The Japanese Army during World War II committed many crimes against humanity that were ordered by the government and high command. In the Japanese equivalent of the Nurnberg Trials, held in Tokyo in 1946, many of the high-ranking officers and government officials were found guilty of genocide and war crimes and executed.
Today, in a controversial act, as many as 14 of them still hold a place in the National Shrine, which celebrates the heroes of the Japanese people.
Some of the most infamous atrocities include the 1937-1938 Nanking massacre, which claimed the lives of more than 300,000 Chinese civilians, and the notorious Unit 731 Experimental facility in which many hideous experiments were conducted on Chinese, South East Asian, Russian and Allied prisoners with an overall death toll of 250,000 men, women and children.
During the course of WWII, and especially before the inevitable defeat, the monstrosities became more frequent and violent. Below are the atrocities with the most victims.
10. Parit Sulong Massacre
In January 1942, in the midst of the Allied Malayan campaign the Battle of Muar was raging. Members of the Australian 8th Division and the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade were outnumbered and began to withdraw. Near the bridge at Parit Sulong, they were surrounded by the Japanese, who had superiority both in numbers and in supplies.
After two days of fierce fighting, they ran out of ammunition and food. Able-bodied soldiers were ordered to disperse into the jungle, and head for the Allied lines. About 150 Australians and Indians were too seriously injured to move, and their only option was to surrender and take their chance. Some accounts estimate that as many as 300 Allied troops were taken prisoner at Parit Sulong.
Various testimonies confirm that the Imperial Guards mistreated the wounded prisoners by beating them with rifle butts and tying them up with wire, placing them on the bridge and executing only one of them so he could serve as ballast for the rest to drown. The bodies of the executed men were poured with petrol and set alight.
9. Shinyo Maru incident
Shinyo Maru incident occurred on September 7, 1944, and it involved the SS Shinyo Maru, a transport ship carrying around 750 POWs to Manila. These transport ships were often called “Hell Ships” due to their extremely hard living conditions and the cruelty of the crew.
The ship and its escort had been met by an American submarine, USS Paddle, which engaged in a torpedo attack, unaware of the POWs aboard. Two torpedoes out of four fired managed to hit Shinyo Maru, and the ship started sinking.
The Japanese commander responsible for this transport mission was informed of a possible submarine presence and ordered the immediate execution of all prisoners aboard the moment the ship was fired on.
Some prisoners managed to escape the ship but were later gunned down by a Japanese rescue mission that came for the surviving sailors. Out of 750 Allied POWs, 668 were executed, and only 82 managed to escape.
8. Sandakan POW camp
The Sandakan Death March refers to a series of forced marches that occurred in 1945, in which the remnants of the Sandakan POW camp on the island of Borneo were forced to march until they died. Sandakan POW camp was built in 1942 for the Austrailian and British captives.
The POWs were first engaged in forced labour, building an airstrip next to the camp, during which they were beaten, poorly fed and received medical attention next to none.
What followed was the true horror of their imprisonment. The strategy of the Death March was to torture the prisoners by constantly moving them on foot, with the intention of brutalizing, demoralizing and finally killing them through a lengthy process of the march.
In three consecutive death marches which were imposed on the Sandakan POWS in 1945, the Japanese managed to cause the deaths of 2,345 Allied prisoners who had fallen to dehydration, disease and exhaustion. The ones who would lag behind the column were either executed or left for dead.
7. Jesselton revolt
Jesselton revolt was a multiethnic uprising on the occupied island of Borneo in October of 1943. The revolt was led by a guerrilla force mainly consisted of indigenous Suluk people and ethnic Chinese. The rebels were mainly armed with spears and Indonesian swords called parang, with little or no firearms.
The Japanese Imperial Guards managed to crush the insurrection, after which they launched a genocide campaign against the Suluk population, as a punishment for participating in the uprising.
The infamous Kempeitai, whose methods of torture and interrogation were very similar to the German Gestapo, conducted the systematic Massacre of the Suluks while pursuing the remnants of the Chinese guerrillas.
They bayoneted and beheaded the Suluks and burned their villages to the point that the indigenous people were almost completely wiped out. Around 3,000-4,000 of Suluks were exterminated.
“The Tokyo war crimes trial” index described Japanese atrocities as “an apparently systematic attempt to exterminate the Suluk race between February and June 1944”.
6. Bataan Death March
Another Death March, similar to the Sandakan one, happened in the Philippines in 1942. Some 20,000 Philippine soldiers joined with about 1600 American POWs died during the 66-mile march from Mariveles to Camp O’Donell at the city of Capas.
Soldiers were forced to walk under extremely bad conditions with little food and drinking water. In some cases they were transported by cattle trains, cramped in boxcars on extremely high temperatures. Many died of exhaustion, heat, dysentery, starvation and dehydration.
The ones that didn’t succumb to disease, hunger or fatigue, were either bayoneted by the Japanese soldiers or were used as practice for the officers who wanted to improve their katana skills. Trucks drove over the ones that fell behind and cleanup crews would put to death those too weak to continue.
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