The Rice Paddy Navy

The Rice Paddy Navy

U.S. Sailors Undercover in China

General Military
  • Author: Linda Kush
  • Short code: GNM
  • Publication Date: 20 Nov 2012
  • Number of Pages: 304
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After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy knew it would need vital information from the Pacific. After a meeting and a handshake agreement with Chiang Kai-shek, the Sino-American Cooperative Organization was born. This top-secret network worked hand in hand with the Nationalist Chinese to fight the Japanese occupation of China while it intercepted Japanese code, laid mines, and trained Chinese peasants in guerrilla warfare. Its work supplied critical information to the U.S. and contributed to the felling of more than 70,000 Japanese - while losing only five of their own men. SACO - "the rice paddy navy” - was one of the best-kept secrets of the war. Linda Kush uncovers the military accomplishments and political wrangling that colored one of the most successful - and little known - efforts of World War II.

Biographical Note

Linda Kush is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in World War II magazine, The Boston Globe, and various blogs. She is a staff assistant at Harvard University.


PART ONE: SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE RICE PADDY NAVY Chapter 1: The U.S. Navy Mission in China When America entered World War II in 1941, the U.S. Navy faced a long fight in the Pacific, and accurate weather forecasting would be one key to success. The weather data would have to come from China, which was occupied by Japan. Adm. Ernest King of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent Capt. Milton Miles to China to set up weather stations, monitor the Chinese coast, and spy on the Japanese. Chapter 2: A Handshake Creates the Sino-American Cooperative Organization Naval intelligence arranged for Miles to meet Gen. Dai Li, deputy to Nationalist Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In China, Miles sought the cooperation of Dai and Chiang to establish and protect his weather and espionage network. Dai asked that in exchange, the U.S. Navy would train and arm Nationalist Chinese soldiers. Miles and Dai shook on the deal, and SACO was born. PART TWO: A STRANGE CAST IN A STRANGE DRAMA Chapter 3: China in Political and Military Turmoil China in 1941 was a virtual minefield of international and internal conflict. The Japanese occupied about half the country and were working their way west, while the Chinese Nationalists and Communists fought their foreign enemy and each other. Chapter 4: Dai Li and Milton Miles Dai, dubbed "the Himmler of China,” headed the Chinese secret service under Chiang Kai-shek and had thousands of agents throughout Asia. Miles found in Dai an honest, no-nonsense partner. Their personal trust and friendship became the foundation for SACO, and their enemies placed million-dollar bounties on both their heads. PART THREE: BUILDING SACO Chapter 5: The Perfect SACO — Fit, Intelligent, Skilled, and "a Little Crazy” About 2,500 men fitting Miles' special profile were tapped to volunteer for "prolonged and hazardous duty on foreign soil.” Most did not know where they were headed until they received Chinese language lessons en route. Long and lonely journeys landed them in Calcutta and then China. Chapter 6: Calcutta and Over the Hump Camp Knox in Calcutta was the jump-off point and support base for SACO. Men received training in Chinese culture. The Navy ran everything from a printing press to a battery factory. Flights "over the Hump” across the Himalayas in bare-bones aircraft were, for many, the scariest experience of their service. Chapter 7: SACO Headquarters at Happy Valley Miles and Dai established headquarters at Happy Valley in Central China, where Dai had a residence and what was reputed to be a prison for his personal enemies. Thousands of Chinese troops were trained there surrounded by flowering hills and armed Chinese sentries. PART FOUR: SACO'S BATTLE WITHIN THE U.S. MILITARY Chapter 8: SACO and the OSS: a Doomed Marriage Col. William Donovan saw SACO as a way to achieve a foothold in China for the fledgling OSS. Miles was made Far East Coordinator of the OSS, but it didn't last long because Dai trusted only the Navy. In the aftermath, Donovan viewed SACO as an obstacle and worked against it in Washington. Chapter 9: Army vs. Navy Gen. George Stilwell, Commander