Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rescuing prisoners of war in the Pacific, 1944

A bit of wandering the Web led me to a fascinating series of videos.

I found an article in the Guardian titled "From Burma to Nagasaki: the man who walked through hell".  It's the story of Jan Bras, a Dutchman who was a prisoner of Japan through most of the Second World War.  He traveled on one of the so-called "hell ships", the merchant vessels used to transport prisoners of war in truly hellish conditions.  Many of them were sunk by Allied submarines and aircraft, either because the attackers didn't know that POW's were aboard, or because the ships' cargoes included strategically important material that had to be sunk regardless.

In reading more about the subject, I came across a documentary on YouTube in five parts.  It describes the sinking of the SS Rakuyō Maru, one of the "hell ships", in September 1944 by a wolf pack of US submarines.  A few days later, two of the submarines returned to the area and realized that many of the bodies on the surface (and the few survivors still alive) were Allied POW's.  They mounted a major rescue effort, plucking 159 of the victims from the sea with the aid of two more submarines called in from hundreds of miles away to assist.  The submarines involved were USS Sealion, USS Pampanito (an account of her rescue efforts may be read here - scroll down to find the relevant section), USS Queenfish and USS Barb.

A documentary program was later made about the rescue, titled 'The Crossing'.  It's available on YouTube in five parts.  I was so taken by the story that I thought you might enjoy it too - particularly a much later reunion between two of the survivors and the submariners who rescued them.  Here it is.

An account of the rescue by one of the Australian POW's may be found here, adding more details from the victims' perspective.

To call that a "remarkable experience" is to grossly underestimate the tragedy - but at least some were saved.  May those who died rest in peace.


1 comment:

Charlie Mitchell said...

One of my teachers, US Marine Corps Major Ted Richardson, was a Japanese POW. A better man has not been born. To his students, "Maj" was as kind, caring, and mild-mannered as they come, but he was obviously plenty tough enough to survive those horrors that killed so many others.
I and plenty others miss you, Maj.