Japanese war crimes occurred in China, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and other Asian countries during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily from 1937-45. Some of the incidents have also been described as an Asian Holocaust.
Historians and governments hold Japanese military forces, and the Imperial Japanese family, especially Emperor Hirohito, responsible for killings and other crimes committed against millions of civilians and prisoners of war. Some Japanese soldiers have admitted to committing these crimes.
Since the 1950s, senior Japanese Government officials have issued numerous apologies for the country’s war crimes. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the country acknowledges its role in causing “tremendous damage and suffering” during World War II, However, some members of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Japanese government such as former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine, which includes convicted Class A war criminals in its honored war dead. Some Japanese history textbooks only offer brief references to the various war crimes, and members of the Liberal Democratic Party such as Shinzo Abe have denied some of the atrocities such as the use of comfort women.
Definitions of Japanese war crimes: War crimes have been defined by the Nuremberg Charter as “violations of the laws or customs of war,” which includes crimes against enemy civilians and enemy combatants. These events reached their height during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45 and the Asian and Pacific campaigns of World War II (1941–45).
International and Japanese law: Japan did not sign the Geneva Convention of 1929, though in 1942, it did promise to abide by its terms. In Japan, the term “Japanese war crimes” generally only refers to cases tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trials, following the end of the Pacific War. However, the tribunal did not prosecute war crimes allegations involving mid-ranking officers or more junior personnel. Japanese law does not define those convicted in the post-1945 trials as criminals, despite the fact that Japan’s governments have accepted the judgments made in the trials, and in the Treaty of San Francisco (1952). This is because the treaty does not mention the legal validity of the tribunal. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advocated the position that Japan accepted the Tokyo tribunal and its judgements as a condition for ending the war, but that its verdicts have no relation to domestic law. According to this view, those convicted of war crimes are not criminals under Japanese law.
The events of the 1930s and 1940s
Perceived failure, or insufficient devotion to the Emperor would attract punishment, frequently of the physical kind. In the military, officers would assault and beat men under their command, who would pass the beating on to lower ranks, all the way down. In POW camps, this meant prisoners received the worst beatings of all, partly in the belief that such punishments were merely the proper technique to deal with disobedience.
The Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s is often compared to the military of Nazi Germany during 1933–45 because of the sheer scale of suffering. Much of the controversy regarding Japan’s role in World War II revolves around the death rates of prisoners of war and civilians under Japanese occupation. The historian Chalmers Johnson has written that:
“It may be pointless to try to establish which World War Two Axis aggressor, Germany or Japan, was the more brutal to the peoples it victimised. The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians; the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese. Both nations looted the countries they conquered on a monumental scale, though Japan plundered more, over a longer period, than the Nazis. Both conquerors enslaved millions and exploited them as forced labourers—and, in the case of the Japanese, as (forced) prostitutes for front-line troops. If you were a Nazi prisoner of war from Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (but not the Soviet Union) you faced a 4% chance of not surviving the war; by comparison, the death rate for Allied POWs held by the Japanese was nearly 30%.”
According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate among POWs from Asian countries, held by Japan was 27.1%. The death rate of Chinese POWs was much higher because—under a directive ratified on August 5, 1937 by Emperor Hirohito—the constraints of international law on treatment of those prisoners was removed. Only 56 Chinese POWs were released after the surrender of Japan. After March 20, 1943, the Japanese Navy was under orders to execute all prisoners taken at sea.
This democide [i.e., death by government] was due to “a morally bankrupt political and military strategy, military expediency and custom, and national culture.” In China alone, during 1937–45, approximately 3.9 million Chinese were killed, mostly civilians, as a direct result of the Japanese operations and 10.2 million in the course of the war. The most infamous incident during this period was the Nanking Massacre of 1937–38, when the Japanese Army massacred as many as 300,000 civilians and prisoners of war.
In Southeast Asia, the Manila massacre of February 1945 resulted in the death of 100,000 civilians in the Philippines, that is one out of every 20 Filipinos died at the hand of the Japanese during the occupation. In the Sook Ching massacre of February 1942, Lee Kuan Yew, the ex-Prime Minister of Singapore, there were between 50,000 and 90,000 casualties. There were other massacres of civilians, e.g. the Kalagong massacre. In wartime Southeast Asia, the Overseas Chinese and European diaspora were special targets of Japanese abuse; in the former case, motivated by an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the historic expanse and influence of Chinese civilization that did not exist with the Southeast Asian indigenes, (this scorched earth strategy, sanctioned by Hirohito himself, directed Japanese forces to “Kill All, Burn All, and Loot All”); and the latter, motivated by a racist Pan-Asianism and desire to show former colonial subjects the impotence of their Western masters.
Special Japanese military units conducted experiments on civilians and POWs in China. One of the most infamous was Unit 731 under Shirō Ishii. Victims were subjected to experiments including but not limited to vivisection and amputations without anesthesia and testing of biological weapons. Anesthesia was not used because it was believed to affect results.
To determine the treatment of frostbite, prisoners were taken outside in freezing weather and left with exposed arms, periodically drenched with water until frozen solid. The arm was later amputated; the doctor would repeat the process on the victim’s upper arm to the shoulder. After both arms were gone, the doctors moved on to the legs until only a head and torso remained. The victim was then used for plague and pathogens experiments. The experiments carried out by Unit 731 alone caused 3,000 deaths. Furthermore, according to the 2002 International Symposium on the Crimes of Bacteriological Warfare, the number of people killed by the Imperial Japanese Army germ warfare and human experiments is around 580,000. According to other sources, “tens of thousands, and perhaps as many as 400,000, Chinese died of bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases…”, resulting from the use of biological warfare. Top officers of Unit 731 were not prosecuted for war crimes after the war, in exchange for turning over the results of their research to the Allies. They were also reportedly given responsible positions in Japan’s pharmaceutical industry, medical schools and health ministry.
One case of human experimentation occurred in Japan itself. At least nine out of 11 crew members survived the crash of a U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 bomber on Kyūshū, on May 5, 1945. The bomber’s commander was separated from his crew and sent to Tokyo for interrogation, while the other survivors were taken to the anatomy department of Kyushu University, at Fukuoka, where they were subjected to vivisection or killed. All of those convicted in relation to the university vivisection were free after 1958. In addition, many participants were never charged by the Americans or their allies in exchange for the information on the experiments.