of the China-Burma-India Theatre, didn't trust the Chinese and didn't like the Navy operating on the ground on his turf. SACO depended on the Army for transport of supplies, which Stilwell quietly kept bound up in Washington red tape. Though sanctioned by the Joint Chiefs and President Roosevelt, the State Department and the Army objected to SACO for choosing sides in a civil war and working in subordination to Chinese leaders. Inter-service conflict plagued the operation until the end of the war. PART FIVE: OPERATIONS AND THE SACO EXPERIENCE Chapter 10: Creating a Guerrilla Army American Navy personnel taught Chinese recruits to use American firearms and disrupt enemy supply lines with explosives, plus photography, medicine, and other skills. Navy teachers led field missions against the Japanese with the freshly trained troops. Chapter 11: Weather Forecasting SACO fulfilled its original mission with 70 weather stations all across China in monasteries, caves, and urban centers. Navy and Chinese aerologists gathered weather data every day and radioed it to Happy Valley, where meteorologists analyzed it. They compiled forecasts and weather maps and sent them to the commander of the Pacific Fleet. Chapter 12: Espionage and Coast Watches Radio operators intercepted Japanese messages, agents received intelligence from Chinese police and shopkeepers, and mapmakers surveyed the countryside. Lone sentinels scanned the Chinese coast, monitoring Japanese shipping and naval military maneuvers. Chapter 13: The Life of a SACO The standard SACO uniform was army fatigues without insignia, but in the field, Americans adopted peasant clothes and yo-yo poles to blend into the landscape. They got around by rickshaw, sampan, sedan chair, and on foot, ever awed by Chinese peasants who could walk them into the ground. SACOs lived in military camps, Buddhist temples, and chicken coops, and they wore their rice rations in canvas tubes around their necks. Chapter 14: War Stories SACOs came home with stories fit for adventure comic books. To repair a generator, a mechanic walked hundreds of miles with a team of Chinese porters who carried a crankshaft. An officer commanded a motorized sampan carrying mysterious cargo that turned out to be dozens of gold bars. An American and four Chinese swam across a bay carrying explosives on their backs and sunk a huge Japanese freighter docked at Xiamen Harbor. PART SIX: AMAZING GROUPS AMONG REMARKABLE MEN Chapter 15: Yangtze River Raiders At the intersection of China's most important barge and rail traffic, demolition specialists mined shipping channels and blue up freight trains, disrupting Japanese supply lines. Chapter 16: The Fightin' Forecasters of Camp Four On the fringes of the Gobi Desert and a month-long journey by truck from the nearest city, 12 Americans gathered priceless weather data and created their own universe. They recruited and trained Mongolian nomads to join the fight against the Japanese and mounted bazookas on the backs of ponies to attack the enemy. Chapter 17: SACO and the Flying Tigers Gen. Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers counted on SACO to interpret their reconnaissance photographs, share intelligence, and rescue downed pilots. Chapter 18: SACO Chaplains A Roman Catholic priest and a Presbyterian minister logged thousands of miles on foot and horseback to meet the spiritual needs of SACOs all over China. PART SEVEN: IT'S ALL OVER Chapter 19: Japan Surrenders In the confusing days after Japan's surrender, the final naval battle of World War II was fought by two Chinese junks, one manned by Japanese, the other by the U.S. Navy. SACOs were ordered to the coast and secured it from Shanghai to Xiamen. Army and Navy personnel stuck in Shanghai after the war staged an Army-Navy football game in November 1945. Chapter 20: Conclusion SACO is praised for accomplishing more with fewer people and resources than any other group in the Far East. But some believe Milton Miles knowingly or unknowingly made the U.S. an accessory to a reign of terror by Chiang Kai-shek. Today in the People's Republic of China, Happy Valley stands as a museum similar to Auschwitz in Poland. But for the Taiwanese who bear the legacy of the Nationalist Chinese, SACOs were heroes who rescued China at its darkest hour. Taiwan government officials still attend the SACO veterans' annual reunions in the U.S.

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