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‘WHAT THE HELL’: NAVAL GROUP CHINA

by Don Kochi

     ‘What-the-Hell’ was the unofficial motto of NAVAL GROUP CHINA also known by its acronym SACO: Sino-American Cooperative Organization.  A somewhat obscure clandestine operational unit sponsored by the US Navy ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) during WW2, it was a unique joint military effort between the Americans and Chinese Nationalists or Kuomintang (KMT) government of Chiang Kai-shek.  The primary purpose of SACO was of a military intelligence function involving vital weather-gathering and forecasting (for USN fleet and USAAF 14th AF intel), establishing radio intercept and monitoring stations, developing an covert surveillance and informant network systems within the interior of China, conduct harassing hit-and-run warfare against the Japanese, as well as performing de-facto coast-watching duties to report enemy ship movements along the Chinese coast.  Secondary but just as important SACO activities were the training and arming of Chinese KMT (to the bitter chagrin of the Chinese communists) militia and saboteurs, developing cryptanalysis radio intelligence stations, effect the rescue and recovery of downed Allied and American aircrew men, operating an oxygen production facility in Assam, and maintaining a hospital in the Chekiang mountains for Chinese guerillas.  An underlying mission objective and consideration was the long range development and preparation of the China coast for Allied penetration and occupation.  The coastal region was to be used later as a potential staging area and springboard for the future invasion of Japan.

     The origins of SACO could be traced to the Chief of Naval Operations office of Adm. Ernest King during the war-boom bustling atmosphere of a 1942 Washington D.C.  Summoned before the Admiral, a pre-war ‘China-hand’ and Yangtze Patrol veteran, Lt.Cmdr. (much later Commodore Adm.) Milton ‘Mary’ Miles was given a set of ‘secret verbal’ orders to implement the proposed mission.  Initially under a seemingly innocuous if not ambiguous joint Allied heading, ‘Project Friendship’, Lt.Cmdr. Miles, masked with the cover of a ‘naval observer’, reported to the American ambassador in Chungking where he was teamed with the chief of the Chinese secret police or Bureau of Investigation and Statistics (BIS).  A fierce anti-communist and shadowy man of mystery, General Tai Li also commanded the Loyal Patriotic Army (LPA), a large militia force active in Japanese-occupied interior regions of China.  Additionally, it was rumored that he had connections with various Chinese bandit and pirate groups along the coast.   A sinister figure extremely suspicious of all foreigners, he operated the quasi-Gestapo BIS with such near autonomous authority and it was said even the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek feared him.   However, Lt. Cmdr. Miles imbued with an optimistic ‘can-do’ attitude and a maverick approach to any difficult or demanding situation was just the man needed to make this rather complex and collaborative Allied effort succeed.  Along with a personal affinity for the Chinese people, he managed to forge a close working relationship with Gen. Tai Li who on his part shrewdly recognized the benefits of having American trained and equipped forces for the inevitable showdown with the Maoists once the war ended.  Although approached and courted by the OSS, the General distrusted their backdoor overtures to the Communist leadership and harbored deep suspicions about the ‘political cast’ of their agency and what it could imply for a postwar China.  He much preferred the straight forward military mission proposed by the US Navy.

     Capt. (promoted) Miles had an ill-boding sense of the intrigue and volatile cast of characters he was to make bed with.  It involved the vicious ongoing internecine warfare between the Nationalists and Communists, American inter-service rivalries, incessant interference and meddling by the OSS, political machinations from the US State Department and China Lobby, even jealous clashing for operational and budgetary control between US Army generals (notably Claire Chennault and Joseph Stilwell). And if that weren’t enough, he would have to deal with the Japanese enemy as well!

     Once the SACO Agreement was formally commissioned into Naval service with the signed approvals of Gen. Marshall, Adm. King and FDR on April 1, 1943, SACO’s nominal head by mutual consent was Gen. Tai Li with Miles as his immediate executive subordinate.   Independent of the overall American CBI Theater commander, its supplies came directly through Navy logistics rather than the US ARMY controlled Lend-Lease pipelines.  The American SACO component of US Navy officers and sailors (known collectively as NAVAL GROUP, CHINA) supposedly ‘volunteered’ for this special assignment where they were to be embedded with local regional Chinese forces, often isolated far behind enemy lines and miles distant from their supply base, where they were frequently dependent on their host for basic necessities such as food, shelter, and security.  Although not having gone completely ‘asiatic’, a great number of the Navy men in order to accomplish a trusting and working partnership, immersed themselves with the Chinese culture.  The arrangement is not unlike what the US Advisory Forces experienced with indigenous troops during the Vietnam War.

