Back to the Drawing Board – Aunt Jemima

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The brief was simple: create an explosive device which is easy to carry and innocent in appearance. No sticks of dynamite, no ticking time-bombs.

As part of an attempt to supply arms to the Chinese to aid resistance against the Japanese during WWII, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) developed an incendiary known as ‘Aunt Jemima’ – for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Soldier-come-chemist George Bogdan Kistiakowsky began work on a powerful powdered explosive designed for guerrilla sabotage purposes. A nitroamine high-explosive known as HMX (the origins of whose name is still subject to speculation) was mixed with regular baking flour to create a compound which could be turned into all sorts of un-suspicious looking culinary delights.

Aunt Jemima (the name of a popular brand of American pancake flour) could be baked and consumed without exploding, although ingesting it was generally not encouraged.  The explosive powder, once perfected, was packaged in flour bags and easily trafficked through Japanese check-points to the Chinese resistance-fighters. If ordered to demonstrate that the contents of their flour bags were indeed flour, the smuggler could whip up an authentic-tasting loaf and consume it right in front of his doubters.

Although this would result in a successful mission, our smuggler would not be too happy about having eaten the mixture. As master demolitionist and saboteur Frank Gleason recalls, although not lethal, eating the explosive flour, however tempting it appeared, was ill-advised.

‘In China we made muffins from the stuff. I wanted to show Major Miles how you could bake Aunt Jemima into muffins, put a blasting cap into it, and blow something up. It looks like regular flour, but if you look carefully at a little piece, you’d see it was gritty, unlike flour. It could make bread, so I told this Chinese cook at Happy Valley to make some muffins out of the explosive flour. I said, “Do not eat those muffins! They are poison. Do not eat them!” You should have seen them when they came out of the oven. They were gorgeous. The cook thought to himself, “Those damn Americans just want those muffins for themselves!” He violated what I told him and he ate one. He almost died.’

Further tests were conducted and refinement of the compound yielded a less toxic version. The deadly, delicious muffins or pancakes could now be used as a devastating explosive device, and a non-vomit-inducing snack. Uneaten pancakes or unused dough could still be used later for its original explosive purposes. In China during WWII, 15 tons of Aunt Jemima was used, and none was ever discovered by the Japanese.

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