by Haddie Beckham
Unit 731 was created in 1938 by the authorization of Emperor Hirohito in Japanese-occupied Manchuria not far from Pinfang with the aim of developing biological weapons. Unit 731 was supported by Japanese universities and medical schools which supplied doctors and research staff. Organized under the alias of The Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, Unit 731 operated as a covert chemical and bacteriological warfare research and development, conducting and responsible for some of the most atrocious war crimes of imperial Japan. Unit 731 was led by General Shiro Ishii.
(continued) Ishii’s Unit fostered close relations with other secret facilities, such as Unit 100, and the Kwantung Army, from whom the Unit received many of their test subjects. Prisoners were referred to as maruta, “logs” for secrecy and dehumanization reasons. According to scholars, no less than 3000 prisoners at Unit 731 were murdered as a result of the experiments, mainly Chinese, but also prisoners of different ethnicities and nationalities; historian Sheldon Harris has estimated that the number of those killed as a result of the Japanese’ testing in the surrounding area may have killed 200,000 civilians and troops or more.
This map, uncovered by the Soviets in 1945 after the Unit had been destroyed, shows the interior layout of Unit 731. Unit 731 had other units underneath it in the chain of command; there were several other units under the auspices of Japan's biological weapons programs. Most or all Units had branch offices, which were also often referred to as “units” or “detachments.” The Unit 731 complex covered 2.3 square miles and consisted of more than 150 buildings. The complex contained various factories. There were specific facilities (referred to as “groups” here) for each area of research; there were rooms designed specifically for the research of anthrax, rodents, typhus, etc. Alongside the research areas, Unit 731 had housing residency for scientists, workers, and their families. Not all residents had access to the prison and research facilities. Additionally, Unit 731 had around 4,500 containers to be used to raise fleas, six cauldrons to produce various chemicals, and around 1,800 containers to produce biological agents. Approximately 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of bubonic plague bacteria could be produced in a few days.
In August 1945, after the Soviet Red Army entered Manchuria, the government in Tokyo ordered that all the research facilities in Manchuria be destroyed to erase all incriminating material. A skeleton crew began the liquidation of Unit 731 on either August 9 or 10, while the rest of Unit 731 evacuated. The design of the facilities made them hard to destroy by bombing, and several remains of the building were left standing. While most of the unit managed to escape, a few former employees and soldiers of the Kwantung Army were captured by Soviet forces.
 Materialii sudebnevo protsessa po delu byvshiy vo’yennasluzhashchiih yaponskoy armii, obvinyayemyyh v podgotovke i primyenii bakteriologicheskevo oruzhiya. [Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons]. Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo politicheskoe literaturoy [State Publishing House of Political Literature] , Moscow. 1950, pp. 8, 101, 110
 Harris, Sheldon. Factories of Death. London, Routledge, 1994, p. 218
 Materials on the Trial, p. 7
 Materials on the Trial, p. 263
Related Lesson Plans
Leave a Reply.
Pacific Atrocities Education
730 Commercial Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Copyright © 2021 Pacific Atrocities Education.
We are a registered 501 (c)(3) charity.