     What the prospective SACO recruit initially might have assumed (at BuPers) to be a heady exotic adventure was in reality a dangerous, lonely and often deadly land-based detail.  For this reason Miles selected experienced, resourceful, multi-skilled and independent-minded men with a respect for Chinese sovereignty.   The circumspection required by the sub-rosa work of SACO is best illustrated by his directive to all naval personnel under his command not to wear anything to designate their rank or rating.  By war’s end, an approximate estimate of 2,500 to 3,000 men (including some US Marine Corps personnel) served with NAVY GROUP CHINA or what were more commonly referred to by its members: ‘Rice Paddy Navy’ or ‘What-the-Hell Gang’.

     Not expecting much having stumbled onto a decent sized lot of WW2 USN FPO correspondence, I realized these were not your generic ship board mail when I saw the O.N.I (Office of Naval Intelligence) as part of the return address.  Each of the covers contained their respective letter and all were addressed to the sailor’s wife residing mainly in California.  Opening and scanning a few of them, I was immediately taken by the location headings of ‘CHINA’ or ‘SOMEWHERE IN CHINA’.   Having read a great WW2 SACO memoir, SAMPAN SAILOR: A Navy Man’s Adventures in WW2 China by Clayton Mishler, I had a strong inkling these letters belonged to a former NAVAL GROUP CHINA team member.  Included as part of the return address, his notated USN rank of ‘CRE’ (the naval specialty mark for CHIEF RADIOMAN ELECTRICIAN) confirmed my suspicions that the mail were indeed of SACO origin.   Radio communication was an extremely vital and integral aspect of NAVAL GROUP CHINA’s work that it would make sense to employ the best possible specialists and senior-most chief technicians in this field.  Needless to say, I obtained the entire batch of correspondence since I consider any SACO FPO mail to be highly uncommon.  At a later date, a photo album and few items of his insignia also surfaced.

     A quick on-line name search on NARA’s Access to Archival Database (AAD) RECORDS OF DUTY LOCATIONS for NAVAL INTELLIGENCE PERSONNEL 1942-1945 NAVAL GROUP CHINA MUSTER ROLL and REPORT OF CHANGE PUNCH CARDS 1942-1945 confirmed that he did exist on the ONI’s China duty roster.   The corresponding list of his muster roll dates with location should be an interesting exercise on how well they match-up to the postdated locations of his letters.  To get a start on the research, I had submitted a NARA’s Military Personnel Record form-180 and was surprised to receive an (very sparse) extract of his DD-214 service record in rather (my opinion) decent delivery time.  The  records show that MARSHALL GEORGE SCHRAMM served in the US NAVY as a regular (not reservist) during WW2 from November 18, 1941 to December 18, 1947 with an assigned officer serial number (actually a file number), 201634.  Honorably discharged as a Lieutenant Junior Grade on December 18, 1947, his only listed military education and training is shown as Radio Material School.  The provided list of his vessels and duty stations are as follows:  NAVAL RESEARCH LAB at Bellevue and at WASH. D.C., USS NEW MEXICO, USS PENNSYLVANIA, USS WEST VIRGINIA, NAVAL OBSERVER at Chungking China, COMMANDANT 12th NAVAL DISTRICT (Mare Island) and NAVAL OPERATION, Wash. D.C.  I found it both ironic and amusing to see his China duty status listed as ‘naval observer’.  

     His letters however tell a slightly different history than what NARA’s scant record outlined on his career.  One (written to his wife) mentioned getting out of the Navy after the war’s end since he’s already done his ‘20-years’.  Apparently this Navy Lifer was a ‘mustang’ having served several years in the pre-war Navy rising to Chief Warrant Officer to his final discharge as a LT.j.g. in 1947.  There was nothing to indicate he returned to service post-1947.  The earliest letter, postdated June 11, 1937 and was sent from the Farallon Islands off the San Francisco coast.   A Weather Bureau radio station established on the Farallon Islands was co-opted in 1913 by the US Navy to relay radio messages from incoming ships to other radio stations.  With the exception of the lighthouse, Navy radiomen were housed in and operated the island’s buildings and facilities until after WW2.  This was probably one of his earlier duty stations until he was transferred to a sea-going vessel.  

