Saturday, May 9, 2015

Prisoners of War and Monopoly

Do you know how Monopoly (of the board game not of the JP Morgans) played a part during World War II?  

Like most fantastic escape stories, this one starts with Harry Houdini. He was challenged by Christopher Hutton, a WWI pilot who was interested in illusions and escape artists, to escape from a specially constructed wooden box during a live stage performance. Houdini accepted and naturally escaped within a minute. He had visited the carpenter and for a bribe of $5, the carpenter had collaborated with Houdini and built an escapable panel into the box. 

Hutton was approached by MI9 (the section of British Military Intelligence involved with evasion and escape) and was told, “We’re looking for a showman with an interest in escapology.” 

94,000 American soldiers and 138,000 British and other Western Allied solders were held as prisoners of war in Germany and Austria.  

Hutton developed boots with hollow heels that held knives, maps, a compass and a file. 

They were wool-lined with pieces that stitched into leggings and the top sections could be cut away to form a waistcoat. Special blankets had clothing patterns that appeared when they were soaked in water. 

Miniature compass were hidden an a button that screwed open but with a reverse motion so a clockwise turn only tightened the pieces. Razor blades were magnetized and the "G" (for Gillette) pointed North when they were hung from a thread. 

The Germans discovered all of the escape aids but one. 

A British printing company, John Waddington, Ltd. had perfected a process for printing on silk. Maps printed on silk were durable, made no noise when they were unfolded and could be wadded up and hidden in a very small area.

Waddington also held the U.K. License for Monopoly. 

Hutton and John Waddington, Ltd. fabricated Monopoly sets with hidden escape tools. The game boards, at that time, were an eighth of an inch thick. Cut-outs in the boards concealing a two-piece file and a map under the decal. 

A compass was concealed in a game piece and genuine German, Italian and French currency were hidden in the packs of Monopoly money. A tiny red dot on a corner of the Free Parking identified the game as an escape aid.  

The games were sent to Nazi prison camps through fictitious private organizations. Hutton even required that local newspapers be used as package wrapping from the different headquarters on record for each organization. 

The deception had been so successful it wasn't declassified until 2007.  

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