Caching your Guns for a Civil War Parts I-IV

by  Kevin “Hognose” O’Brien

Our Friend Kevin passed away early 2017. Hognose, as he was known to his many admirers was the owner and writer of We repost his greatest hits here in an ongoing tribute and effort to save his work should the website go dark.

Caching your Guns for a Civil War, Parts I and II

Many people are talking about the possibility of a civil war. Some people are acting as if one is going to happen. The intersection between those sets is almost zero.

Part 1: Some obstacles to caching

Three can keep a secret, if two are dead. All the Haganah underground operatives kept the secret of this cache in Northern Israel. It was discovered by accident after they had all died.

Three can keep a secret, if two are dead. All the Haganah underground operatives who knew the secret of this cache in Northern Israel took it to their graves. It was discovered by accident in January, 2014, after they had all died. (Story at The Blaze with links to Israeli media, some in Hebrew).

First, if you live in a state with licensing and registration, you’re screwed. Even if they don’t have all your weapons in their files, they know you have weapons. They can come and shake down your home and curtilage at their leisure. Registration and Licensing doesn’t solve crimes, and it certainly doesn’t prevent them. It is one thing only: a cheat sheet for confiscation.  For that, it’s the cat’s pajamas.

We’ve heard a lot of bravado about boating accidents and long-ago sales to a tall short black guy with red hair and freckles. You can pull this off in one two-pronged case: no one else at all knows about your weapons and your plans, and you can resist intense interrogation. (Unless you have been trained in interrogation resistance in a resistance training lab, you probably can’t). This is completely without torture or threats to relatives, both of which will be available and in use in a civil war. Those two techniques can usually break even the trained resister.

Second, don’t rely on Oathkeepers bluster (another word beginning with “b” also fits). They mean what they say now, but things will be different then. Police will have no problem cracking down on you because (1) most cops will follow any plausibly legitimate authority; (2) human beings are born to rationalize; and (3) you’ll be demonized long before you’re raided. They won’t whack you, they’ll be whacking your indescribably monstrous straw man evil twin.

Every totalitarian state in history made liberal use of the ordinary cops for its political roundups, and no police element has ever mutinied or walked off the job when faced with that task. For example, the Gestapo and SS did not need to round up the Jews in occupied France: the ordinary French beat cops were glad to do it. None of them was ever punished; they transferred their loyalty seamlessly and unquestionably from the 3rd Republic to Vichy to the occupying power to the 4th Republic. Likewise, the Weimar cops became Nazi cops, who in turn became East or West German cops, and now unified Federal German cops. Hitler? Stalin? Who cares, we can retire at 45 with a good pension, and no one will miss a few Jews.

Third, don’t expect most people to back you. For every active resister, there are 20 dedicated, clandestine supporters. For every dedicated supporter there are 20 active and open collaborators. You active resisters will be outnumbered 400 to 1 by the Quislings. And even they will be a minority. Most people will hunker down and try not to be involved. The side that pressures them will get their loyalty and compliance — as long as it outpressures its opponents, and as long as the pressure is applied.

Still wondering why civil wars get ugly, fast?

Fourth, if you’re fantasizing about this civil war, stop now. We’ve seen civil wars, and we’ve seen how a place can go from civilized to Hobbsean state of nature in jig time. The American Revolution has been sanitized in our history but even it, the cleanest and most civil of civil wars, was unbearably nasty. The victors wrote the history; the losers, the Tories or Loyalists, took ship. Or died. After losing everything. A new Civil War might look more like the last one, with new Mosbys, Booths, and certainly new Andersonvilles. Or it might resemble the Spanish Civil War, or the French Revolution. When Americans unhappy with government think of the French Revolution, they think of their opponents in the tumbrils. Remember the fate of Robespierre and the Jacobins was no different from that of the Girondins or the Bourbons. Remember that practically none of the Old Bolsheviks died of natural causes.

But if, after all that, you still want to be prepared for survival or resistance, read on. The lessons learned you are about to receive here are distilled from thirty-plus years in the practice of insurgency, UW, FID, and COIN, and a very great deal of study. They also incorporate the lessons learned from a sensitive — once, highly classified — strategic cache program that was meant to arm clandestine stay-behind forces and the resistance armies they would raise.

Part II: The Enemies of Cached Weapons

The enemies of your cached weapons, dear insurgent, are many. They are rust, and its valkyries water and air; construction and development; discovery; documentation; human frailty; and obsolescence.