     A series of shipboard assignments with the Navy’s main line battlewagons followed his Farallon Island stint.   An early Clipper mail cover to his wife in Long Beach, CA. was sent from the USS NEW MEXICO (BB-40) postmarked May 5, 1941 (Figure 1).  Two weeks later on May 20, 1941 the NEW MEXICO left her homeport at Pearl Harbor to join the Atlantic Fleet for neutrality patrol duties.  If the covers are an indication of his whereabouts for each successive duty, he next served with the radio-gang on the USS CALIFORNIA (BB-44) with the Pacific Fleet from August 1941 to October 1941.  Note the letter (Figure 2) is addressed to his wife in Honolulu, Oahu.  Naval officers and senior chiefs were allowed to have their dependents nearby at their assigned billet. 

     Next, a lone USS PENNSYLVANIA (BB-38) cover postdated September 18, 1942 (Figure 3) had been sent to his relocated (from Hawaii) wife in San Francisco.  From April to August 1942, the PENNSYLVANIA conducted training operations and patrolled along the California coast interspersed with overhauls at San Francisco.  This might perhaps explain the lack of mail since his ship often berthed at a port nearby his wife.  The ensuing series of mail from October 15, 1942 to December 5, 1942 finds him rated as CHIEF RADIOMAN (CRM) and back on the USS NEW MEXICO (Figure 4).  At the outbreak of war, the battleship returned (from the Atlantic) to the west coast and sailed for Hawaiian waters on August 1, 1942 in preparation for Pacific combat operations.  Mail from February 14, 1943 to April 9, 1943 indicate that he was detached to FLAG, COMBATPAC (Figure 5).  Apparently his radio skills were held in high enough regards to serve in the radio shack for the Commander of Battleships, Pacific, in this case Rear Admiral Willis ‘Ching’ Lee’s flagship aboard the USS WASHINGTON (BB-56).  Based in New Caledonia, the battleship protected carrier groups and various task forces in the Solomon Seas until ordered back to Pearl Harbor in late April 1943.  About this period his rating specialty changed from CHIEF RADIOMAN (CRM) to CHIEF RADIO ELECTRICIAN (CRE).  For the latter half of April 1943 (Figure 6), Chief Schramm transferred onto the USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48).   After taking six torpedo hits during the Pearl Harbor Attack, the WEST VIRGINIA underwent preliminary repairs in Pearl Harbor Navy Yard’s dry dock #1 for nearly a year.  On May 7, 1943, the battleship departed for final rebuilding and an extensive modernization of her superstructure at Puget Sound Navy Yard.

     Detached from ship-board duty, his next letter (Figure 7) with an August 15, 1943 Washington D.C. postal cancel, uncensored and sent domestically is quite revealing not by what is stated rather by what is cryptically implied.   Written to his wife on hotel stationary, it says in part, “…am suppose to leave late Sunday but that is not definite – don’t know for sure how long I’ll be gone but I think it will be at least a year.”.  It  continues, “…and under no circumstances do not mention anything you may have heard me say – either in your letters or to anyone else – I know that you never have and never will, but this is extremely important at the present time.  This may be my last letter for 3 or 4 weeks but will try to get off a few more lines before I leave.”  There is a lack of a return address and was sent to his wife care of his parent’s business address in Louisville, KY.  It was probably during the period spanning late April 1943 to early August 1943, he was recruited and trained for NAVAL GROUP-CHINA.  It is also a good guess he received his China deployment orders by the time of this farewell letter. 

