Thursday, September 23, 2021

Saluting the flag means many things. Here's one: meet Matthew Slaydon

A while back, I threw a guest out of my home for asserting saluting the American flag was like doing a "sich heil" in Hitler's day. A long time friend of mine then introduced me to Staff Sergeant Matthew Slaydon, USAF, who was critically injured by an IED in Iraq. I subsequently was introduced to Senior Airman Dan Acosta, who suffered similar injuries. These men, and so many more like them, understand sacrifice, they understand duty and honor, they are patriots of the very highest order. They are part of the reason I salute the flag proudly. Saluting the American flag is an honor, and I for one cherish it

By Ed Marek, editor

September 23, 2020

On April 30, 2008, I wrote this. Actually, I typed it with my fist:

Act against the threat from within

"Defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic." A few days ago, a guest at my home, well-educated, said "Saluting the American flag is like doing a 'sich heil' for Hitler. I refuse to salute the American flag." After chewing his ass, I threw him out and told him he is no longer welcome in my home. It is important that we not stand for these kinds of internal threats to our national well-being. Don't just sit there. Take action. The country is filled with these kinds of people. They're everywhere. They are a domestic threat we must take seriously. 

On May 1, 2008, Jim Hocking, a long-time friend, and former Chief Master Sergeant, United States Air Force, sent me this note:

"Here is something your guest should read to try and understand what sacrifice and patriotism are all about---nothing to do with politics. Just an understanding of duty, honor, and sacrifice."

Then Jim introduced me to Staff Sergeant Matthew Slaydon, USAF (Ret.), shown here.

Technical Sergeant Mike Hammond, writing "AF Family Helps Purple Heart Recipient," for Air Force Print News, April 24, 2008, started the introduction this way:

"Staff Sgt. Matthew Slaydon lay motionless on a dusty road in Iraq, his body riddled with shrapnel after an improvised explosive device exploded about 2 feet from his face. His left arm hung by a couple of tendons and his face was unrecognizable. His friends worked frantically to save him from an early grave.

"Sergeant Slaydon, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician from the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., was critically injured Oct. 24, 2007, while serving to protect convoy routes in Iraq. The explosion left him completely blind. His left eye was gone. Doctors amputated his left arm above the elbow. He also suffered a collapsed lung and numerous facial fractures and lacerations in the attack.

"A terrorist's bomb may have blown Sergeant Slaydon's body apart that day, but since then, a lot of people have helped him keep his life together."

I read this and dropped everything I was doing to be sure you know about this man, to urge you to think about all like him throughout our history, and to ponder what it means when the American flag passes you by. Jim Hocking is right. The flag has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the fabric of our nation. It has to do with men and women like Slaydon. 

Slaydon was immediately air evacuated from Iraq to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. His wife of eight years, Annette, flew to Washington to meet him. Staff Sergeant Ryan Winger, USAF, a colleague, escorted Annette to Washington.

What she saw when she got there was not pretty:

"I just kept looking at him and looking at him ... his whole face and head were so swollen ... and really, the only thing I could recognize was the top of his head."

Slaydon went in and out of consciousness for three weeks. By October 31, he was moved by medevac aircraft to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. As Slaydon's aircraft came to a halt, jumping aboard was Chief Master Sergeant Stephen Page, shown here, the command chief master sergeant for the 12th Flying Training Wing at the time. 

After introducing himself, Chief Page said this:

"You're in Air Force country now -- I've got you."

Then, Senior Airman Dan Acosta, also an EOD specialist, also one who was severely wounded by an IED explosion in Iraq in 2005, took over family liaison duties. 

Let's pause for a moment and introduce you to Airman Dan Acosta. 

On December 7, 2005, Airman Acosta, shown here, and his 12-man EOD team were tasked to search for IEDs in a crater where another had detonated. Early on, they found two. They backed away, and detonated both devices. They were preparing to leave the site, mission accomplished.

But Acosta spotted a suspicious area, and said he wanted to check it out. Why? Because they were prepared to declare the area clear, and Acosta wanted to be sure it was clear as other soldiers would be coming through it. 

As he walked toward the area, he stepped on a pressure plate and the third IED blew up 20 ft. in front of him. He lost his left arm, and incurred severe injuries to both legs. Nonetheless, he jumped up to his feet, ordered everyone to back out, and canvassed the crew to see if anyone was hurt. He then started to walk away and collapsed to the ground.\

Staff Sergeant Joseph Upton stepped in. Acosta had no left arm, so Upton had to stop the bleeding. He then wrapped Acosta'a burned and injured legs. Upton saved his life because he was losing blood at too rapid a rate. A medevac helicopter came in and picked him up, got him to a field hospital where he received transfusions, and then he was airlifted to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany and then on to Brooke Army Hospital, getting there four days after the event.

Now, Airman Acosta would take care of Slaydon and his family in distress. 

Senior Master Sergeant Debra Westmoreland made sure Slaydon retained Luke AFB, Arizona as his duty station, as the family had a home there and Annette had a good job there. The USAF picked up house payments for several months so Annette could stay with her husband in Texas. Friends and Luke AFB community members raised money to help out the family, took care of their home, came out to visit.

Del Lipa, a prosthetist with Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, fitted Slaydon with a prosthetic arm in January 2008.

Here you see Slaydon practicing knot tying on February 11, 2008 with his new prosthetic arm during therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. 

Staff Sergeant Slaydon was totally blind. He was outfitted with a prosthetic for his left arm. He was been medically retired. But his bottom line was this:

"The big challenge for me in the near future will be transitioning from active duty to medically retired. Not so much the paperwork, but just being ready to leave active duty. I loved being in Iraq on patrols, manning a gun, defeating the enemy's most dangerous weapons. So it'll be a different life ahead.

"The bottom line for me is -- yeah, I could sit around on the couch and collect a check for the rest of my life, but to hell with that. I want to do something and still make a difference."

Staff Sgt. Matthew Slaydon and his wife, Annette, paused outside the Randolph Air Force Base chapel at their wedding vow renewal ceremony Saturday, April 12, 2008. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen, USAF

Oh yes, ask Airman Acosta what he thinks, and he'll tell you this:

“I love everything about the Air Force and EOD, and that’s what I want to continue to do ... I wanted to get back in the swing of things. I feel comfortable enough to get in uniform and go to work. It helps him (Senior Master Sergeant Hepner, an EOD manager) out a lot and he appreciates it. He gets me involved to keep me in touch with EOD and the Air Force.”

God bless you and all like you, Staff Sergeant Slaydon and Airman Acosta. It is because of you, all like you, then and now, and because of the very nature of our great country that I salute the flag every chance I have. 

People like the guest at my home who compared saluting the American flag with shooting a "sich heil" in Hitler's days do not deserve to breathe the same oxygen you use. That's why I threw the son-uva-bitch out of my home and told him he is no longer welcome in my home.

As proud American citizens, every day, we must ask ourselves these kinds of questions: What have I done today for freedom? What can I do tomorrow for freedom? What can I do tomorrow that will save the lives of men like this and help them win the war?

Bryan Lorenz, then 8, salutes as he holds a small American flag during a ceremony commemorating the 64th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 2005, at Veterans Memorial Island in Vero Beach, Fla. We can teach our children patriotism, and they clearly can teach us. There's hope for us all.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Largest non-nuclear explosion on record hits Beirut Marines, 38 years ago

"We lost a lot of Marines that day.”

By Ed Marek, September 11, 2021


Editor’s note: I wrote this in 2008. There is a lot of solid advice from Marines who experienced the bombing in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. That bombing struck buildings housing American and French service members of the Multinational Force in Lebanon, a military peacekeeping operation during the Lebanese Civil War. Two hundred forty one US military members, almost all of whom were Marines.  Fifty eighyt French military members, six civilians were also killed. The two suicide bonbers who attacked were also killed. Given the recent US withdrawal from Afghanistan, we should all pay attention to what these men had to say.

The attackers were enemies of the United States Some have called this an act of terrorism. I don't buy it. It was an act of war and that war continues to this day. 


General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, sent a message to all Marines on October 15, 2008 and asked them to pause for a moment to remember their lost brothers from Beirut.

The Beirut Veterans of America say this:

"The first duty is to remember."

Part of remembering is to translate what happened then to what we face today. Several Beirut veterans have done this, very well in my view. Let's listen.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Mark Hacala was a Navy corpsman at the time. 

He struck a chord with me, saying this years later:

“What people don’t realize is that there was a ground war going on. The bombing is one element. To the rest of the world, it was an incident without context.

"I think many of us wonder, had we taken a firm stand and a firm response at that time, all these other attacks that took place against us in the coming decades, would they have been tried? Would they have been attempted?”

Brigadier General James M. Lariviere, USMC, who served as a reconnaissance platoon commander in Beirut, has said that this attack was the beginning of America's war against Islamic terrorism. He would also say this:

"They came in peace and died in a blinding instant, and their names are seared into our minds and into the pages of history. As we who live on continue to fight against Islamic terrorism in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, let us be mindful of their service and their sacrifice a quarter century ago. And in doing so, we pledge that we will be Semper Fidelis, always faithful.”

Retired Marine Major Bob Jordan was there and agrees, adding a little zest to the general's observation:

"We were being tested, and we failed the test (angry that the Marines were told to withdraw and there was no retaliation). (This was) the first skirmish in ... the battle against terror ... We need to understand that these people believe in what they are doing ... We need to understand that they are willing to die for it and willing to kill us to achieve it."

During an interview, Jordan made these comments:

"When the Marines pulled out in 1984, Osama bin Laden and many others were watching. They had tested us militarily. They had tested us spiritually. They had tested us politically ... We stood against tyranny. We stood against terror. And we have to remember, make the people, who, who, who wish us harm, they need to know we were not defeated in Beirut. We're still here. And our sons and our daughters, and our grandsons and granddaughters will be told this story, and they will be here for generations in the future. And that's the hope of America."