These weapons, buried during the League of Nations mandate and recovered only last year, were well preserved.

These weapons, buried during the League of Nations mandate and recovered only last year, were well preserved. Careful packaging and Israel’s arid climate protected them from Air, Water and therefore Rust.

Rust is a term for corrosion in ferrous metals. Essentially, iron plus air (especially damp, moist air) yields iron oxide, which is everything steel is not: weak, crumbly, almost worthless (well, you can make an incendiary mixture with it. But your guns are not the best feedstock for that; it’s not like rust is hard to come by).

You protect weapons from rust with permanent coatings like paint or parkerizing, temporary coatings like grease, vacuum-bagging them if you have the capability, and storing them in naturally or artificially dry places.

Even non-ferrous metals and supposedly “stainless” metals will corrode in the right conditions.

Water is principally a problem because of its propensity to accelerate rust. But it also has two other properties: it tends to wick into almost anywhere, and if it’s flowing, it can wear through anything. The Grand Canyon? That’s nothing but applied water and time.

Air is a problem because it contains all the ingredients for rust except the iron: water vapor and oxygen. It also can contain pollutants that accelerate corrosion.

Development is a threat to a surprising number of caches. Europeans periodically wake up to a news story of a cache of weapons or other stuff from the Cold War or World War II. The Nazis cached hundreds of tons of arms for a Werwolf resistance that fizzled out, partly because the Nazi state’s defeat made its ideology much less compelling, and partly because all four Allies had no compunction at all about shooting Werwolf suspects, even children. These unused caches get unearthed in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic by urban and rural development all the time. They’re usually old, forgotten, neglected caches in bad shape.

Apart from concealment, which was often good, the Werwolf caches were a pretty good example of how not to conduct a strategic cache program.

While some hazards are easy to defend against — you can “set ’em and forget ’em” — defense against development requires long-term curation. If a cache is implanted, someone must monitor it, and when development encroaches, move it. Therefore, the caches that are discovered are the ones that are haphazardly monitored or that were implanted by defunct organizations that never took up, or failed at, monitoring.

It is also helpful to emplace caches in locations that are away from either axes of likely future development, potential high value positions or targets in civil or general war (such as key terrain), or potential bivouac locations of hostile forces.

Discovery is the accidental location, exposure, or penetration of the cache, not as a result of counterguerrilla or counterespionage activity, nor as a result of development-related excavation. Your likely discoverers are hunters, hikers, and, especially, kids.

Guard against it by placing the cache on difficult terrain, and concealing the cache well.

There appears to have been no documentation of the Haganah cache. It was concealed well enough that the discovery came almost 70 years after the Haganah's clandestine war was won.

There appears to have been no Documentation of the Haganah cache. It was concealed well enough that its Discovery came almost 70 years after the Haganah’s clandestine war was won.

Documentation is a double-aged sword. It allows for the recovery or relocation of caches even if no responsible individual is available (a real risk in UW). It is useful in the demobilization phase after victory has been achieved; or in an underground or dormant phase after a major defeat. But it also allows hostile forces to find and recover caches, or even worse, surveil them and roll up networks.

To counter these risks, documentation should be kept to a minimum and safeguarded, possibly with such measures as clandestine writing and encryption. Cache reports should never be transmitted by or filed on computers or electronic devices. (Assume all computers are bugged).

Human Frailty (memory and weakness) is what happens to most caches — not to put too fine a point on it, somebody rats them out.

The way to combat this is to enact strict positive vetting, need-to-know, and compartmentalization. No one should even know that there are caches unless the person’s trustworthiness has been established beyond doubt. No one should know any more about caches than he or she needs to, and that information must be given to the smallest practical number of people. And finally, no one should know about caches not relevant to his cell, mission, or location.

Obsolescence is the final problem with caches. If, mirabile dictu, things are so well packed and preserved that they’re not at risk, the canny old wizard we call Time still has one ace up his sleeve: obsolescence. You don’t know where it’s coming from; small arms development proceeds by a pattern of punctuated equilibrium. You can’t tell when technology will overthrow your stored ordnance. Rebels who buried their guns in 1800, or in 1900, would still be armed like a national army forty years later, but if they buried their guns in 1840 or 1940, they would dig up a bunch of very outdated hardware in 1880 or 1980. (We were, in fact, digging up — for inspection — caches planted in the 1940s periodically through the 1980s). But small arms performance plateaued enough in the 20th Century that the guns are the least of your worries. A guerrilla band armed today with Garands and MP.40s would still have considerable lethality, but there’s no hope for the crystal and tube radios of the 1940s for practical field communications. Likewise, medical equipment stored even a decade ago has been replaced in the real world by improved devices and products of new research.

