Detachment 101
Office of Strategic Services
Burma - April 14, 1942 to July 12, 1945
"The American-Kachin Rangers"

OSS Detachment 101 created, supplied, trained, led, and fought with troops known as the USA Kachin Rangers. The Kachin people, who occupied a wide range of villages in the jungles and hills of north Burma, taught the Americans how to survive in their environment while the Americans trained the Kachins to fight the Japanese occupation. Together, the Americans and the Kachins made a strong, aggressive, intelligence gathering, fighting force. From north Burma south, they participated in many major and minor actions, including the conquest of the Burma Road from Nam Khan to Lashio, and south almost to the Thai border. They provided target intelligence for the Allied air forces; destroyed enemy bridges, supply dumps, and rail lines; rescued downed Allied fliers; and provided scouting and other help for the American infantry operating in Burma.
The first United States unit to form an intelligence screen and organize and employ a large guerrilla army deep in enemy territory.
They pioneered the unique art of unconventional warfare, later incorporated as fundamental combat skills for our Army Special Forces (Green Berets). They have been credited with the highest "kill/loss ratio" for any infantry type unit in American military history.
The Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation awarded to Detachment 101 says in part, "The courage and fighting spirit displayed by its officers and men in offensive action agains overwhelming enemy strength reflect the highest tradition of the armed forces of the United States," signed Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief of Staff, January 17, 1946. He was of the opinion that Detachment 101 performed, in an outstanding manner, one of the most difficult and hazardous assignments that any military unit had ever been called upon to perform.
Total 101 personnel - Officers 250
Enlisted men 750
Highest guerrilla strength 10,800
Espionage agents with radios 162
U.S. personnel killed, all causes 27
Native personnel killed 338
Espionage agents lost 40
Japanese killed 5,400
Additional Japanese estimated killed or wounded 10,000
Japanese captured 78
Bridges demolished 57
Trains derailed 9
Vehicles destroyed/captured 272
Supplies destroyed/captured (tons) 15,000
Allied airmen rescued 425
Intelligence furnished to Northern Combat Command 85%
Targets designated for 10th U.S. Air Force 75%
The Activities of Detachment 101 of the OSS (1942-1945)
by James R. Ward
Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services was the first unit in U.S. military history created specifically for the purpose of conducting unconventional warfare operations behind enemy lines. It was formed on April 14, 1942, to perform espionage, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, propaganda, and escape-and-evasion operations in support of U.S. military objectives in China. The strategic situations developing in the Far East at the beginning of World War II seemed to indicate that unconventional warfare operations could be very useful in China or Burma. The war in the Far East began in 1931, when Japan invaded and annexed Manchuria. In 1937, the Japanese navy gained command of the sea approaches to China by controlling the coastline, and the Japanese army occupied China's key port cities. Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government fled from the Japanese invaders to Chungking, deep in the interior of China.
Having lost his ports and access to the sea, Chiang needed a supply route to the rest of the world, so he ordered a road built from Kunming, China, to Lashio, Burma. The 681-mile road was built by tens of thousands of Chinese laborers in a year and a half, and was opened to traffic in mid-1939. Supplies for Chiang's government and troops were shipped by sea to Rangoon, by rail to Lashio, and then by road to Kunming. It was called the Burma Road, and it was Nationalist China's main source of supply from the outside world for two and a half years - from mid-1939 to early 1942.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, their strategic objective was to knock out the U.S. Navy so that it could not interfere with Japan's plans to conquer Asia. From bases in French Indochina and Thailand, the Japanese knifed down the Malay Peninsula to defeat the British in Singapore, took the Philippines away from the Americans, and captured the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. They did this with bewildering speed.
Japanese aircraft first bombed Rangoon, Burma, on Dec. 23, 1941. Three weeks later two Japanese army divisions invaded southern Burma from Thailand. It was obvious to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his top military advisers that the Japanese would soon cut the Burma Road. The need to keep China in the war became a major strategic objective of the United States. Chiang Kai-shek had 346 divisions, totaling almost 4 million men, which were poorly supplied, inadequately trained, and badly led, but they tied down a large number of Japanese divisions. Despite other priorities, the United States would do what it could to supply Nationalist China and keep it in the war.
