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"Japanese POW Camps During World War Two" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2018 4:22 p.m. PST

"There were more than 140,000 white prisoners in Japanese POW camps. Of these, one in three died from starvation, work, punishments or from diseases for which there were no medicines to treat.

Prisoners of the Japanese found themselves in camps in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and other Japanese-occupied countries. Prisoner of war camps in Japan housed both capture military personnel and civilians who had been in the East before the outbreak of war.

The terms of the Geneva Convention were ignored by the Japanese who made up rules and inflicted punishments at the whim of the Camp Commandant…."
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Mark 128 Sep 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

… one in three died from starvation, work, punishments or from diseases for which there were no medicines to treat.

Perhaps worthy of adding to that list, several thousand "white prisoners" of the Japanese also died in submarine attacks on Japanese merchant shipping.

Notable examples of ships that were sunk, which had in each case been carrying several hundred POWs of US, British, Australian or other western-allied forces, include:

Kachidoki Maru
Rakuyo Maru
Lisbon Maru (attacked by aircraft as well as submarine)
Shinyo Maru

It is an extremely tragic aspect of the war. Terrible abuse from the captors, masses of unhealthy abused men stuffed into the holds of freighters without adequate room, ventilation, or any other human need attended to, where their misery was further compounded by rampant sea sickness, only to be torpedoed and sunk without life preservers, life boats, or in many cases even open hatchways to escape the sinking ship.

In many cases a number of the POWs were rescued after the sinkings, allied forces (often including the attacking submarine) putting themselves at substantial risk once they realized what was happening on the surface. but in some the submarines never even realized that the ship they had torpedoed had been carrying POWs.

It's hard to imagine such a terrible set of circumstances.

(aka: Mk 1)

Legion 429 Sep 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

And generally you had a very much higher survival rate as a POW of the Germans in most cases …

Durrati29 Sep 2018 9:02 a.m. PST

Well that depends on if you are from the US or the Soviet Union. Have not done the sums but at a rough guess over 90% of German POWs were Soviets. As the death rate for Soviet POWs was close to 100% think it is fair to say that for most people that became a POW of the Germans you were almost guaranteed to be killed.

Legion 401 Oct 2018 7:35 a.m. PST

Very true I should have mentioned that … Thank you for the correction.

Fred Cartwright01 Oct 2018 9:52 a.m. PST

As the death rate for Soviet POWs was close to 100% think it is fair to say that for most people that became a POW of the Germans you were almost guaranteed to be killed.

Not sure where you got your figure from, but the one I have seen quoted most is 50-60% not 100%. Large numbers served as Hiwis and faced the supreme irony of surviving German capitivity only to be killed by the Soviets as traitors.

Blutarski01 Oct 2018 9:55 a.m. PST

Back in the late 70's, I made the acquaintance of a gentleman who was working as sales manager for the Boston office of American President Line (a merchant shipping carrier). In January 1942, he was an 18 year old merchant seaman aboard an American President Line merchant ship off the Atlantic coast of South Africa when it was captured by a German merchant raider. The Germans took the crew captive and sank their ship. They then took George and his shipmates around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean and turned them over to the Japanese in Java for internment. According to George, the large majority managed to survive their period of captivity on Java, but when the Japanese sought to transfer them via ship to Japan to work as slave labor (1945?), eighty percent of his mates died as a result of the Japanese ships carrying them being sunk en route by American submarines. A lucky man.

In the early 80's, I worked with an older Dutch gentleman who as a child had been living in Java (Dutch colony at the time) upon the outbreak of the war. He and his mother were interned in a civilian prison camp by the Japanese from the fall of Java right through to the Japanese surrender. I introduced my work colleague to George. Over a discussion at lunch, they discovered that they had spent most of the war in camps separated by less than 10 miles. Small world.


Legion 401 Oct 2018 3:20 p.m. PST

Not sure where you got your figure from,
Yes, I thought 100% was a bit high. But I saw his point. However, whatever the figures are many Russian POWs died by German hands or by their fellow Russian "brothers" when they escaped or were released from German captivity.

deephorse01 Oct 2018 4:00 p.m. PST

Not sure where you got your figure from, but the one I have seen quoted most is 50-60% not 100%.

Taking the basic figures that are commonly gven the death rate is 57%. However not all of those captured were Ďavailable' to be mistreated and killed. Subtracting Hiwis, and those that escaped or were liberated, the death rate comes out at around 78%. So not 100% but dreadfully high anyway.

William Ulsterman01 Oct 2018 7:18 p.m. PST

In 1945 more Australian POWs died in Japanese camps than Australian KIA fighting against the Japanese. I suspect the same could be said about NZ and Canada as well. Very few Japanese were convicted of war crimes post 1945 compared to the Nazis. And one of the executed Japanese was considered to be the victim of a judicial lynching.

