Japanese prisoners of war in World War II

Last updated
A group of Japanese captured during the Battle of Okinawa. OkinawaJapanesePOW.jpg
A group of Japanese captured during the Battle of Okinawa.

During World War II, it has been estimated that between 19,500 and 50,000 members of the Imperial Japanese military surrendered to Western Allied combatants prior to the end of the Pacific War in August 1945. [1] Soviet troops seized and imprisoned more than half a million Japanese troops and civilians in China and other places. [2] The number of Japanese soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who surrendered was limited by the Japanese military indoctrinating its personnel to fight to the death, Allied combat personnel often being unwilling to take prisoners, [3] and many Japanese soldiers believing that those who surrendered would be killed by their captors. [4] [5]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

The Armed Forces of the Empire of Japan during that Empire's existence from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 through World War II until the signing of the Constitution of Japan (1868–1947) included the:

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.


Western Allied governments and senior military commanders directed that Japanese POWs be treated in accordance with relevant international conventions. In practice though, many Allied soldiers were unwilling to accept the surrender of Japanese troops because of atrocities committed by the Japanese as well as racist sentiments. A campaign launched in 1944 to encourage prisoner-taking was partially successful, and the number of prisoners taken increased significantly in the last year of the war.

Japanese POWs often believed that by surrendering they had broken all ties with Japan, and many provided military intelligence to the Allies. The prisoners taken by the Western Allies were held in generally good conditions in camps located in Australia, New Zealand, India and the United States. Those taken by the Soviet Union were treated harshly in work camps located in Siberia. Following the war the prisoners were repatriated to Japan, though the United States and Britain retained thousands until 1946 and 1947 respectively and the Soviet Union continued to hold as many as hundreds of thousands of Japanese POWs until the early 1950s. The Soviet Union gradually released some POWs throughout the next few decades, but some did not return until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, while others who had settled and started families in the Soviet Union opted to remain. [2]

Military intelligence is a military discipline that uses information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to assist commanders in their decisions. This aim is achieved by providing an assessment of data from a range of sources, directed towards the commanders' mission requirements or responding to questions as part of operational or campaign planning. To provide an analysis, the commander's information requirements are first identified, which are then incorporated into intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Japanese attitudes to surrender

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) adopted an ethos which required soldiers to fight to the death rather than surrender. [6] This policy reflected the practices of Japanese warfare in the pre-modern era. [7] During the Meiji period the Japanese government adopted western policies towards POWs, and few of the Japanese personnel who surrendered in the Russo-Japanese War were punished at the end of the war. Prisoners captured by Japanese forces during this and the First Sino-Japanese War and World War I were also treated in accordance with international standards. [8] Attitudes towards surrender hardened after World War I. While Japan signed the 1929 Geneva Convention covering treatment of POWs, it did not ratify the agreement, claiming that surrender was contrary to the beliefs of Japanese soldiers. This attitude was reinforced by the indoctrination of young people. [9]

Imperial Japanese Army Official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan, from 1868 to 1945

The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.

Russo-Japanese War 20th-century war between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan

The Russo-Japanese War was fought during 1904–1905 between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea. The major theatres of operations were the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden in Southern Manchuria and the seas around Korea, Japan and the Yellow Sea.

First Sino-Japanese War 1894–1895 war between the Qing dynasty and the Empire of Japan over influence in Joseon, fought chiefly in Joseon

The First Sino-Japanese War, also known as the Chino-Japanese War, was fought between China and Japan primarily over influence in Korea. After more than six months of unbroken successes by Japanese land and naval forces and the loss of the port of Weihaiwei, the Qing government sued for peace in February 1895.

A Japanese soldier in the sea off Cape Endaiadere, New Guinea, on 18 December 1942 holding a hand grenade to his head moments before using it to commit suicide. The Australian soldier on the beach had called on him to surrender. Japanese soldier suicide Cape Endaiadere.jpg
A Japanese soldier in the sea off Cape Endaiadere, New Guinea, on 18 December 1942 holding a hand grenade to his head moments before using it to commit suicide. The Australian soldier on the beach had called on him to surrender.

The Japanese military's attitude towards surrender was institutionalized in the 1941 "Code of Battlefield Conduct" ( Senjinkun ), which was issued to all Japanese soldiers. This document sought to establish standards of behavior for Japanese troops and improve discipline and morale within the Army, and included a prohibition against being taken prisoner. [12] The Japanese Government accompanied the Senjinkun's implementation with a propaganda campaign which celebrated people who had fought to the death rather than surrender during Japan's wars. [13] While the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) did not issue a document equivalent to the Senjinkun, naval personnel were expected to exhibit similar behavior and not surrender. [14] Most Japanese military personnel were told that they would be killed or tortured by the Allies if they were taken prisoner. [15] The Army's Field Service Regulations were also modified in 1940 to replace a provision which stated that seriously wounded personnel in field hospitals came under the protection of the 1929 Geneva Convention for the Sick and Wounded Armies in the Field with a requirement that the wounded not fall into enemy hands. During the war, this led to wounded personnel being either killed by medical officers or given grenades to commit suicide. [16] Aircrew from Japanese aircraft which crashed over Allied-held territory also typically committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured. [17]