In January 1942, while the Japanese were moving into Burma, Gen. George Marshall appointed Maj. Gen. Joseph Stilwell to be commander of all U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India theater as well as chief of staff of Allied forces in China under Chiang Kai-shek. Stilwell had spent 13 years of his Army career in China and spoke fluent Mandarin.
Stilwell faced many problems. He was about to get his third star, but he had no American ground combat forces under his command, and there was no likelihood that he would get any American units for at least another year. The U.S. Pacific fleet was badly damaged at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy had complete command of the western Pacific, and the Japanese army was in the process of conquering and occupying all of the Far Eastern countries rimming the Pacific Ocean. Also, the European and Pacific theaters had higher priorities than the China-Burma-India theater. The only ground forces Stilwell would have under his command for the next year or two would be Chinese, but the Japanese were moving fast to close the Burma Road, the only supply line Stilwell had for those Chinese troops.
So in those dark days of late January 1942, when Stilwell received a staff study proposing that a small detachment of American officers and men be sent to his command to conduct intelligence and unconventional warfare operations behind Japanese lines in China or Burma, he accepted it. The study had been sent to Stilwell by Col. Preston Goodfellow of the Coordinater of Information, later to become the OSS.
Stilwell welcomed the proposal that Detachment 101 be created, but he refused to accept the Army officer initially proposed as its commander. Stilwell proposed Carl Eifler, who had previously served as a lieutenant in a reserve unit Stilwell once commanded. Eifler had been called to active duty and was serving as an infantry captain in Hawaii. In mid-February 1942, even before Stilwell arrived in China to take over his new command, Capt. Eifler was recruited as the first member and commanding officer of Detachment 101.
Eifler was a good choice. His first task was to cut through the red tape and bureaucratic delays that had to be cleared for the original contingent of Detachment 101 to be selected, recruited, trained, equipped and transported halfway around the world to the China-Burma-India theater. Eifler needed to find good men with a variety of military skills at a time when America's military forces were expanding faster than ever before, when everyone with any military skills was in great demand.
Detachment 101 needed men with knowledge of the languages and cultures of the Far East, and skills in logistics, military science and tactics, engineering, communications, medicine, photographt, explosives, parachuting, and flying airplanes.
Eifler was given the authority to pick anyone he wanted for his new unit. First, he selected Capt. John Coughlin, a West Point graduate, to be his deputy. Coughlin, in turn, recruited Capt. William R. Peers. Within a few months, these three men selected, recruited, trained, and equipped the original contingent of Detachment 101 personnel.
It took the Japanese slightly more than three months to capture all of Burma, a country about the size of Texas. The Japanese had excellent intelligence on the strong and weak points of the British defenses in Burma. They bypassed the strong points and broke through the weak points with quick thrusts. The Japanese army was effective in the use of jungle warfare tactics. They used deep-penetration strike forces to set up roadblocks and ambush the British troops behind their own lines. The British forces were road-bound. They became demoralized and incapable of stopping the Japanese.
Months before the war began, Japan had recruited and exfiltrated 30 young Burmese, mostly students from Rangoon University, who were very eager to rid the country of British colonialism. When these young men returned, they led the Japanese armed forces into Burma, conducted subversive tactics among the Burmese people, and provided the Japanese with intelligence. The effectiveness of these "30 Comrades" on behalf of the Japanese later made it very difficult for OSS agents to operate in territory occupied by ethnic Burmese.
When Rangoon fell on March 8, 1942, the Burma Road was closed. Two more Japanese divisions were landed in Rangoon. Stilwell flew into Burma to command the two Chinese divisions that had been committed in support of the British. The Chinese forces were no more effective in stopping the Japanese than the british had been, but the better-trained of the two Chinese divisions performed reasonably well before it ran out of supplies, proving Stilwell's contention that the Chinese could fight well if properly trained, led, and equipped. By May 5, all of Burma was in Japanese hands, except the tiny British outpost of Fort Hertz at Putao, close to the northern tip of Burma, where the frontiers of Tibet, India and China almost converge.