In yet another interview, Jordan said this: 

“It was too few to be a force and too many to be a presence. They took away our one great strategy and that is our maneuverability. The Israelis insisted we be placed near the airport. They felt our presence there would keep the airport open. What it did was put us in a static position … with the ocean to our back and the mountains to our front ... We were dedicated to a noble but naive mission, but we weren’t allowed to complete it. We now see our children and grandchildren fighting what we would have liked to have finished.”

And I found him yet again saying this:

"We went in, in '82, and everything was dictated ... All of that worked against us ... I think if we had made the stand then, we would not be making it now ... They (the enemy) were not successful with the Marines. They were not successful with the American public at large. They were successful with the politicians."

Donald "Gunny" Inns, a Beirut veteran, would later write:

"Everything I need to know about Mideast madness, i.e., Islamic extremists, militants, terrorists, I learned as a Marine stationed in Beirut in 1983. They will kill as many Americans as we allow them to. Because, historically, many of those Americans killed were members of our military, and the attacks occurred overseas, those protected here at home ignored this reality."

Joe Ciokon has said this:

"The general public doesn't understand, these terrorists work together ... Every terrorist is connected ... We are on the hunt, literally. We will find them. It's just a matter of time.

"These guys (in Congress) saw everything and let it happen ... The colonel told them that 'there's no way I can protect my men in the environment that you've given me here.' Their reaction? 'You're doing a good job. Don't worry about it.'"

David Maderas was a Pfc in the attack and has provided this advice:

"That's their playbook. They built their playbook over time, and, ah, and ah, I would call it like a cult. A cult who is following an ideology and they're building their playbook based on how we respond to certain things. And, I mean, they're taking notes. The prevent defense prevents nothing. And if that's the posture we wanna take, in the United States, okay, I'd like to ask the people who think that way to come down to Jacksonville and stand there next to a mother who lost one of their kids in Beirut and explain to her how we should take a preventive posture.

"In the United States a lot of times, we fall asleep. They do something, and then they let it die out, you know, we're all excited about, you know, the price of gasoline or, you know, whatever the topic of the day is, and we totally lose sight of an issue that really has a lot of substance to it.

Lt. Col. Gerlach, USMC (Ret.) is still in a wheel chair but he is alive and well, and commented this way:

"And I hate war. But by damn, if we don't take a stand, just imagine what would have happened in WWII and how that would've turned out and all the other wars that have gone on.”

Jay Farrar, a former Marine captain who served in Beirut, said this:

"You don't half step it. You deal swiftly and with a tremendous amount of force."

Randy Gaddo, a lieutenant at the time, said this:

"There is a direct connection between the terrorists responsible for the Beirut bombing and the murderers responsible for September 11th, 2001. We have come to realize that the Beirut Bombing was the first major shot fired in the Global War on Terror. We made it our life’s mission to never let America forget that 270 good men died in Lebanon in the name of peace and freedom.

“Terrorism is not something that started in Beirut and it’s not something that stopped after September 11th. Terrorists call it an Islamic holy war. There’s nothing holy about it and to call it that is an affront to peaceful, law abiding people of the Islamic faith. They have chosen to interpret their holy book in such a way as to justify their criminal activity. Terrorism is a crime against humanity on a global scale, pure and simple. It is homicide, murder of innocent men, women and children.”

Colonel Chuck Dallachie was there as a first lieutenant and was injured. He has remarked this way:

"The Marine Corps considers this a black eye. There’s the impression we were caught with our pants down.”

Bill Kibler, a Beirut veteran, has said this:

“It’s imperative that the public realize, the war on terror did not start on September 11, but it started on October 23. A lot of Marine veterans feel like that.”

Colonel Geraghty has also said these things:

"This started a whole series of the suicide truck bombings that just became the favorite weapon of the Islamic extremists ... Bin Laden was inspired by the success of the simultaneous coordinated suicide bombings in '83, and they didn't have that expertise before Mughniyeh and Osama bin Laden met in Sudan in 1996.

"Forensics done afterward by FBI and others [show] that this was the largest non nuclear explosion on record. It guaranteed mass casualties. There was no way we could have stopped that bomb in that environment ... We were in the middle of an active international airport and really didn't have control of the people and vehicles entering and exiting. From the first day there, I was uneasy with that location (he would later say it was an abominable location). It was selected for diplomatic and political reasons a year earlier. (It was) a static location surrounded by hills with over 600 tubes of artillery (that) could be brought to bear on us.

"Who would have thought, 25 years later, here we are (fighting) essentially the same crowd? The enemy learned: Terrorism works.”

Imad Fayez Mughnieyh is said to have been the mastermind behind the Beirut bombing. He was killed in Damascus for reasons that are not publicly known.

Tony Sutton said the attack was "one of those defining moments in life. After that day, everything changed.”

General P.X. Kelley, Commandant USMC at the time, told a remembrance gathering in 2006 that people such as those who attacked the 1-8 on October 23, 1983, must be punished. He said: “I will have little sleep until that happens.” 

I'll close out with this comment from Judith Young, whose son, Sgt. Jeffrey Young was killed in the enemy bombing attack:

"It was forgotten two weeks after it happened. No one really knows or understands what happened in Beirut anymore ... Everybody remembers 9-11, but so many have forgotten about October 23, 1983. Just because they were there as peacekeepers doesn’t mean they need to be forgotten.”

GySgt John Snyder, USMC (Ret.) agrees. He's now a third grade teacher and hopes our children learn about the bombing and carry the story forward:

"I worry that the children that I now teach will not teach their children of the day so many good Marines died. For as sad as that day was, it would be sadder still if the sacrifice of so many true heroes was lost to history forever."

I have details on this Beirut attack and will follow-up with reports.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Part II, “USN covert ops in China:" Political intrigue

In Part I of “USN covert ops in China, War Plan Orange and SACO,” the discussion centered on  stories about the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) sailors out in the field in China, including those who participated in the expansion of the SACO mission list to include combat operations against the Japanese in China, mostly covert.

In Part I, I said the political intrigue involving multiple organizations conducting intelligence operations in WWII China including the Chinese leadership was absorbing. This Part II will focus on this political intrigue. The macro-organizations to be addressed here include:

  • Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO), combined US-China
  • Naval Group China (NGC)
  • Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to CIA
  • Kuomintang (KMT) Secret Service
  • 14th Army Air Foirce (14th AAF)

You may wish to browse through or read Part I to better understand what will be discussed in this, Part II, the political intrigue. As a reminder, the heroes are highlighted in Part I. This story is about the bureaucrats that made life tough for the heroes.

We tend to think of WWII with Japan as beginning with its attack on the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941. WWII with Japan had much earlier roots: 

  • Starting in 1931, the Japanese invaded and took control over Manchuria.
  • In 1937 Japan invaded China and by 1940 controlled most of northeastern China and key coastal areas in southeast China.
  • In September 1940 Japan invaded northern Vietnam, Tonkin, and invaded southern Indochina in July 1941 and occupied it.
  • Japan invaded Malaya and Thailand on December 7, 1941 and occupied Malaya on February 15, 1941. Thailand fell within hours. Thailand signed an alliance with Japan on December 21, 1941. On January 25, 1942 Thailand declared war on the US.
  • Japan invaded the Philippines on December 8, 1941 and occupied it effective April 2, 1942.
  • Japan invaded Indonesia in January 1942 and occupied it all by March 1942.
  • Japan began attacking Burma on December 16, 1941, occupied Rangoon and had essentially taken and occupied most of Burma by May 27, 1942. 
  • Japan would knock on India’s door, and in March 1944 tried to invade, but failed.

In 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) announced the defense of China was vital to the defense of the US. Even prior to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attacks against the Hawaiian Islands, the US saw China as a main theater of operations. The US would secure, maintain and operate air forces against the Japanese, organize and use small American units to fight guerrilla warfare, and support Chinese and indigenous forces who would fight on the ground.

The dominant US interest in China during the war was to obtain intelligence on the Japanese. That made the US different from its British, French and Chinese allies. The British were more worried about the Chinese, and maintaining the British empire in the region. The Chinese were worried about Mao’s Chinese communists as much or more than the Japanese. The French were interested primarily in preserving their Indochina empire. Each of these countries would insert covert intelligence activities throughout the region, and each of these would bang up against the other at some point in time.

The British, its Commonwealth countries, and US joined with the Nationalist Chinese to fight the Japanese in what was known as the China-Burma-India Theater of war (CBI). The Nationalist Chinese and indigenous forces throughout the region provided ground forces and the US Army Air Force (USAAF) and British Royal Air Force (RAF) provided air support to those forces. For our purposes, the USAAF provided most of the air power supporting China.

Burma and India were British colonies. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were French colonies. The Nationalists, in the form of the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, governed the country, which became known as the Republic of China (ROC). The communists, led by Mao Tse Tung, fought against the Nationalists and at times against the Japanese as well.

The US refused to recognize the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The US also refused to accept Japanese domination of China and the Asian mainland following the invasion of China in 1937. The US estimated that fully 80 percent of Japanese ground forces were in China during WWII.

In effect, the Japanese invasion of China had reached a stalemate by the late 1930s. Therefore, it was critical to keep these Japanese pinned down and engaged. Furthermore, the US saw Chinese bases in China as a way to strike at Japan.

US policies required it to maintain the image of China as a major US ally, specifically, maintain the close tie with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (seated next to FDR) and continue to recognize him as the Supreme Allied Commander China.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) (British and American) agreed in September 1941 to ask China’s General Chiang Kai-shek to be the Supreme Allied Commander China. Chiang was not subordinate to any Allied power or the CCS. None of China’s territory was to be under the jurisdiction of anyone else but Chiang. He was responsible only to himself. This was in keeping with FDR’s vision --- “treat China as a Great Power.”