Use of chemical weapons
The Imperial Japanese Army began full-scale use of phosgene, chlorine, Lewisite and nausea gas (red), and from summer 1939, mustard gas (yellow) was used against both Kuomintang and Communist Chinese troops. Emperor Hirohito signed orders specifying the use of chemical weapons in China. During the Battle of Wuhan from August to October 1938, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions. During the Battle of Yichang in October 1941, 1,000 yellow gas shells and 1,500 red gas shells were launched at the Chinese forces. The area was crowded with Chinese civilians unable to evacuate. Some 3,000 Chinese soldiers were in the area and 1,600 were affected. The Japanese report stated that “the effect of gas seems considerable”.
The Australian National Archives documents cyanide gas was tested on Australian and Dutch prisoners in November 1944 on Kai Islands (Indonesia).
Torture of prisoners of war
Japanese imperial forces employed widespread use of torture on prisoners, usually in an effort to gather military intelligence quickly. Tortured prisoners were often later executed. A former Japanese Army officer who served in China, Uno Shintaro, stated: “The major means of getting intelligence was to extract information by interrogating prisoners. Torture was an unavoidable necessity. Murdering and burying them follows naturally. You do it so you won’t be found out. I believed and acted this way because I was convinced of what I was doing. We carried out our duty as instructed by our masters. We did it for the sake of our country. From our filial obligation to our ancestors. On the battlefield, we never really considered the Chinese humans. When you’re winning, the losers look really miserable. We concluded that the Yamato [i.e., Japanese] race was superior.
Japanese personnel in many parts of Asia and the Pacific committed acts of cannibalism against Allied prisoners of war. In many cases this was inspired by ever-increasing Allied attacks on Japanese supply lines, and the death and illness of Japanese personnel as a result of hunger. However, according to historian Yuki Tanaka: “cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers”. This frequently involved murder for the purpose of securing bodies. In some cases, flesh was cut from living people. An Indian POW, testified that in New Guinea: the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers. I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese. The remainder of us were taken to another spot 80 km away, the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat. Those selected were taken to a hut where their flesh was cut from their bodies while they were alive and they were thrown into a ditch where they later died.
The Japanese military’s use of forced labour, by Asian civilians and POWs also caused many deaths. More than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilised for forced labour. More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway.
In Java, between 4 and 10 million romusha (Japanese: “manual laborer”), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in Southeast Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%.
Emperor Hirohito personally ratified the decision to remove the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners of war in the directive of 5 August 1937. This notification also advised staff officers to stop using the term “prisoners of war”. The Geneva Convention exempted POWs of sergeant rank or higher from manual labour, and stipulated that prisoners performing work should be provided with extra rations and other essentials. However, Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention at the time, and Japanese forces did not follow the convention.
The terms “comfort women” is a euphemism for women in Japanese military brothels in occupied countries, who were recruited by deception, abducted, and forced into sexual slavery. There are different theories on the breakdown of the comfort women’s place of origin. While some Japanese sources claim that the majority of the women were from Japan, others argue as many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, and some other countries such as the Philippines, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Netherlands, and Australia were forced to engage in sexual activity
Veteran soldier Yasuji Kaneko admitted to The Washington Post that the women “cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.” In other cases, some victims from East Timor testified they were forced when they were not old enough to have started menstruating and repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers.A Dutch-Indonesian “comfort woman”, Jan Ruff-O’Hearn (now resident in Australia), said the Japanese Government had failed to take responsibility for its crimes, that it did not want to pay compensation to victims and that it wanted to rewrite history. Ruff-O’Hearn said that she had been raped “day and night” for three months by Japanese soldiers when she was 19.
The controversy was re-ignited on 1 March 2007, a U.S. House of Representatives committee would call on the Japanese Government to “apologise for and acknowledge” the role of the Japanese Imperial military in wartime sex slavery. However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that it applied to comfort stations. “There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it.” A New York Times editorial on March 6 said: These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. America isn’t the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea, China, and the Philippines are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.
Many historians state that the Japanese government and individual military personnel engaged in widespread looting during the period of 1895 to 1945. The stolen property included private land, as well as many different kinds of valuable goods looted from banks, depositories, temples, churches, mosques, museums, other commercial premises and private homes.
War crimes trials
Soon after the war, the Allied powers indicted 25 persons as Class-A war criminals, and 5,700 persons were indicted as Class-B or Class-C war criminals by Allied criminal trials. Of these, 984 were initially condemned to death, 920 were actually executed, 475 received life sentences, 2,944 received some prison terms, 1,018 were acquitted, and 279 were not sentenced or not brought to trial. These numbers included 178 ethnic Taiwanese and 148 ethnic Koreans. The Class-A charges were all tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as “the Tokyo Trials”. Other courts were formed in many different places in Asia and the Pacific.
Hirohito and all members of the imperial family implicated in the war such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Asaka, Prince Takeda and Prince Higashikuni were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by MacArthur, who allowed the major criminal suspects to coordinate their stories so that the Emperor would be spared from indictment. Many historians criticize this decision. According to John Dower, “with the full support of MacArthur’s headquarters, the prosecution functioned, in effect, as a defense team for the emperor”. For Herbert Bix, “MacArthur’s truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war.”
Between 1946 and 1951, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, the Soviet Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, the Netherlands and the Philippines all held military tribunals to try Japanese indicted for Class B and Class C war crimes. Some 5,600 Japanese personnel were prosecuted in more than 2,200 trials outside Japan. Class B defendants were accused of having committed such crimes themselves; class C defendants, mostly senior officers, were accused of planning, ordering or failing to prevent them. Additionally, the Chinese Communists also held a number of trials for Japanese personnel. More than 4,400 Japanese personnel were convicted and about 1,000 were sentenced to death.
The largest single trial was that of 93 Japanese personnel charged with the summary execution of more than 300 Allied POWs, in the Laha massacre (1942).
Post-war events and reactions.