Stilwell refused to fly to safety. He walked out of Burma to India, where he announced to the world that he had taken a hell of a beating and was humiliated by it, but that he wanted to return and retake Burma.
While Stilwell was in Burma retreating with his Chinese divisions, Detachment 101 was being formed. It was activated in mid-April 1942. Less than three months later, Eifler, Coughlin, Peers, and the first group of 21 members of Detachment 101 were at the China-Burma-India headquarters in New Delhi, India. When Stilwell arrived, he met with all the officers and men of Detachment 101. He urged them to set up a base in northern India and begin operations into Burma as soon as possible. He said he wanted the officers and men of Detachment 101 to learn to survive and live in the jungles, and to consider themselves as pioneers in blazing the way back into Burma. Stilwell wanted information, and he also wanted to sabotage operations, aimed at reducing the effectiveness of the Japanese air base in Myitkyina. Japanese aircraft flying out of the Myitkyina air base were shooting down U.S. planes flying, with supplies for China, over "the Hump," the Himalayan mountain range between Burma and China. Stilwell ordered Detachment 101 to blow up road and railroad bridges leading to Myitkyina from the south. He said he wanted "to hear lots of booms coming out of Burma". In addition, he asked Detachment 101 to maintain liaison with the British so that the colonial government would have no complaint about Detachment 101's activities.
The remainder of 1942 was devoted to setting up Detachment 101's base and training camps at Nazira in northern Assam; establishing communications with Washington; recruiting and training Burmese nationals to serve as intelligence agents, radio operators and saboteurs; and devising and making lightweight portable radios that could transmit messages over mountains from positions in Burma, 500 miles away. The British were cooperative in making available potential agents found among the Burmese nationals in the Indian Army. Other potential agents were found in refugee camps.
It was obvious from the beginning that Caucasian Americans could not pass themselves off as natives of Burma. Detachment 101 did not drop operational groups, or OGs, of Americans by parachute for reconnaissance, sabotage, or other specific operational purposes deep behind enemy lines in Burma as the OSS did in Europe. Later in the war, Detachment 101 did deploy American OG units on reconnaissance operations along the Arakan Coast of Burma in support of British 14th Army operations. Detachment 101's Maritime Unit was also used in coatsal reconnaissance operations, searching for potential agent and toop-landing areas, as well as probing for underwater minefields and Japanese beach defenses. For the most part, however, the military mission in Burma entailed training, deploying and supporting native agents in intelligence collection operations and in organizing, supporting, and leading native guerrilla forces in combat to maximize the potential military effectiveness of these native forces agains the Japanese. Much of what Detachment 101 did initially was experimental. Its members learned their lessons through trial-and-error, and on-the-job training. A great deal was learned about surviving and fighting in the jungles from natives, especially the Kachin hill tribesmen, some of whom came from such remote and primitive mountainous areas that they had never seen a wheel until they first saw them on airplanes.
At the end of 1942, when Detachment 101 attempted its first infiltration operation, there were six Japnese divisions scattered throughout Burma. The mission of the first infiltration unit, known as A-Group, an eight-man team composed of Burmese natives, and two Burma-domiciled Englishmen, was to attack and sabotage the roads and railroad used for bringing supplies from the south into Myitkyina, where the Japanese 18th Division headquarters was based.
Detachment 101 had not yet acquired an air-drop capability, so the initial plan called for A-Group to infiltrate overland from Fort Hertz, where British officers commandd a battalion of mountain tribesmen called the Northern Kahcin Levies. It soon became apparent that the terrain was so formidable and dangerous, and the distance to the target area - 250 miles - was so far that they could not complete the mission and return to Fort Hertz before the monsoon began in May.
They decided to abort the overland mission and infiltrate by parachute. A deal was made with the Air Transport Command, which was losing pilots and plaens on the Hump run. The ATC would furnish the planes, parachutes, and parachute instructor personnel, and Detachment 101 would develop an air crew rescue program and help train air crews in jungle survival skills.
