The mission of the Research and Development (R&D) branch was to develop devices to help undercover OSS agents, enhance intelligence gathering, or to facilitate sabotage operations. Like ‘Q’ in the James Bond movies, the OSS R&D branch developed or contracted for the fabrication of special weapons and devices. The branch cooperated extensively with the British, and in many cases refined their clandestine issue items. These specialized items were primarily used by members of the Secret Intelligence and Special Operations branches.
The most critical items developed by R&D were special explosive and incendiary devices to destroy enemy equipment, vehicles, and infrastructure. These products ranged from limpet mines to sink ships to exploding candles and an explosive flour. ‘Aunt Jemima’ flour could actually be baked and eaten in an emergency. R&D also developed chemical and pressure activated firing devices and clock timers that enabled an agent to set an explosive charge, and leave knowing that it would later activate.
R&D branch products ranged the gamut. They included the infamous cyanide-filled ‘L’ capsule, which an agent could bite if captured to avoid revealing information under torture. Other ‘spy’ items included a miniature camera that looked like a matchbox and a lock picking kit folded up like a small pocketknife. As one would expect, several weapons had silencers—the High Standard .22 pistol and M3 submachine ‘Grease’ gun. Some of these were later used by Special Forces in Vietnam.