The Japanese popular reaction to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal found expression in demands for the mitigation of the sentences of war criminals and agitation for parole. Shortly after the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect in April 1952, a movement demanding the release of B- and C-class war criminals began, emphasizing the “unfairness of the war crimes tribunals” and the “misery and hardship of the families of war criminals.” The movement quickly garnered the support of more than ten million Japanese. In the face of this surge of public opinion, the government commented that “public sentiment in our country is that the war criminals are not criminals. Rather, they gather great sympathy as victims of the war, and the number of people concerned about the war crimes tribunal system itself is steadily increasing.”
By the end of 1958, all Japanese war criminals, including A-, B- and C-class were released from prison and politically rehabilitated.
While maintaining that Japan violated no international law or treaties, Japanese governments have officially recognised the suffering which the Japanese military caused, and numerous apologies have been issued. However, the official apologies are widely viewed as inadequate or only a symbolic exchange by many of the survivors of such crimes or the families of dead victims. On 31 October 2008, the chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force Toshio Tamogami was dismissed with a 60 million yen allowance due to an essay he published, arguing that Japan was not an aggressor during World War II, that the war brought prosperity to China, Taiwan and Korea, that the Imperial Japanese Army’s conduct was not violent and that the Greater East Asia War is viewed in a positive way by many Asian countries and criticizing the war crimes trials which followed the war. On 11 November, Tamogami added before the Diet that the personal apology made in 1995 by former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama was “a tool to suppress free speech”.
Some in Japan have asserted that what is being demanded is that the Japanese Prime Minister or the Emperor perform dogeza, in which an individual kneels and bows his head to the ground—a high form of apology in East Asian societies that Japan appears unwilling to do.]
There is a widespread perception that the Japanese government has not accepted the legal responsibility for compensation and, as a direct consequence of this denial, it has failed to compensate the individual victims of Japanese atrocities. In particular, a number of prominent human rights and women’s rights organisations insist that Japan still has a moral or legal responsibility to compensate individual victims, especially the sex slaves conscripted by the Japanese military in occupied countries and known as “comfort women”.
Therefore, the Japanese government’s position is that the proper avenues for further claims are the governments of the respective claimants. As a result, every individual compensation claim brought to Japanese court has failed. During the treaty negotiation with South Korea, the Japanese government proposed that it pay monetary compensation to individual Korean victims, in line with the payments to Western POWs. The Korean government instead insisted that Japan pay money collectively to them who then used the funds for economic development. This was not released by the Korean government until 2004, and a number of claimants are attempting to sue for individual compensation of victims. Therefore, to claim that these governments received no compensation from Japan is incorrect. However, others dispute that Japanese colonial assets in large proportion were built or stolen with extortion or force in occupied countries, as was clearly the case with artworks collected (or stolen) by Nazis during World War II throughout Europe.
The term “intermediate compensation” (or intermediary compensation) was applied to the removal and reallocation of Japanese industrial (particularly military-industrial) assets to Allied countries. By 1950, the assets reallocated amounted to 43,918 items of machinery, valued at ¥165,158,839 (in 1950 prices). The proportions in which the assets were distributed were: China, 54.1%; the Netherlands, 11.5%; the Philippines 19%, and; the United Kingdom, 15.4%.
Compensation to Allied POWs
Clause 16 of the San Francisco Treaty stated that Japan would transfer its assets to the Red Cross, which would sell them and distribute the funds to former prisoners of war and their families. Accordingly, the Japanese government and private citizens paid out £4,500,000 to the Red Cross. Most of the funds used by the government of Japan were not Japanese funds but relief funds contributed by the governments of the USA, the UK and the Netherlands.
Japanese compensation to countries occupied during 1941-45
Country Amount in US$ 2013 US dollars Date of treaty
Burma 200,000,000 $1.71 billion 5 November 1955
Philippines 550,000,000 $4.64 billion 9 May 1956
Indonesia 223,080,000 $1.78 billion 20 January 1958
Vietnam 38,000,000 $299 million 13 May 1959
The last payment was made to the Philippines on 22 July 1976.
Debate in Japan
As the consensus of Japanese jurists is that Japanese forces did not technically commit violations of international law, many right wing elements in Japan have taken this to mean that war crimes trials were examples of victor’s justice. They see those convicted of war crimes as “Martyrs of Shōwa, Shōwa being the name given to the rule of Hirohito. This interpretation is vigorously contested by Japanese peace groups and the political left. By the early 21st century, the revived interest in Japan’s imperial past had brought new interpretations from a group which has been labelled both “new right” and “new left”. This group points out that many acts committed by Japanese forces, including the Nanjing Incident (they generally do not use the word “massacre”), were violations of the Japanese military code. However, under the same logic, the new right/new left considers the killing of Chinese who were suspected of guerilla activity to be perfectly legal and valid, including some of those killed at Nanjing, for example. They also take the view that many Chinese civilian casualties resulted from the scorched earth tactics of the Chinese nationalists. Similarly, they take the position that those who have attempted to sue the Japanese government for compensation have no legal or moral case.
The new right/new left also takes a less sympathetic view of Korean claims of victimhood, because prior to annexation by Japan, Korea was a tributary of the Qing Dynasty and, according to them, the Japanese colonisation, though undoubtedly harsh, was “better” than the previous rule in terms of human rights and economic development.
As these investigations continue more evidence is discovered each day. It has been claimed that the Japanese government intentionally destroyed the reports on Korean comfort women. The Government of Japan has gone out of its way to cover up many incidents that would otherwise lead to severe international criticism.Today cover-ups by Japan and other countries such as the United Kingdom are slowly exposed as more thorough investigations are conducted. The reason for the cover-up was because the British government wanted to end the war crimes trial early in order to maintain good relations with Japan to prevent the spread of communism.
INDIVIDUAL WAR ATROCITIES
1. Nanking Massacre/Rape of Nanking
The Nanking Massacre also known as the Rape of Nanking, was a mass murder and war rape that occurred during the six-week period following the Japanese capture of the city of Nanking, the former capital of the Republic of China, starting in December, 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Historians and witnesses have estimated that 250,000 to 300,000 people were killed. The event remains a contentious political issue, as various aspects of it have been disputed by some historical revisionists and Japanese nationalists, who have claimed that the massacre has been either exaggerated or wholly fabricated for propaganda purposes.
