The Greatest Itching Powder Prank in History
During World War II British intelligence and Secret Services were probably the best at spying and clandestine warfare in all of history. Almost every major Allied operation had a good amount of deception and trickery which made the Germans chase their own tails on a number of occasions. Often, their operations depended on advanced technology, a complicated network of spies and double agents, and a great amount of luck. However, some British spy operations seemed less like James Bond missions and more like childhood mischief.
During the war, the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) began a program to smuggle itching powder into the Third Reich. The itching powder developed by SOE was no common joke shop itching powder, but a powder so potent that exposure could be excruciating, with some needing hospitalization if exposed. The itching powder was smuggled into Germany from Switzerland in foot powder tins, where resistance groups working as laundresses and clothiers sprinkled the powder on military uniforms. The hardest hit was the German Kriegsmarine (navy), when in October of 1943 25,000 U-Boat crew uniforms were contaminated with the itching powder. What resulted was a massive epidemic of severe dermatitis that swept through the U-Boat fleet. The epidemic was so bad that one U-Boat crew had to turn around and return to port for medical treatment.
German uniforms were not the only target for itching powder attacks. Other targets included bedding, underwear, and toilet paper. When a sizable amount of itching powder was smuggled into Norway, the Norwegian resistance made especially effective use of it by sprinkling the powder in condoms. As a result in Trondheim throughout the war numerous cases of German soldiers being hospitalized for extreme pain from their private parts were reported.