of disguised or concealable edged weapons developed during WWII for the British Special Operations Executive by the little-known Section XV. Charles Fraser Smith was the driving force behind Section XV, and designed numerous tools and gadgets for operations behind enemy lines, as well as escape devices to assist prisoners-of-war.
Smith’s work was so secretive that neither his secretary nor his supervisor actually knew what he was doing. His cover was as a civil servant in the clothing department of the Ministry of Supply. He spread contract work among approximately 300 firms in and around London, none of which were aware of their actual customer or the purpose of the products they manufactured. Smith took to calling his inventions “Q-gadgets”, a quip on the Q-ships used by Britain in WWII. Q-ships were merchant ships with concealed heavy weaponry, intended to draw German submarines to the surface to commence an attack run, at which point the Q-ships could destroy them. Smith is widely credited as being the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s “Q” from the 007 novels and films.
9. Dart-Firing 1911 – United States Office of Strategic Services
The OSS Bigot, a prototype dart-firing 1911 pistol. During WWII the Office of Strategic Services developed an astounding array of silent killing devices, with varying levels of effectiveness. One promising design was a 1911 service pistol which was modified to fire a heavy 6″ steel dart instead of a standard 230-grain bullet. OSS named it the ‘Bigot’, derived from ‘spigot mortar’, the concept of which had been miniaturized into handgun size.
The modification to an existing 1911 was extremely simple. A breech plug and guide rod were inserted into the barrel of the 1911. The dart was then inserted from the breech onto the guide rod. The guide rod contained a long firing pin which would initiate a .25 caliber blank round pre-loaded in the head of each dart. A sliding fin assembly on the dart allowed the tube to fit into the breech of the Bigot. Upon firing the fin assembly slid back and locked at the base of the dart, and the pre-loaded blank cartridge sealed the base of the dart, preventing any gases from escaping. The dart was now (in theory) a silent, guided missile.
Twenty-five pistols were converted into Bigot systems, and 300 darts produced. While ingenious, the project provided no significant advantage over the ubiquitous Hi-Standard .22lr suppressed pistol, and many disadvantages. Like many other creative prototypes that came out of OSS development, it was relegated to the scrap heap of history. I have found one reference to a Liberator variant of the Bigot, but considering how inaccurate the Liberator already was, it’s hard to imagine this concept progressing very far.
8. PSS Pistol – Soviet KGB
The PSS captive piston pistol was developed in the Soviet Union and issued to KGB operatives beginning in 1983. It’s highly unusual 7.62×41 SP-4 noiseless ammunition captures all combustion inside the cartridge case, meaning that every single round of ammunition is effectively a self-contained sound suppressor. No examples are known to exist in the United States. If there were, each round of ammunition would require a $200 tax stamp under current NFA laws. The pistol and ammunition design means that the operator’s hands will never show any tell-tale gunpowder residue if they are the subject of a forensic examination in the aftermath of a shooting. The pistol has seen field use in Chechnya and likely elsewhere as well.
7. Stinger Pen Gun – United States Office of Strategic Services
The Stinger was an OSS-designed concealable pen gun for close-in assassinations. During World War II the Office of Strategic Services developed an astounding array of unconventional weapons, with varying degrees of effectiveness. One of their more successful designs was this pen gun, capable of firing a single .22lr round. It was a disposable weapon which could not be reloaded, and was intended to be fired from the palm of the hand at extreme close range, such as when passing by the target in a crowded room. A few unfired models exist in private collections to this day, and a number of fired Stingers are available online and are no longer considered firearms by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
A generation later the Stinger concept was revisited, this time by the CIA’s Office of Technical Services. The result was a compact, reloadable design that was issued with a spare barrel and seven rounds of ammunition. The 1962 model was designed to be concealed in a wide variety of ways, including in a lead-foil tube of mechanic’s grease inside a toolbox, or even rectally. (Intelligence agencies have long been fascinated with rectal concealment, a subject worthy of its own “deep dive” in a future blog post.)