Military situation. In August 1937, the Japanese army invaded Shanghai where they met strong resistance and suffered heavy casualties. By mid-November the Japanese had captured Shanghai with the help of naval bombardment. Chiang Kai-shek knew that the fall of Nanking would simply be a matter of time. In order to preserve the army for future battles, most of them were withdrawn. Chiang planned to fight a protracted war of attrition by wearing down the Japanese in the hinterland of China. It was announced the city would not surrender and would fight to the death and gathered about 100,000 soldiers, largely untrained. To prevent civilians from fleeing the city, he ordered troops to guard the port, blocked roads, destroyed boats, and burnt nearby villages, preventing widespread evacuation. The defense plan fell apart quickly.
Many atrocities were reported to have been committed as the Japanese army advanced from Shanghai to Nanking. There was tacit consent among the officers and men that they could loot and rape as they wish. Perhaps the most notorious atrocity was a killing contest between two Japanese officers. The contest— a race between the two officers (later executed for wartime atrocities) to see which of them could kill 100 people first using only a sword— was covered much like a sporting event with regular updates on the score over a series of days.
As the Japanese army drew closer to Nanking, Chinese civilians fled the city in droves, not only because of the dangers of the anticipated battle but also because they feared the deprivation inherent in the scorched earth strategy that the Chinese troops were implementing in the area surrounding the city, rather than turn them over to the opponent.
Many Westerners were living in the city at that time, most of them fled the city, leaving 27 foreigners. Fifteen formed a committee and German businessman John Rabe was elected as its leader, in part because of his status as a member of the Nazi Party. On December 1, 1937, all Chinese citizens remaining in Nanking were ordered to move into the “Safety Zone”. Many fled the city on December 7, and the International Committee took over as the de facto government of Nanking.
Hirohito had singled Prince Asaka Yasuhiko out for censure as the one imperial kinsman whose attitude was “not good.” He assigned Asaka to Nanking as an opportunity to make amends. The Japanese troops had almost completely surrounded 300,000 Chinese troops. Prince Asaka allegedly issued an order to “kill all captives,” thus providing official sanction for the crimes which took place during and after the battle. When General Matsui arrived in the city four days after the massacre had begun, he issued strict orders that resulted in the eventual end of the massacre.
Siege of the city The Japanese military continued to move forward, arriving outside the walled city on December 9. At noon, the military dropped leaflets into the city, urging surrender within 24 hours, promising annihilation if refused. No response was received from the Chinese and the Japanese army mounted its assault from multiple directions. What followed was nothing short of chaos. Some Chinese soldiers stripped civilians of their clothing in a desperate attempt to blend in, and many others were shot by the Chinese supervisory unit as they tried to flee.
On 13 December, the Japanese Army entered the city, facing little military resistance. Japanese troops pursued the retreating Chinese army units,and the final phase of the battle consisted of a one-sided slaughter of Chinese troops by the Japanese. The mopping-up effort was concentrated in the safety zone, an area of 3.85 square kilometres, was literally packed with the remaining population of Nanking.
Over the course of six weeks following the fall of Nanking, Japanese troops engaged in rape, murder, theft, arson, and other war crimes. Some of these accounts came from foreigners who opted to stay behind, the first-person testimonies of Nanking Massacre survivors, eyewitness reports of journalists (both Western and Japanese), as well as the field diaries of military personnel.
It was estimated that 20,000 women were raped, including infants and the elderly. A large portion of these rapes were systematized in a process where soldiers would search door-to-door for young girls, with many women taken captive and gang raped. The women were often killed immediately after being raped, by stabbing a bayonet, long stick of bamboo, or other objects into the vagina. Young children were not exempt from these atrocities.
The slaughter of civilians was appalling. One night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling College Girls alone. john Rabe: “You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they’re shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers”.
There are also accounts of Japanese troops forcing families to commit acts of incest. Sons were forced to rape their mothers, fathers were forced to rape daughters. One pregnant woman who was gang-raped by Japanese soldiers gave birth only a few hours later. Monks who had declared a life of celibacy were also forced to rape women.
On 13 December 1937, John Rabe wrote in his diary: “It is not until we tour the city that we learn the extent of destruction. We come across corpses every 100 to 200 yards. The bodies of civilians that I examined had bullet holes in their backs. The Japanese march through the city in groups of ten to twenty soldiers and loot the shops.”
One eyewitness account was: The door was open by the landlord, a Mohammedan named Ha. They killed him immediately with a revolver and also Mrs. Ha, who knelt before them after Ha’s death, begging them not to kill anyone else. Mrs. Ha asked them why they killed her husband and they shot her. Mrs. Hsia was dragged out from under a table in the guest hall where she had tried to hide with her 1 year old baby. After being stripped and raped by one or more men, she was bayoneted in the chest, and then had a bottle thrust into her vagina. The baby was killed with a bayonet. Some soldiers then went to the next room, where Mrs. Hsia’s parents, aged 76 and 74, and her two daughters aged 16 and 14. They were about to rape the girls when the grandmother tried to protect them. The soldiers killed her with a revolver. The grandfather grasped the body of his wife and was killed. The two girls were then stripped, the elder being raped by 2–3 men, and the younger by 3. The older girl was stabbed afterwards and a cane was rammed in her vagina. The younger girl was bayoneted also. The soldiers then bayoneted another sister of between 7–8. The last murders in the house were of Ha’s two children, aged 4 and 2 respectively. The older was bayoneted and the younger split down through the head with a sword.” Pregnant women were a target of murder, as they would often be bayoneted in the stomach, sometimes after rape.
According to Navy veteran Sho Mitani, ‘The Army used a trumpet sound that meant “Kill all Chinese who run away”‘. Thousands were led away and mass-executed in an excavation known as the “Ten-Thousand-Corpse Ditch”, a trench measuring about 300m long and 5m wide. Since records were not kept, estimates regarding the number of victims buried in the ditch range from 4,000 to 20,000.
