2020 marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE Day). To mark this occasion, I have created a new history page looking at darts propaganda dartboards, and a look at British Intelligence MI9 involvement with PoWs escape methods with the help of the popular game darts! During my research, I came across a board I have never seen before know as the Blitzkrieg Dartboard. However, I have no information other than ARP Suppliers apparently supplied it as a recreational aid. If you know anything about this dartboard, please let me know.
To help, I have digitally reproduced the Blitzkrieg dartboard in the hope someone may recognise the layout. Please see below.
War should never be glorified, in my opinion. However, it was within these years that darts became a global game. Although darts in the UK had existed for many years before World War One, it was soldiers stationed in the UK that got a taste for our beer and pub games. Darts, of course, was a big hit and many boards made their way around the world.
War historians will also tell you that dartboards, along with other games and sports equipment, were used to smuggle silk maps, currency, tools, fake identification documents, and other materials to prisoners of war. In brief, MI9 was UKs Military Intelligence department responsible for the supply of such escape aids.
MI9 was created on 23 December 1939 and was headed by Brigadier Norman Crockatt throughout its existence. MI9 aim was facilitating the escape of British prisoners of war (PoWs), and their return to the UK. They would train service personnel on escape and evasion techniques and help the morale of PoWs by remaining in contact with them during their captivity.
Brigadier Crockatt set out the Branch's philosophy of 'escape-mindedness' which became the focus of the training programme as It was every man's duty to try to escape, and MI9 would do everything they could to support them.
One of the earliest appointments Crockatt made was Christopher Clayton Hutton as his Technical Officer. Hutton was the inventor of escape aids until 1943 when he retired on health grounds.
Many readers would have heard of Ian Fleming, writer of the infamous James Bond 007 novels. Ian joined British Naval Intelligence in 1939. However, the Real Q, was Christopher Hutton the boffin enlisted to aid MI9.
MI9 enlisted manufacturers of leisure items as board games, playing cards, chess sets, gramophone records, dartboards, table tennis and cricket bats to help them hide the maps, and escape equipment inside such items during their manufacture.
Companies such as John Waddington & Co made games, and playing cards with silk and paper maps hidden between the layers of card and playing boards. Monopoly was one such game. A full stop at the end of one of the place names would indicate to the trained eye the type of map the board would hold. Using the Monopoly game as a carrier for maps was useful as an actual currency could be hidden with the Monopoly money as escapers needed local currency if their attempts were to stand any chance of success.
Maps were smuggled into PoW war camps in many game's ludo, snakes and ladders, draughts, cribbage boards, chess sets, playing cards, pencils and even gramophone records. Sports equipment such as table tennis, cricket bats and balls and dartboards could also hold hidden maps, mini saws and other escape equipment.
MI9 invented entirely fictitious cover organisations such as the Licensed Victuallers' Sports Association, the Prisoners' Leisure Hour Fund, the Ladies Knitting Circle, The Jigsaw Puzzle Club. Each of these had headed notepaper and real, but with fictitious addresses. The 'GILBOARD’ Dartboard may have also been one such fictitious cover.
The Germans were also useful as they allowed the PoWs to send back signed receipts for the parcels, which allowed MI9 to track what was getting through to each camp.
The Geneva Convention allowed delivery of parcels to be sent to the prisoner of war camps for the PoWs both the Red Cross and the PoWs families. MI9 vowed that they would never compromise either of these by sending their escape materials hidden inside their parcels and they never did.
Dartboards were used to supply PoWs a lot of tools. These would have included, saw blades, screwdrivers, files, gigli saw, and a raft of other equipment. The outer playing surface of the dartboard was made from cork. Cork was a common material used for dartboard manufacturer at the time unlike the more common sisal of today.
Darts supplied with the boards also contained secrete items such as compasses. The barrel of the dart split in two with the help of a right-hand thread to reveal the contraband.
The illustrations below show how a dartboard was designed to be taken apart to reveal the hidden treasure. The dartboard was made by ‘GILBOARD’ and supplied by family-run toy supplier, along with other games by Jacques of London they would have supplied ‘normal’ dartboards so not all contained the tools for PoWs.
Jacques supplied not only dartboards but also dartboard cabinets which gave MI9 an increased opportunity to hide even more escape equipment.
MI9 used the services of former stage magician Jasper Maskelyne to design hiding places for escape aids including tools hidden in cricket bats and baseball bats, maps concealed in playing cards and actual money in board-games. It is suspected Maskelyne also came up with the idea of using a dartboard as a means of concealment of escape tools.