<i>Senjinkun</i> military code

The Instructions for the Battlefield was a pocket-sized military code issued to soldiers in the Imperial Japanese forces on 8 January 1941 in the name of then-War Minister Hideki Tojo. It was in use at the outbreak of the Pacific War.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field, consisting of 39 articles in French, was adopted on 27 July 1929, at the end of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1929, which met from the 27 July until the 1 August of that year.

Those who know shame are weak. Always think of [preserving] the honor of your community and be a credit to yourself and your family. Redouble your efforts and respond to their expectations. Never live to experience shame as a prisoner. By dying you will avoid leaving a stain on your honor.

Senjinkun [13]

While scholars disagree over whether the Senjinkun was legally binding on Japanese soldiers, the document reflected Japan's societal norms and had great force over both military personnel and civilians. In 1942 the Army amended its criminal code to specify that officers who surrendered soldiers under their command faced at least six months imprisonment, regardless of the circumstances in which the surrender took place. This change attracted little attention, however, as the Senjinkun imposed more severe consequences and had greater moral force. [14]

The indoctrination of Japanese military personnel to have little respect for the act of surrendering led to conduct which Allied soldiers found deceptive. During the Pacific War, there were incidents where Japanese soldiers feigned surrender in order to lure Allied troops into ambushes. In addition, wounded Japanese soldiers sometimes tried to use hand grenades to kill Allied troops attempting to assist them. [18] Japanese attitudes towards surrender also contributed to the harsh treatment which was inflicted on the Allied personnel they captured. [19]

Two Australian soldiers with a Japanese POW in October 1943. Australian soldiers Japanese POW Oct 1945.jpg
Two Australian soldiers with a Japanese POW in October 1943.

Not all Japanese military personnel chose to follow the precepts set out on the Senjinkun. Those who chose to surrender did so for a range of reasons including not believing that suicide was appropriate or lacking the will to commit the act, bitterness towards officers, and Allied propaganda promising good treatment. [20] During the later years of the war Japanese troops' morale deteriorated as a result of Allied victories, leading to an increase in the number who were prepared to surrender or desert. [21] During the Battle of Okinawa, 11,250 Japanese military personnel (including 3,581 unarmed labourers) surrendered between April and July 1945, representing 12 percent of the force deployed for the defense of the island. Many of these men were recently conscripted members of Boeitai home guard units who had not received the same indoctrination as regular Army personnel, but substantial numbers of IJA soldiers also surrendered. [22]

Japanese soldiers' reluctance to surrender was also influenced by a perception that Allied forces would kill them if they did surrender, and historian Niall Ferguson has argued that this had a more important influence in discouraging surrenders than the fear of disciplinary action or dishonor. [5] In addition, the Japanese public was aware that US troops sometimes mutilated Japanese casualties and sent trophies made out of body-parts home from media reports of two high-profile incidents in 1944 in which a letter-opener carved from a bone of a Japanese soldier was presented to President Roosevelt and a photo of the skull of a Japanese soldier which had been sent home by a US soldier was published in the magazine Life . In these reports Americans were portrayed as "deranged, primitive, racist and inhuman". [23] Hoyt in "Japan’s war: the great Pacific conflict" argues that the Allied practice of taking bones from Japanese corpses home as souvenirs was exploited by Japanese propaganda very effectively, and "contributed to a preference to death over surrender and occupation, shown, for example, in the mass civilian suicides on Saipan and Okinawa after the Allied landings". [23]

The causes of the phenomenon that Japanese often continued to fight even in hopeless situations has been traced to a combination of Shinto, Messhi hoko (self-sacrifice for the sake of group), and Bushido. However, a factor equally strong or even stronger to those, was the fear of torture after capture. This fear grew out of years of battle experiences in China, where the Chinese guerrillas were considered expert torturers, and this fear was projected onto the American soldiers who also were expected to torture and kill surrendered Japanese. [24] During the Pacific War the majority of Japanese military personnel did not believe that the Allies treated prisoners correctly, and even a majority of those who surrendered expected to be killed. [25]

Allied attitudes

A Japanese soldier surrendering to three U.S. Marines in the Marshall Islands during January 1944. Japanesesurrendermarshallislands.jpg
A Japanese soldier surrendering to three U.S. Marines in the Marshall Islands during January 1944.