Immediately after the fall of the city, Japanese troops embarked on a determined search for former soldiers, in which thousands of young men were captured. What was probably the single largest massacre of Chinese troops was the Straw String Gorge Massacre. Japanese soldiers took most of the morning tying all of the POWs hands together and in the dusk divided them into 4 columns, and opened fire at them. Unable to escape, the POWs could only scream and thrash in desperation. It took an hour for the sounds of death to stop, and even longer for the Japanese to bayonet each individual. Most were dumped into the Yangtze. It is estimated that at least 57,500 Chinese POWs were killed.
The Japanese troops gathered 1,300 Chinese soldiers and civilians at Taiping Gate and killed them. The victims were blown up with landmines, then doused with petrol before being set on fire. Those that were left alive afterward were killed with bayonets. F. Tillman Durdin and Archibald Steele, American news correspondents, reported that they had seen bodies of killed Chinese soldiers forming mounds six feet high at the Nanking Yijiang gate in the north. Missionary Ralph L. Phillips was “forced to watch while the Japs disembowled a Chinese soldier” and “roasted his heart and liver and ate them”.
One-third of the city was destroyed as a result of arson. The Japanese soldiers were free to divide up the city’s valuables as they saw fit. This resulted in the widespread looting and burglary.
Jonathan Spence writes “there is no obvious explanation for this grim event, nor can one be found. The Japanese soldiers, who had expected easy victory, instead had been fighting hard for months and had taken infinitely higher casualties than anticipated. They were bored, angry, frustrated, tired. The Chinese women were undefended, their menfolk powerless or absent. The war, still undeclared, had no clear-cut goal or purpose. Perhaps all Chinese, regardless of sex or age, seemed marked out as victims.
The sheer volume of murdered civilians posed a formidable logistical challenge when it came to disposing of the bodies. Many Chinese were conscripted into “burial teams”, an experience they would later recall as horrifically traumatic.
In late January 1938, the Japanese army forced all refugees in the Safety Zone to return home, order was gradually restored and atrocities by Japanese troops lessened considerably. The last refugee camps were closed in May 1938.
Death toll estimates Estimates made at a later date indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. These estimates are borne out by the figures of burial societies and other organizations, which testify to over 155,000 buried bodies. These figures do not take into account those persons whose bodies were destroyed by burning, drowning or by other means, or whose bodies were interred in mass graves. We thus have a total of more than 300,000 victims.
Shortly after the surrender of Japan, the primary officers in charge of the Japanese troops at Nanking were put on trial. General Matsui was indicted before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Other Japanese military leaders in charge at the time of the Nanking Massacre were not tried. Prince Asaka was granted immunity because of his status as a member of the imperial family.
Effect on international relations
The memory of the Nanking Massacre has been a stumbling block in Sino-Japanese relations since the early 1970s. Bilateral exchanges on trade, culture and education have increased greatly since the two countries normalized their bilateral relations and Japan became China’s most important trading partner. Trade between the two nations is worth over $200 billion annually. Despite this, many Chinese people still have a strong sense of mistrust and animosity toward Japan that originates from the memory of Japanese war crimes such as the Nanking Massacre. This sense of mistrust is strengthened by the belief that Japan is unwilling to admit to and apologize for the atrocities.
2. Battle of Wake Island
The Battle of Wake Island began simultaneously with the Attack on Pearl Harbor and ended on 23 December 1941, with the surrender of the American forces to the Empire of Japan. It was fought on and around the atoll formed by Wake Island by the air, land and naval forces of the Empire of Japan against those of the U.S., with Marines playing a prominent role.
The island was held by the Japanese until September 4, 1945, when the remaining Japanese garrison surrendered to a detachment of United States Marines.
The United States Navy constructed a military base on the atoll. There was only 10 days to examine defenses and assess the men before war began.
On 8 December, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 36 Japanese Mitsubishi G3M3 bombers flown from bases on the Marshall Islands attacked Wake Island, destroying 8 of the 12 F4F-3 Wildcat fighter aircraft on the ground. Early on the morning of 11 December, the garrison, repelled the first Japanese landing attempt. This was the first Japanese defeat of the war, and it was the last time in history that a forced landing attempt was repelled by shore batteries.
But the continuing siege and frequent Japanese air attacks on the Wake garrison continued, without resupply for the Americans. The initial resistance offered by the garrison prompted the Japanese Navy to detach two aircraft carriers from the force that attacked Pearl Harbor to support the second landing attempt.
The second Japanese invasion force came on 23 December, composed mostly of the same ships from the first attempt, plus 1,500 Japanese marines. After a full night and morning of fighting, the Wake garrison surrendered to the Japanese.
The U.S. Marines lost 47 killed and 2 MIA during the entire 15-day siege, while three U.S. Navy personnel and at least 10 U.S. civilians were killed. Japanese losses were recorded at between 700 to 900 killed, with at least 300 more wounded. The Japanese captured all men remaining on the island, the majority of whom were civilian contractors employed with Morrison-Knudsen Company.
Fearing an imminent invasion, the Japanese reinforced Wake Island with more formidable defenses. The American captives were ordered to build a series of bunkers and fortifications. The U.S. Navy established a submarine blockade, and as a result, the Japanese garrison starved. U.S. forces bombed the island periodically from 1942 until Japan’s surrender in 1945.
War crimes. On 5 October 1943, American naval aircraft from Yorktown raided Wake. Two days later, fearing an imminent invasion, Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of the 98 captured American civilian workers remaining on the island, kept to perform forced labor. They were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded and executed with a machine gun. One of the prisoners escaped the massacre, apparently returning to the site to carve the message 98 US PW 5-10-43 on a large coral rock near where the victims had been hastily buried in a mass grave. The unknown American was recaptured, and Sakaibara personally beheaded him with a katana. The inscription on the rock can still be seen and is a Wake Island landmark.
On 4 September 1945, the remaining Japanese garrison surrendered to a detachment of U.S. Marines. After the war, Sakaibara and his subordinate—Lieutenant-Commander Tachibana—were sentenced to death for the massacre and other war crimes. Admiral Sakaibara was hung on June 18, 1947. Eventually, Tachibana’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. The murdered civilian POWs were reburied, after the war, in Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as Punchbowl Crater.
