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July 17, 2023

Spy Guns and Other Tools of the Craft

By Kurt Allemeier

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From the “duckfoot” gun to the real-life Liberator single shot pistol to conventional firearms, history has shown that defense drives innovation whether it is fighting spies, gangsters, or the Axis.

Some firearms, like the Thompson submachine gun or a Registered Smith & Wesson Magnum, are carried by heroes while the unusual and impractical Sedgley “Fist Gun” and the CIA’s Deer Gun remained in the shadows. Not all are spy guns, but these items are all brilliant in their own way and should be highlighted and remembered for what they contributed in the fight against crime or military aggression.

Sedgley “Fist Gun”

Officially known as the Sedgley Mark Two “Fist Gun” Hand Firing Device with Fitted Glove, this weapon was never an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy gun, but made for the U.S. Navy. Stanley M. Haight patented the single-shot gun in 1944. The firing mechanism was riveted to a leather work-type glove that had a plunger-like trigger that extended just above the knuckles.

The gun was fired with a punch of the fist to deploy the plunger. People may recognize the gun from Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” when two of the protagonists have to take out a pair of Nazi guards.

Only 50 to 200 were produced as a weapon of last resort. It was originally intended to fire a .410 shotgun shell but instead when it was developed it fired Smith & Wesson .38 caliber cartridges. Despite being issued to Seabees and beach jumpers that provided distraction prior to an amphibious operation, there doesn’t appear to be any recorded instances of the gun being used in combat because of the weapon’s impracticality.

The Sedgley Mark Two "Fist Gun" hand firing device was fitted to a work glove. The firing mechanism was a plunger that extended above the knuckles that would be fired by punching someone, depressing the plunger-style trigger.

Deer Guns Are Truly Spy Guns

The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t acknowledge this spy gun exists. In the early 1960s as the Cold War and Vietnam War started heating up, the Central Intelligence Agency was looking for a clandestine weapon to drop to allies. It took inspiration from the single shot Liberator that was made during World War 2 with the idea it could be used by resistance fighters to shoot the enemy and take their weapon.

The gun, made by American Machine & Foundry, had a cast aluminum receiver and a screw-out two inch barrel and plastic parts. Chambered in 9mm, it was about the same size as the .45 caliber Liberator but slightly lighter. Along with the different caliber, the Deer Gun differed from the Liberator by being simpler. The Deer Gun was made with 12 components to the Liberators 23 and had no trigger guard.

The story of the Deer Gun’s name varies, whether it was made from the acronym Denied Area (DEAR) Pistol or a tongue in cheek reference as a survival weapon.

The Deer Gun was commissioned by the CIA that won't confirm it existence. Similar to the Liberator single shot gun of World War 2, the Deer Gun is lighter, simpler -- with only 12 components to the Liberator's 23, and fires 9mm ammunition.

These spy guns bore no serial numbers and were packaged with Styrofoam with rounds of ammunition and illustrated instructions. The CIA ordered 1,000 Deer Guns on a contract for $300,000. Of the original guns made, about 20 remain in circulation.

A Deer Gun is available in RIAC’s August Premier Auction in a solitary lot, but another example is also in a collection on offer of Liberator single shot pistols that include prototypes, a cut-away version, and an unopened box.

Pilot Barter Kits Instead of Spy Guns

During World War 2, pilots were issued Escape & Evasion Kits, with gold coins and jewelry that could be used to barter for safe passage if they came down behind enemy lines. The kits were issued as Atlantic and Southeast Asia versions. Each “barter kit” was individually serial numbered so pilots had to sign them out and return them for each mission. A similar kit was issued to Gary Powers whose U2 plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.

These kits’ hard rubber cases were 5 1/2 inches by 4 inches with form-fitted compartments for the rings and coins. The Atlantic kit held two French gold coins, three British coins, and three gold rings. The Asia kit held a gold link chain, heart-shaped gold pendant, two gold rings, and a Swiss calendar watch with cloth watchband that was included for convincing primitive tribes that it was a “god-like” mechanism.

No one had to barter for their freedom so the Escape and Evasion Kits were collected and sat until 1979 when they went up for auction. Three auctions were held in 1979 and 1980, with interest generated by volatile gold prices. Three hundred were offered in the first auction that drew 1,450 bidders. The next auction featured 3,000 kits for sale, with the highest bid coming in at $4,000. A fourth sale of 325 remaining kits was held in 1981. The kits’ original cost was $30 each.

Barter kits were issued to pilots during World War 2 and held gold coins and jewelry to trade for safe passage if a pilot was shot down over enemy territory. Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane was shot down during an overflight of the Soviet Union, carried something similar. The exterior of the kit reads "IF FOUND RETURN TO/COMNAVAIRLANT (CNAL 34)/NORFOLK, VIRGINIA" on both sides.

Operation Tidalwave

The Romanian oil fields at Ploesti, responsible for 30 to 50 percent of Axis fuel production, had always been a tempting target for the Allies but it was just out of reach of British-based bombers. A hush-hush mission, code named Operation Tidal Wave, was planned using B-24 Liberators flying from Libya for a mass low-altitude bombing attack against nine refineries. Crews only learned about the mission and its objectives the night before takeoff on Aug. 1, 1943.

One hundred seventy eight bombers took off from their Libyan base, but radio silence, to keep their destination a secret, ruined any coordination and the mission was quickly in disarray. Bombing runs were mistimed and bombers made their attacks from different directions.