Lt. General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, USA, commanded US forces in the CBI and served as an advisor to Chiang. That was at Chiang's request. He was also deputy commander Burma-India commanded by British Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Royal Navy (RN).

FDR envisioned the US as a dominant power alongside China, and he wanted to get the British and French out of the colonization business throughout the entire CBI.

The complexities of the international politics among the Allies in the CBI are daunting.

I should say at the outset that the links between US actions in China are inextricably linked to its actions in Indochina. I will focus on this in a separate report.

For its part in China, the US faced several important intelligence shortfalls:

  • Little intelligence about Japanese activities on the Chinese mainland to support targeting
  • Little access to current weather information to support naval operations in the Western Pacific
  • Little intelligence regarding Japanese technologies, especially naval technologies
  • Little intelligence on Japanese shipping and naval movements

Let’s wade through highlights of the political intrigue surrounding intelligence operations in China. 

First, I'll highlight a few placenames important to this story.

Nanking: The capital of the provisional capital of the newly formed ROC in 1912. The communists took it in 1927 and the Chinese Nationalists took it back in 1928. It was named the nation's capital at that time. The Japanese captured it in December 1937. Japanese forces slaughtered anywhere from 200,000 - 300,000 Chinese citizens in the city through January 1938. 

Chungking (Chongqing): Japanese forces took Shanghai on the coast and it was clear they would next take nearby Nanking, Therefore Chiang Kai-shek's government moved to Chungking in China's hinterland in early December 1937. It became the ROC provisional capital through 1946. General Stilwell put his headquarters there as well during the war.

Kunming: Located in southwest China, not far from northern Vietnam and northeast Burma, Kunming became a transportation and industrial center for the ROC as a result of the war. It had vital transportation links. Prior to the Japanese invasions, Kunming had a rail link to Hanoi. The Burma Road also ran from Rangoon to Kunming, helping the city develop as an industrial center. Rangoon in turn was connected to the Gulf of Martaban and on to the Andaman Sea, making Rangoon a port to the world. So supplies could flow from the Rangoon seaport to Kunming.

I should start with the Chinese leadership.

Chiang and his number one intelligence officer, General Tai Li, shown here, were apprehensive about all foreign intelligence operations in China. They distrusted Allied intentions toward China. Tai Li worked very hard to hold a grip on every nation’s intelligence operations in China. That’s the bottom line to remember.

However, China's allies would insert covert intelligence activities throughout the region to response to their own national intelligence requirements, and each of these would bang up against the other.

Britain was an imperial power across South and Southeast Asia. It had many financial and commercial interests there, including in China.

The Japanese attacked British territories in Hong Kong, Malaya (now Malaysia), Singapore and Burma, and took them all. They fought to India’s border and invaded. British and Indian forces threw them back. Japan’s logistics lines were too long. They withdrew.

I will not spend much time on the British in China. They did send a general officer to Chungking followed by insertion of Mission 204, consisting of British and Australian troops. Mission 204 was to support Chinese ground forces. It was a commando kind of unit. The British also formed an organization known as the Special Executive Branch (SOE). Its mission was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe and later, also in Japanese occupied Southeast Asia and aid local resistance movements.

Both Chiang Kai-shek and General Tai Li had little use for the British. They did not like the way the British conducted intelligence operations, and they felt, as did others, that the British were more focused on China than on the Japanese. The British had considerable investments in China, most importantly in Hong Kong, and Singapore, the latter located at the southern tip of Malaya.

I’ll talk to the SOE later.

The French were active in China as well. They were mostly concerned about preserving their Indochinese empire (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Like the British, I will not spend much time on the French. When talking about the French in WWII, you have to talk in terms of Vichy France, led by French Premier Philippe Pétain. He and his government were beholding to the Germans who occupied France. Then there are the Free French, led by General Charles de Gaulle, exiled in England.

The Japanese defeated French Indochinese colonial forces during WWII and occupied all of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. China bordered on Tonkin, the northern part of Vietnam, ad Japanese forces were located there.

I cannot go into the relationships between Vietnam and China during WWII. It is a  fascinating subject and opens the window on how the US got involved in Indochina downstream.

Vichy France continued relations with Chiang Kai-shek’s government. Its diplomats were in Chungking. However, it allowed Japanese troops to conduct cross-border operations from Vietnam into China’s southern province of Yunnan, and it allowed them to use three airbases in Indochina.

General de Gaulle sent Jean Escarra, an expert in international law and an advisor to the KMT, to Chungking to contact Chiang Kai-shek and arrange to set up a Free French relationship with the KMT. Escarra set the stage for the establishment of a Free French military mission in Chungking and set up a network to do that.

To underscore the complexities of dealing with the French, Vichy French forces in Indochina were commanded by French Major General Eugene Mordant, shown here. He took command on August 7, 1940. He switched allegiance to General de Gaulle’s Free French in 1942 and was told to lead a resistance in Indochina and prepare for an Allied invasion.

The French set up a very active network of radio stations and listening posts to obtain intelligence on Vietnam. Incredibly, these networks were set up without the knowledge of General Tai Li or General Chennault’s intelligence unit. I''ll talk about Chennault more later. He commanded the 14th AAF which supported Chinese ground forces and flew supplies from India to China.

This French network provided some of the very best intelligence, some of which had become indispensable to Chiang and Chennault.

As an aside, I’ll mention that senior officials in the US wanted China to invade and take French Indochina for themselves. That did not happen but it underscores Chinese intelligence interests in Vietnam.

Let’s now switch the focus back to the US.

In July 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) set up the Office of the Coordinator of Information, the COI. He did this prior to the US entering WWII. This was the nation’s first peacetime, non-departmental intelligence organization. The COI was supposed to overcome the lack of coordination between the many intelligence agencies and offices.

FDR appointed William J. Donovan to lead the COI. Donovan, shown here, was an influential New York lawyer, a former Army colonel in WWI, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was close to FDR and pushed for a centralized intelligence program. He saw the need for a single national intelligence office to coordinate and control intelligence activities of the US.

FDR insisted the COI be a military organization. Donovan was recalled to active duty and FDR made him a major general in the Army. The Army, the powerhouse of the US military at the time, did not receive that well and did not approve of the new COI. It feared its intelligence operations would be at risk. FDR would add to the Army’s fears by having Donovan report directly to FDR.  China was to be the place where Donovan would have to fight his fight, both at home and in China.

Donovan was enamored with British commando units, which he saw as “a place for aggressive, small mobile forces which might greatly increase the enemy’s misery and weaken his will to resist.” This would be the basis upon which he would organize special operations. Recall Chiang and Tai Li had no use for the British. They therefore viewed Donovan with skepticism.

As a matter of interest, Donovan, with the help of Colonel M. Preston Goodfellow, USA, set out right away to train men for special operations in the Far East.

Donovan and his COI had a rough go of it. The FBI, Navy, Office of Naval Intelligence, the Army G-2 (Intelligence office on the US Army Staff) and the State Department each operated their own intelligence activities. Each worked to limit the power of the COI. I’ll return to Donovan and the COI shortly.

The Army’s Military Intelligence Division (MID) was led by Brigadier General Sherman Miles, USA, a long-time adversary of Donovan. Upon learning that FDR had approved the COI, General Miles immediately ordered the dispatch of an American military mission to China.

General Miles selected Brigadier General John Magruder, USA, shown here, an intelligence officer then at Ft. Devens, to lead the mission. The main purpose of the mission was said to be to implement the Lend-Lease Act with China. So far as Miles was concerned, the mission was to get the Army’s intelligence operational oar in China before Donovan.

The Navy (USN) had a long history of interests in China that dates back to as early as 1818, employing US gunboats to keep Chinese rivers, river ports, and ocean ports open to free commerce. The Yangtze River patrols were perhaps the best known.

USN ships landed Marines numerous times in China, at places such as Canton, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, to protect American trade interests and nationals. US forces were even in Peking. 

This photo shows a detachment of “China Marines” in Shanghai in 1900. In 1927, the US had 5,670 troops ashore in China and 44 naval vessels in her waters, almost always because of political unrest and violence inside China.

US Navy Asiatic Fleet ships covered the Chinese coast and rivers and Chinese ports in the North and South. In the 1930s, US Navy ships were routinely in Chinese ports. US commerce with China was of huge importance to the US, as was freedom of the seas. Asiatic Fleet ships visited China while the Japanese were invading China, from 1933 through the end of 1940. Our sailors and Marines witnessed the fighting, observed Japanese naval activity in Chinese ports, and found that reporting associated intelligence upstream proved increasingly important to the Navy and US policy makers. Watching Japanese naval activity in Chinese ports became a hallmark of covert Navy operations as time went on.

The Navy was the first to create an office of intelligence, in 1882 which became the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). It sent its officers abroad to gain knowledge (to wit spy) on foreign naval technology.

As an aside, President FDR was greatly interested in naval intelligence. He had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during WWI.

Admiral Earnest J. King, shown here. was Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet, meaning he was responsible for all US fleets worldwide.  Rear Admiral Willis “Doc” Lee became King’s chief of staff.  He had read a 1939 paper produced by Commander Milton Miles, USN that advocated having a USN presence in China to collect intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies.

Following the Japanese attack against the Hawaiian Islands, Admiral Lee directed Commander Miles to go to China to plan and establish the operation he had recommended in his paper. Miles worked with Colonel Xiao Bao, the Chinese military attaché in Washington, to develop such a plan. It turns out Colonel Xiao Bao worked directly for General Tai Li. 