3. Parit Sulong
Parit Sulong is a small town in Johor, Malaysia. The historical Parit Sulong Bridge constructed during World War II is a main feature in that town.
A large massacre of 161 Australian troops by Japanese forces occurred at Parit Sulong on the west coast of Malaya on 22 January 1942. Wounded survivors from the battle of Muar who could not travel on foot were left at Parit Sulong when the remnants of the greatly outnumbered force of Australians and Indians escaped from the Japanese who surrounded them.
The Japanese soldiers delighted in kicking and hitting the prisoners with rifle butts. They forced them into an overcrowded shed and denied them food, water and medical attention. At sunset, those able to walk were roped or wired together and were led away. The Japanese collected petrol from the Allied vehicles which had been left stranded, shot and bayoneted their prisoners, threw petrol upon them and ignited it.
The officer who ordered the massacre, Lt General Takuma Nishimura, was tried and convicted of war crimes and executed by hanging on 11 June 1951.
4. Battle of Ambon
The Battle of Ambon (30 January – 3 February 1942) occurred on the island of Ambon in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), during World War II. A Japanese invasion was resisted by Dutch and Australian forces. The chaotic and sometimes bloody fighting was followed by a series of major Japanese war crimes.
During 1941, as the Allies perceived the possibility of war with Japan, Ambon was seen to be a strategic location, because of its potential as a major air base. The Australian government and military commanders saw that it could be used in raids on northern Australia and decided to reinforce the Dutch forces on the island.
At the outbreak of war on 8 December, Ambon was garrisoned by the 2,800-strong Indonesian colonial troops, under European officers. The garrison was poorly equipped and trained, partly as a result of the Netherlands having been defeated and occupied by Nazi Germany. The units were not equipped with radios and relied on landlines and written communications. The Australian Army’s 1,100-strong Gull Force, commanded by Lt. Col. Leonard Roach, arrived on 17 December.
On 6 January, after Dutch and British territories to the north fell to Japan, Ambon came under attack from Japanese aircraft. An Imperial Japanese Navy task force for the invasion of Ambon, included two aircraft carriers, 15 destroyers and five minesweepers. The Japanese ground forces were made up of about 5,300 personnel. The actual battle only lasted 4 days before all the Allied forces surrendered.
Laha massacre. Allied casualties in the battle were relatively light. However, at intervals for a fortnight after the surrender, IJN personnel chose more than 300 Australian and Dutch prisoners of war at random and summarily executed them. Over the following three and a half years, the surviving POWs suffered an ordeal and a death rate second only to the horrors of Sandakan, first on Ambon and then after many were sent to the island of Hainan, China late in 1942. Three-quarters of the Australians captured on Ambon died before the war’s end. Of the 582 who remained on Ambon 405 died. They died of overwork, malnutrition, disease and one of the most brutal regimes among camps in which bashings were routine.
Approximately 30 Australian soldiers escaped from Ambon, in the space of several weeks after the surrender, often by rowing canoes to Seram. Another result of the capture of Ambon was the realisation of Australian fears of air attacks, when Japanese planes based at Ambon took part in major air raids on Darwin, Australia on 19 February.
5. Bangka Island massacre
The Bangka Island massacre took place on 16 February 1942, when Japanese soldiers machine gunned 22 Australian military nurses. There was only one survivor.
On 12 February 1942, the merchant ship Vyner Brooke left Singapore just before the city fell to the Imperial Japanese Army. The ship contained many injured service personnel and 64 Australian nurses of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. The ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft and sank. Two nurses were killed in the bombing, nine were last seen drifting away from the ship on a raft and were never heard from again, and the rest reached shore at Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
These nurses joined up with a group of men and injured personnel from the ship. Once it was discovered that the island was held by the Japanese, an officer of the Vyner Brooke went to surrender the group. The ship’s officer returned with about twenty Japanese soldiers. They ordered all the wounded men capable of walking to travel around a headland. The nurses heard a quick succession of shots before the Japanese soldiers came back, sat down in front of the women and cleaned their bayonets and rifles.
A Japanese officer ordered the remaining twenty two nurses and one civilian woman to walk into the surf. A machine gun was set up on the beach and when the women were waist deep, they were machine-gunned. All but Sister Lt Vivian Bullwinkel were killed. Shot in the diaphragm, Bullwinkel was unconscious when she washed up on the beach and was left for dead. She evaded capture for ten days, but was eventually caught and imprisoned. She survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.
6. Bataan Death March
The Bataan Death March which began on April 9, 1942, was the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 60-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines. All told, approximately 2,500–10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach Camp O’Donnell. Death tolls vary, especially amongst Filipino POWs, because historians cannot determine how many prisoners blended in with the civilian population and escaped.
The Battle of Bataan ended on April 9, 1942. At that point 75,000 soldiers became Prisoners of War: about 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos. What followed was one of the worst atrocities in modern wartime history—the Bataan Death March. In the Bataan Battle, the troops of General Douglas MacArthur had survived for four months against the Imperial Japanese Army, while every other nation in the Pacific and Southeast Asia fell to the Japanese. By March 1942, Japanese controlled most of the Pacific minus the Philippines. General MacArthur’s plan was to stay on the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in the Philippines and wait for the U.S. Navy to bring reinforcements and supplies. Once the reinforcements arrived, he planned to attack from the north, move onto the Japanese islands and claim victory. The U.S. Navy was in shambles after receiving the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were no ships capable of bringing the needed reinforcements to Bataan.
Prisoners were stripped of their weapons and valuables, and told to march to Balanga, the capital of Bataan. The 128 km march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder, and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike. The Japanese were unprepared for the number of prisoners that they were responsible for, and there was no organized plan for how to handle them. Many were beaten, bayoneted and mistreated. The first major atrocity occurred when between 350 and 400 Filipino officers and NCOs were summarily executed after they had surrendered.