     Next on the paper path, is a crisp uncirculated 50-Yuan Chinese currency bill (Figure 8) doubling as a ‘short-snorter’.  A common WW2 souvenir practice, they were (usually) foreign currency notes signed by unit members to commemorate a certain place, time, and or event.   In this case, ATKINSON FIELD, August 1943 and winging to the Far East with five of his teammates.   A quick NARA AAD name check did verify each were Naval Intelligence NAVAL GROUP CHINA men ranging from a Chief Yeoman to a Naval Commander.  Flush with freshly minted Chinese money to fund their forthcoming mission, the Chief must have felt a short-snorter was in proper order.  Atkinson Field leased to the Americans by the British in 1941, was located in Georgetown, British New Guiana.  The AAF airfield was one of several southern route refueling-resting points for those transiting by air or ferrying aircraft to the EAME and or CBI theaters.  The southern flight schedule usually leaves CONUS from Morrison Field, Florida to Boringuen Field in Puerto Rico; Waller Field in Trinidad; Atkinson Field; then onto Belem and Natal in Brazil; hopping mid-Atlantic to Wideawake Field on Ascension Island before reaching the western or northern terminus of the African continent.  The Chief’s team probably made these same flight connections with additional stops in the Middle East and India before landing at their final destination.  Any NAVAL GROUP-CHINA FPO/US ARMY APO airmail to-and-fro, probably followed the same pipeline sequence.

     Finally assigned in the field ‘somewhere in China’, the next run of mail postdated from September 24, 1943 to December 3, 1943 have for a return address: O.N.I. MAIL AND DESPATCH SECTION, WASHINGTON NAVY DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON D.C.  His first letter from the outpost (Figure 9 & Figure 9a) has a pre-ink stamped return address with a FPO WASH. D.C. September 24, 1943 postal cancel.  Notice his own initials as the self-censoring officer within the USN Censor’s roundel stamp.  Although the cover’s address and his name (still Radioman Electrician) are typed, the multi-paged letter (dated September 6, 1943) enclosed had been handwritten (in pencil).   The content of the letter is especially revealing of life in the remote boondocks:  “There may be times when you will not hear from me for perhaps, one, two, or three months. If that does happen, don’t worry, it would mean that I’ll be somewhere where it’s pretty tough to send or receive mail.” And, “This is going to be a rather lonely life in some respects…my work will be interesting and I hope, exhausting.  There will be practically no recreation so the more tired I get, the less I’ll want to do things.”  In another letter, a hint of the exclusive purpose of his work somehow slipped through the censor with, “…the cable you received is known as an E.F.M. and that service is unavailable to servicemen in many parts of the world, but not at my present location.”  Besides the occasional ‘Jap bombing in the vicinity’ and getting a ‘slight case of dysentery which is considered an initiation to the country’; he describes for his wife in detail the chow situation, “All meals except breakfast is cooked and eaten Chinese style.  We have all kinds of concoctions thrown at us for lunch and dinner and our only utensils are chopsticks.  And tea! I’ve drank gallons of the stuff…”

     Two of the covers (Figure 10) during this ‘outpost’ period have dual USN Censor markings, one standard USN censor stamp and the other by the ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) censor.  There is evidence of the censor’s sealing tape remains along the left edges.  Three of the covers have an APO 879 (Chungking APO) postal cancels (Figure 11) which suggest some Navy mail being routed through and handled by the US Army Post Office.  The Chief forewarns his wife on the haphazard nature of mail delivery, “…if you miss letters or don’t hear from me at times, it will probably be on account of the difficulty in getting mail out of here.  The mail planes must fly over enemy territory and it is possible that they may run into trouble with a resultant loss of mail.” 

     The remainder of his mail encompassing late-1943 to all of 1944 display a new return address:  NAVY GROUP – NAVY #169, c/o FLEET POST OFFICE, NEW YORK, N.Y. (Figure 12).  Navy number 169 postal location is Chungking, China.  Generally the postal cancels are a generic FPO type-3z, however some Navy mail due to whatever exigency once again were routed through US ARMY APO 879 channels.   The primitive nature of in-country mail delivery during the early years is best described from a SACO: THE RICE PADDY NAVY (by R. Stratton) excerpt, “In transporting mail to various outlying units, practically every means of conveyance known to man was employed and utilized to negotiate the trip.  It was carried on the backs of coolies, by donkey, on pack ponies, sampans, junks, rafts, trains, motorcycles, trucks, and by transport plane with fighter escort over enemy territory.”