Their plan set three goals:

  • Monitor weather in China as a predictor of Pacific Ocean weather
  • Recruit coast watchers to monitor Japanese shipping traffic in and out of coastal China
  • Prepare for a possible US invasion of China to defeat the Japanese who were occupying it which in turn would enable the US to attack Japan from China

Admiral King supported the Miles mission. King wanted it kept secret, though General George Marshall, USA, the Army’s chief of staff, was involved.

Admiral King’s vision was to push back the Japanese such that the US could invade the Pacific coast of China, most probably across the Formosa Strait (now the Strait of Taiwan) and drive through Manchuria to Korea, the latter also occupied by the Japanese. King also saw the need to pin down the some four million Japanese forces in China.

The Navy was hell-bent on building an intelligence organization in China. King did not want to depend solely on other sources of intelligence. He wanted his own intelligence sources.

As a result, the Navy set up Naval Group China (NGC) in 1942. It was the USN’s intelligence unit in China during World War II. The Navy promoted Commander Miles to the rank of captain, and put him in command of NGC. Miles, shown here, has written:

“Our Navy project in China wasn't even in the sampan stage in March, 1942, when I started to that land. A one-man force, I had verbal orders to investigate and carry on any work that might be of help to the United States Fleet in the next two or three years.

“Admiral Willis A. ("Ching") Lee, later of the battleships, had told me the morning after Pearl Harbor to ‘get on my horse’ and go to China to see what I could do about setting up intelligence and weather services there.”

In his book, The Dragon’s War: Allied Operations and the Fate of China, 1937-1947, Maochun Yu said King’s instructions to Miles were as follows:

“You are to go to China and set up some bases as soon as you can. The main idea is to prepare the China coast in any way you can for the US Navy landings in three or four years. In the meantime, do whatever you can to help the Navy and heckle the Japanese.”

Admiral King tasked Miles for this mission. Miles was to report directly to King. Miles also was to work under cover as a military attaché or US Naval Observer to China attached to the US embassy. Altogether, Miles had clout. Furthermore, Miles was to work alongside Chinese General Tai Li, the chief of China’s intelligence services.

Miles, Tai Li and the NGC were woven together. But keep in mind that technically NGC was a USN operation reporting to the USN. Also recall Miles was to report directly to Admiral King.

Capt. Miles arrived in China in May 1942. He and Tai Li created the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). It was a combined US-Chinese intelligence organization. Here you see Captain Miles (left) and General Tai Li (right) signing the formal SACO agreement on July 4, 1943. President FDR and General George Marshall, USA, the Army’s chief, of staff both approved. The agreement officially established SACO.  It took about four months to get this agreement. Delays had to deal with all the problems associated with translations. There also was considerable political maneuvering on both sides.

Tai Li would lead SACO, Capt. Miles would be his second. This was crucial to Tai Li, and Chiang.

General Tai Li was a prominent personality in China. He worked directly for Chiang Kai-shek. In addition to his being in charge of the Chinese Nationalist Secret Service, he also commanded a large militia force called the Loyal Patriotic Army (LPA). The LPA was active in Japanese-occupied interior regions of China. He also had connections to various Chinese bandit and pirate groups along the coast. He coveted his intelligence operations, distrusted foreigners, and was one tough cookie.

Recall Colonel Xiao Bao, the Chinese military attaché who worked with Miles to prepare an intelligence plan: he was subordinate to Tai Li. So the evolution of SACO was cast. 

The agreement established the need for a Navy component as the military means of organizing and managing the sailors assigned to conduct the training and any other activities required of them. The NGC did this.  would be synonymous with SACO among those involved.

SACO’s initial focus was on the weather, with five weathermen assigned. The SACO mission expanded greatly and quickly. Linda Kush, writing “The fighting’ forecasters: The US Navy in China in World War II,” wrote:

“Their (US-ROC through SACO) cooperation evolved into a multifaceted operation. In addition to weather monitoring, SACOs (sailors working for SACO) spied on Japanese troops and ships, blew up enemy supply depots, laid mines in rivers and harbors, rescued downed American pilots, and trained thousands of Chinese soldiers in guerrilla warfare. Navy aerologists thus found themselves in multiple roles, engaging Japanese forces and training Chinese recruits both as soldiers and weather technicians.”

JCS Policy Document 245 assigned Miles the responsibility to conduct US psychological warfare operations associated with China, Korea, Indochina and Thailand “in cooperation with and under the direction of the Director of SACO who is under the direct command of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.” This is curious since it seems to assign Tai Li some authority to operate in Korea, Indochina and Thailand.

The bottom line with regard to SACO is that the Chinese, with Tai Li in charge, would exercise considerable authority over the Americans. The Americans in turn got what they wanted --- good weather reporting, good intelligence on the enemy and ultimately covert combat operations harassing the enemy and the infrastructure he was using.

The Army among others did not like the SACO set-up. The Army wanted SACO under control of General Stilwell, USA, who was serving multiple roles as commander, US forces China and advisor to General Chiang. This did not happen, even though the Army at the time had the most clout among the US military departments.

SACO's headquarters was just northwest of Chongqing, on the grounds of Tai's country estate. The Americans called the estate "Happy Valley.” The photo shows SACO members with local children overlooking Happy Valley. S. Shepherd Tate, commented that Happy Valley was ”Tai Li’s tight little kingdom where the headquarters was located ... Happy Valley was not really a valley, but a series of rocky hills with towering mountains behind. Rice paddies were everywhere, and armed Chinese sentries guarded every path.” As best I can tell, “Happy Valley” was simply a codename for the place.

Miles described SACO’s character as follows:

“We hoisted no flag. We sounded no calls. We practiced no salutes and wore what was handy. We walked, hiked, and scrambled, but we never marched. It was a place to forget spit and polish but never cleanliness, to forget rank but not discipline.”

I need to switch gears in a big way and talk about the US Army Air Force (USAAF). I want to introduce you to its role in the CBI and to its leader there, General Claire Chennault.

The USAAF mission in the CBI fundamentally was to provide the ROC with air power. Its crews attacked Japanese ground forces and strategic targets, fended off Japanese air defenses, and flew re-supply missions over the Himalaya Mountains between India and southwest China.

The USAAF story in the CBI has to start when Claire Chennault was a captain, USAAF. He is a fascinating character and aviator.

While in the USAAF, he was a great advocate of pursuit flying. He had some health issues, some difficulties with his superiors, and failed to get promoted. He resigned from the USAAF in 1937. 

Chennault was keenly interested in China. He went there and began to train Chinese airman in 1937. It turned out Madame Chiang Kai-shek was the Secretary of the Aviation Committee. In effect she ran the ROC Air Force (ROCAF), which was in a shambles. Chennault would become her chief air advisor and he soon became the same to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang sent him on several missions to Washington to lobby for greater support to the ROCAF.

Chennault would over time lead the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG), popularly known as the “Flying Tigers.” This was a civilian air force, mostly Americans, using aircraft provided by the US. Technically, the AVG was under Chinese command. Its men flew against the Japanese in China.

After the US entered WWII, in 1942 the USAAF insisted the AVG be disbanded, and it was. That led to the formation of the China Air Task Force (CATF), composed of all USAAF members. I’m moving quickly through a mesmerizing bit of history.

The USAAF reinstated AVG Clair Chennault in the AAF at the rank of brigadier general, and assigned him to command the CATF, later promoting him to major general. The CATF was subordinate to the 10th Army Air Force (AAF) headquartered in India. In turn, the 10th AAF was subordinate to General Stilwell, who was in command of ground forces in China.

In reality Chennault dealt directly with Chiang Kai-shek.

In 1943, the CATF was disbanded and the 14th Air Force (AF) was established, headquartered in Kunming, China, in south-central China.  Its mission remained essentially guerrilla in nature: disrupt, harass and confuse the movements of a numerically superior enemy.

I should stop for a moment and talk a bit more about Kunming. The city was in southwest China, not far from northern Vietnam and northeast Burma, shown upper right on this map. It had vital transportation links. Prior to the Japanese invasions, Kunming had a rail link to Hanoi. The Burma Road also ran from Rangoon to Kunming, helping the city  develop as an industrial center. Rangoon in turn was connected to the Gulf of Martaban and on to the Andaman Sea, making Rangoon a port to the world. So supplies for the Chinese could flow from the Rangoon seaport to Kunming.

The Japanese captured Rangoon and occupied Burma, cut the rail line and the Burma Road, and blockaded lines from there to China.  As a result, the USAAF began flying supplies from India over the Himalaya Mountains, landing at Kunming. While that was happening, the Army built the Ledo Road from Ledo, India roughly to Bham where it connected up with that part of the Burma Road in China the Japanese had not closecd.

The USAAF would headquarter in Kunming and fly attack missions against Japanese forces in China and Vietnam. Finally, Chiang Kai-shek made it the National Redoubt in case the provisional capital at Chunking fell.

The net result was Kunming became a very important location to the Chinese and the Allies, including the French. They all wanted intelligence on the area, each launched covert activities in the region, and different motivations directed the course of each. So keep this in mind.

FDR had gone against the advice of his generals to make this Chenault appointment. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall termed Chennault disloyal, Chief of the AAF Henry H. Arnold rated him a crackpot, and Stilwell referred to him as a jackass. Depending on how you view life, Chennault was anything and everything but what they called him.

For our purposes here, Chennault’s fliers needed targeting intelligence, and that required covert deals and clandestine operations --- human intelligence. I’ll talk to that more a bit later.

Drop back now to General Donovan and his COI. The COI was opposed by many of the other US intelligence agencies. Donovan had FDR’s ear and pressed hard for a single organization to lead US intelligence activities worldwide. 

As a result, on June 13, 1942, FDR issued a military order creating the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to supercede the COI.

Its missions were to collect and analyze strategic information required by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and to conduct special operations not assigned to other agencies. It would report to the JCS, in keeping with FDR’s desire for the COI to be military.

