Unit 731 was known as a covert chemical and biological warfare research and development section of the Imperial Japanese Army that commenced lethal human experimentation during the World War 2. This program was responsible for some of the most horrific war crimes that were carried out by the Imperial Japanese Army.
Officially it was known as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of The Kwantung Army, the site was originally set up under the command of General Shiro Ishii who was a combat medic officer at the Kwantung Army. He finished his studies in microbiology at the Kyoto Imperial University in Japan. He came up with the idea of having the facility built to keep up with the West, since they were believed to be developing their own weapons of biological warfare. The Japanese government heavily invested in the facility in order for it to function fully. General Shiro Ishii’s career started accelerating in 1932 after he was chosen to be the head of the biological warfare division where his mission was to perform covert experiments on live subjects. The location was later than moved to Pingfang and General Ishii was again appointed as the director.
Masaji Kitano was a commanding officer of Unit 731. He graduated as a medical doctor at Tokyo Imperial University. He joined the army as an army surgeon with the rank of a lieutenant. Right before the full blown Sino-Japanese War, he taught microbiology at the Manchu School of Medicine in Manchuria. Manchuria had been a puppet state of Japan’s since 1931. Read more here: http://www.pacificatrocities.org/blog/marutas-in-manchuria-imperial-japanese-biological-warfare-1931-1945
By 1942, he was made second in command of Unit 731. He was known to be the chief funeral commissioner of Shiro Ishii.
After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, he ended up being detained in a POW camp in Shanghai. Due to a deal made with the Allied, he was released in exchange for research material of biological warfare. He was later repatriated to Japan in January 1946 and became the chief director of Green Cross, a Japanese Pharmaceutical company.
Another member of the Unit 731 was Yoshimura Hisato, who was a physiologist. Before his career in Unit 731 in 1938, he was a lecturer at Kyoto Imperial University Faculty of Medicine. He was employed by the Imperial Japanese Army as an Army Engineer, which was a researcher who was treated like an officer but not a professional military serviceperson. At Unit 731, he took a great interest in hypothermia. Taking into consideration Maruta’s study in limbs, Hisato made his prisoners submerge their limbs in a tub of water that was filled with ice and then had them hold until their leg or arm had frozen solid and a coat of ice formed in their skin. An eyewitness stated that the limb sounded like wood when they were struck with a cane. In addition the physiologist also tried different methods for rapid rewarming of the frozen appendages by dousing them in hot water, holding them close to an open fire source or even leaving the subjects all night in order for him to see how long it would take for an individual’s own blood to thaw out.
After the war was over, he was able to obtain war crime immunity, and he became the president of Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine.
In addition, Yasuji Kaneko is also one of the alleged members of the Unit 731 as ho testimony of the crimes committed have appeared in the 2001 film known as Japanese Devils and 2007 film Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking. He started testifying at the age of 76 in 1996 about his activities in Nanjing Massacre as well as Unit 731. As an ex-soldier of the Imperial Japanese Army, not only did he spread cholera into the water system in Linqing in 1943. He had also claimed to raped many women during the war as he could not afford comfort woman as a lower ranking soldier.
Yoshio Shinozuka was a teenager when he joined Unit 731 under the impression to provide safe drinking water to other soldiers. His day to day duty included raising fleas infected with plague on rats as well as vivisections.
There were many victims from Unit 731, but many of the soldiers were able to be freed in exchange for their knowledge of human experimentation. Many of them lived prosperous lives after the war. Although they gained a lot of science knowledge, their ways of violating human rights were mostly forgiven in the name of science.
During World War 2, there were non-Filipinos soldiers who decided not to surrender with some running off to safety and others being cut off in their location at the time of surrender behind Imperial Japanese Army's line. These men chose to serve along the side of their Filipino allies during World War II in the resistance against the Japanese thus becoming guerrillas. This list of men also include those who were inserted through submarines on various Philippine islands. These men were sent there to conduct different intelligent functions most commonly radio operators or coast watchers, but they fought with guerrillas and served beside them as well. These Filipino and American soldiers went through inhumanity and deprivation at the hands of the Japanese who were responsible for transporting them. The Guerrillas also fell subject to horrible torture by the Japanese followed by beheading usually after being forced to dig their own graves.
The American forces situated in the Philippines were largely defeated by an operational plan conducted prewar. If an invasion occurred, this plan involved them declaring Manila an open city, withdrawing onto Bataan and setting up a defensive line as they waited for supplies and reinforcements to come from certain US locations. This was known as Plan Orange and it was declared once the US Pacific Fleet arrived. However, the Japanese ruled this possibility out with their precautionary strike on the fleet’s Pearl Harbor base in 1941, December 7. Even though Plan Orange required the US forces to hold out on Corregidor and Bataan for roughly 6 months as they waited for reinforcements, the rations stored on the Peninsula were not enough to sustain a large force for a sufficient period. The troops did not have enough supplies to keep them going beyond a few months.
