The strangest top-secret missions in military history

It’s common knowledge that we only hear about top-secret missions years after the fact. These are the strangest in military history.
top secret missions
Israeli 69 Squadron F-15I (U.S. Air Force photo)

It’s common knowledge that we only hear about top-secret missions years after the fact. Or however long it is that governments choose to divulge information on what they’ve been up to. But once the details are released, some missions are far more interesting than others. These interesting stories are so strange, they have to be true, right?

Here are the strangest top-secret missions in military history

Operation Gold

operation gold top secret missions
A Soviet soldier in the underground tunnel from Operation Gold circa 1956. (Wikimedia Commons)

There’s hard to believe, and then there are secret underground tunnels … that are completely real. Through Operation Gold/Operation Stopwatch, the CIA and Britain’s MI6 used a tunnel to obtain intel on the Soviets. During the 1950s, more than 900,000 recordings were made, with the intent of finding out about any particular nuclear attacks. Supposedly, the Soviets were aware of the tunnels as it was being built in 1954, but chose to play dumb and “uncover” the tunnel two years later, to protect the safety of their spy. 

Operation Orchard, AKA Operation Outside the Box

In 2007, the Israeli military planned a bombing mission to take out what was believed to be a nuclear reactor. Referred to as the Al Kibar site in Syria, the plan was to stop the country’s growth or potential use of nuclear weapons. Their plans were highlighted by a 1981 treaty, the Begin Doctrine, in which Syria agreed not to use weapons of mass destruction against Israel. 

For 11 years, Israel would not claim the attack, nor would Syria admit they’d had a reactor. Though evidence proved a nuclear reactor had been in the area in 2011, Israel did not claim the win until 2018 for fear of retaliation. 

operation orchard before and after
Before and after images from Operation Orchard AKA Operation Outside the Box. (U.S. Govt photo)

Operation Wrath of God, AKA Operation Bayonet

An eye for an eye, as they say. And after 11 Israeli Olympic team members were killed at the 1972 Munich Games, Mossad, Isreal’s intelligence agency, decided to take matters into their own hands. The killings were carried out by the Palestinian Black September Organization and the Palestine Liberation Organization. From October 1972 through 1992, assassinations were planned and covertly carried out, killing more than 10 people. The operation was made into a Steven Spielberg film, Munich, in 2005.

Operation Eiche

German for “Operation Oak,” this mission took place in 1943. Germany staked out and saved Mussolini from his own people. After the Allied invasion of Sicily, the Grand Council of Fascism had Mussolini arrested, citing lost confidence in his leadership.

Still needing Mussolini in power to keep Italy as part of the war, Hitler set out to rescue him. The fascists had him moved over and over again to create confusion. However, Nazi soldiers located and received Mussolini. In the span of just 10 minutes, the 17 soldiers landed on top of a mountain, broke into the hotel where the leader was held, made it past 200 guards, and freed Mussolini. 

operation eiche top secret missions
Mussolini, alongside his German rescuers, after Operation Eiche was completed. (Public domain)

Operation Grief

Another brainchild of Hitler himself, Operation Grief took place when English-speaking German soldiers planned to secure one or more bridges in Belgium before they could be destroyed by Allied Forces. Donned in British and American uniforms, the Nazi soldiers forged papers, shared made-up military information, altered or changed road signs, etc. While the bridge was never secured, due to too few obtained uniforms, morale was affected and confusion had effectively been launched by the Germans. 

Project Azorian

To date, this is one of the most expensive missions to be launched by the CIA. In 1974, the goal was to obtain a Soviet submarine, which held ballistic missiles, and had been at the bottom of the Pacific since 1968.

The exorbitant price tag came from a ship built specifically for this mission, the USHS Hughes Glomar Explorer. Though few details have been released about this mission, the U.S., with the British government, did obtain the submarine, its missiles and classified documents.