Clandestine weapons so clandestine, they never were. Thanks OSS!

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During World War Two the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was known as a sort of lost child and wonder lab among all the war efforts. I mean compared to the 101st jumping into Normandy, operations that the OSS were interested in were very hard to be seen as tangibly successful to the overall war effort. Even the head and founder of the organization, General. William “Wild Bill” Donovan was considered off the wall by the establishment. I mean, this is the guy who walked into FDR’s Oval Office in the White House, unloaded an entire magazine from the newly designed .22 LR High Standard suppressed handgun into a a sandbag that he had brought, then essentially asked the President of the United States if he had heard any of the discharges just yards behind him while on the phone. Just to prove how quiet their new handgun was.

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But apart from the High Standard .22 LR suppressed handgun, the OSS came up with a number of weapon modifications and ideas that never hit the limelight. Contrary to popular belief, the .45 ACP Liberator pistol was not originally thought up of by the OSS, but instead by Big Army at the beginning of the War, and OSS just so happened to be handed 300,000 of the pistols when Eisenhower in the ETO essentially said they were pretty worthless to Allied efforts in occupied France, rather putting the effort into air dropping actual firearms. Bruce Canfield has an excellent write up of the Liberator saga in American Rifleman for any interested. This is a rather amusing letter that shows the almost hopelessness with what to do with these improvised pistols even within the OSS. The officer writing it is essentially saying, “Look guys, we got these pistols, have no idea what to do with them, and I’m not exactly hoisting this burden upon you, but really guys, we have to make use of these things somehow!”-

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The OSS was also experimenting with various delayed firing devices. It seems that these consisted of a sort of trigger guard attachment that wound itself down to the point of discharging a firearm when it completed its cycle. The point of these was probably to create a diversion for an enemy force or encampment. So say for example an OSS agent were trying to infiltrate a base from the Northern perimeter, he would set up one of these contraptions on a weapon and have it orientated towards the bases South East corner, so attention from guard towers would be drawn to where the firing is coming from, thus giving the OSS agent a window of time to infiltrate. I didn’t find anything about if these were even used in theater or not, just that the OSS had a large number of them on hand. The OSS mentions that the devices were successfully used on Mauser K98s, M1 carbines, and M3 Grease Guns. Why you would use a Mauser as a diversionary device instead of sealing it away in a water tight gun safe is beyond me.

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As mentioned previously, everyone knows about the .22 LR High Standard suppressed handguns (of which there is an excellent article in SAR about the development and usage) that probably gained more German kill ratios when Powell goes undercover in MOH: Allied Assault, however, how many know about the experimental .380 ACP versions of the handgun? OSS had an acquisition order for 1000 .380 suppressed handguns. What happened to them and where are they today? They never existed, apart from a prototype or two. Notice the date on acquisition order, 23 April 1945, and then the following order on June 7 1945, for production to begin in mid August, and to continue into late September and October.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was August 6th, Nagasaki August 9th, and Japan’s announcement of surrender August 15th. The order was thereby canceled and High Standard refunded. But it is interesting to note from a historical perspective, that not only the OSS but the majority of the American high command was fully and absolutely expecting the war to continue past October 1945, as evidenced by this small order by the OSS for suppressed handguns into that month.

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All images are from Archives II, National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, MD. All images and documents have been declassified as such.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Colin

    That you atomic bomb. So many lives WHERE SAVED on both sides cos of your use making Japan surrendere . Open discussion about use in korea war !!

    • iksnilol

      No.

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      Are you having a stroke?

    • KestrelBike

      Porkchop Sandwiches!!

      • MrEllis

        Damn that smelled good.

    • MrFN

      I can’t even

    • Longhaired Redneck

      Did you walk to school or bring your lunch?

  • Major Tom

    “Why you would use a Mauser as a diversionary device instead of sealing it away in a water tight gun safe is beyond me.”

    It’s called you have a better weapon than that. A Garand, an MP-40, a 1911 pistol, lots of things much better than the Mauser family. Especially if you’re doing clandestine work at short ranges and under cover of trees and/or darkness.