With the help of the ATC, A-Group was parachuted into the Kaukkwee Valley, where they established a base camp. They sent their first message to 101 Headquarters in India, and then headed over the mountains to the railroad. On the first night after reaching the railroad, they split into two teams and blew the railroad in 30 places using variable time-delay fuses. On the second night, one of the teams blew up a railroad bridge, dropping two spans of the bridge into a river.
At the same time, in January 1943, and American major was leading a team down from Fort Hertz to Ngumla, north of Myitkyina, to establish an intelligence base and train guerrilla forces to conduct sabotage and harassment operations. Detachment 101 was finally in business.
These early operations were relatively insignificant compared with what Detachment 101 was to accomplish later, but they were the beginning. A great deal was learned from those early missions about infiltration techniques into Burma and supporting men in the field by air.
By the end of 1943, Detachment 101 had six intelligence bases that were staffed by Americans operating in northern Burma. Each of these bases ran intelligence collection operations, and had Kachin guerrilla forces that were able to defend the approaches to the bases and conduct sabotage and harassment operations. In addition, even deeper behind Japanese lines, 101 had agent/radio operator teams scattered along the main transportation arteries leading to northern Burma. All of these communicated by radio with the main base in Nazira, India.
In late 1943, a 40-foot speedboat arrived to facilitate sea infiltration operations along the Burma coast. While planning other uses for this boat, Eifler was informed that an American B-24 had been shot down and crash-landed in the Bay of Bengal, west of Rangoon. Eifler immediately led the crew of his new boat 450 miles deep into enemy waters in a successful rescue of the B-24's nine-man crew. Shortly after this, Eifler was badly injured during a sea infiltration operation, in which he brought two rubber rafts back from the beach to the launch boat waiting 600 yards out.
When Ma. Gen. William Donovan, head of the OSS, visited 101 Headquarters in December 1943, he placed Peers in command of Detachment 101, put Coughlin in charge of OSS strategic operations in the China-Burma-India theater, and transferred Eifler back to the U.S. to brief authorities in Washington, and for reassignment to other duties.
Detachment 101 continued to expand slowly, but steadily, until the beginning of 1944, when Stilwell told Peers he wanted Detachment 101 to expand its guerrilla forces rapidly to 3,000 men. Stilwell wanted 101 to assist Merrill's Marauders and the Chinese troops in their drive down the Hukawng Valley. He said that if the guerrillas were really effective, 101 would be authorized to expand its guerrilla forces to 10,000 men.
Stilwell then provided Detachment 101 with eight additional officers, some arms and ammunition, and six aircraft from the Troop Carrier Command for air supply purposes. More of everything, including personnel, was also ordered from OSS headquarters in the U.S. During 1944 and early 1945, Detachment 101 greatly expanded its guerrilla force to a peak of about 10,800 in March 1945.
Detachment 101 was fortunate. Its members had more than a year to build an intelligence base before they were required to conduct guerrilla warfare. That was a tremendous advantage, because with this intelligence base they always knew more about the enemy than the enemy did about them. When Detachment 101 did commit its guerrilla units, it was initially in support of conventional military forces, Merrill's Marauders, the Mars Task Force, and the Chinese and British troops. Detachment 101 provided them with intelligence, at times scouted for them on the march, patrolled their flanks, and occasionally served to screen their movements so that the Japanese would think that only a guerrilla force was on the move in their area.
Guerrillas generally controlled the jungles on the flanks and to the front of these conventional forces so that the Japanese were confined to the main north-south corridors - the roads, the railroad, and the Irrawaddy River - where conventional forces and the 10th Air Force could attack them. Detachment 101 harassed the Japanese supply lines and rear bases, thereby forcing them to devote more of their combat forces to cover their flanks and rear.
For the most part, Detachment 101 guerrilla forces that fought in close support of allied military units were organized in formations no larger than the size of a company. They were generally deployed widely, in small groups conducting reconnaissance, ambushes, and hit-and-run harassment operations. They were highly mobile, supplied almost entirely by air, and tended to rely more on dispersion than entrenched positions for defense. They were more effective when close to the fighting forces than when deployed deep behind Japanese army lines, because the continuing pressure of our conventional forces on the Japanese prevented the latter from disengaging and attacking the guerrilla forces with enough strength to cut them off and destroy them.
