James Bond's gadgets may seem far-fetched, but they do have a basis in fact as an auction in Kent, UK shows. C & T Auctioneers is running an online auction through February 14 that includes a collection of authentic "Q" gadgets from the Second World War and beyond that were used by spies behind enemy lines and to help Allied POWs escape and evade capture.

During the Second World War, Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) was tasked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze" by dropping agents behind Axis lines to carry out espionage and sabotage as well as coordinating resistance movements. But they didn't go unarmed.

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Thanks to Charles Fraser-Smith (Ian Fleming's inspiration for the character Q), SOE agents were equipped with gadgets to help them in their clandestine work. At the C&T auction, five of the eight items on sale were made for the SOE.

SOE Agents Assassination Pen Dagger

One favorite spy gadget was the innocent and ubiquitous fountain pen, which could be used as a hiding place for maps or compasses, converted into dart guns to harass enemy soldiers and, in this case, to conceal a 3-in (7.6-cm) steel blade. Used for both assassination and sabotage by agents and resistance fighters, some versions could even double as a real pen.

Auctioneer's estimate: £300 - £500 (US$375 - $625)

Commando Garrote Wire

This wicked coil of wire resembles the pocket saws sold in modern camping shops, but this is a specially tempered steel with nasty cutting edges for strangling and cutting throats. It was carried by commandos and agents to quickly and silently take out enemy soldiers and other targets.

Auctioneer's estimate: £60 - £100 (US$75 - $125)

Assassination Lapel Spike

Another frighteningly utilitarian item, this 3.75-in (9.5-cm) blued steel spike was hidden in a jacket lapel until needed to silence enemy guards or slash tires.

Auctioneer's estimate: £60 - £100 (US$75 - $125)

Concealment Key

This seemingly more innocent item is an iron key that unscrews to reveal an inner compartment, which could be used to carry secret messages, a compass, or a dose of poison.

Auctioneer's estimate: £100 - £200 (US$125 - $250)

Escape Utility Knife

As its name suggests, this rare item is a utility knife designed to help agents escape capture thanks to an array of tools, such as two hacksaw blades, two knife blades – a small one for slashing tires and a larger general purpose blade – and a pair of wire cutters.

Auctioneer's estimate: £500 - £1,000 (US$625 - $1,250)

To aid Allied POWs escape the enemy and return to friendly territory, the SOE also joined forces with the secret MI9 office to produce gadgets that could be as much use to the escapee as to the spy. These ranged from uniforms that could be quickly converted into civilian suits, silk handkerchiefs that had invisible maps printed on them, and special razor blades that could be turned into radio receivers. The C&T sale includes,

Royal Air Force Button Compass

These tiny, easy to hide compasses were manufactured in quantity and were standard equipment in escape kits. These two examples are of a basic design and feature blackened brass casings.

Auctioneer's estimate: £40 - £60 (US$50 - $75)

Royal Air Force Tunic Button with Concealed Compass

A more elaborate version was this RAF uniform button that unscrews to reveal a button compass in case an airman needed to bail out over enemy territory and navigate their way through enemy territory.

Auctioneer's estimate: £80 - £120 (US$100 - $150)

Protona Microphone Spy Watch Recorder

The final item is post war, but is much more like something Q would issue. It's a Protana microphone watch that was manufactured by Minifon. Used by various secret services, the watch was connected to a miniature wire recorder strapped to the agent's waist. The Protona is notorious because the CIA lost an agent in Moscow 1977 when the KGB noticed he was wearing two watches.

Auctioneer's estimate: £100 - £150 (US$125 - $190)

"Money is not the concern," said the anonymous seller in an interview with the BBC. "I would like to think they will go to a collector who will cherish them as much as I have over the years. I have had the pleasure of owning them and feel it is time that another collector or museum has the opportunity."

Source: C & T Auctioneers

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