in: Character, Featured, Military

• Last updated: September 24, 2021

The Simple Sabotage Manual

Vintage soldiers meeting around table looking at map.

In 1944, the Allied troops were gaining ground on the battlefields of WWII, but still faced opposition from the Axis powers. The weaker that enemy targets could be made, the easier and faster the military’s job would be in wresting Europe back from its occupying forces. The U.S. government thus began a strategy to undermine Axis-aligned governments not only from without, but also from within.

The Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), a precursor to the modern C.I.A., created an initially classified booklet laying out the art of “simple sabotage” — which, “more than malicious mischief . . . should always consist of acts whose results will be detrimental to the materials and manpower of the enemy.”

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual taught O.S.S. agents not only how to recruit potential saboteurs from among those who were antagonistic towards their occupiers and sympathetic to the Allied cause, but listed specific tactics average citizens in various lines of work could employ to destabilize their government and help hasten its demise. The booklet was declassified by the director of the O.S.S., William J. Donovan, with the aim of surreptitiously distributing its information by way of leaflets, radio broadcasts, or the direct teaching of European citizens who U.S. agents had ascertained could be trusted.

Though the suggestions presented in the Simple Sabotage Field Manual were designed to soften the underbelly of the enemy by gumming up the works of factories, offices, and infrastructure, what’s hilariously surprising is how many of them, especially regarding white collar work, continue to be inadvertently (we think?) practiced today.

When you read tips to employees like “refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration,'” and “Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can,” as well as instructions to managers to “Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done,” one realizes the ways in which, in the present day, employees sabotage their companies, managers sabotage their teams, and workers sabotage their own success — not for any purposeful mission, but simply out of laziness, carelessness, and a lack of motivation and morale.

Further, the general injunction to “Act stupid,” uncomfortably invokes the fact that modern citizens may be sabotaging the strength of a country they actually support.

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual thus cannot only be used as a handbook on guerrilla resistance, should you find yourself living under a tyrannical occupying government, but also a guide on how to “reverse engineer” success in peacetime pursuits — how to recognize and address would-be saboteurs in the cubicle next door (or in the mirror).

Either way, it’s a fascinating read. Below we’ve re-published a condensed version of the booklet, collecting the tips that are the most interesting, and which still remain relevant today. (Numbering/formatting was changed in places by the necessity of the condensing process.) The entire booklet can be found here.

Fight the power, and don’t forget to leave home without a bag of moths.

Simple sabotage field manual strategic service, book cover.


a. The purpose of this paper is to characterize simple sabotage, to outline its possible effects, and to present suggestions for inciting and executing it.

b. Sabotage varies from highly technical coup de main acts that require detailed planning and the use of specially trained operatives, to innumerable simple acts which the ordinary individual citizen-saboteur can perform. This paper is primarily concerned with the latter type. Simple sabotage does not require specially prepared tools or equipment; it is executed by an ordinary citizen who may or may not act individually and without the necessity for active connection with an organized group; and it is carried out in such a way as to involve a minimum danger of injury, detection, and reprisal.

c. Where destruction is involved, the weapons of the citizen-saboteur are salt, nails, candles, pebbles, thread, or any other materials he might normally be expected to possess as a householder or as a worker in his particular occupation. His arsenal is the kitchen shelf, the trash pile, his own usual kit of tools and supplies. The targets of his sabotage are usually objects to which he has normal and inconspicuous access in everyday life.

d. A second type of simple sabotage requires no destructive tools whatsoever and produces physical damage, if any, by highly indirect means. It is based on universal opportunities to make faulty decisions, to adopt a noncooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit. Making a faulty decision may be simply a matter of placing tools in one spot instead of another. A non-cooperative attitude may involve nothing more than creating an unpleasant situation among one’s fellow workers, engaging in bickerings, or displaying surliness and stupidity.

e. This type of activity, sometimes referred to as the “human element,” is frequently responsible for accidents, delays, and general obstruction even under normal conditions. The potential saboteur should discover what types of faulty decisions and non-cooperation are normally found in this kind of work and should then devise his sabotage so as to enlarge that “margin for error.”


