Photo story

Unbelievable Images From Weird War Two

False feet, the painted cows of Essex and an inflatable tank are just some of the peculiar pictures featured in a new book showcasing the stranger side of the Second World War. 

Called Weird War Two, the eccentric encylopaedia collects over 250 colour and black and white images exploring the some of the more uncoventional objects from IWM's archives.

Take a tour of the weird side of World War Two.

  • Huge helpers

    © IWM BU 11449

    Animals have taken part in conflict in a variety of different ways.  Kiri and Many were circus elephants in Hamburg, Germany. Their great strength was used to clear wreckage after bombing raids. Here they are seen moving a wrecked car from a bombed-out garage.

  • Fashion plate

    © IWM E 15347

    Winston Churchill was frquently photographed in his siren suit, a one-piece garment similar to a boiler suit, that could be easily pulled on over other clothes when the air raid siren was sounded. He had them made in a variety of different materials, including pin-stripe and black velvet for evening wear. One of his siren suits can be found in the Churchill Museum at Churchill War Rooms.

  • Sea Dog

    © IWM A 3998

    Animals didn't always serve a practical role. Sometimes they were simply mascots, helping to boost moral as Venus, the bulldog mascot of the destroyer HMS Vansittart, demonstrates.

  • Soft shoe shuffle

    © IWM (EQU 12207)

    These sinister-looking overshoes were designed for Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents operating in South East Asia. They were intended to disguise footprints to fool the Japanese into believing they belonged to a local rather than a soldier.

  • Road safety

    © IWM HU 36167

    Due to the threat posed by air raids, from 1 September 1939, blackout conditions were imposed in Britain. The lack of illumination meant brought many changes to everyday life.  Here an Essex farmer paints a black cow with white stripes in case it should wander on the road after dusk. The stripes were supposed to increase the visibility of livestock to the motorists in the blackout.

  • Ready for a woof landing

    © IWM EA 31

    Salvo, the 'Paradog' completing a parachute jump during training at Andrews Field, near Great Saling, Essex. These dogs were dropped behind German lines to accompany Allied D-Day troops and sniff out mines.

  • Ape escape

    © IWM GM 4456

    According to legend, if Gibraltar's Barbary macaques ever leave the rock, it will cease to be a British territory. In 1942, the number of apes living there dwindled to a dangerously small handful.  Rather than tempt fate, Churchill ensured the numbers of apes on the rock were topped up with new specimens from Morocco and Algiers.

  • Blow Me Down

    © IWM H 042531

    Deception and misdirection played a large part in the plans for D-Day. Inflatable Sherman tanks were jsut one example of a range of many dummy vehicles create to deceive the enemy.

  • In The Pink

    © IWM HU 86237

    This striking pink Spitfire may have stood out while it is on the ground but once it was flying, things were very different. Some Spitfires were painted ‘Camoutint Pink’ to camouflage them when flying at dusk or dawn.

  • Taking the Mickey

    © IWM EQU 2597

    Colourful ‘mickey mouse’ gas masks were designed to make the mask less intimidating to small children. IWM North has one of these masks on display.

  • Having A Cat Nap

    © IWM A18814

    Believe it or not, this cat hammock was far from the only example found in the IWM archives. Here the mascot of the ship HMIS Godavari, a Persian kitten, can be seen reclining in its special hammock but you can find Frankenstein the cat in a similar hammock on HMS Belfast.