The Japanese failed to supply the prisoners with food or water until they had reached Balanga. Many of the prisoners died along the way of heat or exhaustion. Prisoners were given no food for the first three days, and were only allowed to drink water from filthy water buffalo wallows on the side of the road. At times, prisoners were made to bury their comrades alive at the side of the roads. Any refusal to do so was met with execution and further punishment to others. Furthermore, Japanese troops would frequently beat and bayonet prisoners who began to fall behind, or were unable to walk. Once they arrived in Balanga, the overcrowded conditions and poor hygiene caused dysentery and other diseases to rapidly spread amongst the prisoners. The Japanese failed to provide them with medical care, leaving U.S. medical personnel to tend to the sick and wounded with few or no supplies.
In June 2001, U.S. Congressional Representative Dana Rohrabacher described and tried to explain the horrors and brutality that the prisoners experienced on the march: They were beaten, and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted. Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback. The Japanese culture at that time reflected the view that any warrior who surrendered had no honor; thus was not to be treated like a human being. Thus they were not committing crimes against human beings. The Japanese soldiers at that time felt they were dealing with subhumans and animals. Trucks were known to drive over some of those who fell or succumbed to fatigue, and “cleanup crews” put to death those too weak to continue. Marchers were harassed with random bayonet stabs and beatings.
From San Fernando, the prisoners were transported by rail to Capas. One hundred or more prisoners were stuffed into each of the trains’ boxcars, which were unventilated and sweltering in the tropical heat. The trains had no sanitation facilities, and disease continued to take a heavy toll of the prisoners. After they reached Capas, they were forced to walk the final 9 miles to Camp O’Donnell. Even after arriving at Camp O’Donnell, the survivors of the march continued to die at a rate of 30–50 per day, leading to thousands more dead. Most of the dead were buried in mass graves that the Japanese dug out with bulldozers on the outside of the barbed wire surrounding the compound.
7. Burma Railway
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Thailand–Burma Railway and similar names, was a 415 kilometres railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), built by the Empire of Japan during World War II, to support its forces in the Burma campaign.
A railway route between Thailand and Burma had been surveyed by the British government of Burma at the beginning of the 20th century, but the proposed course of the line – through hilly jungle terrain divided by many rivers – was considered too difficult to complete.
In 1942, Japanese forces invaded Burma from Thailand and seized the colony from British control. To maintain their forces in Burma, the Japanese were required to bring supplies and troops to Burma by sea, through the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. This route was vulnerable to attack by Allied submarines, and a different means of transport was needed. The obvious alternative was a railway. The Japanese forces started the project in June 1942. at the Thai end and in Burma at roughly the same date. Most of the construction materials, including tracks and sleepers, were brought from dismantled branches of the Federated Malay States Railway network and from the Netherlands East Indies.
Forced labour was used in its construction. The living and working conditions on the Burma Railway were often described as “horrific”. The worst months of the construction period was known as the “Speedo” (mid-spring to mid-October 1943). Hellfire Pass in the Tenasserim Hills was a particularly difficult section of the line to build due to it being the largest rock cutting on the railway, coupled with its general remoteness and the lack of proper construction tools during building. The Australian, British, Dutch, other allied prisoners of war, along with Chinese, Malays and Tamil labourers, were required by the Japanese to complete the cutting. 69 men were beaten to death by Japanese guards in the six weeks it took to build the cutting, and many more died from cholera, dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion. On 17 October 1943, the two sections of the line met about 18 km south of the Three Pagodas Pass.
The estimated total number of civilian labourers and POWs who died during construction varies considerably, but the Australian Government figures suggest that of the 330,000 people that worked on the line (including 250,000 Asian labourers and 61,000 Allied POWs) about 90,000 of the Asian labourers and about 16,000 Allied prisoners died. as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders. After the railway was completed, the POWs still had almost two years to survive before their liberation. Those left to maintain the line still suffered from appalling living conditions as well as increasing Allied air raids. During this time, most of the POWs were moved to hospital and relocation camps where they could be available for maintenance crews or sent to Japan to alleviate the manpower shortage there.
The most famous portion of the railway is Bridge 277, ‘the bridge over the River Kwai’, which was built over a stretch of river which was then known as part of the Mae Klong. The association with the ‘River Kwai’ came from the fact that the greater part of the Thai part of the route followed the valley of the Khwae Noi, ‘Kwai’ being the Thai word for Water Buffalo. This bridge was immortalised by Pierre Boulle in his book and the film based on it, The Bridge on the River Kwai. However, there are many who claim that the movie is utterly unrealistic and does not show what the conditions and treatment of prisoners was actually like. The first wooden bridge over the Khwae Yai was finished in February 1943, followed by a concrete and steel bridge in June 1943. “The two bridges were successfully bombed on 13 February 1945 by the Royal Air Force. Repairs were carried out by POW labour and by April the wooden trestle bridge was back in operation. On 3 April a second raid by Liberator bombers of the U.S. Army Air Forces damaged the wooden bridge once again. Repair work continued and both bridges were operational again by the end of May. A second raid by the R.A.F. on 24 June put the railway out of commission for the rest of the war. After the Japanese surrender, the British Army removed 3.9 kilometers of track on the Thai-Burma border. A survey of the track had shown that its poor construction would not support commercial traffic. The track was sold to Thai Railways and the 130 km Ban Pong–Namtok section relaid and is in use today. Thee new railway did not fully connect with the Burmese system, as no bridge crossed the river between Moulmein on the south bank with Martaban on the north bank. Thus ferries were needed. This bridge was only built around 2010.
After the war the railway was in very poor condition and needed heavy reconstruction for use by the Royal Thai Railway system. Finally, on 1 July 1958 the rail line was completed to Nam Tok. The portion in use today measures some 130 km. The line was abandoned beyond Nam Tok. Since the 1990s various proposals have been made to rebuild the complete railway, but these plans have not yet come to fruition. Since a large part of the original railway line is now submerged by the Vajiralongkorn Dam, and the surrounding terrain is mountainous, it would take extensive tunneling to reconnect Thailand with Burma by rail.
But the horrors, starvation, sickness, and death that occurred during the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway are not the whole story.POWs and Asian workers were also used to build the Kra Isthmus Railway from Chumphon to Kra Buri, and the Sumatra or Palembang Railway from Pakanbaroe to Moeara.