     According to the NARA AAD date of report January 1, 1944, Chief Schramm underwent a ‘CHANGE OF RANK TO ENSIGN’.  The promotion is reflected on his return address starting from January 28, 1944 (Figure 13).  Perhaps in respect to his elevated commissioned rank or having paid his dues in the field, he was taken out of the ‘boonies’ and re-billeted with the US Navy Command SACO HQ at ‘Happy Valley’.  Located about eleven miles north of Chungking proper, it was not actually on a valley floor but sited half-way up the side of a mountain.   Consisting of ten small permanent buildings and a number of tents, the SACO compound staff of sixty Navy men was further augmented at any given time, with twenty transient operatives cycling in and out from various SACO stations and distant outposts.   General Tai Li had his own BIS building (which was strictly off-limits to American personnel) in Happy Valley or what he euphemistically preferred to call ‘Friendship Headquarters’.

     Chungking, the seat of the KMT Nationalist government was essentially off-limits to the SACO men unless they possessed official permission or had a special pass.  Besides being the most heavily bombed city in China, wartime Chungking as depicted by correspondent journalist, Annalee Jacoby paints a miserable panorama, ‘…living conditions were terrible, the city was filled with rats, the food was dreadful, bomb craters were everywhere.  Everything was slimy, cold, wet, and mildewed.  In the summer, the humidity was high and bugs flourished.   All the water had to be carried up from the Yangtze River in wooden buckets and we had one little tin basin of water a day to bathe in, that’s all.’  She further elaborates on the weather, ‘…during the long wet season, the natural beauty was largely obscured for weeks on end by soggy, low-hanging clouds.  And clear weather, when it came, brought something worse – wave upon wave of Japanese planes dropping their bombs indiscriminately over the congested landscape.’

     Life in Happy Valley was not a pleasant bed of roses for the newly promoted Naval Ensign.  Plagued by reoccurring malaria, a mysterious stomach ailment, and a poor fit of shoddy Navy-made dentures; the constant refrain seen in his letters was the dreary depressing grey weather which was bone chilling cold in the winter or usually wet, damp with drizzle-laden skies, and rainy during the other seasons.  The rare days when the cloudiness and mist dissipated although providing sunbathing opportunities, also brought an onslaught of Japanese bombers in the day and malarial mosquitoes at night.   The monotonous food situation of ‘…rice, rice and more rice!’ was broken by the two ‘American-style’ meals per week or alleviated by the welcome but much too occasional and often mangled food parcel from home (of which the contents were shared and quickly consumed with his roommates).   The water situation was even worse.  All drinking and cooking water had to be boiled first, the bathing and shaving water was a murky chocolate brown in color, and everything was made even more deplorable by the local ‘honey-pot’ custom of using human excrement as fertilizer.   All of this is described in great detail, for example, he writes, “…one of our big problems out here is water – both for drinking, bathing, and cooking.  Most of the fertilizer in China is human excrement and is used especially for rice.  Well, we usually are so short of water that the stuff we get is drained off the rice fields and boiled.  Doesn’t sound very good, does it dear – and believe me, it tastes pretty bad at times.”   Although the men at the SACO base camp were treated to 2-3 movies per week (“…don’t know how long that will last, tho – it’s the only recreation we get.”) and are often invited to local Chinese festive gatherings where prodigious amount of rice wine is consumed; there is always the ever-present threat of a Japanese advance by which he tries to allay his wife’s worries (in a May 6, 1944 letter) with, “…don’t worry too much about China – If the Japs get too near, we’ll just move to another place.  It’s quite safe where I’m located except for an occasional air raid alert which could easily develop into the real thing – but that’s to be expected anywhere.”

     Being subjected to continual privation, Ensign Schramm is cynical about hearing (from his wife) America’s complaints on home-front rationing and shortages, and laments the simple ‘comforts of civilization’ taken for granted in the past.  In an August 21, 1944 letter, he pointedly tells her, “…even the most simple of necessities now seems a luxury – a comfortable easy chair, decent food, a clean cool bed, pure water, lights that aren’t continually going off…”   In the same letter, he makes mention of his long and exhausting work schedule, “…I have been putting in time usually from about 8 in the morning until midnite(sic) and when I knock off, I’m so weary it’s an effort to get undressed and climb into my bunk.”

