Behind enemy lines – Military use of gold coins as emergency money

By Ronan Manly

Gold is and always has been universal money that can be used anywhere and is accepted everywhere. This is especially true behind enemy lines.

Recently, while researching for the article “The Power of gold in time of Crisis” (which covered examples of gold being the ultimate asset in times of crisis and emergency, such as Venezuela, Argentina, and Zimbabwe), I came across some fascinating accounts of gold (especially gold coins) being used by elite military units as emergency money in war and conflict situations behind enemy lines.

As this was slightly different to the economic necessity of harnessing gold when economies collapse, I thought it best to ring-fence this in a separate post since military personnel operating behind enemy lines usually choose to be in danger as opposed to finding themselves in danger. However, in both cases there are parallels, and in both cases gold comes to the rescue, providing its holders with choice, economic freedom, and liberty.  Gold in both economic collapses and in war zones can even sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

But why is this so? Essentially, gold is and always has been universal money that can be used anywhere and is accepted everywhere. And in turn, this is because only physical gold has the universal recognition, acceptance and bargaining power that no paper currency could ever come close to. The world’s elite military (as opposed to what their politicians will tell you) know this, which is why they issue their troops and pilots with gold coins and other gold bullion items for use as emergency money when these troops go behind enemy lines.

From Escape and Evasion to Life Barter

For example, in World War II and the Vietnam War, the US military issued “Life Barter Kits” to its pilots and paratroopers. These kits, for example, comprised “1.08 Troy Ounces of 10-k gold and a Milus Snow Star Wristwatch, with the gold in the barter kit consisting of 1 gold link chain with four links of 1 ¾ inch length, 1 gold embossed pendant and 2 gold rings.

Historic US military escape and evasion kit.  Source

In the same vein, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued the famous Gold Sovereign coin to its SAS troops and RAF airmen during World War II as part of a similar “Escape and Evasion” survival kit.

However, issuing Gold Sovereigns to British troops is not just an historic occurrence, and the MoD has continued this tradition into modern times, distributing Gold Sovereigns to military personnel in contemporary conflicts specifically for use as a bargaining tool or to buy their way out of trouble if confronted by enemy forces. This is perhaps most colorfully illustrated by the interesting and vivid accounts documented by combatants turned authors who had taken part in the 1991 Gulf War.

As background, in the run up to the Gulf War in 1991, Britain’s Ministry of Defence purchased 60,000 Gold Sovereigns from the Bank of England , and then issued Special Air Service (SAS) troops and pilots with 20 gold sovereigns each which they then stitched and concealed in their clothing. After the war, coins which in one way or another had survived, were returned, and according to the MoD, 16,289 such coins made their way back.


Royal Mint Gold Sovereign


Somehow these stories and anecdotes would not be so alluring if the references to “gold coins” had been replaced with, say, “US dollars” or “euros”. That’s pretty clear.

But why is it that physical gold can get you out of a hostile or dangerous situation when no other form of money will do? Yes, gold is portable, inherently valuable, and internationally recognized. But beyond this, there is still physical gold’s mystique, a tangible universal money that has been used for thousands of years, in all civilizations throughout the world. Generation after generation knows this, especially outside the western world. Unsurprisingly, so do the elite military, who through design or otherwise tend to find themselves in these hot spots of conflict, behind enemy lines.

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