General MacArthur carried out Plan Orange with the belief that assistance was on the way but President Franklin Roosevelt had already written off the Philippine Islands just before Christmas as a gesture of support of the War happening in Europe. The American airmen, sailors, and soldiers who were in the Philippines and their Filipino charges were deserted without any knowledge of it. They held out against the Japanese for weeks as their supplies continued to dwindle and it was not long until they were living on starvation rations. In March 1942, President Roosevelt ordered Gen MacArthur personally to go to Australia to plan for a relief force that would save the men he was abandoning under protest. Before leaving, Gen. Macarthur told Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who was his successor that he was not to surrender regardless of the circumstances. Wainwright honored this command for as long as it was humanly possible.
Guerrilla forces had already begun forming even prior to the initial surrender of the US forces in the Philippines, more specifically in 1942, April 9 AT Bataan. Major Claude A. Thorp, with General MacArthur’s approval in 1942, January 27, directed a group of roughly 2 Filipinas and 12 Americans evading past Japanese lines situated in Bataan to set up a Guerrilla headquarters located in the Zambales Mountains. On February 18 of the same year, this small beginning was fortified when a PT boat was sent over with Major Llewellyn Barbour along with a radio transmitter, some supplies, and five more men to Botolan. They hired guides from this point to lead them to Thorp’s Guerrilla headquarters across the Zambales Mountains.
These Guerrilla forces all through the Philippine Islands made brave efforts which ended up impeding the Japanese severely. They also assisted the US forces significantly during the period of Philippine liberation in 1944 and 1945. Many officers including Lieutenant General Kreuger and General MacArthur, have expressed their gratitude to the guerrillas for their efforts and described how they reduced the casualties to the liberating forces and accelerated the liberation. Shortly after General Macarthur came to Australia in March of 1942, he started planning for the organization of Guerrillas in the Philippines. His first effort involved evaluation of the available leadership and forces and encouragement of any extra organization required. The plan involved providing submarines for the delivery of supplies such as radios, ammunition, and arms to the forces with the necessary organization and leadership. Guerrillas were given the order to focus on gathering information and providing reports to the Japanese. Additionally, they were given instructions to preserve civil order and avoid taking any significant actions against Japanese forces, which could cause retaliation against the Filipino civilians. At times, the submarines would bring back evacuees on their return trips to Australia.
General Macarthur’s Australian headquarters was known referred to as General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area, abbreviated as GHQ SWPA. The Intelligence Section of his headquarters also referred to as G-2 comprised of the AIB or Allied Intelligence Bureau. The PRS or Philippine Regional Section was created in May 1943 as a section of AIB and tasked with the coordination of any activities in the Philippines. General Macarthur contacted the Pentagon and asked that Lt. Cdr. Charles Parsons, whom he used to know in Manila, be sent to the GHQ SWPA immediately. Parsons was then assigned to the PRS and became actively involved in the organization of submarine operations with the aim of supporting the guerrillas located in the Philippines. He supervised a large number of the operations personally and many times he would insert and extract himself. The Japanese then caught wind of Charles Parson’s activities and placed a high reward on his head (dead or alive).
Wendell Fertig centralized the Guerilla forces on Mindanao and GHQ SWPA recognized these forces officially in February 1943 as the 10th Military District. This became one of the most organized guerrilla forces in all the Philippine Islands.
The Fall of Singapore that took place in February, 1942 was a great triumph for the Imperial Japanese Army and almost certainly one of the biggest defeat for Britain in WWII. The invasion was led by General Yamashita after years of spying on the British colony. General Yamashita decided to use a strategy that the British had never thought of, which was to invade via the Malaya jungle. At the time, most of the canons were faced toward the ocean and there was almost no defense at the line of attack by the Imperial Japanese Army.
There were more than 80,000 allied captives who were captured by the Japanese in the mass surrender that was ordered by General Percival. This shocked even Sir Winston Churchill greatly as they described this kind of disgrace as the "foulest disaster and the greatest capitulation in the British History." Most POWs had never ever told their families of the atrocities that they went through during the three years in captivity as they felt ashamed of the fact that they ended up being prisoners of the feeble Japanese army that had captured and tortured them.
The order to surrender by General Percival came as a complete surprise to the soldiers. Two days after the surrender, almost 15000 Australians and 35,000 British prisoners were ordered to start marching to Changi which was located on the eastern end of the Singapore Island. Given that the prisoners had no idea what would be provided by their captors, they decided to carry clothing, beddings and some food to keep them going. However, as the journey continued, most people ended up dropping things along the way and by the time they arrived at Changi, some of them ended up arriving with very little. As much as the journey to Changi proved to be very difficult, they were able to pull through with the help of the Chinese who sneaked them some drinks at least to keep them hydrated, as they wouldn’t have survived if it was not for them.