The Western Allies sought to treat captured Japanese in accordance with international agreements which governed the treatment of POWs. [19] Shortly after the outbreak of Pacific War in December 1941, the British and United States governments transmitted a message to the Japanese government through Swiss intermediaries asking if Japan would abide by the 1929 Geneva Convention. The Japanese Government responded stating that while it had not signed the convention, Japan would treat POWs in accordance with its terms; in effect though, Japan had willfully ignored the convention's requirements. While the Western Allies notified the Japanese government of the identities of Japanese POWs in accordance with the Geneva Convention's requirements, this information was not passed onto the families of the captured men as the Japanese government wished to maintain that none of its soldiers had been taken prisoner. [26]

Allied combatants were reluctant to take Japanese prisoners at the start of the Pacific War. During the first two years following the US entry into the war, US combatants were generally unwilling to accept the surrender of Japanese soldiers due to a combination of racist attitudes and anger at Japan's atrocities committed against US and Allied nationals and its widespread mistreatment or summary execution of Allied prisoners of war. [19] [27] Australian soldiers were also reluctant to take Japanese prisoners for similar reasons. [28] Incidents in which Japanese soldiers booby-trapped their dead and wounded or pretended to surrender in order to lure Allied combatants into ambushes were well known within the Allied militaries and also hardened attitudes against seeking the surrender of Japanese on the battlefield. [29] As a result, Allied troops believed that their Japanese opponents would not surrender and that any attempts to surrender were deceptive; [30] for instance, the Australian jungle warfare school advised soldiers to shoot any Japanese troops who had their hands closed while surrendering. [28] Furthermore, in many instances, Japanese soldiers who had surrendered were killed on the front line or while being taken to POW compounds. [31] The nature of jungle warfare also contributed to prisoners not being taken, as many battles were fought at close ranges where participants "often had no choice but to shoot first and ask questions later". [32]

Two surrendered Japanese soldiers with a Japanese civilian and two US soldiers on Okinawa. The Japanese soldier on the left is reading a propaganda leaflet. Overcoming the last resistance.jpg
Two surrendered Japanese soldiers with a Japanese civilian and two US soldiers on Okinawa. The Japanese soldier on the left is reading a propaganda leaflet.

Despite the attitudes of combat troops and nature of the fighting, Allied militaries made systematic efforts to take Japanese prisoners throughout the war. Each US Army division was assigned a team of Japanese Americans whose duties included attempting to persuade Japanese personnel to surrender. [33] Allied forces mounted an extensive psychological warfare campaign against their Japanese opponents to lower their morale and encourage surrender. [34] This included dropping copies of the Geneva Conventions and 'surrender passes' on Japanese positions. [35] This campaign was undermined by Allied troops' reluctance to take prisoners, however. [36] As a result, from May 1944, senior US Army commanders authorized and endorsed educational programs which aimed to change the attitudes of front line troops. These programs highlighted the intelligence which could be gained from Japanese POWs, the need to honor surrender leaflets, and the benefits which could be gained by encouraging Japanese forces to not fight to the last man. The programs were partially successful, and contributed to US troops taking more prisoners. In addition, soldiers who witnessed Japanese troops surrender were more willing to take prisoners themselves. [37]

Japanese POW bathing on board the USS New Jersey, December 1944. Bathing japanese.jpg
Japanese POW bathing on board the USS New Jersey, December 1944.

Survivors of ships sunk by Allied submarines frequently refused to surrender, and many of the prisoners who were captured by submariners were taken by force. US Navy submarines were occasionally ordered to obtain prisoners for intelligence purposes, and formed special teams of personnel for this purpose. [38] Overall, however, Allied submariners usually did not attempt to take prisoners, and the number of Japanese personnel they captured was relatively small. The submarines which took prisoners normally did so towards the end of their patrols so that they did not have to be guarded for a long time. [39]

Allied forces continued to kill many Japanese personnel who were attempting to surrender throughout the war. [40] It is likely that more Japanese soldiers would have surrendered if they had not believed that they would be killed by the Allies while trying to do so. [3] Fear of being killed after surrendering was one of the main factors which influenced Japanese troops to fight to the death, and a wartime US Office of Wartime Information report stated that it may have been more important than fear of disgrace and a desire to die for Japan. [41] Instances of Japanese personnel being killed while attempting to surrender are not well documented, though anecdotal accounts provide evidence that this occurred. [27]

Prisoners taken during the war

A Japanese POW being led off a US Navy submarine in May 1945. Japanese POW being led off a submarine.jpg
A Japanese POW being led off a US Navy submarine in May 1945.

