Talking Proud Archives --- Military

WWII China: precedents for covert Navy operations in China and the connection between China and Vietnam

May 13, 2015

By Ed Marek, editor

My overall objective is to show some relationships between the development of US naval covert operations in China with those developed and applied in the very early years of the US war in Vietnam. This section will highlight the precedents for covert Navy operations in China and point out some connections between China and Vietnam.

This will be a complicated and long road so be prepared. I will also warn that various historical accounts of this period often conflict, especially with regard to dates. I tried hard to deal with this problem as best I could. I will be pleased to
consider inputs which argue against the way I have presented t material.

There has long been a connection between China and Vietnam.

The Chinese ruled Vietnam for 1,000 years, 111 BC to AD 939. Many millions Chinese came to Vietnam during this period, either to colonize it, or to escape the persistent chaos in China. The Chinese have played a significant role in Vietnam’s cultural, economic and political life. The French further encouraged Chinese emigration to Vietnam during the colonial period. The French hired many Chinese to help administer Vietnam. The Chinese population grew considerably during the French colonial period. There is a very detailed analysis of Chinese migration to Vietnam written by Ramses Amer, entitled,
“French Policies towards the Chinese in Vietnam: A study of Migration and Colonial Responses.”


Foreign spheres of influence in early 20th century

During the 19th century, the US observed how European nations were establishing their spheres of influence over China, including Britain, Russia, France, the Netherlands and Germany. At that time, the US had no real interest in destroying these spheres.

Therefore in 1899, the US announced an Open Door policy toward China, seeking only the ability to trade within all these spheres on an equal basis with the others.

China historically had enormous influence over Japan. Historians argue that China spread its civilization to Japan, including production techniques, institutional models, religion, writing, art, the whole nine yards. The Japanese demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adapt and use what they learned to their advantage. The Japanese even adapted elements of the Chinese emperor mentality.


As time passed, Japan grew very rapidly economically. The reality was that Japan was the only Asian country to successfully industrialize itself and rival great Western empires. One result was the Japanese began to see the Chinese as unable to develop, involved in continuous strife and war. They saw China as exceedingly weak, especially when western forces entered the scene motivated by trade and profit.


Furthermore, the Japanese had adopted a military culture and looked to building an empire as had the Western powers. This was underscored by the driving need to obtain more resources to keep economic momentum going; Japan itself did not have enough for that.

So Japan decided to move away from its traditional isolation into the world of empires and establish its own sphere of influence. First stop, Manchuria in 1937, heretofore the Russian sphere of influence.


The US Navy 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.The USS
Susquehanna steamed up the Yangtze in the first and unsuccessful attempt to persuade imperial China to open the river to American commerce. The Susquehanna made the voyage without Chinese authorization. This is a photo of the USS Monocracy, one of the first gunboats built for the job.


US Navy ships landed Marines numerous times in China, 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.


This old photo shows the Navy gunboat, the USS
Isabel in Chinese waters circa the 1920s. She was actually a yacht commissioned by the Navy as a destroyer. She deployed to the US Navy Asiatic Fleet in 1921 to join the Yangtze Patrol charged to protect US commerce from pirates. China at the time was in great turmoil, and she along with other small gunboats worked to protect US interests, coming under hostile fire many times. Keep her in mind. She’ll pop up later.

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 seen routinely in Chinese ports. US commerce with China was of huge importance to the US, as was freedom of the seas. Asiatic Fleet ships, including the USS
Augusta heavy cruiser and Isabel even 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 in fact was the first to create an office of intelligence, in 1882, within the Bureau of Navigation, which became the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). The US Navy was no match with the navies of the world powers like Britain, or even Japan, especially in the area of technology development. It sent its officers abroad to gain knowledge (to wit spy) on foreign naval technology. It relied a lot at the outset on ad-hoc spy networks, and routine expeditions abroad, watching other navies, reporting back about them. The problem was all these reports were accumulating in Washington with no coordination which inhibited agreeing on what technologies to develop. Lt. Theodorus Mason, USN, shown here, traveled abroad a lot, and assembled an impressive stack of reports. He advocated setting up an intelligence office within the Department of the Navy, and Secretary of the Navy William Hunt agreed. Hunt put it in the Bureau of Navigation instead of on his or the Navy staff. Hunt directed all hands to collect intelligence and provide it to this office.

Following WWI, the ONI became acutely aware of all the strategically located islands in the Pacific that controlled the passages to China, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. As an aside, President FDR was greatly interested in naval intelligence. The political intrigues surrounding this are fascinating. It also became clear that Japan had expansionist ambitions in China. The US Navy built six additional gunboats to operate in Chinese waters and rivers and the US Navy continued to do so throughout the 1930s.


You will recall the Japanese invaded Manchuria in China in 1931, the rest of China in 1940. Also in September 1940, Japan invaded northern Vietnam, known as Tonkin, and invaded southern Vietnam in July 1941 and occupied it. For their part, the Japanese saw Vietnam as among the very best natural harbors in East Asia, they felt Vietnam alone could supply Japan with as much rice as was needed, and the Imperial Japanese Army had visions of a unified East Asia, in 1940 reflected in the idea of a Co-Prosperity Sphere.

In 1941 President FDR announced the defense of China was vital to the defense of the US. Following the Japanese attacks against the Hawaiian Islands, the US declared war against the Japan on December 8, 1941. By 1942, the Japanese had marched all the way through Burma to the border with India.

Recall Germany invaded France in May 1940, rapidly defeated French forces, Marshal Pétain’s representative signed an armistice with Germany on June 22, 1940, and Pétain established his Vichy government in July 1941. The armistice among other things allowed French forces, which came to be known as Vichy French forces, to maintain control of overseas colonies. So they remained in Vietnam. The US declared war against Germany on December 11, 1941.

When you research all of WWII, you quickly learn that the Allies, mainly FDR and Churchill, were planning for the post-war period even as they were climbing what might have seemed like an insurmountable mountain. I have read some reports that FDR thought WWII would be over in 1943.

There were really three wars in Asia: the Pacific Ocean naval war, the Southwest Asia Pacific “island hopping” war, and the China-Burma-India (CBI) war. The CBI is our focus.

The CBI is worthy of considerable study. It is fascinating and not well understood. I have done two stories that provide some great background on it:

Chiang Kai-shek’s ground forces along with indigenous forces in the region fought most of the ground war, mainly in China and Burma, while the Allies provided them with air support. Interestingly, it would be indigenous Vietnamese forces of Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh who did the most fighting against Japanese in Vietnam. We’ll not talk much about the fighting in Burma, but instead concentrate on China and Vietnam.


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 as a way to strike at Japan. That in turn meant the US had to maintain the image of China as a major US ally, specifically, maintain the close tie with Chiang Kai-shek, and continue to recognize him as the Supreme Allied Commander China. Given the complexities of the international politics among the Allies, this would be no easy task.


Chiang Kai-shek with FDR

Even before the attack on the Hawaiian Islands, China rose up to become an Allied power. The US saw China as a main theater of operations. The US would secure, maintain and operate air forces against the Japanese, and organize and use American units to fight guerrilla warfare on the ground while the Chinese and indigenous forces would fight on the ground.

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. In his role as Supreme Commander, Chiang was not subordinate to any Allied power or the CCS. Furthermore, 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.”

Chiang needed the US but was always apprehensive about Allied intentions toward China. He was especially concerned about the British. It took him until January 5, 1942 to accept the Supreme Commander position. His condition was that a high-ranking American officer be assigned to his staff, working for him. The US selected General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell for the position of chief of staff to Chiang and commander of US forces in the CBI, later referred to as United States Task Force China. There was also an implication that he was to train the Chinese Army, which was being pummeled by the Japanese. There was considerable fear in the US that if Japan should prevail in the CBI, the people of the CBI would, for one reason or another, go over to Japan’s side. By the way, it is worth an effort to study and understand what General Stilwell did and endured during his time in the CBI. They did not call him “Vinegar Joe” for no reason!

From a planning perspective, the US envisioned active supply lines to China and dominating air power as the top military priorities. The Japanese owned the ports in Malaya, China and Vietnam. The Burma Road from Rangoon to China at first could not carry the supply loads, The Japanese conducted constant air attacks against the road, and then Japanese ground forces took it and closed it. Therefore there was no means of resupplying China by ground at the levels of supply it needed to fight.

There was an idea that amphibious landings in Thailand that would then run through Indochina to Hanoi and Haiphong could be the ticket to open a supply route from there. But there was little enthusiasm for inserting large or even some numbers of US ground forces into the CBI. They were needed for all the other theaters of war in Asia and Europe. This is one of the reasons the conduct of covert guerrilla warfare grew in importance in the US.

As a result, the US would have to fly in supplies over the Himalayas from India to China.


The idea was to fly supplies over the Himalayas, and at the same time build a road that would begin in Ledo in far northeastern India and connect to the Burma Road at Lashio in northeastern Burma, fairly close to China, after which the Burma Road could be used to Kunming, China (roughly sketched with red arrows). Building the Ledo Road required the Allies to push the Japanese southward out of northeastern Burma.

So two objectives emerged: arrange the air transport right away, and build the Ledo Road with the attendant requirement to push the Japanese out of the area.

I want to pause for a moment and address the importance if Kunming, as you will see it pop up throughout the report. Prior to the Japanese invasions, Kunming had a rail link to Hanoi. The Burma Road also ran from Rangoon port to Kunming, helping it to develop as an industrial center. The Japanese cut the rail line and the Burma Road. But the resupply flights from India to China landed at Kunming. In addition, the US air forces would headquarter there. Finally, Chiang Kai-shek made it the National Redoubt in case the provisional capital at Chunking fell. The net result was it became a very important location to the Chinese and the Allies including the French. So keep this in mind.

There was little interest among most senior American officials in Indochina. Such was not the case with FDR. Perhaps because of his disdain for the Vichy French, he wanted Indochina to get its independence after the war, and he wanted China to play the role of “big brother.” FDR personally saw Vietnam’s future as dependent on China and Chiang. One result was that the attention that was shown by US officials toward Southeast Asia was focused mainly on Vietnam.

FDR saw substantial benefit from this approach. In his mind this would put the US in the driver’s seat as the major force in stabilizing Asia, since the US was a close ally of Chiang. FDR’s approach, he felt, would have served as an offset to the British and French who had control over many of the countries in the region. Both Stalin and Chiang liked the idea. The British and French, of course, did not. FDR even offered Indochina to Chiang once WWII was over, but Chiang said “no.” That said, Chiang did have his eye on Vietnam.

As you research in this area, you will see that many US officials viewed Indochina, specifically Vietnam, as one with China in some form or another, almost as though Vietnam were China’s responsibility.

The dominant US interest in both China and Vietnam 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. I will only skim the top level of this latter point, and even that will drive the average citizen nuts!

The US priority would change after WWII. The US interest quickly switched to rebuilding Japan and Germany and stopping communist expansion. That had a huge impact on how the US viewed Vietnam. We’ll discuss this much more later.

Enough introductions. I have organized this report chronologically. I tried other approaches and they did not work. So you will have to skip from one subject to another as I go through the chronology. I fully recognize this is a long read for you. I summarize highlights throughout. The details are in volumes, perhaps enough to fill a small library, and contained in many very fine historical records.

So let’s get going. We’ll start in 1930.