a. Acts of simple sabotage are occurring throughout Europe. An effort should be made to add to their efficiency, lessen their detectability, and increase their number. Acts of simple sabotage, multiplied by thousands of citizen saboteurs, can be an effective weapon against the enemy. Slashing tires, draining fuel tanks, starting fires, starting arguments, acting stupidly, short-circuiting electric systems, abrading machine parts will waste materials, manpower, and time. Occurring on a wide scale, simple sabotage will be a constant and tangible drag on the war effort of the enemy.

b. Simple sabotage may also have secondary results of more or less value. Widespread practice of simple sabotage will harass and demoralize enemy administrators and police. Further, success may embolden the citizen-saboteur eventually to find colleagues who can assist him in sabotage of greater dimensions. Finally, the very practice of simple sabotage by natives in enemy or occupied territory may make these individuals identify themselves actively with the United Nations war effort, and encourage them to assist openly in periods of Allied invasion and occupation.


a. It should be pointed out to the saboteur where the circumstances are suitable, that he is acting in self-defense against the enemy, or retaliating against the enemy for other acts of destruction. A reasonable amount of humor in the presentation of suggestions for simple sabotage will relax tensions of fear.

b. The saboteur may have to reverse his thinking, and he should be told this in so many words. Where he formerly thought of keeping his tools sharp, he should now let them grow dull; surfaces that formerly were lubricated now should be sanded; normally diligent, he should now be lazy and careless; and so on. Once he is encouraged to think backwards about himself and the objects of his everyday life, the saboteur will see many opportunities in his immediate environment which cannot possibly be seen from a distance. A state of mind should be encouraged that anything can be sabotaged.


a. The amount of activity carried on by the saboteur will be governed not only by the number of opportunities he sees, but also by the amount of danger he feels. Bad news travels fast, and simple sabotage will be discouraged if too many simple saboteurs are arrested.

b. It should not be difficult to prepare leaflets and other media for the saboteur about the choice of weapons, time, and targets which will insure the saboteur against detection and retaliation. Among such suggestions might be the following:

(1) Use materials which appear to be innocent. A knife or a nail file can be carried normally on your person; either is a multi-purpose instrument for creating damage. Matches, pebbles, hair, salt, nails, and dozens of other destructive agents can be carried or kept in your living quarters without exciting any suspicion whatever. If you are a worker in a particular trade or industry you can easily carry and keep such things as wrenches, hammers, emery paper, and the like.

(2) Try to commit acts for which large numbers of people could be responsible. For instance, if you blow out the wiring in a factory at a central fire box, almost anyone could have done it. On-the-street sabotage after dark, such as you might be able to carry out against a military car or truck, is another example of an act for which it would be impossible to blame you.

(3) Do not be afraid to commit acts for which you might be blamed directly, so long as you do so rarely, and as long as you have a plausible excuse: you dropped your wrench across an electric circuit because an air raid had kept you up the night before and you were half-dozing at work. Always be profuse in your apologies. Frequently you can “get away” with such acts under the cover of pretending stupidity, ignorance, over-caution, fear of being suspected of sabotage, or weakness and dullness due to undernourishment.

(4) After you have committed an act of easy sabotage, resist any temptation to wait around and see what happens. Loiterers arouse suspicion. Of course, there are circumstances when it would be suspicious for you to leave. If you commit sabotage on your job, you should naturally stay at your work.


a. It will not be possible to evaluate the desirability of simple sabotage in an area without having in mind rather specifically what individual acts and results are embraced by the definition of simple sabotage.

b. A listing of specific acts follows, classified according to types of target. This list is presented as a growing rather than a complete outline of the methods of simple sabotage. As new techniques are developed, or new fields explored, it will be elaborated and expanded.

(1) Buildings

Warehouses, barracks, offices, hotels, and factory buildings are outstanding targets for simple sabotage. They are extremely susceptible to damage, especially by fire; they offer opportunities to such untrained people as janitors, charwomen [office/house cleaner], and casual visitors; and, when damaged, they present a relatively large handicap to the enemy.

