Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the unit tasked with conducting behind-the-lines missions against the Axis powers during World War II, invented many unique and deadly items for its jobs by utilizing specialists who worked night and day in a mansion called The Frythe near the town of Welwyn Garden City. To those in the know however, the innocent-looking house had another name, one never spoken of in public and only in hushed whispers in private . . . Station Nine.
Within its walls, Station Nine saw many dirty tricks concocted into reality and sent with agents or airdropped to resistance forces behind enemy lines. Most had only one purpose, to inflict death on the enemy. And one of these, it just so happens, not only managed to stand out but also withstood the test of time and remains possibly the best of its kind ever invented.
Called the Welrod, the weapon seemed to look like a collection of parts slapped together for some unknown function. That was only until one looked past its crude appearance and realized it was a pistol meant for silent killing. It was, in fact, the best of the war. The perfect assassin’s gun, it found its place in the shadows of clandestine warfare not only during World War II but also well beyond that.
Designed by major Hugh Reeves, the Welrod took its name from a desire of Station Nine to use the first three words of Welwyn when producing items. Reeves first drew up plans for an integrally silenced pistol caliber gun in the early 1940s and produced a weapon that essentially looked like a short tube with a grip beneath it. The barrel was contained in the tube and had ports to bleed off gas to slow rounds to subsonic speed. It was primarily a 9mm caliber, though there would be a smaller number of .32 caliber units produced as well.
Operating the gun was simple, and the user pulled, pushed, and turned a knurled knob at the rear to manually load each round and then press the trigger—simply a piece of sheet metal turned down to place a finger on. The web of the hand pressed a safety against the grip. This served as a detachable single stack magazine that, depending on the model, carried six 9mm (Mk.1) or eight .32 caliber (Mk.2) rounds.
In terms of physical characteristics, the weapon was 1.25 inches around its tube and 12 inches long and had an unloaded weight of 2 pounds. The simple front and rear sights were marked with fluorescent paint for use in low light. Its maximum range was reported to be 23 meters, but it was never intended to be used at that distance. This was a gun meant for arm’s length or pressed against the torso encounters. For the latter, the muzzle was cut back and caused a discharging round, already quiet at 73 decibels, to be even more so when pressed against clothing.
Before production, SOE gave orders that the pistol be “sanitized,” meaning no markings whatsoever were to be used to allow the gun to be traced. Thousands rolled off different assembly lines, and it is known that the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) produced at least 2,800 hundred of them. They joined the others in the service of not just the SOE but also the United States OSS and various resistance organizations throughout Europe, especially Denmark.
This pistol proved so efficient—almost no gun could be found that was quieter—that when the war ended, Great Britain and the United States continued using it abroad. For Britain, its notable use was in places such as Northern Ireland, the 1982 Falklands War, and 1991’s Desert Storm by the SAS. For the United States, it was used in Korea by the CIA and in Vietnam by the CIA, Green Berets and Navy SEALs in everything from Phoenix program assassinations to the removal of sentries, guard dogs, and geese. It likely remains in the inventory of the SAS but its existence won’t be admitted to, as it is still classified as it was in WWII.