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"American Policy & Surrendering Japanese" Topic

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02 Jun 2018 9:42 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian06 Nov 2017 7:15 p.m. PST

Writing in Bringing Mulligan Home, which I recently reviewed – TMP link – the author argues against "…the myth promulgated by the American military and accepted by many historians… that the Japanese fought to the death." He believes that commanders in the field did not believe that Japanese would surrender in large numbers, and therefore "prisoners were being killed after surrendering."

Would you agree with that assessment?

Cyrus the Great06 Nov 2017 7:44 p.m. PST


vagamer63 Supporting Member of TMP06 Nov 2017 7:56 p.m. PST

Absolutely NO!

FABET0106 Nov 2017 8:03 p.m. PST

Did this author do any research at all or did he just decide his anti-American opinion encompassed all the truth that was needed?

Deadles Inactive Member06 Nov 2017 8:15 p.m. PST

It's war and s$%t happens.

From what I read Americans shot a lot of surrendering or wounded Japanese because Japanese often feigned surrender or would attack US troops even when wounded. So better safe than sorry.

Obviously there was a fair bit of antagonism between the Japanese and Americans thanks to Japanese mistreatment of virtually anyone.

And apparently a few Americans dismembered Japanese corpses for souvenirs or fun (

Deleted by Moderator

It's war – the goal is to win (and look how poorly we do once we start restricting our military – Vietnam would've ended immediately if Hanoi was occupied in 1963 and any opposition dealt with extreme force. No Islamic terror if Saudi Arabia et al were conquered and their governments replaced by puppet dictators)!

Purely anecdotally, a friend of mine had her grandfather serve in the Australian military during the war. He told of a story whereby he witnessed an American engineering unit simply bulldoze a Japanese hospital full of wounded Japanese soldiers to make room for an expansion of an airfield.

No doubt a story, but who knows!

Blutarski06 Nov 2017 8:32 p.m. PST

Total crock of luxuriantly odoriferous bovine excretion.

The Japanese armed forces expressly indoctrinated their men to not only fight to the death, but also, when in extremis, to commit suicide rather than surrender; the historical record on this is ever so painfully clear. The willingness of Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen to do so was also indisputably and undeniably evident throughout the Pacific war.

While Allied forces did not consequently anticipate surrender as a very likely prospect as they went about their business, they nevertheless, in the generality of things, were not institutionally averse to accepting surrenders when and if offered. Refer to the history/exploits of US Marine Guy Gabaldon as an example.


Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian06 Nov 2017 8:34 p.m. PST

Did this author do any research at all…

Perhaps you should read my book review.

He does document an incident where one Japanese prisoner was executed, on orders, on Guam. Some believed the prisoner had tortured an American soldier, though there were those who thought the body was damaged by shrapnel. The author also provides evidence that the officer responsible, although not punished, was sidelined from command for a time.

Blutarski06 Nov 2017 8:54 p.m. PST

Come on, Bill. This fellow is brewing weak tea indeed and sipping it through a really thin reed. It is possible to find isolated examples of the killing (murder) of surrendered prisoners having taken place within almost any army and era you want to name – including the Russians, the Germans, the Americans, the British, the Canadians, both sides in the Spanish Civil War.


goragrad06 Nov 2017 9:38 p.m. PST

I recall reading in the Time-Life War in the Pacific series that the practice of not taking prisoners or even killing Japanese POWs was not rare. If I remember correctly this was also noted in 'With the Old Breed."

Instances were cited of soldiers tasked with escorting POWs to the rear areas who came back in far less time than it would take to make the round trip.

The author also noted instance of Marines collecting gold teeth from Japanese corpses and even breaking those teeth from the jaws of wounded Japanese soldiers. Same with rings and other valuable items.

As my brother noted when I mentioned this discussion when you mobilize hundreds of thousands of men you get all sorts of characters. Some of whom have only a veneer of civilization or conventional morality.

Sundance06 Nov 2017 9:46 p.m. PST

No. Most died on the battlefield in human waves (ie banzai charges), or by suicide when they knew the battle was over for them. They believed their own propaganda that the Americans would torture them and eat them. If they were being killed en masse after surrendering, that would have been uncovered decades ago with the amount of research that's gone into WWII. As far as being killed in ones and twos by GIs, either on order or not, that's nothing new – the same was done in Europe against the Germans.

Skarper06 Nov 2017 11:24 p.m. PST

I believe that many Japanese would have surrendered but feared being killed anyway. I don't doubt that prisoners were often killed in the act of surrendering, or after surrendering because in the heat of battle they are a burden.