(a) Fires can be started wherever there is an accumulation of inflammable material. Warehouses are obviously the most promising targets but incendiary sabotage need not be confined to them alone.

(1) Whenever possible, arrange to have the fire start after you have gone away. Use a candle and paper combination, setting it as close as possible to the inflammable material you want to burn: From a sheet of paper, tear a strip three or four centimeters wide and wrap it around the base of the candle two or three times. Twist more sheets of paper into loose ropes and place them around the base of the candle. When the candle flame reaches the encircling strip, it will be ignited and in turn will ignite the surrounding paper. The size, heat, and duration of the resulting flame will depend on how much paper you use and how much of it you can cramp in a small space.

(2) With a flame of this kind, do not attempt to ignite any but rather inflammable materials, such as cotton sacking. To light more resistant materials, use a candle plus tightly rolled or twisted paper which has been soaked in gasoline. To create a briefer but even hotter flame, put celluloid such as you might find in an old comb, into a nest of plain or saturated paper which is to be fired by a candle.

(3) To make another type of simple fuse, soak one end of a piece of string in grease. Rub a generous pinch of gunpowder over the inch of string where greasy string meets clean string. Then ignite the clean end of the string. It will burn slowly without a flame (in much the same way that a cigarette burns) until it reaches the grease and gunpowder; it will then flare up suddenly. The grease-treated string will then burn with a flame. The same effect may be achieved by using matches instead of the grease and gunpowder. Run the string over the match heads, taking care that the string is not pressed or knotted. They too will produce a sudden flame. The advantage of this type of fuse is that string burns at a set speed. You can time your fire by the length and thickness of the string you chose.

(4) Use a fuse such as the ones suggested above to start a fire in an office after hours. The destruction of records and other types of documents would be a serious handicap to the enemy.

(5) In basements where waste is kept, janitors should accumulate oily and greasy waste. Such waste sometimes ignites spontaneously, but it can easily be lit with a cigarette or match. If you are a janitor on night duty, you can be the first to report the fire, but don’t report it too soon.

(6) A clean factory is not susceptible to fire, but a dirty one is. Workers should be careless with refuse and janitors should be inefficient in cleaning. If enough dirt and trash can be accumulated an otherwise fireproof building will become inflammable.

(b) Water and miscellaneous

(1) Ruin warehouse stock by setting the automatic sprinkler system to work. You can do this by tapping the sprinkler heads sharply with a hammer or by holding a match under them.

(2) Forget to provide paper in toilets; put tightly rolled paper, hair, and other obstructions in the W. C. [Water Closet] Saturate a sponge with a thick starch or sugar solution. Squeeze it tightly into a ball, wrap it with string, and dry. Remove the string when fully dried. The sponge will be in the form of a tight hard ball. Flush down a W. C. or otherwise introduce into a sewer line. The sponge will gradually expand to its normal size and plug the sewage system.

(3) Jam paper, bits of wood, hairpins, and anything else that will fit, into the locks of all unguarded entrances to public buildings.

(2) Industrial Production: Manufacturing

(a) Tools

(1) Let cutting tools grow dull. They will be inefficient, will slow down production, and may damage the materials and parts you use them on.

(2) Leave saws slightly twisted when you are not using them. After a while, they will break when used.

(3) Using a very rapid stroke will wear out a file before its time. So will dragging a file in slow strokes under heavy pressure. Exert pressure on the backward stroke as well as the forward stroke.

(4) Clean files by knocking them against the vise or the workpiece; they are easily broken this way.

(5) Bits and drills will snap under heavy pressure.

(6) You can put a press punch out of order by putting in it more material than it is adjusted for — two blanks instead of one, for example.

(7) Power-driven tools like pneumatic drills, riveters, and so on, are never efficient when dirty. Lubrication points and electric contacts can easily be fouled by normal accumulations of dirt or the insertion of foreign matter.

