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

    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.


    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]