Estimates of the numbers of Japanese personnel taken prisoner during the Pacific War differ. [1] [27] Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata states that up to 50,000 Japanese became POWs before Japan's surrender. [42] The Japanese Government's wartime POW Information Bureau believed that 42,543 Japanese surrendered during the war; [16] a figure also used by Niall Ferguson who states that it refers to prisoners taken by United States and Australian forces. [43] Ulrich Straus states that about 35,000 were captured by western Allied and Chinese forces, [44] and Robert C. Doyle gives a figure of 38,666 Japanese POWs in captivity in camps run by the western Allies at the end of the war. [45] Alison B. Gilmore has also calculated that Allied forces in the South West Pacific Area alone captured at least 19,500 Japanese. [46] a

As the Japanese forces in China were mainly on the offensive and suffered relatively few casualties, few Japanese soldiers surrendered to Chinese forces prior to August 1945. [47] It has been estimated that at the end of the war Chinese Nationalist and Communist forces held around 8,300 Japanese prisoners. The conditions these POWs were held in generally did not meet the standards required by international law. The Japanese government expressed no concern for these abuses, however, as it did not want IJA soldiers to even consider surrendering. The government was, however, concerned about reports that 300 POWs had joined the Chinese Communists and had been trained to spread anti-Japanese propaganda. [48]

The Japanese government sought to suppress information about captured personnel. On 27 December 1941, it established a POW Information Bureau within the Ministry of the Army to manage information concerning Japanese POWs. While the Bureau cataloged information provided by the Allies via the Red Cross identifying POWs, it did not pass this information on to the families of the prisoners. When individuals wrote to the Bureau to inquire if their relative had been taken prisoner, it appears that the Bureau provided a reply which neither confirmed or denied whether the man was a prisoner. Although the Bureau's role included facilitating mail between POWs and their families, this was not carried out as the families were not notified and few POWs wrote home. The lack of communication with their families increased the POWs feelings of being cut off from Japanese society. [49]

Intelligence gathered from Japanese POWs

A US surrender leaflet depicting Japanese POWs. The leaflet's wording was changed from 'I surrender' to 'I cease resistance' at the suggestion of POWs. I cease resistance.jpg
A US surrender leaflet depicting Japanese POWs. The leaflet's wording was changed from 'I surrender' to 'I cease resistance' at the suggestion of POWs.

The Allies gained considerable quantities of intelligence from Japanese POWs. Because they had been indoctrinated to believe that by surrendering they had broken all ties with Japan, many captured personnel provided their interrogators with information on the Japanese military. [42] Australian and US troops and senior officers commonly believed that captured Japanese troops were very unlikely to divulge any information of military value, leading to them having little motivation to take prisoners. [51] This view proved incorrect, however, and many Japanese POWs provided valuable intelligence during interrogations. Few Japanese were aware of the Geneva Convention and the rights it gave prisoners to not respond to questioning. Moreover, the POWs felt that by surrendering they had lost all their rights. The prisoners appreciated the opportunity to converse with Japanese-speaking Americans and felt that the food, clothing and medical treatment they were provided with meant that they owed favours to their captors. The Allied interrogators found that exaggerating the amount they knew about the Japanese forces and asking the POWs to 'confirm' details was also a successful approach. As a result of these factors, Japanese POWs were often cooperative and truthful during interrogation sessions. [52]

Japanese POWs were interrogated multiple times during their captivity. Most Japanese soldiers were interrogated by intelligence officers of the battalion or regiment which had captured them for information which could be used by these units. Following this they were rapidly moved to rear areas where they were interrogated by successive echelons of the Allied military. They were also questioned once they reached a POW camp in Australia, New Zealand, India or the United States. These interrogations were painful and stressful for the POWs. [53] Similarly, Japanese sailors rescued from sunken ships by the US Navy were questioned at the Navy's interrogation centres in Brisbane, Honolulu and Noumea. [54] Allied interrogators found that Japanese soldiers were much more likely to provide useful intelligence than Imperial Japanese Navy personnel, possibly due to differences in the indoctrination provided to members of the services. [54] Force was not used in interrogations at any level, though on one occasion headquarters personnel of the US 40th Infantry Division debated, but ultimately decided against, administering sodium penthanol to a senior non-commissioned officer. [55]

Some Japanese POWs also played an important role in helping the Allied militaries develop propaganda and politically indoctrinate their fellow prisoners. [56] This included developing propaganda leaflets and loudspeaker broadcasts which were designed to encourage other Japanese personnel to surrender. The wording of this material sought to overcome the indoctrination which Japanese soldiers had received by stating that they should "cease resistance" rather than "surrender". [57] POWs also provided advice on the wording for propaganda leaflets which were dropped on Japanese cities by heavy bombers in the final months of the war. [58]

Allied prisoner of war camps

Japanese POWs held in Allied prisoner of war camps were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. [59] By 1943 the Allied governments were aware that personnel who had been captured by the Japanese military were being held in harsh conditions. In an attempt to win better treatment for their POWs, the Allies made extensive efforts to notify the Japanese government of the good conditions in Allied POW camps. [60] This was not successful, however, as the Japanese government refused to recognise the existence of captured Japanese military personnel. [61] Nevertheless, Japanese POWs in Allied camps continued to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions until the end of the war. [62]

