Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1)


The Organizational evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma, 1942-1945
Troy James Sacquety

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseThe Office of Strategic Services (OSS), considered a predecessor organization to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US Army Special Forces, was created during the Second World War as the first United States government organization whose role was to be a central collector, producer, and disseminator of foreign intelligence. However, popular histories have mythologized its secondary role of special operations, and that is why the organization is most misunderstood today. The role of clandestine warfare did not come easily for the OSS. The fledgling organization made remarkable strides in a very short time, but also experienced dramatic failures because of inexperience. However, one OSS unit, Detachment 101, surmounted these problems to become a model clandestine and special operations unit that used indigenous personnel to create its own army to wage war behind enemy lines. The flexible nature of Detachment 101 was the key that allowed it to evolve its organization and operating methods to enable its success in a variety of clandestine guerrilla and intelligence gathering operations against Japanese forces in Burma.

This flexibility allowed each of its two commanders to mold the unit into an organization that reflected their personalities. Col Carl F. Eifler, bold and impetuous, modeled the group into one that believed it could accomplish any task—even if it could not. Col William R. Peers, the second commander, scaled back the Detachment’s ambition when he took over command. Instead, he focused the group’s efforts on assisting the north Burma campaign, and rapidly turned the group into a much more cohesive unit that was capable of helping the Allies win control of north Burma. Detachment 101 would not have succeeded in a similar fashion had it served in any other area. It achieved success in the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) for the simple reason that it was able to function independent of immediate control from either the US Army in the CBI—under whose tactical authority and overall strategic direction it operated—or OSS headquarters in Washington DC. All operations, decisions, and organizational changes were under the discretion of the Detachment 101 commander. This benevolent neglect from higher echelons allowed the commander of Detachment 101 to independently decide how the unit would operate, and how it would incorporate various OSS branches and capabilities into its operational matrix. The lack of resources in the CBI—it was one of the lowest priority theaters—dictated that from the start Detachment 101 would have to streamline its efforts if it were to be successful. For instance, in contrast to other OSS units, Detachment 101 chose not to follow the OSS standard of branch compartmentalization—in which in the interests of operational security, separate functional elements were kept unaware of the actions of others.

Instead, from its earliest days, Detachment 101’s lack of resources dictated that it had to encourage its officers to get acquainted with the entire operation and then integrated their disparate elements into where they best fit as the whole. Detachment 101 did not remain a static command. The unit evolved from the sabotage and smuggling methods developed by Eifler in 1942-43, to employing a system of combined operations under Peers. In Detachment 101’s version of combined operations, the unit had under its own operational control, land, air, and sea elements and every OSS branch that it chose to incorporate into its force structure. The success of this unit, when placed in its theater setting and overall importance, was unmatched by any other OSS organization. Detachment 101’s operations in the Burma Campaign best achieved OSS creator and leader, Maj Gen William Donovan’s vision of how special warfare operators could assist conventional forces.

Although other OSS combat operations gave exceptional service, none was as central to the conduct of an entire campaign as was Detachment 101. The following study looks at Detachment 101’s organization and how it contributed to mission success and allowed the unit to conduct limited combined operations. This work does not analyze Donovan’s ideas, or to compare and contrast one OSS group’s success with that of another. Its purpose is to examine Detachment 101’s organizational evolution and describe how that impacted the effectiveness and complexity of its operations. These operations in turn, influenced how the leaders of Detachment 101 chose to organize and direct the unit. It was in part for this reason that the Detachment was able to easily absorb functions that had immediate tactical use into the group’s organization, but had difficulty doing so with more strategic elements. No other study has chronicled or analyzed the development and evolution of the unit from that of conducting acts of sabotage to that of a sophisticated coordinated guerrilla and unconventional warfare campaign that integrated propaganda, intelligence gathering, local auxiliaries, and liaison with US and Allied forces. In this way, the author feels he can make the best contribution to the literature of the China-Burma-India Theater and that of the OSS. Most other works focus exclusively on operations. This is the first to explore how the organization of an OSS group contributed to its success.

Donovan’s Vision

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseIn June 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed World War I hero William Donovan as the first and only chief of the Coordinator of Information (COI). The COI, renamed one year later as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was the first United States government organization tasked with the specific role of central collector of foreign intelligence. It also had the secondary mission of being prepared to engage in subversive or black activities, otherwise known as clandestine warfare. However, the road to the creation of this capability in the COI was not immediate. Prior to the creation of the COI, Donovan saw a need for a new intelligence organization that would better serve the decision-making process of policy makers, and through covert action, be a force multiplier for combat forces. Secretary of the Navy William F. Knox, Donovan’s friend, assisted and influenced his beliefs. It was also Knox who suggested to President Roosevelt that Dnovan make an unofficial trip to England to evaluate the war situation and the British intelligence services. Between December 1940 to March 1941, Donovan was given unprecedented access to British bases, including those in Africa, and was able to evaluate first hand what the OSS would later consider its counterpart and mentor organization, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

A Medal of Honor winner from the First World War, Donovan had an intense personal interest in clandestine warfare and extensively studied SOE’s sabotage role. He saw such warfare as an important method to support intelligence gathering that would enhance the combat capability of regular military formations. He envisioned that an American special operations element would function in three escalating stages : infiltration and preparation, sabotage and subversion, and finally, direct support to guerrilla, resistance, or commando units. Much in the model of the British Commandos, special operations had the added benefit of performing what one OSS history termed increasing the enemy’s misery and weaken his will to resist. After returning from Europe, Donovan wrote President Roosevelt, My observation is that the more the battle machines are perfected the greater the need in modern warfare of men calculatingly reckless with disciplined daring, who are trained for aggressive action … it will mean a return to our old tradition of the scouts, the raiders, and the rangers. When appointed head of the COI, Donovan was tacitly given the mission to prepare for the possibility of using covert warfare methods, but he could do little to recruit for them. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Donovan again called for the formation of an American special operations force and wrote to Roosevelt on December 22 1941, … as an essential part of the strategic plan, there be recognized the need of sowing the dragon’s teeth in those territories from which we withdraw … That the aid of native chiefs be obtained, the loyalty of the inhabitants cultivated … and guerrilla bands of bold, and daring men organized and installed.