(b) Oil and lubrication systems are not only vulnerable to easy sabotage, but are critical in every machine with moving parts. Sabotage of oil and lubrication will slow production or stop work entirely at strategic points in industrial processes.

(1) Put metal dust or filings, fine sand, ground glass, emery dust (get it by pounding up an emery knife sharpener) and similar hard, gritty substances directly into lubrication systems. They will scour smooth surfaces, ruining pistons, cylinder walls, shafts, and bearings. They will overheat and stop motors which will need overhauling, new parts, and extensive repairs. Such materials, if they are used, should be introduced into lubrication systems past any filters which otherwise would strain them out.

(2) You can cause wear on any machine by uncovering a filter system, poking a pencil or any other sharp object through the filter mesh, then covering it up again. Or, if you can dispose of it quickly, simply remove the filter.

(3) If you cannot get at the lubrication system or filter directly, you may be able to lessen the effectiveness of oil by diluting it in storage. In this case, almost any liquid will do which will thin the oil. A small amount of sulphuric acid, varnish, water-glass, or linseed oil will be especially effective.

(4) Using a thin oil where a heavy oil is prescribed will break down a machine or heat up a moving shaft so that it will “freeze” and stop.

(5) Put any clogging substance into lubrication systems or, if it will float, into stored oil. Twisted combings of human hair, pieces of string, dead insects, and many other common objects will be effective in stopping or hindering the flow of oil through feed lines and filters.

(c) Gasoline and oil fuel. Tanks and fueling engines usually are accessible and easy to open. They afford a very vulnerable target for simple sabotage activities.

(1) Put several pinches of sawdust or hard grain, such as rice or wheat, into the fuel tank of a gasoline engine. The particles will choke a feed line so that the engine will stop. Some time will be required to discover the source of the trouble. Although they will be hard to get, crumbs of natural rubber, such as you might find in old rubber bands and pencil erasers, are also effective.

(2) If you can accumulate sugar, put it in the fuel tank of a gasoline engine. As it burns together with the gasoline, it will turn into a sticky mess which will completely mire the engine and necessitate extensive cleaning and repair. Honey and molasses are as good as sugar. Try to use about 75-100 grams for each 10 gallons of gasoline.

(3) Other impurities which you can introduce into gasoline will cause rapid engine wear and eventual breakdown. Fine particles of pumice, sand, ground glass, and metal dust can easily be introduced into a gasoline tank. Be sure that the particles are very fine, so that they will be able to pass through the carburetor jet.

(4) Water, urine, wine, or any other simple liquid you can get in reasonably large quantities Will dilute gasoline fuel to a point where no combustion will occur in the cylinder and the engine will not move. One pint to 20 gallons of gasoline is sufficient. If salt water is used, it will cause corrosion and permanent motor damage.

(5) In the case of diesel engines, put low flashpoint oil into the fuel tank; the engine will not move. If there already is proper oil in the tank when the wrong kind is added, the engine will only limp and sputter along.

(6) Fuel lines to gasoline and oil engines frequently pass over the exhaust pipe. When the machine is at rest, you can stab a small hole in the fuel line and plug the hole with wax. As the engine runs and the exhaust tube becomes hot, the wax will be melted; fuel will drip onto the exhaust and a blaze will start.

(3) Transportation: Railways

(a) Passengers

(1) Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Make mistakes in issuing train tickets, leaving portions of the journey uncovered by the ticket book; issue two tickets for the same seat in the train, so that an interesting argument will result. On station bulletin boards announcing train arrivals and departures, see that false and misleading information is given about trains bound for enemy destinations.

(2) In trains bound for enemy destinations, attendants should make life as uncomfortable as possible for passengers. See that the food is especially bad, take up tickets after midnight, call all station stops very loudly during the night, handle baggage as noisily as possible during the night, and so on.

(3) See that the luggage of enemy personnel is mislaid or unloaded at the wrong stations. Switch address labels on enemy baggage.

(4) Engineers should see that trains run slow or make unscheduled stops for plausible reasons.

