Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Byron Hot Springs Interrogation Center
(Camp Tracy)
The 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 history.

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 Hot Springs.
Source: www.byronhotsprings.com
In the Shadows of Camp Tracy: Camp Tracy explored. Veterans needed who recall stories of Camp Tracy, a top-secret WWII interrogation center by Rick Lemyre
To some, it’s a crumbling edifice primarily useful for scrawling with graffiti and occasionally torching. To others, it’s a reminder of the area’s 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 Service’s George Washington Parkway in Virginia, is one of the latter. Santucci has been researching Virginia’s 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 for Japanese…
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 Tracy’s 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 military intelligence.
Funded by a federal grant, Santucci’s 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 exponentially.”
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 a stick.
“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 prisoner’s 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 today’s high-tech spy standards, but were revolutionary at the time. Santucci said their work has captured the attention of today’s 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 it’s 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 detention facilities.
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. “We’d 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.
Source Veterans Today 7 March 2008
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Updated 23 June 2017