By Dr. Charles H. Miles, Son of “Mary” Miles

Printed with permission

SACO operated extensive networks of weather stations and intelligence agents, guerrilla columns, saboteurs, and 18 training camps in China, Burma, and India.  Operations extended from the northern Suiyuan Province (Inner Mongolia) in the Gobi Desert southward into Indochina and Siam, and from Tibet in the west to Shanghai in the east.

The command center was Happy Valley, about eight miles west of Chungking. It also acted as a training center.  Two- and three-man teams not only spread throughout China to measure and report the local weather but also occupied coast watcher observation posts which were dangerously close to Japanese troops.  These watchers often had to move after each use of their radio in order to avoid capture.  Communication within this broad network was achieved by numerous runners, the occasional homing pigeon, and 600 hand cranked radios.

By the first week in July, 1945, Mary Miles had successfully achieved the objective of his secret orders from Adm. King “. . . to prepare the China coast . . .”   SACO had surveyed 80 percent of the possible landing sites with detailed photographs of the surface and, in most cases, profiles at 100-foot intervals showing the bottom conditions and underwater defenses. And SACO not only watched and denied safe harbor to Japanese shipping along the 700 miles stretch between Swatow and Hangchow but controlled 200 miles of that Chinese coastline as well as three seaports – Changchow, major parts of Amoy Harbor, and Foochow along with its airfield.

As for the order “. . .  to heckle the Japanese”, the direct actions by SACO yielded the following results:

  • Japanese killed – 31,345, wounded – 12,969, captured – 349
  • Ships sunk – 141
  • Locomotives destroyed – 84
  • Bridges destroyed – 209

Two and a half Japanese were killed for every U.S. weapon placed in Navy-trained guerrilla hands; that was more enemies per gun than the U.S. Marines.  All this was achieved despite being limited, for various reasons, to never more than 150 tons of supplies monthly.

These American men lived and worked with the Chinese under cultural conditions previously unknown to each.  They became dedicated brothers in arms despite limited knowledge of each other’s language. When asked what he had done in China, a SACO veteran usually has replied ”nothing” but the group contributed significantly to the defeat of the Japanese invaders.

Necessarily, most of the activities of SACO had to be kept secret during the war.  To the citizens of the United States the Asian campaign seemed minor compared the war elsewhere; most never heard of SACO.  However these men and their deeds continue to be revered in China and studied in the tenth-grade history books in Taiwan.

Admiral Milton E. Miles was in essence the captain of SACO, a ship that sailed in uncharted waters.  A truth within the Navy is that the success of a ship’s mission depends upon the strength, hard work, and capability of the crew.  Up to the day of his death – March 25, 1961 – Admiral Miles was more than satisfied with the performances and achievements of each and every one of his men, the crew of SACO.  His two most often used words to two describe their actions bear repeating:

                        “Well done.”