There is no easy way to combat obsolescence. You have to be prepared to service the cache as we did during the cold war, a difficult and expensive undertaking fraught with risk to the servicer, the cache, and the security of the program.

To be continued in Part III: Types of Caches and IV: Cache Best Practices

We will learn that, as useful as it may be to consider the risks above, you’re going to find that if you want to use the cache or caches, you’re going to have to accept considerable risks beyond those. Indeed, the use of the cache is ever in tension with the security of same (a tradeoff with many, many parallels in the insurgent’s world).

And anything you can do can get you scarfed up. No pressure, though

Caching your Guns for a Civil War, Parts III and IV (long)

We apologize in advance for the length of this document. We didn’t have time to edit it down — Ed.

Part III: Types of Caches

Imagine a graph with two scales. Those scales are labeled Security (call that the X Axis) and Convenience (Y Axis; sometimes called Accessibility, but Convenience is rather more than that). A scatterplot of every cache you have made, will make, or might make would, we argue, describe a linear function: the more secure it is the more a pain in the neck it is to access.

A cache can be as simple as an old H&R Topper and a box of shotshells left in a disused outbuilding, or it can be a vacuum-sealed concrete sarcophagus at the bottom of a body of water, that requires a workboat with a crane, flotation devices, and a team of divers to recover.

Concealment Cache in the walls of a Welsh house, discovered almost 20 years later (after the original emplacer died) during routine home maintenance. Source.

Concealment Cache in the walls of a Welsh house, discovered almost 20 years later (after the original emplacer died) during routine home maintenance. Source.

Emplacement, removal, or maintenance of caches can all be summed up as servicing. Caches are most commonly exposed in-place by ordinary activities of normal people; when adverse parties compromise a cache, it’s usually during servicing activities.

Yet, a cache that has not been periodically serviced, at least inspected, is a cache that cannot be counted on.

A cache’s security is inversely proportional to the exponential number of people aware of it, just as its convenience is directly proportional to that number. Cache locations can be passed on by the emplacer(s) showing the new initate the location, or by the emplacers writing a cache report. Every clandestine organization we are aware of has required written reports; both the report and the show-me method of pass-on have different, non-zero risks. After all, “three can keep a secret — if two are dead.” Once the report is written, security of the report and its location becomes a concern. A filing cabinet full of cache reports, fallen into enemy hands, can leave entire insurgencies unarmed and most definitely afraid.

With these principles in mind, there are several types of caches. These include:

  1. Covert Concealment
  2. Clandestine Concealment
  3. Burial, and
  4. Submersion

Covert (usually Outdoor/Outbuilding) Concealment Caches

These are the easiest caches to find and recover, but they’re also not very secure against accidental discovery. These items are more truly hidden than cached. SF doctrine advises only to use such a cache when it is unusually secure, or is a cache of “ready items” that must be accessed in a hurry, like a small underground combat element’s non-concealable arms.  Best used for temporary purposes.

Clandestine Concealment Caches

gun_concealment_cabinets_ukThis subset of concealment caches is the equivalent of your typical spy cache: it is meant to survive careful searches and contain extremely incriminating materials. If you have seen the movie, The Lives of Others, the playwright conceals his unregistered typewriter in such a cache (which is exposed during a search because its location has been betrayed — an important lesson about cache security in general: it is only as good as your personnel security). Such a cache tends to be slow and difficult to access, and to contain relatively small quantities.

A crude clandestine concealment cache is frankly worse than just throwing the cache material in a drawer under the baby blankets. Things like the British faux-furniture gun cabinets shown above would likely give up their secrets in a two-bit burglary, let alone a professional search. The more readily (and thoroughly) integrated products from Tactical Walls might be a better choice, if you haven’t got the carpentry to build what’s in the Secret Hiding Places book in the References below.

Buried Caches

keep-calm-and-shovel-on-112This is the most common type of cache in the real world. Buried caches are quite secure while cached, but servicing such a cache is time-consuming, noisy, and risky. They’re also easily lost, as is illustrated by the scores of forgotten World War-era caches that European construction projects have dug up. Likewise, the American Venona code-breaking project was able to support the recovery of several 1930s-vintage caches emplaced by Soviet spies, that the spies that replaced them failed to recover (after the initial cohort was recalled to Moscow and shot); other caches went unrecovered by Soviet and American spies alike, and still presumably rest in parks and forests in the National Capital Area, or were buried under new construction.

