A Deadly Game of Monopoly. When You Pass Go, You’re Gone

Standard board cover of the British version of the game.
Standard board cover of the British version of the game.

In 1941 some bright Brits devised a plan with Monopoly sets to help POWS escape German prisons.

Sneaking escape routes on paper to POWs didn’t work.  Paper had too many flaws: made noise unfolding and folding.  Creases eradicated markings.   Paper was too thick and not durable when wet.

The need was not only to provide escape routes, but to designate the location of “safe houses.”

Only one manufacturer in Great Britian had perfected the art of printing on silk.  When John Waddington, Ltd.  was asked to print escape routes and safe house locations on silk,  this manufacturer was happy to do anything to help the war effort.  Waddington was also licensed to make Monopoly games and could, through the International Red Cross, dispatch these games in CARE packages to POWs.

Under the heaviest secrecy imaginable a group of trusted workers made tiny silk maps that would fit inside Monopoly playing pieces.

During World War II, dice in Monopoly was replaced with a spinner because of a lack of materials.
During World War II, dice in Monopoly was replaced with a spinner because of a lack of materials.

But British workers’ cleverness did not stop here.   A tiny magnetic compass was placed in a playing piece.   A two piece metal file that could easily be screwed together was put in another playing piece.   High-denominations of German, French, and Italian currency were hidden within piles of Monopoly money.

In order to identify the marked games, air crews could determine these by a tiny red dot which appeared as a printing mistake in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Approximately 35,000 Allied POWS made successful escapes.   About one-third of these were helped to make their escapes through the rigged Monopoly sets.

Everyone who escaped successfully or played any part in the manufacturing of the rigged Monopoly sets or was part of a “special” flight crew were sworn to secrecy just in case the British might need to use the Monopoly plan in the future.

In 2007 the Monopoly plan was declassified.  In a public ceremony survivors were honored.

Isn’t there an old remark – “Leave it to the Brits”?  If so, it is most appropriate here.

 

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