Situated in southern England, near the town of Welwyn, lies a stately mansion known as the “Frythe.” During the Second World War, this once-private residence became home to Station IX, a research and development center created by Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), an organization responsible for running agents and supplying resistance movements behind enemy lines in both the European and Pacific theaters of operation. A highly secretive and valuable site, the residence employed scientists and engineers to come up with innovative, even devious, devices to aid Allied and other sympathetic forces against the Axis.

Its origins began in August, 1939, when the Frythe, then serving as a hotel, was taken over by Military Intelligence. Needing a special section for clandestine warfare, Professor D.M Newitt received appointment as Chief of Scientific Research and recruited several engineers to design and experiment in the many workshops and laboratories being built on the grounds behind the mansion.

After a thorough selection, the employees and their pencils arrived and began charting formulas and tracing diagrams, always under military guidance. On the radios and in the papers they heard or read about the speedy advances of German forces over the coming months. And when the debacle at Dunkirk, in May 1940, drove Britain from the continent, they realized their country was alone and on the verge of invasion.

On July 19, 1940, with eyes watching the sky as the Battle of Britain raged, British intelligence formed the Special Operations Executive and appointed Major John Dolphin, himself a scientist, to command work at the Frythe, now designated as Station IX.  Here, Dolphin, like the other civilians under his authority, received a military rank for his job, and work continued around the clock.

The primary areas of interest were explosives, camouflage, chemical and biological warfare and technical sabotage. But Station IX did much more and quickly materialized as sort of a ‘Q’ branch, to use James Bond terminology, to supply equipment or weapons for specific tasks. As an interesting fact, they decided to name most of their creations using the first three letters of Welwyn.

Throughout the months, as the invasion threat receded from Britain and S.O.E. agents infiltrated into Europe, the workshops and laboratories tested, discarded and retested formulas, machines and weapons for their usage. From behind closed doors, all sorts of devices emerged for transport to testing grounds under a constant heavy guard by armed security that lasted until the war’s end.

Here are some of the most well-known.

The Welbike, a Dolphin invention, emerged in 1942. Designed to fit into a parachute canister, it weighed just 71 pounds, sped along at 30 miles per hour, and had a remarkable 90 mile range. Over a year’s time, 3,641 were produced, seeing use with British ground forces at Anzio and Normandy before its intended operators, the Airborne, used them in small numbers during Operation Market Garden, in Holland. Some S.O.E. agents are also known to have used them, though sparingly, due to their locations.