Unless the cache report is extremely clear, a buried cache is quite difficult to locate, recognize, and recover. For example, Soviet-era cache reports for numerous sabotage caches emplaced in the West were recovered as part of the famous Mitrokhin Archive. But despite having manual copies of the original caches to work from, none of seven large caches identified in the USA could be recovered. This is a matter of some concern, as the caches are reported to be booy-trapped, and caches recovered from the same KGB sleeper/in-case-of-war sabotage program in other countries (such as Switzerland and Canada) have indeed been. Given what we’ve said about caches already, American counterspies worry about some kids coming across one of these caches and … FOOM. (One of the previous blown caches had 400 lb. of dynamite in it, and the dynamite was sweating. Not good).

We can’t fault the KGB (and GRU, which had a separate program) for preparing the caches. This was a responsible preparation for the eventuality that the cold war would go hot, and that’s what spy agencies do. And ours did likewise, but we did recover our caches when the Cold War ended.

Of course, it’s possible that the public story about the missing caches is just that, and they’re still in place — with eyes on them, against the day the KGB’s successors try to use them. Probably not, but hang around with CI guys for a while and you start thinking like this.

miss belvedere dashFinally, a buried cache is by definition underground: your stuff better be packed in an airtight, sealed, waterproof, bacteria-proof, grunge-proof container, or it’s going to wind up unusable. How unusable? Well, consider the famous Tulsa, Oklahoma 1957 time capsule Plymouth Belvedere: a zero-mileage car that emerged from its cache destroyed by rust and floodwaters (left).

Submersed Caches

This is the Meisterstück of cache emplacement and recovery. It is the hardest, riskiest, most challenging, and it needs the most preparation. It’s insanely secure, that’s its strong point. But what did we say about security? Right, it has an inverse relationship with accessibility, with convenience. It is such a difficult form of cache that most of the use cases we can come up with it are for small and temporary caches. The SF manual suggests it’s a practical way to deliver supplies over-the-beach to clandestinely-supported elements, and that has been done in Southeast Asia, in the Baltic States, and in Cuba over the years. This use of subsurface transfer caches puts most of the risk of exposure on the receiving rather than sending element. Once the caches are dropped off, the friendly frogmen or submarine will not be returning to the cache site — it might as well be radioactive, as far as they are concerned.

Soviet GRU frogmen used submersed caches in association with live training missions onto NATO territory in the 1980s. These were generally small, temporary, mission-support caches only, to the extent that we in the West understand them.

Part IV: Cache Best Practices

Let’s start with a story, before we go laying down rules. A story from Northern Ireland, via the US Armys Combined Arms Lessons Learned (CALL) Center:

During the early years of the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA’s) campaign in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, a Royal Engineer officer, Captain Winthrop, created a list of key analytical features to help find IRA weapons caches.10 It turned out that focusing on these features greatly increased the chances of finding caches. The list included the following:

● The IRA quartermaster (responsible for weapons supply) would build the weapons cache in a place that allowed friendly observation at all times. Early in the conflict, a quartermaster would often place the cache in line of sight of his own house.

You might be able to figure out why they outgrew that practice.

● The cache could be evacuated out of direct line of sight of a surveillance asset.

● The location was marked by some easily recognized feature (lone tree, specified telephone pole, derelict house) and then by some small local mark on that feature (a scratch on a tree or a stone). This micro-terrain enabled outsiders to collect the weapons by following instructions.

Key to all clandestine location-based activities, including caches, dead drops, and personal meets: recognizability, and some way to pass it on.

● The cache location had several routes of access.

And multiple paths of egress. Very important if you’re servicing your cache and PC Plod appears athwart the path you took in, calling on you to give up in the name of The Law.

● The cache itself was usually a metal milk can, sometimes buried under or inside a stone wall, where signs of disturbance could be easily disguised to avoid detection.

Using our framework, the reader can see that the first, second, and fifth items fall under the area of security: the IRA wanted to ensure that the site was watched at all times, but was in a location where it could be evacuated outside of anyone’s line of sight. The third item indicates that they used the micro-terrain to advantage for accessibility. Further, they used multiple ingress and egress routes for the cache, the fourth item to affect both accessibility and distribution.

