On September 25th, 1942, 1,816 British Prisoners of War (POWs) were assembled and ordered to ‘Stand to attention!’ and ‘Bow your heads!’ on the parade ground of the Imperial Japanese Army (Sham Shui Po) POW Camp in Hong Kong. The British POWs included Royal Marines, Artillery, Signal Corps, Army Engineers, Royal Marines, Naval Defence Regiment, Infantry, and the Royal Army Medical Corp, etc. In addition, some relatives of British civilians were also temporarily driven onto the ship (before being brutally beaten back out onto the jetty). The Japanese Officer in charge – with sword-drawn and triumphantly raised above his head – declared (through an interpreter):
“Western guests of the Great Japanese Empire! Bow your heads in shame! You will be taken out of Hong Kong to my country – a country of eternal beauty! In this idyllic place you will be well taken care of and treated in the manner you so richly deserve! I will lead the team that will take care of your health and inform your relatives you are alive and well! Remember my face! I am your saviour – like your Jesus Christ! Obey my orders and do not hesitate in any way! Together we can work for the betterment of Mankind!”
On the morning of December 8th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Airforce bombed Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong – whilst the 38th Imperial Japanese Army Division (comprised of 30,000 hardened troops) passed over the Shenzhen border separating Mainland China from the British colony of Hong Kong! This attack was supported by 50 aircraft, 13 warships and 173 artillery pieces! The offensive caught the defenders of Hong Kong completely by surprise. The unprepared, understaffed and poorly armed British Garrison – comprised of mainly ‘young’ and ‘inexperienced’ soldiers from all over the British empire – including India, China, Hong Kong, the UK Canada and even a number of ‘Free French’ – fought bravely for 18 days! There were even units of ‘volunteer’ civilian militia which tried their best to support the regular forces during the often brutal battle for the New Territories, Kowloon and finally Hong Kong Island itself! After the British defenders had suffered around 5,000 casualties – they were forced to surrender – a bitter pill for the British to swallow, especially on December 25th (Xmas Day), 1941! Around 10,000 British Prisoners of War (POWs) of all nationalities were taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army and held in appalling conditions in the hastily and haphazardly constructed Sham Shui Po POW Camp established in Hong Kong!
On the September 27th, 1942, a Japanese cargo ship named the ‘Lisbon Maru’ (a Japanese passenger and freighter ship with a length of 120 meters, a width of 18 meters and a displacement of 7,152 tons) left from Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po Ferry Pier (situated to the West of Kowloon) – carrying 1,816 British Prisoners of War (POWs). These British POWs were being transported to the Japanese Mainland to be used as slave-labour – and be ‘worked’ to death. In addition to the British POWs, the other passengers on this ship comprised of 25 Japanese ‘On Duty’ soldiers (and Officers) tasked with ‘Guarding’ the British POWs – and a further 778 Japanese soldiers (and Officers) being ‘rotated’ home to Japan after serving their time ‘fighting’ in China. The hull of this ship was also loaded with stolen and plundered merchandise gathered over many years from the Mainland of China by the aggressive actions of the Imperial Japanese Army!
The ‘Lisbon Maru’ was sailing in a North-Easterly direction, (keeping the coast of East China to its left) and traversing past Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces as it attempted to reach Japan in very dangerous waters. Four days after setting sail, the ‘Lisbon Maru’ had travelled around 894 miles and was making good time (the distance between Hong Kong and Moji is around 1272 miles, and the journey was over half-way completed). As the ‘Lisbon Maru’ was rounding the Zhoushan archipelago (of Zhejiang province) on October 1st, 1942, it was struck by a single torpedo at 4 am local time (Japanese language sources state ‘7:10 am’) fired by the United States Submarine – the ‘USS Grouper’ of the 81st US Pacific Fleet. The torpedo hit the starboard coal bunker and exploded, but no POWs were injured at this point. The POWs above deck were immediately driven into the hold where the hatches were covered with tarpaulins protected by Imperial Japanese Army Guards. The USS Grouper then fired torpedoes repeatedly which either missed or failed to detonate (according to Japanese language sources). The arrival of the Imperial Japanese Navy Destroyers Kuri and Toyokuni Maru finally drove-off the USS Grouper – which prevented further aggressive action from the Americans! The excuse used by the United States government for this action was that the Japanese government had not registered the ‘Lisbon Maru’ as a POW transport ship with the International Red Cross – and that the ship was not flying any flags that would have identified it as a POW transport. These arguments are undermined by the fact that the ‘Lisbon Maru’ had been used before by the Japanese government to transport POWs to and from Mainland Japan. Particularly disturbing is the fact that the USS Grouper (sometimes wrongly identified in Chinese language sources as the ‘USS Perch’ – a submarine that had been scuttled at least five months earlier) continued its attack when it was obvious the ‘Lisbon Maru’ was undefended and not firing back!
