Monday, March 28, 2016

Our Secret War Against Red China

Our Secret War Against Red China, by Emile C. Schurmacher
October, 1962  Paperback Library

We have here another vintage anthology of men’s adventure magazine stories, similar to Women With Guns but focused on tales of “secret commandos” working against the Red Chinese. Unlike that other collection, this one solely features the work of Emile C. Schurmacher; there were a few other such anthologies published under his name, and if they’re as entertaining as this one I look forward to reading them.

Schurmacher opens the collection with a Preface in which he conveys the conceit that all this is true. I’m sure he had a chuckle as he wrote these few pages of introduction, delivering a brief overview of some of the tales to come and stating how he was “journalistically hungry” to tell the true story of our secret war against the Chicoms. But it goes without question that, like 99% of everything else to ever appear in a men’s adventure magazine of the era, everything here is straight-up fiction.

“My One-Man Raid On Red China” is not only the shortest tale in the anthology but also the only one written in first-person. It’s from the January, 1958 issue of Champ, and doubtless appeared there with a fake “as told to” credit which is shorn from this anthology reprint. Thus, we have no idea who our narrator is! He’s briefly referred to in the dialog as “Mr. Barclay,” so I guess that will have to do. At any rate he’s a Korea vet who now plies a schooner around Hong Kong and has been hired by the silk nylon-clad Mary Tzu to transport 18 coffins upriver into some remote part of China.

But as the tale begins (and likely the incident which was illustrated in the original story), the coffins open up and out come several Chinese guerrillas. Led by Chau, these dudes fought in WWII and are looking to free their homeland from the Reds. Our narrator still hates the Chinese as well and agrees to fight with them. The plan is to make a beachhead landing in some Chinese town and take it over or something, but my friends this is the lamest “invasion” you will ever read about. A dozen men and one woman with “burp guns” and a few explosives are going to take over China?? The majority of the tale is a running action scene, which ends with our hero, his engineer, and Mary Tzu the only ones alive; he makes it for Macao and later receives a check from Mary for his troubles.

The next story is more like it – and is also the novella length of the average Diamond magazine line “true book bonus” feature. Titled “Deadly Siren of Hong Kong,” it originally appeared under the less-evocative title “China’s Mystery Girl And The Air Force Hostages” in the October, 1959 issue of For Men Only. Very reminiscent of the work of Edward Aarons in his Sam Durell books, this one’s about a former WWII Intelligence officer named Bill Locke tracking down the titular “Deadly Siren,” Gay Yung, a Chinese operative described as a sexy Eurasian with nice legs and “sculptured breasts.” She’s also, so far as Locke thinks, “the most dangerous woman in Southeast Asia.”

Locke is a businessman based out of Tokyo but he still has all his Intelligence-world contacts from the war. He’s hired by the State Department to arrange the release of several US pilots who have been imprisoned by the Chinese on false spying charges. This eventually puts him on the trail of hotstuff Gay Yung, who is familiar with high-ranking Chicoms due to her spying for them, despite the fact that she sells her skills to the highest bidder; she drives around Hong Kong in a black Jaguar. Locke himself is very much in the Durrel mode, with a bit of Fleming’s original James Bond thrown in; his choice weapon is a “.38 automatic.”

The story is more espionage than action. Locke spends most of the time waiting in his hotel room and listening to radio reports about an India-bound plane carrying several Chicom top brass which has exploded in midair; the Commies are blaming agents of Taiwan (here called Formosa) for planting a bomb during the stopover in Hong Kong. Locke meets the lovely Gay Yung, asking for her help on the captured airmen scenario, but his coincidental prescence raises the suspicion of Ivan Sandor, an Eastern European Communist agent. Later we’ll learn that he and Gay were part of the plane-bombing plan, one concocted by Chicom agents to hopefully trigger WWIII.

Locke saves Gay’s life from Sandor and thugs, and she rushes to his hotel room one night, clad only in a trenchcoat, black nightie, and high heels, looking “sexy as hell.” Another confrontation with Chinese stooges on the Hong Kong docks, and then it’s to Gay’s opulent junk on international waters between Hong Kong and mainland China. After a few heavenly nights of Gay cooking for him and the two dancing to the radio, the inevitable (fade to black) sex ensues…then the next day Sandor tracks them down and poor Gay dies in a gunfight with him. Locke kills them off and rushes to safety, goes back home to Tokyo and tells the State Department he failed his mission! We learn in a postscript that the airmen still haven’t been freed.

Next up is “Yankee Spy On The China Coast,” which originally appeared as “Yankee Spy Called X” in the January 1959 issue of Stag. I didn’t much enjoy this one; it’s told in that pseudo-factual style of some men’s adventure mag stories, meaning that the majority of the tale is rendered in summary, recounting the various exploits of our titular yankee hero. He’s Russ Smith, an American known as “X” in the Intelligence community, a spy who worked against “the Japs” in WWII and who now works for Taiwan against the Red Chinese. A lot of the story recounts his various adventures in WWII. This was my least favorite story in the anthology, mostly due to the summary-style narrative. Luckily it isn’t very long.