My own grandfather was nearly killed in WW1 while surrendering, but believed an officer took pity on him and his comrade because they were both under 18.

It's clearly a crime, but it's akin to someone who is starving stealing food. Wrong but what would we do I the circumstances?

IMO, what led to the scarcity of Japanese prisoners was that there were no organised surrenders in hopeless situations. The officers and NCOs would not order a surrender when resistance was no longer any use.

I think all sides routinely shot prisoners if taking prisoners was inconvenient or risky.

The incident in Band of Brothers is I understand factual and was far from uncommon.

Fred Cartwright07 Nov 2017 2:32 a.m. PST

In WW2 there were 3 areas where the war was fought in a particularly harsh and uncompromising way. Between the Axis and Soviets on the eastern front, in the Balkans where various ethnic groups took the opportunity to exercise some long held grudges and between the Allies and Japanese in the Far East. Between the western Allies and the Axis the war in general was fought in line with the Geneva Conventions and prisoners were treated fairly, although there were incidents perpetrated by both sides, they were not as common as the other 3 areas. I think on the eastern front and Far East it stems from the lack of value placed on human life by the Soviets and Japanese and the racial propaganda fed to the Germans. Initial incidents then lead to a tit for tat escalation where the killing of prisoners became a much more accepted practice. I would find it hard to stand in judgement of the actions of a man who retakes a trench from the enemy and finds the mutilated body of his friend. War is hell and those who participate in it often take a long hard look into the abyss.

christot Inactive Member07 Nov 2017 3:10 a.m. PST

John Ellis ("The Sharp End of War") surmises that ANY infantryman surrendering to ANY army in a battlefield situation (with the caveat that it was in small groups or singly and without officers present), had at best about a 50/50 chance of being shot out of hand.
He doesn't put this down to policy, but simply to fear, nervousness, tiredness, mistake, anger, or simply not having time to deal with prisoners.
His extensive research was based on US and CW material.

I do not doubt this.

Fred Cartwright07 Nov 2017 3:54 a.m. PST

I think it would be hard to find any deliberate policy from any army stating that prisoners were to be shot. It is about an acceptable culture allowing it where the worst excesses occurred. Not that I am saying deliberate massacres never happened, the Katyn mass murder of Polish officers by the Soviets is a prime example, but most were not planned acts.

Dynaman878907 Nov 2017 3:56 a.m. PST

It's a load of rubbish. The worst part being the thesis is not supported by the stated fact. As others stated all sides in all wars had POWs killed and it didn't stop them from having large scale surrendering – which it has to be noted did occur at the end of WW2 even with the Japanese. (once their indoctrination started to fray)

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian07 Nov 2017 5:42 a.m. PST

Come on, Bill.

I didn't say I agreed with him. I was interested to see if many share his viewpoint.

Legion 407 Nov 2017 6:00 a.m. PST

More IJFs died of non-combat reasons than combat. E.g. On Guadalcanal more died of starvation, disease, etc., than being killed in actual combat. You'll generally find that in other battles, campaigns, etc., as well that the IJFs were involved …

So IMO, since the IJFs non-combat support procedures, doctrine, etc. or lack there of. They in many cases were left to fight until they died. One way or another. Whether they died of Allied fire, etc., or starvation, disease, etc. … From a combat standpoint/body count … they are still dead, or dying.

And in places like Guadalcanal, the Allied Naval and Air assets, made it impossible for the IJFs to resupply, reinforce, etc., or even withdraw to fight another day. And it some cases when withdrawing they died along the way not only from combat. But lack of supplies, non-combat support, etc. E.g. Imphal-Kohima battles in '44.

HANS GRUBER07 Nov 2017 6:03 a.m. PST

Surrendering in the heat of battle is a very dicey action, no matter the war. Either surrender in masse, or during a lull in the battle. Most armies would surrender when defence was clearly no longer possible. Many Germans and Russian units surrendered to each other. Did any Japanese island garrison surrender during the war?

Wulfgar07 Nov 2017 7:05 a.m. PST

In his memoir of the fighting on Peleliu, "With the Old Breed," E.B. Sledge has a long passage in which he describes the bitterness with which the Marines regarded the Japanese. They had found ample evidence that American prisoners had been tortured and mutilated, and were in no mood to take prisoners themselves.

Sledge states quite simply that there was a lot of fear and racial animosity on both sides, and that no one was feeling guilty about shooting surrendering Japanese soldiers.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2017 7:43 a.m. PST


Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2017 9:51 a.m. PST

Australians weren't famed for taking too many prisoners. My for-fathers had quite an attitude about the Orientals and in fact anyone who wasn't a white and preferably English-speaking person. So when they were at war and particularly on the back-foot in New Guinea it takes little imagination to reconcile that it wasn't exclusively the Bushido code which limited the number of prisoners taken. But you'd have to accept that we weren't pure as the driven snow or saintly heroes. There is a lot of emotion which still clouds reason on this subject it seems.