(4) Transportation: Automotive

(a) Roads

(1) Change sign posts at intersections and forks; the enemy will go the wrong way and it may be miles before he discovers his mistakes. In areas where traffic is composed primarily of enemy autos, trucks, and motor convoys of various kinds, remove danger signals from curves and intersections.

(2) When the enemy asks for directions, give him wrong information. Especially when enemy convoys are in the neighborhood, truck drivers can spread rumors and give false information about bridges being out, ferries closed, and detours lying ahead.

(3) If you can start damage to a heavily traveled road, passing traffic and the elements will do the rest. Construction gangs can see that too much sand or water is put in concrete or that the road foundation has soft spots. Anyone can scoop ruts in asphalt and macadam roads which turn soft in hot weather; passing trucks will accentuate the ruts to a point where substantial repair will be needed. Dirt roads also can be scooped out. If you are a road laborer, it will be only a few minutes work to divert a small stream from a sluice so that it runs over and eats away the road.

(4) Distribute broken glass, nails, and sharp rocks on roads to puncture tires.

(b) Passengers

(1) Bus-driver can go past the stop where the enemy wants to get off. Taxi drivers can waste the enemy’s time and make extra money by driving the longest possible route to his destination.

(c) Battery

(1) Turn on the lights in parked cars so that the battery will run down.

(d) Tires

(1) Slash or puncture tires of unguarded vehicles. Put a nail inside a match box or other small box, and set it vertically in front of the back tire of a stationary car; when the car starts off, the nail will go neatly through the tire.

(2) In putting air into tires, see that they are kept below normal pressure, so that more than an ordinary amount of wear will result. In filling tires on double wheels, inflate the inner tire to a much higher pressure than the outer one; both will wear out more quickly this way.

(5) Communications

(a) Telephone

(1) At office, hotel and exchange switchboards delay putting enemy calls through, give them wrong numbers, cut them off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.

(2) Hamper official and especially military business by making at least one telephone call a day to an enemy headquarters; when you get them, tell them you have the wrong number. Call military or police offices and make anonymous false reports of fires, air raids, bombs.

(b) Mail

(1) Post office employees can see to it that enemy mail is always delayed by one day or more, that it is put in wrong sacks, and so on.

(c) Motion Pictures

(1) Projector operators can ruin newsreels and other enemy propaganda films by bad focusing, speeding up or slowing down the film and by causing frequent breakage in the film.

(2) Audiences can ruin enemy propaganda films by applauding to drown the words of the speaker, by coughing loudly, and by talking.

(3) Anyone can break up a showing of an enemy propaganda film by putting two or three dozen large moths in a paper bag. Take the bag to the movies with you, put it on the floor in an empty section of the theater as you go in and leave it open. The moths will fly out and climb into the projector beam, so that the film will be obscured by fluttering shadows.

(6) General Interference with Organizations and Production

(a) Organizations and Conferences

(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.

(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.

(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

(b) Managers and Supervisors

(1) Demand written orders.

(2) “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.

(3) Do everything possible to delay the delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver it until it is completely ready.

(4) Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.

(5) Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.

(6) In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.

(7) Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.

(8) Make mistakes in routing so that parts and materials will be sent to the wrong place in the plant.

(9) When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.

(10) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.

(13) Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.

(c) Office Workers

(1) Make mistakes in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.

(2) Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.

(3) Misfile essential documents.

(4) Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.

(5) Hold up mail until the next collection.

(6) Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.

(d) Employees

(1) Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.

(2) Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary. Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.

(3) Even if you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.

(4) Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions.

(5) Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.

(6) Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

(7) Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.

(8) If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.

(7) General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion

(a) Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.

(b) Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.

(c) Act stupid.

(d) Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.

(e) Misunderstand all sorts of regulations concerning such matters as rationing, transportation, traffic regulations.

(f) Complain against ersatz materials.

(g) In public treat axis nationals or quislings [a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country] coldly.

(h) Stop all conversation when axis nationals or quislings enter a cafe.

(i) Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.

(j) Boycott all movies, entertainments, concerts, newspapers which are in any way connected with the quisling authorities.

Related Posts