“Assignment: Nepal,” the next story, improves things in a major way, and is my favorite story in the anthology. Originally appearing under the more lurid title “The Spy Trap They Baited With Sex” in the February 1958 issue of For Men Only, this story encapsulates everything you could want from a book titled Our Secret War Against Red China. Hero Steve “Dusty” Rhodes is a 31 year-old former Air Force Intelligence officer who is hired by the CIA to head into Nepal and find out if there’s any truth to the purported secret airstrip the Red Chinese are supposedly building there. The concern is the Chicoms might be planning to launch an atomic attack from this airstrip – the US thinks the Red Chinese don’t have any atomic weapons, but isn’t sure.

Like Bill Locke in the earlier story, Steve uses something called a “.38 automatic.” This tale however is more in the action-adventure mold and should’ve been expanded to novel length. The action basis is displayed posthaste; while on the Calcutta-Katmandu flight Steve is attacked by a poisonous snake, one left for him by a duplicitous fellow passenger. (Snakes on a plane!) The Bond-esque fun continues when Steve gets to his hotel room in Nepal – and a sexy Eurasian gal is there waiting for him. This is the awesomely-named Poppy Velho. She is “Macao-Portuguese mixed with Chinese,” which we are reminded at length is Steve’s favorite kind of woman, all exotic and passionate and etc. – and Poppy is the sexiest and best-built one he’s ever seen. And she makes it clear that she’s in the mood for some good ol’ American lovin’.

Almost immediate fade-to-black sex ensues, as Poppy, claiming to have intimately known the missing British agent who preceded Steve here, takes Steve back to her place and throws herself at him. Steve suspects it’s a trap, but what the hell. When he goes back to his hotel the next morning, he’s almost killed in an explosion; someone left a bomb in his suitcase the previous night while he was out, but then another person came in, rummaged through the pack, and inadvertently set off the bomb. Either way, Poppy was bait for the trap. Steve later learns she’s a spy for the Red Chinese and is quite dangerous; she’s more so a “Deadly Siren” than Gay Yung was in the earlier story.

The adventure-fiction vibe Schurmacher excels at returns as Steve heads into the mountains of Nepal with his trusty native guides. The secret airstrip exists, not far from the base of Everest, and the Chicoms have a big plane there, awaiting its atomic payload. The natives say that there are only six Red Chinese there, but they have a native force at their command. Steve spies the place out just in time to see sexy Poppy Velho arrive and meet with the Chicom commander.

An assault ensues, Steve and his companions blasting away with Sten guns and grenades. They kill all the Chicoms and blow up the plane. Poppy runs to Steve in the confusion and he takes her along back to Katmandu, to turn her over to the authorities as a spy. But due to her “magnificent Eurasian body” and “exotic beauty” he can’t help but bang her again, right there in the cheap showiness of nature during the trek back to Katmandu. He ends up letting her go free, wondering what will become of her.

“Jim Poole’s Monstrous Secret Weapon” originally appeared under the less-ridiculous title “The Yank Who Stole An Island From Red China” in the April 1959 issue of For Men Only. This short tale recounts the adventure of Jim Poole, skipper of a schooner plying its way through the Philipines. Like every other protagonist in the collection, Poole is a virile stud in his thirties who has military experience. One day his schooner is boarded by Taiwanese soldiers, 900 miles outside of their jurisdiction; this is due to the nearby island Pagasa, aka Freedomland, which lies in the contested territorial waters of the Spratly archipelego, an area which Taiwan and Red China are fighting over. 

Poole heads on over to Pagasa to check it out. The natives are Filipino and the island nation was founded shortly after the war. Poole hobknobs with the local authorities and goes for long swims with sexy native wench Maria; this tale skimps on the sex but it’s implied the two soon become an item. Then the Red Chinese show up, saying they are going to evict the populace. Poole, weaponless due to the Taiwanese soldiers early in the tale, turns to history for his “monstrous weapon.” Inspired by General Washington’s “solar guns” from the Revolutionary War battle for Boston, he erects these big cannons of glass and aluminum foil, which can direct beams of concentrated sunlight that hopefully start fires. More of a mental trick, the “ray guns” succeed in diverting the Chicoms until the Taiwan force can destroy them. After which Pagasa is free again and it’s back to bed with Maria.

Up next is “Mystery Of The Vanishing U.S. General,” from the September 1961 issue of Stag and thus the latest story in the collection. Unfortunately it’s the least interesting story here, mostly due to how it’s relayed via summary. One of those stories that purports to be actual reportage, this one concerns Brigadier General John Heintges, a graying-haired WWII badass who disappeared in 1958, his name even omitted from the Army Register. But we learn Reid took a “civilian” job as part of a top-secret task force of military trainers in Laos, helping the locals stave off the Red tide.

The Pathet Lao, under the command of Kong Le, have been making their way across the border, Chicom soldiers in tow, and the Laotians need help. Heintges takes the job, even though he must give up his military commission. The summary-style storytelling recounts the various frustrations the Americans endure as they train the Laotian troops, all of it like something out of a military comedy movie like Stripes or something. Since none of the Americans are allowed to engage in actual combat, it all comes down as synopsizing how this or that happened as Kong Le was fought out of Laos. Not much action and no sex – there isn’t a single woman in the story. Luckily it’s pretty short.