I should spend a few moments on the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) (
Đảng Cộng sản Đông Dương). There were three communist parties early in Vietnam. They were the Communist Party of Indochina, active only in Tonkin; Communist Party of Annam, active only in Cochinchina; and the Communist League of Indochina, active only in central Annam. On February 3, 1930 they all joined together to form the Vietnamese Communist Party under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. By October 1930, at a session in Hong Kong, and at the urging of the Communist International, the Vietnamese Party changed its name and became the Indochina Communist Party ( ICP).


British authorities in Hong Kong arrested Ho Chi Minh for involvement in revolutionary activities. The British kept him in prison for two years, after which he returned to Moscow and remained there until 1938.


This is Captain Clair Chennault, US Army Air Force (AAF). During WWI, he learned to fly in the Army Air Service and then entered pilot training and subsequently became the Chief of Pursuit Section at the Air Corps Tactical School.

He resigned from the military in 1937, and, knowing what was happening in China, left the AAF for China to help train Chinese airmen.

As life would have it, Chennault’s boss was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek, “Madame Chiang.” She was the Secretary of the Aviation Committee, virtually running the ROC Air Force (ROCAF). Chenault then became the chief air-adviser to Chiang.

The Chinese Air Force was in deplorable condition. Chennault went to the US to obtain as many aircraft for the Chinese as he could get. Senior officials in Washington had been searching for ways to get the aircraft he wanted over to China without creating a political firestorm at home. There were all kinds of legal and political hurdles in the way. But there were also key figures high up in government who favored the idea. One idea to gain prominence at that time was to provide American pilots for these aircraft, to fight the Japanese, even if that meant they would have to be civilians.

For our purposes here, Chennault’s fliers needed targeting intelligence, and that required covert deals and clandestine operations --- human intelligence. The US had almost no intelligence on the entire CBI region.

I’ll mention that the Japanese took the ROC capital, Nanking, in December 1937 and executed a savage massacre known as the “Rape of Nanking.” The ROC government moved to the interior, to southwest China, to Chungking.


Ho Chi Minh returned to China to serve as a military advisor for the Chinese Communist Party following the Japanese invasion of 1937. The Communists and Nationalists worked together against the Japanese and against each other until the end of WWII at which time the Communists took over.


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 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 means to obtain intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies. This turned out to be an important paper, and I’ll get back to it shortly, when we get to 1942. Miles turned out to be a most important figure, as you will see.

Intelligence operations in this section of the world, and globally, would command a great deal of American attention as we approach WWII.


In July 1940, British Prime Minister (PM) Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton, his Minister of Economic Warfare, set up the Special Operations Executive (SOE). They did this after observing the fall of France and the speed with which that occurred. Its mission was to encourage and supply resistance movements in enemy-occupied territory, and occasionally mount clandestine sabotage operations. It was given a global mission, though at first it concentrated on Europe.

Mordant_Eugene DecouxJean

I also wish to note that French Major General Eugene Mordant (left) took command of French forces in Indochina on August 7, 1940. Furthermore, French Admiral Jean Decoux (right) was named Governor-General of French Indochina in 1940. He had wanted to fight against the Axis powers but swore his allegiance to the Vichy government. When Japan invaded northern Vietnam in September 1940, he agreed, some assert reluctantly, others say stupidly, to let Japanese forces move through Tonkin to build air bases and block allied supply routes to China. He further opened the port of Haiphong to the Japanese and allowed Japanese troops to be stationed in that region. Remember, Tonkin abuts China.


Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, the US Navy and the National Military Council (NMC) of China, chaired by Chiang Kai-shek, began negotiations to establish a weather service behind Japanese-held areas in China, and for the US to train the Nationalist Army. Recall that much of the Japanese force in China was on the coast. Chiang Kai-shek tasked the Chinese Army's Military Bureau of Investigations and Statistics (Intelligence Bureau similar to CIA), led by Chinese General Tai (Dai) Li, shown here, to cooperate with American representatives on this project. This project would be known as the “Friendship Project.”

It is worth noting Tai Li commanded a large militia force called the Loyal Patriotic Army (LPA) which was active in Japanese-occupied interior regions of China. He also had connections to various Chinese bandit and pirate groups along the coast. It is also worth noting he coveted his intelligence operations, distrusted foreigners, and was one tough cookie. General Tai Li will be a prominent personality in our discussion of US Navy covert operations in China, and Vietnam for that matter.

This is Laughlin Currie, a Canadian-born economist, by this time a naturalized American citizen, and an economic advisor to the president. In January 1941, FDR sent Currie to China as a personal presidential envoy. He returned from China and recommended it be added to the US lend-lease program. FDR approved that and appointed him to be in charge. tells us this about Lend-Lease:

“(Lend-lease) authorized the president to transfer arms or any other defense materials for which Congress appropriated money to ‘the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States ... without compensation.’”

Currie recognized the US was not at war with Japan, and US air forces could not be applied to help the Chinese. Nonetheless, by playing with lend-lease, he was able to organize a clandestine “Special Air Unit” to support Chinese ground operations. It came to be known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), popularly known as the Flying Tigers. He also organized a training program in the US for Chinese pilots.


FDR quietly authorized military people on active duty to resign in order to join the AVG as civilians. Claire Chennault, now a civilian and advisor to Chiang Kai-shek, would lead it. He used Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) fronting for the Chinese and American governments, recruited some 82 American pilots and 359 ground crew to come to China to “fly and fight.” Chennault returned to China. Note this photo showing Chennault (left) giving instructions to his AVG pilots with a Chinese representative looking on. Note their uniforms --- they are not US military uniforms, but ones Chennault designed for their use.


In the mean time, in April 1941 the US and China signed a $50 million “stabilization agreement” to support the Chinese currency. It was really intended to provide 100 P-40B Tomahawk fighter bombers to China, again using CAMCO to handle the purchase and shipment. They arrived in Rangoon in June 1941 where they were reassembled and flown to a base in Burma where the AVG fliers were located to receive them. Note the Chinese Air Force insignia on the bottom of the wing.

AVG civilian fliers began training in August 1941. They flew their first combat mission on December 20, 1941, flying combat missions over Rangoon with the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Following the US Declaration of War against Japan, one AVG squadron of P-40s helped the RAF defend Rangoon and the other two squadrons were stationed in Kunming, China. The AVG scored many kills of Japanese aircraft by employing superior flying tactics.


In early 1941 Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam after 30 years in exile, slipping into northern Vietnam to a cave in Pac Bo, only 3 kms from China (modern photo of cave, now a museum, shown here). He stayed there for seven weeks and left before he was detected. His mission was to lead an independence movement. He used the ICP and other nationalist groups to form the Viet Minh, officially
Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh or League for the Independence of Vietnam. He formed this as a national independence coalition of communist and nationalist groups that opposed the French and the Japanese during World War II. Ho meant for the Viet Minh to be more nationalist than communist, a movement against racism and one working toward the removal of the “foreign aggressors,” French and Japanese, a critical point to remember.

In mid-1941, General de Gaulle sent Jean Escarra, an expert in international law and an advisor to the KMT, to Chungking to contact Chiang Kai-shek on behalf of de Gaulle and arrange to set up a Free French relationship with the KMT. With the help of some people he knew, and some French officers who had left Indochina for China, Escarra set the stage for the establishment of a Free French military mission in China.

An underlying American priority as the US entered WWII in the Pacific was the driving, gripping, insatiable need for intelligence on the Japanese and an arguably more important need for current weather information for the fleet at war in the Pacific. Most weather affecting the fleet came from China, but as the war started, the farthest west the US had a weather station was Hawaii.

An influential New York lawyer and former Army colonel in WWI, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, saw the need for a single national intelligence office to coordinate and control intelligence activities of the US. He had conducted intelligence operations during the Russian Civil War and continued his intelligence gathering activities in the 1920s and 1930s. Donovan had established very close relationships with the British, including Winston Churchill, and with British intelligence. He was impressed by the way they handled it at the national level. He was especially 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, called “SO” in his day.

Donovan had broached the idea with FDR, but needed a heavy push from a very good friend, Frank Knox, the secretary of the navy. FDR finally agreed with the idea, but insisted this be a military organization rather than a civilian one. In July 1941, FDR established the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI). He appointed Donovan as its leader and made him a major general in the Army, which was not well received by the Army. Indeed the whole idea of the COI was not well received by the Army, which feared its intelligence operations would be at risk. You may recall the Army was the powerhouse military department in the Department of War at the time. The COI operated from within the White House.

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.

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. China was to be the place where Donovan would have to fight his fight, both at home and in China.

General Miles selected Brigadier General John Magruder, USA, shown here, an intelligence officer then at Ft. Devins, to lead the mission. Magruder had served twice in China, once as an assistant military attaché and then as military attaché. The main purpose of the mission was said to be to help carry out the purposes of the Lend-Lease Act with China. So far as Miles was concerned, it was to get the Army’s intelligence operational oar in China before Donovan.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the Hawaiian Islands, the US declared war on Japan on December 8, and against Germany on December 11. The global wars were on.

On December 18, 1941, the position of Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet was re-established, 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, shown here, became King’s chief of staff. Admiral Lee was a “battleship sailor.” He is best known for his achievements during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, for which he received the Navy Cross. However, 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, Lee told Cdr. Miles to plan the operation he had recommended, largely because of his faith in Miles’ knowledge of China. Miles worked with Xiao 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

While RAdm. Lee gave instructions to Miles to go to China, so did his boss, Fleet Admiral Earnest J. King, shown here, the commander US Fleet and then dual-hatted as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Miles’ mission was very important to Admiral King and was to be kept secret. General George Marshall, USA, the Army’s chief of staff, was also involved in the process that sent Cdr. Miles on this mission.

Admiral King had a vision of pushing back the Japanese such that the US could invade the Pacific coast of China and drive through Manchuria to Korea. He also saw the need to pin down the some 4 million Japanese forces in China by this time. It was generally thought such a landing would occur in Fujian Province, across the Formosa Strait and the island of Formosa, later called Taiwan. Furthermore, following the Hawaiian Island attacks, the Navy purged its intelligence organization and was hell-bent on building an intelligence organization in China. King did not want to depend solely on Army or OSS intelligence. King was fortunate on this point, because the OSS was not popular with Chiang Kai-shek or Tai Li.

Miles was initially authorized $40,000 to arrange for the cooperation with Tai Li. 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.”

King’s immediate top priority at the time was weather information. He wanted Miles to set up weather stations inside China, which meant they had to be set up behind enemy lines.

This direct tasking from King, and the fact that Miles was to report directly to him under the cover of working as a military attaché or US Naval Observer to China, attached to the US embassy, gave Miles clout. Tai Li was close to Chiang so Tai was his top gun for this job. So both men had clout.

As I have indicated, the bulk of US support to the Chinese would have to be air transport of supplies to China and air support to Chinese Nationalist and indigenous ground forces throughout what is known as the CBI Theater of War. However, the US did use some ground forces (less than 3,000), notably those led by Brigadier General Frank Merrill (shown here) to fight behind enemy lines in Burma, known as Merrill’s Marauders, an incredible story to be sure. Theirs was a guerrilla war.


