Marine Captain Frank Farrell stood in the open door of the Army Air Corps C-47 waiting for the “green light,” the signal to leap into space, on a mission that could mean life or death for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. The tension of the mission was clearly etched in the hard lines of his tightly clenched jaw, for he and a handpicked team were parachuting into the Japanese-held city of Canton, China, to hammer out the details of the Japanese garrison’s surrender—only two days after Emperor Hirohito had capitulated.
A Vanquished And Unpredictable Foe
Having served with the lst Marine Division during the Guadalcanal and Peleliu operations and as an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) field commander, he was well aware of how fanatical the Japanese could be—would they obey and surrender or would they disobey and fight?
As he floated down, oscillating slightly in the parachute shroud lines, he could plainly see armed Japanese forming a reception committee. Immediately upon landing, the team was surrounded by bayonet-wielding Japanese infantrymen who obviously did not know about the surrender.
Talking fast, Farrell was able to convince their commander to take them to the Swiss Embassy, where they stayed for two days while waiting for the Japanese to sort it out. Finally able to meet the Japanese commander, Farrell was relieved to find that he was going to obey the Emperor and agree to the details of surrendering his command to General Chang Fa Kwai, Commander-in-Chief, 2nd Chinese Army Group. At the time Farrell was the officer in charge of an OSS Field Intelligence Center attached to that Chinese Army group.
Early Days As Tenacious Newsman
Farrell did not start out as an intelligence officer, or even as a soldier. At the time of Pearl Harbor he was a 29-year-old feature editor of the New York World-Telegram. Tall and movie-star handsome, his occupation allowed him to associate with the upper crust of New York society, where he earned a reputation as a ladies man and an “up and comer.” He was outgoing and gregarious, a man who projected a hail-fellow, well-met personality. He was not a dilettante, however, for he was known for having ambition and drive, with a newsman’s tenacious quest for accuracy and completeness—getting the full story.
Physically and mentally tough, Farrell decided to leave his job for the excitement of military service. After being turned down by the Navy because of high blood pressure, he was able to convince Colonel “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of the OSS, to use his influence to get him into the Marine Corps, the quid pro quo being that Farrell would help set up a system of coast-watcher stations in the rugged Solomon Islands to glean intelligence on Japanese movements.
After six weeks of training at the Quantico Marine Base, he was commissioned and ordered to join the 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, for the Guadalcanal campaign. His success there led to legendary Marine Lewis “Chesty” Puller calling Farrell “the finest young Marine Officer I ever knew.”
Battle-Hardened In South Pacific Jungles
Attached to the S-2 (intelligence section), Farrell led small units into the jungles gathering intelligence, becoming an adept patrol leader by surviving the deadly close encounters with the bush-wise Japanese. His mentors, including Puller, taught him well. Patrol after patrol hardened this young officer, giving him the confidence and the mental toughness to operate independently.
After Guadalcanal, Farrell took part in two more island campaigns, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu, where he was awarded a Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry.
The long arm of “Wild Bill” Donovan finally caught up with now Captain Farrell, ordering him back to the United States for training in preparation for special assignment. In May 1945 he received orders for Kunming, China, and special temporary duty with the OSS as commander of the Buick Mission, a reconnaissance of Japanese forces in the coastal areas of South China, particularly the strategically important Luichow Peninsula. The mission was so successful that Farrell was awarded a Bronze Star. With the Japanese surrender, Farrell and his team were given new orders for Canton, to arrange the Japanese surrender, rescue Allied POWs, and investigate cases of possible war crimes.
German Spy Ring Discovered In China
Having completed their part of the mission, Farrell’s team was about to catch a flight out of the city when they spotted a house with a large radio antenna—an obvious communication station. Curiosity aroused, he ordered his men to search the house and, to his amazement, they found evidence of a major German spy ring whose operations covered the entire Far East. This happenstance discovery led Farrell on a two-year investigation culminating in the arrest and prosecution of 21 members of the Bureau Ehrhardt, a secret intelligence agency of the German High Command, which continued to operate in violation of their May 1945 unconditional surrender.
