Explosive Coal

Explosive Coal


Explosives disguised as coal were made in World War II by both the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to be used against such targets as steam locomotives, ships, and factory furnaces. Explosive coal allowed operatives to target relatively unguarded coal storage areas that supplied heavy security installations. Many other disguised explosives were also made.

The SOE's Section D made a number of disguised explosives. Their explosive coal design was a hollow shell in two halves that looked like coal and could be filled with plastic explosive and fitted with an igniter match, fuse, and detonator. The coal could then be hidden in enemy coal bins, and would be triggered when burned. Dead rats filled with plastic explosive were also used against the same targets. Like the coal, these could be casually tossed into coal stores by operatives, or left in factories, as the most common method of disposal of dead vermin was to burn them in the nearest furnace. After initial successes in Belgium, the Germans discovered a downed British plane containing a number of these vermin bombs, and so changed their rat disposal methods. The SOE also produced explosive logs, cow-pats, mule dung, and even explosive elephant dung.

The OSS Office of Science Research and Development went a step further with their explosive coal design by providing a Coal Camouflage Kit. Coal comes in many varieties, and there are significant differences in appearance depending on the region and grade of coal. Lignite coal, for example, is brown in color, while anthracite coal is a deep black. The Camouflage Kit contained paints, brushes, and other tools to enable operatives to match the explosive coal more exactly to the target type. Another innovative OSS-disguised explosive looked identical to wheat flour and could even be added to milk or water and baked into a loaf before use. While having great novelty value, the actual operational value of weapons such as explosive coal was small in comparison to more conventional forms of explosives.



Ladd, James, and H. Keith Melton. Clandestine Warfare: Weapons and Equipment of the SOE and OSS. London: Blandford, 1988.

Melton, H. Keith. OSS Special Weapons and Equipment: Spy Devices of World War Two. New York: Sterling Publishing Co, Inc., 1991.


International Spy Museum, 800 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. < http://www.spymuseum.org .> (December 19, 2002).

Museum of World War II, 46 Eliot Street, Natick, MA, 2001. < http://www.museumofworldwarii.com .> (December 19, 2002).


OSS (United States Office of Strategic Services

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