As one who has read extensively about the Second World War, I was delighted to read, “The Spy Toolkit: Extraordinary Inventions from World War II” by Stephen Twigge published by Osprey Publishing recently. Starting with the story of the famed German spy from the First World War, Margaretha MacLeod, a Dutch dancer and courtesan better known by her stage name of ” Mata Hari “, I have been fascinated (like millions of others, I am sure) by stories of spies and spying. The profession has always been full of hazards and many stories of spies have remained untold. For every spy like Mata Hari who made the headlines there must have been thousands who died unsung, many at the hands of their captors during war.
In the trade of spying, the intelligence and ingenuity of the “backroom boys”, the people who created the tools for the craft was frequently of paramount importance. The job of a spy was to collect information about the enemy, often living in the enemy country, and send back that information to his handlers in his own country. Over the decades, it has come to light that during the Second World War, some of the information obtained from spies was of crucial importance; much of the information served to reinforce what the planners expected or already suspected; and some of the information was totally bogus! The last named was specifically created to deceive the enemy. This happened when spies changed loyalties and became double agents. At other times, they were forced by their captors to act as if they were still in operation though they were really operating under captivity. On most occasions, for spies on both sides, their work involved assuming an identity other than their own and living dangerous lives running the risk of being exposed due to just one mistake.
Twigge’s book is more a pictorial account of the tools used by spies during the Second World War. The pictures have brief details but this is not a series of stories about spies and the actual work they did. This is more in the nature of a documentary on how tools were created and used by spies for both the Allies and the Axis forces. By way of organisation, the book is in six sections. We begin with Secret Agents and an explanation of how they were recruited and trained. The next three sections, Sabotage, Booby Traps, and Incendiary Devices describe the tools used to carry out sabotage against select targets. The fifth section is on Disguise and Deception, the skills that kept the spies alive and in action, while the last section is titled Touching Base and covers how the spies sent back the information they collected to their handlers in their home countries.
Did you know they used bombs hidden in chocolate bars? Also, plastic explosives hidden in cakes of ordinary toilet soap? Or that incendiary material were carried in the soles and heels of shoes? These and many more exciting facts are described in this book which has many illustrations and pictures to back them up. These are absolutely authentic being from the National Archives, no less.
If you are a history or military buff, (or a spy of course!) you will enjoy reading this book.