With the US now at war, he could recruit, but getting COI/OSS deployed for overseas missions would be a greater challenge. In order to prove the value of clandestine warfare, Donovan sought to insert the COI into an active combat theater. He was met with much skepticism. Many senior Army officers could not understand what role COI, and later, the OSS, could play in their Areas of Responsibility (AOR), and some were even hostile to an OSS presence. For instance, Gen Douglas McArthur virtually banned the OSS from his South West Pacific AOR throughout the war. However, Donovan found openings in other theaters, such as the North Africa Theater of Operations. The early COI/OSS operations in North Africa proved to be the key needed to allow greater participation throughout the European Campaign. However, this would not be the same situation for the CBI.

Detachment 101 – 1942-1945

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseBurma was an active combat theater from 1942 to 1945. This allowed Detachment 101, as the OSS component operating in Burma was called, to build on previous achievements, reflect upon mistakes, and evolve its operations into those of greater complexity. This helped the unit to become the showcase OSS organization in the Far East. The unit performed its functions so well that the official OSS history called it the most effective tactical combat force in OSS. It is this length of service and relative absence of political barriers like the OSS experienced in China that makes Detachment 101 a unique and valuable organization to study. In comparison to US participation in other operational theaters, Burma was a backwater. The resource-starved CBI was an unusual theater and merited its nickname : Confusion Beyond Imagination. Later on, to the OSS, however, the Burma Campaign is probably not going to be the big show, but it is the going show. It was an important aspect of the war mainly because of President Roosevelt’s desire to keep the Chinese in the war, and his insistence on treating the Chinese as an equal ally. The CBI was a complex operational theater with many strong-willed and often conflicting personalities.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseFor instance, Army Lt Gen Joseph W. Stilwell (Vinegar Joe), the senior American officer in the CBI, stubbornly stuck to his belief, until early 1944, that with US assistance, the Chinese could field an effective army. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his loose confederation of commanders hampered Stilwell in his endeavor. They hoarded American supplies for the post-war period in which they knew that they would have to confront the Chinese Communists. Stilwell had an additional adversary in his subordinate, Maj Gen Claire L. Chennault, who had the ear of President Roosevelt. Chennault believed that air power was the answer to defeating Japan and preached that with a minimum of Chinese-based aircraft and sufficient support, he could win air superiority in China, bomb mainland Japan, and through this, force a Japanese retreat in the Pacific. The British likewise compounded Stilwell’s problems, as Burma was in their sphere of influence and they had the lead in conducting warfare there. These brief examples of friction out of many among the upper command in the CBI reflect the confliction of effort and corresponding delay in formulating a strategy to remove the Japanese from mainland Asia. It was into this political quagmire that the COI sent its first intact unit to go overseas.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseHowever, in one respect the COI/OSS was lucky. Despite the lack of American resources in terms of personnel – or even because of it – the theater became a cornucopia of special operations units. In Burma alone, American special operations units included the Galahad (5307 Composite (P) Merrill’s Marauders, Mars Task Force, and the First and Second Air Commandos. British special operations units included the Chindits, Force 136, V-Force, and elements of the Special Boat Service.

Activated on April 22 1942, Detachment 101 was the first special operations unit formed by the COI. The COI gave Detachment 101 commanding officer Maj Carl F. Eifler the authority to select a small group of twenty men to go overseas for service somewhere in the Far East. Eifler was a bear of a man. He was tall, muscular, a hard drinker, and intelligent. He was a brash, no-nonsense type who overcame obstacles by sheer will and determination. He did not care how the mission was done – or who got the credit – as long as it was successfully accomplished.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BasePrior to the war, Eifler had been an Army Reservist while in the US Treasury Customs Service, where he worked against smuggling rings. This experience schooled him in the unorthodox methods of criminals and smugglers. It was also through the Army Reserve that he met Stilwell. After the war, Eifler struggled to recover from injuries received in Burma, but managed to finish a career in the Customs Service and earn a Doctorate of Divinity.

He died in 2002 at the age of ninety-five. The COI only gave Eifler’s group a brief training period. Half went to the newly appropriated former Civilian Conservation Corps camp turned sabotage school of Area B, now known as Camp David, Maryland, while others went to Camp X, the SOE training area in Canada. After Eifler spent several weeks trying to find a place for the group in China, Stilwell directed him to settle the unit in India, and prepare to conduct operations against Japanese-occupied Burma. The group was fortunate to find an out of the way tea plantation in Nazira, Assam State, from which to plan their operations.

Under the name of the US Army Experimental Station – the cover story being that they were researching malaria – the men quickly enmeshed themselves in their work. They found that their previous ideas of warfare were no longer applicable, but despite Stilwell’s initial instructions, the group thereafter had little direction from either the Army or COI/OSS headquarters in Washington. The men had little choice but to simply muddle through and develop their organization and operating methods as they went along. The first undertaking was to establish an agent training school, and then to push what could be called an observer mission into the area near Sumprabum in north Burma. Despite these minor achievements, Detachment 101 was under intense pressure from Eifler, who wanted to please Stilwell and to produce results that would allow the continued existence of the unit in the CBI. Eifler loathed failure and expected an equally determined effort from his men. The result was long hours and multi-tasking to ensure that everything – and more – was accomplished. The British indirectly compounded this pressure. At higher levels, they were extremely wary of having an autonomous American intelligence unit in their sphere of influence, and they tried to subsume
Detachment 101’s operations under SOE as happened in Europe.

To achieve success, the Detachment attempted a series of long-range penetration operations. Although they were nearly all complete failures, the unit gained valuable experience from the missions and used the lessons to conduct subsequent operations. The unit’s overland shallow penetrations in 1943 were much more successful. In particular, Operation Forward, the observer mission near Sumbrabum under Capt William C. Wilkinson, would prove to be the success that follow-on operations, such as Operation Knothead, would build upon. These shallow penetrations were the forerunners of the employment of independent guerrilla columns in 1944-1945. Detachment 101 also established several agent groups, such as under agent Skittles, which operated some fifty miles or so in front of the American engineering units charged with building the Ledo Road. They provided critical intelligence on the Japanese forces in the area and conducted civil affairs duties to win hearts and minds among the indigenous population.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(The Ledo Road, so named because it originated from Ledo, India, was a road to link to the Burma Road, which had been cut by the Japanese in 1942. Since the Japanese occupied coastal China, the Burma Road had been the only link to supply China with American arms and supplies. The Ledo Road was intended to take the pressure of supplying the Chinese off the highly inefficient Hump air supply route. Although a remarkable engineering achievement, the Ledo Road was not completed until late in the war. By this time the Japanese were well on their way to losing the war and the Joint Chiefs had decided that mainland China would not be a significant area of operations for the US military).