Detachment 101 guerrilla forces operating in northern Burma, west of the main north-south road, river, and rail corridors, however, were not close to the main fighting forces, and they had to fight independently agains the more widely dispersed Japanese army units near the China border.
These guerrilla forces consisted of battalion-size formations that had the mission of clearing the Japanese from their tactical area. They often engaged Japanese army units in sustained offensive and defensive combat. Their success in clearing their tactical areas even after they had moved south of the Kachin Hills into the Shan states where the native population was not initially friendly convinced higher authorities later in the war that Detachment 101 could broaden its mission.
The war in northern Burma was fought in three phases. The first phaes began in November 1943 and ended in late August 1944, with the capture of Myitkyina and the securing of flights over the hump to China from disruption by the Japanese Air Force. The second phase ended with the capture of Lahio, Maymyo, and Mandalay in March 1945. The third phase ended in July 1945 with all of the old Burma Road from Rangoon to Lashio and Kunming back under Allied control.
During the first two phases, Detachment 101 played an important role, both as a supplier of intelligence and as a guerrilla force in support of American and Allied conventional military forces. During the third phase, however, Detachment 101 was assigned the conventional military mission of clearing the enemy from an area of about 10,000 square miles in the Shan states in order to secure the Burma Road. For its success in accomplishing that mission, Detachment 101 was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation.
Although it won the citation for its success in completing a convetional military mission, Detachment 101 had been created to perform unconventional tasks such as espionage, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, propaganda, and escape-and-evasion missions.
In the performance of its espionage task, Detachment 101 provided 75% of all the intelligence from which the 10th Air Force chose its targets and 85% of all the intelligence recieved by Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command. In addition to a number of American-staffed intelligences established in Burma, Detachment 101 infiltrated 162 native agent/radio teams into Burma by air, by sea, or over land.
Detachment 101 sabotage agents and guerrillas demolished 57 bridges, derailed nine trains, destroyed or captured 272 trucks or other vehicles, and destroyed 15,000 tons of Japanese supplies. These sabotage operations also had the effect of forcing the Japanese to deloy additional troops to protect their rear-echelon bases and lines of communication.
Detachment 101's greatest effectiveness was in the field of guerrilla warfare. The unit's members pioneered the use of air and radio communications to support and coordinate guerrilla warfare activities. They recruited, organized, trained, equipped, and led more than 10,800 guerrillas in effective support of conventional military operations. Detachment 101's guerrilla forces killed 5,428 members of the Japanese army, wounded and estimated 10,000, and captured 78 Japanese prisoners. Their own losses were 27 Americans, 338 native guerrillas, and 40 espionage agents killed.
Reports on the success of the escape-and-evasion operations vary from a total of 232 to 425 allied airmen rescued. The Detachment built trails and cache sites along the Hump run, and the higher figure may include those who parachuted to the ground and used these trails and cache sites to escape. It may also include airmen who were brought to safety by Kachins who were influenced to help by the 101, but were not directly under the control of Detachment 101 personnel. The lower figure, 232, was taken from the Northern Combat Area Command's historical account of the northern and central Burma campaigns, and it does not include those who may have been rescued during the last four months of the war in Burma.
The success of the propaganda and psychological warfare efforts was difficult to measure. It was impossible to judge how effective Detachment 101's efforts were in demoralizing the Japanese army in Burma. The members knew from intelligence reports that Allied military victories had a very demoralizing effect upon the Japanese army, but the unit was not successful n persuading individual Japanese soldiers to surrender through its propaganda.
