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Chapter 13: POW - Hell Ship Nagato Maru

Japan had a shortage of manpower for their labor pool on the mainland. In mid-1942, Japanese industrialists asked that POW's be transported to the mainland to serve as slave laborers.

Ships used to transport POW's to Japan from captured areas were old and hardly sea-worthy. Over 25 ships carrying Allied POW's were sunk during the war with over ten thousand POW's drowned. Additional POW deaths occurred due to lack of food, sanitation, and medicine during these hellish voyages aboard Japanese hell ships.

On November 6, 1942 Dad and a group of 1500-1600 Allied prisoners were marched down to the pier in Manila and forced to climb aboard one of two old cattle transport ships. Dad ended up on the Nagato Maru Hell Ship. Destination: Japan.

Richard A. Beam - USS Biloxi Interview with Tommy English - 20 Sep 1945 - All Rights Reserved

We were all placed in the hold, which was very hot. Many men passed out from near suffocation. We had no bathing facilities and when nature called we had to go topside and wait sometimes up to a half an hour before we could go to the head.

Morale was somewhat broken, but still we did laugh and joke around for we knew that the United States was still a big country and deep within us we knew that we'd win the war. Some of the fellows were suffering from beri-beri due to lack of vitamins, but even they grinned once in awhile.

Our idea was that we were more or less a coverup to get the Japanese troops who were on the ship back safely.

The ship was marked and numbered to indicate that it was a prison ship, yet there were more Japanese troops aboard than there were prisoners of war.

Enroute we saw Formosa and at one time during our journey we were fired on by what we thought was an American submarine. Luckily, none of the ships were hit.

Japanese Hell Ship Nagato Maru
Photo Courtesy US National Archives

The Nagato Maru arrived at Moji, Japan on November 26, 1942. It is thought that as many as 27 POW's died during the 3-week trip. It is also thought that as many as 150 sick and dying POW's were abandoned on the dock at Moji once they arrived.

A group of 400 men, including Dad, was selected by Japanese personnel and marched to the train station. They waited an hour in the outside cold, then boarded a train for an all-night trip to Kobe, Japan. A ferry then took the men from Kobe to Osaka POW Camp #3 ... aka, Yodogawa Steel Works.

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