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SACO:

The Sino-American Cooperative Organization

 

This section of my website is dedicated to the 2,500 Americans who fought in China during World War II with Naval Group China, including my father, Lieutenant (j.g.) Donald J. Leu (1923 - 2002).

 

 

The Sino-American Cooperative Organization, known as SACO (pronounced "sock-o"), was a unique military unit during World War II, consisting of U.S. forces in China who allied with Chinese Nationalist troops to fight the invading Japanese.  China, with its large size and population, and its proximity to Japan, was a vital American ally during World War II, and the Chinese theatre was one of the most important, and yet least well-known, of the entire war.

 

SACO, which was also known as Naval Group China and informally called "The Rice Paddy Navy," consisted of about 2,500 Americans from the U.S. Navy and Marines who fought alongside about 100,000 Chinese Nationalist troops.  From 1943 until the end of the war in 1945, the American men of SACO lived, trained and fought with these Chinese troops in China, often using guerilla-style tactics against the Japanese.  Based on the SACO agreement signed by both countries in 1943, the Americans provided the training and expertise while the Chinese provided the transportation, facilities, and most of the manpower.

 

Sometimes stationed behind Japanese lines and often hundreds of miles from supplies, the American men in SACO were not only brave but also highly resourceful.  And from a statistical standpoint, SACO was one of the most effective American combat forces during the war with one of the highest kill ratios of any unit, either in Asia or Europe.

The Emergence of SACO

Japan invaded China in the 1930s, several years before America entered World War II in 1941.  Although Japan was never able to occupy the entire country, their forces controlled large portions of China, especially major cities, coastal areas, and ports as they tried to strangle China into submission.  Their occupation of China during World War II tied up hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops who, if China surrendered, could've been deployed against Allied forces elsewhere in the Pacific theatre.  Consequently, one of America's main goals during World War II was to keep China in the war, and SACO played a key role in that effort.

 

Above:  Signing the Sino-American Cooperative Agreement on July 4, 1943 in Chungking, China.  SACO was a joint agreement between the U.S. and China to fight the Japanese during World War II.  It was led by American Commander Milton Miles of Naval Group China (left) and General Tai Li (right), the leader of China's intelligence bureau. 

SACO was led jointly by the U.S. Navy Commander Milton Miles and China's General Tai Li.  Miles, who rose in rank to Captain and ultimately Vice Admiral later during his naval career, was an unorthodox-but-innovative officer with a great deal of prior experience in China.  General Tai Li (pronounced "die lee") led China's intelligence bureau, similar to America's C.I.A., and was the second-most powerful person in China after President and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. 

 

Commander Miles, who often favored pragmatism over protocol, wrote the definitive book about SACO, called "A Different Kind of War" which I've described on this webpage.  Commander Miles and the enigmatic General Tai Li forged a close friendship that transcended the suspicions held by colleagues and superiors on both sides.  They remained good friends, based on their mutual respect and trust, until Tai Li's sudden death in 1946.

 

Commander Miles was SACO's Deputy Director and had veto power over any decision, but Chinese General Tai Li was in overall command of SACO.  As such, the Americans in SACO were the first and only unit in U.S. military history to be completely integrated into a foreign military force and placed under the command of a foreign leader.  Most American SACO forces totally immersed themselves in the Chinese culture as they battled the Japanese:  they lived in Chinese huts, ate Chinese food, learned to speak Chinese, and began to think "the Chinese way."

Why the Navy?

An obvious question is:  What was the U.S. Navy doing in China during World War II?  There are several answers:

  • The Navy had been in China for many decades before the war, keeping rivers and ports open to free commerce by using U.S. gunboats.

  • U.S. naval leaders believed that an amphibious invasion of Japan would be necessary to end the war, probably in 1946 or 1947.  They thought China would be the best springboard for such an invasion, so they wanted to maintain good relations with China.

  • The Navy needed to provide accurate weather information to American surface fleets and submarines operating in the western Pacific during World War II.  To do that, they set up weather stations throughout China during the war, which were operated by U.S. Navy personnel who worked closely with the local Chinese.

  • The U.S. Navy wanted to monitor Japanese ship movements during the war.  Although Japan controlled few areas of inland China during World War II, they controlled all of the major Chinese seaports.  Therefore, the U.S. Navy sent dozens of sailors to China during the war to serve as "coastwatchers," secretly reporting the movements of Japanese ships.

  • General Tai Li wanted the Americans to train Chinese guerrilla troops to fight the Japanese during World War II.  A shrewd commander, Tai Li also realized the long-term benefit of having a well-trained army of Chinese Nationalist troops to fight the insurgent Chinese Communists after the war ended.  The U.S. Army had refused to cooperate with the Chinese because they wanted to do things their own way.  The U.S. Navy was more receptive to working with the Chinese as equals rather than making the Chinese subordinates, as the other U.S. military branches tended to do.