     Unfortunately for the overworked Ensign, the demand for his radio electrician skills saw him parceled out to remote SACO outposts to either troubleshoot their communication problems or to assist in setting up a new station.   He alludes to this in one of his letters, “I may have to leave camp soon and be gone for 4 or 5 weeks.  Part of the time I may not be able to write…I’ll be pretty busy on this trip but also have been promised a week’s vacation.  If I end up in some halfway civilized part of the world I’m going to sleep 18 hours a day and eat the other six (hours)…”  In another letter dated September 2, 1944 he writes about one excursion, “…was on trip for 9 days and got back yesterday.  Will probably leave again in a week and be gone for nearly a month, however I think that while on the next trip I’ll be able to write – couldn’t do it on the last one – was just too darn busy and on the move all the time.  Think I’m getting too old for all this moving around…didn’t have a bath or shave all the time I was away and was I a sorry looking mess when I pulled in here.”  He continues in the same letter, “…saw some interesting sights but after awhile everything looks the same out here – people, land, food, dress.  My next trip will involve flying and I hope to wangle a week or so of leave while away”.   There is a tinge of self-pity in the letter with, “…I can’t ever imagine just why I was selected for this duty and had only just reported in to a new station…some one in the Bureau must have had a grudge against me.  This has been interesting tho(-ugh) building up from scratch, seeing new places and meeting many important persons.”

     Requiring blood tests and X-rays for his stomach ailment, the Ensign was eventually successful in squeezing out the promised R&R leave to Calcutta India which he managed to skillfully extend by conducting official business coupled with military hospital visits.  There were only three letters found in the lot, written during this period.  The covers (Figure 14) are all US ARMY APO 465 (Calcutta India) canceled with US Navy censor marks and postdated in the month of October 1944.  AAD NARA muster roll punch card did place him in Calcutta, India on October 15, 1944.  The letter contents primarily regales his wife on the many strange and exotic sights of Calcutta, alerts her to expect native-made souvenirs bought and sent to relatives, updates on his health condition, the plush living quarters with servants and special emphasis on the decent quality of the food being served.  His last Calcutta letter reveal his temporary duty (India) stay of being six-weeks in length with orders to leave soon on November 3rd back to his former station “…via another place in China where I have to stay a few days on business…”.   

     Back at Happy Valley sometimes mid-November 1944, he catches up on his correspondence and has started optimistically to wrangle for a Stateside billet as his overseas tour gradually nears to an end.  The dangers, however are still present as he hints to her in a cavalier tone, “…The Japs are running over quite a bit of territory but will have to run pretty darn fast to catch me…”, and “…there are a number of things happening out here but as usual they can’t be talked about…”  His last letter written in-country China dated February 8, 1945, mentions a possible 28th (of Feb.) departure date.  He alerts his wife to have, “…my blues, hat and white shirts packed and ready to ship at a moment’s notice.  When I do get back I’ll need them right away…”  He makes further plans to rendezvous with her in Washington (D.C.) where he is probably to report to ONI HQ for debriefing once back Stateside.  The AAD NARA punch card does verify his departure.  He is located in Calcutta, India (which served as a transit center from Western China) on the February 24-28th 1945 muster rolls and no doubt eventually made it safely back into the arms of his waiting wife.

     Revisionist historians tend to wax romantically about the patriotic sacrifices of the “Greatest Generation” and fueled by the advent of such recent PBS docu-series like ‘THE WAR’ by Ken Burns, this notion certainly appears to be well-promoted.  Not wishing to detract from the Chief’s service and knowing his personal letters were meant for his wife’s eyes only, his true feelings about the supposedly volunteer nature of SACO are laid bare in an especially vitriolic passage; ‘It doesn’t stand to reason that I would ask for job such as I have now and give up the damn good billet I had at Treasure Island. I had no idea in the world of getting into this present duty…as a matter of fact I didn’t even know I was going to China for sure, until I left you in Louisville.  After being away from the States for so long, does it seem reasonable that I’d ask for duty out here, so far from you, and for how long only God knows.  After reporting in to Washington I was asked how I would like to do a certain thing…the only answer I could give was yes, because of two or three reasons: 1- I had already been ordered to this duty, 2- If I said no I might just as well resign from the Navy as it would probably be in my record, 3- We are fighting a war and I’m supposed to be doing something about it’.

