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Short Round

The Rat Bomb

During World War II, the British Special Operations Executive, which oversaw commando raids, sabotage missions, aid to the resistance, and other special operations in German occupied areas, had a “toy shop” that created many ingenious devices for use by its operatives. Some of these were special demolitions and booby traps. There were explosives disguised to look like horse manure, which could be left on roads traversed by enemy vehicles. And there was an explosive that looked like a lump of coal, which could be tossed in a railroad or factory coal yard, and would detonate when shoveled into a furnace. There was even an explosive chocolate bar, about which the less said the better.

The point of one specialized explosive device seems to be rather elusive. It was the rat bomb. The rat bomb was a fairly simple device, and fairly simple to make. One took a dead rat, gutted it, stuffed it with plastic explosive, inserted a heat-sensitive fuze, and then very carefully sewed it up again, so as to resembled a real dead rat.

Apparently the idea was to use them like exploding coal, toss one or two in a coal tip or wood pile, so that they might end up being shoveled into a furnace, where the heat would set off the fuze, igniting the explosive. It’s not clear if it was ever used.

And one wonders if the clever fellow who came up with the idea was decorated by his king, and if so, did the king know why the guy was being honored.

 

Deception in Action: America Sends an Army to the Italian Front, 1918

In the interests of “Allied solidarity,” in 1918 the U.S. agreed to send some American troops to the Italian Front. The unit selected, the 332nd Infantry Regiment, an element of the 83rd Division, arrived in Italy in July, with some supporting aviation, medical, and logistical units.

Now a regiment wasn’t much of a contribution in terms of combat power, but American and Italian planners had a special mission in mind for the 332nd, composed of draftees from Ohio and West Virginia. The intended to use it, in the words of an official Navy historian, to create the “illusion that large American units had arrived in Italy and were preparing to enter the line.”

So soon after arriving in Italy, the regiment was broken up into its component battalions. These battalions made “guest appearances” in various places in Italy and on various parts of the front, especially on the Piave line. To increase the strength of the deception, the troops were often issued different uniforms, insignia, and equipment.

The deception was very effective. Rumors that five American divisions – over 100,000 men – were available on the Italian Front had some effect on Austrian planning, when in fact there were hardly 5000 American troops in Italy, and most of them saw little combat..

The regiment actually saw combat only once, entering the lines during the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on November 3rd, which happened to be last day of the war in Italy, as Austria called for an armistice the following day.

 

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