Rakuyo Maru Sinking

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On November 18, 1944 the Sydney Morning Herald ran a front page story on an event that had happened more than on a month before, at 5:30 A.M. on September 12, 1944, but had just been made known to the public: the sinking, by Allied forces, of a Japanese ship in the Western Pacific, the Rakuyo Maru (“Tragic Story of P.o.W. Transport tragicstorySinking,” 1944).  On board the ship, it was reported, were some 700 Australian and some 500 British prisoners of war, all of whom were being transported to Japan to work as forced labor.  American submarines managed to rescue 92 Australians and 50 British.  The rest were all presumed dead.  On board, the 1300 men had been packed into a space designed for “187 steerage passengers” (ibid). The newspaper reported each man had only “two square feet of room, and two feet headroom” (ibid). This was quite literal, as the Japanese had built a false floor to subdivide the decks, each with a mere four feet of clearance  (“Japanese Left Prisoners To Drown 600 A.I.F. Men Missing From Transport,” 1944).  Men were required to sleep stretched across one another.

When the ship had been struck, the Japanese reported abandoned the ship, leaving the POWs on board, but the officers among the men organized the movement into life rafts.  Charges in the water claimed many lives, which had been dropped by a Japanese destroyer in a counterattack to the Allies (ibid).  While Japanese ships combed the water in the immediate aftermath of the attack, they refused to pick up POWs (ibid).  When men who were eventually rescued were picked up, they had already spent four days in the life rafts without food or water while covered in oil from the sunken ships (“Drifted About,” 1944).  Men became delirious and tried to swim away from their rafts, while others were perishing of thirst (ibid).  The slickness from the oil meant at night some men accidentally slipped out of the rafts, drowning during the night.  On the fifth night in the water, a storm hit, but it was during the storm that a US submarine first came upon the men and began the rescue operation that was able to pull 142 of the 1300 to safety (ibid).

 

Works Cited

“Drifted About.” The Sydney Morning Herald. November 18, 1944. hhttp://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1085318
“Japanese Left Prisoners To Drown 600 A.I.F. Men Missing From Transport.” The Sydney Morning Herald. November 18, 1944. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1085318
“Tragic Story of P.o.W. Transport Sinking.” The Sydney Morning Herald. November 18, 1944. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1085314

POW Movements in Southeast Asia During WWII

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During the Second World War, as the Japanese made use of the POWs as forced labor, the movement of individuals was an important part of meeting Japanese strategic needs.  This is illustrated in the movement of troops in and within Southeast Asia and also their movement to Japan to work in mines and other demanding positions.  The experiences of two such POWs, Bert Turner Salt and Fredrick Reginald Willis, both illustrate this extensive movement of individuals.  Salt was transported more than 5,000 miles during his time in captivity from February 16, 1942 to his liberation on August 15, 1945.  Willis traveled nearly a thousand more miles, having been taken captive in Batavia before being transported to Singapore, where Salt had been captured.  Willis was also in Japan, arriving in July 1943 after spending a year working on the Thai-Burma Railway as had Salt.  The map below roughly illustrates each man’s movements (also available here).

Visualizing Parit Sulong

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During the Japanese invasion of Malaya in World War II, on 23 January 1942, after The Battle of Muar, a number of

Records demonstrate a large number of local Chinese were killed by the Japanese, perhaps more than Allied soldiers.

Records demonstrate a large number of local Chinese were killed by the Japanese, perhaps more than Allied soldiers.

Allied soldiers were killed by Japanese troops in what became known as the Parit Sulong Massacre. In this engagement, which commenced on January 14 with an Allied ambush of Japanese troops, the Allied troops managed to inflict heavy losses on the advancing Imperial Guard Division of the Japanese army. However, Allied positions were poorly defended, and could not be held. Attempts to hold the position near Parit Sulong bridge resulted in the deaths of two commanding officers and much of the 45 Division, which would cease to exist after its decimation by the Japanese. When the then-commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson, retreated after failing to receive both requested aerial support of bombings and morphine, fell back, the advancing Japanese slaughtered the wounded that had been left behind. Estimates of the number of killed range from 150 to 300. These were wounded soldiers, unable to retreat in the face of the advancing Japanese.  This was only one of a number of atrocities carried out by the Japanese as they advanced through Malaya towards Singapore.

