Shanghai Finally Closes

In 1935, Capt Lasswell, USMC was assigned to the American Embassy in Tokyo to received Japanese language training.  Upon completion of this training, he was transferred to the Philippines and reported to Marine Barracks, Navy Yard Cavite, on September 4, 1938.

At Cavite, he was assigned a cover billet as “Assistant War Plans Officer” for the 16th Naval District.  However, his actual duty was as language officer to the Asiatic Decryption Unit of the Communication Intelligence Unit, relieving LT Joseph Finnegan, USN.  He had no formal cryptanalytic experience but was trained on the job by LT Dennis, USN the Asiatic CIU’s OIC.  During his tour at the decryption unit, Capt Lasswell gained extensive insight into Japanese cryptosystems which proved of considerable value to him and the U.S. Navy COMINT Organization during the forthcoming war.  While at Cavite, he agreed to serve another year in Far East and on June 28, 1939 he departed on board USS HENDERSON (AP 1) for Shanghai.  On July 2, he arrived in Shanghai and reported to 4th Marines for duty.  Reportedly, Capt Cornell had already been transferred.  In assuming Cornell’s billet, Capt Lasswell was initially assigned the cover duty of Assistant Regimental Intelligence Officer (R2).  According to a personal account by LCDR E. E. Okins, USN (Ret), Capt Lasswell was still OIC of the Shanghai station when Okins was transferred from Shanghai in August 1940.  However, as early as December 1939, action had already begun to remove and ship out equipment mostly to Cavite. Based on available information, it appears the Shanghai station was closed in December 1940 with the transfer of the last ten men to Cavite.

World War Two (Pacific)

As previously stated, Marine Corps COMINT operations on the Asiatic Station in the 1920’s and 1930’s served as a training ground for those who were later the founders of tactical direct support to Marine forces in the amphibious campaigns of World War II.  One individual who played a key role in organizing these tactical direct support units was Stephen Lesko.  Upon completion of his tour of duty at Shanghai in 1938, then SSgt Lesko was transferred back to the U. S. and assigned to general service communications duties. Intervening years before Pearl Harbor, he was promoted to Warrant Officer in the Signal Supply Field.

The attack on Pearl Harbor found WO Lesko serving with the 6th Marine Defense Battalion on Midway Island where he remained until after the Battalion of Midway Island.  He was subsequently transferred to the Marine Corps Signal Supply Depot, San Diego where he was promoted to 2nd Lt In early 1943, the Marine Corps decided to create tactical radio intelligence units for use in the Pacific.  Designed to be self-sustaining and mobile, their mission was to provide radio intelligence and transmission security in direct support of the Amphibious Corps.  At this time, now 1st Lt Lesko was still in San Diego.  Someone recalled he had been the senior enlisted Marine cryptologist on the Asiatic Station.  As a result, he was ordered TAD to OP-20-G for the purpose of forming Radio Intelligence (RI) platoons for combat.  Supported by Headquarters, Marine Corps and OP-20-G, 1st Lt Lesko, assisted by 2nd Lt Joseph A. Petroski, Jr. and 2nd Lt Marcus J. Couts, began the task of creating Marine Corps tactical radio intelligence unites for the Pacific theater.

 Formation of Radio Intelligence Platoon ISO Amphibious Operations

The platoons were organized, equipped and trained at Camp Elliott near San Diego.  There was no precedent for such units.  1st Lt Lesko had only his experience in cryptology and general service communications as background in deciding training and equipment requirements.  In addition to Marine Corps unique training, personnel received basic cryptologic training provided all, or in part, through Station “S” (Bainbridge).  Each platoon consisted of 50 men.  There were no enlisted analysts so the platoon commander and language officer were responsible for all analysis and reporting.  Reportedly, by the fall of 1943, total of seven RI platoons had been organized and trained.  Of the seven, it is believed five served in the Pacific theater but information is available on only four.