As a reminder, throughout much of 1941, Colonel Graves B. Erskine, USMC, chief of staff and chief of intelligence, I Corps (Provisional), US Atlantic Fleet, had been planning to organize a unit of men specializing in reconnoitering enemy shores in preparation for invading Europe and North Africa. By December 1941, the unit was designated the “Observer Group,” comprised of a small group of soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and Marines from the 1st Marine Division, 1st Lt Lloyd Peddicord, Jr., USA in command. The Force Recon Association wrote:

“The Observer Group experimented with many types of small landing craft including rubber boats, folding canvas boats, kayaks, outboard motors, light weight radio equipment, signal lights and different types of clothing. The Army went to Africa and the Marines under Capt. James Jones, USMC went to Camp Elliot outside of San Diego as part of Amphibious Corps Pacific Fleet Force.”

This marked a beginning for the development of naval clandestine maritime operations. The Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (S&R) would follow in August 1942.

Right after the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian islands and the Philippines, Japanese General Isamu Chō designated the Tonkin border region with China, namely Tonkin, as a French defense responsibility, even though the Japanese had invaded and occupied it in September 1940. Admiral Decoux, Governor-General of French Indochina, then sent a sizable French force to the area, which enabled him to establish secret contacts with the ROC Government. General Chō had done much of the Ministry of Defense planning for the invasion of Southeast Asia and accompanied the Southern Army into Indochina. Chō had earlier served as the chief of staff of the Indochina Expeditionary Army.

I’ll insert one highlight about the Japanese in Indochina. The Japanese in the early days gave the Vichy French representatives in Indochina wide berth to administer the region. They could not devote significant forces to doing that as they were intended to get over to Burma and even get into India.

I must now introduce you to Laurence Gordon, a Canadian and British subject who had worked for Cal-Texaco in Indochina for many years. I will note here that years before WWII it was well known in the petroleum world that massive reservoirs of oil existed in Vietnam and offshore Vietnam. 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. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Cal-Tex developed a plan to send Gordon to Indochina under a semiofficial cover. 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. I will return to Gordon in 1943.


You’ll recall I introduced you to the USS Isabel in Chinese waters circa the 1920s. This photo shows her at Hankow, China in 1937 dressed up for King George’s coronation in Britain. It turns out the Isabel took on a secret mission in December 1941 to reconnoiter the coast of Japanese-occupied French Indochina, Lt. John Payne, USN, in command. But that may not have been her real mission.

On December , 1941, Admiral Thomas Hart, Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet, shown here,received a top secret message from Admiral Harold Stark, CNO. The orders contained in the message had come directly from FDR. Hart was to charter three small vessels to head to the West China Sea and Gulf of Siam, with one vessel stationed between Hainan and Hue and one off the Indochina coast between Cam Ranh Bay and Cape St. Jaques, with the third vessel off Pointe de Camau. FDR authorized use of the USS Isabel as one of the vessels.

Admiral Hart met face-to-face with Lt. Payne on the morning of December 3. He reviewed the instructions and told Payne that only he and his XO could know of the mission, and the XO could be told only after they put out to sea. The cover story was that she was searching for a PBY Catalina flying boat missing off the Indochinese coast. The two other ships identified for the mission would not get to sea, but the Isabel sailed out of Manila Bay during the evening of December 3, headed toward the Indochina coast.

Payne was to approach under cover of darkness, show lights to mislead others that she was a fishing vessel, and report Japanese ship movements. She was permitted to defend herself, but the skipper was told to destroy the ship rather than allow the Japanese to capture her. A Japanese reconnaissance aircraft did spot her on December 6, 1941, one day before the Pearl Harbor attack, but the plane did not fire at her. She was ordered to return to Manila though she could have made it to Cam Ranh Bay.

It turns out that patrolling PBYs of the Asiatic Fleet had detected a buildup of Japanese shipping in southern China and Indochina in late November. The Navy concluded they were making a major move southward, perhaps to attack Thailand or Malaya and Singapore. The feeling was that by sending the
Isabel directly into the path of the southward bound Japanese convoy, the Japanese would surely attack her, making it easier for FDR to convince the Congress to go to war against Japan. As events turned out, the Japanese attacked the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941, while the Isabel was on her return to Manila.


You will recall I introduced you to Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Britain, set up in July 1940. Its mission was to encourage and supply resistance movements in enemy-occupied territory, and occasionally mount clandestine sabotage operations. It was given a global mission, though at first it concentrated on Europe. By 1942, the British clearly understood they would need such operations in the Far East, driven especially by the Japanese conquests of Malaya and Singapore. One result was a serious SOE effort to organize “stay behind” covert resistance operations in the Far East.

Through many evolutions and partnerships among various covert activities in the region, this effort became known as Force 136. That said, Force 136 did not officially get established until 1944. The problem here from a historical perspective is most historians and scholars talk about Force 136 in the Far East as though it began roughly in 1942, and I will follow their example. Initially, most of the men in Force 136 were Chinese. It would expand to include indigenous peoples from those areas occupied by the Japanese as Force 136 expanded its reach from Malaya all the way to China.

At the risk of repeating myself
ad nauseum, controlling supply routes to China mandated great American attention. There was no question about it --- supplies would have to be flown to China, and the USAAF was the only outfit that could do it. Furthermore, the Chinese air force was close to worthless. That was bad because Chinese ground forces needed air support to have any chance against the Japanese. And the British RAF needed help as the Japanese kept gaining ground in the British colony of Burma. The British even envisioned the Japanese could threaten India, a prized, perhaps the prized British possession.

Early 1942 saw a flurry of events for USAAF air operations in response to air transport and close air support requirements.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Department decided to fold the AVG into the AAF. Technically, the AVG was under Chinese command and control. From an US command and control perspective, that situation could not stand while the US was at war.

On February 12, 1942, the AAF activated the 10th AAF at Patterson Field, Ohio, and then assigned it to India, Major General Lewis H. Brererton, AAF in command. Interestingly, he was a graduate of Annapolis. He was told to go to India and organize the 10th AAF there. He was also ordered to prepare an air route for the resupply of China. And, his AAF would control all USAAF operations in the CBI. US officials were convinced that air power in the CBI was essential, and that it had to be hard-hitting, offensive air power. This air power would have to operate from India and from bases in China, with a view that ultimately it would strike from China at the heart of Japan.

Brererton established his headquarters in New Delhi, India. Once Stilwell, the incoming commander of US forces in the CBI got there, Bremerton would report to him. Brererton had largely a paper organization to command. He did have a few bombers which came over from the Middle East, mainly from the 9th and 436th Bombardment Squadrons (BS) of the 7th Bombardment Group (BG), B-17s and B-24s. His first batch of 10 P-40 fighters arrived in Karachi, India in March 1942, had to be reassembled, pilots had to train, and the aircraft had to be flown to suitable airfields in India. The only port available was Karachi. The supply line back to the US was very long, some 13,000 miles long, and the CBI did not command the highest priority.

I’ll take this opportunity to introduce you to General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. His activities in the CBI are worthy of separate study. I have mentioned that Chiang Kai-shek was the Supreme Allied Commander China. The British commanded the Burma forces under the India Command. FDR appointed Lt. General Stilwell to command American Army Forces of the CBI. General Chennault worked for him. Stilwell arrived in India in February 1942. He was also the chief of staff to Chiang. Incredibly, he was able to convince Chiang to allow him to command Chinese forces in Burma, Siam (Thailand), Malaya and French Indochina, but not those in China.


By early May 1942 Burma had essentially been lost and the Burma Road had been shut down. The one AVG squadron stationed there left Burma and went to China to join its two sister squadrons. So the flights “Over the Hump” would have to get going. PanAm Airlines provided 10 DC-3s and flight crews and the 10th AAF borrowed three more from the AAF inventory. Supplies were moved from the Karachi port to the airfields. The first flight took place on April 8, 1942. They continued daily until August 1945. This photo shows part of one of two engines and the wing headed over the Himalayas.


Flying supplies over the Himalayas to China was a costly and very dangerous endeavor. The northern flying route was called the High Route, over the Himalayas, and was the route most used. The southern route, or the Low Route, went over the southern end of the Himalayas and was less dangerous environmentally, but the Japanese air threat was far more significant. 10th AAF provided air defense for the transport flights over the Hump to India and the AVG picked them up in China and escorted them to Kunming.


While this transport flying proceeded, the US, employing some 15,000 soldiers, most of whom were Black, and 35,000 indigenous workers built the Ledo Road. It would be named the Stilwell Road. This photo shows a supply depot along the way. It did not open until January 1945.


As is always the case, the ground forces, Chinese and indigenous, needed close air support. The AAF provided that as well. Furthermore, the AAF was tasked to attack Japanese forces, supplies, installations and vehicles, whether land-based or shipborne. This in turn demanded identification and location of targets. And this is where intelligence on the enemy was essential. This is where a connection is made between air operations and covert naval operations in China. The photo shows Chinese forces on the move with USAAF air cover.


The AAF established the China Air Task Force (CATF) on July 4, 1942, newly promoted Brigadier General Clair Chennault in command. It assigned the CATF to the 10th AAF. In addition, the 23rd Fighter Group (FG) was activated in July 4, 1942, Colonel Robert L. Scott, Jr. in command (shown here). As promised by the War Department, the AVG was disbanded this same date. The 23rd FG took all the AVG’s P-40 aircraft, which had been bought and paid for by the Chinese. The CATF conducted operations over China, Burma, French Indochina, and Formosa. Remember the 10th AAF was subordinate to Lt. General Stilwell, the commander of American Army Forces of the CBI and chief of staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.


This is a CATF 23rd FG P-40 taken from the AVG. Note it now carries USAAF markings on the fuselage.

You will recall General Wild Bill Donovan and his Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) created in July 1941. The COI had a rough go of it. The FBI, Navy, ONI, Army G-2 and the State Department each operated intelligence activities. Each worked to limit the power of the COI. On June 13, 1942, FDR issued a military order creating the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) 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.

As an aside, in March 1942, with FDR’s approval, COI agents broke into the Vichy French embassy in Washington. Again toward the end of June, an OSS agent, Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, codenamed Cynthia, with the help of the Vichy embassy’s press secretary with whom she had become a lover, stole the Vichy codes from the embassy. FDR, very much angered by the Vichy government’s complicity with Germany, allowed the Vichy embassy to remain open and as a result the US was able to intercept and read all German messages coming to the embassy. And so began the OSS.

Donovan was a great believer in special operations, covert operations. He said, “In global and totalitarian war, intelligence must be global and totalitarian.” The JCS initially was not pleased to be responsible for the OSS, but in 1942 agreed to the establishment of the Special Operation Branch (SO) in the OSS, and further agreed to partner with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). The JCS in late 1942 also agreed to authorize the OSS to run American counterinsurgency units behind enemy lines. The OSS created Detachment 101, Colonel Carl Eifler, USA, shown here, in command. Det 101 joined with Kachin tribesmen in Burma to acquire intelligence on the Japanese from behind their lines. Det 101 conducted guerrilla actions, identified targets for the USAAF to attack, and rescued downed Allied airmen, mostly in Burma.

Peddicord Lt.
You will recall that the Army and Navy decided in August 1942 to split up the “Observer Group” mentioned previously. The Navy formed the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (S&R) and established a training school for them by September 1942. The Navy provided the sailors and the 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions provided the soldiers. The unit temporarily remained joint because the invasion of North Africa was coming up in November 1942. First Lt. Lloyd Peddicord, USA, was in command, Ensign John Bell, US Navy, executive officer. Their job would be to guide US and British forces as they invaded northwest Africa, Morocco and Algeria in “Operation Torch.” As the S&R grew in size, it would be involved in many operations in North Africa and Europe.