Mark 107 Nov 2017 10:50 a.m. PST

Surrendering on the battlefield is always a dangerous proposition. War crimes treaties and prosecution standards recognize this. Generally war crimes trials over killing of PoWs focus on killings that take place AFTER the prisoner has been processed into secure captivity, not at the point of capture in a combat zone.

My readings of first-hand accounts and period reports indicate that surrendering was indeed quite a hazardous moment for a Japanese combatant (or even combat support personnel -- civilian construction or logistics people, or even Korean "comfort women"). Combat in the Pacific was characterized by horrific levels of violence and hatred. No one could just flip a switch when one of those guys you were trying so hard to kill decided to put his gun down and his hands up.

But those Japanese prisoners that were taken were often surprised by the humane treatment they received from Americans once they had been processed into captivity. They had been trained to believe that there was no lower form of human than a soldier who surrendered, and they expected to receive the worst possible treatment as a result. But in fact they were often treated better by their American captors than they had been treated by their own officers.

In fact US interrogators often found a goldmine of information in Japanese PoWs, as they had never received any training on how to behave as captives, and had no hesitation to answering questions from interrogators who showed any level of kindness or culturally-appropriate courtesy or respect. Japanese-American interrogators were particularly productive in this respect. With all the stories of the heroism of the 442nd RCT in Europe, there is little said of the Japanese-Americans who served in the Pacific as interrogators. But they were a very productive lot.

One first-hand account I found in a small community museum on the central California coast described an incident which is only tangentially related to the topic, but provides some insight into the cultural influence on Japanese combatants. After the reasonably well known shelling of the Ellwood Oil Refinery in February 1942, the same submarine, I-17, went further up the coast seeking more opportunities to create havoc. Within a day or two the captain surfaced in the pre-dawn morning hours and dispatched a raiding party in a rubber raft to go ashore and destroy communications/transportation targets of opportunity.

The party of a handful of sailors was armed with rifles, some explosives, and placed under the command of a young ensign. When they reached the shore they were observed by some agricultural workers in a strawberry field. The foreman of the workers was a Japanese-American Nisei (US-born to Japanese immigrant parents). He was aware from reading the press of the recent shellings down the coast, and saw how opinion was turning against the Japanese-Americans, and was could see how much further damage would be done to the Japanese-American community if he didn't do something.

He approached the landing party as they were putting themselves together after beaching their raft. He very politely greeted the officer with full culturally-appropriate respect, but explained to him that he could not come ashore and had to return to his ship. The young ensign was confronted with something he was absolutely not prepared for -- someone who was quite obviously Japanese, who demonstrated all the proper Japanese courtesy, who was older and clearly his cultural superior, who spoke with confidence and told him what he was supposed to do. So he packed his sailors back onto the raft and returned to the submarine.

The Japanese military did not teach decision-making skills and personal initiative to low-level officers. They taught obedience and deference to those in positions of authority. Once you broke the links to their superiors, they had no one left to be obedient to, and were highly malleable.

Or so I have read. Wasn't there at the time.

(aka: Mk 1)

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2017 10:51 a.m. PST

"U.S. 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."

"The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II" By Ulrich A. Straus

"…for instance, the Australian jungle warfare school advised soldiers to shoot any Japanese troops who had their hands closed while surrendering".

"Furthermore, in many instances, Japanese soldiers who had surrendered were killed on the front line or while being taken to POW compounds. 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".

"Fighting the Enemy: Australian Soldiers and Their Adversaries in World War II" by Mark Johnson

There are documented instances of USN Sub crews shooting downed Japanese pilots.

Japanese that did survive surrender and were sent to POW camps were treated according to the Geneva Convention which the Japanese government never signed. Without a doubt the Japanese were treated much better in Allied run POW camps than Allied POWS were.

It is well documented in oral histories, books and documentary film interviews, that in many cases there was no way to deal with prisoners out in the field nor could men be spared to do escort duty, although sometimes G2 need prisoners for interrogation. G2 would offer an incentive like extra pay or privileges and magically more Japanese prisoners made it back to American lines.

There were instances caught on film, of American troops shooting Japanese bodies in the head to make sure they were dead. In case one was only wounded or pretending to be dead and would set off an explosive device. It was that kind of war. No quarter taken and none given.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian07 Nov 2017 2:35 p.m. PST

I think it would be hard to find any deliberate policy from any army stating that prisoners were to be shot.

