Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Byron Hot Springs
Byron Hot Springs Interrogation Center during World War II.
Located 20 miles west of
Stockton, was a very small community and health spa of Byron Hot
Springs. It was here, in a resort hotel, that the U.S. Army chose
to put one of several secret interrogation centers for German
naval prisoners of war (PW). The U.S. Navy had asked for these
centers to gain naval intelligence. Since it was a violation of
the Geneva Convention to set up such centers and question prisoners
of war in this manner, the centers were made to look like PW processing
centers where PWs were brought for a brief period before being
sent on to established PW camps. The Americans had learned from
the British that such centers were effective and copied their
methods. The PWs were made as comfortable as possible with good
living quarters, good food and plenty of recreation. This, the
British had learned, loosened tongues. Also, anti-Nazi Germans
working for the Americans, were intermingled with the PWs to draw
them out. The activities were kept secret from the local citizenry
and from the Swiss Government representatives who visited the
center from time-to-time.
In the early morning hours
25 July 2005, embers from a small grass fire set the old hotel
and two smaller out buildings that had fallen into disrepair on
fire that resulted in the loss of this piece of California's military
Source: World War II Sites in
the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne
Acquistin, Improvement and Disposal
of Byron Hot Springs Interrogation Center
In March 1943, the War Department leased
209.27 acres from WAG Investment Company (WDGIC), 5.80 acres
from Telio Morchio, and acquired a "no area" easement
from Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). Total acreage
acquired was 215.07.
The site was known as Byron Hot Springs
Internment Center and Byron Hot Springs Interrogation Center.
It was used by the Army as an interrogation center during World
War II. Improvements to the site included a single-story wooden
barracks and a small two-bay fire station.
The 209.27 leased acres were terminated
on 31 May 1947 for which restoration was paid. The 5.80 leased
acres terminated on 13 January 1946; records do not indicate
if restoration was required. On 2 February 1948, the United States
quitclaimed the no area easement to WDGIC.
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers
Local History on the Interrogation Center
A The decade of the 30's was the decade of decline for Byron
Hot Springs. As the first prisoners of war arrived in the United
States, the War Department recognized a need for special camps
for a specific purpose. Two such camps were set up and referred
to in official records as ''Interrogation Centers." One
Center was created on each coast. Fort Hunt was created at Alexandria,
Virginia, and the other at Byron Hot Springs. "Camp Tracy,"
as the top secret post was to be known, was under the command
of Colonel Rhodes F. Arnold, U.S. Army. The Interrogation Centers
were considered by the Army as "Temporary Detention Centers"
for the specific purpose of interrogating certain prisoners of
war captured either by the Army or Navy.
A memorandum dated May 12, 1942, originating in the War Department,
Office of Engineers, directed an interrogation center to be provided
on the west coast. Byron Hot Springs was selected. Ten thousand
dollars was allocated to initiate steps to acquire and prepare
"Camp Tracy'' for receiving prisoners, and the Sacramento
District Engineers Office was assigned to job of making the necessary
alterations, repairs and new construction.
The same records indicate that the camp
divided into two areas. The portion of the reservation inside
the inner fence of the prison enclosure was known as the interrogation
center, which was operated by the Chief of Military Intelligence;
the outer area reserved for barracks, mess halls, and recreation.
The interrogation center was divided into two sections, the Japanese
section and the German section. During 1944, there were about
921 Japanese prisoners and 645 Germans interrogated. The same
report shows that the maximum number of prisoners on hand at
any one time did not exceed fifty-one. In each section there
were maps draw from the information resulting from interrogations,
decoding rooms, and rooms in which information was gathered through
hidden microphones in the general prisoner quarters. It was reported
that all buildings used by the prisoners were electronically
bugged. The information gathered in this manner at Camp Tracy,
may well have decided the outcome of some of the critical campaigns
of the war.
While the army leased the Byron Hot Springs,
they remodeled the hotel, a pump house, a firehouse, eleven cabins
and built a garage and laid several miles of underground sewer
lines. Other improvements were made buy orders from the War Department.
Camp Tracy was declared surplus property after the war and the
leased partially deactivated about August 1, 1945. The camp was
ordered closed by September 1, 1945. Such equipment and improvements
to be used at other installations were removed when the army
released the property. The property again became known as Byron
In the Shadows of Camp Tracy: Camp
Tracy explored. Veterans needed who recall stories of Camp Tracy,
a top-secret WWII interrogation center by
To some, its a crumbling edifice
primarily useful for scrawling with graffiti and occasionally
torching. To others, its a reminder of the areas
past glory as a vacation destination for the rich and famous.
And to some, its potential for rebirth is one of the brightest
spots on the far East County horizon.
No matter what Byron Hot Springs means
to some people, its meaning is altogether different for others,
a select group of individuals who, until lately, have kept their
secrets to themselves. For them, and the historians now trying
to collect their stories, the once-and-future mineral springs
resort is known as Camp Tracy, a top-secret WWII interrogation
center and one of only two such facilities in the country.