     In conclusion, a background history of SACO’s motto might be apropos.  As a junior officer aboard the USS WICKES in 1934, Milton Miles often found a ship making an unexpected move during tight fleet maneuvers and had an urge to send a pennant up the mast asking ‘What the hell?’.  In order to create a flag pennant without the use of obscenities, Miles and his wife, Wilma devised a series of questions marks, exclamation points and asterisks (the universal substitute for an obscene word) for the large pennant.  Actually used in his pre-war days, the homemade pennant was adopted as the unofficial flag for NAVAL GROUP-CHINA teams and copies often flew off the flagpoles of several SACO camps including the Happy Valley HQ compound.  The Chief taking his cue, surely must have more than once during his China tour, exclaimed the SACO motto; “WHAT THE HELL!".

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References and Bibliographic Notes

 

Barton, Charles Capt. USN-Ret., THE RICE PADDY NAVY THE RETIRED OFFICER  JANUARY 1989 issue. pp. 20-26.

Appearing in a back issue of THE RETIRED OFFICER periodical, the compact article neatly summarizes SACO to the uninitiated in very accessible terms.  Of particular interest were the allegations of SACO complicity in the NOV 1949 massacre of political prisoners in the BIS compound by 'FBI-trained' BIS agents as communist forces neared.  The JAN 1989 back issue was no longer available at the time of my research.  THE RETIRED OFFICER Editor-in-Chief and Director of Publications, Col. Warren Lacy, US ARMY (Ret.) graciously sent me a photocopy of the article for this project. 

 

Caldwell, Oliver J. A SECRET WAR: AMERICANS IN CHINA, 1944-1945,  Southern Illinois University Press, 1972.

Written by a former OSS US Army Captain, the sentiment is unabashedly pro-OSS and basically contends that Commodore Miles and the US Navy were the unwitting dupes of General Tai-Li. He viewed General Tai-Li as nothing more than a criminally affiliated thug, opportunist collaborator, an assassin who wantonly executed state enemies and communists.  (Miles to his superior’s defense, felt Tai was a honest though discreet gentleman “who never had anyone shot without proper authorization”).  Published near the end of the Vietnam War, he felt that China was ‘lost’ to the Communists because of the China Desk’s intransigence in fully recognizing the corrupt and self-serving regime of Chiang Kai-shek.  Correctly recognizing the ruthless discipline of the Communist, Capt. Caldwell had written a secret wartime report proposing a moderate liberal centralist government not tainted by the KMT.  Of course, if Washington had only heeded his warnings and followed his suggestions instead of falling under the persuasion of the Miles-Wedemeyer cabal, would Mainland China be ‘free’ today.  Though mainly an one-dimensional memoir, a few of Caldwell’s suspicions on General Tai’s methods of ‘eavesdropping’ on his allied counterparts may contain a kernel of truth which will not be elaborate upon for brevity's sake.

 

Carter, Russ.  NUMBERED ARMY AND AIR FORCE POST OFFICE LOCATIONS, 7th edition, volume 1., MPHS Publications.

Carter, Russ.  NUMBERED NAVY AND MARINE CORPS POST OFFICES, 7th edition, volume 3., MPHS Publications.

 

Gladwin, Les A.  THE DIPLOMACY OF SECURITY: BEHIND THE NEGOTIATIONS OF ARTICLE 18 OF THE SINO-AMERICAN COOPERATIVE AGREEMENT.   CRYPTOLOGIA. JAN 2005

Written by an archivist with the National Archives in College Park MD., his article covers the SACO article 18 agreement clause of sharing radio intelligence quid pro quo with Chinese Intelligence. The justified fear of leaky unsecured Chinese codes with the potential for compromising ULTRA-related information, led to a parallel Naval Radio Intelligence apparatus, FLEET RADIO UNIT, CHINA (FRUCHI) in MAY 1944 to skirt this sensitive political dilemma.  The article mainly centers on the decision process by upper Navy brass which culminated in this development.

 

Hughes, Les. NAVAL GROUP, CHINA: SACO. TRADING POST

     January-March 2001, pp. 35-36.

A brief article appearing in the ASMIC (American Society of Military Insignia Collectors) quarterly publication, TRADING POST, the emphasis centers on the ultra-rare Chinese theater-made SACO sleeve and jacket patch insignias.  Highly unauthorized, these hand-embroidered cloth insignia represent an unique and different aspect of US Naval history during WW2.  An abbreviated background history on SACO was provided by the writer placing the featured insignias within its historical context.