Maskelyne joined the Royal Engineers when the second World War broke out and thought his skills as an illusionist could concealment and camouflage. He convinced skeptical officers by creating the illusion of a German warship on the Thames using mirrors and a model.
Brigadier Dudley Clarke, the head of the 'A' Force deception department, recruited Maskelyne to work for MI9 in Cairo where he created small devices intended to assist soldiers to escape if captured and lectured on escape techniques.
GILBOARD, is still a bit of a mystery and it could have been a name used as MI9 cover? However, MI9 gave plans for to the USA when they came into the war. The USA MI wanted to get up to speed as soon as possible on espionage tactics because they needed these sorts of inventions for their prisoners of war in the Far East and several ideas were copied for their use.
GILBOARD Dartboards were also distributed and sold via ABERCROMBIE & FITCH CO. New York. Although should you ever find one of these boards do not automatically assume it contains hidden tools. MI9 not only had supplied games and sports equipment with hidden contraband, but they also supplied unaltered pieces referred too as ‘Dove’ equipment. The ‘Dove’ equipment was supplied not only to provide a fun game but also to reduce the chances of the PoWs captors discovering contraband in other games.
The positioning of the GILBOARD Made in England Logo may have indicated whether the dartboard supplied was a standard dartboard or a special edition MI9 version containing hidden PoW escape tools.
The photo above show soldiers having a game of darts on a GILBOARD dartboard, note the position of the logo, and although the photo is not in colour you can clearly see the logo is placed at the bottom on a dark segment. The MI9 reconstructed image taken from the MI9 archive positions the logo at the top of the board above a light segment. Unlike modern-day dartboards, these board had a top wire to hang the dartboard from a nail or screw. The position of the logo may have been the board type indicator!
Research into darts and any sport can be interesting, and I didn't think the game would take me into the realms of espionage and PoWs escape devices. Indeed this area of research has been fascinating, although it has also taken months to compile. I would, however, like to express my thanks to the staff at the Imperial War Museum, Bletchly Park and MI9 Historian, writer Dr Helen Fry and Phil Froom..
Dr Helen Fry has written numerous books on the second world war and undertakes consultancy work for documentary companies and as a consultant historian for location filming of WWII scenes for several TV channels including BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
She has also been engaged in a range of more comprehensive historical projects, including for schools curriculum and adult education, relating to WW1, WWII and The Cold War.
Helen is an Honorary Member of The Association of Jewish Refugees and an Associate Editor for 'Eye Spy Magazine'.
Helen is also an ambassador for the Museum of Military Intelligence.
My thanks to Helen for her help in my research. If you would like to learn more about MI9, or indeed the 10,000 Germans and Austrians who fought for Britain, then please visit Dr Helen Fry's website to view a list of books on the subject.
If you are interested in a broader range of MI9, MIS-X and SOE escape and evasion devices, then you might wish to purchase a copy of a book written by Phil Froom titled 'Evasion and Escape Devices By MI9, MIS-X and SOE in World War II'.
Phil contacted me to say fifteen years of research had gone into his book and from my perspective on researching some aspects of the sport of darts I genuinely believe this has been the case.
Further reading on Escape and Evasion can be found on a dedicated website written by David Lyons & Phil Froom.
If you have found this page due to your interest in MI9, you will find both Dr Helen Fry and Phil Froom are authorities on this subject.
Dartboards, during this period, were also made for home recreational purposes, and such was the game in the UK & USA it was inevitable boards were made illustrating enemy leaders for all to throw a dart at. However, a few were designed as more serious and skilful game.
Alfred Morris designed the Plonk Dartboard for Wartime propaganda purposes. The board was approximately 41 x 41cm square and printed on stiff cardboard.
The board is illustrated with allied and axis figures from 1940-1945 including Goebbels, Goering, Stalin, Ribbentrop, Mussolini, Daladier, Kingsley-Wood, Churchill, Chamberlain, Von Papen etc. with Hitler at the centre.
The darts game 'Plonk' is played using rubber suction type darts by two opponents, individuals or in teams. Each start with a total of 365 points. Each player alternately throws three darts and tries to eliminate the Nazis by hitting their leaders, ships, guns etc. - deducting the number scored from their total.
An alternative version of the game involves aiming at specific targets and 'Knocking out the Nasties'.
To raise funds for those who were wounded on active service or in air raids. The Red Cross introduce ‘Throw a Dart for Victory’.
The coupon stated: 'If every Darts player will support this scheme thousands of pounds will be raised for the Red Cross Fund. Wherever you live, and whether you are a beginner or an expert it is open to you to take part in a Darts Contest.'