Most Japanese captured by US forces after September 1942 were turned over to Australia or New Zealand for internment. The United States provided these countries with aid through the Lend Lease program to cover the costs of maintaining the prisoners, and retained responsibility for repatriating the men to Japan at the end of the war. Prisoners captured in the central Pacific or who were believed to have particular intelligence value were held in camps in the United States. [63]

Japanese POWs practice baseball near their quarters, several weeks before the Cowra breakout. This photograph was taken with the intention of using it in propaganda leaflets, to be dropped on Japanese-held areas in the Asia-Pacific region. Cowrapowcamp.jpg
Japanese POWs practice baseball near their quarters, several weeks before the Cowra breakout. This photograph was taken with the intention of using it in propaganda leaflets, to be dropped on Japanese-held areas in the Asia-Pacific region.

Prisoners who were thought to possess significant technical or strategic information were brought to specialist intelligence-gathering facilities at Fort Hunt, Virginia or Camp Tracy, California. After arriving in these camps, the prisoners were interrogated again, and their conversations were wiretapped and analysed. Some of the conditions at Camp Tracy violated Geneva Convention requirements, such as insufficient exercise time being provided. However, prisoners at this camp were given special benefits, such as high quality food and access to a shop, and the interrogation sessions were relatively relaxed. The continuous wiretapping at both locations may have also violated the spirit of the Geneva Convention. [65]

Japanese POWs generally adjusted to life in prison camps and few attempted to escape. [66] There were several incidents at POW camps, however. On 25 February 1943, POWs at the Featherston prisoner of war camp in New Zealand staged a strike after being ordered to work. The protest turned violent when the camp's deputy commander shot one of the protest's leaders. The POWs then attacked the other guards, who opened fire and killed 48 prisoners and wounded another 74. Conditions at the camp were subsequently improved, leading to good relations between the Japanese and their New Zealand guards for the remainder of the war. [67] More seriously, on 5 August 1944, Japanese POWs in a camp near Cowra, Australia attempted to escape. During the fighting between the POWs and their guards 257 Japanese and four Australians were killed. [68] Other confrontations between Japanese POWs and their guards occurred at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin during May 1944 as well as a camp in Bikaner, India during 1945; these did not result in any fatalities. [69] In addition, 24 Japanese POWs killed themselves at Camp Paita, New Caledonia in January 1944 after a planned uprising was foiled. [70] News of the incidents at Cowra and Featherston was suppressed in Japan, [71] but the Japanese Government lodged protests with the Australian and New Zealand governments as a propaganda tactic. This was the only time that the Japanese Government officially recognized that some members of the country's military had surrendered. [72]

The Allies distributed photographs of Japanese POWs in camps to induce other Japanese personnel to surrender. This tactic was initially rejected by General MacArthur when it was proposed to him in mid-1943 on the grounds that it violated the Hague and Geneva Conventions, and the fear of being identified after surrendering could harden Japanese resistance. MacArthur reversed his position in December of that year, however, but only allowed the publication of photos that did not identify individual POWs. He also directed that the photos "should be truthful and factual and not designed to exaggerate". [73]


A Japanese prisoner of war watching a British Royal Air Force Dakota transport landing at Bandoeng, Java, during May 1946. Japanese POW in Java during 1946.jpg
A Japanese prisoner of war watching a British Royal Air Force Dakota transport landing at Bandoeng, Java, during May 1946.

Millions of Japanese military personnel surrendered following the end of the war. Soviet and Chinese forces accepted the surrender of 1.6 million Japanese and the western allies took the surrender of millions more in Japan, South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific. [74] In order to prevent resistance to the order to surrender, Japan's Imperial Headquarters included a statement that "servicemen who come under the control of enemy forces after the proclamation of the Imperial Rescript will not be regarded as POWs" in its orders announcing the end of the war. While this measure was successful in avoiding unrest, it led to hostility between those who surrendered before and after the end of the war and denied prisoners of the Soviets POW status. In most instances the troops who surrendered were not taken into captivity, and were repatriated to the Japanese home islands after giving up their weapons. [42]

Japanese prisoners released from Soviet captivity in Siberia prepare to disembark from a ship docked at Maizuru, Japan, January 1946. Japanese Soldiers Returning from Siberia 1946.jpg
Japanese prisoners released from Soviet captivity in Siberia prepare to disembark from a ship docked at Maizuru, Japan, January 1946.

Repatriation of some Japanese POWs was delayed by Allied authorities. Until late 1946, the United States retained almost 70,000 POWs to dismantle military facilities in the Philippines, Okinawa, central Pacific, and Hawaii. British authorities retained 113,500 of the approximately 750,000 POWs in south and south-east Asia until 1947; the last POWs captured in Burma and Malaya returned to Japan in October 1947. [75] The British also used armed Japanese Surrendered Personnel to support Dutch and French attempts to reestablish their colonial empires in the Netherlands East Indies and Indochina respectively. [76] At least 81,090 Japanese personnel died in areas occupied by the western Allies and China before they could be repatriated to Japan. Historian John W. Dower has attributed these deaths to the "wretched" condition of Japanese military units at the end of the war. [77] [78]

Nationalist Chinese forces took the surrender of 1.2 million Japanese military personnel following the war. While the Japanese feared that they would be subjected to reprisals, they were generally treated well. This was because the Nationalists wished to seize as many weapons as possible, ensure that the departure of the Japanese military didn't create a security vacuum and discourage Japanese personnel from fighting alongside the Chinese communists. [79] Over the next few months, most Japanese prisoners in China, along with Japanese civilian settlers, were returned to Japan. The nationalists retained over 50,000 POWs, most of whom had technical skills, until the second half of 1946, however. Tens of thousands of Japanese prisoners captured by the Chinese communists were serving in their military forces in August 1946 and more than 60,000 were believed to still be held in Communist-controlled areas as late as April 1949. [75] Hundreds of Japanese POWs were killed fighting for the People's Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil War. Following the war, the victorious Chinese Communist government began repatriating Japanese prisoners home, though some were put on trial for war crimes and had to serve prison sentences of varying length before being allowed to return. The last Japanese prisoner returned from China in 1964. [80] [81]

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese also surrendered to Soviet forces in the last weeks of the war and after Japan's surrender. The Soviet Union claimed to have taken 594,000 Japanese POWs, of whom 70,880 were immediately released, but Japanese researchers have estimated that 850,000 were captured. [27] Unlike the prisoners held by China or the western Allies, these men were treated harshly by their captors, and over 60,000 died. Japanese POWs were forced to undertake hard labour and were held in primitive conditions with inadequate food and medical treatments. This treatment was similar to that experienced by German POWs in the Soviet Union. [82] The treatment of Japanese POWs in Siberia was also similar to that suffered by Soviet prisoners who were being held in the area. [83] Between 1946 and 1950, many of the Japanese POWs in Soviet captivity were released; those remaining after 1950 were mainly those convicted of various crimes. They were gradually released under a series of amnesties between 1953 and 1956. After the last major repatriation in 1956, the Soviets continued to hold some POWs and release them in small increments. Some ended up spending decades living in the Soviet Union, and could only return to Japan in the 1990s. Some, having spent decades away and having started families of their own, elected not to permanently settle in Japan and remain where they were. [2] [84]

Due to the shame associated with surrendering, few Japanese POWs wrote memoirs after the war. [27]

See also


^a Gilmore provides the following numbers of Japanese POWs taken in the SWPA during each year of the war; 1942: 1,167, 1943: 1,064, 1944: 5,122, 1945: 12,194 [46]


  1. 1 2 Fedorowich (2000), p. 61
  2. 1 2 3 https://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/12/world/japan-s-blossoms-soothe-a-pow-lost-in-siberia.html
  3. 1 2 Bergerud (1997), pp. 415–416
  4. Johnston (2000), p. 81
  5. 1 2 Ferguson (2004), p. 176.
  6. Drea (2009), p. 257
  7. Strauss (2003), pp. 17–19
  8. Strauss (2003), pp. 20–21
  9. Strauss (2003), pp. 21–22
  10. "Australian War Memorial 013968". Collection database. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  11. McCarthy (1959), p. 450
  12. Drea (2009), p. 212
  13. 1 2 Straus (2003), p. 39
  14. 1 2 Straus (2003), p. 40
  15. Dower (1986), p. 77
  16. 1 2 Hata (1996), p. 269
  17. Ford (2011), p. 139
  18. Doyle (2010), p. 206
  19. 1 2 3 Straus (2003), p. 3
  20. Strauss (2003), pp. 44–45
  21. Gilmore (1998), pp. 2, 8
  22. Hayashi (2005), pp. 51–55
  23. 1 2 Harrison, p.833
  24. Interrogation: World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq, NATIONAL DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE COLLEGE WASHINGTON, DC. (2008), ISBN   978-1-932946-23-9, p.31-34
  25. Gilmore (1998), p. 169
  26. Straus (2003), p. 29
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 La Forte (2000), p. 333
  28. 1 2 Johnston (2000), p. 95
  29. Dower (1986), p. 64
  30. Gilmore (1998), p. 61
  31. Dower (1986), p. 69
  32. Johnston (1996), p.40
  33. Bergerud (2008), p. 103
  34. Gilmore (1998), p. 2
  35. Ferguson (2007), p. 550
  36. Gilmore (1998), pp. 62–63
  37. Gilmore (1998), pp. 64–67
  38. Sturma (2011), p. 147
  39. Sturma (2011), p. 151
  40. Ferguson (2007), p. 544
  41. Dower (1986), p. 68
  42. 1 2 3 Hata (1996), p. 263
  43. Ferguson (2004), p. 164
  44. Straus (2003), p. ix
  45. Doyle (2010), p. 209
  46. 1 2 Gilmore (1998), p. 155
  47. Straus (2003), p. xiii
  48. Straus (2003), p. 24
  49. Hata (1996), p. 265
  50. Gilmore (1998), p. 172
  51. Straus (2003), pp. 116 and 141
  52. Straus (2003), pp. 141–147
  53. Straus (2003), pp. 126–127
  54. 1 2 Ford (2011), p. 100
  55. Straus (2003), p. 120
  56. Fedorowich (2000), p. 85
  57. Doyle (2010), p. 212
  58. Doyle (2010), p. 213
  59. MacKenzie (1994), p. 512
  60. MacKenzie (1994), p. 516
  61. MacKenzie (1994), pp. 516–517
  62. MacKenzie (1994), p. 518
  63. Krammer (1983), p. 70
  64. "Australian War Memorial – 067178". Collection database. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 25 December 2009.
  65. Straus (2003), pp. 134–139
  66. Straus (2003), p. 197
  67. Straus (2003), pp. 176–178
  68. Straus (2003), pp. 186–191
  69. Straus (2003), pp. 191–195
  70. Straus (2003), pp. 178–186
  71. MacKenzie (1994), p. 517
  72. Straus (2003), pp. 193–194
  73. Fedorowich (2000), pp. 80–81
  74. Straus (2003), pp. xii–xiii
  75. 1 2 Dower (1999), p. 51
  76. Kibata (2000), p. 146
  77. Dower (1986), p. 298 and note 6, p. 363
  78. MacArthur (1994), p. 130, note 36
  79. Straus (2003), pp. xiii–xiv
  80. Lynch, Michael: The Chinese Civil War 1945–49
  81. Coble, Parks M.: China's War Reporters, p. 143
  82. Straus (2003), p. xiv
  83. La Forte (2000), p. 335
  84. http://www.japansubculture.com/the-last-japanese-man-remaining-in-kazakhstan-a-kafkian-tale-of-the-plight-of-a-japanese-pow-in-the-soviet-union/

Related Research Articles

Prisoner of war Person who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict

A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1610.

Occupation of Japan Allied occupation of Japan following WWII

The Allied occupation of Japan at the end of World War II was led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, with support from the British Commonwealth. Unlike in the occupation of Germany, the Soviet Union was allowed little to no influence over Japan. This foreign presence marks the only time in Japan's history that it has been occupied by a foreign power. At MacArthur's insistence, Emperor Hirohito remained on the imperial throne. The wartime cabinet was replaced with a cabinet acceptable to the Allies and committed to implementing the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, which among other things called for the country to become a parliamentary democracy. Under MacArthur's guidance, the Japanese government introduced sweeping social reforms and implemented economic reforms that recalled American "New Deal" priorities of the 1930's under President Roosevelt. The Japanese constitution was comprehensively overhauled and the Emperor's theoretically-vast powers, which for many centuries had been constrained by conventions that had evolved over time, became strictly limited by law. The occupation, codenamed Operation Blacklist, was ended by the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951, and effective from April 28, 1952, after which Japan's sovereignty – with the exception, until 1972, of the Ryukyu Islands – was fully restored.

Operation Downfall codename for the Allied plan for the invasion of Japan near the end of World War II

Operation Downfall was the proposed Allied plan for the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands near the end of World War II. The planned operation was canceled when Japan surrendered following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet declaration of war and the invasion of Manchuria. The operation had two parts: Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet. Set to begin in November 1945, Operation Olympic was intended to capture the southern third of the southernmost main Japanese island, Kyūshū, with the recently captured island of Okinawa to be used as a staging area. Later, in the spring of 1946, Operation Coronet was the planned invasion of the Kantō Plain, near Tokyo, on the main Japanese island of Honshu. Airbases on Kyūshū captured in Operation Olympic would allow land-based air support for Operation Coronet. If Downfall had taken place, it would have been the largest amphibious operation in history.

Western Front (World War II) military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany

The Western Front was a military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. World War II military engagements in Southern Europe and elsewhere are generally considered under separate headings. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale combat operations. The first phase saw the capitulation of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France during May and June 1940 after their defeat in the Low Countries and the northern half of France, and continued into an air war between Germany and Britain that climaxed with the Battle of Britain. The second phase consisted of large-scale ground combat, which began in June 1944 with the Allied landings in Normandy and continued until the defeat of Germany in May 1945.

Disarmed Enemy Forces was a US designation for soldiers who surrendered to an adversary after hostilities ended, and for those POWs who had already surrendered and were held in camps in occupied German territory at the time. It was Dwight D. Eisenhower's designation of German prisoners in post-World War II occupied Germany.