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

The Stilwell’s Road, which was constructed by the Americans during the Second World War from Ledo in Assam, India, which is one of the rail-heads of the Bengal-Assam railway in the valley of the Upper Brahmaputra during that time to Burma Road connecting to Kunming, China passes through Lekhapani, Jairampur, Nampong and Pangsau pass, India-Burma (Myanmar) border. It winds up the passes of the 9000 feet Patkai Range and emerges at Shindbwiyang and then Myitkyina. It crosses the broad bowl of the Upper Chindwin, threads the Hukawng and Mogaung valleys, and goes down to Bhamo and to the Burma road which connects Kunming, Yunnan province, China.

The year 1944 brought even more success and proved to be the turning point for Detachment 101. Eifler was no longer the unit’s commander. He was replaced by Lt Col William R. Peers. A career Army officer, Peers stayed in the military after the war. He served with the CIA during the war in Korea, and had several tours in Vietnam. He retired as a Lieutenant General after thirty-six years of service. One of his final acts in the military was to direct the My Lai Massacre (Vietnam) investigation. That the US Army had appointed him to lead the commission is a reflection on his standing in the military and that he had served with distinction and above reproach. Peers died in 1984 and is considered one of the most influential pioneers of US Army Special Operations.

The unit secured a firm role by finding niches that conventional forces in Burma could not fill. Detachment 101 started to recruit indigenous guerrilla troops, provided strategic and tactical intelligence such as enemy order of battle and ground targets for the 10-AAF, and guided lost aircrews back to Allied lines. These roles provided a morale boost to the Army Air Forces in the CBI. Not only were their bombing attempts in north Burma now much more successful with Detachment 101 agents securing targeting intelligence and acting as forward observers, but pilots were no longer automatically doomed to starvation, death, or capture should they be forced down. Another key role for Detachment 101 was to serve as guides for, and to screen the flanks of regular US and British formations. This assistance contributed to the crowning achievement of Allied forces in north Burma, the 1944 capture of Myitkyina. In this campaign, Detachment 101 provided support to the Galahad force, the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), commonly known as Merrill’s Marauders, troops of the Chinese Army in India (CAI), and the British Chindits. Detachment 101 also provided intelligence and cut Japanese lines of communication around Myitkyina (in an area roughly the size of Connecticut) thereby sealing off the Japanese garrison from retreat and outside support.

After Myitkyina fell in August 1944, Detachment 101 continued to support Allied forces as they sought to secure their hold on north Burma. The taking of Bhamo and Lashio effectively ended this campaign. At the same time, Detachment 101 extended liaison to regular British formations of the Fourteenth Army. Following the fall of Rangoon, Maj Gen Daniel I. Sultan, the Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC) commanding officer, ordered Detachment 101 to clear the Shan States and to prevent disorganized Japanese forces from falling back into Thailand. The unit served as the only available ground combat force and had to assume a more conventional role. While these events were unfolding in north Burma, Detachment 101 was operating a separate campaign in conjunction with the XV Indian Corps along the southern coast of Burma.

In late 1944, the Detachment subsumed operations in the Arakan being conducted by the Ceylon-based OSS Detachment 404. Deemed the Detachment 101 Arakan Field Unit (AFU), the group was composed primarily of OSS personnel from the Maritime Unit and Operational Groups, but had representation from other OSS branches. Det 101 AFU finished its mission in June 1945 after the Allies captured Rangoon. By July 1945, Detachment 101’s service was finished and many of the personnel of the unit took their experience and knowledge on to other OSS operations. Detachment 101 had become the preeminent and one of the largest OSS overseas organizations. Upon cessation of operations, the unit had created an impressive scorecard of nearly 5500 known Japanese killed. Detachment 101 was able to accomplish this with a loss of some twenty-nine Americans and 184 indigenous soldiers killed and 86 indigenous personnel captured or missing. The initial twenty-one men of the OSS Special Operations (SO) Branch grew so that at its height Detachment 101 had nearly 9200-armed guerrillas. Nearly 1000 OSS and a few attached Allied personnel had served in the Detachment, although the daily complement was a few hundred. The group received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions in the final battles in Burma. This was an honor in OSS shared only by the Operational Groups in the European campaign.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

After being lost in the jungle of northern Burma for 45 days, a wounded and fatigued American pilot is carried to safety. Detachment 101 regularly assisted in the rescue of Allied airmen who had crashed or been shot down in the skies over Burma.

Burma – A Country Study

To the Americans of Detachment 101, Burma and the Indian frontier were wild lands. One newly arrived officer reported on his experience with the local wildlife, Ray SAW the tiger, which he describes as somewhat smaller than a water buffalo, [sic]. Despite the wild nature of the local terrain, Detachment 101 would not have been successful unless it had a permissive operating environment. This section will provide the reader familiarity with the Burma faced by the men of Detachment 101. Burma was then and remains a complex country with multiple and competing ethnic groups. The country had been under British domination since 1885. Until 1937, the British administered Burma as a part of India. However, this was an arbitrary administrative pairing as the two countries have little in common with the exception of certain border areas. From 1938 until 1942, the British administered Burma as a separate colony. It was not unified in any great sense, then or now, which is evidenced today in the multiple ethnic insurgencies present within its borders. For instance, the ongoing Karen struggle for independence started in 1949, soon after Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom.

Burma, now called Myanmar, is a country about the size of Texas, and has geographical extremes. On the southern coast is the capital city of Rangoon, now called Yangoon. Above Rangoon, but still along the swampy mangrove-lined coast, is the Arakan region. As one travels north from the coast, the terrain is increasingly rugged until one reaches the Kachin hill tracts. There begin the mountainous foothills to the Himalayas. These jungle-covered mountains form just past Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, and the relatively rolling hills immediately become small steep mountains that increase in size and elevation the farther one journeys north. The ruggedness of this terrain would prove to both a blessing and a curse for Detachment 101. The mountains provided cover. In many cases the Japanese did not have a significant presence in these areas with the exception of large towns and villages. This allowed the Detachment freedom of movement and ensured that it could operate relatively unseen by the Japanese.

