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Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO)


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Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO)


This topic consists of three posts based on a three-part series I authored which was published in The Trading Post. For a more detailed and thorough discussion of this topic see those publications.


In early 1942, Commander Milton Admiral Ernest J. King, USN Commander in Chief and General George C. Marshall, sent E. “Mary” Miles, USN (1900-1961) to complete arrangements and head American participation in joint Sino-American military cooperation. Miles emerged as a key figure in covert operations in China during World War II and was first director of the Far Eastern Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Prior to the War Miles, who had served in China during the 1930s, published a paper advocating a US Navy presence in China. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was ordered to implement it. His plan set forth three goals: 1. Monitor weather in China as a predictor of Pacific Ocean weather; 2. Recruit coast watchers to monitor Japanese shipping traffic in and out of coastal China; and 3. 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. King also secretly ordered Miles to learn everything he could about the situation in China, and in the meantime do whatever he could to help the Navy and heckle the Japanese.

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 significant clout.



Milton E. Miles Lieutenant General Dai Li, Chief of Nationalist China’s secret police


Miles’s mission was to direct the major US Navy covert effort in Asia and work with General Dai Li (1897-1946), head of the Chinese Army’s intelligence service, the National Bureau of Investigations and Statistics (NBIS). Commonly known as Juntong, compared with
the American FBI by his friends and with Hitler’s Gestapo by his enemies.
It is said to have comprised between 75,000 to 300,000 agents. Dai, who in 1928 helped develop China’s intelligence organization as Chief of the Kuomintang (KMT) Army secret service, had been tasked by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to work with the Americans on what initially was called the “Friendship Project”, a cover for Miles’ activities. Dai was the most powerful and feared man in the secret services of the Chinese central government, and indeed all of the Far East.

After Miles’s arrival in the Chinese Nationalist capital of Chungking in May 1942, Dai and Miles inspected the Chinese coast opposite Formosa. While taking cover together from a Japanese air raid outside the village of Pucheng, Dai asked Miles to train and arm 50,000 of his guerrillas in exchange for allowing US naval activities in China with his support.

This evolved into a written agreement between the US and China signed in April 1943 forming the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), pronounced “socko”. As constituted, SACO was jointly led by Dai and Miles.

The Japanese Army and Chinese Communist forces hunted Dai and his Yankee deputy, Navy Captain (later Vice Admiral) Milton E. Miles, the first director of the Far Eastern Branch of the OSS and co-founder of SACO. Between them, with a hundred thousand guerrillas, twenty-five thousand pirates, and three thousand American technicians and instructors, the Chinese general and the American captain were giving the Japanese and Chinese Communists a rough time. Along with General Claire Chennault, they headed the list of those condemned to death by Tojo and Mao Tse-tung.

Leaflets announcing a $1 million dead-or-alive reward were tacked to trees in Hong Kong and Rangoon. They were dropped among the shuffling masses on the streets of Saigon and Shanghai. They were posted on the walls of mud huts in the Gobi and bamboo bashas in Burma, on the masts of junks in the China Sea from Manchuria to Malaya — any place throughout Asia where the wanted men might be. Bribes were offered to officials, to police, and underworld characters to spread the word that these men were sworn enemies of the New Asia which would emerge when the war ended, and that it was a public duty to bring them to justice. Special agents were assigned to track them down.

In his book Miles states that the Chinese guerillas, with SACO equipment and training, and oftentimes led by US Navy and Marine Corps personnel, killed 23,540 Japanese, wounded 9,166, and captured 291. Another account states 71,000 Japanese were killed as the result of actions by, and information from, SACO. They destroyed 209 bridges, 84 locomotives, 141 ships, and 97 depots and warehouses, and successfully rescued 76 downed aviators. 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.


The map below, published after the War in Miles' book, shows the extent of his organization.




The number of times Dai’s enemies tried to capture or kill him is unknown. There were five attempts to liquidate Miles. In the Communists last attempt they tried to corner him on a peninsula jutting into the China Sea. But, he successfully eluded capture for almost four years. Miles, with some of his men, was isolated by the enemy when news of the Japanese surrender reached them five days after the war was over.

The reward for Miles lapsed when he was brought home on a stretcher at the end of the war. Although only 46 years old, he had been sapped by the rigorous life he led in China, and was never again a completely well man. He died in March 1961, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.


In 1934, while executive officer of the Wickes (DD-75), Lt. Milton Miles created a pennant he referred to as the “What-the-Hell Pennant”. Throughout World War II, Milton Miles’ “What-the-Hell?” pennant was the unofficial emblem of SACO and was often found flying at SACO camps throughout China. It was also incorporated into a number of the SACO and Naval Group China insignia to symbolize the "Rice Paddy Navy".


"What The Hell?" Pennant



Collection of Vice Admiral Milton E. Miles, USN. Navy Historical Center


SACO patch | Chinese hand embroidery on silk


SACO shoulder patch | Painted on leather




SACO shoulder patch | Chinese silk embroidery on silk



SACO jacket patch | Chinese silk embroidery on silk


Perhaps one of the rarest yet most attractive of SACO patches is the highly symbolic one shown below. It was known by the men as the “Draggin’ Anchor patch”, the term of endearment for land-bound Navy sailors who comprised SACO.



“Draggin’ Anchor” jacket patch | Chinese silk embroidery on silk




Trading Post. Oct-Dec 2018. p 58.



Related posts:


14th Naval Unit

Naval Group China




Additional Reading:


Breithaupt, Rick. Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) and Naval Group China. The Trading Post. Oct-Dec 2018. pp 53-58.
Breithaupt, Rick. Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) and Naval Group China. The Trading Post. Jan-Mar 2019. pp 53-56.

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Additional varieties


SACO shoulder patchTheater-made. Chinese hand embroidery on cotton.





SACO shoulder patchTheater-made. Multi-piece cotton, Chinese hand embroidery.






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