 

Mishler, Clayton.  SAMPAN SAILOR: A NAVY MAN’S ADVENTURES IN WW2 CHINA.  Brassey’s, 1994.

A highly engaging WW2 memoir written by a Navy Petty Officer chronicling his stint with SACO.  Provides an introductory look into Navy Group China through the eyes of Navy Storekeeper sent to various SACO units on supplying missions.  The vast range of his wartime adventures are quite representative of what SACO enlisted personnel experienced in China.  Definitely worth seeking out a copy to read.

 

Schaller, Michael.  SACO! THE UNITED STATES NAVY’S SECRET WAR IN CHINA, PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW vol.44, no.4  

     November 1975, pp.527-553

Probably the most comprehensive and scholarly work on SACO available.  Minutely examines the political intrigue, ideologic skullduggery between the key players involved, and especially the background history behind higher governmental (both US and Chinese) echelon’s decision responsible for SACO.  Written by an University of Arizona history professor, it offers an indispensable strategic vista on the formulation of SACO and its eventual neo-political ramifications in the postwar era.  Finding a copy may pose a problem for most.  For myself, it involved locating a nearby central (not branch) library’s periodical section housing the specific back issue.  For most periodical publications of this vintage, it has already been consigned to the microfiche, which in turn became a labor-intensive task of making photocopies off the microfilm viewing machine. However for those not daunted by the effort and interested in the ‘complete picture’, you will not be disappointed in going the extra mile.

 

Sledge, Eugene B., CHINA MARINE: AN INFANTRYMAN'S LIFE AFTER WORLD WAR II, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 2002.

Follow-up sequel to the author's classic WW2 memoir, WITH THE OLD BREED: AT PELELIU AND OKINAWA.  Stationed for immediate postwar occupation duty in Peiping China, his unit, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division was caught in the midst of the chaotic political and ideological unrest which eventually transformed China.  It touched on the many different armed factions in North China during his tour, i.e., Japanese troops being repatriated, Chinese puppet government soldiers, Chinese Communists, the KMT, Chinese bandits, and the US Marines.

     

Stratton, Roy O., SACO: THE RICE PADDY NAVY, Palmer Publishing Company, Pleasantville, NY. 1950.

Essentially what can be considered the NAVY GROUP-CHINA's unit history, this massive and at times ponderous work is a must for those wishing to delve further into SACO's role during WW2.  Written by an insider, Cmdr. Roy Stratton, USN-SUPPLY CORPS (Ret.) serving as Navy Group-China's disbursing (DOCHINA) and staff supply officer, had intimate knowledge of SACO operational history including its assigned personnel and of its more colorful characters.  Heavy on the text and light on the photographs, it is nonetheless replete with plenty of anecdotes, personnel names (enlisted and officer), and the background history on each of the different field units, departments and their wartime activities.  Although it does not offer a complete SACO roster, enough names are mentioned to get an idea of each team's personnel composition.  Published at the height of the Korean War, the Communists are oddly not portrayed as the nefarious Red villains as commonly depicted with most Cold War publications and period media news, and in fact are little mentioned at all within this work.   Much like the Milton Miles 1967 memoir, A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAR, the Stratton book is out-of-print with 1st editions selling for a cost-prohibitive range of $300-$400 on Amazon's used book listings.  Recently reprinted in July 2004, a very limited number of 750 softbound 2nd editions are currently offered (for a very reasonable $20 price sans shipping) only through the National Museum of the Pacific War Bookstore (i.e., Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas).   I am sure once the current inventory runs dry, it'll be a long while before a 3rd printing appears, if ever.   Laborious in reading, it is still the only worthwhile resource rich in (declassified at the time) SACO's operational details and individual field teams' history.

 

Internet References

 

aad.archives.gov: RECORDS OF DUTY LOCATIONS FOR NAVAL INTELLIGENCE PERSONNEL 1942-1945 

 

content.cdlib.org: CHUNGKING: A DIFFERENT TIME AND A DIFFERENT PLACE

 

www.computersmiths.com: US NAVAL GROUP CHINA, SACO BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

www.delsjourney.com/saco: SACO: THE SINO-AMERICAN COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION

 

www.geocities.com/navgruchina: THE HOME OF NAVAL GROUP CHINA SACO

 

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Revised: 05/05/12