The training was described by one who attended the S&R school, Matthew A. (Komorowski) Kaye, who has written an interesting piece about the S&R (It’s tough to ascertain, but I believe Kaye’s work is based on his experiences in 1944-1945, but I wanted to include it here as his description of training enhances our introduction to the S&R). He said he and the others had already been trained on boat handling, sarcastically talking about circling and circling endlessly until they had to make a fast dash toward the shore. He wrote further about the training at Ft. Pierce, Florida:

“Our training was very intensive, including the use of short wave radios, stealth, hand-to-hand combat, body building, all sorts of gunnery, nighttime silhouette studies, scouting, rubber boat use, demolition, swimming, map reading, raiding and signaling.”


Kaye said they used Landing Craft Personal Ramp (LCPR) during their training. I found a photo of a scale model and it is shown here. You can see a few sailors and few Army soldiers on board.

The S&R were born out of an understanding that WWII would demand a great number of amphibious landings that required reconnaissance of landing beaches, obstacles and defenses, as well guiding forces in. This in turn required a good amount of intelligence collection gathered from human, rather than technical, sources.

Also in August 1942, the 14th AAF launched its first air raids into Vietnam from its fields in southern China.

Thus far, however, the Navy’s focus had been on Europe. This was about to change.

We’re still in 1942, and here comes a major US Navy covert effort in Asia, the Naval Group China (NGC) and the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). This is an important subject for this report.

Editor’s note: I wish to highlight a terrific web site dealing with the SACO organization, entitled “SACO, Sino American Cooperative Organization, US Naval Group China Veterans.” You can get a lot of detailed information about SACO at this site.

You will recall Commander Milton Miles, USN and his 1939 paper advocating a US Navy presence in China as means to obtain intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies. You will also recall Miles was tasked by Admirals King and Lee to go to China and implement his plan. Miles worked with Xiao Bao, the Chinese military attaché in Washington to develop such a plan. Xiao Bao, it turns out, worked for General Tai Li, to whom I introduced you earlier. His photo is here again as a reminder. Chiang and the US had already agreed to cooperate shortly after the start of the war. Chiang tasked Tai Li to lead from the Chinese side. The program was to be held closely, secretively. Its cover name was the “Friendship Project.”

Miles’ 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.

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. The British had a China Commando Group in-country at the time, I believe known as SOE Mission 204. 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. 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. Indeed Tai Li distrusted anyone other than those under his direct control conducting intelligence activities in China. That included the American OSS.

Tai Li already knew about newly promoted Capt. Miles. It turns out his wife, Wilma “Billy” Miles gave talks in Washington about her family’s travels to China. The wife of the Chinese military attaché attended one, and told her husband the Miles family seemed to understand China. That attaché was a trusted agent of Tai Li so word about Miles got back to Tai Li. Shortly after Miles arrived, Tai Li is said to have offered Miles the rank of general in the Chinese Army so the two of them could lead the Chinese Army together. In the beginning, they worked very well together.

Chiang liked the arrangements but wanted the “Friendship Project” documented in a formal agreement.

In August 1942, Vietnamese Ho Chi Chi Minh went back to China, where he had visited and remained many times, in order to ask for Chinese military assistance in return for intelligence about the Japanese forces in Indochina. The Nationalists had broken with the communists, they knew Ho was a communist, and were concerned about communist Viet Minh activities in China. Therefore they arrested Ho, charging him with spying for the French.


Changing gears a bit, you will recall that Lt. Peddicord, USA was in command of the Observer Group and then the Navy Scouts & Rangers formed earlier in 1942. On November 8, 1942, Peddicord took a scout boat and some of his men from the USS
George Clymer (APA-27), a Middleton-class attack transport (shown here) and moved to a position offshore Morocco to guide the waves of landing craft to Green Beach and coordinate the work of a demolition party tasked to remove a boom obstacle from the Sebu river. This was part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, and would set the stage for Navy covert operations throughout the Pacific.

Another gear change. You recall that French Major General Eugene Mordant took command of Vichy French forces in Indochina 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 to prepare for an Allied invasion.

One more gear change. Recall former Cal-Tex employee Laurence Gordan was authorized to work in Kwangsi to set up an intelligence network in Tonkin. In 1942 he was joined by two Americans, Harry Bernard and Frank Tan, the former British, the latter a Chinese-American. Both were also former Texaco colleagues. Gordon used British security funds to buy radios and equipment, and some Chinese. The group now came to be known as the Gordon-Bernard-Tan (GBT) group.

In December 1942, Viet Minh representatives approached the US embassy in China asking for help in securing the release of "an Annamite named Ho Chih-chi (?) [sic]" from a Nationalist Chinese prison, where he was being held for having invalid documents. This was, of course, Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Minh proposal was to get Ho’s release in return for using Ho’s influence to organize anti-Japanese activities in Vietnam. It is not clear whether the US intervened. American officials were aware Ho was good at organizing Vietnamese to conduct covert operations in Vietnam, but they were also aware of his revolutionary background and his ties to Moscow. So there was reluctance to help.

By the end of 1942, SACO had set up a “Weather Central” near Chungking. It was ending regular weather reports from multiple occupied areas in the Far East to the US fleet. China assigned many undercover forces to protect the Americans. The Americans were flown into China from Calcutta, India. SACO 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 and with the help of the undercover Chinese forces, they were generally ale to transit enemy lines undisturbed.


On March 5, 1943 the CATF was reconstituted as the 14th Army Air Force (14th AAF), headquarters in Kunming, China, newly promoted Major General Chennault in command. Its mission remained essentially guerrilla in nature: disrupt, harass and confuse the movements of a numerically superior enemy. Chennault technically was subordinate to General Stilwell, but in reality dealt directly with Chiang Kai-shek. FDR went against the advice of his generals to make this 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.

I suppose the point can be argued, but in retrospect 1943 was a good year for the Allies in Europe and Asia. They put both Japan and Germany on the defensive through the course of the year.

Let’s return to the GBT Group. By 1943, the GBT was in full swing in Vietnam. It used its French and Vietnamese contacts to cover Indochina with a very active network of radio stations and listening posts. During 1942 and 1943 the GBT became the major source of information from Indochina, and General Chennault’s 14th AAF was a major user. As it turned out, without the knowledge of General Tai Li or General Chennault’s intelligence unit, the GBT provided the very best intelligence. By some accounts it had become indispensable to Chiang and Chennault.


Back to the “Friendship Project.” It took about four months to get an agreement for this project, having to deal with all the problems associated with translations so everyone involved would be clear. The agreement officially established the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Here you see Captain Miles 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. While waiting for FDR and Marshall to give the agreement their nods of approval, 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 bombshell to many 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.

There was considerable negative reaction among senior American officials to this latter requirement, but 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. That’s how important getting weather information from China was to Admiral King. Furthermore, everyone understood this agreement was more than reporting the weather in return for Chinese troop training, and most wanted to be a part of those covert activities that would ensue.

The agreement also 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 came to be known as the Naval Group China (NGC). NGC would be synonymous with SACO among those involved.

I’ll mention as an aside that 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.” The Army wanted SACO under General Stilwell’s control. Stilwell backed away from this Army requirement and it did not happen.

As an aside, 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.”

So, with this SACO agreement, 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. SACO’s initial focus was on the weather, with five weathermen assigned.

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.”

Chief of the OSS William “Wild Bill” Donovan did not like anything about this “Friendship Project.” 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 US operations in China, and he wanted to insert his own agents into China and be in charge of them.

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. So at the time Donovan’s 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 a lot of cause not to like this arrangement. He did not like Tai Li leading SACO with Miles as his second, and Donovan did not like the idea of Miles, a Navy man, controlling his OSS agents. Nonetheless, the Miles appointment was written into the SACO agreement.

That said, Donovan saw the SACO agreement not as binding, strict guidance, but just another piece of paper subject to interpretation --- a typically lawyerly approach! In fact, Donovan and his people, many of whom were lawyers, would inundate Miles with legal papers addressing command and control and the types of operations that could be conducted.

I cannot get into the subject, but the SACO agreement did authorize covert intelligence operations in Thailand. The Thais were officially allied with the Japanese and at war with the US and Britain, but secretly the leadership kept the lines open to the US and Britain. Tai Li was interested in getting his fingers into Thailand, as was the OSS. Miles took over the “Thailand Project.” Th idea was to send agents into Thailand with a view toward instigating the overthrow of the government, at which point Tai Li would send in 10,000 Chinese disguised as Thais, effectively in an invasion. The British objected strenuously, as did General Stilwell. And I will leave it at that.

Linda Kush also wrote the book,
The Rice Paddy Navy, US Sailors Undercover in China. Parts of it can be seen on line by clicking the title.

Now an interesting twist with SACO. Winston Churchill despised de Gaulle and by 1943 wanted him thrown out of London. FDR also had a problem with de Gaulle, preferring French General Henri Honoré Giraud, shown here, to lead the Free French. In May 1943 Miles was traveling and stopped in Algiers to discuss Indochina with the Free French. He obtained General Henri Honoré Giraud’s cooperation in setting up an intelligence network in Indochina. Giraud was a Free French patriot, and understood the importance of SACO’s efforts in China and most specifically Indochina.

Giraud appointed his staff officer, Commander Robert Meynier, the only French submariner to refuse to surrender to the Germans, to lead the project in Indochina. Meynier’s wife was often referred to as a Vietnamese (Annamite) princess. Her father and uncle were influential Indochinese politicians. This photo shows her sitting with Chinese Colonel Kharb Kunjara and General Tai Li, the head of Chinese intelligence, at a banquet in Chungking. By the end of 1943 Cdr. Meynier assembled a group of informants inside the Indochinese government bureaus who provided intelligence on targets, Japanese troop movements, enemy fortifications and political developments. It became known as the “Meynier Group.” Madame Meynier proved invaluable to the effort because of her reach and influence inside Vietnam.

But there would problems. For his part, Meynier was anti-Vichy and pro-American, and Madam Meynier was pro-independence for Indochina. This resulted in persistent infighting among the French. Furthermore, Meynier’s group was infested with French agents, and their intelligence could be of dubious accuracy. The result was Meynier left in 1944.

Meynier’s departure was a loss for the AAF. Beginning in May 1943, Meynier’s network of informants in the bureaucracy of Vietnam provided outstanding targeting information for air attacks against the japans in Vietnam.

Sometime during 1943 Jean Escarra became the leader of the Free French Military Mission to Kunming. You will recall I noted he came to China in 1941 to persuade Chiang Kai-shek on behalf of de Gaulle to set up a Free French relationship with the KMT. So this military mission, which had operated in a rudimentary way since the 1941 meetings, reached some level of Chiang’s official approval. Furthermore, de Gaulle operated his own intelligence network inside China at the French Military Mission. He did not approve of Madame Meynier’s position regarding Indochinese independence.

Miles further sponsored training in the US for 18 American and two French personnel to parachute into the central highlands of Annam to create a large force of tribal guerrillas. This team, however, never made it to Indochina. Nonetheless, you can see yet another connection between covert operations in China and Indochina.

The Navy in 1943 launched a flurry of new organizations for clandestine maritime operations. You read about them in the opening section. I’ll just remind you of them.