In the book, the author interviews several soldiers who remember being told prior to battle not to take prisoners, by the same commander who later ordered the prisoner shot.

The question is whether this was a unique case versus a common occurrence. Since the commander was apparently sidelined for having a prisoner shot, it is quite possible that higher command did not approve of his actions (although he was not formally disciplined).

The author also makes the case, later in the book, that Marine commanders on the battlefield simply lacked the support assets to maintain complete control over their units. The commanders used all of their time and energy managing the fight.

Fred Cartwright07 Nov 2017 3:20 p.m. PST

In the book, the author interviews several soldiers who remember being told prior to battle not to take prisoners, by the same commander who later ordered the prisoner shot.

Indeed a rogue officer, not USMC policy and I bet that officer never put those orders in writing.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian07 Nov 2017 5:01 p.m. PST

Indeed a rogue officer, not USMC policy and I bet that officer never put those orders in writing.

I guess that's the question – was there an 'unwritten' policy?

jdginaz07 Nov 2017 7:11 p.m. PST

interesting note, I have read that the killing of soldier who are trying to surrender during a battle isn't a crime according to the Geneva convention only the killing of soldiers after their surrender has been accepted.

Walking Sailor08 Nov 2017 8:33 a.m. PST

In Normandy, children of the Hitler Youth Division would hide by the side of the road with only a Panzerfaust waiting for the first advancing Sherman tank to come by. They would blow up the tank and then throw up their hands and surrender. When reports of this reached higher headquarters an American General (I forget which one) stated that he did not want to hear about any of them being taken prisoner. Not exactly an order but…

uglyfatbloke08 Nov 2017 9:02 a.m. PST

Walking Sailor, the Hitler Youth Division was not made up of children, so I expect the rest of the story is untrue as well.

deephorse08 Nov 2017 9:03 a.m. PST

I think it would be hard to find any deliberate policy from any army stating that prisoners were to be shot.

Try Hitler's ‘Commando Order' for one Fred.

Skarper08 Nov 2017 9:56 a.m. PST

The 12th SS in Normandy were at a minimum 17 as far as I remember. Later they were younger, during the Bulge and afterwards. So perhaps we have a bit of muddling. Also, the 12th SS were mostly engaged against the British and Canadians.

Further, the tactic of hiding by the roadside is I think exaggerated. The lead tank would be firing into all likely hiding places.

Fred Cartwright08 Nov 2017 11:20 a.m. PST

Try Hitler's ‘Commando Order' for one Fred.

Like the infamous Commisar directive it only applied to a very small number of combatants. I was thinking more in terms of a general policy applying to all.

deephorse08 Nov 2017 2:38 p.m. PST

Well it was a deliberate policy of a government stating that all such prisoners were to be executed. So I suppose that the Imperial Japanese Navy order of 20 March 1943 to its submarine forces to execute any captured crews of merchant ships won't fit your bill either?

badger22 Inactive Member08 Nov 2017 5:36 p.m. PST

Skarper I believe the HY was 18 by the time they actually enlisted. US recruits could be younger, but not called youth, so HY is always thought to be younger than they were.

As I recall the requirement was to have been in the HY not still be a member. It has been some years since I read all of this.


Blutarski08 Nov 2017 6:10 p.m. PST

Case 1 – "In Normandy, children of the Hitler Youth Division would hide by the side of the road with only a Panzerfaust waiting for the first advancing Sherman tank to come by. They would blow up the tank and then throw up their hands and surrender."

….. Quite coincidentally, I very recently viewed (courtesy of Youtube) a UK television documentary in which a very close analogue of Case 1 was described by a British tank commander who had served on the Normandy front. He related in some detail how small parties of a few Germans armed with Panzerfausts would hide themselves in roadside ditches to ambush Allied columns. They would allow the first two or three tanks to pass by, then suddenly rise up and surprise the following tanks. The British fellow related that, once they had fired off their Panzerfausts, the Germans would then stand up, raise their hands and seek to surrender; he said that the surviving British tanks would typically kill them without hesitation – hands up or not. This story appears plausible to me based upon other reading I have done regarding similar cases in WW1, where German MG teams would continue firing right up to the point when they were about to be physically overrun or had exhausted their ammunition, then seek to surrender; the attacking American infantry would quite often ignore the surrender attempt and without hesitation shoot or bayonet the gun teams where they stood.

- – -

Case 2 – "When reports of this reached higher headquarters an American General (I forget which one) stated that he did not want to hear about any of them being taken prisoner."