Donovan was a great believer in special operations, covert operations. He set out very early to train men for special operations in the Far East.

Initially the JCS was not pleased to be responsible for the OSS. Nonetheless, in 1942 the JCS agreed to the establishment of the Special Operation Branch (SO) within the OSS, and further agreed to partner with the British SOE. The JCS in late 1942 also agreed to authorize the OSS to run American counterinsurgency units behind enemy lines.

For purposes of the Chinese leadership, this evolution struck a sour chord.

Recall that both Chiang and Tai Li were fed up with the British SOE. Just days before Capt. Miles left the US bound for China, Tai Tai Li announced the US would replace the SOE as the foreign intelligence operator in China.

Furthermore, both Chiang and Tai Li detested what were known as “Old China Hands.” Having heard of the formation of the OSS with General Donovan at its lead, and knowing of Donovan’s respect for British intelligence, both Chiang and Tai Li were sure Donovan would hire up “Old Hands” who would work against the Chinese leadership. Moreover, Tai Li distrusted anyone other than those under his direct control conducting intelligence activities in China. That included the American OSS. Chiang and Tai did not want to depend on intelligence produced by the OSS.

Donovan adamantly opposed the SACO arrangement. He did not like Tai Li leading SACO with Miles as his second. Even worse, the SACO agreement said Miles, a Navy man, would be in charge of Donovan’s OSS agents.

Donovan and his people were eager to get into China, especially those regions closest to Japan. But he wanted the OSS to be in charge of clandestine USk operations in China, and he wanted to insert his own agents into China and be in charge of them.

Nonetheless, the Miles appointment was written into the SACO agreement.

Donovan, for the time being, would have to accept the deal. His only option was to bring Miles into the OSS fold. He reluctantly agreed to appoint Miles as Chief of OSS Activities in the Asiatic Theater, giving Miles control over all OSS activity in China.

Donovan had another issue. As said earlier, SACO's mission had expanded greatly and DFonovan wanted to control much of it,l especially the covert special operations.

General Tai Lee was one tough character, referred to by some as China’s “Himmler.” He was adamant about maintaining compete control over all clandestine activity in China. The Chinese set up one obstacle after another to block OSS efforts to get in on its own.

But Donovan was no push-over either. A lawyer by trade, Donovan did not see the SACO agreement as binding, but instead as strict guidance, just another piece of paper subject to interpretation. Donovan also kept hammering away at SACO’s control over his OSS agents.

Donovan and his people, many of whom were lawyers, inundated Miles with legal papers addressing command and control and the types of operations that could be conducted.

To Donovan, Tai Li and Miles seemed too content with the SACO setup.  SACO did not offer the OSS an avenue through which to conduct intelligence operations; the OSS had been relegated by SACO to work as a logistics section. This was not going to work for Donovan, who even now had a vision of the OSS providing long-term political and commercial intelligence beyond 1945, which is what its successor, the CIA would do.

Throughout much of 1943, Donovan kept trying to weave himself into control of OSS operations in China. He failed at almost every attempt to dislodge SACO, General Tai Li and Capt. Miles.

There was an exception. In December 1943 the OSS created an outfit known as Detachment 202 at Chungking. OSS had such a detatchment working in Burma, called Det 101. Detachment 101’s mission in Burma was to collect intelligence on enemy order of battle, find targets for the 10th AAF, rescue downed Allied aircrews, and recruit native troops to serve as guerrillas. Donovan felt this was a way to orchestrate a workaround with regard to SACO in China.

Therefore Det 202 had much the same mission as Det 101, and arguably the same mission as SACO. Formed in 1943, based at Kunming, at first it operated under the NGC, Chinese intelligence and SACO, much to Donovan’s chagrin. Detachment 202 as a result was very limited in what it could do. SACO had relegated it to logistics duties. However, that changed later when Lt. General Albert Wedemeyer, USA, who had replaced Stilwell as the Army theater commander for China and Vietnam, pulled the OSS under his command. That enabled Det 202 to operate covertly with a mission to tie down as many Japanese troops as possible. More on Wedemeyer later.

Along with this development, in December 1943 came a bombshell. General Donovan took the “bull by the horn” and fired Miles from his position as the OSS chief in China. He assigned Colonel John Coughlin, shown here, to that role.

Coughlin had served with Det 101 in Burma. Miles, however, remained number two at SACO. But he was fired from the OSS position, Miles focused on providing comprehensive weather maps for the Pacific Fleet. He sent them daily until the end of the war. 

I am not exactly sure how Donovan pulled this off given Tai Li’s presence and Chiang’s distrust of the OSS, though I have found a clue.

On his way to fire Miles, Donovan stopped off to visit General Chennault, now commander 14th AAF, which focused on air operations over China. Chennault was a strong advocate of good intelligence information. He had a relationship with SACO which included SACO passing targeting intelligence information to Chennault’s pilots. While it seemed like this relationship was working, over time tensions grew between Miles and SACO on the one hand and the 14th AAF on the other.

Donovan understood this. Donovan also knew he needed a cover to break his OSS people away from SACO. During their meeting in December 1943, Chennault and Donovan agreed to work together. Chennault saw this as a way to get more intelligence on the ground situation than he was getting just through SACO.

But Donovan had a problem --- the OSS was legally prohibited from working in China outside SACO. So Donovan and Chennault agreed to keep their relationship quiet. Chennault told his people not to inform Miles or Tai Li of the setup. He also obtained Donovan’s agreement to put their new group under 14th AAF command.

Chennault’s deputy, Capt. Carl Hoffman, developed a way to conceal the 14th AAF-OSS connection. The 14th AAF set up the 5329th Air and Ground Forces Resources and Technical Staff (AGFRTS), affectionately known as the “Ag-farts,” and placed the OSS people under its wing --- to wit, under its cover. This effectively was an OSS-14th AAF 5329th AGFRTS merger of convenience.

A small OSS detachment was set up in Kunming, and worked with the Ag-fart analysts. The net result was that Chennault started receiving valuable intelligence from OSS people operating behind Japanese lines, far better than was being produced by SACO. By the way, men from the 5329th also provided Chennault intelligence on the Chinese.

So the Ag-fart arrangement worked well. Chennault’s people were so happy with the resulting intelligence that the OSS was able by August 1944 to locate OSS agents throughout China. As of August 26, 1944, all OSS branches in China, including a highly regarded Resources Technical Staff, merged with the Ag-fart unit. Whether Chiang and Tai Li knew about it or not, neither would challenge Chennault as they needed his air power badly. The OSS was effectively operating in China whether Chiang or Tai Li liked it or not.

I must now introduce you to Laurence Gordon, a Canadian and British subject who had worked for Cal-Texaco in Indochina for many years. Gordon left Haiphong after the Japanese invaded and occupied the area. But Cal-Tex urged him to go back in 1941 to look after the company’s interests there.

Gordon went to the US War Department with a plan to organize an intelligence unit in French Indochina. The US referred him to the British who in turn wanted the plan to conduct intelligence in China instead of Indochina. As things turned out, the chief of British intelligence in India wanted him to concentrate on Indochina, and offered equipment, so that’s what Gordon decided to do. British intelligence provided him the cover, sent him to New Delhi, and secretly commissioned him a captain in military intelligence. He was to work with the French military mission in Chungking and set up an intelligence network in Vietnam. A Chinese admiral authorized him to operate in the Kwangsi (Guangxi) province which bordered Tonkin, not far from Hanoi or Haiphong.

In 1942 Gordan was joined by two Americans, Harry Bernard and Frank Tan, the former British, the latter a Chinese-American. Both were also former Texaco colleagues. The group now came to be known as the Gordon-Bernard-Tan (GBT) group.

The GBT was operating a clandestine intelligence network in Vietnam. It was doing so well the OSS wanted to bring it into the fold. The OSS had developed the Ag-fart relationship as a way to work around SACO and General Tai Li. By September 1944 OSS assigned an officer to the GBT,  Lt. Charles Fenn. The OSS continued expanding its operations and increasingly brought the GBT under its supervisory wing. 

Let's drop back to the Navy. In 1943 it launched a flurry of new organizations for clandestine maritime operations in Europe and rthe Pacific. The Navy had many needs.

One of those was codename Codename Special Services Unit One (SSU-1). RAdm. Daniel “Uncle Dan” Barbey, USN, commanding officer, Amphibious 7th Fleet, established it in July 1943 in the Pacific. It was quite a secret at the time, and not a lot is written today about it. SSU-1 was a combined (more than one country) joint (more than one service) unit with people from Australia and the US Army, Navy and Marines. The Navy-Seal Museum wrote:

“They were trained in martial arts, hand to hand combat, map making, rubber-craft operations, jungle survival training, Pidgin English, underwater coral formations, and sea-creatures recognition.”

Admiral King was interested in landing forces in China, most probably from Formosa (present-day Taiwan). Pat and Hank Staudt wrote this about the development of SSU-1:

“(There was) a need for precise and accurate intelligence about (amphibious) landing sites. This meant there was a need for forming a unique, highly skilled, and cohesive force unlike any the military had ever seen before. The duties these men would be required to perform would be hazardous in the extreme. They required the abilities of men of very differing background, training, and experience to subordinate individual identities and work successfully in unison and covertly to achieve crucial goals. This group was needed because of the failure of aerial photos and no onsite recon to produce precise intelligence about landing sites.”

Another need was to get up close to Chinese coastal waters, lakes and rivers. Admiral King set up a program named "Amphibous Roger" to operate on such bodies of water using small steams and sampans.  The idea was to collect inteligence on Japanese occupation forces, especially those afloat. The Naval men in this program were also to survey potential landing beaches for an invasion of mainland China, and report on Japanese movements, weather, tides, and obstacles.