Naturally, that whole document is worth the read, as there are many other case studies and some best practices in there.

Here is a rough, ready (and honestly, incomplete) list of caching best practices:

  1. Understand your user(s). A cache gets more complicated the more people (and the more diverse the people) that need to get at it. A cache only one person needs is the simplest.
  2. Understand your threat. For instance, if you were the Iraqi insurgents who hid their guns in mud walls, you probably had a serious case of Resting Bitch Face when the coalition started using metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar to find them — about a week later.
  3. Plan before you build.
  4. Don’t over-plan; execute the cache.
  5. Practice caches are a great way to polish your skills. So is putting multiple secret compartments in your house, even if you never use them.
  6. In-home caches have a key weakness: what if you can’t get to your home? (If you are suspected, it’s probably under surveillance. These days, by a small camera you can’t spot, not a goon in a trenchcoat out of cinema noir).
  7. Indeed, a cache site should not be in your, or an underground member’s, home. It should be in a neutral place (unless you can place it in such a way that its exposure compromises a collaborator) and it should not be in a place that the auxiliary or underground is using for any other purpose. The compromise of one use will expose the other!
  8. Always have cover for status (who you are) and cover for action (what you are doing) that adequately explains why you are going where the cache is, doing what you’re doing, and having whatever you have. If you’re in a churchyard at 0300 with a shovel, you’d better have a real good story. (If you’re standing open a grave full of rifle crates, it won’t matter how good your story is).
  9. Surveil the cache for 24 hours before attempting servicing. Have cover to the extent possible for this surveillance (surveillance is its own, extremely deep, topic).
  10. Homemade concealment caches (for example, your own variation on the dog food can as described in The Construction of Secret Hiding Places are 100% better than store-bought “hide-it” gimmicks. Everybody who’s ever going to search your stuff has seen all of those gadgets in training, seriously. If you bought it from Brookstone or SkyMall (before SkyMall went tango uniform), you might as well mail your cache report to Official Villain in care of Adverse Party Counterintelligence Agency. Remember to include enough postage!
  11. Things may stay in your cache longer than you think, like these 1950s Egyptian “Port Said” copies of the Swedish M45B submachine gun. port_said_smgs_from_cacheThe cache was carefully emplaced, probably during the 1956 Arab-Israeli war or subsequent Fedayeen actions, but never retrieved, until Israeli archaeologists stumbled into them.  The emplacer thought he took care by oiling the guns and ammo, and sealing them in a truck inner tube but… well, you can see (story here in Hebrew).
  12. If you have something serious to hide, provide a plausible distractor cache. The criminal example is having a cache for your murder weapon that’s behind the cache for your weed. Officer Friendly usually stops at the weed. Counterinsurgency troops probably won’t be nearly as alarmed to find, say, a cache of stolen antiquities than they would be to find the half-ton of Semtex you planted the antiquities to lead them away from.
  13. It’s preferable to prepare and package the cache contents off-site. This reduces time on the site and risk of exposure. However, it may make transport of the contents even more risky than it already is. (Again, Access wars with Security).

References and Documents

McAfee, James. Best Practices in Counter Improvised Explosive Device Environments. 2010-03 Urgent Enemy Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (UETTP) (Fort Leavenworth, KS: CAC/CALL, March 2010)

Robinson, Charles (pseud). The Construction of Secret Hiding Places. El Dorado, AR: Delta Press, 1981. Available as a pdf scan from:

Shakarian, Paulo, and Otstott, Charles P.. What is Old is New: Countering IEDs by Disrupting the Weapons Supply. Military Review  July-August 201. Retrieved from:

Uncredited. Found: weapons cache hidden days after Dunblane massacre. The Telegraph. 13 March 2013. retrieved from:

Uncredited. ST 31-205, U.S. Army Special Forces Caching Techniques. Fort Bragg, NC: JFK Special Warfare Center.December, 1982

Uncredited. Special Forces Caching Techniques. (This is an edited and cut version of the above 12/82 ST, reprinted by Delta Press). Available as a pdf scan from:

Uncredited. TC 31-29/A US. Army Special Forces Caching Techniques. Fort Bragg, NC: JFK Special Warfare. This is a much bowdlerized version of the now-classified TC which was developed from 31-205. It has better illustrations than the 1982 version but is otherwise inferior. Text of the document (no illustrations) available here:—caching-techniques

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