In May 1943 the Navy formed the Special Mission Naval Demolition Unit, Lt. Mark Starkweather, US Navy in command. All sailors were trained Navy salvage divers brought in from Hawaii. They conducted a single mission for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, conducting reconnaissance and checking for and removing underwater obstacles. The unit was disbanded after that. However, in May 1943, the CNO directed the establishment of a Naval Demolition Project, with one unit set up at Solomons, Maryland, Unit Nr. 1, Commander John C Daniel, US Navy in command. All his men came from a Seabee training camp in Virginia. Following training, this unit participated in the Allied invasion of Sicily. As a result, Daniel proposed a more broad organization and a regimented training program.

As a result of those recommendations, the Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) was set up in June 1943 with training done at Ft. Pierce, Florida. Lt. Commander (LCdr) Draper Kaufman set up the training using volunteers from the Bomb and Mine Disposal School in Washington, DC and the Seabee school at Camp Peary, Virginia. Seven NCDU units were set up for the 3rd and 5th Fleets in the Pacific, three for the 8th Fleet in the Mediterranean, and one unit sent to England. Seabees belonged to the Civil Engineering Corps and Naval Construction Corps.

Then in July 1943 RAdm. Daniel “Uncle Dan” Barbey, commanding officer, Amphibious 7th Fleet, set up Codename Special Services Unit One (SSU-1) in the Pacific. 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.”

So SSU-1 was far more than underwater demolition, a trend you will now see develop in the Navy all the way to the emergence of the SEALs in 1962. The SSU-1 men were trained to fight on land as well. Under direction of Admiral Earnest King, CNO, the Navy set up a program that month to be a ”guerrilla amphibious organization of Americans and Chinese operating from coastal waters, lakes and rivers employing small steamers and sampans.” It was to operate under the cover name “Amphibious Roger.” Admiral King ordered 120 officers and 900 men to train in this program. Many of these men had returned from Scout and Raider duties in Europe and were available and well suited for this work. Those who got to China before WWII ended trained Chinese in guerrilla operations and reconnaissance against the Japanese occupation force. They also were trained to survey potential landing beaches for invasions of the Chinese mainland, and report on Japanese ship movements and weather. Three of the five units saw active duty. There would be more to come in late 1943.

We’ve got to switch gears again to allow me to introduce more bureaucracy, the Southeast Asia Command (SEAC). British PM Churchill set it up in August 1943 with Allied agreement and appointed Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten as Supreme Commander South East Asia.


The headquarters was in Kandy, Ceylon. The initial land forces’ operational area for SEAC included India, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, northern islands of Sumatra, and Siam (Thailand). I have seen cynics say Mountbatten’s command formed by the British to save England’s Asian colonies.

Chiang Kai-shek remained as the Supreme Allied Commander China.

You will recall I noted earlier that General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell was Chiang’s chief of staff. He was also named as Mountbatten’s chief of staff in addition to his commanding US forces in the CBI. If you were to do any research at all into the organizational lash-ups in the CBI during WWII, you would see they were a mess. All politics aside, a positive effect of this was to bring together the wartime activities of the Allies in Southeast Asia and China, done through General Stilwell’s position as chief of staff to both commands.

As an “oh by the way,” Thailand allied itself with Japan, allowed Japanese forces to come through Thailand, declared war against Britain and the US, and became a huge bone of contention between SACO, the OSS and the British with regard to who was in charge of what on the clandestine operations side of the house.

I will not talk very much about Mountbatten’s command, but studying it is fascinating and you need to know he was there and would expand the area of his command downstream to include Indochina.

In September 1943, the 14th AAF stepped up its tempo of air attacks against Japanese targets in Vietnam. Haiphong was a target for continuous bombing, as were the phosphate mines at Lao Chai and Cao Bang.

I wish to introduce you to French General Roger Blaizot. He had served in China from 1919-1920, and spent some time in Indochina in 1936. On September 8, 1943, the Free French tasked him to lead a French military mission in India. The idea here was to get cozy with the British on the question of the Free French military becoming part of SEAC, and ultimately getting involved in Vietnam. On September 20 he received command of a future French expeditionary corps to fight in the war against the Japanese with a view toward liberating Indochina. Recall the French always insisted French sovereignty over Indochina would be restored. As far as I can tell, these appointments held little water at this time, partly because the Germans still controlled France and it was exceedingly hard to assemble enough Free French forces for him to go to the CBI at the time of his appointment.

That he had no forces and that he did not yet have a seat at the SEAC table hindered British SOE planning for covert operations in Vietnam since the British felt they needed French help. SOE was also unable to secure support from Gaullists in Vietnam. The net result was the British would have a tough time gathering intelligence in Vietnam.

You will be hearing more and more about the French in this part of the world henceforth. I should note here that the Japanese seemed inclined early on to grant Indochina independence. Conversely, there was concern among the French, especially Admiral Decoux, that Japan might annex Indochina. This worry stemmed from, among other things, the USAAF B-24 bombings of the Haiphong harbor and other targets in Tonkin, all of which were hurting the Japanese. You’ll recall the Japanese had assigned responsibility for defense of Tonkin to the Vichy French and they were not defending Tonkin from these attacks.

While on the subject of the French, the French Colonial Army by 1943 was a train-wreck. Frenchmen made up only about 20 percent of the force. The army in Indochina was not prepared to fight an invading force like the Japanese. Many, perhaps most of the French soldiers had been stationed there for as many as four years or more. They were tired and demoralized. They knew of the situation back in the homeland. Furthermore, their equipment had begun succumbing to the jungle humidity, lack of care, and an almost non-existent supply system from home. The Japanese presence had sapped their mental strength.

You will recall that French Major General Eugene Mordant took command of French forces in Indochina on August 7, 1940. In 1943 he switched his allegiance to General de Gaulle. General de Gaulle in turn directed him to organize a Free French resistance movement in Vietnam. So in addition to everything else, the French Colonial Army had to contend with this, Vichy vs. Free French.


With SEAC, Mountbatten, Mordant and Blaizot duly noted, let’s get back to SACO. Tai Li’s base was outside Chungking and was known as “Happy Valley.” Chungking was the provisional capital for the ROC, located in southwest China. Many international embassies had located there during WWII.


The photo shows SACO members with local children overlooking Happy Valley. S. Shepherd Tate, writing
“The Rice Paddy Navy, SACO and the China I Knew,” 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 gained the trust of General Tai Li after a rocky start that tested Tai Li’s distrust of mingling with people, especially foreigners Tai Li thought might be involved in intelligence activities in China. There are those who argue that Tai Li did not really trust Miles, but instead was using him to obstruct any American thoughts of growing too influential in China. Most certainly Miles’ and Tai Li’s approach to conducting intelligence operations caused a great deal of heartburn in Washington.


In any event, 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.

In September 1943, the Chinese released Ho Chi Minh from prison. Chinese General Zhang Fakui released him. Zhang was a Chinese Nationalist general. He had fought against the northern warlords, the Japanese and the communists. He commanded the 8th Army Group located in southern China. Zhang knew Ho was a communist, but also learned Ho’s highest priority was independence for Indochina. Zhang was hostile toward the French colonialists and ordered his officers to offer Ho his freedom in exchange for providing Zhang with intelligence on the Japanese. He further wanted Ho to reorganize the Vietnamese resistance movement, especially among the Vietnamese in southern China, and promise Vietnam would not become communist for at least 50 years.

Indeed General Zhang encouraged Ho to revitalize the Viet Minh. Zhang appointed Ho the vice chairman of the Viet Minh, a group Ho had formed in 1941. Ho continued to stress with Zhang that the Viet Minh was a nationalist movement more than a communist one. The cooperation between Ho and Zhang is most interesting and worthy of study.

Shortly after Ho Chi Minh was released from a Chinese prison in 1943, the OSS issued a memo that, among other things, called for the US to “use the Annamites [Vietnamese]…to immobilize large numbers of Japanese troops by conducting systematic guerrilla warfare in the difficult jungle country.” To attract the Vietnamese, the OSS developed a plan whereby the Allies would guarantee Vietnam’s independence so long as the Allies won the war.


While Chiang Kai-shek had refused FDR’s offer to take Indochina as his own following the war, he was very interested in Southeast Asia nonetheless. He could see the day when the Chinese could have enormous influence and sway in Vietnam, and despite his refusing FDR’s offer, perhaps some control over it. The bulk of ground forces fighting in Southeast Asia, especially in Burma, were under Chiang’s command. So there was a conflict between Mountbatten’s role as commander SEAC and Chiang’s role as Supreme Allied Commander China. Early on, in October 1943, Mountbatten and Chiang shook hands agreeing they would both conduct operations in Indochina and Thailand. This photo is of the two in October 1943.

On November 4, 1943 General de Gaulle created the Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI), a light intervention corps, in Jijel, Algeria. It was modeled after the British commandos fighting in Burma. The Corps set up in Algeria with 500 volunteers, Lt. Colonel Paul Huard in command. Its purpose was to reinforce the resistance in Indochina. You will recall that French Major General Eugene Mordant took command of Vichy French forces in Indochina on August 7, 1940, but in 1942 switched allegiance to the Free French and was ordered to lead a resistance. The CLI was to help him in his efforts.

On November 10, 1943, Commandant de Crevècoeur arrived in India to introduce the CLI to the British SOE Force 136. As a result, the first CLI trainees were sent from Algeria to India to undergo British jungle warfare training.

De Gaulle had set up a Resistance government headquarters in Algiers in 1943, and had also set up a
Comité Français de la Libération Nationale, the French Committee of National Liberation. As a result, Algiers became the major base for de Gaulle and his people for the reoccupation of Indochina. De Gaulle felt so deeply about this that in December 1943 he essentially declared war against Japan.

At some point in 1943 de Gaulle replaced Jean Escarra, leader of the Free French Military Mission to Kunming, with Zinovy Peshkov (Pechkoff). He was Russian born, a WWI veteran of the French Army, and later a French Foreign Legionnaire. De Gaulle granted him the title “general” for this assignment. Peshkov had many friends in the US, one of whom was General William Donovan of the OSS. He was also on good terms with Chiang Kai-shek.

General Tai Li was not about to tolerate any independent French intelligence operations in China. Escarra was only able to establish a Free French Mission to Kunming by agreeing that the Free French deal with Tai Li’s agents. There was a benefit to this agreement. The Free French received equipment from SACO using Capt. Miles’ resources. As a result, the Free French were able to set up a network in Vietnam and provide the Chinese with information on the Japanese, and General Chennault with targeting information. But here again, Tai Li demanded to be in charge.

I need to say here that sometime in mid-1943, Francoise de Langlade, a French planter in Malaya and a man who apparently had established a good relationship with General de Gaulle and the British, was accepted to lead the British Indochina Country Section in Calcutta, India.

So what you are seeing here is the Free French getting their foothold in Indochina with the expectation that the Japanese and Germans would be defeated and the Free French would establish a new government in Paris and restore French colonies to France. Simply based on my cursory examination, you have de Langlade in the British Indochina section in Calcutta; Pechkov in the Free French Military Mission in Kunming, China; and General Blaizot waiting for his Free French troops so they could deploy to the CBI. And French Major General Eugene Mordant took command of French forces in Indochina but switched his allegiance to General de Gaulle and in turn was directed to organize a Free French resistance movement in Vietnam. This is not to mention the intelligence network de Gaulle had set up inside Vietnam and the one set up by French General Giraud through Capt. Miles of SACO.

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.


