Some World War II POWs Escaped With Help From Bicycle Playing Cards

Shuffled by sharks and snuck in by spies, this deck has been the standard American since 1881

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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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This story first appeared in the Nov. 14, 2023, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.