Summary of the location of Unit Fourteen
Naval Unit Fourteen informally began in 1943 as a joint venture with Gen. Claire L. Chennault, who was in charge of the 14th A.A.F. (Army Air Force). General Chennault supplied the space for a SACO radio installation; he offered to pool weather and intelligence information, and asked if there was a way to clear the spies from around his airports. And whenever possible the general imported much-needed supplies for SACO.
Lieutenant Charles O. Cook and ENS Paul Casamajor, photo interpreters, were the first to be assigned to aid the 14th A.A.F. in identifying and describing targets as well as assessing the actual damage inflicted. Cooke stayed in Kunming (still Kunming) and Emmons went to various forward fields where the information was collected.
Ted Wildman, a Navy chief radioman and a member of the initial group of SACO hands, took a DF (direction finder) gang to Kunming. They used two fixed and one roving DF to locate radios and then determined which probably were spying. Then Gen. Lee, Gen. Tai’s representative in Kunming, pounced on all five stations at once and captured 35 Puppet Chinese (Chinese working for the Japanese). After the crackdown, members of the 14th encountered considerably reduced resistance from the Japanese on their missions.
On January 1, 1944, Naval Unit Fourteen officially was established at Kunming [lat. 25-03, long. 102-42], Yunnan (still Yunnan) Province.
In May 1944, Charlie Odend’hal took over as the first commander of Naval Unit Fourteen. It included photo reconnaissance and interpretation, mining, radio intelligence, air combat intelligence (to collect information about Japanese fighting methods), and also some specific target guidance from ground to air. In addition it helped organize pilot rescue.
Also in May, 1944, part of Radio Intercept, under CDR Jack S. Holtwick, moved from SACO Headquarters at Happy Valley to the Kunming area and became FRUChi, Fleet Radio Unit China. The facilities were located 20 miles south of Kunming at Hailing Pu. FRUChi communicated directly with Pearl Harbor and Washington as well as with the major commands in the fleet.
Intelligence assembled tidbits from the Fleet, from camps and SACO guerrillas, from fishermen and pirates, from radio intercepts, and from B.I.S. (Gen. Tai’s intelligence and security organization). This constant stream of information – not only about ships, but also on rice storage, gasoline dumps, clothing go-downs, marching troop columns, and even juicy “news” on where a Japanese general spent his nights – was mimeographed as a fly sheet that the pilots called “The Morning News” and about which they complained if it was late.
Starting in July 1944, the Shipping Center of Unit Fourteen produced a summary of ship sightings, positions, routes, types of cargo, schedules, and whatever patterns were developing. Navy photo interpreters added identification notes about the ships, both friend and foe, as well as observed bombing results. This was called “Shipping News,” and mimeographed copies were sent out under the cover of Naval Radio Unit’s new-but-not-authorized insignia which combined Chennault’s Flying Tiger with a twelve-pointed Chinese star and the Navy’s fouled anchor.
One by-product of listening to ships was the ability to confirm sinking or damages after a raid. When Col. Vincent, who commanded the 68th Composite Wing, received word that a ship remained alive and talking, he immediately would order, “Load up, and don’t miss this time” (Miles, 1967, p 316).
Unit Fourteen grew from 20 men the first year to 98 the second. Personnel worked with the 14th A.A.F. at Kweilin (now Guilin) and Liuchow (now Liuzhou) in Kwangsi (now Guangxi) Province and most of their forward fields.
Kweilin, the most important forward air field, was attacked in July 1944. Lieutenant Stan E. McCaffrey, as a forward observer, used voice radio to guide the attacks by Chennault’s planes.
One day in early August he [LT McCaffrey] directed thirty-two planes on eight separate flights during seven sweltering hours. Over and over again the planes dropped their bombs and used their machine guns on the Japanese in attacks that “killed a thousand Japs, six hundred horses and several cannon.” The Chinese soldiers capered and jumped with joy, for they had long been taking a lot of Japanese strafing with no airplanes to cover them and they liked the change. In their excitement they even dashed in themselves and caught a Japanese unit, killing about three hundred more. Altogether, a force of about three thousand Japanese was cut down until there were not quite enough of them left to carry off their own wounded. But unfortunately the good work of the Chinese and the 14th Air Force could not save the airfield at Kweilin. In the end—though whether because of jealousy or poor communications I do not know—two Chinese armies did not coordinate their defense plans and the airfield was taken when the Japanese reached it by walking in between the two. (Miles, 1967, p 319)
Kweilin fell to the Japanese in August despite the vigorous month-long defense.
While the Battles for Leyte Gulf were being won, those for Kweilin and Liuchow were being lost. Lieutenant Fiske stayed to blow up the supplies that couldn’t be taken out of Liuchow.
In October, 1944, Unit Fourteen in conjunction with the 68th (East China) Composite Wing at Liuchow played a small roll in the Battle for Leyte Gulf. Intelligence, corroborated by a patrolling B-24 Liberator with LT George Fiske as observer to take photos, was cited for an assist in locating Japanese Admiral Shima’s so-called “Second Striking Force” that arrived near the close of Admiral Oldendorf’s victory at the Battle of Surigao Strait. As well, one of the last flights from Liuchow airfield was a B-24 patrol which confirmed the SACO-estimated location of the Japanese “Northern carrier force.” Admiral Halsey immediately headed there and sank four Japanese carriers.
Deactivation of SACO’s activities at Kunming began in early September 1945. It was November before the bulk of the personnel moved to Shanghai or Calcutta for transportation home or reassignment. By January 1, 1946, they had all gone and Kunming was once more merely the capital of Yunnan Province. (Stratton, 1950, p 306)
Miles, M. E., 1967, A Different Kind of War: Doubleday & Co, Garden City, NY. 629 p.
Stratton, R. O., 1950, SACO – The Rice Paddy Navy: C.S. Palmer Pub. Co, Pleasantville, N.Y., 408 p.
Provided courtesy of Charles H. Miles on November 20, 2010
Updated February 16, 2013