Durrati02 Oct 2018 5:14 a.m. PST

Not sure where you got your figure from….

This is only incidental to subjects I have studied. So I got the figure from intellectual laziness mixed with a good dash of hyperbole……

It is now my turn to be thankful for the correction.

Frontovik02 Oct 2018 5:34 a.m. PST

Something like 60% of Soviet POWs were killed (shot, starved, gassed and worked to death) in German captivity*.

Of the roughly 5 million or so POWs, Vlasovites, HiWis, Slave Labourers and allied trades who went through the filtration camps most were sentenced to a term in the GULag (five or ten years seems to have been the norm) followed by the same period in internal exile as their labour was more valuable to the state.

Most were rehabilitated after 1953 but still faced arguments over things like pensions because the war years didn't count towards it.

Only the most egregious were executed.

Curiously, the worst treated were the families of the missing as they couldn't prove their relatives weren't living it up in the West.

*edit: this varies of course. Something like 90% of those captured in 1941 were dead by 1945.

Legion 402 Oct 2018 6:24 a.m. PST

Some of the survivors of the Spanish captured that fought on the Eastern were released @ 1959.

I know a woman told me her father who was in the Italian Army on the Eastern Front was released @ 1956.

And from figures I say about after the war many still died in captivity, etc. Even under the US/Western Allies control.

The end of the war didn't mean the end of the suffering and the dying.

Fred Cartwright02 Oct 2018 10:23 a.m. PST

Survival if captured by the Soviets could be a remote possibility too. Off the 91,000 Germans captured at Stalingrad only 5,000 survived to be released. A death rate of 95%.

Barin102 Oct 2018 1:57 p.m. PST

data from German Humboldt University study:



Mark 102 Oct 2018 7:33 p.m. PST

Off the 91,000 Germans captured at Stalingrad only 5,000 survived to be released. A death rate of 95%.

That particular statistic is oft quoted. And accurate, to the best of my knowledge. But without a bit of perspective it is easily misleading.

Most of the Germans captured at Stalingrad were desperately undernourished, and many had been wounded, some multiple times, during the siege. There were almost no medical supplies available to the Germans during the closing weeks of the siege. Dysentery and festered wounds were commonplace.

Both the US and the British had trouble keeping concentration camp inmates alive after they had been liberated. Even with the best of intentions and ample resources overall (though not always ample at the time and place needed), it was hard to keep people alive after they had suffered such terrible deprivations for so long.

Now place people in similar decrepit condition into the hands of 1943 Soviets. Throw out the concepts of "the best of intentions" and "ample resources". Add that it is February, in Russia, and there is no available shelter where they are, and no available means to transport them other than to make them walk.

I find it surprising that SO MANY of them survived captivity.

I don't mean this to sound like I condone the maltreatment of PoWs. I do not.

But those taken at Stalingrad, in the final collapse of the German kassel, are the exception, not the rule. Almost 2.4million Germans were taken prisoner by the Soviets during WW2. Something like 350K of them did not survive their captivity. Even if we assume that 0% of 2.4M would have died if they hadn't been in captivity (not a valid assumption, by the way), that's still a little less than 15% who died from the harshness of their captivity.

Yes, the death rate among the Stalingrad captives was appalling, but there were reasons beyond how the Soviets treated PoWs, that were particular to their circumstances.

So I think the better conclusion would be:
"If you were in desperate need medical care, shelter and nourishment, and were captured as part of a mass surrender in the heart of winter by the Soviets, then survival could be a remote possibility too."

(aka: Mk 1)

William Ulsterman02 Oct 2018 9:54 p.m. PST

There is a wide variance as to the Soviet treatment of
POWs and the survival rates of POW in their custody. Both Rudiger Overmans and Waltman Wade Beorn have recently written accounts (last ten years) that state that 35% of German POW in Soviet captivity died. Niall Fergusson agrees. As long ago as 1974 Erich Maschke said a third of German POWs were killed by the Soviets. The 15% figure comes from the NKVD archives. This is a topic upon which much skepticism should be heaped.

Legion 403 Oct 2018 7:54 a.m. PST

German POWs were killed by the Soviets. The 15% figure comes from the NKVD archives.
Yes, that figure should be very suspect, I'd think …

Mark 103 Oct 2018 11:24 a.m. PST

Both Rudiger Overmans and Waltman Wade Beorn have recently written accounts (last ten years) that state that 35% of German POW in Soviet captivity died.

Overman wrote "Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriege" in 2000 (so not exactly the last 10 years). In this he says that something like 360,000 deaths in Soviet captivity can be confirmed by German records, but he believes that as many as 1,000,000 Germans may have died in Soviet captivity.

