Summary of the location of Camp Four
Camp Four began on January, 18, 1944, at Shenpa (now Xamba) [lat. 40-59, long. 107-08], Suiyuan (now Neimongol) Province. The camp occupied a large walled Catholic mission just outside of town; the three residents, a priest and two nuns, were moved to smaller quarters for the duration.
This was the northernmost SACO camp, 25 miles north of the Yellow River and not far from the southern edge of the Gobi Desert. It was 800 miles north of Chungking. More importantly it was 400 miles farther north than Tokyo and an excellent site from which gather radio intelligence and to monitor the weather upwind from Japan and the Philippines.
Major Victor R. Bisceglia, was in command and LTJG Fred Hardenbrook was the executive officer. The initial group of Americans numbered 12. Commodore Miles described this as an “especially colorful outfit” (Miles, 167, p 158).
Immediately ENS Ted Wildman erected a large radio antenna and set up a direction finder. The daily radio watch included seven contacts with radio Chungking (at Happy Valley), two with personnel in the field and one with Peking (now Beijing). Robert Sizemore, aerographer’s mate, set up a weather station which he monitored every day. On January 30, 1944 he began daily weather reports; by the summer of 1944 this was promoted to a “Class D” station. By December the generators were past repair and all the men stood extra duty cranking the hand generator so that the radio schedules could be maintained.
One mission of LT Wilcox, a pre-war mounted police officer in upper New York State, was to teach the local troops to ride and then possibly form a horse cavalry unit. He immediately learned that the Mongols were far more capable on any horse, even a newly-captured wild horse, than anyone he had seen, even in the movies. They excelled in stunts, tricks, and racing but just were not interested in cavalry-type maneuvers.
The medical officer, LCDR R. H. Goodwin, was in civilian life an obstetrician which was a skill not in great demand by these men. During the first year no American suffered a severe illness and the doctor treated more than 5,000 Chinese and performed 25 operations. The medical treatment was dispersed on a first-come-first-served basis except that emergencies and soldiers went to the head of the line.
Two local cases are noteworthy. The governor, Gen. Fu Tso-yi, dislocated his shoulder and resorted to acupuncture treatment with poor results. Doctor Goodwin set the governor’s shoulder; every move was watched by two armed guards. And he performed the first Caesarean in the area. The mother, a nineteen-year-old dwarf who had been in labor for several days, and child lived.
The available water was boiled to make it potable and the men filled their canteens daily. Within a few weeks the canteens began to fill with sediment from the water and not only made them heavier but reduced their holding capacity. The ritual changed to include rinsing before filling.
Distilled water was important both for surgical needs and for batteries. They devised a still out of parts from a B-29 but lacked gasket materials. “Frenchy” Valliere, a Chief Fire Controlman, packed the joints with plastic explosive; even when the apparatus glowed red-hot the joints neither leaked nor exploded.
For recreation the men played basketball and were invited to play against local teams. The Americans had the height advantage and out of ten games only lost one, that in overtime. Governor Fu Tso-yi presented the unit with 24 horses and in good weather the men rode to the edge of the Gobi Desert and swam.
It was hot in the summer, over 100° F, and cold in the winter, down to -30° F. Sandstorms were more common during late spring and early summer.
It was cold enough that most of the men slept in their clothes inside of their down sleeping bags, theirs being the standard issue bags that were tapered and snug fitting from head to toe; the common, descriptive name for this model was “mummy bag.” At Camp Four they modified their mummy bags by sowing two together and producing a two-legged sleeping bag; this gave them the option of running, if under surprise attack, instead of being trapped like a mummy. Shelly, a Chief Shipfitter, converted an oil drum and some truck springs into a stove which kept the mess hall a “toasty” 40 F. in the winter.
The camp fare included plenty of “yellow rice” – the Chinese name for millet which tasted like buckwheat – marble-sized potatoes, some cabbage, and salted vegetables. During the summer melons and fresh vegetables were available. There were the usual meat choices – pork, beef, mutton and chicken – as well as “wild” game, especially pheasant, but the men limited their hunting because ammunition was scarce. They ate with chopsticks; not only because they were in China but the activity demanded their attention which relieved the monotony of the diet.
It was nine months before Unit Four received their first shipment of supplies as well as their first mail, a revered commodity. On one occasion Red McGrail returned from Shenpa with mail sacks and all hands were disappointed to find the bags filled with only money.
In February, 1945 Gen. Tai and COMO Miles flew to Camp Four on an inspection trip. This was the first plane to land in the area and the “cleared” field was outlined by dynamite which was exploded to mark the corners. The men were in good spirits but supplies were always a problem.
We left everything we could possibly spare at this sparsely supplied camp. I personally contributed my fur-lined jacket, my sleeping bag, and even my razor blades. Even the plane made its contribution – the limited supply of toilet paper that it carried. (Miles, 1967, p 416)
Camp Four was primarily a weather station. As well the unit trained 373 Chinese in three classes; these guerrillas then formed Column 8. In mid 1945 a fourth class, of 216, graduated and joined Column 8. Classes on average lasted ten weeks.
They taught intelligence, demolitions, sabotage, ambushes, camouflage, night operations, street fighting, map reading, scouting and patrolling, how to infiltrate and operate behind enemy lines, hand grenades, and weapons – including the .45 automatic, .38 revolver, and the Thompson sub-machine gun. Upon graduation each student was issued a Carbine or a Marlin sub-machine gun; the latter used ammunition that was a little too long to jam into the Russian nine-millimeter rifles which were common in this northern region. The Russian ammunition could be used by the SACO troops; the American ammunition was useless for the local thieves or bandits.
Although the Japanese were distant, they knew about the camp. Watches were stood around the clock. Many nights the dark was punctuated with little flashes of light; probably just some shepherd putting a handful of dry grass on a fire to make a bit of tea but the enemy was out there.
On May 14, 1945, a group of 400 Japanese and 200 puppets (Chinese who joined the Japanese) with 7 tanks and 6 armored cars had advanced to within 12 miles of the village of Sa Sien (now Salaqi), 130 miles east of Camp Four. The Chinese Column 8, with about 1,000 men, engaged in a three-hour battle and killed 60 Japanese and 10 puppets and as well destroyed two tanks and four armored cars and captured 28 rifles. Lieutenant Wilcox personally was credited with one of the tanks; he used a sub-machine gun loaded with alternate rounds of armor piercing and of sulphur bullets. The Chinese losses were two killed and seven wounded.
During one reconnaissance mission, a Chinese detachment met a large Japanese contingent. Lacking heavy artillery, LT Wilcox mounted bazookas on camels and in the middle of the night charged. Wilcox told this writer that the attack caused little damage but was demoralizing to the enemy; it appeared, even to him, to be waged by fire-breathing mythical creatures swooping out of the night. Don Wilcox added that as a matter of record it was the last battle for Unit Four.
COMBAT RESULTS FOR COLUMN 8
Miles, M. E., 1967, A Different Kind of War, Doubleday & Co, Garden City, NY. 629 p.
Provided courtesy of Charles H. Miles on November 20, 2010