6. SAC-46 Flying Dragon – United States Office of Strategic Services
The OSS Flying Dragon dart gun. Officially designated the SAC-46, the Flying Dragon was envisioned in 1943 but not developed until early 1945 for a specific mission. OSS requirements dictated accuracy out to 100 yards, and the ability to reload in less than 30 seconds. After prototyping, testing, and modification, fifteen weapons and at least 1,000 darts were delivered to the OSS by June 1945 at a cost of $3,800 for the entire project.
The dart gun came with two barrel lengths, rifle and pistol, and the flip-up sights were marked accordingly with an R or P for varying distances. A standard CO2 cartridge was inserted below the barrel, and the grip was hollow to hold the loading tool. OSS engineers experimented with plastic darts as well as poison-filled syringes for instant takedown of sentries or assassination targets. Because each dart had a rubber gasket to provide a gas-tight seal, the barrel must be removed after each shot for breech-loading. This weapon was not intended for situations requiring multiple shots, which is why powerful poisons were researched for use in conjunction with the SAC-46.
The OSS experimented with many unusual silent weapons during WWII but ultimately determined that nothing performed better than the classic Hi-Standard .22lr suppressed pistol.
5. Heart Attack Gas Gun – Soviet KGB
In 1957 and 1959, Bogdan Stashynsky assassinated two different Munich-based Ukrainian expats on orders from the KGB. He was provided this gas gun, which triggered a spray of cyanide gas directly into the faces of his targets. Bogdan approached them both with the gas gun concealed in a rolled up newspaper as cover. He took an antidote pill both before and immediately after the attacks in order to survive the poison spray at close range.
Despite successfully eliminating both of his targets, Stashynksy was not a trained assassin; rather he was an intelligence agent who was extremely nervous during both killings. He eventually fell out of favor with the KGB due to his marriage to a German woman and escaped from East Germany to West Germany with his wife on August 12th, 1961; just six hours before the border was shut down and construction began on the infamous Berlin Wall. When Stashynsky attempted to defect to the United States and confessed to the killings; the CIA did not believe him as no one had ever suspected that the Ukrainian activists’ deaths had been from anything other than natural causes. Stashynsky had committed the perfect assassination, twice.
He eventually served six years in prison in West Germany for murder, then moved to South Africa after facial reconstruction surgery and may have worked with the South African secret police. Stashynsky’s story is widely believed to have inspired Ian Fleming’s 007 novel “The Man with the Golden Gun”, which was written just two years after Stahynsky’s sensational trial and conviction.
4. Cigarette Pack Poison Gun – Soviet KGB
In 1954, KGB officer Nikolai Khokhlov was sent to assassinate a Russian dissident living in Frankfurt, Germany. Khokhlov instead experienced a crisis of conscience, and openly identified himself to the intended target, then defected to the United States. He presented this disguised pistol as the weapon he’d been issued for this assassination mission. The poison pistol had two single-shot barrels loaded with hollow point bullets filled with potassium cyanide.
The pistol is likely a product of the Soviet Union’s legendary poison laboratory known by many names, but widely called “The Chamber”. The laboratory has existed in many forms since 1921, and consistently delivered cutting-edge assassination tools to the NKVD, then the KGB and GRU, and more recently the SVR and FSB. Assassination-by-poison is a signature of all Russian intelligence agencies, and has claimed dozens of known victims worldwide over the years. Possibly hundreds more murder victims exist, as many of the Chamber’s poisons induced death by apparent natural causes.
Three years after Khokhlov’s defection, he himself was targeted by the KGB for assassination. He fell gravely ill after drinking a cup of coffee at a social event in Germany. Thallium was found in his system but typical treatments for thallium poisoning had no recuperative effect. Ultimately, brilliant U.S. Army doctors at a Frankfurt hospital discovered his true ailment. The thallium itself had been subjected to atomic radiation, and was disentigrating inside of Khokhlov’s body, causing a wide variety of symptoms. The Chamber was peerless in it’s implementation of poison as a tool of state-sponsored assassinations.