Amphibious landings were at the time the bread and butter of the march to Japan. Navy Seabess, Scouts & Rangers, and underwater demolition teams (UDT) all participated.

The OSS in turn saw that it needed a maritime capability. In January 1943, the OSS established a Maritime Unit (MU). Its task was to plan and coordinate agent infiltrations, supply resistance groups, conduct maritime sabotage, and develop special equipment to be used from the sea. The MU had men from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines in its ranks. The MU employed special boat infiltration tactics.

As you probably have suspected by mnow, there was a lot of bureaucracy that enveloped all these many intelligence endeavors in China. However, as history wouild have it, there was some light at the end of the tunnel with the assignment of Lt. General Albert Wedemeyer, USA to replace General Stilwell. 

FDR had wanted Stilwell to command all Chinese fores instead of Chiang Kai-shek since things were not going well for the Chinese force. FDR sent an ultimatum that would force Chiang to accept Stilwell in this position or lose all American financial aid. Unfortunately, Stilwell gave the note directly to Chiang with no diplomatic preparation, Chiang was very upset, and FDR felt he had to recall Stilwell for his indiscretion.

So Wedemeyer, shown here, posted in Europe, was sent to replace Stilwell in China. He was a highly regarded officer and military planner. He did not have many US forces under his command. General Chennault’s 14th AAF was the most significant. Chennault by now had a good mix of fighters, including the new P-51 “Mustang” fighter, medium and heavy bombers, and transport aircraft. Chennault’s crews began intensive attacks against Japanese supply centers and railways and damaged the Japanese war making capacity significantly.

General Wedemeyer was no fool. He was a military man. He was a West Point graduate. He became an important authority on German tactical operations, and he had General George Marshall’s ear. Furthermore, he was a planner. Indeed my sense is that when Wedemeyer arrived, the hammer started coming down.

He was displeased with many things. He found China fighting the Japanese and also immersed in a civil war between the Nationalist Chinese and the Communist Chinese. Each side often was more interested in fighting the other than fighting the Japanese. He also found gaping holes in US intelligence in China and Vietnam. He was not pleased with the British, asserting they were focused more on economic and political intelligence about China than about the enemy, the Japanese. In fact, he learned that the British opposed the American idea of a strong unified China and an effective Chinese force fighting the Japanese.

And finally, he also complained about two more intelligence related issues. First, he did not like British intelligence penetration into China and French Indochina. Second, he complained there were too many intelligence outfits operating in China. He wrote to General Marshall and said:

“One outstanding weakness in the Allied war effort in China is the fact that there are so many different (intelligence) agencies operating independently and uncoordinated, running at cross purposes.”

Included in this latter complaint was his problem with turf warfare among the various US intelligence agencies. Wedemeyer’s list of agencies included the OSS, NGC-SACO, the 5329th AGFRTS, the Air-Ground Air Section (AGAS), and British intelligence.

Wedemeyer decided to meet with General Tai Li specifically to talk about SACO and NGC, and his own newly established command. They met in January 1945. By this time Tai Li had a lot of problems with SACO and especially with Capt. Miles. Xiao Bao, with whom Milton Miles set up SACO, explained SACO’s functions to Wedemeyer. This convinced Wedemeyer that he needed to remove NGC from Tai Li’s control. Wedemeyer and Miles flew to Washington and the general won his argument. The SACO agreement was to be amended to place NGC under theater command and operational control, to wit under General Wedemeyer. However, Tai Li did not agree and neither did Admiral King.

Wedemeyer did get “authority” over SACO. Miles’ direct link to Admiral King remained and King retained operational control over the NGC and Miles. Maochun Yu, in his book
OSS in China, remarked, “So the dual status of Miles and the ambiguity of command over the navy contingent still lingered inside SACO.”

In March 1945 General Wedemeyer gained control over SACO despite Admiral King's protest. Miles remained the commanding officer of US Navy's NGC through the end of the war.

By 1945, SACO’s strength was 2,964 Navy, Army and Marines with 97,000 organized Chinese guerrillas and perhaps 20,000 “loners” such as pirates and saboteurs.

I'll close here.

Friday, May 28, 2021

USN covert ops in China: Part 1, War Plan Orange and SACO

The US Navy (USN) began planning for war with Japan in 1897. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan ORANGE: The US Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. This naval war planning was done mostly in secret. In the early decades US relations with Japan were at various stages of friendly and not-so-friendly. 

There was virtually no senior American official who could contemplate a war with Japan. 

But the navy planners could. They simply looked at the map of the Pacific islands, studied the Japanese penchant for economic development and expansion, and deduced that there was a likelihood somewhere down the line Japan might attack some or all of these islands, many of which were under some sphere of US influence, many of which were under European spheres of influence.

Military planners recognized shortly after 1900 that Marine expeditionary forces capable of rapid deployment would be necessary in the future. By 1920 the Navy had decided it would build for the future in accordance with War Plan ORANGE. It ordered the Marine Corps to be ready to launch expeditionary forces on short notice from the West Coast for a naval campaign in the Pacific. It then added the East Coast for Atlantic and Caribbean contingencies later.


Amphibious warfare became a firm new wartime mission for the Marines: amphibious assault to seize and defend advanced bases.

In line with the idea of “War Plan Orange,” a Navy commander named Milton Miles emerged as a key figure in covert operations in China. He had served with the Asiatic Fleet in China aboard the gunboat USS Pecos and four others along the Yangtze River between 1922 and 1927. During this time, he picked up basic Cantonese, Fujianese, and Mandarin language skills and learned to appreciate Chinese culture. He admired the Chinese. 

In 1939, Miles wrote a paper advocating a US Navy presence in China as a means to obtain intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies. This turned out to be an important paper. Miles turned out to be a most important figure, as you will see.

The USN had a long history of interests in China that dates back to as early as 1818, employing US gunboats to keep Chinese rivers, river ports, and ocean ports open to free commerce. USN Asiatic Fleet ships covered the Chinese coast and rivers and Chinese ports in the North and South. In the 1930s, US Navy ships were seen routinely in Chinese ports. US commerce with China was of huge importance to the US, as was freedom of the seas.

US sailors and Marines witnessed the Japanese invasion of China and observed Japanese naval activity in Chinese ports. Reporting associated intelligence upstream proved increasingly important to the Navy and US policy makers. Watching Japanese naval activity in Chinese ports became a hallmark of covert Navy operations as time went on.

The US had refused to recognize the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The US also refused to accept Japanese domination of China and the Asian mainland following the invasion of China in 1937. The US estimated that fully 80 percent of Japanese ground forces were in China during WWII. In effect, the Japanese invasion of China had reached a stalemate by the late 1930s. Therefore, it was critical to keep these Japanese pinned down and engaged.

In 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) announced the defense of China was vital to the defense of the US.

The Japanese ended up attacking the Hawaiian islands on December 7, 1941. The US declared war on Japan on December 8, and against Germany on December 11. Global warfare was on.

On December 18, 1941 the USN re-established the position of Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, Admiral Earnest J. King in command. He was given operational command over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Asiatic Fleets, and all naval coastal forces.

In early 1942, Rear Admiral Willis “Doc” Lee became King’s chief of staff. He had read Commander Milton Miles’ paper of 1939 advocating a US Navy presence in China as a means to obtain intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies.

Once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Admiral Lee told Cdr. Miles to plan the operation he had recommended, largely because of his faith in Miles’ knowledge of China. Miles worked with Major Xiao Bo (Bao), the Chinese military attaché in Washington, to develop such a plan. Their plan set three goals:
  • Monitor weather in China as a predictor of Pacific Ocean weather
  • Recruit coast watchers to monitor Japanese shipping traffic in and out of coastal China
  • Prepare for a possible US invasion of China to defeat the Japanese who were occupying it which in turn would enable the US to attack Japan from China
At the time, the Kuomintang (KMT) was the political party governing what was known as the Republic of China (ROC) on the mainland, led by Generalissimo Chang Kai-shek. At the time, Mao Tse Tung and Chiang were locked in a civil war, one that began before WWII, another that started up again after the war.
Chiang Kai-shek and the US had already agreed to cooperate shortly after the start of the war. Chiang named Chinese General Tai Li (also Dai Li), the Chief of the KMT secret service in China, to lead from the Chinese side. Tai Li is shown here. The program was to be held closely, secretively. Its cover name was the “Friendship Project.

Major Xiao Bao, who was working with Miles, actually worked for General Tai Li, making him an agent of Tai Li.  

Miles set out for China in April 1942 with his plan, arriving there in May. Just days before, Tai Li announced the US would replace the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) as the foreign intelligence operator in China.

Significant US Navy covert efforts in Asia emerged in 1942 with the establishment of Naval Group China (NGC) and the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Viewed broadly, NGC was the USN’s intelligence gathering unit in China, while SACO was a combined US-Chinese intelligence gathering organization. 

One more organization must be highlighted here, the US Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. It was the predecessor to the CIA. General William Donovan, shown here, was its leader.

The OSS was formed in June 1942 as an agency of the to coordinate US espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the US military. It was the predecessor to the CIA.
In sum, and just skimming the surface, what you have here is SACO, designed as a Chinese-American intelligence gathering organization, the OSS, a US intelligence gathering organization subordinate at the time to the US military JCS, and NGC, a USN intelligence gathering organization in China. NGC for the most part worked under the SACO umbrella.

It took about four months to get an agreement for the Friendship Project. Prior to achieving agreement, the Chinese dropped a bombshell on the Americans. The agreement was in Washington awaiting approvals from President FDR and General George Marshall, the Army’s chief of staff. Tai Li cabled Washington and told the brass he would accept no revision to the agreement draft, there would be no British involvement, and SACO must have command and control over all OSS activities in China. 