By September 1, 1943, the first two RI unites, designed 1st and 2nd RI Platoons, were ready to deploy.  Both platoons were ordered to the Solomon Islands for duty with the I Amphibious Corps (later redesignated III).  Now Capt Lesko assumed command of both platoons and deployed with them.  At Guadalcanal he decided to undertake a study of Japanese 8th Base Force observation posts in the New Ireland, New Britain and Solomon Island areas.  The platoons sent their intercept material to the Fleet Radio Unit, Pacific (FRUPAC) in Hawaii.  Their efforts were apparently both successful and appreciated as evidenced by a reference in the FRUPAC Weekly News Memorandum dated March 19, 1944:”…some very valuable intelligence information on the Rabaul Solomon islands areas…” which  the platoons had supplied.

In April 1944, Capt Lesko returned to the U.S. for assignment to Camp Lejeune, NC.  However, these orders were quickly modified at the specific request of III Amphibious Corps for his return to Guadalcanal where he reassumed command of 1st RI Platoon for the invasion of Guam.  In August 1944, he returned stateside for assignment as an instructor in communications at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, where he served until the end of the war.

Heavy Casualties!!

In the meantime, the 3rd and 4th RI Platoon, command by 2nd LT Petrosky and 2nd LT Cecil T. Carraway, respectively, had completed training and deployed to Hawaii during the winter 1943-1944 where their training continued.  They benefited from a cryptologic proficiency maintenance program administered in Hawaii by Station “H” and on Kwajalein by Station “AO.”  Operations in 1944 and 1945 saw the RI platoons employed in support of several amphibious operations in the Central and Western Pacific.   The 1st RI Platoon participated in the assaults on Guam and Iowa Jima.  The 2nd RI Platoon participated in the assault on Peleliu where it suffered such heavy casualties that it was subsequently disbanded.  The survivors were transferred either to the 1st Platoon or to Hawaii for duty with the other platoons.  The 3rd RI Platoon participated in the assault on Okinawa.  The end of the war saw all three remaining platoons training for the planned assault on the Japanese homeland.  The 3rd RI Platoon was then transferred to North China with the III Amphibious Corps to assist in ensuring Japanese compliance with the surrender and to assist in the repatriation of former Allied POW’s.

According to the obituary of Lt Col Stephen Lesko, USMC (Ret) (August 5, 1908 – March 11, 1985), he was a member of OTRG Class “0,” designation for personnel who, between 1921 and 1927, either trained themselves or received on-site training in “Orange” [Japanese] Morse while assigned to the Asiatic Station. Reportedly he was the fifth person to be trained at Peiping.  A comparison of the listing of On-The-Roof Gang (OTRG) personnel to the names of Marine Corps personnel contained in this narrative indicates some Marine Corps personnel, all of whom served at Peiping station, might also fall into OTRG Class “0” category.  They are: Thomas V. Delva, William L. Kiser, George F. Knight, Paul N. Kugler, Winnett W. Robinson, Constantino Tatto, William L. Thomson, Paul L. Wasson, Willim R. White, and Ogden E Wilson.  Kiser, Kugler, Thomson, Wilson and Robinson were cross-trained in KANA while TAD from Peiping to Shanghai in August and September 1927.  Then Cpl Thomas V. Delva was trained by CRM Chauncey at Peiping in 1929 with then Pvt Lesko.  The remainder of the group reportedly was trained in China during the period 1928 through 1932 but the specifics of their training are not known.  A listing of OTRG members contained the names of the following USMC personnel: Harry L Butler, C.A. Cameron, Cecil T. Carraway, Curtis W. Crowe, Joel H. Easter, Clarence F. Genilcore, C. H. Gustaveson, Richard A. Hardisty, J. Hibbard, L. R. Hinkle, Harold V. Jones, Stephen Lesko, Phillip M. Miller, Virgil W. Morgan, Maurice M. Overstreet, Joseph A. Petrosky, Jr., Alvin Rainey, Jesse Randle, Walter B. Robertson, Norman F. Robinson, Charles J. Smith, Charles S.  Southerland, Carl G. Suber, Hubert N. Thomas, Jr., William A. Wilder and James W. Winborn.  Of these personnel, all but C. A.  Carmeron, L. R. Hinkle and Alvin Rainey are known to have served at either Peiping or Shanghai or both.

By James McIntire and R. D. Howell, Sr. (NCVA)
Edited by Mario Vulcano