3. The “Little Joe” Silent Crossbow – United States Office of Strategic Services
The OSS developed many silent and near-silent lethal weapons during WWII, including a variety of crossbows, dart guns, and even catapults for launching mortar shells. The Little Joe is probably the best known of all of these unusual weapons. During development, it was aptly named the ‘Penetrometer’.
Several Little Joe prototypes were developed before the weapon was sent to the field for evaluation. After testing in the Pacific Theater while serving with the famed Alamo Scouts, CPT Homer Williams reported that while the Little Joe was indeed silent and powerful as advertised, he feared that use of this weapon would “…allow the victim to flop around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, and might have made a commotion.” Although tested in several theaters during the war, most of these silent weapons were eventually discarded in favor of suppressed Hi-Standard pistols and M3 Grease Guns.
The Alamo Scouts were one of the most effective unconventional units fielded during WWII. Candidates were carefully evaluated before even beginning the grueling training course. Of 700 trainees, only 127 were selected for the unit. At no time did the unit have more than ten officers and 60 enlisted men. During the final 20 months of WWII, the Scouts ran 106 missions in enemy territory and never lost a single man; only a few were ever wounded. The Scouts most famous mission was participation with the Army Rangers in the Cabanatuan prison raid, where they freed more than 500 prisoners of war from a Japanese camp.
2. MSP Groza Silent Pistol – Soviet KGB
The Groza (‘Thunderstorm’, in English) was a forward-thinking design intended for close-range, silent killing. It is a two-shot pistol firing a subsonic 7.62mm bullet from a highly unusual cartridge. The cartridge contains a unique piston which completely seals in the propellant gases upon firing; with no expanding gas leaving the pistol, the only real sound is the click of the firing pin. The pistol could be fired on a crowded sidewalk and no one would be immediately aware of what had happened unless they had been looking directly at the shooter’s hand in the moment that it was fired.
An additional benefit of the heavy 7.62mm bullet is that a forensic examination would initially indicate that the victim had been killed by a rifle; standard Warsaw Pact rifles of the era fired this exact same caliber bullet.
The Groza is completely in line with the Russian mindset when it comes to killing. It was low-profile and deniable. The various Russian governments have been innovating in the field of deniable assassinations since at least 1921, and have produced a wide variety of suppressed weapons and poison delivery systems over the past century. There are some indications that the weapon was used in Central America and Afghanistan. It is believed to still be present in some Russian arsenals to this day; likely with special police units.
1. Exploding Rats – British Special Operations Executive
In 1941, the ever-creative researchers at the SOE’s Station IX in Hertfordshire, England came up with a unique idea for a disguised bomb, as well as a method to trick the Germans into emplacing it themselves.
SOE agents posing as purchasers for the laboratories of London University bought 100 rats from a local supplier. The rats were gutted and filled with plastic explosives and a time pencil delayed fuse. The plan was to smuggle the rats into Germany and provide them to undercover agents who could distribute the carcasses in war production factories. They would be left near the steam boilers which were the primary power generators of the era. Upon later discovery of the dead rats, maintenance employees at these factories were likely to simply shovel them into the boiler for disposal. Although the rats contained only a few ounces of explosives, this was more than enough to puncture the walls of a high-pressure steam vessel and wreak havoc to the power system, taking critical production facilities off-line at least temporarily, with no one the wiser as to why.
Unfortunately for SOE, the very first shipment of rats was discovered by the Germans, causing great alarm. However, later analysis by the Brits showed that the Germans had no way of knowing if this was the first or only shipment, and went to a great deal of trouble to search for other hidden rat bombs throughout their industrial complexes. Analysts concluded that “The trouble caused to them was a much greater success to us than if the rats had actually been used.”
The Germans held a high (albeit grudging) regard for this creative method of sabotage, and several of the original 100 rat bombs were kept as educational tools in German military academies for decades to come.
There are of course, far more than ten unique weapons in the world of spycraft. I’ll be covering more fascinating tools of the trade in future blog posts. Stay tuned.