As I research WW2 and life in Nazi-occupied Europe, I keep seeing specific themes, such as not having decent shoes, not enough food, control of the media, and propaganda. However, a few days ago, I discovered a theme that was new to me (though apparently not to historians): the use of abrasives as a sabotage weapon.
Note: All hyperlinks to the articles where I found the quotes are at the end of the article.
At one time we had to manufacture – also in my division; I’m not talking about other departments – huge tank, galvanized. The tank was for gasoline, for aviation gasoline, which Germans were supposed to use for testing the airplane engines. And someone in my division sabotaged the work by leaving in the tank after inspection, not leaving but, putting into it, some abrasive powder and other – more abrasive than sand – powders. Obviously this would damage airplane engines to be tested. It was very bad. Before the Gestapo came to investigate what happened and who was responsible, I left a second time; we left Brussels.
As usual, he [Ben Cowburn] headed straight to Virginia’s apartment to prepare for his mission, which included persuading friendly workers at a local aircraft factory to introduce abrasives into the machinery and blowing up high-tension lines around a power station.
In order to give the agents more of an edge, the SOE also employed budding scientists to invent unique weapons of war. These weapons included ... carborundum—an abrasive grease which, when smeared on the right spot, could bring a locomotive to an immediate standstill.
In the days before 6 June French operatives of the SOE's Pimento network, headed by Anthony Brooks, sabotaged the rail cars by draining the axle oil and replacing it with an abrasive powder that caused the axles of the cars to seize up. The powder had been parachuted in by SOE. The perpetrators of the sabotage were a 16-year-old girl named Tetty, her boyfriend, her 14-year-old sister, and several of their friends.
SOE agents mixed silicon carbide powder with oil to jam the parts of machines and vehicles in German-controlled areas. According to Stephen Twigge’s “The Spy Toolkit,” many trains were derailed by operatives using this gummy concoction.“The carborundum was used in powder form or ready-mixed with grease. It had the advantage of not appearing to be a sabotage weapon and so was unlikely to arouse suspicion even in close proximity to targets – locomotive yards, factories, workshops, and garages,” wrote Mark Seaman wrote in his 2018 book, “Undercover Agent,” on the experiences of a British agent during the war.
- Lubinski, Arthur. Oral Testimony of WW2 Experiences. 1988.
- Purnell, Sonia, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. 2019.