For the POWs, there was a very tight ration when it came to food. They were eating just one biscuit with bully beef pasted all over for lunch. In the evening, they had some tinned veggies smeared over a biscuit. Under this tight ration, things were quite difficult in the beginning. The prisoners then complained about their meals. The general in charge suggested that there was rice and if they were willing to eat it then it would be prepared. The rice, however, was not in the best of qualities as it was moldy, full of rats and weevils, sulfur, and unpolished, but they had to survive. Rice were often very watered down with lots of water. Regardless, the next four weeks had been an issue for them as the cooks did not know what to do with it as they were subjected to very bad food. As much as it was unpleasant and tasteless, they still ate it.
As the days went on, the cooks found ways to better prepare the rice as the Australians got to get accustomed to it. They were grateful that at least they had something to eat. The POWs started losing a ton of weight. Many started developing beri beri, malaria, or dysentery. The POWs learned to divide themselves up in group of 3-5. In the event that one of them had malaria or dysentery and could not eat his rice, the rest would share it instead and the favor would be returned when they were stricken.
Humor became a very essential part of survival. Given that the Japanese revered their emperor very much, the POWs took the opportunity to toast to the emperors’ birthday in order to have a drink. This was the only time the prison guards allowed them to have a drink during the internment time.
Some prisoners were shipped out on prisoner transports that were nicknamed hell ships to work on the Siam-Burma Railway, which was also known as the Death Railway and the Sandakan Airfield in Northern Borneo. Most of them did not survive the journey, but the ones that did end up suffering from various diseases and maltreatment before they were liberated in 1945.
The lost of Singapore to Japan during this time contributed to the lost of confidence of the British empire. Even though British ended up reoccupying Singapore following the Japanese surrender in September, the colony will soon claim its independence under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. Yamashita was tried by a US military commission for war crimes, but not against the ones committed by his troops in Singapore and Malaya. He was convicted and hanged in the Philippines in 1946.
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Unit 731 of the Japanese Army conducted some of the most heinous experiments in the human history on POWs during the World War II. Unit 731 had eight divisions: Division 1- Bacteriological research; Division 2- Warfare Research and field experiments; Division 3- Water Filter Production; Division 4- Bacteria Mass production and Storage; Division 5- Educational Division; Division 6- Supplies Division; Division 7- General Affairs; Division 8- Clinical Diagnosis.
The leader of this unit was a 6-feet tall man known as Shiro Ishii. Born in Japan, Shiro was a bright young man who studied at the Kyoto Imperial University. There, he got to study preventive medicine, pathology, serology and bacteriology. In 1922 after completion of his studies at Kyoto Imperial University, he was sent to Kyushu where they were battling a contagious disease which was aggressive and causing deaths of many people including soldiers.
Shiro studied how he could effectively filter the contaminated water. He was able to successfully do it, much to the acclaim of his colleagues. To prove his filters worked to the Emperor of Japan, he demonstrated how his device worked by filtering his own urine and drinking it. In 1928, Shiro Ishii traveled extensively in various countries learning from their clinics and laboratories. After two years of travel, he returned to Japan. Due to his close association with influential and prominent officials, he was able to secure funding for his projects which he believed would propel Japan to the world leadership.
Shiro Ishii proposed a research unit to study biological and chemical weapons. He argued that the Western powers were carrying out similar programs. He got support from Colonel Chikahiko Koizumi who was the army’s Surgeon General (later become Japanese Health Minister) and had secretly joined a poison gas research committee during World War I.
Shiro Ishii was given the command of Unit 731 in 1932.
The project Unit 731 aka Epidemic Prevention and Water Supply Unit of the Kwantung Army, was initially established in Harbin. This was later to be blown up by prisoners and they had to look for a new location. Due to the kind of experiments being conducted, secrecy was a priority. Manchuria was a perfect hideout place. Manchuria was forcefully taken from the Chinese through Japanese invasion. It was about 200,000 square kilometers. In Manchuria, the research facility was set up in Pingfan and occupied three square kilometers. The buildings were strategically built to hide any suspicion and were further shielded by high walls and high voltage wires.
Later on from 1937 after Japanese expansion to China, other such facilities were set up in various Chinese cities such as Hsinking, Guangzhou, Beijing, and Nanjing.
The opportunity to work at the Unit 731 facilities was highly appealing to doctors and scientists as they the chance to experiment on human subjects and had financial aid from the army. To work here required high-level secrecy and members of the unit had to be transported in covered cargo trucks whose registration numbers were often changed to conceal identity. Some staff knew what was going on while others did not know of the “death blocks” where prisoners would pass through never to return. By 1939, Ishii’s network comprised of over 10,000 personnels conducting research at Unit 731.