The World War II Spy History of Bicycle Playing Cards

Of the roughly 94,000 U.S. soldiers who became prisoners of war in Germany during World War II, an especially unfortunate several hundred wound up in a camp called Oflag IV-C, better known as Colditz Castle, a 12th-century stone fortress built atop a 250-foot cliff in Saxony. The Germans believed that escape from Colditz was impossible.

But it was possible, thanks to Bicycle playing cards.

Unbeknownst to the Wehrmacht, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA) and British Special Operations Executive had secretly commissioned the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) to create top-secret Bicycle-brand decks—spirited in by the Red Cross—where the cards could be peeled apart to reveal miniature maps of Germany.

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