Identification in World War II China: Friend or Foe?

By David Langbart

During World War II, many American military personnel, primarily aircrew, found themselves trapped behind enemy lines.  The MIS-X Section of the Captured Personnel and Material Branch of the Army’s Military Intelligence Service handled matters dealing with escape and evasion (E&E) out of hostile areas and intelligence operations relating to Allied prisoners of war.  E&E training was particularly important for aircrews flying over enemy-held territory and at risk for being shot down and captured.

MIS-X activities in the China Theater of Operations, and its predecessor the China-Burma-India Theater of Operation, were handled by an organization known as the Air Ground Aid Section (AGAS).  AGAS was a small unit, including only 35 personnel at the beginning of August 1945.  AGAS briefed approximately 20,000 personnel on E&E techniques and issued special items of escape equipment.  Because Pacific-based air forces operated over China, AGAS also established liaison with and provided training to Navy and Army Air Force elements that approached China from the east.  During its period of operation, it assisted over 800 personnel, primarily pilots and other aircrew, return to Allied control from areas occupied by the enemy.

Training and briefing materials varied.  To assist downed aircrew with the identification of friend and foe, AGAS created familiarization sketches of both local Chinese military forces and natives and Japanese military forces.  The following set of eight sketches cover the North China area.  When issuing these sketches, the AGAS staff noted that not all Japanese or Chinese would appear as in the sketches, but that these illustrations were on the whole “very accurate.” No other sketches have been located.

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Source: Record Group 493, Records of the China Theater of Operations, Records of the Special Staff, Adjutant General Office, formerly Classified General Correspondence, File: 091 Countries, Jan 1946 – .

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