I suspect that the OP may have been thinking about a message attributed to Gen Omar Bradley regarding his particular disinterest in hearing of surrendering German snipers being accepted into captivity – a carefully crafted elliptical euphemism, to be sure.



Blutarski08 Nov 2017 6:29 p.m. PST

According to "The History of the 12. SS-Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend" by Hubert Meyer, the division, when formed in 1943, consisted of Hitler Youth volunteers born in the year 1926 – hence, they would have been 17-18 years of age at the time of the Normandy invasion.



Fred Cartwright09 Nov 2017 2:55 a.m. PST

So I suppose that the Imperial Japanese Navy order of 20 March 1943 to its submarine forces to execute any captured crews of merchant ships won't fit your bill either?

Not sure of the legalities when it comes to submarine warfare, but I know the Geneva Conventions permit prisoners to be killed if keeping them would endanger your own men. That was the rationale for the shooting of SS prisoners in Band of Brothers. If your submarine hasn't room or supplies for prisoners and you have to wait on the surface for a ship to come and take them away that might fit the bill.

Well it was a deliberate policy of a government stating that all such prisoners were to be executed.

The OP question is whether there was a deliberate policy by the USMC that no Japanese prisoners would be taken at all, not that small numbers of specific combatants were to be shot. I would be surprised if any such policy would be written down. Also with respect to special forces the allies shot a number of German commandos were shot by the allies ostensibly for wearing allied uniforms even though such ruses were used by allied SF on occasions. Was that a deliberate policy?

Lion in the Stars09 Nov 2017 1:33 p.m. PST

Submarines in combat are under no obligation to assist the crews of any ships they sink.

This was settled at Nuremburg, when US Admirals Lockwood and Nimitz testified on behalf of Donitz.

But it's also why Submariners are hated by the Merchant Marines. A surface ship mauls a convoy, it's obligated to corral lifeboats and otherwise provide assistance. Not subs.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian11 Nov 2017 3:31 p.m. PST

From Bringing Mulligan Home, pg. 83:

As the San Francisco steamed toward Guam for the July 21, 1944, landing, Charles Lepant listened to Lieutenant Colonel Clair Shisler brief L Company.

"He had a big map, a topographical map, down in the mess hall," Lepant recalled six decades later. "I remember to this day, the last thing he said was, 'Don't be taken prisoner. And I don't want any prisoners.' Those were his exact words."

deephorse19 Nov 2017 8:34 a.m. PST

Submarines in combat are under no obligation to assist the crews of any ships they sink.

There's a bit of a difference between being under no obligation to assist and having a standing order to execute them. You can see that?

uglyfatbloke19 Nov 2017 8:59 a.m. PST

You're never obliged to accept anyone's surrender – which is not the same a shooting them out of hand of course.

Skarper19 Nov 2017 9:47 a.m. PST

It does however make a lot of sense to take prisoners when at all possible.

Submarine warfare is a dirty business. Inevitably a lot of innocent bystanders are killed. It may be necessary to sink merchant ships under any flag if they are carrying supplies to an enemy. Thereafter the survivors cannot be assisted. It was total war.

If the allies hadn't done as bad as the Germans or indeed worse in many cases, then submarine commanders and Luftwaffe commanders would have been tried for warcrimes in relation to their actions.

Lion in the Stars19 Nov 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

There's a bit of a difference between being under no obligation to assist and having a standing order to execute them.

When you're talking blue-water combat, "no obligation to assist" is the same as standing orders to leave them to die if they're not in convoy, and a Submarine will try to kill the entire convoy. Modern submarines *can* kill an entire 20-ship convoy solo.

So yes, I totally understand why most Merchant Marines hate submariners.

deephorse20 Nov 2017 2:23 a.m. PST

So in your view a standing order to ‘leave them to die' is the same as a standing order to ‘execute' them? Interesting.

Lion in the Stars20 Nov 2017 4:35 a.m. PST

Yes. The only difference is that you can pretend you didn't kill them yourself with a 'leave them to die' order.

Not that my sub would have had a great chance of survivors from a torpedoed ship, the Mk48 torpedo tends to snap destroyers in half and send them to the bottom in less than 3 minutes.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP20 Nov 2017 11:45 a.m. PST

Laconia incident

This may explain why Submarines are reluctant to render aid.


Murvihill21 Nov 2017 10:23 a.m. PST

The Laconia was an exception to the rule, German subs didn't try to rescue survivors since WW1, just not practical. Leaving someone to die means they have a chance to live. Killing them means they don't. The difference is significant to me, especially if I'm staring down the barrel of a machine gun.

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