  • The American leader of SACO, Navy Commander Milton Miles, had served in China for many years before World War II and had a deep respect for the people and the country.  Miles suggested the idea to his superiors and, eventually, to President Roosevelt who fully supported the idea of SACO.

 

My father, Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) Donald Leu, served in SACO towards the end of World War II and for many months afterwards, and he greatly admired Commander Miles.  My father also knew the Chinese General Tai Li, once describing him to me as "totally dedicated to China.  He was honest.  He was fearless, and he was ruthless." 

 

Very little was published about SACO, so I decided to create this section of my website to describe Commander Miles and General Tai Li, and to honor the men of SACO.

My Father's Experience in SACO

Above:  My father, Ensign Donald Leu, in 1944 after receiving his officer's commission.

This portion of my DelsJourney website, describing SACO, includes a section called "My Father's Experience in SACO."  It describes my dad's wartime journey, from a raw naval recruit in 1943, to his navy frogman training in Florida in 1944, to driving on the Burma Road into China in the summer of 1945, and finally as one of the leading officers of the navy's SACO headquarters near Chungking, China at the end of the war and for several months afterwards.

 

In June 1945, my father rode on a crowded troop transport ship from San Pedro, California across the Pacific Ocean to India, arriving in Calcutta in mid-July.  Shortly afterwards, he volunteered to drive a truck in a 300-vehicle convoy from India into China on the treacherous and muddy Burma Road, which had been recently liberated from the Japanese army.  This was the U.S. Navy's first truck convoy into China and would bring much-needed supplies to the SACO bases throughout the country and help prepare for the planned invasion of Japan.

 

Below I've posted a map of the route, which shows all of the SACO camps in China during the war.  SACO's headquarters was located eight miles miles west of Chungking, at a training base the Americans called "Happy Valley."  General Tai Li owned this land but in 1942 he donated it to SACO so they could create their headquarters here, allowing them to train Chinese troops to fight the Japanese.

 

Throughout the section describing my dad's experience with SACO, I've included excerpts of letters that he wrote home to his wife (my mother), Anne.  She was back in America waiting for Don, hoping he would return which he did, in March of 1946, seven months after the war ended.

 

Above:  This map shows the Navy's SACO bases in China during World War II.   I've shown the route of SACO's truck and jeep convoy in August 1945 that my father drove in, from Calcutta, India to Chungking, China carrying food, fuel and military supplies.  The route included the treacherous Burma Road, which extended hundreds of twisting miles from Ledo, Burma to Kunming, China.  (Source of basemap:  Milton Miles' 1967 book, "A Different Kind of War.")

 


 

 

Table of Contents:

SACO:  The Sino-American Cooperative Organization

SECTION 1:  Introduction

>  My SACO Home Page

 

SECTION 2:  My Father's Experience in SACO

1.  Don's Naval Officer Training During WW II
     (July 1943 - May 1945)

2.  Across the Pacific to Calcutta  (June 1945)

3.  A Navy Convoy on the Burma Road
     (August 1945)

4.  At Happy Valley Near Chungking, China
     (Fall 1945)

5.  Coming Home  (March 1946)

6.  Reflections on China

SECTION 3:  SACO in the Media

"A Different Kind of War" by Vice Admiral
Milton Miles

1946 Collier's Article:  SACO and General Tai Li

SACO Goes Hollywood

 

SECTION 4:  Other Information About SACO

The SACO "What-the-Hell" Pennant

Don Leu's Brief Brushes with History

The SACO Veteran's Organization

My SACO Veteran's Forum

Links and More Information About SACO

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My Other World War II Tributes Include:

 

Above:  The U.S.S. Neosho in 1939.

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23).  The largest tanker in the world when it was launched in 1939, the Neosho was one of the U.S. Navy's most important ships in the Pacific during the early months of World War II, often serving as a "floating gas station" for the rest of the fleet while they were on patrol. The Neosho survived the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 but was sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea, near Australia, six months later with the loss of over a hundred crewmen.

 

My uncle, Bill Leu, served on the U.S.S. Neosho from the time it was commissioned in 1940 until its sinking in 1942.  I've written what I believe is the most comprehensive description of the U.S.S. Neosho, as well as the Battle of the Coral Sea, available on the Internet.

 


 

 

Above:  The LST 612 unloading supplies in the Philippines in 1944.

LST 612.  LSTs were the real workhorses of the U.S. Navy during World War II, carrying troops, vehicles and supplies throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean.  About 300 feet long and 50 feet wide, an LST ("Landing Ship - Tank") could carry dozens of trucks and jeeps, and even a few medium tanks hence the name.  Over a thousand LSTs were built during World War II and they were used in almost every amphibious invasion, throughout the Pacific Islands and in Europe.  However, only a few remain today.

 

My uncle, Harold Conrad, who died when I was young, served on the LST 612 during World War II and wrote a long journal (which I've posted) of the battles it was involved with, including in the Philippines and at Okinawa.  As with the U.S.S. Neosho, I've written what I believe is the most comprehensive description of the LST 612 available on the Internet.