Vincent Santucci, chief ranger for the
National Park Services George Washington Parkway in Virginia,
is one of the latter. Santucci has been researching Virginias
Ft. Hunt, clandestinely known as P.O. Box 1142 after
its postal designation, for years. Ft. Hunt, the other top-secret
center dedicated to wresting secrets from high-level officers,
scientists and political prisoners captured during the war, was
meant primarily for Germans and Italians; Camp Tracy was intended
Ft. Hunt was virtually eradicated after
the war, leaving researchers to rely on the sometimes hazy memories
of a fast-dwindling core of veterans to learn what happened there.
Many of Camp Tracys structures, on the other hand, still
stand, tattered though they are.
Most of 1142 is now gone,
Santucci said in a phone interview last week. We very much
envy the fact that Camp Tracy still has the original buildings.
Santucci and a contingent of other historians recently toured
the East County site, accompanied by local historians Carol Jensen
and Kathy Leighton. Along with the remembrances of veterans,
the facility is shedding light on the shadow-cloaked world of
Funded by a federal grant, Santuccis
team has interviewed about 20 of 45 known veterans who worked
at Ft. Hunt and Camp Tracy. Sworn to secrecy until recently,
these men have told no one of their experiences, not even family.
Many of these stories have never
been told, said Santucci, who began his research to put
to gether an interpretive talk on Ft. Hunt. We never realized
how important this was going to be. Our knowledge keeps growing
Santucci and fellow project historian
Brandon Bies, accompanied by Stephen Haller, National Park Service
research historian, and John Bland, author and faculty member
of the University of Richmond in Virginia, visited Camp Tracy
as the guest of Dave Fowler of East Bay Associates, the current
owner of the property. Accompanying the guests was U.S. Air Force
Col. Steve Kleinman, faculty member of the National Defense Intelligence
College and Camp Tracy thesis advisor.
Fowler was particularly pleased to welcome
the park service, and said that the use of the property during
World War II adds national historic importance to this already-important
California historic site. The history of the springs figures
prominently in his plans for restoration of the buildings and
reopening of the Byron Hot Springs as a destination resort.
Because few Japanese were taken prisoner
until late in the war, Camp Tracy was initially used to handle
the overflow of German prisoners from Ft. Hunt. Far from the
harsh conditions that existed at some prisoner camps, Camp Tracy
coaxed information from its internees with a carrot, rather than
They (interrogators) felt they could
gain more information through a reward system than through punishment,
Santucci said. Prisoners were brought to local civic events,
fed well and housed in the comfortable rooms of the former resort.
Not all was as it might have seemed to
the prisoners, however, and evidence of the cunning methodology
used by the captors can still be seen at Camp Tracy.
Santucci and Bies discovered the remains
of microphone wiring that tapped each room. Microphones were
originally hidden in light fixtures in each room and wires fed
through hollow walls and down an elevator shaft to the ground-level
transcription room. Extra sound-deadening wall insulation,
covered windows and insulating ceiling tiles are still in place.
Santucci said another exciting discovery
was the existence of vents through which prisoners, standing
on the toilets in their room, were able to see into the adjoining
prisoners room. He believes the arrangement was meant to
encourage captives to talk to each other, thinking they were
holding secret conversations but all the while being monitored
by the listening devices. Similarly, conversations were captured
by devices in trees outside the facilities, where prisoners were
given time to be outside, ostensibly by themselves.
Such tricks might seem ordinary by todays
high-tech spy standards, but were revolutionary at the time.
Santucci said their work has captured the attention of todays
CIA operatives, who, like the rest of the world, have no information
about what went on in the centers.
In his book The Anguish Of Surrender:
Japanese POWs of World War II, author Ulrich Straus writes
that its hard to tell how much valuable information came
from the work done at Camp Tracy. Thousands of prisoners were
brought there for up to several weeks while on their way to permanent
Some of the intelligence, however, did
make a difference, Ulrich notes. Medical officers questioned
in 1945 yielded valuable information on Japanese biological weapons
research, while sailors provided critical data on Japanese ships,
including their armament and radar capabilities. One POW, captured
on Iwo Jima, provided information on munitions plants and the
code names for certain army units.
Santucci knows that other fascinating
information is out there waiting to be gathered, and that the
time to gather it is short. WWII veterans are now dying at the
rate of over 1,000 per day.
Several of the people who worked
at the camps stepped forward after stories were done on us through
the media, Santucci said. Wed love it if that
were to happen again. As for the data itself, Santucci
said the important thing is to gather it now; what future researchers
might be able to do with it is yet to be seen.
Anyone with photos, relics or remembrances
about Camp Tracy can contribute to the on-going effort to document
this important part of American history by contacting Kathy Leighton
at (209) 634-0917.