Allied records demonstrate that it was not merely Allied soldiers who suffered at the hands of the Japanese, and likely far more Chinese residents were killed outside of combat than Allied soldiers at this stage of the war, particularly if we take into account sook ching in Singapore.  For example, about 200 Chinese are recorded being killed in one location alone.  At least 280 Chinese are recorded killed.  Locations of atrocities are provided below.

Parit Sulong sites

(link to map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zMk38RoEEvN8.k27Pr9dDy4HA&usp=sharing)

Parit Sulong Massacre

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During the Japanese invasion of Malaya in World War II, on 23 January 1942, after The Battle of Muar, a number of Allied soldiers were killed by Japanese troops in what became known as the Parit Sulong Massacre.  In this engagement, which commenced on January 14 with an Allied ambush of Japanese troops, the Allied troops managed to inflict heavy losses on the advancing  Imperial Guard Division of the Japanese army.  However, Allied positions were poorly defended, and could not be held.  Attempts to hold the position near Parit Sulong bridge resulted in the deaths of two commanding officers and much of the 45 Division, which would cease to exist after its decimation by the Japanese.  When the then-commanding officer,  Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson, retreated after failng to receive both requested aerial support of bombings and morphine, fell back, the advancing Japanese slaughtered the wounded that had been left behind.  Estimates of the number of killed range from 150 to 300.  These were wounded soldiers, unable to retreat in the face of the advancing Japanese.  Some were reported burned, shot, and/or thrown over a bridge after being tied together.  Although a Lt Gen. Takuma Nishimura was tried and executed for the massacre, subsequent research has suggested that a personal grudge was perhaps responsible for his trial and conviction.

Korean Guard Kaneyama Yoshio

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koreanguardww2

The Korean Guard Kaneyama Yoshio was accused of abusing prisoners of war at Kilo 80 and Kilo 100 Camps from January 1943 to December of that year. These were camps that were involved in the construction of the Burma-Thailand Railway. Kaneyama had spent much of June and July of that year in the hospital himself with “jungle ulcers” and then had two weeks of rest following his discharge. Like many of the POW camp guards, his actual name was unknown to many or most of the POWs, and instead he was known simply by his nickname, as in the case of “The Mongrel” at the Hellfire Pass camps. Kaneyama Yoshio was known as “Pockface” because of his disfiguring pockmarks that he indicated in testimony came from smallpox when he was a child.

Much of his defense was concerned with calling into question his identification as the “Pockface” that had abused prisoners of war. His defense tried to create the possibility that Kaneyama Yoshio had been misidentified by the prisoners by noting that another guard, also pockmarked and of similar age, height and weight to Kaneyama, had also served at the Kilo 80 Camp, and Kaneyama inferred, although did not witness, that this man also served at Kilo 100 Camp. He was known to Kaneyama only as Kanamura. The defense also produced witnesses to testify to the existence of this second man. The first, who only recalling the other pockmarked man’s name began with a “Kana . . . ,” testified to his appearance and its closeness to Kaneyama’s own. Tadashi, the witness, denied ever seeing either guard harm a prisoner, and further testifying that he did not believe Kaneyama would do such a thing. A second witness, Wakematsu, also testified to their similar appearance.

The prosecution tried to build its case against Kaneyama by placing him at the locations which POWs had earlier testified he had been, and trying to exclude the possibility that the other pockmarked Korean guard was there. In some cases, Kaneyama simply denied that either he was where the POWs’ testimony placed him, or at least once denied that a POW could possibly have known where he was since none accompanied him (on the train when he was leaving Kilo 100 camp, it seems, but remains a bit unclear).

Kaneyama categorically denied ever beating any POW prisoner, even when the prosecution tried to take a sympathetic tone by noting how busy the guards must have been, noting that there were at least 50 prisoner per guard. However, Kaneyama’s denial was weakened somewhat by an earlier sworn statement that he had made in which he said that on occasions he had struck POWs. The defense sought to weaken it by pointing out it had been given before he had been charged and presumably without counsel. Ultimately, the “other man” argument and denials did not manage to convince the court, and Korean Guard Kaneyama Yoshio was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison for crimes of war.