The mission cost 54 bombers lost and 440 aircrew killed, and 220 captured or missing. Forty percent of refinery capacity was destroyed but restored within weeks. The operation was considered a failure.

Lt. Homer S. Gentry was a navigator on one of the B-24s who returned from the mission safely. In April 1944, Gentry, as navigator of the B-24 “Patriotic Patty,” was killed in action, setting course after a raid as he bled to death, wounded by anti-aircraft fire. Among his personal effects were a Remington Rand Model 1911A1 pistol, a flight jacket, and other personal artifacts that are available in the August Premier Auction.

The flight jacket and other personal effects including a Remington Rand M1911 of Lt. Homer S. Gentry Jr. are available in Rock Island Auction Company's August Premier Auction. Gentry was a B-24 navigator who took part in the secretive Operation Tidal Wave, a low-level bombing raid of oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. The raid was a disaster, with 54 bombers lost and 440 aircrew killed along with 220 captured or missing.

School for Spies and Assassins

Commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Army after graduating from the University of Oregon in 1938. Rex Applegate became a military policeman. He was intimidating with his 6-foot-3-inch frame and 230 pounds and was an expert marksman.

During World War 2, OSS chief Wild Bill Donovan recruited Applegate, handing him $50,000 cash. Donovan gave Applegate the task of building a training camp for OSS officers in a remote part of Maryland. He coordinated instruction in hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, and shooting spy guns. He emphasized speed and ruthlessness. The training camp was initially called Area B, before becoming the presidential retreat of Shangri-La, and then Camp David.

A lung issue prevented him from combat, but he wrote a book on combat techniques called “Kill or Be Killed” with the premise of “Do unto others as they would do unto you, but do it first.''

He retired as a lieutenant colonel at the end of World War 2, and worked in Latin America as a consultant on riot control. After two decades he returned to the United States in the 1960s to advise the military and police departments on riot control tactics, advising “be firm, yet friendly,” and only using more aggressive measures when necessary. A knife and gun collector, Applegate’s Al Mar Knives 10th anniversary commemorative Bowie Knife is available in RIAC’s August Premier Auction.

This Bowie knife was owned by Rex Applegate, who started and coordinated the Office of Strategic Services Schools for Spies and Assassins, a training center in rural Maryland used by the OSS during World War 2. Applegate wrote a book on combat techniques called "Kill or Be Killed."

What Did He Know about Lee Harvey Oswald?

Birch O’Neal was a CIA agent who served as the Guatemala station chief during the CIA’s 1954 coup who moved on to the Special Investigations Group. He opened the file on Lee Harvey Oswald in November, 1959. That brought him into the sphere of John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists.

A well-document Smith & Wesson .357 Registered Magnum revolver from FBI Agent and later CIA officer Birch O'Neal.

Jefferson Morley, author of the JFK Facts blog, wrote that the CIA received more than 40 reports on Oswald between the date the CIA file was opened and Kennedy’s assassination. Morley writes that when questioned by the FBI about Oswald’s file, O’Neal told them there was nothing in it, putting him in the CIA cover up of the assassination from the start.

O’Neal, who truly moved in the shadows and of whom little is known because of his work for the CIA, owned a Registered Smith & Wesson Magnum that will be on offer in Rock Island Auction Company’s August Premier Auction.

While not technically among the spy guns, this Smith and Wesson Registered Magnum was owned by a spy. The gun belonged to Birch O'Neal, a CIA agent who opened the file on Lee Harvey Oswald in 1959 that put him squarely into the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Used against the Axis, Gangsters

Initially conceived as a trench gun, the Thompson submachine gun didn’t make it into service in World War 1, but the Tommy gun found a home with gangsters and the police that fought to stop them. The Tommy gun could be found in the United States military arsenal, with more than 1.5 million of the M1928A1 and M1A1 produced during World War 2. Nearly 140,000 Thompson SMGs were exported to the Soviet Union. They were also used by Special Forces in the Vietnam War.

Tommy guns could also be found in police armories as coppers battled bank robbers like Bonnie and Clyde, and Machine Gun Kelly who often went better armed than their law enforcement pursuers. This legendary American gun was in the Hot Springs National Park inventory in the late 1920s, among 20 shipped to the West Virginia State Police in 1922, and part of a 10-gun shipment to the Omaha Police in 1930.

The Thompson submachine gun was the weapon of cops and robbers of the 1920s, the American GI and Soviet soldiers in World War 2, and even used by Special Forces in the Vietnam War.

Working in Sun and Shadow

These items all seem unrelated but they share a common thread in the protection of America at home and abroad. Weapons were owned by OSS and CIA officers, a heroic flyer, were contained in police inventories, and intended to defend democracy. They are all available in Rock Island Auction’s August Premier Auction.

This is a good view of the Sedgley Mark Two “Fist Gun” Hand Firing Device with its plunger-like trigger mechanism that when attached to a glove would fire when punching someone. This mechanism and one still attached to its glove are available in Rock Island Auction Company's August Premier Auction.

Sources:

Rex Applegate, 84, Instructor of Deadly Skills, by Richard Goldstein, The New York Times

Pieces of the Past, Naval History Magazine

1943 – Operation Tidalwave, the Low-Level Bombing of the Ploesti Oil Refineries, August 1, 1943, Air Force Historical Support Division

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