After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy knew it would need vital information from the Pacific. Nationalist China was particularly well-suited to provide vital information about the Japanese and the Pacific weather patterns. Captain Milton ‘Mary’ Miles journeyed to China to set up weather stations and monitor the Chinese coastline—and to spy on the Japanese. After a meeting and a handshake agreement with Chiang Kai-shek's spymaster, General Dai Li, the Sino-American Cooperative Organization was born.
SACO consisted of nearly 3,000 American servicemen (from the Navy, Marines, and Army), 97,000 organized Chinese guerrillas, and 20,000 “individualists,” including rival pirate groups and lone-wolf saboteurs. This top-secret network worked hand in hand with the Nationalist Chinese to fight the Japanese occupation of China while it erected crucial weather stations, intercepted and cracked Japanese code, blew up enemy supply depots, laid mines, destroyed bridges, sank scores of vessels, and trained Chinese peasants in guerrilla warfare. Its work supplied critical information to the U.S. military, rescued more than seventy-five downed aviators, and contributed to the felling of more than 26,000 Japanese—while losing only five of their own men. SACO—“the rice paddy navy”—was one of the best-kept secrets of the war.
Miles and his SACO men battled military attacks, harsh conditions, dangerous weather, and political in-fighting to provide unprecedented intelligence and training that helped further the Allies’ cause in the Pacific. Working at times in tandem and at odds with the OSS, SACO helped build bridges between the Americans and the Chinese in a fight for the security of Asia. In The Rice Paddy Navy, Linda Kush reveals the story of this covert operation, uncovering the military accomplishments, diplomatic ties, and political wrangling that colored one of the most successful—and little known— efforts of World War II.