In contrast to Allied thinking early in the war, the Japanese were not the masters of the jungle. As one American OSS officer later noted, the Japanese were so exhausted by the time they reached the mountain passes into India and so short of supplies that their mad gallop across Thailand and the flat-lands of southern and central Burma slowed down to little more than a blind stagger at the India-Burma border. But, the terrain also made movement extremely difficult for the Allies. Detachment 101 estimated that it took a man thirty days to walk the same distance that a light plane could fly in one hour. An example of the difficulty in moving over this terrain was chronicled in an early 1944 report : Tilly got lost in the high grass, had to part the grass and fall on it … slashed his arms and trouser legs. He then got to the top of a hill and climbed a tree. He got nearly to the crotch and got his hand caught in a bee hive … started off through the pit grass. He went right over the cliff 30 feet. Almost all ground movement had to be on foot, with all supplies either carried by porters or pack animals. As a result, Detachment 101 columns could not carry much in the way of food, ammunition, or heavy weapons. All weapons had to be man-portable, which limited the heaviest weapons to light machine guns, such as the British Bren gun. Artillery was not present in any sense of the word. What would have substituted for this would have been grenades, light mortars, or an occasional bazooka. Detachment 101’s light weaponry ensured that its units were unable to sustain prolonged contact with the enemy.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

The terrain made logistics difficult. Roads were few, making overland resupply impossible. Any such effort would have consumed more supplies than it could deliver. The solution was to resupply each guerrilla force every few days or weeks by air. This solved the problem of carrying large amounts of supplies, but also resulted in waste as units tended to shed any excess. This method of supply made dedicated airlift a necessity and greatly increased the cost of Detachment 101 operations. Air resupply, however, ensured mobility, and the guerrilla units could move with little fear of running out of supplies while behind enemy lines. The ethnic groups in Burma played a huge role in the Japanese invasion, occupation, and liberation. The Burmans are the largest and most dominant ethnic group. They primarily inhabit the most populous areas in southern Burma, make up some 70 percent of the total population, are predominantly Buddhist, and during the war were generally pro-Japanese. Prominent Burmans had even formed a fifth column that aided the Japanese invasion. The Burmans’ Japanese sympathies made the life of an agent inserted into a Burman region extremely hazardous. Toward the end of the war, the indigenous populations in the south could no longer believe that the Japanese would win the war. Only then did they extend themselves to any degree to help the Allied cause.

Although other minorities such as the Shan and the Chin helped the Allies to varying degrees, the ethnic groups that would be most important to Allied operations were the Naga, Karens and Kachins. With centuries of strife with the Burmans, they were very willing to side with the Allies, and saw the British, and correspondingly the American forces, as their protectors. Their goodwill towards the Allies did not apply to the Chinese, who like the Burmans, were also a source of ethnic tension. Inhabiting the India/Burma border near Assam were the Nagas. Their culture would be considered the most primitive of the ethnic groups, and they were rumored to be headhunters. For this reason, they were greatly feared – at least initially – by the American forces, who did not venture far into Naga-held areas for the fear that they would wind up as trophies. However, the Nagas were pro-Allied, and provided great service to Detachment 101 and the British-led V-Force, a similar intelligence gathering organization. The Karens were independently minded and many were of the Christian faith, an asset to the Allies in trying to get these indigenous groups to work with them. In a tacit agreement, SOE focused most of its recruiting on Karens, making this group less important to the OSS.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseBy far, the most important ethnic group to the operations of Detachment 101 was the Kachins, also known as the Jinghpaw. This group inhabited north Burma, where the majority of Detachment 101’s initial operations would occur. In the Kachin, Detachment 101 had the fortune of finding a warlike and willing ally. They were staunchly pro-Allied, more so on account of their relative weakness as a minority than anything else. For generations, the British had taken advantage of this ethnic buffer, and pitted the Kachins against the Burmans and the Chinese. Having endured excesses by the occupying Japanese troops and their Burman auxiliaries, the Kachins were violently anti-Japanese and formed several disorganized guerrilla groups before the Allies arrived. The Americans and Kachins developed a true affection for each other. The Kachin did not see Americans as a colonial power that had post-war designs on Burma, nor did Americans generally act in a colonial manner toward indigenous peoples, as did many of the British. The decades-long presence of American missionaries in north Burma also helped Detachment 101’s relationship with the Kachin. The missionaries had rendered the language – Jinghpaw – into a written language. Although most Kachins were not Christians – a large portion were animists – the goodwill of the American missionaries had impressed the Kachins.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Jungle-wise Kachin furnish elephants and act as scouts for Merrill’s Marauders and Mars Task Force. Photographer Raczkowski

The Kachin proved to be ideal guerrilla fighters, as a 1943 OSS report espoused, a Kachin with a ‘dah’ [traditional knife/sword] can be comparable to a whole panzer division in his own country. Being the inhabitants of a predominantly undeveloped jungle environment, many of the Kachins had developed hunting skills from an early age. They were at home in the jungle and experts in jungle craft. Their knowledge in this regard far surpassed any that the Japanese had acquired. The Kachins did not fight fair as a westerner would understand it; however, that was perfectly fine for the OSS. For instance, it was not an acceptable fighting practice to the Kachins to hold ground. Rather, hit and run ambushes were the norm. These qualities gave the Kachin what seemed to the Americans as an almost superhuman power to read the jungle.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseJingpaw Warrior

The first style of fighting that the Americans of COI/OSS envisioned they would use in the Far East was in the model of the SOE school of sabotage and subversion. Under Kachin tutelage, however, Detachment 101 combined these methods with extensive use of ambushes. Detachment 101 sections would often stay in a general area with a central command post that would serve as a focal point from which patrols were sent out and supplies cached. These areas could be relatively permanent if the group devoted the time to hack a small aircraft landing strip out of the surrounding jungle. The guerrilla columns moved through the jungle along small game trails or on hidden pathways, often known only to local residents. Only when a suitable place was found from which to ambush a Japanese patrol – and even then, only on their own terms – would the Detachment 101 columns fight the enemy. The OSS adapted well to this style of warfare because it suited their armament. In a typical ambush, a Detachment 101 group would stake out a position along a road or trail and wait. When an enemy column arrived, a pre-arranged signal would trigger the group to fire. At times, the burst of fire was only long enough to make it through one magazine in their automatic weapons, or just enough time to throw a few grenades. There was no point in conserving ammunition, as the 101 group did not intend to stand to fight. With the Japanese then reeling in confusion, the OSS group would melt back into the jungle. At this point, as one post-war depiction noted, nobody covered anybody as until they reached a prearranged rendezvous, it was every man for himself.

