Jerome's Reviews > Raiders of the China Coast: CIA Covert Operations During the Korean War

Raiders of the China Coast by Frank Holober
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I had high hopes for this book. It touched on a little-known aspect of not only the Korean War but the complicated role of China in US foreign policy as well. It was also an important opportunity to demonstrate the importance of covert ops in war by someone who was there.

In an effort to divert China’s attention from the Korean front in 1950 and relieve pressure on the allied forces, the CIA sponsored a series of raids along the southeastern coast of China conducted by anti-Communist guerrillas. The guerrillas were trained and supported by the paramilitary arm of the CIA from coastal islands still in Nationalist hands, and their covert operations remained sealed from public view. Now for the first time in print, the full dramatic story of this large-scale paramilitary campaign is revealed by a veteran of the operations.

Author Frank Holober, a Harvard-educated Chinese specialist and veteran intelligence officer, takes the reader inside the little-known world of clandestine partisan operations early in the Cold War. In lively, straightforward, addictive prose, he describes the dangerous top secret raids launched by Chinese Nationalist guerrillas from Quemoy and other lesser known islands off the Chinese mainland, and assisted by a colorful band of American adventurers. Both anecdotal and analytical, his book is serious history with humorous overtones, based on his own experience and those of his comrades.

Holober is at his best recalling the courageous feats and robust adventure of the "civilian" employees of the Agency-run Western Enterprises, Inc., which included Army and Marine officers on loan to the CIA, World War II veterans, reservists, smokejumpers, college football stars, and psychological warfare specialists surrounding a nucleus of veterans of the OSS’s fabled 101 Detachment. Readers are treated to unforgettable characters with names like "One-Eyed Dragon," "Great White Father," "Two-Gun Creacy," "Fat Wang," and "Earthquake McGoon," whose camaraderie and zest for living are matched only by their "can-do" daring. Here too are the heroic exploits of the CIA’s Civil Air Transport, run by the legendary Flying Tiger Claire Chennault.

Totally candid and unusually insightful, this highly readable eyewitness account of special operations in an area that remains a political and military flashpoint has something for everyone who likes action narrative, from intelligence specialists and China scholars to history buffs and general readers.

Unfortunately, "Raiders" was 90% chummy tales of the men and their antics in the barracks. It was much closer to a "Hogan's Heroes" sort of tale, i.e., "then Bobby got drunk and sank the boat, ha ha, and then the commander transferred him..." Who cares? Details of operations were non-existent and the role they played in the larger strategic conflicts was ignored. I found the book laborious to get through. Way too much time is spent describing the personality quirks of the men involved and they're presented in a blizzard of names that a reader will have difficulty keeping track of.

On the whole, Holober judges the guerrilla project a success. It did not cost much, "plausible deniability" was more or less maintained, and U.S. losses were minimal (one CIA officer suffered a minor gunshot wound). The operation may even have had an impact on Chinese policy, but without access to Communist records this cannot be substantiated.

The writer also desperately tries to tell his story in a dry, straight-shooter-damn-the-politicians Clint Eastwood kind of way. It fails, unfortunately, to bring life to the book.

However, it is quite informative and comes highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

May 22, 2012 – Shelved
September 27, 2012 – Started Reading
Finished Reading

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message 1: by Liam (new) - added it

Liam This one looks interesting; I look forward to your review...

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