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Japanese POW Hell Ships of World War II

Historical Context

In 1898, the Republic of the Philippines became an American possession as a result of the Spanish-American War. Until the end of 1941, military duty in this far-away possession bore an idyllic quality. That was to change drastically.

On December 7, 1941 Japanese Naval and Air forces attacked the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. There was no declaration of war. It was a sneak attack. Simultaneously, they launched attacks on American bases in the Philippine Islands.

Soon Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, followed by Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Like the inexorable lava flow from Mount Pele, Japanese forces boiled over the Far East.

American and Philippine forces retreated to the Bataan peninsula by the beginning of 1942, awaiting return of the Pacific fleet, and rescue. General MacArthur was ordered to Australia by President Roosevelt, leaving General Wainwright in command. On May 6, 1942, General Wainwright surrendered to General Homma. There could be no rescue.

So began the infamous Bataan Death March and years of cruel captivity.

By the end of 1944, the Japanese began moving able bodied prisoners to Japan, to be used as slave labor. If a man could stand, he was considered able-bodied. In December of 1944, 1,619 men were loaded aboard the Oryoku Maru. This marked a descent into cruelty and depraved brutality that staggers the mind.

On December 15, 1944 the Oryoku Maru was sunk in Subic Bay. The move continued aboard the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru - a descent into Hell, leaving a trail of dead and dying men across the Pacific until their arrival in Moji, Japan on January 29, 1945.

Less than 300 of these men survived until the end of the war.

Oryoku Maru, Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru became known as "Hell Ships." A reading of the trial proceedings will leave no doubt that this was and will always remain a true characterization.

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