The Japanese characteristically reacted by jumping to cover on the sides of the road or trail. Here they encountered another weapon in Detachment 101’s arsenal, the punji. Employed in South-East Asia for centuries, punjis are sharpened fire-hardened stakes of bamboo that have been set on end into the ground at an angle, and in a location where an enemy is likely to step or take cover. Punjis also were an outstanding psychological weapon, further demoralizing Japanese troops in areas where Detachment 101 operated. Burma was one of the most debilitating environments in the Second World War for military operations because of the climate and endemic diseases. It is a tropical country and can have extremely hot and humid conditions. Temperatures in central Burma reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the hot months of March through May. From June-September, the monsoon takes hold with the constant moisture leading to rot, decay, and rust of most equipment. Detachment 101 reported in June 1943, a cleaned pistol will develop rust pits in 24 hours, a pair of shoes not cleaned daily will rot in a week. The majority of the areas where 101 would operate were thick jungle, some of which at the time was unexplored. Leeches, mosquitoes, and corresponding diseases—such as malaria, typhus, and encephalitis – were prevalent. In his memoir, Defeat Into Victory, Field Marshall William J. Slim, commander of the British Fourteenth Army, discussed the problem that his forces had with disease :

In 1943, for every man evacuated with wounds we had one hundred and twenty four evacuated sick. The annual malaria rate alone was eighty-four per cent annum of the total strength of the army and still higher for the forward troops. At this time, the sick rate of men evacuated from their units rose to twelve thousand per day. A simple calculation showed me that in a matter of months at this rate my army would have melted away.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseCapt Zachariah Ebaugh (left) jokes with indigenous troops.

Americans faced a similar situation in north Burma. In 1943, the rate of malaria in the CBI was 206 per 1000 per year. After much effort to combat the disease, by 1944 it had only dropped to 167 per 1000 per year. In special circumstances, the rate could become even higher. Merrill’s Marauders, for instance, suffered appalling rates of dysentery, malaria, and scrub typhus during their campaign to seize Myitkyina. By June 4 1944, they had suffered 1020 casualties from disease in contrast to 424 reported killed, wounded, or missing. In just his first month operating behind the lines, medical officer Lt Cmdr James C. Luce reported treating among the local population one hundred three cases of malaria, ten of dysentery, two of tuberculosis, one hundred of scabies, four of ringworm, thirty of tropical ulcers, and twenty-seven of gonorrhea in addition to numerous other ailments. For the members of Detachment 101, the struggle with disease was paramount. Unlike other Allied formations in the CBI, they were far behind enemy lines. If one took ill, the only remedy was to either find or build – a lengthy process – a short airfield in which one of the Detachment’s liaison planes could land to extract the ill soldier. If a Detachment 101 soldier could not be airlifted out, the only alternative was to drop medical supplies and hope for the best. As it arrived in theater, Detachment 101 faced a monumental task. Not only did it have to try out its unproven operating methods, but it also had to figure out exactly how to apply these methods to a strange environment.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Ethnic Kachin guerillas, newly recruited by the US OSS Detachment 101, compare an American issued rifle, a British model Lee-Enfield made in the United States, with a long barreled hand-loading weapon used by the hill tribesmen in Burma.

Laying the Groundwork – Mid 1942 – January 1943

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseThe initial months for Detachment 101 in the CBI set the stage for the unit’s later actions throughout the war. During this early period from mid-1942 to early 1943, Detachment 101 took on an ad-hoc nature, and the group made due with what was available. Despite the lack of resources, however, it made great strides in establishing its operating areas, its command and liaison arrangements, setting up a base of operations, and determining how and when it would wage war on the Japanese in occupied Burma. By early 1943, Detachment 101 had established itself on tentative ground, but was nonetheless emplaced in the American effort in the CBI. Its methods remained unproven, however, as did the unit’s relative worth in the China-Burma-India Theater. However, like the unit at this time, the entire CBI Theater was in confusion. The China-Burma-India Theater was among the most remote of the US operating areas and was at the tail end of a limited logistics train. Its confusing command arrangement was compounded by the complexity of coordinating with the British, who had overall supremacy in Burma. As the senior American officer in theater, Stilwell had multiple and often conflicting duties. He was the commander of US forces in the CBI, and oversaw the distribution of lend-lease materials. He was also the chief of staff to Nationalist Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and the commanding general of the Chinese Army in India. His multiple command duties, however, only contributed to problems brought on by the debacle of the first Burma campaign.

By May 1942, the victorious Japanese had run the Allies out of Burma. The war in Burma, then a British colony, began in late January 1942. Japanese forces quickly overwhelmed a mixed force of British, Burmese, Indian, American, and Chinese defenders. By May 1942, the Allied forces – including Stilwell’s small staff – had been thoroughly routed and fled to India. With Burma’s fall, the Japanese severed the final land route to China. This was important because China had been at war with Japan since 1937 and its coast was under occupation. A furious Stilwell commented, I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it. However, at the moment, Stilwell had little with which to accomplish this task.

An Undefined Problem

As Eifler and his group made their way to the Far East, they had little idea how – or even where – they would operate. Their initial instructions from COI/OSS were vague at best; their operating area ill defined and the group itself in extreme disarray. Not only was Detachment 101’s very existence on the line, but so was the reputation of the OSS as a whole. Only Eifler’s sheer will, the group’s sense of purpose, and their intense desire to get into action against the Japanese bonded the group into a cohesive unit. From a March 1942 conversation with Lt Col Preston Goodfellow, then the US Army G-2 liaison officer detailed to the COI, Eifler was under the understanding that his Area of Responsibility (AOR) was to be anywhere in China, Korea, Burma, Malay States, Indo-China, Hainan Island, and Japan itself. In addition to planning operations to cover all or part of this great swath, Eifler also had to come up with his own individual operations plan. On the surface, Eifler’s plans were relatively simple; however, for the time they were extremely complex and forward thinking. He was laying the groundwork for a completely new type of para-military unit that had no precedent in the United States military. Eifler planned to use :

(1) a small group of officers … to contact groups in the War Zone and purchase acts of sabotage; (2) to organize and train an organization to penetrate enemy held territory and conduct a campaign of directed sabotage to harass the enemy … this organization must be divided into two parts : (1) a section to train agents, (2) an Operations Section … the undersigned intends to … contact the Government officials necessary, locate patriotic organizations who have members inside enemy lines, sell myself to the people I intend to use and train them as agents and smugglers … lines of communication will be developed. The undersigned not only plans to use existing radio equipment but will attempt to develop a new, small set that will better suit the problem as I now visualize it.

