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WWII Cricket

A well-known English-language proverb states that, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” This proverb has been proven to be true many times, but WWII is perhaps the best real-life example of necessity birthing new and creative inventions. Although the invention seen here is colloquially called a cricket, it was never alive, nor does it actually have anything to do with an insect. Instead, these crickets were made from brass or nickel-plated brass and consisted of two small plates hinged together to make a “click-clack” sound when squeezed and released. Before WWII, these crickets were originally used by band and orchestra conductors to keep a steady tempo, but Maxwell Taylor, the ingenious Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, repurposed them for his paratroopers.[1]

The 101st Airborne Division was made up of skilled soldiers who specialized in parachuting into designated locations during missions and operations. Frequently, this meant that these units would be scattered during their initial drop, and separated paratroopers found themselves isolated behind enemy lines. Further increasing the difficulty, these missions often began in the early hours of the morning when it was still pitch-black outside. In situations like these the units would need to regroup before they could continue with their mission, but calling out for fellow American paratroopers behind enemy lines was risky to say the least. Many paratrooper units used unique call-and-response codes to identify each other. For example, one soldier may call out “Marco,” and if the person they were calling out to was a member of their unit they would identify themselves by responding with the correct code, “Polo!” The codes varied from mission to mission, and the same codes were never used twice. The main problem with this system was that if the paratrooper called out to someone who was not in their unit, or worse, was an enemy soldier, they’ve just identified themselves as an English-speaking American in hostile territory.  The 101st Airborne was well-aware of this ever-present issue and began to search for creative solutions.

Colored smoke, flags, and flashlights were all used as non-verbal means of identification by paratrooper units, but the 101st Airborne Division was the first unit to make use of the cricket. By using the crickets, these paratroopers had an easy way to non-verbally communicate behind enemy lines. A paratrooper would initiate the call by clicking the cricket once, and whoever they were calling out to would indicate that they were also American by responding with two clicks of the cricket. If the paratrooper initiating the call didn’t get the two-click response they knew the person in the dark was an enemy.

Although there is some conflicting information about how widely the crickets were used and which divisions used them, it is well documented that crickets were an important part of the D-Day Invasion that took place on the beaches of Normandy. Each member of the 101st Airborne Division was issued a cricket before parachuting into Normandy very early in the morning, and the paratroopers were instructed to use the crickets to locate each other in the dark once they had safely landed.[2] Private Don Lassen was one of the paratroopers who used a cricket on that fateful day, and he remembers the importance of that device from first-hand experience. In a 2014 interview Lassen explains, “When I landed at about 2 AM, it was darker than pitch. I was totally alone in a field, and tracers were going all around me. I couldn’t find anyone, so I went over to the nearest cover I could find, a hedgerow, and I heard someone coming. I waited for the sound to get closer because I wanted to be sure that whoever it was would hear my click. As the sound got closer and closer I finally clicked. Sure enough, the person approaching me, someone from the 101st as it turned out, clicked his cricket and we both were OK.”[3]

These crickets were undeniably important to many men on D-Day, and the Mercury Collection is extremely lucky to have access to this original piece of WWII history. Although replicas and reproductions of these crickets are easy to find, the original crickets from 1944 are very rare because the vast majority were discarded on the beaches of Normandy once the sun rose and paratroopers could identify each other by sight.[4] The nickel-plated cricket seen here is an exact replica of the cricket issued to the 101st Airborne. The smaller yellow cricket however is an original from the 1940s that was unofficially adopted by the 82nd Airborne’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Although the 82nd Airborne is not documented as having been officially issued crickets, many men from that division were able to get their hands on crickets from other sources.[5] This particular cricket is believed to have been a dime-store toy repurposed for use during war.

Below is a picture of an original cricket from WWII from the WallBuilers collections. Check out more information on the cricket at https://wallbuilders.com/wwii-crickets-normandy/.

WWII Cricket 1

Sources:

[1] D-Day Cricket—Signaling Clacker. D-Day Overlord. http://www.dday-overlord.com/en/material/equipment/cricket

[2] WWII—Crickets in Normandy. WallBuilders. https://wallbuilders.com/wwii-crickets-normandy/

[3] Berantly, Richard A. The Airborne Infantry “Cricket”: Dime Store Toy Becomes D-Day Legend. Warfare History Network. December 31, 2015. http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-airborne-infantry-cricket-dime-store-toy-becomes-d-day-legend/

[4] Original WWII Relic Cricket Recovered in Normandy the Ultimate Airborne D-Day Relic. Gettysburg Museum of History. https://www.gettysburgmuseumofhistory.com/gettysburg-battle/world-war-ii-militaria/original-wwii-relic-cricket-recovered-normandy-ultimate-airborne-d-day-relic/

[5] Berantly, Richard A. The Airborne Infantry “Cricket”: Dime Store Toy Becomes D-Day Legend. Warfare History Network. December 31, 2015. http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-airborne-infantry-cricket-dime-store-toy-becomes-d-day-legend/

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