8. SS Tjisalak
The SS Tjisalak was a 5,787-ton Dutch freighter with passenger accommodation built in 1917 and used by the Allies during World War II to transport supplies across the Indian Ocean between Australia and Ceylon. On 26 March 1944, she was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarine I-8 while traveling unescorted. The freighter’s crew were subsequently massacred in an infamous naval war crime.
The crew of 80 consisted of Dutch, Chinese and English merchant seaman, plus ten Royal Navy gunners. Also on board were five passengers, including an American Red Cross nurse, and 22 Laskar sailors returning to India after the loss of their ship. Tjisalak had been travelling for 19 days, when on 26 March 1944 , she was struck by a torpedo from the I-8. The ship began to list to port. The order was given to abandon ship.
Once in the water, the 105 survivors were collected by the Japanese, who placed them on the ship’s deck. The Japanese then tied the survivors together in pairs and walked them aft around the conning tower, where they were attacked with various weapons. Four men jumped or fell from the submarine while being attacked and survived the random gunfire After the Japanese had killed all but about twenty of the prisoners, they tied the remainder to a long rope, pushed them overboard, and then submerged.
The survivors swam several miles through the open ocean back to the location of the sinking, where they found an abandoned liferaft. Three days later they spotted an American Liberty ship, the SS James O. Wilder. The Americans rescued the survivors and took them to Colombo. As merchant seamen, the Tjisalak survivors were ineligible for treatment at both the British military and civilian hospitals, and had to arrange for accommodations at their own expense.
The crew of the I-8 committed similar atrocities against the crew of the Liberty ship SS Jean Nicolet, and possibly other ships from which no one survived. Captain Ariizumi committed suicide when Japan surrendered in August 1945, but three members of the crew were convicted and served prison terms which were commuted by the Japanese government in 1955. The third was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against his former shipmates.
9. Palawan Massacre
In order to prevent the rescue of prisoners of war by the advancing allies, on 14 December 1944, units of the Japanese Army brought POWs back to their camp and when an air raid warning was called the remaining 150 prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa dove into three covered trenches for refuge which were then set on fire using barrels of gasoline. Prisoners who tried to escape the flames were shot down by machine gun fire. Others attempted to escape by climbing over a cliff that ran along one side of the trenches, but were later hunted down and killed. Only 11 men escaped the slaughter and between 133 and 141 were killed.
A trial of Japanese personnel involved in the massacre initially sentenced the men to death, but later, they were released in the general amnesty.
The incident sparked a series POW rescue campaigns by the US, such as the raid at Cabanatuan on January 30, 1945, the raid at Santo Tomas Internment Camp on February 3, 1945, the raid of Bilibid Prison on February 4, 1945, and raid at Los Baños on February 23, 1945.
10. Sandakan Death Marches
The Sandakan Death Marches were a series of forced marches in Borneo from Sandakan to Ranau which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Allied prisoners of war held captive in the Sandakan POW Camp. By the end of the war, of all the prisoners who had been incarcerated at Sandakan and Ranau, only six Australians survived, all of whom had escaped. It is widely considered to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second World War.
In 1942 and 1943, Australian and British POWs who had been captured at the Battle of Singapore in February 1942, were shipped to North Borneo in order to construct a military airstrip and POW camp at Sandakan, North Borneo (Sabah). As on the Burma Railway the prisoners were forced to work at gunpoint, and were often beaten whilst also receiving very little food or medical attention. In August 1943, with the intention of controlling the enlisted men by removing any commanders, most officer prisoners were moved from Sandakan to the Batu Lintang camp at Kuching. Conditions for the remaining prisoners deteriorated sharply following the officers’ removal. Any rations given were further reduced, and sick prisoners were also forced to work on the airstrip. After construction was completed the prisoners initially remained at the camp. In January 1945, with only 1,900 prisoners still alive, the advancing Allies managed to successfully bomb and destroy the airfield. It was at this time with Allied landings anticipated shortly that camp commandant Captain Hoshijima Susumu decided to move the remaining prisoners westward into the mountains to the town of Ranau, a distance of approximately 260 kilometres.
The first phase of marches across wide marshland, dense jungle, and then up the eastern slope of Mount Kinabalu occurred between January and March 1945. The Japanese selected 470 prisoners who were thought to be fit enough to carry baggage and supplies for the accompanying Japanese battalions relocating to the western coast. In several groups the POWs, all of whom were either malnourished or suffering serious illness, over nine days, they were given enough rations for only four days. As on the Bataan Death March, any POWs who were not fit enough or collapsed from exhaustion were either killed or left to die en route. Upon reaching Ranau, the survivors were ordered to construct a temporary camp. Those who survived were herded into insanitary and crowded huts and many died from dysentery. By 26 June, only five Australians and one British soldier were still alive.
A second series of marches began on 29 May 1945 with approximately 536 prisoners. The march lasted for twenty-six days, with prisoners even less fit than those in the first marches had been, provided with fewer rations and often forced to forage for food. Only 183 prisoners managed to reach Ranau on 24 June 1945,
Approximately 250 people were left at Sandakan after the second march departed. Most prisoners were so ill that the Japanese initially intended to let them starve to death. However on 9 June 1945 it was decided to send another group of 75 men on a final march. The remaining men were so weak that none survived beyond 50 kilometres (31 mi). As each man collapsed from exhaustion, that man was shot by a Japanese guard. All remaining prisoners left at Sandakan who could not walk either were killed or died from a combination of starvation and sickness before the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945.
Due to a combination of a lack of food and brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese, there were only 38 prisoners left alive at Ranau by the end of July. All were too unwell and weak to do any work, and it was ordered that any remaining survivors should be shot. They were killed by the guards during August, possibly up to 12 days after the end of the war on August 14.
In total, only six Australian servicemen managed to escape and were helped by the local people, who fed them and hid them from the Japanese until the end of the war. Of the six survivors, only four survived the lingering effects of their ordeal in order to give evidence at various war crimes trials in both Tokyo and Rabaul. Captain Hoshijima was found guilty of war crimes and hanged on April 6 1946. Capt Takakuwa and his second-in-charge, Capt Watanabe Genzo, were found guilty of causing the murders and massacres of prisoners-of-war and were hanged and shot on 6 April 1946 and 16 March 1946 respectively.