The British POWs were trapped in the hold with the air becoming stale whilst water and food was withheld by their Japanese captors. In the meantime, the ‘Lisbon Maru’ was slowly but surely taking on water and by around 7am – 8 am of the morning of October 2nd, 1942, the ship suddenly tilted and was in danger of sinking! The Captain ordered abandon ship – but the military Commander refused! In the hold, the British POWs used a concealed knife to cut their way through the tarpaulin and onto the deck! The British POWs captured a Japanese Officer and took him to the bridge with the intention of negotiating the release of the all the British POWs from the hold – but a Imperial Japanese Army Guard opened fire and severely wounded the hostage! By this time, however, the ship was listing and close to sinking!
The stern of the ‘Lisbon Maru’ sank in shallow water. The British POWs broke-out en masse and rushed to the upper deck and jumped into the sea! At this point Imperial Japanese Army Guards opened fire! The British POWs in the rear of the ship were in the most danger as the water was rushing in. These British POWs escaped by not panicking! It is reported that Imperial Japanese Navy forces – as well as Imperial Japanese Infantry and Marines were ordered to fire upon the British POWs whilst in the water! The Japanese admit that Imperial Japanese Army soldiers (Infantry) – who were acting as POW ‘Guards’ did ‘open fire’ – but deny that there was a general policy to do so. The British government state that the Japanese Forces did open fire and kill significant numbers of British POWs – and this was witnessed by the brave Chinese fisherman of Dongji Island that came to their rescue! (Of course, the racist US Wikipedia page dealing with this incident applies the usual ahistorical and anti-intellectual formula that ‘disinforms’ as it instructs! It ignores the point entirely that this entire incident was a US War Crime)!
The fishermen from the local village situated on Dongji (东极) Island (which is part of the Zhoushan archipelago), who were not far from the waters of the sunk ship and saw that the British POWs were struggling in the water! They immediately mobilized the fishing boats of the whole village to go out and rescue them! Braving the Japanese fire, these unarmed Chinese fishermen skilfully manoeuvred their boats amongst the living, the dead and the dying, and pulled as many British POWs to safety as they could! When Japanese saw what was happening, the ordinary Japanese soldiers refused to obey the orders of their officers – and stopped firing on the struggling men – who were now being protected by the lightweight fishing boats of the Dongji fishermen! At this point in the proceedings, Japanese Naval vessels also started to rescue the British POWs! Of the original 1,816 British POWs being carried on the ‘Lisbon Maru’, 842 were either drowned or shot! It is believed that the selfless efforts of the Dongji fishermen rescued 386 British POWS – who were taken to the village on the island and cared for the best the villagers could do given the circumstances. Furthermore, the presence of these Chinese fishermen persuaded the Imperial Japanese Navy to STOP the unfolding massacre! It is also said that another 200 British POWs swam to the surrounding islands and were taken in by the local Chinese population! Despite all this solidarity between the Chinese and the British in the Anti-Japanese War of Aggression, however, it is a sad fact that a few days later, and completely unchallenged by any US submarines lurking in the waters, the Imperial Japanese Navy arrived in the local area and thousands of Imperial Japanese Marines were put ashore to round-up all the surviving British POWs – threatening to kill any Chinese people who continued to harbour or hide these foreigners! Even so, local Chinese people risked their lives to get at least three British POWs to the safety of Chongqing! By October 5th, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army had assembled the surviving 941 British POWs on the docks in Shanghai – where five individuals considered too disabled by their wounds to be ‘worked to death’ in Japan were simply ‘left’ to fend for themselves! The remaining 936 British POWs were transported to Japan on the ‘Shinsei Maru’. By the time this ship reached the port of Moji in Kyushu – a further five British POWs had died. Of the original number of 1,816 British POWs that had boarded the ‘Lisbon Maru’ on September 27th, 1942, by the time they eventually arrived in Japan (around October 8th, 1942), only 931 British POWs remained! (What happened to the five seriously wounded British POWs left in Shanghai I do not know). This entire episode means that through a combination of a US ‘War Crime’ and continued Imperial Japanese ‘War Crimes’, in a matter of just eleven days in 1942, these two countries conspired to murder 885 British POWs! The number would have been much higher if not for the selfless actions of the Chinese fishermen (and their families) who came from Dongji Island!
Chinese Language Sources:
Japanese Language Source: