** World War II -- prisoners of war POWs Japan murder orders

Japanese Treatment of World War II POWs: Murder Orders (1944-45)

Figure 1.--The Japanese after Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender (August 1) had two weeks to destroy documents before American occupation troops began landing. The Japanese Government remained in place and went on an 2 week orgy of destroying documents. This continued on a smaller scale even after the American occupation force began arriving. This was very different than the situation that transpired in Germany which was mostly occupied BEFORE the NAZI surrender. The first U.S. occupation personnel, a group of 150 men, flew to Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture (August 28). They were followed by an American squadron led by the 'USS Missouri' which landed the 4th Marine Division on the southern coast of Kanagawa. Other Allied personnel followed after the formal surrender ceremony on the 'Missouri' (September 2). While many documents were destroyed, complicating the Tokyo IMT War Crimes Trials, many documents surfaced. Here is one of the most incriminating. It is part of the IMT archive: File 2015, designated as Document No. 2710, certified as Exhibit "O" in Doc. No.2687. The date indicated, "1 August xxxx" appears to have the year lined out with a pen. The year appears to be 1944 in the original typing. The number "2015" is penciled in the upper right corner. No other marks were noted on the sheet. It was sent by the Commanding General of Military Police to POW camp commanders on Formosa (Taiwan). Click on the image for a translation.

Japanese POW and internment camps for civilians were hell holes. People died in large numbers from sarvation and disease. If the Allies had not reached them when they did, many more woukd have died. The Japanese treatment of these people was a war crime and could rightly be considered murder. But here we are talking about outrighr murder, by shooting, bheading, burrying alive, burning, and other methods. This occurred on a large scakle in China. There were no POW camps for the Chinese, they were simply killed. The Westn POWs were treated differently. Some were killed, but most were interned, but under dredfull conditions. Civilian internees were subjected to the same dreadful conditions. Many did not survive. In the final year of the War, orders went out to kill the internees.

Japanese Killing of Chinese POWs

The Japanese captured millions of Chinese soldiers. There were, however, no POW camps or Chinese to release after the War. The Japanese simply killed them all. We are not sure who decided this or id orders to this ffect were ever issued. We just know that they were killed. And there does not appear to have even been an effort to use them for slave labor, jist mirder on a vast skill with unbelievable brutality..

Early Killing Incidents: Allied POWs

Japanese War Ministry

After the fall of the Mariabas (July 1944), Japanese officuals began to have sobering thoughts about the War which was noe nearing tghe Home Uskands. They new taht bonbin wiukd soon begin,. These thiughts included the Emperor. Prime- Aooarentlt the Ministry received inquiries aslkinhg abouty the kill order. Vice Minster Lt. General Kaneshiro SHIBAYAMA" clarifued that the Ministry intention was 'to prevent the prisoners of war from falling into enemy hands' -- meaning being liberated. Alliied war crimes investigators worked in this issue azfter the War. The Japanese did not keep good records on POWS and destoued much of ewhat divumentation that existed. The inbesigators managed, however, to unerathed documents outliningg Japanese policy on POWs. The Japanesecagency resonsible fir the POWS was the Prisoner of War Infornation Bureau. This agency was resonsible for the humane tratment of the priosiners. Acting Direcor [Shabishi?] Maklaniushi produced docuuments reinterating the War Ministry's eralier orders -- " ... prioners of war must be prevented by all possible means from falling into enemy hands." The term'all pssible medans' was not further expalianed. But even the most barbaric Japanese commander was not going to say, 'murder the POWs'. Justas the NAZIs did not issue an order to murder Jews. It was not necessary. And like the NAZIs in Euyrope, the Kemputai and most Japanese commanders knew what was beung ordered. Afrer all, how ekse could camp commanders prevent the liberation of the prioners. The commanders who receive these orders oassed them on to appropriate sunordinates, often reearing the exact samne phrases. As incomprehensibke as this may seem, it mist be noted that this is the approach the Japnese took to Chinese POWs from the onset of the War (1937). At the end if the War when discussions began with Chinese officals, the Japnese had to admit after 9 years of war, the Jaonese did not have any Chinese POWs to repatriate to China.

Murder Orders: Last Year of the War

Not only was evidence found in Tokyo offices issuing the orders, but in the iverseas officesd receiuving the orders. >br>


ritish signals sergeant Jack Edwards survived Japanese POW camps. After liberation he joined British and American war crimes investigating teams. They searched the remains of the Kinkaseki copper mine--POW Branch Camp No. 1, Formosa (Taiwan) (1946). The detailed records of German industrialists were captured by rapidly moving Allied invasion forces after they crossed the Rhine. The Japanese industrialists had more time to destroy or hide their incriminating records. [Holmes, pp 129, 135-136.] Among the burnt debris in the camp offices, Edwards found 15 handwritten transcriptions of broadcast orders dated April 1942 - August 20, 1945 from command headquarters in Tokyo. [Holmes] One of those documents was orders from the Japanese vice-minister of war to all POW camp commanders in the occupied territories and home islands (August 1, 1944). The orders were apparently in response to queries from the head of the POW administration on Formosa. At the time Formosa was believed to be a possible target for an American invasion force. [In fact President Roosevelt on July 1944 had ended a debate between the Army and Navy and chose the Philippines as the next American target.] The Taiwan commander asked for clarification as to circumstances under which he should act on his own, anticipating an American invasion and a breakdown of communications with headquarter in Tokyo. The Vice-minister authorized camp commanders to kill all the POWs they held if "an uprising of large numbers cannot be suppressed without the use of firearms" or "when escapees from the camp may turn into a hostile fighting force" and "not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces (figure 1)." [Holmes, pp. 115-116.] This order is of course preposterous. The POWs by this time were emaciated and in poor health. Some were starving. The idea that these unarmed men could pose any kind of threat is absurd and both the officers who issued it and those who received it understood this fully. What this order was to kill the POWs before they were liberated so they could not testify against the Imperial Army--especially specific individuals. It was in essence authorizing a bloody cover up. An entry in the journal of the Japanese headquarters at Taihoku on Formosa (February 26, 1945) ordered 'extreme measures' to be taken against POWs in urgent situations:" Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of the prisoners as the situation dictates. In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces." [Daws, pp. 324-325.] An official copy of the murder order was later found in the files of the Japanese Governor General of Formosa, Richiki Ando. [Holmes, p. 121.]


Mass Murder

Not only have these murder orders been found, but there are several instances in which they were actually carried out. It was something very much on the minds of American commanders. The Los Ba�os Raid on Luzon may have saved the POWs there (February 1945).

Camp Commanders' Decision

An interesting question is why there were not more mass executions. A reader writes, "Maybe these camp commanders actually believed the propaganda that Japan was still winning the war and expected these civilians and POWs to die from starvation and disease." Perhaps and the Emperor's announcement no doubt surprised many. Perhaps they were worried about what might happen to them if Japan lost the War. The commanders in the Philippines would have had no illusions after the Americans landed (October 1944/January 1945).. And I think there was a degree ofv hesitatiin as regards Westeners, aftervall they just killed Chinese, there were non camps exceot for Westerners in China. At any rate it is an interesting question that we have not seen addressed in the literature.


Daws, Gavin. Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific (New York: Morrow, 1994).

Felton, Mark. "Operation Zipper Thelast WW II invasion," War Stiries (August 25, 2021).

Holmes, Linda Goetz. Unjust Enrichment: How Japan's Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs (Mechanicsburg, Pennsslvania: Stackpole Books, 2001).


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Created: 6:59 PM 12/13/2013
Spell checked: 7:23 PM 12/15/2013
Last updated: 7:23 PM 12/15/2013