20 Horrific Details about Japanese POW Camps During World War II
20 Horrific Details about Japanese POW Camps During World War II

20 Horrific Details about Japanese POW Camps During World War II

Steve - December 30, 2018

3. With diseases the leading cause of soldier fatality, Japanese researchers began testing vaccines on deliberately infected prisoners to determine their effects on humans

In the course of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Japanese discovered a horrid truth about modern warfare: that the overwhelming majority, in fact as high as 89 percent, of battlefield fatalities were caused not by the fighting but from diseases. In an attempt to better understand these illnesses, in addition to synthesizing vaccinations and cures, researchers at Unit 731 deliberately infected POWs. Forming one of the eight core divisions of Unit 731, this division, numbering approximately 300 researchers, focused on bacteriological diseases, notably cholera, anthrax, typhoid, tuberculosis, and the plague.

Some of the findings of researchers from Unit 731 were published contemporaneously in peer-reviewed journals, disguising that the research had been conducted on non-human primates. Subjects, for example, Chinese prisoners, were referred to as “Manchurian monkeys” or “long-tailed monkeys”, reflecting the sub-human nature in which POWs were viewed by the Japanese Empire. Their corpses were subsequently incinerated to eliminate evidence of wrongdoing by the Japanese military. The consequences of these methods can be seen in Indonesia on August 6, 1944, where an estimated 900 men were injected with an experimental vaccine. This vaccine, designed to combat tetanus, instead induced a fatal reaction to those administered; in total, it is believed nearly 1,000 people were killed by this failed test.

20 Horrific Details about Japanese POW Camps During World War II
A burial detail of American and Filipino prisoners of war using improvised litters to carry fallen comrades following the Bataan Death March, Camp O’Donnell (c. 1942). Wikimedia Commons.

2. The Japanese repeatedly forced Allied prisoners of war to embark on prolonged marches with little to no provisions, resulting in the deaths of thousands

In the aftermath of the Battle of Bataan and the surrender of Allied forces in the Philippines, captured prisoners of war needed to be relocated to be housed and exploited for labor. Beginning on April 2, 1942, between 60,000 to 80,000 POWs were marched from Mariveles to San Fernando, loaded onto trains to Campas Train Station, and marched from there to Camp O’Donnell – a total of approximately 70 miles by foot. During this forced march, in which POWs were provided little to no food or water, and those that requested provisions were shot by the Japanese, an estimated 18,000 Filipino prisoners and 650 Americans died.

Such marches were not uncommon for Allied prisoners during the Second World War, with the Sandakan Death March similarly occurring in 1945. Facing Allied invasion, the Japanese sought to move POWs into the mountains to prevent easy liberation. From January to March, a total of 470 POWs were marched into the mountains; with limited rations, and suffering from serious illnesses, just 6 were still alive by June 26. The second round of prisoners was marched from May, whereupon just 183 out of 536 POWs survived the journey. A final round, starting in June, comprised of 75 prisoners, was marched into the mountains, with not a single one lasting more than 50 kilometers of the journey.

20 Horrific Details about Japanese POW Camps During World War II
Two prisoners of war, under the control of Unit 731, tied to a stake about to be killed. Wikimedia Commons.

1. Allied POWs were used as human subjects of weapons tests, both for conventional armaments and for biological weaponry

As with all weaponry, tests must be conducted to determine their efficacy and during World War II the Japanese military opted for using Allied prisoners as human guinea pigs for these new technologies. POWs were tied to stakes whilst jars of cyanide were thrown at them, recorded in November 1944 in the Kai Islands, set alight with flamethrowers, targeted with tank cannons, and to test the range of grenade explosions. Most horrifically, prisoners were consciously exposed to diseases, such as typhoid and plague, and monitored to determine the effects of prolonged exposure and observe the deterioration of the afflicted.

The use of biological weapons by the Japanese was confirmed, with Chinese and South Asian targets bombarded with plague-infected fleas dispersed over populations by planes. An estimated 580,000 people were killed by the Imperial Japanese Army’s deliberate spread of plagues during the Second World War. In fact, during the concluding months of the war, Japan planned to unleashed biological weapons upon the mainland United States. Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, using diseases concocted by Unit 731 using prisoner research, was intended to release plagues against the civilian inhabitants of San Diego, California, starting on September 22, 1945.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“The Trial of Unit 731”, Russell Working, The Japan Times (June 5, 2001)

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“Why Japanese Doctors Performed Human Experiments in China, 1933-1945”, Takashi Tsuchiya, Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics (2000)

“Bataan: The March of Death”, Stanley Falk, W.W. Norton & Company (1962)

“Borneo Death March: Of 2,700 Prisoners, 6 Survived: An Old Soldiers Remembers a Wartime Atrocity”, Thomas Fuller, International Herald Tribune, New York Times, (March 23, 1999)

“Japan tested chemical weapons on Aussie POW: New Evidence”, The Japan Times (July 27, 2004)

“Japan’s Biological Warfare”. Ben Kageyama. History of Yesterday.