Given his set of operating parameters, Eifler had to choose his personnel with nary a clue as to what – or where – his eventual mission would be. He selected what men he could find that had the necessary language, cultural or technical skills that would encompass the operating location or methods in which he had the possibility of working. Since the group was so small, each man had to fulfill multiple and often non-complementary duties. An example of this is Sgt Sukyoon Chang who served as mess sergeant, as an instructor, and as possible liaison to any Korean resistance movements. Given his operating plans to employ smuggling methods to insert groups behind the lines, use radios to stay in contact, and support any type of clandestine mission that the group might encounter, Eifler needed to choose personnel with the skills to cover all these requirements. Fortunately, Eifler was not a novice to smuggling methods. Prior to the war, he had been in the Customs Service and in the Army Reserve in Hawaii. He used the contacts gained during those years to handpick a few men who had experience with smuggling. In regards to recruiting communications personnel, however, he had to rely upon the judgment of others. Radioman Allen R. Richter was brought on board when Eifler and his deputy, Lt Col John G. Coughlin (who outranked Eifler at the time, but such was the COI/OSS) visited the Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. They asked Richter, who had an extensive background in radios, if he would like to drop out of OCS and join the outfit as an enlisted man for a secret mission. Eifler explained the mission as possibly being in the Far East and from which he was virtually guaranteed that he would not return. Richter accepted and three days later was on a train to COI headquarters at Q building, Washington D.C.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

All told, the original contingent of what the COI would initially call the Eifler Mission was comprised of twenty-one officers and enlisted men. At this early stage, the COI/OSS had not yet formalized the branch structures that would be present in the OSS later in the war. Working within this understanding, however, one can extrapolate the branches represented in the initial contingent by examining the duties for which each man was responsible. One each was involved in administration, photography, medical, research and development, secret intelligence, special funds, two in supply, three in training; while five personnel each were assigned to communications, and special operations. It must be stressed again that each of these men performed a multitude of tasks. Their duties represent the first melding of Coordinator of Information (COI) – Office of Strategic Services (OSS) functions in Detachment 101; however, that these men were in reality all from the Special Operations (SO) Branch is significant. This established from the beginning that regardless of a man’s branch and training, he performed the duties deemed of the greatest need. This precedent carried through for the remainder of the war.(*)

(*) Eifler to Donovan, Status of OSS Detachment 101, February 16 1943. For clarification, the personnel are assigned as follows : (Admin) Charles Bruce, (Commo) Phillip S. Huston, Allen R. Richter, Jack Pamplin, Donald Y. Eng, Fima Haimson, (Field Photo) Irby E. Moree, (Medical) Archie Chun Ming, (Procurement) Frank Devlin, Harry W. Little, (Research & Development) Floyd R. Frazee, (Schools & Training) William R. Peers, Vincent Curl, Sukyoon Chang, (Secret & Intelligence) Chan*, (Special Funds) Robert T. Aitken, (Special Operations) Carl F. Eifler, John G. Coughlin, William C. Wilkinson, George T. Hemming, John M. Murray, Dave E. Tilliquist. *Chan is not considered to be one of the original compliment according to Allen Richter. However, in Thomas N. Moon and Carl F. Eifler, The Deadliest Colonel (New York : Vantage, 1975), 46, a man described as a Eurasian in his fifties was recruited for infiltrating smuggling rings in the Far East. He was known only to Eifler and Coughlin, and later to Peers when he took over command. Since Chan is listed as an undercover agent in Calcutta, it is possible that he is the mystery man in Eifler’s book. At this stage of what would become known as Detachment 101, all officers and men assigned to the Eifler Mission, were likely classified as SA/G or the SO branch. SO or Special Operations had been set up for the purpose of effecting physical subversion of the enemy. This included sabotage operations and support to resistance groups.

This blending of roles was not ordinary practice in the OSS. Observers sent from Washington frequently commented on this unique aspect of Detachment 101.

It is apparent that in all this description reference to SI [Secret Intelligence], SO, OG [Operational Group], etc., is absent. Such branch divisions simply do not occur in the thinking of this unit. There is work to be done, there is a staff to do it, and all are working as OSS/DET 101 men, doing whatever aspect of the job is feasible, appropriate, and important at the moment.

Detachment 101’s operational flexibility could create problems. In 1943, 2/Lt Thomas B. Leonard of the Operational Group (OG) Branch arrived at Detachment 101 headquarters. Leonard was commissioned in the US Army Signal Corps, but had quickly to join the OSS. Despite his lack of expertise with radios, the chief communications officer of Detachment 101, Capt Phillip S. Houston, assigned Leonard to his section. Fearing that Leonard might compromise agents who were behind the lines through his poor radio technique, Peers assigned Leonard to field operations in north Burma immediately. In contrast to all other theaters in which the OSS operated – including the South East Asia Command and China – Detachment 101’s OGs did not operate independently. Rather, as had happened with Leonard, they slipped into the SO role – a much better fit in his case than Communications. Instead of going in as a group, Detachment 101 detailed individuals out to groups that were already behind the lines. To this day, the existence of OGs in Detachment 101 is still a revelation to those who worked in OGs in other operational theaters.


Once Detachment 101 arrived in theater, Eifler found out that most of his preconceptions were wrong. Contrary to what COI/OSS Washington had said, they had arranged little. No one in the theater knew of Eifler’s mission or had even heard of the COI/OSS. He even had difficulty in securing transportation. At every turn, Eifler found US Army organizations that wanted to absorb Detachment 101 – just for the personnel the group represented – but did not want to support the COI/OSS unit’s mission. Eifler quickly found that the skills of specialized warfare were not those most needed. Rather, he needed an experienced staff or liaison officer. One was not available, so Eifler filled the role. OSS headquarters in Washington was of no help and gave very little guidance. This was in part due to the difficulties in communication between India-China and Washington, but mostly because of Donovan’s poor administrative skills. Not only did Eifler have to win over reluctant officers – both US and Allied – but he had to explain to them the unproven mission of the COI/OSS; to engage in subversive warfare. He succeeded admirably. This was in large part due to his insistence to press forward and to accept what missions he could wrangle for his new command so long as they conformed in some way to the COI/OSS plan of action.

Eifler’s first step was to meet with Lt Gen Stilwell, the CBI Commanding Officer. Eifler was under the impression that Stilwell had sent for him by name, having picked him to lead Detachment 101. The May 20 1942 instructions given to Eifler by Preston Goodfellow enhanced this impression. They stated that Detachment 101 was to carry on in the Theater of Operations with the knowledge and consent of General Stilwell. But, Stilwell had not called for Eifler, nor did he want him or his unit. Stilwell relayed that he had been asked by COI representatives – who were trying to find any overseas posting for a special operations unit – who he would like to see lead such a group. Eifler was the officer Stilwell named. What Eifler did not know – and what COI headquarters took for granted, perhaps with an added bit of subterfuge – was that Stilwell had responded in the theoretical. He had meant his reply to be if the COI sent a group to his AOR then he wanted Eifler, not that he actually wanted such a group. Despite this misunderstanding, Stilwell remained more receptive to an OSS presence than other theater commanders. He had few other options. In January 1942, Malaya had fallen to the Japanese, and the British surrendered Singapore a month later. Having simultaneously occupied Thailand, the Japanese invaded Burma in late January 1942. By May, Allied forces were in full retreat. Less than a month after his arrival, Stilwell led his small staff out of Burma on foot. Furthermore, the CBI was so resource starved that Stilwell only commanded a smattering of American aviation units and some poorly led and equipped Chinese troops that had been sent to protect the Burma Road – the Allied lifeline that supplied China. The only Allied intelligence unit in his AOR was the British-led V-Force in north Burma.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Two men of OSS Detachment 101’s. Battalion commanders Lazum Tang and Capt Joseph E. Lazarsky.

Stilwell determined that Eifler’s group would not operate in China. The general recognized that Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek would not allow an autonomous and secret para-military unit in his territory. Instead, Stilwell gave orders to Eifler to operate from India into Burma. At first, Stilwell was unclear where he wanted the unit to concentrate its operations. He told Eifler his unit could do the most good by disrupting Japanese shipping in Rangoon. However, this mission was soon cast aside when it proved impracticable, and it was in north Burma that Detachment 101 would commence its first operations. According to Eifler, it was here that Stilwell said that all he wanted to hear were “booms” coming out of the jungle. Although not reflected in the official record – likely, because the order was verbal – Eifler detailed in his memoir that Detachment 101 had ninety days in order to make these booms happen. Stilwell’s main concern in the CBI was keeping the Hump route open, and Japanese fighter planes based at Myitkyina airfield were hampering the flights of the unarmed cargo aircraft. This forced American aircraft to fly a longer route at the cost of greater gas consumption and reduced cargo. Stilwell therefore directed Eifler to cut the lines of communication around Myitkyina to render the airfield ineffective. The mission also had a Machiavellian secondary objective. Such missions might bring about Japanese reprisals on the indigenous population, thereby serving as a brutal form of propaganda that could only help the Allied cause and help dissuade the indigenous population from working with the Japanese.

In April 1942, the British forces in Burma were crumbling under the Japanese onslaught. At that time Gen Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, India, ordered the creation of a guerrilla element to attack Japanese lines of communication should the Japanese decide to continue their advance from Burma into the Assam region of India. This group, recruited from members of the Assam Rifles, Burmese Rifles and Kachin Rifles, hill tribesman, former British tea plantation owners and workers in the territorial guard, and some detailed American servicemen, came to be known as V-Force. Since the Japanese did not invade further west until 1944, the unit mission became primarily intelligence gathering, weather reporting, and pilot rescue. They did this by maintaining a chain of forward observation posts from upper Assam to the northern Arakan. They provided protection for the 10-AAF and RAF air warning outposts while also serving to maintain an Allied presence in the forward areas. This was important to the pro-British indigenous groups who were suffering under the Japanese occupation. In February 1944, Stilwell requested that the American personnel in V-Force be transferred to Detachment 101. The experience that these veterans brought was a boon to the organization and immediately impacted operations, especially when Detachment 101 was ramping up to assist the drive on Myitkyina by Merrill’s Marauders. The memoirs by V-Force veterans are surprisingly many. Included among these are : Ursula Graham Bower, Naga Path (London : John Murray, 1952); C. E. Lucas Phillips, The Raiders of Arakan (London : Heinemann, 1971); John Bowen, Undercover in the Jungle. (London : William Kimber, 1978). For V-Force support to American Air Warning Stations, see Bob Phillips, KC8 Burma : CBI Air Warning Team, 1941-1942. (Manhattan, KS : Sunflower University Press, 1992); For information on Stilwell’s walkout see Frank Dorn, Walkout : With Stilwell in Burma. (New York : Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1971), Dinjan Air Raid Warning and Information Net Work, September 12 1942, illustrates how little Stilwell’s HQ knew about the situation in north Burma, where Detachment 101 would initially operate. Case was sent on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the general situation in the area. Case appears to have had no knowledge of what V-Force was, or that it was operating in the area.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

OSS Radio Operators, Det. 101 at a Washington DC nightclub. l-r: Jim Irmiter, Bob Wagner, Dick Hamada, Bob Kneal, Joe Ciezadlo and Bob Murphy.

Eifler to Donovan, Report of Action November 24 1942. While neither Eifler nor Stilwell officially asked Chiang Kai-Shek for permission for Detachment 101 to operate in China, given the problems experience by the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO), a group operating in China made up of US Naval Group, China, and OSS, it is likely that even if Detachment 101 had received permission to operate in China, that it would have experienced extreme supply and liaison difficulties. While the OSS was in China early, with SACO and AGFRTS (Air and Ground Forces Resources and Technical Staff), it was not to reach its full zenith until 1945 and only then after the surrender of Germany in May and the end of the Burma Campaign in July. At this time, the OSS was able to concentrate its full resources—including both personnel from Europe and Detachment 101 – into its effort with Detachment 202 (China); Eifler and Moon, The Deadliest Colonel. The official record, while not giving an exact figure of 90 days, does imply that Eifler was under extreme pressure to prove himself and the new organization to a skeptical Gen Stilwell. This often-told story of the booms is repeated in Dunlop, Behind Japanese Lines. For a documentary reference to this, see Carl F. Eifler to Joseph W. Stilwell, November 11 1942.

Eifler also sought to clarify the command structure with Stilwell. They agreed that Detachment 101 would remain a COI/OSS unit, but would be under the tactical control of Stilwell’s headquarters. Initially, Stilwell gave specific directions to Detachment 101, but as it ingrained itself in Burma, his headquarters began assigning strategic objectives and allowed the unit’s commanders to figure out the best way to carry out them out. By July 1943, Eifler commented to OSS Washington that Stilwell gave him a complete hand as far as our unit is concerned. We are practically a little Army on our own. We issue our own orders and, as far as possible, keep care of our own administration. In practice, Eifler did not have to directly report to anyone in the CBI outside of the COI/OSS command chain, as long as he maintained liaison with Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC) in Burma. In essence, Detachment 101 served at the behest of Stilwell, but he only gave strategic direction to the Detachment. OSS Washington also continued its benign neglect. It let Detachment 101 run itself with little interference with only the instructions that no important operations will be carried out without prior approval and that the unit was to operate entirely on your own organizational equipment. Essentially, Detachment 101 was on its own, an arrangement that would initially prove confusing, but in practice would work remarkably well. Inter-theater COI/OSS command would be a more difficult obstacle.

A joint COI/OSS and US Navy effort that would be formalized in April 1943 as the Sino-American Cooperative Agreement (SACO) was operating in China under the leadership of Commander Milton ‘Mary’ Miles. Since Miles outranked Eifler, then a major, the presumption was that Eifler would report through, and be under the direction of Miles. However, Detachment 101 was the first unit of its type, and the COI/OSS did not have much of an overseas presence. Eifler had no precedent to follow and despite repeated pleas for clarification, OSS Washington never informed him of whom he was to report to. Miles was also unsure, but eventually solved the bureaucratic issue by telling Eifler that he was far too busy handling Chinese liaison to also handle liaison with the British. Since Burma was in the British sphere of influence, extensive coordination with them was a necessity. Miles therefore gave Eifler – subject to contrary orders from COI/OSS headquarters – operational control of the Burma AOR, and directed him to report though the arrangement worked out with Stilwell. This meant that with few exceptions from the American military/COI/OSS chain of command, Detachment 101 had a free hand in the running its operations and reporting requirements.

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Enfield MK-1 Bren Gun 1941


In spite of the American command arrangement, Eifler still faced failure if the British did not agree to the type of operations that he had planned. The British viewed the COI/OSS and Detachment 101 with mixed emotions. On one hand, the Detachment, if successful, could offer more teeth to the American effort in north Burma, which the British viewed as virtually nil. Stilwell was focused on keeping the Chinese in the war and had expended the majority of his effort on the Hump route. The British saw this as largely a waste of effort. They did not share Stilwell’s assessment that the Chinese, if led well, could provide valuable and disciplined combat forces. With the British Empire assailed on all fronts, they could ill-afford to spend much in the way of materials on retaking Burma. Therefore, the prospect of having American help, even if it were a secret paramilitary unit, was a temping one. There was potentially a secondary motive; the chance of getting increased US assistance. The British were extremely under resourced and sought out increased US assistance in regards to transport aircraft and logistics. Helping the COI/OSS might open up additional future US aid.

On the other hand, the British viewed American efforts with suspicion. A large American presence in the former British colony, especially a clandestine special operations group, could undermine Great Britain’s status as a colonial power. The US previously had a few colonies, such as the Philippines, but they had been on their way to independence before the Japanese invasion. Moreover, the Americans had nothing in the way of overseas territories as compared to Great Britain’s colonial empire. Many Americans were ideologically opposed to imperialism, a sentiment of which the British were not unaware. A second issue was of no less importance. An American clandestine effort might not be under direct British control. From the British perspective, American armed and trained indigenous guerrillas posed a potential threat to postwar British rule.

Soon after his arrival in India on June 20 1942, Eifler met with Colin Mackenzie, the commander of SOE in India. Fortunately, for Eifler, the meeting was positive and the two agreed to a division of responsibilities. As the senior organization in theater, SOE had first choice in the recruitment of suitable personnel. Mackenzie assigned Maj Wally Richmond as the SOE liaison officer to ensure the two organizations coordinated their efforts. Both OSS Washington and Stilwell’s headquarters eventually concurred on Mackenzie and Eifler’s agreement. The issue of Detachment 101’s relationship with the British was not solved at this meeting and it would later be a subject of issue. When it cropped up again in late 1943, Detachment 101 had already conducted independent operations and both the OSS and Stilwell opposed placing Detachment 101 under British control. Stilwell made it known that if the British insisted, he would discontinue support and ask that Detachment 101 be removed from theater.73 The threats worked and coordination was formalized in 1944 through the establishment of P Division, chaired by Lord Louis Mountbatten of South East Asia Command (SEAC). It functioned as a board that discussed Anglo American intelligence / clandestine operations. In these meetings, deconfliction of OSS and SOE operations was the goal, as well as liaison to inform each party of the other’s actions. Although Detachment 101 continued to have British and Commonwealth personnel assigned, the organization was always in complete control of its operations.

Finding a Location

With these formalities out of the way, Eifler set out to find a base of operations. Detachment 101 needed an isolated location that was near a railroad and river, near the Burma border, but also relatively near a US Army supply depot. Following a tip from the British, and with concurrence from Stilwell’s headquarters, he located a secluded location on the grounds of the Assam Tea Estate near Nazira. Detachment 101 and the tea plantation owners worked out a lease agreement. This lease allowed the Detachment use of the extensive geographic expanse of the plantation, including the bungalows, and the nearby virgin jungles – in all dozens of square miles. The tea plantation’s extensive area was necessary to allow the Detachment to train agent groups in isolation. This compartimentation was necessary so that agents would not be able to recognize their colleagues. No matter how excruciating the torture, they would be unable to give away any information on other than their immediate group. The Detachment may have drawn this lesson from a Japanese attempt to land saboteurs on the west coast of India. These groups were quickly located and destroyed because they trained as one complete unit, and once one agent was broken, he gave information on all the others.

Another benefit to the tea plantation was its relative isolation. While problematic for liaison with Stilwell’s headquarters—nearly one thousand miles away – it was very close to the eventual operating area. Seclusion also meant that the Detachment could go about its business without a great deal of interference from other military units. The tea plantation offered a large number of servants who could work as cooks, guards, house cleaners, or other help. This allowed the elite personnel of Detachment 101 to focus on establishing a school, developing communications, and figuring out how to pay for their clandestine war.

End of Part One

OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

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OSS Detachment 101, Evolution of the OSS Detachment 101 in Burma 1942-1945 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

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