This latter requirement was a huge surprise to the Americans because it meant Tai Li would control the OSS in China, even if it were through Capt. Miles. Donovan desperately wanted to get his agents into China, but under his direct control, not Tai Li’s. Despite protests from manhy quarters, FDR and Marshall gave their agreement.

The agreement officially established SACO. Here you see Capt. Miles and General Tai Li signing the formal agreement on July 4, 1943. 

The Chinese general had some issues, though:  

  • Tai Li did not like anything about British intelligence methods, or the British for that matter, perhaps with good cause. The British, some believed, were more interested in the Chinese than in the Japanese.
  • Chiang and Tai Li detested what were known as “Old China Hands.” Having heard of the formation of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) with General Donovan, at its lead, and knowing of Donovan’s respect for British intelligence, both Chiang and Tai Li were sure Donovan would hire up “Old Hands” who would work against the Chinese leadership. 
  • And, as indicated above, Tai Li distrusted anyone other than those under his direct control conducting intelligence activities in China. That included the American OSS.
Tai Li would control the OSS in China, even if it were through Capt. Miles. Donovan desperately wanted to get his agents into China, but under his direct control, not Tai Li’s.

There was considerable negative reaction among senior American officials to this latter Chinese requirement. Miles made it patently clear to all hands that if the OSS control concept were dropped from the agreement, there would be considerable upheaval within China, specifically with Tai Li and Chiang. The net result was the SACO agreement so stipulated the latter point and the OSS in China would be under Chinese control.

General Tai Li would lead SACO, Capt. Miles would be his second. This was crucial to Tai Li, and Chiang. From what I have read, the US at the highest levels had few if any problems with this. This is at least partly because Admiral King viewed obtaining the weather intelligence to be crucial to fleet operations in the Pacific. 

Furthermore, everyone understood this agreement was more than reporting the weather. Washington wanted to be a part of the covert activities that would ensue. 

The agreement established the need for a Navy component as the military means of organizing and managing the men assigned to conduct the training and any other activities required of them. This duty belonged to the NGC. NGC became synonymous with SACO among those involved.

The political intrigue surrounding SACO, NGC, OSS and the Chinese leadership is absorbing. The OSS especially wanted to know what the Navy was doing on the ground in China. I will discuss this intrigue in a separate second part to this report, to be published soon.

This Part One report highlights some stories about the SACO sailors out in the field, including those who participated in the expansion of the SACO mission list to include combat operations against the Japanese in China, mostly covert.

It all started with the weather, high on Admiral King’s “to-do” list.

The Chinese had three weather agencies which agreed to provide SACO timely weather. But communications were unsatisfactory. So SACO set up its own weather net, and trained Chinese and Thais to be weathermen. This photo shows SACO men training Chinese in operating the radios.

By the end of 1942, SACO had set up a “Weather Central” near Chungking. It was sending regular weather reports from multiple occupied areas in the Far East to the US fleet. China assigned many undercover forces to protect the Americans. SACO’s initial focus was on the weather, with five weathermen assigned.

The Americans were flown into China from Calcutta, India. SACO’s men set up weather, communications and intelligence stations all the way from the border of Vietnam to the northern Gobi Desert. Much of the activity was behind enemy lines along the Chinese coast. The Americans disguised themselves often as coolies. With the help of the undercover Chinese forces, they were generally able to transit enemy lines undisturbed.

Most of the sailors belonging to SACO were Seabees and many came from the Navy’s Scouts & Raiders because of their experience in covert operations. They served all over China and became known as the “Rice Paddy Navy.”

As expected by the Americans, the SACO mission expanded greatly and quickly. Linda Kush, writing “The fighting’ forecasters: The US Navy in China in World War II,” wrote:

“Their (US-ROC through SACO) cooperation evolved into a multifaceted operation. In addition to weather monitoring, SACOs spied on Japanese troops and ships, blew up enemy supply depots, laid mines in rivers and harbors, rescued downed American pilots, and trained thousands of Chinese soldiers in guerrilla warfare. Navy aerologists thus found themselves in multiple roles, engaging Japanese forces and training Chinese recruits both as soldiers and weather technicians.”

The Chinese would exercise considerable authority over the Americans. But the Americans would get what they wanted --- good weather reporting, good intelligence on the enemy and ultimately covert combat operations harassing the enemy and infrastructure he was using. 

Miles wrote about his US Naval Group in the Navy’s Proceedings Magazine, July 1946 when he was at the rank of Rear Admiral. He wrote that while the US was most interested in weather and intelligence, SACO had to set up a series of training camps to train the guerrillas. He wrote:

“The course of instruction in the camps included the care and use of weapons, guerrilla tactics, amphibious tactics, scouting, patrolling, mapping, and general field work. Our students came from the columns of the Chinese Commando Army.”  


Tai Li and Miles agreed the US Navy would train a 50,000-strong Chinese guerrilla force under the combined command of both nations, under the cover “Friendship Project.” This photo shows a SACO-trained Chinese guerrilla unit, date unknown, I believe in Foochow

The Americans usually went out with the Chinese units since the best advice they could provide would only come if they were in the field with the Chinese. Sabotage units conducted raids against Japanese forces and installations.

Let’s meet Dayton L. Alverson, then a Radioman First Class, USN, a PhD in this later photo.

He was trained to intercept enemy communications. Alverson was trained in Morse code, Japanese Morse code intercept, and radio direction finding (RDF), and was told he would be working on a secret mission.

After attaining the rank of petty officer, he was put on a train to Chicago, then to a top secret radio intelligence facility in Wisconsin. He then learned he was being shipped to a “special navy group in China.” He was not to discuss anything with anyone. After some stops in Washington and a few family visits, he was given “a set of green khaki work clothes, several pairs of dress khaki pants and shirts, army shoes and socks, and a standard GI knife.”

He was allowed to keep his Navy dungarees but was told to ship all the rest of his navy uniforms home. Then he got some knife, hand-to-hand combat, and small arms training and a few words of Chinese. He was told he would be doing work other than Radio Direction Finding (RDF). He was told to inform the family it would not hear from him very often.

He sailed to Bombay, took a train to Calcutta, and flew on a C-47 aircraft across the Himalaya Mountains, known as “Over the Hump,” to the base camp at Kunming, China. Kunming had become a training hub for the Chinese Nationalist Army. He was then told of his mission.

Alverson was told he was going alone, not with his colleagues with whom he had been traveling. He hopped into a jeep the next day, went to a nearby airfield, met a couple other guys from the general communications group, boarded a C-46 transport and was told by the skipper they would fly “about 800 miles over enemy territory with no fighter escort.” Alverson was given a Thompson sub-machine gun.

They landed at a 14th AAF airfield at Changting. This was the only 14th AAF field the Japanese had not closed. Actually, the pilot had to abort his first landing attempt when he spotted two Japanese Zeros landing at the field --- the skipper had the wrong airfield, so he had to give his C-46 everything it had to climb rapidly and somehow make it over the mountains. He then found Changting and landed safely!

He volunteered for duty near Amoy Island, which was occupied by the Japanese, and was flown to Zhangping, about 65 miles northwest of Amoy (now known as Xiamen). He traveled to a small encampment 25 miles north of Amoy. This camp was called Camp Six. The camp had recently opened about 45 miles from the coast of China, in the mountains, behind enemy lines.

 The photo shows Camp Six in August 1944, shortly after construction.

His description of the travel to Camp Six is a real eye opener: met at the airport by two SACO-trained Chinese guerrilla officers, then put on a bus winding up and down mountains, sometimes having to get out and push the bus up the hills, through lots of villages, then a hike on a trail to a river, then on a sampan, over some impressive rapids to Changting, where he was met by several SACO-trained guerrillas; back on the river, clearly heading downstream toward the western Pacific to the River of Nine Dragons, into a village, then into a smaller sampan and back on the river, over some more rapids and to the river bank. 

There he was let out, met by some khaki-clad Americans, taken up a steep trail and there she was, Camp Six, situated next to a river and rice paddies. The camp was bamboo fenced, about 100 by 60 yds, an ancient temple, a few other buildings for enlisted, officers, and a four “hole” toilet facility. They used a bamboo piping system to bring water into the camp. It took him six days to get here from Changting. There were about 20 Americans, 18 Navy and two Marines. 

Alverson said, “Camp Six was one of a series of navy facilities built in a no man’s land between Japanese coastal forces and those that occupied much of central China.” 

He wrote further:

“In cooperation with Chiang’s forces, the US Navy had managed to establish guerrilla units from north of Shanghai to south of Hong Kong. In west China, the Navy worked with Chiang’s forces in Kunming and Chunking and, to the north, in the Gobi desert. The number of Americans in each camp was small. In total, there were perhaps six hundred to eight hundred SACO American navy men scattered behind Japanese lines, training Chinese guerrilla forces, monitoring the weather, collecting intelligence data, rescuing downed pilots, and harassing Japanese forces wherever possible. In addition, the SACO units deployed coast watchers that spied on Japanese garrisons and reported troop movements and shipping activities in the major Chinese harbors.”

Alverson’s job was to intercept encrypted Japanese radio transmissions. He set up an intercept and radio direction finding (RDF) facility, operated it, and sent his intercepts and bearings back to Chunking, always with his carbine and a .45 pistol at his side. He helped train the Chinese with their weapons, shooting, breaking them down, cleaning them, and reassembling them. Others trained them on the use of explosives. There was also a plan to set up a weather station there.

There were rumors the Japanese intended to come up and get them, but they would have to come a fairly long distance upstream, a costly endeavor. 

There was a large contingent of SACO Chinese soldiers guarding the area. 

There were two Marines in Camp Six. They led more than 100 Chinese guerrillas to the south and attacked a number of Japanese facilities, killing and wounding several dozen enemy.