It was also difficult to determine the value of propaganda in helping to win the loyalty of the Kachins and even some of the Shans. It was even more difficult to evaluate the impact of propaganda on the Burmese people, but when the "30 Comrades", the Burmese nationalists who aided the Japanese entry into Burma, decided to switch their allegiance to the Allies because they were disillusioned with Japan's empty promises of independence, Detachment 101 helped them do so. A Detachment 101 agent called "Mac" led a represetative of Gen. Aung San, a man named Thakin Pe Tint, to a secret airstrip built by the OSS specifically for the purpose of exfiltrating him. He was flown to British 14th Army headquarters, where Gen. Slim made arrangements fo the Burma National Amry to switch sides on March 26, 1945. But that was more of asecret political coup engineered by the British, with Detachment 101's help, than a propaganda achievement.
Detachment 101 was fortunate for many reasons. Its members had time to experiment, to learn through trial and error, and to build an intelligence base before having to undertake guerrilla warfare activities. By early 1944, they had built a very efficient support organization, without which they would not have been able to support by air the guerrilla force they had created.
Detachment 101 was also lucky that the people living in the areas they first had to infiltrate were Kachins, and that the American and Irish missionaries who worked with them had won their loyalties to the extent that they did. The unit had none of the political problems that would have plagued it if the members had to operate in countries such as China or Vietnam.
The Kachins were not, by nature, inclined to engage in conventional assault and defensive combat, but they were outstandingly effective in the use of guerrilla tactics in the mountainous jungle terrain to surprise, deceive, and confuse the Japanese.
Detachment 101 made mistakes, but it also learned a great deal from these mistakes and tried not to repeat them. Unfortunately, the Detachment was instructed to keep no records while behind eney lines because of a fear at OSS headquarters that such records might be used by the Japanese to justify torture in the event of Detachment 101 members being captured. As a result, the wrote no after-action reports covering their guerrilla warfare operations. Such reports would have been invaluable in recording, for historical purposes, the lessons they learned through trial and error.
Detachment 101's contribution to the Allied war effort in Burma was very valuable, but it cost very little. Only about 120 Americans served in the field at any one time, directing and supporting the guerrilla force that grew to more than 10,000 natives. Detachment 101's casualty rate was exceptionally low for the number of men fielded and the damage inflicted on the enemy.
The veterans of Detachment 101 are unanimously proud of their unit's accomplishments, and the all concur that much of its success was attributable to the leadership provided by Colonels Eifler and Peers. Although very different in personality and temperament, they were both men of extraordinary integrigy, courage, and dedication to the successful accomplishment of Detachment 101's mission. Each seemed to be the right person at the right time in command of Detachment 101. It was reassuring to the men in the jungles, in close proximity to the enemy, to know that when they needed it, they could count on the timely delivery of an emergency ammunition drop, a piece of vital intelligence, an air strike, or medical support and evacuation. Eifler and Peers made Detachment 101 a well-integrated, efficient team that responded effectively to the demands of the teater commander.
Although OSS Detachment 101 clearly functioned under and responded to the military chair of command in the China-Burma-India theater, its OSS support and structure provided it with viatlly needed flexibility that it would not have had if it hat been fully integrated into, and totally dependent on the U.S. military support structure that existed at that time. Detachment 101 was able to draw much of what it needed from the military support structure, but it was also able to rely on its OSS resources when the military was not able to support it as swiftly as requirements demanded.
The OSS contributed to the overall Allied war effort in World War II by providing useful tactical and strategic intelligence, and by promoting and supporting the resistance potential of the people in enemy-occupied territory int he entire spectrum of unconventional warfare. It is probable, however, that the greatest contribution of the OSS in the long run was to prove for the historical record that the United States needed a centralized intelligence agency, and that the armed forces of the United States have much to gain by developing and retaining a permanent unconventional warfare capability such as exists today in the United States Special Operations Command.
In WWII, James R. Ward was recruited from the parachute infantry by the OSS because of his proficiency in foreign languages. The OSS assigned him to Detachment 101 in Burma, where he commanded the Kachin and other ethnic guerrilla forces in combat for more than 13 months. Later, as a reserve officer, he had active duty tours with the 10th, 7th, 3rd, and 6th Special Forces Groups, which he claims would have killed him if he were not in good physical shape. Staying in shape since has enabled him to win national and world triathlon championships in his age group and become, at age 75, the oldest finisher of the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. James R. Ward passed away in September 2000, while training for his next Ironman Triathlon. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.