The story of Friendship Project begins back in the first weeks after Pearl Harbor and the National Military Council of China, laying immediate foundations for the offensive action against the Japanese, moved to establish a weather service in the Jap-held areas out of which the weather comes across China and Japan into the Pacific.
After preliminary discussions, the importance and possibilities of the project were recognized by all concerned. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek assigned the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics of the National Military Council to cooperate with the American representatives and provided the backing of the forces and facilities which it operated in all parts of China, while Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief W.S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations, and General of the Army George C. Marshall, Chief-of-Staff of the Army, sent Rear Admiral (then Commander) M.E. Miles to complete arrangements and head the American participation.
Thus aided by the Chinese Government, the Fleet was getting regular weather reports from many occupied areas in the Far East by the end of 1942. Further, it was discovered that this weather project opened other important possibilities to both the U.S. and China.
For the Navy, it expanded readily to provide coastal intelligence – for the Chinese, to improve general intelligence. China assigned substantial under-cover forces to protect American observers. The Navy, using Marine corps and Coast Guards Personnel also, gave these men training and equipment, and they became the best organization and most effective of all Chinese guerillas engaged in fighting the Japanese. The Chinese requested friendship training and equipment for additional guerilla forces. The United States obliged.
Co-operation in Friendship Project grew closer and its scope became broad. As each good turn done by one side opened new opportunities to the other, this informal Chinese-American organization soon found the United States Fleet and Chinese military organizations relying on its continued efforts.
Soon the joint activities had so expanded as to need substantial and dependable logistic support and the responsible heads of the informal enterprise, General Tai Li and Rear Admiral Miles proposed a solid basis for continued operations. Their proposals found approval in both Governments and early in 1943 were incorporated in a formal agreement which was negotiated by Premier – then Foreign Minister – T.V. Soong and the Secretary of the Navy – Frank Knox, and approved by the Generalissimo and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This agreement created the Sino-American Cooperative Organization – SACO – which integrated the common interest of the Chinese Central Government and the U.S. Navy in the war against Japan. General Tai Li was appointed Director and Rear Admiral Miles was appointed Deputy Director.
Under this agreement, China and the United States operated what is probably the most closely integrated allied organization that ever surmounted a language barrier.
Chinese and American personnel lived, worked and fought side by side, knowing that they were the only source and essential intelligence in China for the prowling U.S. Fleet and for our submarines just off the coast.
SACO units set up weather communications and intelligence stations all the way from the borders in Indo-China to the northern reaches of the Gobi Desert. They also monitored the activity along the China coast behind enemy lines.
Usually it was possible to enter or depart from Japanese-held territory by air but SACO Americans became adept at Chinese disguise and guided by SACO Chinese, they slipped through enemy lines whenever and wherever they chose. Through many months and years not one SACO member was detected.
SACO weather observers and other agents equipped with radio communicated intelligence promptly to SACO headquarters located eleven miles outside of Chunking in a mountainous area known as “Happy Valley”. This nerve center of the whole SACO underground was tied together by 600 hand cranked radios.
The stories these navy men tell are legion but they do not appear in history books. After all this was a super secret mission. One wonders what we could have learned from their experiences.