The one exception seems to be OSS Det 101, which I mentioned earlier, established in late 1942 and into 1943. It had joined with Kachin tribesmen in Burma to acquire intelligence on the Japanese from behind their lines, conduct guerrilla actions, identify targets for the USAAF to attack, and rescue downed Allied airmen in Burma. But China still eluded the OSS.

Despite repeated failures to gain control of his OSS agents, Donovan would not surrender. The Chinese honcho, Tai Li, called all the shots, and Capt. Miles and the Naval Group in China seemed happy with the relationship. For Donovan they were far too content. Further, SACO did not offer the OSS an avenue through which to conduct intelligence operations; his 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.

So in December 1943 the OSS created an outfit known as Detachment 202 at Chungking. My impression is Donovan went to the Det 101 model as a way to orchestrate a workaround with regard to SACO. Det 202 had much the same mission as Det 101, and arguably the same mission as SACO. Formed in 1943, 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. That changed later when it became active in Vietnam.

In 1943, Lt. General Albert Wedemeyer, USA, was reassigned from Europe to the Southeast Asia Theater to serve as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander under Mountbatten. As you will see a bit later, this turned out to have a major impact on Indochina.

Toward the end of 1943, some French officers and Vietnamese enlisted military men arrived for guerrilla training in Calcutta, Lieutenant Colonel Jean Crevecoeur in command. This was presumably arranged by Francoise de Langlade, the French planter in Malaya and now the leader of the British Indochina Country Section in Calcutta, India I mentioned earlier.

You will recall that in November 1943 General de Gaulle had created the
Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI) modeled after the British commandos fighting in Burma. Crevecoeur kept in touch with the CLI in Algeria with the intent of setting up a separate clandestine French Service d’action (SA) network in the Far East, responsible for conducting covert operations in Vietnam.

Now came a bombshell. In December 1943, 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 to that role. Coughlin had served with Det 101. Miles, however, remained number two at SACO. After 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 Claire Chennault, commander 14th AAF. 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, because Tai Li would not tolerate OSS independence. 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.


As a reminder, the Navy kept enhancing its capacity to conduct overt maritime operations. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) were formed up in December 1943 and were specifically designed to work in the Pacific region, where amphibious landings were the bread and butter of the march to Japan. Many of the men came from the Navy’s Seabees. Seabees were Naval mobile construction units. This was a huge but evolutionary step by the Navy. In the beginning, much of their work was to conduct pre-assault beach reconnaissance to the high tide line and perform combat demolition to support amphibious landing operations, usually by the Marines. Much to most of their reconnaissance would be done by swimming.

This was a huge though evolutionary move by the Navy. I’ll remind you from the opening section that the Korean War changed the way UDTs would be used. The Navy SEAL Museum says this:

“The Korean War substantially changed UDT operational doctrine; giving the men vastly expanded mission capabilities. In addition to their traditional roles of amphibious reconnaissance and mine and obstacle clearance, the UDTs saw the scope of their mission expanded to include stealthy infiltration from the sea to conduct raids and attack enemy shipping, port, and harbor facilities; clearance of ordnance from the high seas; intelligence gathering; and the covering of the withdrawal of friendly forces.”

I am skipping over the Korean War, but when we get to 1962, you will see how the UDTs formed the foundation of the Navy SEALs who would be active in the Vietnam War, indeed the Indochina War.

I am now going to start drifting away from the events in China more toward those in Indochina as we move ahead with this report. I first need to show you how some further connections started to emerge.

In that vein, I need to say here that starting roughly in 1943, some say late 1942, Vietnam entered a period of devastating famine that lasted through much of 1945. The Japanese requirement for Vietnam to supply rice occurred at a time when Vietnam began o experience widespread crop failures. Output started falling. Prices rose dramatically. adding to the problem, shipments of rice from Cochinchina fell markedly. And stepped up US bombing of Japanese targets impacted.


In January 1944, the French Committee of National Liberation formally appointed General Roger Blaizot as Chief of the French Expeditionary Force in the Far East with a brief to lead a mission to SEAC in Ceylon. You will recall that in 1943 the Free French tasked him to lead a French military mission in India. The idea here was to get cozy with the British on the question of the Free French military becoming part of SEAC, and ultimately getting involved in Vietnam. But at that point, it was a command of the future, and Blaizot sat in Ceylon without any troops, and without a seat at the SEAC table. But now the Free French were putting on some pressure.

The Free French suggested to the British that they be given a role in SEAC, that a French representative be accepted into the Chiefs of Staff structure in Washington, and that Blaizot have immediate contact with Lord Mountbatten. Both the British Chiefs of Staff and Mountbatten were prepared to support this. More on this later.

You will recall the Chennault-Donovan agreement to place OSS people in the 14th AAF intelligence unit, the 5329th Air and Ground Forces Resources and Technical Staff (AGFRTS), affectionately known as the “Ag-farts.” 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.


In March 1944, the SOE formally created Force 136. It set up shop in India and Ceylon. It had about 50 people assigned, multi-national Allied military people tasked to work behind Japanese lines. One of its former members,
Willie Chong, has written:

“It’s objectives were to gather important information on enemy movement and to organize local underground resistance groups to disrupt enemy communication and supply lines ... (The men) learned how to set-up plastic explosives and how to handle and use detonators and “time pencils” for setting off charges in specific times. They trained how to scout and how best to approach an enemy camp or ammunition dump to sabotage installations without being detected ... On completion of this tactical training, which included hand to hand combat and use of light weapons, these men received parachute training on the ground and in the air. This latter phase was required in order to drop them behind enemy lines. However, if the drop off is near shores, landings from submarines were employed ... Members of Force 136 normally operated in groups of 8, with each being a specialist in his party.”

In Asia, Force 136 had become very active in Malaya and in Burma even prior to this formal establishment.


As things would develop, there was a growing rift between the British and Americans regarding Indochina. Force 136 was a commando unit. That in turn led to competition between the OSS and Force 136, to wit the US and Britain, in building their own separate intelligence networks, a competition that would be evident throughout the region. For their part, the British, itself a colonial power, leaned toward restoring French colonial power in Indochina after the war, largely because it was a colonial power itself and did not want chinks in the colonial armor. On the other side, the US favored Ho Chi Minh’s anti-French Viet Minh and President FDR favored independence for Vietnam even though US foreign policy did not. So the friction here would not go away.

I have been informed, as an aside, that Edward Cairney, born 1911, was in Force 136 based in Sir Lanka. He is shown at the bottom eft of the front line of the above photo.

On June 6, 1944 the Allies successfully landed at Normandy, France and were now on the continent in significant force. This really marked the beginning of the end for Hitler. The Germans were now fighting on two fronts, in the USSR and now in France. The German retreat now began. The liberation of France and the emergence of General de Gaulle and the Free French were now only a matter of time.

Earlier in the year, Force 136 submitted a plan to SEAC to parachute agents and supplies into Tonkin to start building a clandestine operation. Force 136 accepted hundreds of trainees from General Tai Li’s organization, including a group that was going to be tasked to go to Vietnam, code-named “Eagles.” Many of the flights failed and the Chinese proved unreliable. However, in July 1944, Force 136 launched from Kunming, China and parachuted three French agents to a spot near Lang Son in northeast Tonkin close to the Chinese border. They were Major Francoise de Langlade, Major Philippe Milon, and Sergeant Marmont, a radio operator. The group went to Hanoi to talk with Indochinese Army commanders. The US objected to the Force 136 operation and forced the three were forced to walk to Lao Cai in northwest Tonkin. They apparently were arrested by the Chinese but Force 136 bribery set them free.

During 1943 and 1944 Ho Chi Minh distributed considerable amounts of Chinese Nationalists dollars every month to people who would conduct espionage and sabotage operations in Vietnam. The Viet Minh during this time built its strength to as many as 10,000, commanded by General Võ Nguyên Giáp, a man we know as General Giap. Sometime in the second half of 1944, Ho Chi Minh began to look to the Americans. Andrew Jon Rotter, in his book, Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology, said Ho secretly went to the OSS at least four times during late 1944 “seeking arms and ammunition in return for intelligence, sabotage against the Japanese, and continued aid in rescuing shot-down Allied pilots. He was rejected each time.”

On August 25, 1944, the Germans surrendered Paris and the liberation of France was under way. General de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, moved into the War Ministry in Paris and spoke to the people.

Once again let’s briefly return to the OSS-Agfart merger and the OSS detachment in Kunming as the means to circumvent General Tai Li and SACO. The arrangement worked so 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 Agfart 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.

In August 1944, the JCS took a very bold action and told its British counterparts that “Indochina is in the China Theatre of war, and therefore is an area of United States strategic responsibility.” You will recall I said early on that many American officials saw China and Vietnam as one. This JCS action underscored that. It was also one way of telling de Gaulle that the region was no longer a French responsibility. You will also recall I said early on that this is what FDR wanted; he wanted the US to be the influential power in the region, not the French or for that matter the British. The Americans used this JCS actions block General Roger Blaizot’s movement to SEAC Headquarters in Ceylon.

Given that General Stilwell commanded US forces in China but also served as the chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek, this meant he would have a prominent role in Indochina which could result in the movement of Chinese forces into Tonkin. Once again, this was a way to inform the French that the US would not want the French involved in the CBI. The British took this aboard as they had no choice, given the US juggernaut routing the Germans. The British also understood French forces might be of marginal value, and might have clandestine value in Vietnam against the Japanese. The problem here would be that the French were more interested in restoring their colony than providing intelligence to the Allies.

In September 1944, the British Force 136 air-dropped four hand-selected Vietnamese into the area of Cao Bang in northeast Tonkin, not far from the Chinese border. Their mission was to liberate Free French prisoners held by the Japanese.

You will recall my talking about the GBT organization operating a clandestine intelligence network in Vietnam. It was cooperating with the Viet Minh. It was doing so well the OSS wanted to bring it into the fold. The OSS had already joined in partnership with the 14th AAF AGFRTS, the “Ag-farts” 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. This all infuriated Laurence Gordan, who founded GBT.

Since about 1942, the Army had operated a Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Escape & Evasion (MIS-X) operation at Ft Hunt, Virginia. It was a very secretive organization handling US POW matters during the war, escape and evasion (E&E) and interrogation. It was very deeply involved in the intelligence business. Very few people in government knew about it.

I mention this because there was a very small unit, about 35 people, known as the Air-Ground Air Section (AGAS) operating in China and northern Vietnam, I believe. It handled MIS-X activities in the CBI. I have been unable to pin down a date when it was established, but I think it was some time during 1944, though that seems like a very late start for that kind of job. In any event, it briefed military people on E&E techniques and special items of escape equipment. It helped familiarize them will identifying who on the ground might be a friend or a foe. And it helped military people, mostly fliers, but also those involved in behind-the-lines intelligence operations, return to Allied control from areas occupied by the Japanese.

Because of the OSS intrusion into the GBT organization, Laurence Gordon joined the AGAS POW-E&E intelligence group. One expert has implied this joint group was providing some supplies including weapons to the Viet Minh.

Then in October 1944, General Wedemeyer was reassigned from his position as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander SEAC under Mountbatten and was assigned to China to serve as commander, US forces China and French Indochina (Vietnam), and chief of staff to the ROC’s leader, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, replacing General Stilwell. Stilwell was one who spoke his mind. He was a tough guy with whom to get along, and he angered just about everyone from Chiang to the British general officers to General Chennault and a whole bunch of others. In any event, FDR recalled Stilwell from the CBI and replaced him with Wedemeyer.

Let me note here, however, that FDR had wanted Stilwell to command all Chinese forces 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.

However, Wedemeyer was no flunky. 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, especially since Chinese forces were having so much trouble with the Japanese. Chennault by now had a good mix of fighters, now including the new P-51 “Mustang,” 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.

Also in October 1944, General Roger Blaizot finally arrived at SEAC Headquarters in Kandy, Ceylon. He was able to do so in part because Paris had been liberated earlier in August. However, he was accepted only as a “visitor,” though he was allowed to remain. This was due to the Americans not wanting to give France a chance to get involved in Far East operations.

In November 1944, Viet Minh guerrillas operating in Tonkin found an American pilot, Lt. Rudolph Shaw, USAAF, whose reconnaissance aircraft had been shot down by the Japanese (another source says engine trouble) over Tonkin. They fed him and provided him shelter. Ho Chi Minh personally escorted Lt. Shaw across the border to China and turned him over to the AGAS, which returned him to US military officials in Kunming.

Returning to Force 136, Mountbatten wanted not only to air-drop Free French agents into Vietnam, he wanted to get more than one thousand saboteurs into Vietnam to conduct guerrilla operations. De Gaulle’s CLI had about 1,200 troops sitting in Algeria ready to go, General Blaizot was in Ceylon waiting for them, but the Americans delayed and delayed efforts to transport them.

In December 1944, General Wedemeyer appointed Colonel Richard Heppner, USA, to lead the OSS Detachment 202 in China. You will recall Detachment 202 had much the same mission as SACO, but SACO had relegated it to logistics duties. Wedemeyer wanted Heppner to increase OSS influence at the expense of SACO, ultimately enabling the OSS to take over SACO. Heppner had led Detachment 404 in Thailand, working with Free Thailand forces to infiltrate Thailand from China to collect intelligence and manipulate the Japanese. Recall Thailand had allied with Japan.

Changing gears again, by the end of December 1944, thirteen clandestine radio posts had been set up in Vietnam each tied to the Force 136 headquarters in Calcutta.


The British Force 136 air-dropped 27 more agents into Vietnam in January 1945, and by the end of February provided 60 more men along with weapons and ammunition. A Force 136 officer conducted training at three locations for Vietnamese ground fighters.

You will recall General Wedemeyer became the commander of US forces in China and the chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek on October 1944. I also mentioned he was a smart guy. If you feel uncomfortable with the intelligence organizations and operations to which I’ve introduced you, which only skims the top, then you can understand that General Wedemeyer was very uncomfortable.

For starters, General Wedemeyer had always been uncomfortable with the British-Free French connection and associated activities. He argued that Indochina was in his sphere of influence and operations. This brought him up against Mountbatten and his SEAC. Wedemeyer in theory worked for Lord Mountbatten, but in fact was beholding to the US JCS and FDR. Churchill complained to FDR, but FDR supported Wedemeyer’s position. For his part, General Marshall, chief of staff US Army, thought way too much attention was being paid to Southeast Asia and Indochina in particular. The US and Britain came to a conciliatory agreement but Mountbatten and Wedemeyer argued about this for a long time. The dispute was never fully resolved.

Wedemeyer was no fool, and he was a military man. He was a West Point graduate. He became an important authority on German tactical operations, and he had General 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. Please recall Force 136 was British. Second, he complained there were too many intelligence outfits operating in China. He wrote to General George 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.”

But now SACO has to several opponents, General Donovan at OSS, General Chennault at 14th AAF, and now General Wedemeyer, the commander US forces China and Indochina.

You will recall how the OSS was bringing the GBT organization quietly into its fold, infuriating the GBT founder, Laurence Gordon. Gordon switched to AGAS, and Lt. Fenn, whom the OSS had assigned to GBT, moved over to AGAS as well. Fenn kept a watch on Gordon for the OSS, and would work to bring the GBT under OSS control, a mission at which he did not succeed.

In March 1945 General Wedemeyer gained control over SACO despite Admiral King's protest. Miles remained the commanding officer of US Navy's Naval Group China 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.

By March 1945, the Germans were retreating, the Vichy government had collapsed in favor of De Gaulle’s Free French, the Allies were advancing in Burma and the Philippines, and so the Japanese on March 9, 1945 launched a coup against the French in Indochina, codenamed
“Mei Go” or “Operation Moonlight.” This left France with only token administrative control as a puppet.

The Japanese hoped to rally the Vietnamese people behind them, advertising that the coup was intended to oust the French and bring independence to Vietnam. However, the reason for this coup was to advance Japanese war aims. The Japanese did what they could to further the rifts between the Vietnamese resistance groups and the French. Japan persuaded Vietnam’s Emperor Bảo Đại (shown here) to come out of exile and proclaim Vietnam independence and his intention to support the Japanese, indeed to put Indochina under Japanese “protection.” Then, Bảo Đại proclaimed himself emperor over all Vietnam. The Japanese said he could have Tonkin and Annam, but they would maintain full control over Cochinchina. Bảo Đại said “no,” and the Japanese relented in order to make Bảo Đại look good. The Japanese felt Bảo Đại understood who was really in charge. As an aside, this would be, at least on the surface, the first time since 1862 that Vietnam was unified.

Many of the French including French military forces in Indochina fled to China as a result of the coup, many having to fight their way to China. Those left in Indochina were either in jail or simply had inconsequential control. The government was run primarily by Vietnamese and Chinese bureaucrats with Japanese in the key positions.

General Wedemeyer was in Washington at the time of the coup. I mentioned in the historical background that he met with FDR who told him that he wanted “to discontinue colonization in the Southeast Asia area (and that he was) determined that there would be no (American) military assistance to the French in Indochina.” It was too late. Upon being notified of the Japanese coup, the French requested US air attacks against designated Japanese targets. General Chenault gave his permission. Then Major General Robert McClure, acting commander in the absence of General Wedemeyer, gave Chennault the go ahead --- “Go ahead. Cooperate impolitely with the French. You can use Poseh airfield. Give them hell.” This and events that followed committed the US to help the fleeing French forces. Poseh airfield is located close to the northeast border of Tonkin.

Also as part of their coup, the Japanese broke up the entire GBT network, among other entities. So Gordon had to go back to China where the OSS demanded to be in full control. Gordon resisted. As he had lost all his French contacts in Indochina, he instructed his people to replace them with Vietnamese.

Worse yet, however, was the fact that General Chennault had just lost one of his best sources of targeting intelligence. In addition, the Japanese coup knocked out General Tai Li’s intelligence network in Indochina.

This was bad, because American AAF and Naval bombing of Japanese targets in Vietnam intensified. The requirement to get good targeting information became all the more important. The AAF came in from China while the Navy came in from the South China Sea.

This in turn brought Ho Chi Minh front and center into the picture. On March 17, 1945 the AGAS, responsible for rescuing downed US pilots and allied with the GBT, sent Lt. Fenn to meet with Ho. Recall that Fenn was actually an OSS agent placed in AGAS to bring the GBT under OSS control. Nonetheless, AGAS hired Ho, codename “Lucius.” Both the French and ROC warned that Ho was a communist. AGAS did not care and ordered its people to press on with Ho to supply him with communications equipment, medical supplies, and small arms in return for intelligence and assistance in rescuing American pilots.

The GBT working through AGAS believed it had hired just another recruit. But Ho used this appointment as a means to consolidate his influence among multiple Vietnamese groups. This was a hallmark event for Ho. Prior to this, he was simply in charge of one of many Vietnamese groups. His group was not recognized by the Americans, it was not liked by the ROC, and it had no resources for an insurgency. That changed almost overnight. Ho, now allied with GBT, had the strongest intelligence gathering network in Indochina, specifically in Vietnam. Viet Minh forces were transmitting intelligence reports to the China theater through AGAS. The OSS was furious and tried to suppress the GBT, to no avail. The GBT-Ho alliance moved under the cover of the AGAS, which owed allegiances to General Chennault and his 14th AAF.

The OSS was now in a hurry to form its relationships with the Viet Minh. OSS Chief Donovan instructed his staff to use "anyone who will work with us against the Japanese, but do not become involved in French-Indochinese politics." The OSS in China dispatched Capt. Archimedes Patti, USA, the head of the OSS in Kunming, to Vietnam. There is a most illuminating interview done with Patti that address US policy toward Vietnam in 1945, done in 1981. I commend it to you in its entirety. I will draw from it here.

Patti understood that the number one goal of the US leadership was to develop an intelligence network in Indochina, mainly Vietnam, against the Japanese. On the surface, this would mean the OSS would have to work with the French However, President FDR had specifically instructed Donovan not to do anything that would assist the French in recouping their Indochina colony.

While the Americans were allied with the French in WWII, the US of course knew of French General de Gaulle’s intention to reclaim France’s colonies after the war which would mean the US would be pressured to forget Vietnamese independence. Indeed in 1945 Free French guerrillas already were fighting in both Vietnam and Laos preparing for colonial restoration. Therefore, Patti went to great lengths to say that the US was not going to fight to keep the French out, but rather simply would not to assist them in getting their colony back. The US would not stop them, but would not help them. Those instructions game directly from FDR.

The French at the time were evacuating from Indochina because of the Japanese coup. In addition, Patti soon found that there were all brands of French in the region, each with its own agenda. Furthermore, the main concern of the French in Indochina was to get their colonies back, a higher priority than defeating the Japanese. In sum, over time, he found the French of little value, and in fact, found information from the French to be misleading and deceptive, so bad that it caused the deaths of some Allied soldiers. As a result, he decided he had no alternative but to go to the Vietnamese.

I need to say here there was all kinds of intrigue in train among intelligence activities interested in Indochina. I cannot cover them all. I will say that Det 202, an OSS entity I introduced you to earlier, had been working to penetrate Indochina for intelligence purposes. OSS had expected support form the French, but did not get it. As a result, it was imperative for the OSS to work with Ho.

On April 12, 1945, FDR died in Warm Springs, Georgia. Vice President Harry Truman became the President of the US. You will recall how FDR personally and adamantly favored independence for Vietnam. You will see President Truman did not share that view.

In late April 1945 Patti, using the good offices of several intelligence operations and the Chinese, met with Ho on the border with China. During a long conversation Ho expressed his hope that the US would support independence and self-determination for the Vietnamese. Ho complained extensively about how badly the French had treated Vietnam and the Vietnamese. Ho also expressed interest in how he could help the Allies. Patti responded by saying the US would like to receive intelligence from the Vietnamese, to wit, Ho and his organization, the Viet Minh. Patti said that Ho did not really want anything other than to establish a direct line between his Viet Minh and the Allies --- no weapons, no ammunition, no money.

I should note that in this meeting Ho accused the French of colluding with the Japanese, taking advantage of a debilitating famine in Tonkin (October 1944 - May 1945). Ho said the French were using Vietnamese rice to make alcohol and were selling it to the Japanese. That rice, he said, was needed in Tonkin but did not get there.

Patti got permission to send an OSS team to work with Ho and Viet Minh to gather intelligence on the Japanese. Ho also agreed to set up a training camp in the jungle at the village of Tan Trao which was the new location of the Viet Minh headquarters, about 120 miles from Hanoi.