For decades Germany had had an extensive commercial investment in China and, over the course of many years, had cultivated excellent diplomatic relations with the Chinese Nationalist Government, led by Chiang Kai-shek. There were fairly large German communities in the major port cities where they enjoyed a high standard of living. Trade was particularly encouraged by the German War Department, hoping to develop a source of scarce raw materials. The German Army even furnished advisers to train Chiang Kai-shek’s army, an arrangement that lasted until Hitler withdrew the advisers in 1938 when he was shifting his support to Japan, then at war with China.
Nazi Party Attempted To Win The Hearts And Minds Of Ex-Pats
The German government’s interests in China were represented by the Diplomatic Service whose embassy was in Nanking with branches in Shanghai and Peking. In the late 30s, the German ambassador opposed the Nazi’s pro-Japanese policy and was recalled in 1938. During the critical years that followed there was hardly any coordination of German political affairs in China.
The embassy maintained a radio station (XGRS) that beamed propaganda in six languages. The embassy also supported a listening post that monitored Allied broadcasts for use by the Nazi Party’s propaganda office, as well as the War Department’s Intelligence Bureau.
The Nazi Party in China had its headquarters in Shanghai but was directly subordinate to Berlin through the National Socialist Organization for Germans in Foreign Countries (AO). AO’s principal aim was to penetrate the existing German societies abroad, to gain control over public and private institutions, and to have trusted members appointed to consular and diplomatic posts. The AO and the Foreign Office were in frequent conflict.
Tentacles Of German Intelligence Ran Deep In China
The Nazi Party exercised considerable control over all German nationals living in China. Any party member who did not obey orders was subject to disciplinary action. There was even a local Gestapo office in Shanghai, acting under the direct orders of the Gestapo Chief of the Far East, Colonel Joseph Meisinger, the “Butcher of the Warsaw Ghetto.”
The Nazi Party also oversaw, in Shanghai, satellites of the Storm Troopers (SA), German Labor Front (DAF), League of German Girls (BDM), and the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) organizations. There was even an offshoot of Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, operating under the cover name “German Bureau of Information (DISS),” under Baron Jesco von Puttkammer, an ardent Nazi and member of the German upper class. His Shanghai Park Hotel office became the focal point for propaganda in the Far East, even penetrating into North and South America and Europe.
The most important German organization to penetrate China was the Intelligence Department of the German War Office, the Kriegorganization or KO. Its mission was to gather military and economic intelligence through the use of agents acting under the guise of journalists, doctors, technicians, diplomats, and businessmen. Organized in 1940, its first leader, Navy Captain Louis Theodor Siefken, recruited agents from the German community, relying on their connections to expand operations throughout China and the Far East.
Tensions Rise Between Spies And Diplomats
The principal agents were German but there were also subagents of various nationalities—Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, Portuguese, Italian—involved in the spy network. The head of the organization worked out of the embassy office in Shanghai, providing diplomatic “cover” for him, but raising the hackles of the “official” foreign-service types. Siefken used the embassy radio transmitter to send reports to Berlin, causing additional friction because he used his own code which was undecipherable by the diplomats.
The KO also established listening posts to monitor Allied broadcasts. It broke one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s codes, enabling it to identify ships’ locations for German submarines.
In the autumn of 1942, the Abwehr (German military intelligence) replaced Siefken with Lt. Col. Lother Eisentraeger, alias Count Schwerin, alias Colonel Ludwig Ehrhardt, a secretive professional spy master. Ludwig Ehrhardt was a dedicated Nazi with a great deal of field experience, having successfully led “Fifth Column” agents in the Balkans. As an officer in World War I, he was wounded several times. These strong army ties stood him in good stead when, in the late 30s, he was “sprung” from a concentration camp where he had been incarcerated for unspecified activities.