Mission 204 - 'Tulip Force'
Mission 204, also known as Tulip Force, was a British military mission to China organized in 1940-1941 that went into action soon after Pearl Harbor.
'Tulip Force' was an attempt to provide military assistance to the Chinese Nationalist Army in order to
sustain Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupation of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The first phase achieved very little, but a second more successful phase was conducted before withdrawal.
In November 1940, the British War office transferred Brigadier General Lancelot. E. Denny from India to the Chinese wartime capital Chungking, to serve as military attaché to China. In January 1941 Denny reached Chungking and began " unobtrusive" discussions about mutual assistance. With the help of RAF Major
James Warburton, Denny fostered relations between the British and the Chinese: airpower as well as guerrilla warfare was to be a major element of Anglo-Chinese military cooperation.1 At the end of February Denny recommended that a small military mission be set up Burma which would eventually move into neighbouring Yunnan when war broke out between Japan and the British Empire. He forged a
Sino-British agreement whereby British troops would assist the Chinese "Surprise
Troops" units of guerrillas already operating in China, and China assist Britain in Burma. 3
Training in Burma
204 Mission was initiated with a small group of Australian soldiers from the 8th Division being posted to Burma. At the Bush Warfare School in Burma, run by Captain Mike Calvert, the men were trained in demolition, ambush and engineering reconnaissance during October and November 1941, and were provided with equipment and supplies. In addition to the Australian two officers and 43 men, Tulip
Force also consisted of a number of British troops. In total, Mission 204 was composed of six commando contingents, three of which were deployed to China. (Of the other three, one was disbanded because of ill discipline, and the other two were involved in other missions against the Japanese.) The aim of the Mission was to infiltrate into China, and train Chinese guerrillas to fight the Japanese. 4
1 John Grehan and Martin Mace, compilers, Disaster in the Far East: The Defence of Malaya,
Japanese Capture of Hong Kong, and the Fall of (Pen & Sword Military, 2015), “Dispatch” by Robert
Brooke-Popham, 1948, para 70.
2 TNA, WO 3555A, C.O.S (41) 72nd Meeting 25/2/41.
3 Kirby, Major General Woodburn, S (1958). The War against Japan, Vol 2: India's Most Dangerous
Hour. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
4 Stevens, "A Token Operation", p.70
The men departed in February 1942, the first Phase consisting of three Contingents, two British and one Australian, each of 50 army commandos. 5 They travelled up the Burma Road in trucks for nearly three weeks before crossing into China, covering more than 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi). From there they travelled another 800 kilometres (500 mi) by train into China, before traversing the mountainous border
region to join Lieutenant-Colonel Chen Ling Sun's Chinese 5th Battalion. They brought with them large amounts of equipment, including explosives.
The Australian Minister in Chungking, Sir Frederic Eggleston, visited the men in their camp at Kiyang at the end of May, later recommending that the Australian troops remain at their base.
The Australians lived in the mountains with the Chinese Surprise Troops (so called because of their ability to surprise the enemy. The Nationalists did not like the term Guerrilla because it was associated with communists). However, due to the nature of combat, the surprise was not a positive one (like the giving of a gift), it was normally a surprise that involved an assault or military action 6 There were communications
issues between the British and Australian troops, and the Chinese. Mission 204 had no food, as they had understood that the Chinese would provide it. The Chinese themselves had no food, but foraged for it and took what they wanted from the peasants, expecting that naturally the British would do the same. 7 The British troops trained the Chinese Surprise troops in using demolitions, but apart from that were not used. They were not permitted by the Chinese to be involved in attacks on the Japanese.
The first phase of Mission 204 stayed until September 1942, when it was decided to remove these by now disillusioned and sick Australian and British troops. Despite the preparations and training, the Australians did not participate in any of the Chinese guerrilla activities. Additionally, they suffered from dysentery, malaria and typhus.
The soldiers had no confidence in the Chinese commander under whom they were to serve, and it was perceived that they were not being used to any benefit by the Chinese military. 8
5 Stevens, "A Token Operation", p.71
6 "Australia's War, 1939–1945 Mission 204 - Operation Tulip". Archived from the original on 2017-02-19.
7 Stevens, "A Token Operation", p.72
Second Phase: February 1943
The Second phase was more successful, with British medical and demolition experts assigned to the Surprise troops. This phase ran from February 1943 to February1945, and operated under standard British Military command, as opposed to the first phase which operated under the SOE. Learning lessons from the unsuccessful first phase, the second phase worked quite well, with valid assistance to the Chinese guerrilla actions. However, with the major Japanese Operation Ichi-Go underway, the Mission 204 soldiers were pulled out of China, being flown out of the area by the USAAF whose bases at Guilin and Luizhou were the targets of the Japanese.
From the Chinese perspective, the leader of the Chinese Surprise troops, General Li Mo'an, was very critical of the British effort. In 1990, he said that the Commandos were in fact largely not soldiers, but mostly businessmen, priests and missionaries. He also stated that they forced their way into the locals' houses, harassed the local women, and were rowdy and disorderly. They also stole all the locals' possessions, were generally out of control, and treated all the Chinese as peasants, even those who were not. There is a view that he was directed to state this by the Chinese Communist party.
Out of the 180 soldiers involved in the operations, only three did not return home: two British and one Australian who died in the operation.
The Australian Component
A small group of Australians from the 8th Australian Division was posted to the British run Bush Warfare School in Maymyo, Burma in 1941. The men were trained in demolition, ambush and engineering reconnaissance during October and November. The two officers and 43 men became part of 'Tulip Force', a top-secret mission to train Chinese guerrillas to fight the Japanese. The British provided equipment, supplies and the remainder of the men. In February 1942, the men travelled in trucks up the Burma Road towards China for 18 days, covering more than 3000 kilometres. From there they travelled another 800 kilometres by train into China before trekking into the mountainous border region to join the Chinese 5th
Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Chen Ling Sun. They travelled with eight tonnes of equipment and their explosives were packed into small square coolie baskets and carried with them.
8 Stevens, "A Token Operation", p.73
The Australian Minister in Chungking, Sir Frederick Eggleston, visited the men in their camp at Kiyang at the end of May. After his visit to Kiyang, the Australian Minister sent another cable to Australia recommending that the men remain there.
The Australians remained in the mountains with the Chinese guerrillas until September 1942, when the project was abandoned. The Australians did not participate in any of the Chinese guerrilla activities; they suffered from malaria, dysentery and typhus; and they had no confidence in the Chinese commander under
whom they were to serve.
1. Appendix 1. Australians in Mission 204.Australia in the War of 1939-1945,
Series 1, Volume 4. The Japanese Thrust.
2. Whitehead, John and Bennett, George Escape to Fight on: With 204 Military
Mission in China
3. Bill Noonan, Lost Legion - Mission 204 and the Reluctant Dragon
4. Bill Noonan, The Surprising Battalion
5. Stevens, Keith (2005). "A Token Operation: 204 Military Mission to China, 1941–1945". Asian Affairs. Risk Management Reference Center, EBSCOhost.
36 (1): 66, 74. doi:10.1080/03068370500039151. S2CID 161326427.