“Kidnap The Shan Princess!” rounds out the anthology, and it’s another great story, not to mention the longest in the book. First appearing as “Find And Kidnap The Orient’s Promiscuous Vice Queen” (damn those men’s mag editors knew how to come up with a title!!) in the June 1961 issue of Stag, this one definitely could’ve been expanded into novel length. I’ve said it before, but it blows my mind that these men’s mag authors never thought of turning some of their stories into full-on paperbacks. The only such author I know of who did is Mario Puzo, whose Six Graves To Munich started life as a story in Male – and speaking of which, I finally got a copy of the original Banner edition of that one and will be reading it soon.

Ruggedly virile Vance Reid is our hero, a 32 year-old Korea vet with CIA ties who takes a job for $10,000 plus expenses to venture into Burma and “rescue” opium-smoking Princess Jala of the Shan Hills frontier. Reid’s offered the job by a rep of the Taiwan NSS (ie their CIA), who tells the sordid tale: the Taiwanese planned to train some of the tough Burmese mountain tribes to fight against the Red Chinese, with the intent that the Burmese could even slip over the border and cause havoc in China. A badass named Captain Mong Tsing was put in charge of a dozen Taiwanese soldiers and dropped into the Burma mountains to train the natives. Instead, they all disappeared, and about a year later Mong Tsing showed up selling opium!

Turns out Mong Tsing has apparently taken over Shan, ruling beside the depraved Princess Jala. He has an army of tough mountain fighters at his disposal and likes to kill the Chicoms in addition to selling his opium, thus giving the tale an Apocalypse Now kind of vibe. Shan is wealthy due to the copious amount of poppies which grows there, poppies which are cultivated into opium. Reid learns that Jala might not exactly want to leave Shan, thus he isn’t rescuing her so much as he’s kidnapping her. Taiwan wants her so as to show her off to the world and make Mong Tsing leave in shame, or something. But anyway if Reid is caught both the NSS and the CIA will disavow his existence. He takes the job anyway and parachutes into the rugged mountains of Burma. His plane is promptly shot down by a Chicom jet fighter.

Turning himself over to Mong Tsing’s men per his plan, Reid is escorted to the palace of Shan deep in the mountains. It’s all very adventure-fiction exotic, like Lost Horizon or something, and it’s this sort of vibe that these early men’s mag authors were so great at capturing. Posthaste Reid checks out some bikini-clad babes in a pool, “exotically attractive brunettes with high, proud breasts” whom he figures to be Laotian whores. As for Princess Jala herself, she’s described as a “nymphomaniac” who smokes a lot of opium and goes through a new man every few weeks, calling him to her palace and ravaging him until she gets bored and sends him off.

As for Mong Tsing, he’s a “dandified” type save for the left side of his face, which from below the eye to the chin is covered by “a grotesquely shaped shrapnel scar.” He rules Shan with his mountain bandits as well as his fellow turncoat Taiwanese soldiers, among them Hok Sun, who chops off the heads of some Chicom soldiers when he first finds Reid. Our hero poses as the rep for a US crime syndicate that’s looking to buy opium straight from the Shan region; Mong Tsing believes his story. Princess Jala finally appears; she’s 27 and “exotically beautiful,” and at dinner Reid can’t figure out if she still rules alone or if the Chinese have taken over. That night she comes to Reid’s room, smokes some opium, and gives herself to him – about the most detail we get is that she throws her arms around his neck.

Reid learns that Jala is a prisoner in her own palace; Mong Tsing and his comrades took the place over and have been slowly killing off Jala’s staff. Reid is concerned for her, and she’s willing to escape with him. But Mong Tsing gets wise, lopping off the head of one of Jala’s eunuchs as a warning. Reid and the girl – after getting friendly some more – make a nighttime escape, with our badass commando hero killing several men with knives and fists. This leads to more adventure fiction as he and Jala head across the Burmese countryside, at one point staying in Jala’s old village. It climaxes with a battle against Mong Tsing’s men, Steve and some of Jala’s countrymen blasting away with burp guns and grenades.

After crossing the border into India, the two fly to Rangoon, where Reid and Jala say goodbye – after one more roll in the hay, naturally. Jala for her part seems to want Reid to stay with her, but as usual with these virile men of vintage men’s mag fiction, he can’t be tied down with a foreign babe, no matter how exotically beautiful she might be. The same sentiment was displayed in the stories contained in Women With Guns. We learn in a postscript that Jala’s story of escaping her own homeland due to the Chinese invaders finally spurred the Burmese government to crack down on them, eventually kicking them out of the country so that Jala could return to Shan as ruler.

And that was our secret war against Red China – we won, baby!!

1 comment:

Marty McKee said...

Wow. Did not know paperback anthologies of sweat mag stories existed back then. I'm gonna have to keep an eye out for them. Though if I saw that cover with that title in a used book store, I would definitely take a look at it!