The red cross, red crescent and red crystal are symbols of protection.
International law protects the people who wear them, and the buildings and transport which display them.
These people aren’t part of a conflict – they’re simply there to help anyone who needs it.
The emblems are not religious symbols
Equally, Germany made propaganda board games and soldiers would have received games during World War II. The games for the front line were generally lightweight and made from paper so they would easily fit in an envelope. These were more likely to be games such as chess and checkers. The envelope would be marked as ‘Feldpost’ (Field Post)
Both sides would have used games to help build morale. More details about how some of these games were played and used can be found at: www.atlas-repropaperwork.com/german-board-games
A dartboard that I have never seen came to light recently, and it was referred to as the Blitzkrieg Dartboard issued by the ARP Supplies during the war for recreational pleasure.
I do not know if this was a board issued for PoWs via MI9, but I guess not. I believe it may just have been a recreational board used in the NAAFI.
While watching Combat Dealers, Series 3, Episode 5, on the Discovery Channel here in the UK, dealer Bruce Crompton purchases a Blitzkrieg Dartboard. Bruce restores old military and combat equipment and sells the restored items on, mainly to collectors and to the film industry. Bruce, a canny Londoner, always looks out for unusual and rare items and the dartboard caught his eye. Bruce obviously knows his military market because he paid £300.00 for this rare example.
The dartboard is a standard London Clock Dartboard on one side with a colour combination of natural, red and dark blue. The other is different, a game featuring warships, planes, artillery guns and more.
The Blitzkrieg Dartboard isn’t just a standard dartboard with different painted segments, although you could be forgiven if you think it was. The playing surface is the same dimensions of a standard board and has 20 segmented areas as per a standard board, but turned 9°.
The centre bullseye doesn’t exist, and the outer-bull area is divided horizontally into two. The top half features the Union Flag and the Nazi Swastika on the bottom.
Surrounding the bull area is a section painted dark blue call ‘NO MANS LAND’ and the remaining area up to the band we usually call the treble ring illustrates number segments ranging from 11-20. Ten of the numbers are in red, and the other ten are in dark blue.
The treble ring is painted red and could indicate that this may not be a scoring part of the board. However, not having a set of rules for this game, I honestly don’t know.
Between the treble and double ring features Second World War illustrations of Battleships, Planes, Artillery Guns and possible illustrations of a Windsock posted to the ground and for a better word a forest although it could be a bombed area. There are four of each of these graphics, two of which are coloured red and two in dark blue.
The double ring is dark blue. However, I don’t know if the ring is a scoring area or referred to as a double or indeed if the treble ring is a scoring area or treble!
The external, non-playing area, numbers the outer part of the segments 1-10, i.e. these numbers are all painted in dark blue and are ten less than the inner segment area.
Both sides of the dartboard had the numbers printed upon them. The London clock side of the board was not designed to be turned, and the board hung from a single top looped wire.
I have recreated the board the best I can using stills from the Combat Dealers video broadcast. However, I am missing some of the wording that features on the top half doubles and treble ring. This may indicate what the double and treble ring are used for in this game, or it may be details of the supplier.
Do you have one of these dartboards? Do you know the manufacturer or do you know the rules or anyone that can recall playing on one?
There were lots of wartime dartboards made, and some may now be just lost in time. However, many of you like to find out the history of the sport, and how and where it was played. The Blitzkrieg Dartboard is an example of dartboard history, and it would be good to publish how the game was played.
It is clear from the original that this board was not a homemade one-off game. The detail seems to be screen printed, and effort has gone into the wire construction, turning the board 9° the normal from the standard clock board configuration.
Although I have a brief history of the sport within the history section of the Darts501.com website, if you want to read more about the past 100 plus years and players from the past then take a look at Dr Patrick Chaplin's website where he shares lots of information.
The three witches’ badge in itself is intriguing and very unusual. But what does it refer too, and why did MI9 / IS9 adopt this as an emblem?
My research has taken me down a path I never thought I would enter when researching the recreational game of darts. Espionage, trickery, deception, and illusion were all part of Military Intelligence, but why advertise a unit in this way at all!
From the little I have managed to find out, the three witches may refer to a reference to a famous First World War escape book, The Road to En-Dor by E.H.Jones
Some of the prisons in this book used Ouija board, and spiritualism with their daily lives (for those who believed) to gain information on battles and help them to freedom.
The book also uses a forerunner quote from Rudyard Kipling
— Rudyard Kipling.