This is my second blog post on Operation Remorse, the secret Second World War operation that earned millions by manipulating currency and smuggling on the Chinese black market. You can read the first post here.
‘Your mission is to establish whatever organisation you may find necessary to secure the extraction of rubber from Japanese-occupied territories.’ (HS 1/288, 15 Sept. 1942)
This was Operation Mickleham’s objective. Walter Fletcher, a wealthy rubber trader, ran the mission between 1942 and 1943. I should say right now that Mickleham failed, utterly. The extent of the failure makes it look like a scam or a blunder, and so people skip over it. But I believe that Mickleham explains the success of Operation Remorse. Remorse relied on Mickleham’s vision, organisation, and insights, helping it succeed where Mickleham failed.
‘Tragi-Comedy: Walter Fletcher’
Fletcher’s proposal to smuggle rubber from French African colonies had previously been rejected by the Ministry of Economic Warfare and the Special Operations Executive (SOE), but he kept imposing himself. During 1941, he used his company connections to find rubber stockpiles in Indo-China. He suggested blocking Japanese access to these stockpiles and diverting them into Allied hands. His company even bought up some of this rubber in 1942 – and suffered considerable losses. 1
It was bold, but foolish, and SOE were not sympathetic. A mocking memo presented Fletcher’s story as a tragicomedy. The reply came back that it ‘may turn into a crook blackmail play… [Fletcher] is a victim of war and enthusiasm.’ 2 Still, a scheme to ‘extract’ rubber from enemy-occupied territories made sense. The Japanese offensive in the Far East had seized Burma, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies – important rubber-producing areas. The Allies were suffering a critical shortage by mid-1942.
Major L. W. Elliott (‘B/B.303’), appointed by the American Board of Economic Warfare, was busily setting up a rubber-smuggling organisation in Australia. The British thought the scheme ‘fully worth trying (a) on account of the critical scarcity of rubber, (b) from a British prestige point of view’, even though it was ‘unlikely to succeed’. 3 Fletcher went to Washington, and although everyone knew there were problems, discussions were positive and progress was swift. A message exclaimed, ‘At last our Walter has found someone who appreciates him!’ ( HS 1/192, 31 Jul. 1942) Continue reading »
- 1. Fletcher’s early plans can be studied in HS 9/519/5, HS 1/192, and HS 3/72. ^
- 2. HS 1/192, ‘AD/W from AD/U’. ‘AD/U’ was William Johnston ‘Tony’ Keswick, who at this time was Deputy Director of Missions for the Far East and the Americas. ^
- 3. HS 1/288, 29 Jun. 1942. For the first meeting, on 10th April 1942, see HS 1/288, ‘Smuggling of Rubber’ and ‘Note of Interview at the Ministry of Supplies. Mr Bretherton’s Room 10th April’. ^