Paymaster Under Fire – Part 4

The Adventures of Lt. Col. Thurston Humphrey Sweeny OBE.
Royal Army Pay Corps
THIS IS PART Four OF OUR BLOG SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OUR FIRST POST YOU CAN FIND IT HERE. TODAY WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT How Sweeny found the missing millions, as well as the raid on the Qui Nhan Bank.

Documents located in the Yokohama Specie Bank revealed that the Indian National Army (a military force of Indian nationals who had been selected by the Japanese from Allied Prisoners of War to act as fifth columnists in India, led by former Colonel Chaterjee who the Japanese made Major General and who served on Field Marshal’s Teraugi’s staff in Saigon) were being funded through a prominent Indian, although payments had ceased at the surrender. A chance conversation between Sweeny and the Chief Intelligence Officer over dinner revealed that Chaterjee was wanted by them but the trail had gone cold. Sweeny remembered that there was an unusual entry in the INA accounts, a bankers draft had been issued for 3,200 million piastres to Chaterjee but that had still not been cashed. Since the only bank capable of cashing the draft lay in Hanoi it would be the obvious place to head for, even if it was an 800 mile slog on foot. Intelligence Officers who could identify Chaterjee were flown to Hanoi and lay in wait outside the bank. The following day Chaterjeee was apprehended walking into the bank and brought back to Saigon; there he was charged with War Crimes and sent to Changi Prison in Hong Kong. Chaterjee was later collected by two British officials and flown to India, where he was allowed to disappear.

The success of this operation showed that by collaborating and sharing information, the Intelligence and Financial elements of the Commission could achieve significant results.

A few days after Chaterjee’s arrest Sweeny received information from intelligence that it suspected a beauty parlour on Rue Catinet (Bond Street) was distributing funds to insurgents. Sweeny asked that the shop be closed, staff and manager separated, safe keys and the account books be removed and brought to him. It took Sweeny several hours but he discovered a large financial network distributing cash to other shops in different towns. Each of these shops was closed and the accounts examined, revealing another network distributing cash around French-Indo-China. Although over 200 million piastres had already been distributed, a major source of funding for the insurgency had been closed off.

The Raid on the Qui Nhan Bank

In November 1945 a dishevelled Frenchman came to see Sweeny. He was the bank manager of a branch of the Bank Indo China, located in the provincial centre of Qui Nhan. Although there were 500 Japanese soldiers stationed there, a force of 10,000 nationalists were using the town as their Headquarters, and had seized the bank to use the contents of one of the vaults to pay themselves. The manager, although removed from the bank, had retained the keys to the second vault (containing 20 million piastres) and had walked to Saigon 200 miles to the south. Sweeny asked the manager to sketch the town plan; the bank lay at the end of the town square, flanked by warehouses, approached by a single road. A joint Army and RAF conference formulated a daring plan; The Japanese commander was ordered back to Saigon and briefed on his role and an RAF Dakota began making flights over the town, arriving around 2pm. Initially the insurgents responded with fire but by the fourth day, no longer bothered. On the fifth day that the aircraft circled, the Japanese forces blocked off all the entrances to the square and when secure the aircraft landed and taxied into the square near the bank and turned around, engines running. The road was 12 inches wider than the wheels.

The bank manager jumped out along with an (unnamed) Army Officer and entered the bank, opened the vault and started bagging up the highest value notes – anything less than 100 piastres was left behind. Once the Nationalists realised what was happening, they attempted to enter the square but were repulsed by the Japanese. Once satisfied that they had all the funds they could carry, the Bank Manager and officer boarded the plane which accelerated down the road and was soon airborne – if now subject to small arms fire. The whole event had taken only 15 minutes but had been a success, with 19 million piastres recovered, although the aircraft was to be a write-off (but it’s pilot Wing Commander Nottage received a DFC!)

Eventually the rest of the money that was left behind was used up, but with the ending of the Nationalists pay they returned to farming and the insurgency petered out to around 30 miles around the town. Sweeny remarked that ‘Lack of cash can often be more than an inhibition to insurgency than bullets of bayonets’.

Make sure to pop back in the next couple of weeks for the fifth part!