Intelligence on the Japanese coming from the Viet Minh during the period April through July 1945 was outstanding. It was so good that Chennault’s people in Chunking had to change their order of battle information on the Japanese and their targeting data. Patti said:

“When the first intelligence arrived from Ho’s people in the field, it was fantastic. The order of battle was so accurate. The target information was so accurate that our people, both in Chongqing and in Kunming were absolutely, well, they were surprised to the point that they actually had to change a good bit of their order of battle.”

He remarked that General Chennault was surprised by the accuracy, thinking such an “amateur organization” as the Viet Minh would not be able to produce such good intelligence --- but they did. Patti quickly became convinced that the Viet Minh constituted the best organized covert network in northern Vietnam.


On May 7, 1945, Germany’s Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies. German Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel also signed a surrender document at Soviet headquarters in Berlin, May 9, 1945. The Soviets had insisted that a second ceremonial signing take place in Soviet-occupied Berlin.

Patti then went on to talk about how he met with Ho’s right hand man, General Giap. The subject had to do with cutting off a long line of communication being used by the Japanese to retreat from Southeast Asia. The line ran between China and Hanoi and would have to be cut about every 20 miles. Patti asked Giap for help. This request led to the insertion of the American “Deer Team” into Tonkin.

On May 16, 1945, Major Allison Thomas, USA, OSS, was tasked to organize and work as a Special Operations Team Number 13, code-named “Deer.” The primary mission was to interdict Japanese lines of communication and work with the Viet Minh to obtain targets of opportunity for 14th AAF.

I hate to split up the discussion of the Deer Team and switch gears, but the next few items, chronologically, are important.


The heads of government of the USSR, the US and Great Britain met at the Potsdam Conference from July 17 - August 2, 1945, President Truman representing the US. The purpose of the conference was to establish a post-war order, settle peace treaty issues, and counter the effects of the war. Now remember, the Germans surrendered in May. But Japan did not formally surrender until September 2, 1945, so this conference took place prior to the Japanese surrender and prior to employment of two Atomic bombs against the Japanese home island. That said, Japan began withdrawing from China in May, the US took Okinawa in June, the Philippines was liberated in July, and the Japanese withdrew from Burma in July. However, Japanese forces remained in Vietnam and plenty of Japanese forces remained in China.


Many agreements were made, one set of which dealt with Indochina. The Allies temporarily divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel just north of Da Nang (shown by the black line on a modern map). Although the accords stipulated that the line “should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary,” the rest of the agreement was not carried out, and the 17th parallel became the practical political boundary between North and South Vietnam. I have seen reports that Ho Chi Minh initially did not know the Potsdam Conference had done this.

British forces would take the surrender of Japanese forces in Saigon in the southern half while Japanese troops would surrender in the northern half to the Chinese. The Allies recognized France’s sovereignty over Indochina but decided France was too weak to handle the surrender jobs.

Prior to President Truman’s administration, US policy tilted toward Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh because of the help they provided in defeating the Japanese. However, Truman’s administration favored some kind of return of French colonial power.


On July 16, 1945, three Deer members, led by Major Thomas, parachuted into Tonkin where they were met by retreating French generals and Viet Minh personnel. Thomas, after only one day, sent a message back to the OSS at Kunming which said essentially “Forget the French, let’s work with Ho, don’t worry about the communist bit, he’s a nationalist who wants independence for Indochina.” Thomas then asked for the rest of the team which parachuted in on July 29.

The photo shown here is quite famous, as it shows the Deer standing with Ho Chi Minh (third from left standing) and General Giap (fifth from the left standing). The Deer Team standing, l to r, Lt. Rene Defoumeaux, Major Allison Thomas, Pfc. Henry Prunier, and Pfc. Paul Hoagland far right. Kneeling left are Lawrence Vogt and Sgt. Aaron Squires. Sgt. William Zielski, the radio operator, is not shown. Allison, Prunier and Zielski were the first three to parachute in. Pfc. Hoagland, the medic, on meeting Ho, noted he was quite ill, skin yellowed, bad complexion, weak. Hoagland treated Ho with quinine and ulna drugs, fed him fluids, and Ho quickly returned to health. As an aside, Lt. René Defoumeaux was second in command behind Allison. Some French came with the team, but Ho asked for them to leave.

On July 23, 1945, with the Japanese in full retreat on the mainland, the 10th AAF joined with the 14th AAF to form the Army Air Forces China Theater, Lt General George E. Stratemeyer in command.

Also in July, General Wedemeyer warned Chiang Kai-shek of the problems that would result from a sudden Japanese surrender.

The US conducted two Atomic bomb attacks on Japan, Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

While the Japanese did not immediately surrender after these attacks, the hand-writing was on the wall in most American minds. The OSS in China surprisingly was apparently caught off guard. So was Chiang Kai-shek.

On August 12, 1945, Colonel Heppner, USA, OSS, ordered OSS teams into Shenyang, China; Harbin, Manchuria; and Shandong, China. Their mission would be to locate and recover Allied POWs.


The Central Committee of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) convened in Tan Trao on August 13, 1945 and decided to lead the population in a general uprising to capitalize on the power vacuum and seize political control of the country. This photo shows Ho Chi Minh meeting with the Viet Minh governing council in a cave north of Hanoi, I believe to be at Tan Trao though I am not sure.

Japan’s emperor announced to his people in a speech recorded on August 14 that Japan surrendered effective August 15. President Truman issued cease-fire orders to all Allied commands on that day.

On August 15, General Wedemeyer ordered all special agencies under his command to locate and evacuate POWs in north China, Manchuria, Vietnam and Korea. Eight teams were organized, “Quail” for Hanoi, and “Raven” for Vientiane, Laos.

On August 16 the Viet Minh National Congress met in Tan Trao and approved the Central Committee’s order for a general uprising in Vietnam. It also elected the National Liberation Committee of Vietnam to serve as a provisional government with Ho Chi Minh as president.

Briefly returning to the Deer Team, it immediately worked to set up shop at Tan Trao in northeastern Vietnam, preparing to train some Viet Minh. However, the team did not know anything about the two Atomic bomb attacks on Japan until they heard of the Japanese surrender of August 15, 1945. The team had been instructed to “sit tight,” but instead Thomas led part of the team on a mission with General Giap and the Viet Minh to attack Thai Nguyen. They took the town easily. There is speculation Thomas wanted observers to believe he led the attack.


Giap was then instructed on August 19, 1945 to leave some forces in Tan Trao and go to Hanoi. He did so on August 20 and was greeted ceremoniously upon arriving. The Viet Minh took control of Hanoi on that day. This photo shows General Giap reviewing the Viet Minh troops for the first time in Hanoi on August 26, 1945.


On August 22 the Viet Minh organized a celebration of national independence in Saigon. Emperor Bảo Đại abdicated under Viet Minh pressure. The Committee of the South is formed to govern Saigon. Six of the committee's nine members are Viet Minh.

On August 22, 1945, Capt. Archimedes Patti, USA, OSS, the head of the “Quail” POW recovery mission in Hanoi, flew into the city as though he were liberating it. His was the first American team to confront the Japanese military authority there. But Patti had a problem. There were seven American officers on the team, but also five French officers. The Viet Minh did not take kindly to that. Patti told the Japanese he was there to prepare for the Allied surrender commission. The Japanese escorted the team into Hanoi, Viet Minh flags were everywhere. Crowds of Vietnamese were hostile to the French. But the Quail Team did evacuate Allied POWs without incident.

BankAaronThe Raven Team, Major Aaron Bank, USA in command, had seven officers and one Chinese interpreter. Bank was an experienced OSS officer during the war and had parachuted into France to coordinate and activate the French Resistance. Following the war, Bank, at the rank of colonel, and Colonel Russell Volckmann would convince the Army it needed a professional special forces, unconventional warfare unit. As a result, he was the first commander of the 10th Special Forces Group.

In any event, the Raven Team was to get into Indochina to assess the Japanese situation. It jumped into Vientiane, Laos from a C-47 in September 1945. It quickly learned the Japanese had left the area. Bank met with Laotian leaders and assured them the French would not be allowed to return. He also met with a Viet Minh leader at Nong Kai. Furthermore, the team met with French officers stationed with Laotian guerrillas at Thakek, Laos and argued with them about France’s future in Indochina. Bank then went to Hanoi and met with Ho Chi Minh and OSS members. Interestingly, Ho was deeply worried about the Chinese who were messing up Ho’s political organization in northern Vietnam.


On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh came to Hanoi for a public ceremony to declare Vietnam independent of the French. The country would be known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In Ho’s mind, this meant all Vietnam. OSS officials attended the ceremony, and two USAAF P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft did a low fly over the crowd. It is thought the pilots were there to observe, not to commemorate, but the audience of Vietnamese most surely felt the US was saluting Vietnam’s independence.

In September 1945, Naval Group China was disbanded, and Admiral Milton Miles’ war time rank of rear admiral was reverted to his permanent rank of captain. He would be promoted later to rear admiral to command various Cruiser Divisions and ultimately vice admiral.

The period of WWII and thereafter were most complicated times for Vietnam. Claude G. Berube, in a paper entitled, “Ho Chi Minh and the OSS,” described things this way:


“French Indochina during World War II was a simmering cauldron of colonial powers on the decline, of colonial powers divided and other powers on the rise. Comprised largely of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, French Indochina had become in the late 19th century the ‘jewel in France's crown’ in Southeast Asia.

“Among the several competing global, regional and internal interests in French Indochina during World War II were: Vichy France, which controlled its colony only with permission of its Japanese ally and German dominator; followed then by the French Republic, which sought to reclaim its colonial territories; the United States, which was fighting against Japan; and Japan, which sought to maintain its regional hegemony. Also involved were the warring Communists and Nationalists in China, which sought to influence the region to their south; and a variety of independence-seeking indigenous factions that all wanted to remove the yoke of any colonial or imperial power.

“Vietnam itself was divided into three main regions with their own factions fighting for control: the northern Tonkin, central Annam and southern Cochinchina.”

I will add, that the reality was that US foreign policy toward Indochina was now in a shambles. Part of the reason was FDR who had in his own way inhibited development of a firm foreign policy. There was also, of course, supreme interest in Europe, and French help would be needed to rebuild it. As a result, military commanders in the CBI along with US intelligence activities were all left in a state of confusion. What was clear is US policy was shifting away from FDR’s desire for Indochinese independence. FDR’s death reflected the end of any real opposition to a French return to Indochina.


The French retook Saigon in September 1945. Considerable fighting would ensue, much of which involved the British who were there to take the Japanese surrender. French General Philippe Leclerc arrived on October 5. The Viet Minh had withdrawn to the areas outside Saigon and blocked the roads. The British, French, Indians, and Japanese fought the Viet Minh, more French troops arrived, by January 1946 the British began to leave and they were completely out by June. Yes, the French were back, but fighting was by no means over. It had just begun between the Viet Minh and the French who had come back to retake “their colony.” This photo shows a French commando in Saigon in November 1945. Note Japanese guards, still armed, salute the commando as he walks by.

I am going to skip over the French reoccupation of Indochina and the First Indochina War, which France lost in 1954. But I thought this map to be a wonderful snapshot of the French military return, General Philippe François Marie Leclerc in command.


I’m going to stop here. I will next go to 1954, the departure of the French from Indochina, the entry of the US, and focus as much as I can on covert US Maritime operations in Vietnam through the early days of the war.

Let’s press ahead to Essential Historical Background.