Alverson would later learn one of his colleagues, a fellow radioman, Alfred W. Parsons, was captured while spying on coastal activities. He was sent to a small island with Chinese Captain Lin in the estuary to observe Japanese activities in Amoy Harbor. After the war, Alverson found out that Parsons had been interrogated, beaten, then transferred to a prison camp on Formosa where he was again beaten, tortured and confined. He was then sent to the Tokyo POW Camp Shinjuku Tokyo Bay Area 3 prison camp in Japan and experienced the same routine.

Admiral Miles wrote about an event that occurred, I believe, in 1945:

“A young naval officer, Ensign John N. Mattmiller from Commander Halperin's Unit Six, learned that a Japanese freighter of about 1,000 tons had put into Amoy Harbor for repairs. Mattmiller’s task was to attack that freighter.”

Mattmiller was also at Camp Six and asked Alverson for some help training Chinese swimmers how to use explosives and destroy enemy ships. The Chinese had to tie five-to-ten-pound rocks to their wastes using a slipknot.

Admiral Miles continued:

“With four Chinese guerrillas he commandeered a junk, got hold of a supply of explosives, and set out under cover of darkness to sink the freighter. Mattmiller used the swimming abilities of his trainees. In a secluded part of the Amoy Harbor shore line they stripped, tied the explosives charges around their necks, and swam out to the freighter. In darkness they moved around the ship, placing magnetic mines and charges of the soft ‘Comp C’ explosive on the hull, the rudder, and the propeller. Then they swam back to the junk.” 

The ship was seen the next day lying on its side. They then mined the river estuary. 

It turns out that Alverson swam with Mattmiller and the Chinese to help them if someone got into trouble. If they did have a problem, they could pull on the rope and jettison the rocks.     

Lt. Commander Halperin was Robert Sherman “Buck” Halperin, USN, a former football player with Notre Dame and Wisconsin, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the NFL. Once WWII broke out, he joined the Navy and was put onto a secret program in the first class of what became known as Navy Scouts & Raiders. War correspondent William H. Stoneman wrote of Halperin: 

"His job is to mark beaches for the assault, infantry, a daring, intricate job, calling for as much brain as courage, and barrels of both."

He served in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. As commanding officer of US Naval Unit Six he and his SACO men served behind enemy lines in Fujian Province.

As an aside, Halperin was an American Star class sailor, and Olympic bronze medalist and Pan American Games gold medalist. He was one of Chicago's most-decorated World War II heroes, co-founder of Lands End, and chairman of Commercial Light Company. It has been written, "While out-numbered and facing an enemy with superior equipment, he attacked the enemy with ambushes and in pitched battles, significantly depleting their forces. He was located in Chongqing, Kunming, Camp 6, Huaan, Zhangzhou, Gulangyu, and Shanghai." He received the Navy Cross, Silver Star and the Nationalist Chinese government's Yun Hui "Cloud Banner", its highest honor.

SACO had many agents covering a wide area, some of whom got into the court of Hirohito, secret Diet meetings, and into Japanese headquarters. Communicating the take was hard, and often required using Americans dressed as coolies to operate as runners. 

The Americans directed 14th AAF fighters against a multitude of targets. US submarines would surface three times a day to get intelligence on Japanese shipping and naval movements. They helped rescue downed airmen and briefed aircrews on the best places to put down if they ran into trouble. Almost all SACO work was done behind enemy lines and close to Japanese forces.

Miles set up at Hankow (now Wuhan), on the Yangtze River about 420 miles west of Shanghai. I want to highlight the Yangtze Raiders, designated by SACO as Unit 13, Lt. Joseph E. Champe in command. In his book History of United States Naval Operations in WWII: The Liberation of the Philippines, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote about them. The following was drawn from his book.

Champe and his team of five men set up shop 50 miles south of the Yangtze River in July 1944. His men trained some 500 Chinese in guerrilla operations. 

In December 1944, in the cold of winter, his men headed out and by mid-February came to a lake near the Yangtze.

 It turned out they were surrounded by 2000 Japanese troops and 8,000 “puppet” troops, a few shown here in Shanghai in 1941. The “puppet” troops were members of Chinese collaborationist armies, many of which were located in northern China. Japanese troops commanded them.

The Japanese knew Champe’s men were where they were. The Chinese guerrilla commander sent out a squad to create a disturbance which drew off enough Japanese to create a gap in their main body. The rest of the guerrillas snuck through that gap, blew up bridges, cut telephone and telegraph lines and harassed the Japanese forces. 

In March, a second Yangtze team overcame Japanese guards and destroyed their warehouses. There were also three Yangtze Raider teams of saboteurs, teams of three men each. One of these blew up an ammunition train in April 1944, smart enough to wait for the reconnaissance train to pass in order to blow up the tracks needed by the ammunition train. The explosion blew off the locomotive and seven cars. Another team sank two steamers using a clever explosive installation design of Champe’s. 

I also want to highlight the coast watchers. SACO began training Chinese coast watchers in June 1944. The coast from Shanghai to Hong Kong is about 800 miles. The headquarters for tracking Japanese shipping was at Changchow, about 25 miles inland. SACO divided that sector into five intelligence divisions, or nets. Each net had 5-12 Chinese coast watchers and guerrillas equipped with small radios. I have read that the teams also included two USN men each.

In his book History of United States Naval Operations in WWII: The Liberation of the Philippines, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that USN men were with the Chinese starting in fall 1944. Miles said they “wore Chinese clothes and sandals, ate sitting on their heels and walked with the bounced cadence common to the Chinese with their spongy yo-yo poles.” The Chinese needed the Americans as they had a tough time identifying ships without US help.

This is an interesting story about then Commander E.B. “Gene” Fluckey, who commanded the USS Barb (SS-220). His group had worked against a Japanese convoy off Formosa but could find no more targets. SACO had been reporting the Japanese were using Lam Yit Bay, about 80 miles northeast of Amoy. SACO also said the Japanese were moving their shipping close to shore in shallow water in daylight.

After thinking this through, Fluckey ran his submarine along with a group of junks, through some very shallow waters. Then one SACO coast watcher, Sgt. William M. Stewart, USMC, reported 11 Japanese transports anchored two miles south of his location. Stewart sent a couple pirates out to see what was going on.

In the mean time, Fluckey maneuvered into position through suspected minefields and found the transports anchored in three columns over two miles. He ordered his crew to fire a spread of 10 torpedoes at what Fluckey called “the most beautiful target of the war.” He hit at least eight, sinking one (other sources say four), setting fires to many others, and then rushed out to deeper water where he could submerge!

Fluckey, nicknamed “Lucky Fluckey,” received the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses as one of the top USN submarine commanders of the war. He rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. I have found a source that says Fluckey would not admit to receiving SACO intelligence. Morison wrote that instead he intercepted SACO coast watcher messages to HQ at Changchow and from there to Chungking. He did intercept the report that set him up for these kills!

I've done a more in-depth story on the Barb and Fluckey. It's "USS Barb, WWII: "Galloping Ghost of Chinese Coast."

One final story about the SACO men.

This is a photo of Specialist First Class W. Ellsworth “Smitty” Smith, USN, trained as a Seabee, in China during the last months of the war. Smitty provides some interesting insights in his letters. 

He said in July 1945 LCdr. Robert J. Schoettler, USN, was sent to Kunming to recruit a group for the SACO Intelligence Unit, his group called “PACT Shot.” PACT Shot was tasked to get into Japanese occupied territory on China’s east coast, and prepare hydrographic surveys of the coast in preparation for Allied landings in Fukien province. The group, all Navy, was flown from India over the Himalayan Hump to Kunming, then traveled by foot and truck over the Ledo Road to set up their training facility at Camp Gibbins, south of Kunming, in August 1945.

The photo is of the group at Gibbins. There were 50 of them.

SACO people trained them. General Tai Li’s troops guarded them. They were then to fly to Kienow, but encountered storms. Six planes had to turn back, one was lost with the crew successfully bailing out, and the other, on which Smitty was aboard, ran short of fuel. His pilot managed to land at a Japanese airstrip. 
It was now August 31, 1945. The Americans were awaiting Japan’s surrender in China. The Japanese at the airfield apparently did not recognize the surrender or did not know about it, so they moved against Smitty’s colleagues heavily armed. The senior officer in charge, Lt jg Frank McKenzie surrendered and all were taken prisoner except Smitty and two others. Smitty was armed. After quite an ordeal, these three too surrendered though Smitty insisted on keeping his weapon pointed at a Japanese officer, to which the Japanese agreed. In any event, they were able to get their C-47 refueled and fly out. 
I am not sure why the Japanese let them go except to say there was a Chinese guerrilla force approaching.

The entire PACT Shot united in Kienow and went on the Min River towards Fuchow in local sampans piloted by Chinese with the Americans hiding below deck. Many of the SACO groups were ordered to make their way to collection points and were then flown to Shanghai to prepare to return to the US. 

The PACT Shot Group was told to survey areas around Fuchow to Amoy, both in Fuian Province, China, the area across the strait opposite Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Admiral King envisioned an Allied landing here to attack the Japanese inland. Now it was being surveyed again with the idea in mind that Chiang Kai-shek and his people might have to leave China in a hurry given strides made in the Chinese civil war by Mao Tse Tung and his communist forces.

At the end of the war, Japanese forces surrendered and at the time they held Formosa. Chiang Kai-shek’s ROC claimed Formosa as a Chinese province. In 1949 the Communists overthrew the ROC and Chiang’s government, military and some 2 million Chinese fled the mainland to Formosa, an island inhabited by many thousands Japanese. American military and State Department planners had, as early as 1943 or so, realized Chiang would lose the civil war to the communists and an exodus to Formosa would clearly be a possibility. The problem was it was verboten to talk of the possibility of Chiang’s downfall.

So the PACT Shot survey turned out to be valuable.