    • RocketScientist

      ——–> (The Joke) ———–>

      (You)

  • PK

    ” It seems that these consisted of a sort of trigger guard attachment
    that wound itself down to the point of discharging a firearm when it
    completed its cycle.”

    From the documentation, such a system could be adapted to a variety of pull or delay devices which were common for boobytraps.

  • Rick O’Shay

    This is rather fascinating. I have an illustrated encyclopedia of small arms that has a section on clandestine weaponry, and the Liberator weirdly is not included in it (it makes an appearance in the “handguns of WWII” section, which I think is wrong). But the tripwire, and suppressed 22LR handgun are new items I wasn’t aware of.

  • SP mclaughlin

    What’s up with people trying to spoop the Roosevelts by presenting them innovative firearms by discharging said guns inside their offices?

    • TJbrena

      I dunno, man. There was also the time some guy created a practically unmeltable form of ice and dropped in Churchill’s bathtub while he was in it.Dude wanted to make aircraft carriers out of it, said it would save steel.

      Extraordinary times breed extraordinary people. Some of them just happen to have a flair for the dramatic.

      • gusto

        pycrete

        think mythbusters did an episode on it

      • JoelM

        If I pooped in the tub I’d make up some crazy cover story about unmeltable ice too.

  • Bierstadt54

    Interesting article!

  • Paul Joly

    I like the “no bull****” policy

  • Before the High Standards were used, they used Colt Woodsmans. But the Colts were too expensive so they went with the lower cost High Standards. The Colts were issued to their best field agents.

    • Brian Fulmer

      Like, for instance, Matt Helm.

  • Harry’s Holsters

    Cool to see what they were using. The High Standard is a cool gun and I hope the 380 prototype makes itself available to Ian from forgotten weapons.

    It’d be interesting to know what the CIA and similar organizations were using post war.

  • DanGoodShot

    Just a lttile gas to add to the suppressor/silencer debate. If you look at the official paper work from ww2 it refers to the device as a silencer. So.., whats it called?? Lol.

    • JoelM

      The legal and correct original term coined by the original inventor is silencer. Suppressor is an industry PR term made up to help idiots understand that the word silencer isn’t literal and doesn’t literally silence. The motorcycle industry uses the term silencer also, and I’ve yet to hear anyone expect a motorcycle with a silencer on it to be silent (also never met a person who was afraid of one being too quiet or who called the rider an assassin so maybe we do need the PR).

  • JoelM

    Cool article. I’m going to have to read up on this stuff. One of my great uncles was OSS. We had no idea till we found his papers after my grandfather died. Neither of them ever told anyone.

  • Reinhard

    It appears to me that somewhere someone has misunderstood the purpose of the “Liberator” pistol. It was never intended to be a primary weapon. It was really designed to make one very close shot, either incapacitating or killing a soldier or policeman after which the shooter would take the weapons from the victim and throw the Liberator away. These were also dropped in considerable quantities in the Pacific Theater. They have a hollow grip with a sliding panel on the bottom. Inside were 6 .45 ACP cartrdges. They came in a plain brown cardboard box with illustrated instructions. The instruction sheet was only drawings with no writing eliminating the translation issue The real problem in Europe was that far more were dropped on German positions rather than resistance groups.
    The silenced .22’s were more widely issued than many seem to realize. The Colt came out first, built on what collectors call the “Pre-war Woodsman.” If one checks the manufacturing dates on the High Standard, they indicate that the H-D model didn’t come out until 1944 or 1945. Silenced M3 submachine guns were also manufactured and issued. The pistols were still in use through the 1950’s. Theodore Roosevelt’s son Kermit had one when he was operating for the CIA in the mid-east. That pistol is housed at the Roosevelt home on Sagamore Hill, Long Island. The parks personnel don’t know what it is and have it marked as belonging to Teddy. The silenced M3’s were issued during the Viet-Nam conflict as well.