Prisoner-of-war camp Site for the containment of combatants captured by their enemy in time of war

A prisoner-of-war camp is a site for the containment of enemy combatants captured by a belligerent power in time of war.

War crimes were committed by the Empire of Japan in many Asia-Pacific countries during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. These incidents have been described as an "Asian Holocaust". Some war crimes were committed by Japanese military personnel during the late 19th century, but most Japanese war crimes were committed during the first part of the Shōwa Era, the name given to the reign of Emperor Hirohito, until the surrender of the Empire of Japan in 1945.

Battle of Rabaul (1942) WWII battle in the Pacific Theater

The Battle of Rabaul, also known by the Japanese as Operation R, was fought on the island of New Britain in the Australian Territory of New Guinea, in January and February 1942. It was a strategically significant defeat of Allied forces by Japan in the Pacific campaign of World War II, with the Japanese invasion force quickly overwhelming the small Australian garrison, the majority of which was either killed or captured. Hostilities on the neighbouring island of New Ireland are also usually considered to be part of the same battle. Rabaul was significant because of its proximity to the Japanese territory of the Caroline Islands, site of a major Imperial Japanese Navy base on Truk.

The end of World War II in Asia occurred on 2 September 1945, when armed forces of the Empire of Japan surrendered to the forces of the Allies. The surrender came almost four months after the surrender of the Axis forces in Europe and brought an end to World War II.

Allied war crimes include both alleged and legally proven violations of the laws of war by the Allies of World War II against either civilians or military personnel of the Axis powers.

Camp ODonnell

Camp O'Donnell is a former United States military reservation in the Philippines located on Luzon island in the municipality of Capas in Tarlac. It housed the Philippine Army's newly created 71st Division and after the Americans' return, a United States Army camp. During World War II, the reservation was used as a Prisoner of War (POW) camp for Filipino and American soldiers captured by Japan during its successful invasion of the Philippines in World War II. About 60,000 Filipino and 9,000 Americans were housed at the camp. During the few months in 1942 that Camp O'Donnell was used as a POW camp, about 20,000 Filipinos and 1,500 Americans died there of disease, starvation, neglect, and brutality.

This is a timeline of events that occurred during World War II in 1943.

This is a timeline of the events that stretched over the period of World War II from January 1945 to its conclusion and legal aftermath.

The Bulu prison massacre was an incident that took place in Bulu prison, Semarang, Central Java, occurring late in World War II in which over one hundred Japanese POWs were killed by Indonesian forces.

United States war crimes are the violations of the laws and customs of war of which the United States Armed Forces are accused of committing since the signing of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. These have included the summary execution of captured enemy combatants, the mistreatment of prisoners during interrogation (torture), and the use of violence against civilian non-combatants.

German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union

Approximately three million German prisoners of war were captured by the Soviet Union during World War II, most of them during the great advances of the Red Army in the last year of the war. The POWs were employed as forced labor in the Soviet wartime economy and post-war reconstruction. By 1950 almost all surviving POWs had been released, with the last prisoner returning from the USSR in 1956. According to Soviet records 381,067 German Wehrmacht POWs died in NKVD camps. German historian Rüdiger Overmans maintains that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one million died in Soviet custody. He also believes that there were men who actually died as POWs amongst those listed as missing-in-action (MIA).

Anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States has existed since the late 19th century, during the Yellow Peril. Anti-Japanese sentiment peaked during the Second World War and again in the 1970s-1980s with the rise of Japan as a major economic power.

German prisoners of war in northwest Europe

More than 2.8 million German soldiers surrendered on the Western Front between D-Day and the end of April 1945; 1.3 million between D-Day and March 31, 1945; and 1.5 million of them in the month of April. From early March, these surrenders seriously weakened the Wehrmacht in the West, and made further surrenders more likely, thus having a snowballing effect. On March 27, Dwight D. Eisenhower declared at a press conference that the enemy were a whipped army. In March, the daily rate of POWs taken on the Western Front was 10,000; in the first 14 days of April it rose to 39,000, and in the last 16 days the average peaked at 59,000 soldiers captured each day. The number of prisoners taken in the West in March and April was over 1,800,000, more than double the 800,000 German soldiers who surrendered to the Russians in the last three or four months of the war.. One reason for this huge difference, possibly the most important, was that German forces facing the Red Army tended to fight to the end for fear of Soviet captivity whereas German forces facing the Western Allies tended to surrender without putting up much if any resistance. Accordingly the number of German killed and wounded was much higher in the East than in the West.

Imperial Japanese Army during the Pacific War

At the beginning of the Pacific War in 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army contained 51 divisions, most of which were stationed in China. A further 13 divisions defended the Manchurian-Soviet border, due to concerns about a possible attack by the Soviet Union. From 1942, troops were sent to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Dutch East Indies, and Malaya. By 1945, there were 5.5 million men in the Imperial Japanese Army.


Further reading