In part his number comes from the assumption that almost every German MIA on the Eastern Front was in fact taken as a prisoner by the Soviets. So he uses a total number of POWs that is several hundreds of thousands more than the number of POWs that the Soviet records indicate that they held.

I can understand this perspective, but you know the Russians can't even account for all of their OWN MIAs during the war. Given the extraordinary levels of violence, movement and disruption during the war on the Eastern Front, I think it is rather presumptuous to count anyone who was unaccounted for as a captive of the other side. Rather, I expect there were hundreds of thousands of lives lost in combat, our even outside of combat, on all sides, that no one recorded.

And the number also vary because the Soviets counted "Germans" differently than the Germans did. Most German sources count based on the service branch (Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS, Luftwaffe, etc.). But Soviet records are based on nation of origin of the POW. For example Soviet records count POWs who were Sudetenlanders as Czechs, not Germans, regardless of whether they were in the Wehrmacht when captured.

Add to that the category of "war criminals". Soviet records may, or may not, list an individual as a POW if that individual was convicted of being a war criminal. Now I do not suggest for one moment that Soviet courts were fair and impartial on this issue. Only that the results of the courts can cloud the counting. It seems that, if the individual was held as a POW, and included in the count of the POWs, and subsequently convicted of being a war criminal, then that individual's repatriation (or death) was likely to be accounted in the POW death rates by the NKVD. But if an individual was taken as a prisoner, and convicted of being a war criminal before he was counted as a POW (as may have been the case with many Waffen SS members), then that individuals repatriation (or death) was not likely to be accounted in the POW death rates by the NKVD.

Then there is also the question of post-war hand-overs. The Western Allies turned over many thousands of POWs to the Soviets after the end of hostilities. These were mostly from formations that were facing the Soviets, who had fled to the west to surrender. It is not clear how many of these were counted in the Soviet POW accounting. It is pretty likely that those of non-German nationality (a substantial portion), and those who were Waffen SS (many of whom were also of non-German nationality) were not.

This is a topic upon which much skepticism should be heaped.

Don't disagree that there is much room for questioning the numbers provided by any source. Fair to say that the Soviet numbers should not be taken as authoritative. It is an environment where I feel confident saying that any given number is wrong. Which number? Anyone's number. Give me the Soviet's number, and I'll say it is wrong. Whether it is a little wrong, or a lot wrong, is the question. The same is true for Overman's number, or Maschke's number. We will never be able to come to an exact, correct number.

Hopefully we can come to a range, a plus-or-minus, that is close enough to draw rational conclusions with confidence. I'm not sure we are there yet, unless we accept a very wide range.

But we should also approach with some skepticism those who would bandy about numbers as if they are confirmed and solid. Because even with today's numbers, which we may have confidence in only if we accept a plus-or-minus range of something like 700,000, a 95% death rate is not a legitimate conclusion. It is a data point, for a specific circumstance. There are other data points with vastly different mortality rates.

(aka: Mk 1)

Fred Cartwright03 Oct 2018 11:57 a.m. PST

It would be interesting to know how many Germans captured made it on to official Soviet POW records. Some years ago there was a very interesting documentary on UK TV where various Russians recounted their wartime exploits. One was a woman who worked for Soviet intelligence. Her job in Stalingrad was torturing captured German officers and when they had got all the information from them they could taking them outside and shooting them. I doubt those Germans made it on to an official list of captured personnel.
It was an interesting documentary. I keep hoping I will spot it on one of the TV repeats channels, but no luck so far.

William Ulsterman03 Oct 2018 7:39 p.m. PST

Indeed Fred Cartwright, I think the point to be made is that the Germans and the Russian (or Soviets, if you want to split hairs) treated any POW disgracefully and basically killed them, one way or another, over the course of many years in a manner that was similar to the way the Japanese treated any POW they were responsible for.

Mark 1, if you want to take into account how a Stalinist court determined "war criminals" with any sense of proportionality, then be my guest. These same courts were prone to determine whole groups of hundreds of thousands of people as enemies of the people and therefore remove them from any official process (and official statistics). Neither Overmans, Maschke or Beorn say that their 'numbers' are definitive – but they do point out that the Soviet numbers are full of holes and you can't rely upon the 15% theory which is derived from the NKVD.

Lastly, a further point that emerges is that in 1944-45 a great many Soviet POW were liberated by the Red Army. Once this occurred they were automatically drafted back into rifle regiments and plunged straight back into action. Soviet rifle regiments took heavy casualties even at the end of the war. The Soviets were not averse to sending liberated POW to Shtraf battalions – even greater chance of being a casualty. Is this sort of thing included when considering how many Soviet POW never came home?

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