A different game of War

October 11, 2021

Playing cards to pass the time

War can be hell… and war can be absolute boredom.  There are few better ways to pass the time than by playing cards.  They’re easy to carry: small and lightweight, they fit into a rucksack, duffel bag or Alice pack without having to sacrifice any piece of essential gear.

Plus – they’re cheap!

Wartime decks have been used to help soldiers in the field learn about their enemies and allies, to identify aircraft and even teach American history.  In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, American forces used playing cards to identify the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The U.S. Army and the United States Playing Card Company cooperation goes way back.  But it was their brand Bicycle that took it to a whole new level.

During WWII, Allied Intelligence officers contacted the card company to produce the most clandestine deck of cards in history. According to the Geneva Convention, Allied POWs were guaranteed the right to receive mail and packages from the Red Cross.  The Allies saw this opportunity to smuggle useful objects to the prisoners.

Map cards

This led to a top secret mission producing a deck of cards that included a hidden map, showing escape routes, directions and valuable tips and information which could help an escapee reach friendly lines or cross a border into a neutral country.

The map was concealed between 2 layers that formed the playing card.  Once it was submerged in water, the POW could peel off the layers and find part of the map on each card.  The cards were distributed at Christmas via the Red Cross Christmas parcels.  Being as cards were always included in their packages, these special decks went unnoticed by the camp guards.

The now famous but once top-secret map deck helped 32 people escape from Colditz Castle.  Very little is known about the clandestine decks, even today, for it was kept a secret after the war – as their use was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

This post was shamelessly stolen from The Pacific Paratrooper; go take a look

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